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Our Role as a Church

What is our role as a church in our society, in our community? Studies by the Pew Research Center and the Public Religion Research Institute tell us that people, especially young people, think that church is irrelevant. To them it no longer has a role in society. In the census bureau form, under Religious Affiliation, the category “None” is the largest. In North America and Europe.  There has been a steady decline of Christianity in almost every sector.

Greta Vosper, a United Church of Canada minister, reminds us that “Really good social welfare organizations take their lead from the corporate world and actually sell the need for their services, not the service itself. . . Christianity has been successful throughout history in the same way that corporations are successful: it has sold the need for what it has to offer. It has sold the story that we’re inherently sinful people in need of salvation. Evangelicals can get that salvation through belief – distributed and reinforced by the church. Roman Catholics can get it through the sacraments – exclusively through the church. It has worked for millennia.” The “Nones” of the census and many others no longer accept these answers as needs.

The developing Christian theology of the past two hundred years does not accept that we are inherently sinful (the Adam and Eve story as literal) but that we have evolved with inherent animal instincts of survival that explain our fear of strangers and our impulses for self protection that lead to so much bigotry and hurt and evil and even war! But we have also evolved with mental capabilities to control those animal instincts, if we choose to use them. We also have capabilities for compassion, empathy, and love, and an understanding of human values and justice. But we need all the help we can get to live each day with love. And the Church’s answer is that the resurrected Jesus is within each of us (John 14:20), transforming us to be more fully human.

So society still needs the Church. Its role is still to provide salvation, but salvation from ourselves, from our inborn instincts to strike out in anger or hate, to release us from our inborn self-centeredness and selfishness, to open ourselves to giving ourselves away, to transform each of us to a fuller humanity, to a wholeness that relates us intimately to each other and to the Earth, all as an integral part of God’s universe! What a grand story we have to tell!

And as a Church, we must now reach out to others, including the “Nones” of the census, by finding new ways to “sell” the need for the church. New ways of demonstrating, displaying, educating, explaining and articulating our stories, our values and our relevancy. New ways of reading the Bible for today’s world. We need to find new forms of worship, new hymns, new ways to pray – ways which speak to our world today. The future of the Church depends on it.

Loren Bullock
November 5, 2016

Note: Greta Vosper, a United Church of Canada minister and author, pastor of West Hill United Church in Scarborough, Ontario, is also an atheist which sounds like an oxymoron, but that’s another story currently working its way out in Canada. We live in interesting times.

A Smithsonian Hispanic Museum?

The United States is predominantly a nation of immigrants, starting with Jamestown in 1610 and Plymouth in 1620. We are, in effect, “Statue of Liberty” people, with the exception of two major groups who cannot identify with the Statue of Liberty. They are the African Americans (they were brought here as slaves) and the Native Americans (they were already here.) Appropriately, we now have two Smithsonian Museums on the Mall in Washington DC recognizing the significant and unique roles these two groups have in our history that includes so much tragedy in their stories. A Congressman has introduced a bill to add a Hispanic Museum with the implication that it is “their turn.”

It is neither feasible nor necessary to start adding museums on the Mall to recognize the many Statue of Liberty groups of immigrants. They are already being recognized in numerous special museums around the country, from the Plimouth Plantation and Jamestown Settlements (that are living history parks) to the Zwaanendael (Dutch) Museum in Lewes, Delaware, the German-American Heritage Museum in Washington, DC, the Museum for Chinese in America in Manhattan, New York City, or the Armenian Museum of America in Watertown, Massachusetts, to name only a few. There are numerous Hispanic Museums in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Florida, and California, for example. As a stamp collector, I don’t consider it insignificant that the Post Office has over the years issued special commemorative stamps for several immigrant groups – the Irish, the French Huguenots, the Norse, the Swedish, even the German Turners, and as well, the Jamestown Settlers and the Pilgrims.  Each is also represented in my stamp album.

We have much work to do, however, to erase the bigotry so prevalent in America today that still prevents the Statue of Liberty from being meaningful for so many within our country.

Loren Bullock
September 24, 2016

Racism and Bigotry

We are hearing much talk about racism and bigotry in the political rhetoric today, reminding us that racism is still a keen reality in our society, even 150 years after the Civil War. Rogers and Hammerstein’s hugely successful 1949 Broadway musical South Pacific (I myself saw it on Broadway in the 1950s with Mary Martin) has Lt Cable sing this hauntingly beautiful song that I’ve always remembered.

