Religion as a Human Creation?

Answering Don Cupitt's opening speech at the 1995 UK SOFN Conference was Bishop John Spong of Newark, New Jersey.

It's wonderful to be with you and with people that I regard as larger-than-life heroes like Ruth Robinson and Don Cupitt. I was first introduced to the Sea of Faith in 1990 while I was staying at Magdalene College in Oxford. A cousin of mine asked me to read a book called The Sea of Faith which had disturbed him a great deal. This cousin of mine was a serious and thoughtful Christian so I agreed to his request.

When I got into this book I literally could not put it down. It was the most powerful and cogent summary of the forces that have coalesced to produce this post-modern world that I had ever read. It helped me to understand as never before the depth of the apologetic problem that faces contemporary Christianity. I also knew at once why my cousin - and countless others beside him - would be deeply disturbed by this book. By and large, they do not have any concept of Christianity other than the traditional formularies of the past which they have convinced themselves were given by divine revelation and were objectively true. So they had great difficulty recognising that these formularies long ago ceased to have very much meaning, though they continued to be used and saluted in traditional religious circles. Most people recite these formularies without thinking, indeed without realising that the world which produced such things as the Bible, the creeds of the church, hymns and most of the traditions of Christendom was a pre-modern world that no longer existed. It was a world whose universe was made up of three tiers; a world in which causality was regularly interrupted by miracle and magic; a world governed by a capricious and invasive deity who had very strong likes and dislikes; and a world this deity ran on the basis of reward and punishment. How can a pre-modern religious system based upon these assumptions be proclaimed or heard in the post-modern world with any real integrity?

Don Cupitt's book laid that issue out boldly, helpfully and clearly. It was no wonder that many members of the religious establishment reacted by recoiling in fear when they read this book. Everything they had been taught to believe was at stake if this analysis were accurate: and the anger of threatened religious psyches knows no boundaries.

My second experience of the Sea of Faith occurred in Holy Week 1992. Arriving as a Visiting Fellow at Emmanuel College Cambridge - a gift I am absolutely sure of Don Cupitt to me - I discovered that Jesus and the resurrection were big news stories not only in the Times but also on the BBC.

An enterprising TV journalist named Joan Bakewell had decided to do a documentary on clergy who did not believe that the tomb was literally empty on the first Easter. Most of these clergy seemed to have some identification with the Sea of Faith movement. Miss Bakewell had interviewed some of these clergy; she had interviewed the Bishop of Leicester, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of Durham and other bishops who declined to be named. Her efforts followed a rather interesting story-line: she made the assumption that the emptiness of the tomb was an essential element to the truth of the Easter story, so if clergy did not believe in the emptiness of the tomb they could not possibly believe in the resurrection. Therefore they should cease to be Christian clergy. I have since met and had lunch with Miss Bakewell. She is a charming and bright human being. She had hold of an issue that created enormous interest and as an enterprising journalist she squeezed everything she could get out of it. She is however neither a biblical scholar nor a trained theologian, nor should we expect her to be. If she had been she would not have had a story. But the fascinating thing to me about the story was not Miss Bakewell but the leadership of the Church of England who rushed to assure their constituents of the truth of Easter.

The defensiveness of the hierarchy revealed a startling unwillingness to share common-place biblical scholarship with a questioning public. Most biblical scholars regard the emptiness of the tomb to be an early Christian legend but they don't actually believe there ever was an identifiable tomb in which Jesus was buried in the first place. It is certainly not an essential element of resurrection faith. Yet one bishop - who was not willing to be named - went so far as to say, 'I believe those bones got right up and walked out of the grave.' As I understand the outcome of this controversy, one non-Anglican clergywoman actually lost her position on account of this story, and other Anglican clergy had to issue some kind of apology for upsetting the faithful. Somehow truth and scholarship were not particularly valued in this episode. It was only whether or not the faithful were disturbed. That was not a very bright chapter in contemporary church history.

Today is my third contact with the Sea of faith. My task is to address the theme of the implications of religious faith as a human creation. I have chosen to do that by revisiting the impact of my first two contacts with this organisation - the positive impact of the book The Sea of Faith and the subsequent conflict over the content of the resurrection - for they reveal both my deep appreciation for the Sea of Faith and also perhaps my discomfort and disagreement with what you call a non-realist view of God. This presentation gives me a very rare opportunity to be the conservative spokesperson - the defender of the faith if you will - certainly something that my critics in the evangelical wing of the church will have a hard time believing!

