Faith, Family

Yes, I’m a Spong

It's not hard to find out who I really am, since I link to my newspaper columns and have been none-too-secretive over the past couple of years. I still use a nickname simply because I *enjoy* using a pseudonym. My kids have a different last name, so I'd like to think they are somewhat shielded.

But one thing from which I cannot be shielded despite pseudonymity is the way other bloggers talk about someone I love a lot, my Cousin Jack (Bishop Spong). I don't agree with everything he's written–I'm a solidly Trinitarian Christian, but I find his post-theistic understanding of the Divine not only informative but inspirational. I admire the way he continues his lifelong spiritual practices, such as the reading of scripture and prayer, even though he has long since left behind the childhood faith experiences in which they were based. I have been the recipient of his hospitality, eaten meals he has prepared with his own hands, hands which have held mine and my children's as grace has been spoken around a family table.

Anyway, it's a popular thing to give him crap. I hope you won't mind if I skip those discussions at your blogs. In fact, I'm likely to stay away for a while. I find the hostility people feel toward him mysterious and troubling. I'm reminded of the death threats issued against my dad, Jack's first cousin, when he did not toe the white, conservative line in his political career, when he fought the people who thought closing the public schools in Virginia and opening "private" white schools would be the best way to fight integration and when he voted against a Supreme Court nominee who belonged to an all-white country club.

We need people who push the edges of how we think and what we believe, or we grow stagnant. We may not agree with all of their conclusions, but they stretch us. Without such people, we wouldn't be voting to affirm the new law allowing same sex marriage here in Maine. We wouldn't think twice about the Louisiana Justice of the Peace who recently refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple.

We need prophets.

I believe the world needs Cousin Jack. I believe God works through him, even if my understandings, some of them, differ from his. I hope you can understand. He poured the water of baptism on the head of my oldest child. In my home he is beloved.

17 thoughts on “Yes, I’m a Spong”

  1. How refreshing to hear a comment so filled with intelligence and grace. I have admired Bishop Spong for some time and have read nearly all of his books, I am making my way through his latest (last?) now.
    He has been a hero in the way he has stood up for the marginalized and for freedom of thought.
    BTW, our Westy is named “Shelby” in his honor!
    So cool he is your cousin!!

  2. That is so cool! I remember hearing him speak when I was in seminary. I also have admired him, and I think you’re lucky to call him cousin!

  3. Bishop Spong is a great big hero of mine and has been for years. He is brave and kind and faithful. How completely cool that you claim him as family!

  4. Songbird–
    Because we’ve been wrestling with, and standing in solidarity with, the struggles of several friends against cancer, my partner and I have been having a lot of discussions about death. She recently brought home his book, “Eternal Life” to read. I admit I was skeptical– I mean, I’M the gone-to-seminary one, and she tends to scoff a bit at anything too “preachy” or overtly theological. But it was like watching a kid who only reads comic books after they’ve discovered Harry Potter. She was up late each night reading your cousin’s book, excitedly calling out, “listen to this!” and reading aloud passages about the profound theological implications of the Gospel of John. The book fed her and inspired her and pushed the edges of her thinking– and pushed those edges farther than I myself ever could.
    So, yes, your cousin’s prophetic voice is welcome in our house too–welcome indeed!

  5. I am SO glad you posted this. I am so tired of hearing the Bishop constantly beaten up for his fine articulation of a truly studied and well-reflected faith. He’s not just pumping out books – he’s Living his faith. How many can say that?????

  6. When I found out that you were related to Bp. Spong, I just thought, “way cool!” I haven’t read all his books, and I don’t agree with everything he says, but his voice does play an important role in our on-going theological discussions. And honestly, I’ve never understood the hostility that comes out in reaction to him and his work, and why the conservatives in my denomination seem to feel so threatened by him.

  7. I’ve seen a lot of hostility toward Bp. Spong lately, which is really quite odd, I think. I’ve not read much of Bp. Spong, but I enjoy what I do read. By enjoy, I don’t mean to imply that I agree with everything I read–just that I enjoy it. I enjoy hearing ideas that push me out of my comfort zone. I enjoy listening to a modern-day prophet. I enjoy knowing (in the RevGalBlogPals sense) the cousin of Bp. Spong. While my dorm room isn’t too big, he’s welcome in every inch of it.
    Thank you for being positive, Songbird, even if he is your cousin(…which is SOO cool, by the way.)
    God is Love,

  8. I don’t know that I have anything new to say that hasn’t already been said. I was introduced to your cousin’s writings by a former pastor, and have now read several of his books. He IS on the edge, but you’re right, we need folks to take us there. How will we grow otherwise?? I am thankful for faith-filled voices who challenge us to wrestle with scripture and belief. That’s how my faith grows.

  9. I’ve read two of Bp Spong’s books (on the virgin birth and resurrection). I felt profoundly enriched by both of them.
    The right is fighting back. What can I say? It’s a sign that intelligent inquiry is hitting a nerve.

  10. I attended a weekend with him at Kirkridge a couple of years ago with my wife, who loves his writings and finds him inspiring. We even had breakfast with John and Christine on the last morning of the conference. We were amused, for some reason, at how he wore camouflage pants.
    I’ll admit to having more mixed feelings about him. I agreee he doesn’t deserve all the abuse he suffers from his critics. No one deserves that. But in my observation, he gives out his share of it too. His diatribes against historic Christian beliefs have wounded my spirit, at times. Maybe I’m too sensitive about it, I don’t know. But words do have consequences.
    I’m glad you find his writings helpful to your spiritual life. Peace to you today.

  11. On being stretched by reading things one does not agree with in advance–this is why I am one of two political progressives in a family of neocons. The other progressive sib I have has a degree in poly sci. Blessings to you.

  12. Please call that Justice of the Peace the “Tangipahoa Parish Justice of the Peace” They are the only ones who voted for him. This Louisianian hates what he is doing.

  13. My uncle is a pretty far left Episcopal priest and many years ago he started giving my parents your cousin’s books for Christmas. I was so lucky to grow up in a house and family where intelligent inquiry about our religion was encouraged.
    If I had never read Bishop Spong’s books, I think it is more likely that I would no longer be religious at all, because as I can’t imagine being part of a religion that didn’t encourage us to keep learning and keep questioning.
    (and yes, when I first found out he was your cousin, it just made me love your blog all the more)

  14. Oh, songbird, I knew he was your cousin. I don’t always agree with him, but his great contribution, is that he makes us think. It’s altogether too easy not to think for some Christians, but it’s essential. Besides, he is part of the family who produced you and that gives him all sorts of credibility for me, cause I think you are great. The Bp. Spongs exist, I think, to challenge Christians to think through and pray through what he says to arrive at their understanding of Christ.

  15. It’s always interesting how many “Christian” people expect their beliefs to be respected, yet feel somehow threatened by someone whose understanding is different. I agree with everyone else. Bishop Spong makes us think, and when we think, we grow, as does our understanding of what it is to be human.

  16. Serendipitously, I was pointed to Bishop Spong’s new manifestor today: “A Manifesto! The Time Has Come!” at If that heartening piece is representative of his writings, I would go back to churchswitching from the Presbyterian to the Episcopal churchin a New York minute were the bishop to decide to come out of retirement and serve as minister of a congregation. It was because of my Presbyterian church’s homophobia and lack of courage to speak out against wrongs that I left.

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