Category Archives: Progressive Christianity

Spirit Parables

Reading the New Testament is a challenge not only because it was written almost 2000 years ago using a pre-modern metaphorical language, but also because the first four books of the New Testament (and others) use a devise I will call “Spirit Parables.” For example, “The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that grows into a large tree.” This style of communication is also present in the stories of healing. Following is an example from the Gospel of Mark (Mark 2: 1-12).

This selection is taken from my commentary on the Gospel of Mark. This entire book is now published on the Realistic Living blog site for $10.

https://realisticliving.org/blog/mark-commentary/

When he [Jesus] re-entered Capernaum some days later, a rumor spread that he was in somebody’s house. Such a large crowd collected that while he was giving them his message it was impossible even to get near the doorway. Meanwhile, a group of people arrived to see him, bringing with them a paralytic whom four of them were carrying. And when they found it was impossible to get near him because of the crowd, they removed the tiles from the roof over Jesus’ head and let down the paralytic’s bed through the opening. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man on the bed, “My son, your sins are forgiven.”

But some of the scribes were sitting there silently asking themselves, “Why does this man talk such blasphemy? Who can possibly forgive sins but God?”

Jesus realized instantly what they were thinking, and said to them, “why must you argue like this in your minds? Which do you suppose is easier—to say to a paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven’, or ‘Get up, pick up your bed and walk’? But to prove to you that the Son of Man has full authority to forgive sins on earth, I say to you,”—and here he spoke to the paralytic—“Get up, pick up your bed and go home.”

At once the man sprang to his feet, picked up his bed and walked off in full view of them all. Everyone was amazed, praised God, and said, “We have never seen anything like this before.”

This man is paralyzed. He is down like dead. He is carried by four bearers. A hole is made and he is lowered down. Down in the bottom of the hole that they “make” in the roof of this house is Jesus, and Jesus says to this prone man, “Child, your sins are forgiven.” These allusions to death and resurrection are clearly intentional. Mark intends for us to “get it,”—to hear this Spirit lesson: “the spiritually dead are raised up through forgiveness.”

Mark has introduced a new theme: “forgiveness.” The religious scholars in Mark’s story take offense that a mere human being can declare forgiveness. “Only God,” they say, “can forgive.” But Jesus, sensing their rejection, clarifies that the son of Adam (that is, any authentic human being) has authority to forgive sins. But Jesus does not say to the man, “I forgive you.” He says “Your sins are forgiven” The meaning here is that Jesus is the Mouth of God speaking for God about a forgiveness that is extended to all of us. Mark further clarifies that accepting forgiveness and rising up from your paralysis are one and the same thing. The down-like-dead man, hearing that he is forgiven, gets up, picks up his mat, and goes home. Forgiveness is not an excuse for remaining dead. Forgiveness is a fresh start in being alive.

Some of the people standing around feel the Awe of this. They become ecstatic. They extol the Awesome Infinite Silence for confronting them with this possibility. They exclaim, “We’ve never seen the likes of this!”

Now what is Mark talking about with this story? What is going on here that could be so Awesome, so new, so important? Clearly, Mark is talking about more than the literal elements of the story. Honestly, who cares whether or not some paralyzed man who lived 2000 years ago got back on his feet? Mark is telling us that Jesus is the one who meets us, each of us, at the lowest point of our spirit condition–when we are indeed dead in our despair, unable even to walk our lives; when we are out flat, having to be carried by others. When despair has blocked all possibility of going on with our lives, at this point Jesus says to us: “Your despair is forgiven. Everything in your past or in your present life over which you are despairing is forgiven. You have, right now, a fresh start before you; arise and walk it.” When some despairing person actually accepts such forgiveness, all of us feel the Awe.