Let me begin by defining some terms. The content of religious faith is for me the human attempt to place a dimension of transcendence in the experience of the mystery of God into meaningful words and rational concepts. By definition that means that religious faith is always a human creation; that all credal statements, which are products of human beings living at a particular time and place and trying to make sense of what they ultimately believe is real, are human creations; that at any time (including this present moment) when one articulates a system of beliefs the articulating person will always be bound by the prejudices and limitations of the world that produced that person. Every faith-system is reflective of the level of knowledge available to those who shaped it. That, it seems to me, is to state the obvious and it should surprise no-one. So no religious faith-system can be invested with eternity, inerrancy or infallibility, nor can anyone claim for any human faith-system a universal or timeless statement of truth. There is no such thing as a timeless or universal being who could articulate it, but one would not get that message by listening to representatives of the Christian church. Let me illustrate.

Whatever the Christ-experience was, it was recorded in a first century Jewish world, so it was inevitably first century Jewish people who placed that experience into words. That is the only reason why Christ came to be thought of as the new paschal lamb of Passover who broke the power of death; that's the only reason why Christ came to be understood as the sacrificial lamb of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) who took away the sins of the world; that's the only reason why Christ was described as the Son of Man who would come in the clouds of heaven to inaugurate the Kingdom of God at the end of time, as Daniel had promised; and that's the only reason why Christ was interpreted as the servant figure from Second Isaiah who would walk the way of weakness, suffering and death, to bring a new wholeness to human beings.

Please recognise that each of these concepts was not the gift of revelation but an expression of the cultural and religious heritage of the Jewish people as they sought to process the Christ-experience inside their cultural understanding of what is real. None of these concepts was known outside the Jewish world, so none was objective and in that sense none was real. Certainly none was eternal. Yet these are concepts which are found in the gospels and which we have literalised. When one realises this one can no longer invest the words of the bible with any ultimacy. Try to imagine, if you will, how the same experience of Christ might have been processed - try to imagine the words and concepts that might have been employed - if whatever the meaning and power of the life of Christ was had occurred in the late twentieth century in the UK, instead of in Judea in the first century. Would we have defined this experience in terms of Passover lambs, Yom Kippur sacrifices, Son of man images and suffering servant figures? Of course not, for these concepts are not today part of our life. The issue is whether the experience behind the contents is similarly a human creation.

Whatever we can say about the bible, it is also true to say it about the creeds. The creeds of the church were themselves shaped by the world, the world of the third and fourth centuries, a Greek-speaking and Greek-thinking world. It was a Ptolemaic world, so a divine elevator (or lift as the English would say) was quite obviously written into the creeds of the church. God needed a lift: how else could he get down from heaven to earth, descend into the realm below, rise again to the realm of earth and finally ascend back into heaven? No space-age person could have written such a creed. It was a product of its time, its concepts are not eternal. The creeds do not capture the truth of God: at their very best they can only point beyond themselves to an experience of God.

Classical Christian theology was built on a primary Christian myth, articulated first by Paul and given its defining content by Augustine. It was a myth based upon a biblical understanding of the episodes that we know as creation and fall. That myth suggested that creation was both finished and perfect, that humanity shared in that perfection, but that in some primeval act of disobedience and rebellion we human beings had fallen from grace and into sin. We were thus expelled from the presence of God. Furthermore, it was assumed that we could not extricate ourselves from this human predicament. So God had to take a new initiative. God had to come to earth in the person of Jesus to rescue and restore his fallen creation. Exactly how this rescue was to be accomplished has never been quite clear, but in the language of our tradition it has revolved around the phrase 'Jesus died for my sins'. Somehow, it was said, God demanded a sacrifice or a satisfaction; someone or something had to pay the price of sin; so God sent Jesus to fulfil this role. In some of the more aggressive explanations of this theory of redemption, God actually nailed his Son to a cross for our salvation. It was a strange concept of God, even when stated in complex, sophisticated theological categories. Rather than worship such a deity, I think this God should have been arrested for child abuse! If any human father had nailed his son to a tree we should certainly have arrested him, but Christians had encased these dreadful words inside a system where no questions were permitted; we surrounded these words with an aura of divine respectability and so this primary myth endured far beyond the time of its loss of meaning.

