Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Jack Spong at the National Cathedral

As many opportunities as there are in the D.C. area for great lectures, concerts, and other cultural events, it's not too often that I'm able to get out and enjoy any of them. However, I was able to go out last week and attend a lecture given by the Rt. Rev. John Shelby Spong, retired Episcopal bishop of the Diocese of Newark (NJ), which was hosted by the Cathedral College of Washington National Cathedral. He's definitely been a controversial figure, and I really wanted to take the chance to hear what he had to say. I didn't have any opinions already formed before I went, since I've read little of what Jack has written and only knew him from what my parents told me about him from his time as rector of St. John's in Lynchburg (VA).

There was a fairly sizeable crowd in attendance, and I was curious from the outset to see how folks would react to what he had to say. I sat next to a young, second-year seminarian from Virginia Theological Seminary with whom I had a very pleasant chat. While we agreed on much -- the importance of outreach in the life of Episcopal congregations being the largest topic of discussion -- I could tell that we had a difference of opinion regarding the recent ordination of Gene Robinson as Bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire. In fact, Jack's position on the ordination of gay and lesbian priests over the years has been the source of a great deal of controversy. I was pretty sure that some folks in the audience might seize on that when it came time for questions and answers at the end of the lecture.

I was amazed by Jack's lecture, the topic of which was billed as "The Promise of Jesus: Abundant Life for All." He had said that he was going to take examples from three of his books, but in fact he focused a lot on his life and on those points where he wondered whether the church was headed down the right path (points that he referred to as pebbles in his shoe). He definitely made some powerful points -- talking about how he was raised in a time and in a place where people were anti-Semitic, anti-women, homophobic, and racist. The "pebbles" to which he referred were points where he began to confront each of these -- both through incidents in his own life as well as in the life of the national Episcopal church.

I do have to agree, after having listened to him, that undoubtedly many of the folks who have criticized him over the years have never taken the time to read what he has written or listened to what he has to say. I've been prompted to buy several of his books (aside from the ones I already owned and which were sadly gathering dust on my shelves) and intend to read more fully his opinions on a variety of topics that I know are impacting the church. I may even decide to chat more about some of that in future posts. But there was one really powerful statement that I took away from all of this: "If truth can destroy faith, you never had any to begin with."

1 comment:

Dave said...

Hi Matt, I'm here to give you some encouragement to keep on bloggin'! Mine is going on four years now and it is a really nice way to keep a record of the stuff we go through in life, so I wish you all the best and will bookmark this one for repeated viewings.

On the Spong topic, there's a church in my area that Spong has taken to his heart, Christ Community Church. It's a bit too far away from my house for me to regularly attend there, but they have a first class website complete with videos and other resources, including some messages from Spong.

http://www.christ-community.net/

Check it out, you might like it.