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear.
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year.
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear.
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a different shade.
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late.
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate.
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

We now know that in our DNA each of us also has a survival instinct that is common in all life, and that can create in us an instinctive fear of strangers that makes it so easy for us to be racist or bigoted. It’s something just below the surface in all of us. No wonder that it is so prevalent in society. As parents and teachers, therefore, we must make special effort both in teaching and by example to counter that instinct not only in young children, but also to everyone around us. That’s why our Christian commandment to “Love!” is so important. For all too often, we do just the opposite, as the song explains.

Loren Bulllock
September 14, 2016

Concern for My Soul

It has been said that the concern of the healing arts is one’s body; the concern of religions is one’s soul. But the word “soul” is the English translation of a variety of words in the Bible – words that point to real human experience that is beyond the words themselves. In a recent weekly essay, Bishop John Shelby Spong answered a questioner’s concern:

“I find human words “squishy” when trying to define topics which words cannot fully embrace. The Greeks used the word “soma” to refer to bodies, but they also used the word “sarx,” which got translated as “flesh.” The word “psyche” could mean mind, but the Greeks also used the word “nous” to refer to the mind. Psyche could also mean “soul.” The words are anything but precise.

“The Hebrew word “nephesh” is translated as “soul” or “spirit,” but it literally means breath. Ruach was the Hebrew word for “wind,” but it also meant “spirit”. So I don’t find it helpful just to assume that words convey a consistent message. Words are, however, all that human beings have to use, but in the non-scientific, inexact areas of human experience, they leave much to be desired.

“In my opinion, [religions – as well as] all the healing arts – have one primary goal, which is to make people whole. The sign of wholeness is not found in any particular religious formulation, but is an expression of a deeper level of self-acceptance, one that expresses itself in the ability to give yourself away in love to another. The word “grace,” so freely used in religious circles, means the recognition that we are ultimately not self-made people, but are dependent on another for both life and love, which for me are synonyms for God. Obviously the gift of life is given to us by our parents. Not as obvious, but equally true, is that we have to be loved into the ability to love. We cannot give away what we have not received. We are driven by our own biology to be survival-oriented and thus self-centered. The grace of love is the only thing that can lift us beyond our survival needs and enable us to live for others.

“The healing disciplines deal with both the physical and mental distortions that have been passed on to us in the course of life. This fact should free us from moralizing, one of the favorite pastimes of religious people. Judgment is difficult, however, when we know that unloved people hurt others, that abused children are likely to turn into being abusive adults and that, in biblical language, “the sins of the fathers (and mothers) are passed on to the third and fourth generation.

‘[Our] task . . . is to bring wholeness to life. If using words like “soul” are helpful, that is fine; if not, [one should] feel free to abandon those words. Wholeness comes to our bodies, minds, spirits and souls in a variety of ways. The task of [a] would-be healer, [whether a minister or doctor or parent or teacher, or you or me] is to enable every person, no matter how badly he or she has been wounded by life, to find the courage to be all that he or she can be.”  [from , June 30, 2016]

Loren Bullock
June 30, 2016

Growing Old – Personal Reflections

As a boy, it’s more about “growing up.” During the busy middle years with work and family, there is little time to think about the future. Retirement is not a concern. And health is taken for granted. When sick, I went to the Doctor, took medicine, and got better. Even when I retired, and through my 70s, though I was slowing down and noticing increasing aches and pains, it was much the same.

But in my middle 80s, I began to notice a change. The increasing stiffness in my legs from the spinal stenosis was beginning to limit my activity. I was not sleeping as soundly or as comfortably as before. I had to stop bicycling with Jean. I cannot stoop down easily to pick things up or do any weeding in the garden. Any small chores around the house like making the bed or getting meals are harder – with increasing aches in my back and legs. My two canes are essential now for walking – both for steadiness and for keeping aches to a minimum.

When I see my image in a store window, I now see an old man, stooped, with a cane, and I am surprised, for that is not the image I feel about myself. For the ME inside me has not changed. I am interested in what’s going on around me. I read the Washington Post and watch CNN, still interested in the variety of stories from around the world. I enjoy going to the Postal Museum each week, telling stories to the visitors from all over the world. Riding Metro in the rush hour with all the crowds of other human beings gives me the feeling that I am still a functioning part of society. And having Jean as such a central part of my life gives me purpose and meaning for each day.

I recognize that I am in a new phase. Or rather, my body is in a new phase. I have come to understand that the ME that is me is not my body, although it is closely identified with it. I am increasingly resigned to the fact that my body is what is becoming old. I am increasingly aware of that “me” within my body and aware of the essential aloneness of each of us – even when surrounded by others. That does not necessarily mean loneliness, although we see much loneliness in the world. No, I am not lonely. I enjoy each day, much of it by myself as Jean is so busy with real estate clients. I enjoy our breakfasts at Crèpes á Go Go or Panera Bread with my wife, Jean, and other friends. I do so enjoy my grandchildren, Elizabeth and Alex, who have lived nearby all their lives . I am fascinated watching their development day by day.  What a prrivilege.