Every story in Mark’s narrative can be read as a parable about our spirit lives. This is not an imposition on the text. This is what Mark intended to happen to his readers. He is a trickster, tricking us into getting something clear in our own lives, not because Mark says so, but because it is SO. We can see this for ourselves, if we do the looking. Herein is the authority of Scripture, that it can reveal to us in our own experience what is SO about our lives. It is not because the church selected Mark as scripture. It is not that we have been taught that Mark was inspired. It is SO because we can see it is SO, if we have found our spirit eyes with which to see for ourselves. Mark uses the parable method of communication to forces us to use our own spirit resources to see what he is saying. And if we don’t see for ourselves the truth of scripture, we don’t see the truth of scripture. And we don’t see that it deserves to be scripture in this religion.

Spirit Sickness

For my Realistic Living Pointers this month I am sharing a portion of my recently published book: Radical Gifts: Living the Full Christian Life in Troubled Times.

I now have copies in my house that I can mail to you or to your friends and relatives as Christmas gifts. Each book is $20, postage free in the US. I only have 17 copies left.

Or you can order this book from the Canadian publisher www.woodlakebooks.com. The price for one print copy is $19.95 plus $17 shipping to the US. For 7 or more books, shipping from Canada is free. If you live in Canada your best deal is to order your books directly from Wood Lake. If you want an e-book or kindle, you can order it from Wood Lake for $9.96.

Contact me, ( jgmarshall@cableone.net ), and I will put a $20 book on its way to the person whose address you send me. You can mail your check to Gene Marshall; 3578 N. State Highway; Bonham TX, 75418 You can also order this book on Amazon.com

Most important, please read the following and share it with others.

Chapter 2
What Is Spirit Sickness and How Is It Healed?

Spirit sickness is not the same as the dread we identified in the previous chapter. Dread in the midst of an oblivion experience is normal, healthy, spirit life. So is the dread we experience in resurgence periods – the dread in our struggles to build a new and unfamiliar life. Dread, fascination, and the courage to embrace these intensities are all factors of healthy spirit life.

“Despair” is the key concept for understanding the sickness of the spirit. For example, leaving childhood is an oblivion experience for an adolescent. Being in despair over leaving childhood, however, is something else. Despair would be the result of refusing to grow up. Despair is spirit sickness. The opposite of despair is trust in the goodness of one’s real situation – in this example, it means trusting in the goodness of leaving childhood. The adolescent might also despair over taking up the roles of adulthood. In this case, he or she would be despairing over a resurgence experience. Here, the opposite of despair would be trust in the goodness of growing up.

As adults, we might be in despair over having to leave the familiar patterns of declining aspects of our society. Or we might be in despair over having to learn new styles of social life. The opposite of despair would be a trust in the goodness of living in the midst of this awesome social change.

Continue reading Spirit Sickness

Radical Gifts

For this month’s Realistic Living Pointers I am going to share with you the preface and table of contents of my new book just published by Wood Lake Publishers. The title is:

Radical Gifts: Living the Full Christian Life in Troubled Times.

In 1963, two years before his death, Paul Tillich gave three lectures on “The Irrelevance and Relevance of the Christian Message.” These lectures were published in 2007 in a book by that title. Tillich’s conclusions clarified our awareness that the Christian message can only be relevant when it is shaped for our times. This core challenge has remained all these years.

In 1984, I offered the initial version of Radical Gifts under the title A Primer on Radical Christianity. This update for Wood Lake Publishing now stands on the shoulders of not only the great 19th- and 20th-century Christian theologians, but also on the shoulders of Christian and secular writers in these early decades of century 21. In this 2018 publication, I continue the effort to envision for the general reader the radical gifts of the Christian revelation for the tasks of realistic living in our contemporary settings. This current book contains some updating, yet the core challenges for Christianity have endured.

We are living in the midst of a turning point in the history of Christianity that is more radical than the Reformation period, perhaps as radical as the birth of Christianity itself. This emerging form of Christianity is so new that it does not seem to be Christianity at all to many people.