In a somewhat more sophisticated form this myth still shapes much of traditional Christian thought, and yet this concept of both creation and fall were actually destroyed by Charles Darwin - although it has taken Christians some 150 years to come to terms with that. Darwin forced us to see that there never was a perfect creation, that the universe was and is still expanding, that life is still evolving ad that we homo sapiens are as yet unfinished. Human beings could not therefore even symbolically fall from a perfection that they never possessed. Rather, we began to see that human beings have emerged into consciousness through billions of years of evolutionary struggle, that we are still emerging, and that we carry within ourselves the heritage and the seeds of our history, the passions of our animal struggle for survival. We are marked by the self-centredness born in the insecurity of our evolutionary past. There was no fall, and if there was no fall then we no longer understand why we have some need for a divine rescuer, and so we no longer have a role to which we can assign the Christ. It is no wonder that organised religion was so shaken by Darwin that it tried to destroy him - and indeed still does - for Darwin had rendered irrelevant the primary means through which the religious world of the Christian west had come to think of Christ (though obviously many members of the church do not seem aware of that fact).

So theology and the content of religious faith are quite clearly human creations. They are in that sense non-realist: they are the outward and visible signs of some human experience that was processed at a particular time and place by particular people. The religious establishment, if it wishes to be in dialogue with the post-modern world, must begin by facing and admitting these facts.

Now let me return to the Bakewell episode, and so to that bedrock experience that underlies the Christian faith: the story of the resurrection of Jesus. This is the issue that reveals how deeply committed to literal truth the leadership of the church is, and thus how defensive that leadership can become when a challenge is issued from a questioning source. Is there reality in the experience that we have come to call resurrection? If so, what is that reality? If not, is there any future for Christianity, traditional or otherwise? Unlike Miss Bakewell, I cannot begin this enquiry simply looking at the biblical description of that experience, not only for all the reasons previously mentioned but also because of the bible.

The biblical record itself is inadequate, incomplete and even contradictory. That's not a statement that can be called either liberal or conservative, that's just a fact available to anybody who will take the time to read the resurrection narratives of the New Testament. First, we need to face the fact that the church believed in the reality of Easter long before the biblical accounts of Easter came to be written. Somehow we do not even embrace that: the gospels were written 35 to 70 years after the Easter experience. Secondly, the text of the gospels when lined up with the historic order of their writing reveals a clear growth of miraculous accretions, legendary details and confused understandings of Easter. They are hardly the kinds of narratives upon which one could invest one's whole life and faith - and yet let me bear witness that it was upon the experience behind those narratives that my life today is deeply invested, and it is on the experience behind those narratives that the faith of all Christians, I believe, ultimately resides. So let me try to separate here the description of the experience of Easter from the experience itself.

We'lldo this first by asking certain questions of the biblical text. Who was the first person to experience the resurrection? He appeared first to Cephas, said Paul. Mark said he did not appear to anyone. Matthew said he appeared first to the women in the garden. Luke said he appeared first to Cleopas and his friend in the village of Emmaus (though Luke does say that between the time they had that experience and the time they returned the six-mile journey that Peter had barely preserved his primacy by having an appearance in that intervening moment). No, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, said John. It is clear that the gospel does not quite know who stood in the primary relationship to that experience.

Who went to the tomb at dawn on the first day of the week? That question cannot be answered because every gospel gives you a different list of women. You meet women you've never met before, like Salome and Joanna. They come out of the woodwork . . .

Did the women see the risen Lord on Easter morning? No, said Mark. Yes, said Matthew. No, said Luke. Yes, said John. Now even Tony Higton can't put that together!

Where were the disciples when the meaning of Easter broke in upon their consciousness? It will be in Galilee, said Mark. It was in Galilee, said Matthew. It was never in Galilee, said Luke, it was in Jerusalem only. It was in Jerusalem first, said John, and maybe later it was in Galilee. There's hardly an American alive today and living at the time who cannot tell you where they were and what they were doing when John Kennedy was assassinated 31 years ago. It was such a defining moment in our national life. And yet here we have biblical evidence that 30 to 70 years after the experience that brought the Christian faith into being the leaders of the church cannot seem to remember where they were when this experience dawned upon them.