I now realize that the aging process is something that starts when our lives begin. It is a fact of all life. Elizabeth and Alex are aging day by day just as I am. The difference for me is in my awareness of it, and I can look back on a whole lifetime of development and growth and change that has been “me.” So in my aging, I have come to recognize that I am a specific individual, an integral part of all of life, a living participant in this constantly evolving universe.

I am grateful that my mind is still active, and that I can still read. I particularly enjoy history and biography. I had only two required history courses in all of high school and college. But when I was teaching Physics at Hamilton College in my 20s, I got interested in both the history of science and the history of the Protestant Reformation and recognized that they are related. Later, living in Lexington, Massachusetts, I explored the Revolutionary period of American History, and then broadened to include the Civil War period when I moved to Maryland. My travel with Smithsonian tours to Venice and Vienna and Prague introduced ne to the middle ages and the Hapsburgs, and my more recent bike tour of the Mosel valley took me back to earlier Roman times. My trip to Kyoto took me into the ancient oriental stories. The sweep of history is fascinating.

I am still studying and learning. My room with my desk and bookshelves is not my office, but my study. With my background in science, I have been fascinated by the newest developments in science, in the current thinking about space-time and the latest in cosmology, about our evolving universe, including the evolutionary development of life – especially the evolution of us as humans. What is it that makes us human? Those “how” questions lead me to the “why” and “who” questions of theology and my continuing study of the Bible. Bishop John Shelby Spong has written two books recently that articulate for me much of my present thinking, Eternal Life, and The Fourth Gospel, the latter being a new interpretation of the Gospel of John which gives new meaning to me of Jesus and God. The essays in this blog are the result of my continuing education.

Another activity has been creating and maintaining my computer files on our expenses and investments. I first created my own spread sheets in 1989 with the original VisiCalc on the first PC, and have been expanding and refining them ever since – using Lotus and now Excel. They have become a game to me, my “crossword puzzle”, keeping my mind active and challenged. I have gone way beyond anything like Quicken, finding it fun to create and adjust formulas, formats and fonts and tailoring the files to fit my specific needs. I recognize that I go into much more detail that anyone else even cares to know. And it must sound mundane and boring to everyone else. The useful results of tax input and check reconciliation and knowing where our money is spent are just nice fall outs from what is a mind-challenging activity each day that is fun and play for me. It’s my toy.

Since becoming a Docent at the National Postal Museum in 2006, I started collecting stamps which are now in two stamp albums, each one a three-inch binder! I have become amazed at the tiny artistic marvels that have captured art and history and people and stories of our country and of us. Many stamps are exquisite pieces of art themselves. My albums are not about rarities or monetary value. They are story books about people, art, and American history. The first Album has a short introductory section of enlargements of a dozen or so of my favorite stamps. Then there is a section on Artistry in Stamps, illustrating the gorgeous artistry portrayed both by famous artists and by the stamp designers themselves. The rest of the first Album is the history of the issuing and printing of the regular U.S. stamp issues, illustrated by representative stamps of each of those issues over the years from 1847. The second Album is a survey of American History, illustrated by the commemorative stamps issued starting in 1893. This is followed by a section of series of stamps, each one grouped by a common theme, such as Abraham Lincoln, Hollywood Stars, Olympics, Sports Heroes, American Architecture, Bridges, Ships, and Trains. I take great pleasure turning the pages and rereading the stories I have written about the stamps on each page.

A delightful byproduct of aging is the accumulation of so many memories – of love and joy, of family and friends, of other places and other times, of schools and churches, of sights and sounds. My Mother was a lovely woman, capable and assured, gentle and loving. I never heard her raise her voice in anger. And I heard my Father comment so many times how much he adored her. My Father was a Methodist minister for forty-three years, mostly in the Boston area. He was a District Superintendent and for several years before retirement, he headed up the ministers’ retirement fund with an office in Copley Square, Boston, right next door to the IBM office in my first year with IBM. Several times we had lunch together as two businessmen at the Copley Plaza Hotel across the square. I had a brother 5½ years older who was my mentor in many ways. I remember his riding me on his bike to the Oriental Theater for Saturday double features. What a privilege for me to grow up in such a loving home. Too many children today don’t have that experience.

