Sunday, January 28, 2007

Divine Forgiveness

Years ago, when I was still Presbyterian, I was sitting in a Presbyterian church on a Sunday morning listing to the same kind of pastoral prayer that I had heard for most of my life and, when the minister came to the "prayer for forgiveness," it suddenly struck me as very, very silly.

The minister was talking (as Presbyterian ministers often do) about how sinful we were, and unworthy of God's love and grace, and how we were nevertheless humbly seeking forgiveness. But I had by that time come to believe that Jesus meant exactly what he said in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32.), and about how God causes the sun to rise on both the evil and the good (Matt. 5:45). God loves us, and has forgiven us, is forgiving us, and always will forgive us.

The reason that we need to pray is not so that God will forgive us, but so that we will forgive ourselves. The problem is not that God does not love us and forgive us, but that we have not yet figured out how to accept that love and forgiveness.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


(We recently "celebrated" the fifth anniversary of the establishment of a detainee camp at the U.S. military base oat Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and I wanted to republish this commentary that I wrote and published on June 30, 2004.)

As I watched the special report on the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay that was broadcast by ABC News on its "20/20" program (Friday, 6/25/2004), the terrible sadness and sickness of it was almost overpowering to me. I fear not only for our souls, but for our safety.

Nowadays, we say that "what goes around comes around." Jesus said, "Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get." (Matt. 7:1-2)

In the form of the "Golden Rule," this becomes, "Do to others as you would have them do to you." (Luke 6:31)

The idea that there is a reflectivity in the universe appears frequently in the Bible, most often as a warning:

"As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same." (Job 4:8)
"For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind:" (Hosea 8:7)
"According to their way I will deal with them; according to their own judgments I will judge them." (Ezekiel 7:27)

The most frightening version comes from the letter of Paul to the Galatians:

"Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for you reap whatever you sow." (Gal. 6:7)

A teacher of mine sometimes said that "the only way to stop a behavior is to stop the behavior." What does that mean in real life?

It means that we can’t teach kindness by practicing cruelty.
We can’t instill a sense of mercy by acting mercilessly.
We can’t establish a rule of law through lawlessness.
We can’t expect justice by administering injustice.
We can’t create peace through war.
And we can’t stop terrorists through terrorism.

Which brings me to my favorite passage from the Bible:

"And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8)

In the policies of the Bush Administration, there is no justice, there is no kindness, and there is no humility.

And I am afraid that we will reap the whirlwind.

Sunday, January 14, 2007


The word "repent" appears in the New Testament and in Christian literature and sermons. And yet it seems to be the result of a faulty translation, a translation faulty enough to distort our view of both Jesus and God.

The word "repent" is derived from the Latin paenitere, which means to regret or be sorry, from which we also derive the words "penitent" and "penitentiary." But the Greek word used in the manuscripts of the New Testament is metanoia, which means to change your mind or change your heart. (See "The Lost Gospel Q," Marcus Borg, ed., p. 34, n. 1.)

John the Baptist was not calling on people to express regret or feel guilty, but to renew their minds and hearts. Mark 1:4 (NRSV) says that John was proclaiming "a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." In "The Lost Gospel Q," the same phrase is translated as "baptism and a change of heart leading to the forgiveness of sins." In "The Gospel According to Jesus," Stephen Mitchell translates the phrase as "a baptism of renewal for the forgiveness of sins."

The act of forgiveness is itself a change of heart or change of mind. When we forgive, we go from anger, resentment, or disapproval to a state of peace, love, and non-judgment. Similarly, we are "reborn" in Jesus because we can then change our hearts, putting aside our fears and sorrows and regaining the faith and innocence of a child.

It is true that, in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), the son who has lead a sinful and dissolute life admits to his father that he has sinned when he returns home, but the father does not seem to pay any attention at all and immediately calls for a celebration. The son is never asked to perform any penance and his sincerity is never questioned. The son never even asks for forgiveness. He is simply accepted home and unconditionally forgiven as soon as he appears. His change of mind and decision to return home was enough.

Renewal and rebirth are central to the teachings of Jesus, and it is unfortunate that we have become burdened by the idea that we have to be penitent before we can be reborn and return to God.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

A Thin Place

The name of this blog is based on a phrase used by theologian Marcus Borg to describe a place (or a thing) where the distance between the divine and the secular are narrowed, and we are able to come closer to experiencing the divine.

My hope is that this blog will help me (by writing it) and others (by reading it) experience that kind of "thin place."

This is a continuation of a web page I created some years ago,, and I will be copying my previous postings from there to here for the sake of "completeness."