Was the resurrection body physical? Well Paul said, 'He appeared to me last in the same way that he appeared to anybody else,' and I've never heard anyone argue that Paul's experience of resurrection was a physical experience. Indeed, Paul spends a lot of time telling you that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven, and somehow the body has to die and something different has to be born. Mark didn't tell you about anybody seeing the risen Lord, so you cannot draw any analogy or any answer from him. Matthew has the women see the risen Lord as physical, and that's the first time in Christian written history that there is a physical narration of an appearance of the risen Lord. That's Jesus appearing to the women in the garden, and Matthew has clearly changed Mark's text to create that story. He's made the women look a lot better than they did in Mark's text, where they forsook Jesus and fled. In Matthew's text they go immediately to tell the disciples and are rewarded by an appearance. He had to be physical because they grabbed his feet, and I don't know how you can grab spiritual feet! But then Matthew turns right around and tells the story of the appearance of Jesus in Galilee, where he is clearly the transcendent Lord of the universe who comes on the clouds of heaven as the Son of Man - distinctly not physical.

The real physical stories of the resurrection come in Luke and John. Luke has Jesus actually eat fish in front of his disciples to prove he's human: you have to have a gastro-intestinal system to eat anything. He also has Jesus say, 'Handle me and feel me. I'm no ghost, ghosts don't have flesh and blood.' But Luke also has him appear and disappear in the story of the road to Emmaus. I know of no physical body that can disappear into thin air or materialise out of thin air, so even Luke is ambivalent on that issue. And John follows in the same way: he has Thomas touch the wounds in the hands and in the side, but he also has Jesus come into the locked and barred upper room without opening a window or opening a door. Try that sometime, and you'll know the difference between physical and non-physical.

Since the Easter tomb depends on the burial tradition, we might ask if the burial tradition is consistent within the bible. We need to be aware that an examination of the New Testament will reveal that there are three burial traditions that vie for favour in the biblical text. Paul simply says he was buried. That's what you do when people die: you bury them. No drama, no legend, no Joseph, no tomb. He was buried. Joseph of Arimethea doesn't come into the record until the seventh decade. In Mark's writing - and then as you watch Matthew build upon Mark and Luke build on Matthew - you see Joseph growing from a member of the council to a secret believer, you see the tomb growing, you see the stone growing; and by the time you get to John, Joseph needs some help and so Nicodemus comes and helps. And Nicodemus doesn't do it in a little way: he brings a hundred pounds of spices and aloes. This is going to be a burial the likes of which no other burial has ever been conducted. The legend is clearly growing.

But there is another tradition, buried in the book of Acts in a sermon by Paul, that the church ignores in favour of its more picturesque burial legends. That text suggests that Jesus was buried by the same people that executed him, and if that were so then he was buried in a common grave, he was covered over and he was quietly forgotten. And why not? All those who were his closest disciples had forsaken him and fled. Indeed, I believe that the Joseph of Arimethea story was invented to cover the shame of the disciples and to keep Christians from having to face the trauma that the last act performed upon Jesus was performed by hostile hands. 'They all forsook him and fled.' That was so deep in the text that the early church had to find a prophetic word in the book of Zechariah to help them understand why the disciples had acted so poorly. They found it where Zechariah had written, 'Strike the shepherd that the sheep might be scattered,' and that was quoted three times in the traditions of the scriptures. Where did they flee when they forsook him and fled? Well John gives us a hint. He has Christ say to his disciples that you will all forsake me and you will all flee, each to his own home - and the home of all the disciples was Galilee. I don't believe there was a disciple anywhere near Jerusalem when Jesus actually died.

So any suggestion that the resurrection depends on an empty tomb is simply an inadequate and uninformed way to approach the truth of Easter. And all one has to do is read the gospels closely - something, I must say, that the evangelicals never seem to do. Even more profoundly, the vast majority of New Testament scholars would today assert the primacy of Galilee as the place of the disciples' location when whatever Easter was dawned upon them. And this realisation has the effect of reducing the whole Jerusalem resurrection tradition to the level of a secondary legend. So the tomb stories which are part of the Jerusalem tradition - the empty tomb, the women at the tomb, the angelic messengers, even the accounts of the sightings of Jesus - they are not primary to Easter. They are quite secondary and developed in the eighth, ninth and tenth decades of the Christian era.