My three years of high school at Mount Hermon School in western Massachusetts were formative and life-changing in so many ways. Discovering the Periodic Table was an epiphany for me with the amazing order and interrelation of all the elements. It confirmed my interest in science. And the required Bible course each year, gave me the foundation of all my later study of the Bible and religion. The campus of rolling hills and huge trees and green lawns in the Connecticut River valley was idyllic. And at Northfield Seminary across the river, I met Polly Kidder, my future wife. Of all the memories that come back to me now, those of Mount Hermon are the most frequent and pleasurable.

I have had three chapters in my family life. First as a boy with my Mother and Father and older brother, Merlen. Then for 43 years with my wife, Polly, with our children Susan and David and Elizabeth, and now, after Polly’s death from Muscular Dystrophy, for the past 19 years with a wonderful second marriage with Jean and her now grown Lydia and Mark. And all my grandchildren. It’s all wonderfully additive, with each chapter building on the earlier. It’s finding what love is all about. Only now do I realize how basic this sense of family is in our lives. It’s in our DNA.  It’s in our awareness of and our relation to all other life around us. We are a part of the 13.8 billion years of evolution. We still have tribal instincts and fears of strangers – all part of our animal survival instincts. But as human beings with our amazing brains and the experience of love within a family, we become aware that there is more within us than animal instincts. We are an integral part of this living Earth and of the entire Universe.  Family to me now includes all of life and all the Universe.  And that’s how I begin to experience God.

Loren Bullock
June 20, 2014
rev June 12, 2016

Becoming a Christian Church

The story of Pentecost in Acts is of the Holy Spirit transforming a large number of Jews into Followers of The Way. They were still Jews, accepting Jesus into their lives within their Jewish heritage and worship. But their lives were changed. In those early years of the first century (from about 32 to 90 CE), there were numerous sects within the Jewish religious culture, of which the Followers of the Way was one. Three major things happened to finally separate that early movement from the Synagogues into a “Christian” church.

First, as the new sect grew, the orthodox Jewish elders became increasingly critical especially of the claim that God was in Jesus, seemingly contradicting the strict “there is only one God” basic belief of the Jews and in spite of the insistence of the Jesus group of only one God. In fact, it took another 300 years for the Christian Church to finally and definitively state its answer in its Doctrine of the Trinity – which is still confusing to many modern Christians in spite of all the words in books and liturgy over the years.

Second, in 69 CE, when the Temple was destroyed by the Romans, the whole Jewish focus was changed. No longer was Jerusalem or the Temple the center of Jewish life. The synagogue with the Rabbis became their centers. The Jesus sects that were still a part of a synagogue found themselves increasingly alienated. By 100 CE when the Gospel of John was written, it was clear that this particular group of Jesus followers had been by then forced out of their synagogue – by this time thought to be in Antioch. Many comments in John reflect their anger at their synagogue leaders who had rejected them – remarks that were later (and still are) broadened to include all Jews and a source of the unfortunate strong anti-Semitism of the later Christian church. In addition, the increasing anti-Semitism from Rome encouraged the early Christians to begin to dissociate themselves from Jewish identification.

Third, as Paul’s letters show, the early growth of the movement included large numbers of non-Jews, the so-called Gentiles, who had little or no experience with Jewish traditions which included circumcision for example. As a result, many of these early Christian groups developed without the Jewish heritage of the first ones, a process certainly supported by Paul in the very early years. In the synagogue, the stories of Jesus had been told along with the reading of the Torah, with Jesus now being described as the new Moses or the new Elijah, including their miracle stories now being associated with Jesus. But the Jewish understanding of these stories as rich metaphors and symbols for their relationship with God was lost, and the later Gentile church began to accept these stories literally. The Church Council creeds of the third century reflect the struggle over specific words and phrases as those first century writings were being read so literally.

Bishop John Shelby Spong, an Episcopal Bishop and Bible scholar, has written a new book, Biblical Literalism, A Gentile Heresy (2016) in which he shows how the Gospel of Matthew was very possibly written linked to the Jewish liturgical year. For Matthew, Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, and his stories of Jesus are related to the Jewish Scripture (the Old Testament) as it was read Sabbath by Sabbath through the year. In this way, readings from Matthew could have been a part of the very early church (synagogue) services which would have included Torah readings as well.

