This is the story of a story of a story, re-told by Bishop Spong in early June in two one-week classes. It seemed to me to be a good way to wrap up the first year of my MDiv program; little did I know what an incredible experience it would be. It was an opportunity acquire new ways to hear familiar stories and discover them anew.
The first week, in “The Role of the Synagogue in Shaping the Synoptic Gospels,” we explored the ways each of the synoptic gospels tells a story wrapped around the festivals of the Hebrew liturgical year. We came to understand the significance of story-telling in the reading and studying of the scriptures. Bishop Spong reminded us in so many ways that in order to read the gospels in an authentic way, we must read them through a Jewish lens. One cannot understand the scriptures without understanding the Hebrew stories and locus in which they were told.
In particular, I was struck by a statement Bishop “Jack” made one day and reiterated throughout the two sessions: “Behind the gospel there is a God experience and the gospels are explanations of that experience. There is a difference between experience and the explanation of the experience. Jesus is a first century experience.”
In week two our class was inspired by Bishop Spong’s recent book, “The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic.” We encountered wisdom that has become important in my own personal prayer life. For example, “Faith for a Jew means putting your faith in God without any proof that’s what you should do;” or “Faith means that you learn to walk with others in their pain.” “God is mystery beyond our understanding; faith is walking into that mystery.” And, “One is always on a journey into the mystery and wonder of God.”
Throughout our time together, Bishop Spong kept inviting us into that mystery who is God, nudging us to look deeper and further into our own experience of God and the many ways of telling the Jesus story in the 21st century. We cannot tell each other who God is but we can tell how we have experienced God and Jesus by the way we live.
That is the task of a good story-teller: developing and engaging the reader so she or he will want to dig deeper and deeper into the characters and their roles in their world, and discover how that connects to us and our world. That’s what the mystic author(s) of John did and that’s what John Spong, the author and story-teller, invites each of us to do.
As my classmate Benson Wang observed, “Bishop Spong is constantly learning and changing, and is very open in sharing what he believes. We all were inspired for the two weeks we spent in his class this summer.” And, according to Eileen Gerety, “A course with Bishop Spong is not only thought provoking but transformative! He asks and discusses the questions that many people dare not to think let alone discuss….wow…wow…wow!”
– Gladys K. Hughes, MDiv Student