Such a topic deserves an elaborate book, but this is a simple book written for you no matter who you are or what relationship you now have to a Christian practice. By “radical gifts” I mean both a recovery and a going forward. I intend a recovery of the full New Testament witness, and a moving beyond both the intellectual and social forms that have defined the term “Christian” for hundreds of years.

I see this work as a useful study book, but also as a condensed pull-together for Christians who are willing to continue, or to begin now to build new forms of Christian-life-together that both nurture Christians and reach out to challenge the spirit confusions that characterize our global societies. I see this as more than a theology book and more than an outline for action; it is a program for living our whole lives in relevant and vital interaction with the times in which we have shown up.

Having a fresh Christian practice is not the only way to make a deep difference, but I am sure it is one way. And it is a way to enter into the needed interreligious dialogue with something to say, and with something to do together with other faiths for the healing of persons and for the justice of societies within these interreligious times. We are all facing these same troubled times together. This book outlines the Christian gifts to these discussions and these actions.

The first six chapters of this book contain theological poetry that still speaks to our times. Chapter 7 on ethics is printed in its original form and updated in an appendix. Similarly, Chapter 8 on Christian community has been updated in another appendix.

Following is the table of contents and how order this book:

1. What is Spirit?

2. What is Spirit Sickness?
and How is it Healed?

3. What Does Spirit Health Include?

4. What Reality in Human Experience
Do We Point to with the Word, “God”?

5. What Does All This Have To Do
with Jesus Christ?

6. What is Commitment to God,
to Christ, to Holy Spirit?

7. What Consequences Does this Commitment
Have for Ethical Thinking?

8. What Will Be the Coming Social Shape
of the Community of the Committed?

Appendix A: Prayer and the
House Church Meeting

Appendix B: Reality, God, and
Liturgical Language

Appendix C: Immortality, Reincarnation
and the Spirit Self

Appendix D: A Chapter 7 Update on the
Commitment to Ethical Thinking

Appendix E: A Chapter 8 Update on the
Community of the Committed

You can order this book from www.woodlakebooks.com. A print copy is $15.96 plus shipping; e-book or kindle $9.96. Shipping costs to the United States for 1-6 books is $17. For 7 or more books, shipping is free. To Canada shipping costs for 1-6 books is $12. For 7 or more books shipping is free. Contact Gene Marshall for other options.( jgmarshall@cableone.net ).

Interpreting Scripture

For my Realistic Living Pointers this month, I am sharing with you the last half of the introduction to a new book that I am publishing on our Realistic Living blog site.

The Creator of Christianity
a commentary on the Gospel of Mark
by Gene W. Marshall

The entire book can be purchased for $10 on this site:

https://realisticliving.org/blog/

While you are there, look around. We are also publishing the 8 spirit talks that Gene gave at the June 2018 Realistic Living Summer Program, plus a Study Outline for the above book, and Study Outlines for The Unbelievable Happiness of What Is by Jon Bernie, and Dangerous Years by David W. Orr. All this is in addition to the monthly Realistic Living Pointers.

Following is the second half of the Introduction to the Mark Commentary.

Interpreting Scripture Today

Today, Christian theologians, who want to go to the roots of the first century Christian “revelation,” face the reality that people in the first century used the now obsolete two-tier, story-telling metaphor. That old manner of talking about ultimate matters had been the way of talking about ultimate matters for as long as anyone could remember.
In spite of the fact that their way of talking is no longer adequate for us today, we cannot claim to be Christians if we fail to interpret our scriptures. Therefore, to do scriptural interpretation adequately, we must translate for our era of culture what those early writers meant in their own lives when they used that old form of metaphorical talk that is now basically meaningless to us. Throughout this commentary, I will be illustrating what such metaphorical translation looks like.