Loren Bullock
June 11, 2016

Experiencing God Within Evolution

At Bethesda United Methodist Church in Bethesda, Maryland, we recently completed a four session adult class using the book, Journey of the Universe, by Brian Swimme and Mary Evelyn Tucker.  The book describes the amazing story of how the universe has evolved over the past 13.8 billion years, including life and us as humans. It includes many of the discoveries of the recent years that emphasize the total interrelatedness and interdependencies of everything. In our class we naturally asked the question, “Where is God in this story?” For we can no longer think of God literally as a being on a throne in a heaven that is located just above the dome of the sky. God is always something more than human words or pictures can express. Yet God is an integral part of the entire story of the universe.

For me, John Dominic Crossan, a theologian, a former Catholic priest, and co-founder of the Jesus Seminar, said it poetically and succinctly, “God is the beating heart of the Universe.”

Loren Bullock

May 23, 2016


Gravitational Waves and Me

On February 11, 2016, the Physics world celebrated the announcement of the detection of gravity waves representing a warping of space-time that was originally predicted by Albert Einstein in 1916 in his General Theory of Relativity. The waves detected here on Earth originated in very deep space when two paired black holes merged and coalesced into one with a resulting explosion of energy out into space all traveling at the speed of light. This all happened about 1.3 billion years ago far, far away, and a small (tiny, infinitesimal) part of that radiation was in 2016 detected in a lab in Louisiana and then again 7 milliseconds later in a similar lab in Washington state. This is one more corroboration of Einstein’s theory as part of our “explanation” of the universe.

But do you really comprehend what those words say and mean? What does a human mind do with those words? My imagination tries to picture swirling objects coming together 1.3 billion years ago and the resulting radiation traveling in warped “space-time”, as light does, and eventually hitting detectors on Earth. But the explanations are more properly made not with words, but with the language of mathematical equations, leaving most of us with only the analogies provided by the words and imaginative pictures.  It’s why we humans have artists.

To me this event is one more example of the way the universe has been gradually revealing itself through science to us humans, especially over the past 500 years, and particularly during my own lifetime of the past 93 years. We have moved from a static local world of fixed stars circling round a fixed Earth to a constantly moving and evolving universe including black holes. Plus the amazing evolution of life here on Earth, which includes at this moment in time you and me as integral participants in this continuing cosmic evolution!

This universe’s story has become our new creation story. And in all of it, I see God’s continuing revelation –  just as to the biblical prophets years ago, and now to our scientists.   Or, to use Bishop Spong’s words, I see “that mystery into which we walk in life’s journey.” Reality, as we now see it, is all sacred, all pointing to God.  For me, the creativity, the direction, the ever accelerating motion, the cataclysmic birth and death of stars, the evolution of life – all point to God. The reality in me points to God.

We are always left with wonder-full mystery. No wonder that in addition to mathematical equations, we still need story and art and music and poetry to begin to glimpse that mystery.

Loren Bullock
February 12, 2016 (revised November 12, 2017)


My Birthday at 91

I woke up this morning no different than before, but the calendar tells me that today I am a year older at 91. My real surprise is when I see a photo of me, as I did last night, for the person I see looking out from the picture is a stooped old man, and that’s not my self image at all. For one thing, I feel that I am still 5-10 and standing up straight. With my scoliosis and thinner disks in my spine, I’m only 5-2. But I am still ME – the same me that I was when I was a little boy of five! Oh, I have a lot more memories and have had many amazing experiences through the years. But more important and wonderful have been my parents, my family and my friends, my teachers and colleagues that over the years have become of part of me. It was those personal relationships with those special people that added so much over the years to the ME that was in that little boy of five.  I can only be very humble and very grateful.

Loren Bullock
October 17, 2015

Politics and Religion

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that and Article VI specifies that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” This has given rise to the phrase “separation of church and state”, usually referring to the separation of the powers of their respective institutions. But it is more often used now to indicate a complete separation of everything dealing with religion or politics. The recent visit of Pope Francis and his speech to a joint meeting of Congress resulted in numerous complaints that the Pope has no business talking about global warming or immigration, for those are political issues.  But for many of us, our concerns about global warming and immigration are valid moral concerns and not solely governmental concerns.

So to me it is entirely appropriate for the Pope to express such concerns. Politics is not just what Senators and Congressmen do. Politics and religion are both an integral part of our society and cannot be separated. Yes, we must be careful to keep the respective powers of our political and religious institutions separate. David Galston, Academic Director of Westar Institute and Jesus Seminar Fellow, writes, “How we think about religion – even if we are skeptics or atheists – will spell itself out in how we think about society. In other words, our theology and politics are inexorably linked. The difference of course is that politicians get to enact their thinking as policy.”

So, both as a citizen and as a Christian, I applaud Pope Francis for his concerns about how we are or are not caring for the earth and our environment, and how we are or are not caring for our society and its members.

Loren Bullock
September 24. 2015