Where then do these details of the Easter narratives come from? They come from the same place that descriptions of God or moments of transcendence always come from: they come out of the life of the cultural artefacts in the religious heritage of those who are creating the descriptions. The darkness over the whole earth at the time of Jesus' death, and the fact that the resurrection came at dawn after three days, those two symbols are lifted quite directly out of Jewish eschatology. There darkness would cover the earth after Armageddon and death would reign supreme for three days, and then at dawn after the third day the Kingdom of God would descend out of the sky to mark the first day of the new creation. Jesus was obviously interpreted within that eschatological frame of reference.

The tomb in the garden with the stone that sealed the tomb (as well as the guard upon it to secure the tomb that Matthew tells us about) comes directly out of the stories of Joshua and Daniel in the Hebrew scriptures. The description of the angel in Matthew (he was not an angel in Mark and he became two angels in Luke!) but the description of the angel in Matthew is borrowed very specifically and deliberately from the description of an angel in the book of Daniel. The Emmaus road story leans on an account of the angelic visitors to Abraham and Lot in the book Genesis, and many of the details of Jesus' passion are lifted, as we have all recognised for ages, specifically out of places like Psalm 22, Isaiah 53 and the very profound book of Zechariah (that most Christians know almost nothing about).

In Zechariah you get the Palm Sunday procession; you get the shepherd-king of Israel being betrayed for thirty pieces of silver (and then the money hurled back into the temple); you get the city of Jerusalem looking upon him whom they have piered and mourning for him as one mourns for an only child; you get the nations of the world gathered around to receive the living water, or the gift of the Spirit. Zechariah is a great unknown in Christian circles. All of these images of the crucifixion and the resurrection had to be lifted from somewhere because all of those who might have written these narratives had forsaken Jesus and fled.

Perhaps the most striking insight that I have gained in this study in recent years is to recognise that almost all of the notes of the Jerusalem Easter legend that revolve around the tomb's being empty can be found in the Jewish celebration of the fall [autumn] festival called the Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths). Most Christians know little or nothing about this festival so we don't recognise how much we have borrowed liturgically from the Jews. Long before the gospels were born, the Jews celebrated Tabernacles by marching around the altar in the temple, waving in their right hands branches of greenery made up of willow, myrtle and palm, and while they marched around the altar they chanted the words of Psalm 118 which just happens to say, 'Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.' Now if you read a story about Christians marching and waving green branches and shouting, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,' you might begin to recognise some familiarity with the Jewish liturgy of Tabernacles.

But the connection is deeper yet. In the left hand the worshippers while they marched carried a box containing the blossom and fruit of the citron tree - they carried a box of sweet-smelling spice if you will - and to where did they carry these spices? Why, to a temporary dwelling place that was part of this liturgy - the booth or tabernacle built by the Jews for this festival - built to recall the temporary housing in which Jewish people lived during the wilderness years of their history. In this temporary shelter the Jews were required symbolically to dwell, and even symbolically to eat one ceremonial meal, and then on the last day of this Jewish festival, called the Great Day, the Jewish people would emerge symbolically out of these temporary booths and join the great climax of the celebration for Tabernacles in which they prayed for Messiah suddenly to come to his temple and to begin the Reign of God. This would be marked by living water - the Jewish symbol for the Spirit - that would flow out of Jerusalem and encompass all of the nations of the world. From the Tabernacles tradition, I am now convinced, Christians drew the Palm Sunday procession, the spices which the women carried to the tomb, and the tomb itself, which became Jesus' temporary dwelling place or booth, from whence he was to emerge on the Great Day as the sign that Messiah was come to his temple.

As the Christian liturgies developed they added to this service a kind of elementary Stations of the Cross movement. They would go to the place where the tomb of Jesus was supposed to have been located and a liturgical functionary wearing a white robe would meet the pilgrims at that point, and a liturgical dialogue would go on between this functionary and the pilgrims. The liturgical functionary would say: 'Whom do you seek?' and the worshippers would respond, 'We seek Jesus who was crucified,' and the liturgical functionary would respond, 'He is not here: he is risen! See the place where they laid him.' The white-robed leader was turned ultimately into a messenger in Mark, an angel in Matthew, two angels in Luke and perhaps becomes Jesus himself by the time you get to John.

Pentecost, as the climax of Easter, was also present in this festival of Tabernacles as the nations of the world gathered around Jerusalem to await the living water, the Holy Spirit. The content of the Easter stories of the bible is a human creation reflecting the religious history in the living tradition of the people who created them. So the Christ experience comes to us enshrouded in Jewish concepts, the creeds reflect the human constructs of the Greek world of the third and fourth centuries, and even the content of the resurrection narratives - the description of that lynchpin moment in the Christian story - is itself a human creation filled with Jewish content, with legendary concepts, with exaggerated ideas and with symbolic references.

