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Why the Bible Began

Why the Bible Began: An Alternative History of Scripture and its OriginsWhy the Bible Began: An Alternative History of Scripture and its Origins by Jacob L. Wright
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've read numerous books on the Hebrew Scriptures over the decades, and this may be the very best. A summary of the current state of scholarship (and archaeological research), he presents the best understanding of ancient Israelite history, the development of the religion, and the writing, editing, and formation of the canon. Here was synthesized bits and pieces I'd encountered in recent years in various places, but never all put together. And some of it was also new to me. The picture presented is radically different from what I learned in my Old Testament classes thirty years ago.

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The Meaning of Mary Magdalene

The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of ChristianityThe Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity by Cynthia Bourgeault
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a fascinating and wonderful book, that I wish I had read earlier. Not only does it go a long way to recovering the role of Mary Magdalene, but it opens up fabulous new ways of looking at key Christian ideas and practices, and has many helpful practical suggestions for liturgy and ministry.

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Varieties of Spiritual Experience

The Varieties of Spiritual Experience: 21st Century Research and PerspectivesThe Varieties of Spiritual Experience: 21st Century Research and Perspectives by David B Yaden
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

About fifteen years ago I remember reading an article about the use of brain science to study religious experiences and was fascinated. I thought then that if I ever went back to get another academic degree, it would be something in that field. But beyond that initial interest I never did follow up.

So it was good to read this review of all the current research and hear about promising ideas for the future.

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Sacred Nature

Sacred Nature: Restoring Our Ancient Bond with the Natural WorldSacred Nature: Restoring Our Ancient Bond with the Natural World by Karen Armstrong
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Armstrong turns her vast scholarship to the climate crisis and presents us with the practices we currently need to change our lives by drawing upon the wisdom of ancient spirituality. Most interesting to me was the vast resources of neo-Confucianism she presents as being quite helpful today.

As she writes near the end, "So, if we want to save our planet, we too must cultivate this ancient conviction that every natural thing is inseparable from our ultimate concern."

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Healing the Wounds of Sexual Abuse

<a href="https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/42249869-healing-the-wounds-of-sexual-abuse" style="float: left; padding-right: 20px"><img border="0" alt="Healing the Wounds of Sexual Abuse: Reading the Bible with Survivors" src="https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1540837076l/42249869._SX98_.jpg" /></a><a href="https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/42249869-healing-the-wounds-of-sexual-abuse">Healing the Wounds of Sexual Abuse: Reading the Bible with Survivors</a> by <a href="https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/673279.Elaine_A_Heath">Elaine A. Heath</a><br/>
My rating: <a href="https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/5500505007">5 of 5 stars</a><br /><br />
This is an excellent book that I highly recommend. Both pastorally helpful and also full of rich interpretations of biblical stories from the perspectives of survivors of sexual abuse. So a helpful book for the preacher as well.
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Good Christian Sex

Good Christian Sex: Why Chastity Isn't the Only Option-And Other Things the Bible Says About SexGood Christian Sex: Why Chastity Isn't the Only Option-And Other Things the Bible Says About Sex by Bromleigh McCleneghan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a good book. A helpful book. Even a fun book.

McCleneghan states that her goal is to "lay out some of the theological and ethical questions that arise in your average, everyday experience of adult sexuality, and to walk readers through those discussions in a clear and engaging way." I think she achieves her goal.

Her authorial voice is funny and relatable, as she uses her own stories and experiences to explore pleasure, intimacy, being single, dealing with exes, being married, etc.

I highly recommend this book and know that I'm going to use it in my pastoral care for years to come.

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Testimony Opposing LB574

LB574 would ban gender-affirming care.  The Nebraska Medical Association, physicians, social workers, mental health professionals, suicide prevention organizations, business and religious leaders joined with many trans youth and their parents to oppose this legislation.  Here is the testimony I delivered.  The second page I handed to the committee was the letter from the Nebraska Conference of the United Church of Christ opposing this bill and two others that would harm trans youth.

Testimony Opposing LB574

Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

Senior Minister, First Central Congregational United Church of Christ of Omaha

Just last week a mother in my congregation called me from the emergency room at Immanuel Hospital.  She was there with her trans daughter who had attempted to end her life.  The distraught mother kept talking about how awful society is to trans people.

I don’t know if the daughter was following the news and the debate over bills like this one.  I don’t know if the existence of this bill directly contributed to her suicide attempt.  But I do know that the climate of bigotry and discrimination to which a bill like this contributes was a factor.

So, I come to you today as a Christian pastor, who only last week cared for a family confronted by the need for gender-affirming care.  I’m asking you not to further burden good people of Christian faith with unnecessary obstacles and political controversy.  I’m asking you to uphold the dignity of the human person and to defend religious liberty and the freedom of conscience.

In my denomination, the United Church of Christ, descended from the Pilgrims and Puritans, we affirm that the beauty and blessedness of God's creation is present in all people.  We make a conscious and deliberate decision to celebrate the diversity of creation as uniquely embodied in people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+). We honor the sacredness of people's lives through extravagant welcome and unconditional affirmation of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.   The mission statement of the Nebraska Conference of the United Church of Christ proclaims: “to live into God’s extravagant welcome and advocate for justice. So that all know love, safety, belonging, and dignity.” 

In what I distributed you also have a letter from the Nebraska Conference of the United Church of Christ stating our religious opposition to this bill and all the clergy, congregations, and lay people who have also added their names to the letter.

This bill violates our Christian faith.  It violates the sacredness of God’s creation.  It is antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  This bill discriminates against my denomination and my congregation, threatening our religious liberty and freedoms of conscience. 

Please oppose LB574.


Testimony Opposing LB277

The first hearing I testified at yesterday was LB277.  Half of this bill is great--it protects indigenous folks in wearing their regalia.  The other half is a RFRA that we know now from thirty years experience with such bills will be used by the Religious Right to seek exemptions from anti-discrimination laws.

Testimony Opposing LB277

Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

Senior Minister, First Central Congregational United Church of Christ of Omaha

On October 31, 1948, my predecessor as Senior Minister at the First Central Congregational Church of Omaha, the Rev. Dr. Harold Jaynes, preached about the core principles of Protestantism and that sermon included this statement, which stands as a warning to us in 2023:

"We [should not] be deceived by those who claim they are interested in religious liberty when they are only interested in liberty to impose their interpretations of religion upon others."

Essential to the American tradition is the idea of a public space in which everyone's views are allowed to interact. For this public space to exist, everyone must be granted equality and mutual respect. It does not mean that you have to agree with everyone else, quite the contrary. It means that in the public sphere you cannot try to impose your views on someone else. Instead, you must grant them the respect and the equality that is their fundamental human right. You must acknowledge their dignity, their conscience. Religious liberty rests on the ancient principle: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

 And this, my friends, is why I'm so deeply troubled by the recent misuse of the concept "religious freedom." Let me state emphatically, and so that I am not misunderstood—in the public sphere no one has a religious right to discriminate against another human being.

Discrimination, not treating another person with the respect that they are entitled to, refusing equal treatment—these things are direct contradictions of religious liberty. They are hostile to it.

It is brazen dishonesty to wrap your biases in the language of religious freedom. It risks substantial harm to the Republic. To the entire American democratic experiment. And even to the Christian gospel.

It is Orwellian to use a term to describe its exact opposite. This dishonesty must be resisted.

Religious liberty, as historically understood, as rooted in the biblical tradition, as enshrined in our Constitution, demands equality of all persons, demands mutual respect of all persons, demands that in the public sphere everyone be treated the same.

I urge you, therefore, to oppose LB277.