Christian theologians today also face a second challenge. Within our current culture we tend to overlook metaphorical meanings altogether. We tend to view all statements literally. We learned to be literal from the current prominence of the scientific mode of truth. In the scientific style of thinking, words mean something only if words point to something in the realm of facts, observable by the human senses. Influenced by this overemphasis on facts, both religious agnostics and religious literalists fail to see the poetic or contemplative type of truth that is contained in the wild stories of the Bible. The agnostics are right to see that many stories of the Bible are preposterous when viewed literally. And religious literalists, who think they are defending Biblical truth with their literalism, are actually ignoring the profound truth that is hidden in these wildly creative stories.

Continue reading Interpreting Scripture

The Creator of Christianity

For my Realistic Living Pointers this month, I am using part of the introduction to a new book that I am publishing on our Realistic Living blog site.

The Creator of Christianity
a commentary on the Gospel of Mark
by Gene W. Marshall

The entire book can be purchased for $10 on this site:

https://realisticliving.org/blog/

While you are there, look around. We are also publishing the 8 spirit talks that Gene gave at the June 2018 Realistic Living Summer Program, plus Study Outlines for the above book, The Unbelievable Happiness of What Is by Jon Bernie, and Dangerous Years by David W. Orr. All this is in addition to the recent Realistic Living Pointers posts.

So here is the first part of the

Introduction

to the Mark Commentary.

Living in Aramaic-speaking Galilee twenty-one centuries ago, Jesus and his first companions constituted the event of revelation that birthed the Christian faith. But without Paul’s interpretation of the meaning of cross and resurrection for the Greek-speaking Hellenistic Jewish culture, we might never have heard of Christian faith.

Mark, whoever he was, lived during the lifetime of Paul and was deeply influenced by Paul. In about 70 CE, Mark, like Paul, was a major turning point in the development of the Christian religion. Mark invented the literary form we know as “the Gospel.” This remarkable literary form was then copied and elaborated by the authors Matthew and Luke, and then revolutionized by John. These four writings, not Paul’s letters, are the opening books of the New Testament that Christians count as their Bible (along with the Old Testament). “Gospel” (Good News) has become a name for the whole Christian revelation.

We might say that Mark was the theologian who gave us the Christianity that has survived in history. The Markian shift in Christian imagination was important enough that we might even claim that Mark, rather than Paul or Jesus, was the founder of Christianity. However that may be, Mark’s gospel is a very important piece of writing. And this writing is more profound and wondrous than is commonly appreciated.

Of first importance for understanding my viewpoint in the following commentary is this: I see the figure of “Jesus” in Mark’s narrative as a fictitious character—based, I firmly believe, on a real historical figure. I do not want to confuse Mark’s “Jesus” with what we can know through our best recent scientific research about the historical Jesus of Nazareth. For our best understanding of Mark, we need to view Mark’s “Jesus” with the same fun and sensibility we have toward Harry Potter when we read J. K. Rowling’s novels about this unusual character.

Continue reading The Creator of Christianity

When Total Obedience is Perfect Freedom

Realism means obedience to reality. Such obedience entails giving up building mind-castles of false realities to take the place of Reality with a capital “R.” This capitalization assumes that there IS a really real Reality that is not made up by human beings. However the capitalized word “Reality” is capable of misunderstandings. For some it can mean a second realm that stands over-against the ordinary realm of existence. If we are inclined to a more down-to-Earth view of Reality, it can mean those parts of our experience that are pleasant, excluding those parts that are unpleasant, horrific, challenging, grim, or perhaps boring.

But the “total obedience” I want to describe is a devotion to the mysterious all-powerful encounter that includes everything that happens to us in every event we face. Such realism means taking in what is actually happening to each of us and to us as societies. This includes possibilities as well as limitations. It includes the consequences of human choices as well as the processes of nature over which humans have no control. It includes the horrific as well as the glorious. In addition to our everyday content, the Reality we actually face includes the Abyss of No-thing-ness from which each thing, including our own lives, have come and to which each thing, including our own lives,will return. Reality also includes the Every-thing-ness of that Expansive Sea of Mystery within which each identifiable thing exists for now. Reality includes the Awesome Otherness that we encounter as well as the Awe that the Awesome occasions in our inner being.