To this point I find myself deeply fed, helped and sustained by the emphasis of the Sea of Faith movement. For this movement forces the church to be open and honest about its faith formularies, to see the ways in which those formularies have been created, from whence they have come and how they got to be the way they are. To this moment the Sea of Faith is my ally and my supporter, but it is also at this point that the line of division for me comes into view.

The essence of Christianity that our words seek to describe is for me more than a human construct. (This may be the Spong version of John Hick's 'last vestige', but hear me out.) God to me is more than the sum of human values, though I find supernatural language to be nonsensical since the time of Isaac Newton, to say nothing of Hegel. The creeds are as dated as those words and concepts are, but the creeds still point me toward a concept of God that breaks open the vocabulary in which they have been composed. And the resurrection of Jesus is for me an experience that was real, of enormous power, beyond the capacity of any words to capture, but the actions of the people who were embraced by that experience say that it had a certain validity. I do not ever want to be literal about the words I use to articulate my faith. I do not want to make unchanging idols out of the formularies of my tradition. I cannot conceive of anyone finding credibility in the authoritarian pronouncements of an infallible pope, an inerrant bible or literal creeds, but at the same time I cannot deny the experience that lies behind the words that seek to describe this Christ. I cannot walk away from the faith to which the ancient words of the creed still point. I cannot deny the reality of that moment called Easter that changed the face of human history.

I make no claims for ultimacy in my understanding of the faith by which I live - I am first and last and always a pilgrim into the wonder and mystery of God. I find that God in the depths of my humanity but that God is always more than my humanity. My present deepest understanding of God still resides inside the symbols of the Christian tradition. The heart of my faith lies in the one whom I believe to have entered so fully into the meaning of God that in some mysterious way he broke the barrier between life and death, between time and eternity and opened that world - that new level of consciousness - to all of us that come to live inside this Christ experience. I do not deny the truth of God found in any other faith tradition, whether it be Jewish or Islamic or Hindu or Buddhist or any other. I insist in no way that God must operate on my levels of understanding, reflect my prejudices and affirm the power-needs of my particular institution. I never want to confuse my agenda or the church's agenda with God's agenda. That God-agenda I understand at this moment to be the calling of all people into full humanity, into higher consciousness, beyond the limiting barriers of our fears and insecurities into that new humanity where we recognise our total interconnectedness with each other and with all creation and where we see the realm of spirituality coming through the expansion of our humanity rather than through the denial of our humanity. Christ for me was humanity expanded until the distinction between the physical and the spiritual, the human and the divine, was overcome and resurrection for me was the moment when eyes were opened to see and hearts were enabled to enter the realm of eternity and the meaning of God, transcendence and divinity.

So I am uncomfortable using words like non-realism for that which is supremely real to me. I can never dismiss those human creations as simply human creations and nothing more. They are the human creations of those who somehow have opened themselves to that ever-calling, ever-present and ever-real realm of the spirit, to that God-presence that lives at the heart of this universe, to the Christ-experience that comes every time this God is made incarnate, to the experience of resurrection that comes every time we act to enhance life or open life or free life from the oppression of injustice and from the imposition of another stereotype upon any child of God. That is why I stand as a Christian at the side of racial minorities struggling for justice in a white man's world, at the side of women facing an oppressive church controlled by males, and at the side of gay and lesbian people who are also created in God's image and who are my brothers and sisters in Christ and who cannot be defined in the limits of my prejudice.

I dismiss the literalism of every religious symbol, I cling to the reality to which those religious symbols point me. I live my life as a human being, as a Christian, as an Anglican and as a bishop, as one who is journeying into the wonder and mystery and truth of God which is beyond anything that I can understand. A God who is real beyond my constructs of the divine one and a God who constantly impinges upon me as I open myself to that inbreaking presence and as I walk into the wordless wonder of that reality. So, as Martin Luther said, 'Here I stand: I can do no other.' I am alienated in large measure from that part of the church that claims too much for its symbols, but I am also alienated from those who do not believe that those symbols point beyond themselves to a reality that can transform my life and make me almost a budding mystic - but the kind of mystic that I am is profoundly and fully identified at this moment as Christian. Thank you very much.