Continue reading When Total Obedience is Perfect Freedom

The Depth of Christian Social Ethics

All social ethics takes place in a context of history. Christian social ethics is no different: as Christians we do not have a set of principles that apply to every generation of history. The ethics of Leviticus and the ethics of Deuteronomy were shaped for those times in history. The same applies to the ethics of Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Luther, and H. Richard Niebuhr. Time moves on and social ethics moves on with the times.

Continue reading The Depth of Christian Social Ethics

The Revelation of Moses

What happened to those slaves that Moses led out of Egypt?  Why do we remember an event that is centuries more than 3000 years old.  Furthermore, this event is now covered with layers of story, myth, and interpretations to the extent that any scientifically historical accuracy about what factually happened is obscured in all the fuss that has been made about this event.  Let us suppose that the following bare-bones approximation of the outward historical facts, gives us an impression of what we need to guess in order to begin understandings why this event was revelatory—yes, revelatory of the nature of every event that has ever happened or ever will happen.

Here is my guess:  An unusually aware, sensitive, and perhaps educated member of the Hebraic slave community was moved to lead a significant number of his Hebraic companions out of a severely hierarchical Egyptian society into the wilderness where a new vision of law-writing was established that was based on a vision that the Mysterious Realty allows free action to change the course of history.  This was a huge shift in life interpretation for these Egyptian enculturated slaves—so huge that it took Moses and others 40 years, so the story goes, to wash Egypt out of this people and prepare them to fight for a more promising place on Earth for their revelation and their emerging peoplehood.

A more personally rooted story-time rendering of this transformative event begins with how a man named Moses got so angry over a member of his people being mistreated by an Egyptian soldier that he killed that solder, and then had to flee to the out-back into a life in hiding.  Then one day, so the story goes, Moses came upon a bush that was blazing with a strange type of fire.  Temporal bushes burn up, but this bush was not being consumed.  It remained the same old bush in spite of this strange conflagration. This was surely a bit of Moses’ poetry for a very real inner happening to Moses himself.   His own “who-he-thought-he-was” was being burned up, yet he was not consumed.

Continue reading The Revelation of Moses

Perpetual Revolution

in our use of the word “God”

My mentor for 20 years Joe Mathews was a graduate student and long-term friend of H. Richard Niebuhr. “Perpetual revolution” is a phrase and an emphasis that Mathews took from Niebuhr and passed on to me. This phrase was applied to all social structures, but especially to the perpetual revolution in religious forms.

One of Mathews’ favorite spins was about how Spirit cries out, “Give me form,” and how the form that we give to Spirit can never contain the Spirit that cried out for form.  In this same way, what Niebuhr called “radical monotheism” is a perpetual revolution. Such monotheism is “radical” all the way back to Moses and all the way forward to any radical new edition of Christianity.

Continue reading Perpetual Revolution

Interreligious Relations

ISIS-type Muslims and KKK-type Christians hate one another. They also hate Jews and any other group that seems to reject or despise their particular religious fanaticism. And a whole lot of Jews, Christians, and Muslims are laking in the awareness that these three religious, when true to their origins, have more in common than they differ.

The differences between these three religions are important, and their historical battles in previous centuries were seriousness conflicts that smoked out deep truths and social benefits for the future of our species. But today, the overriding imperative is to honor our common humanity. This honoring includes making allies among the true followers of the Exodus revelation of realism, the Jesus as Messiah revelation of realism, and the Mohammedan revelation of realism. We can picture this companionship as three different spirit explorers staring into same deep pit of Mystery—each one telling us in a different language what they see. Like blind persons touching different parts of the same elephant, these and other vital religious heritages present different pathways to the same overwhelming, inexhaustible Mystery.

Continue reading Interreligious Relations