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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Focus atonement on God’s love, not judgment

For those of you who are “into Lent” as the run-up to Easter, I invite you to think with me about one of the primary Lenten doctrines, atonement. You might be surprised to learn that atonement has been a source of controversy since the early centuries of the Christian church. Simply put, there is no agreement on what “atonement” really means. For many Christians today, atonement’s focus is strictly on Jesus being sacrificed by God to “pay for our sins.” The “faithful skeptic” in me asks, “What does that really mean?” Does it mean that God is really so bloodthirsty that he is only willing to purify humanity if “we” enter into an agreement to kill an innocent man? I hope not. But I sense that is what too many people in and out of the church think atonement means.

Donald Clegg: Join me for some philosophical game playing

Did I mention that I’m publishing two books this week? No? Well then, you better check in toward the end, as I probably shouldn’t use the whole column for shameless self-promotion. Now, let’s have some fun. I haven’t visited TPM Online to check out any new games in quite some while. That’s the Philosopher’s Magazine, by the way, which should give you some idea of what the “games” are like. (Go to www.philosophers Here’s one that looks intriguing: “In the Face of Death.” It starts by saying that 55 percent of Christians who have taken that particular quiz think that the murder of children is sometimes morally justified. And, sorry, I don’t know why they decided to mention Christians, in particular. That does appear biased. I’m guessing, though, that I won’t agree with this moral judgment. (To be fair, I’m writing before I take each quiz, so don’t think I’m cheating.) And two of the three scenarios I’m going to read actually occurred. Ouch. Let’s see what decisions I make.

Faith + Values: Christianity is not about wins and losses, but spirit

For those of us who try to be followers of Jesus to some degree, let’s begin today with some words he addressed to his favorite foils, the “scribes and Pharisees.” In Matthew 23:23, he called them play-actors. He clearly challenges their legalistic pride, self-sufficiency and resulting hypocrisy when they give their “temple tithes” but “neglect the weightier matters of the law – justice, mercy, and good faith.” They did the light lifting of legalism but forgot those “weightier matters of the law.”

Former pastor finds new calling in disaster relief

When the Rev. Mike Bullard retired in 2009 after 16 years as pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Coeur d’Alene, he didn’t retire from serving people in need. Soon after his retirement, a storm with hurricane-force winds hit Ferry County. One person died. Many homes were damaged. The power was off for two weeks.

Paul Graves: What is your picture of God?

How old were you when you found out Santa Claus isn’t real? How old were you when you discovered that God isn’t Santa Claus? Oops! Did that question surprise you? You didn’t know? Oh sure there are some characteristics of Santa that we might easily think started with God. But personally, I don’t think Santa’s “checking his list twice to see who is naughty or nice” is one of those. Many people think God’s character is like that, but I’m definitely not one of them.

Steve Massey: Called to a different kind of exercise

Would you accept someone else setting a New Year’s resolution for you? Most of us would not. We rightly prefer to set our own goals for physical, relational and financial well-being. After all, who knows what is best for us than, well, us?

Donald Clegg: Acknowledging reality of death part of life

Happy New Year. This year gets 12 months to show her stuff, and then, forever gone. Question: Are you ready? I regard both religion and science as subsets of philosophy. That is, they derive from a presumptuous array of assumptions regarding the nature of reality, its origins, future, and our role (if any) in the giant and mysterious panorama. This is the province of the “first philosophy,” metaphysics, and I’m currently watching the apparent collapse of one that is composed of flawed assumptions. Put another way, it’s the demise of an immortality project, an entire belief system.

Post-Thanksgiving ritual filled with spiritual meaning

As I’m writing this, T-Day is two days past, but still feels like an appropriate topic. I’m engaging in one of my favorite post-Thanksgiving rituals: making stock from the turkey carcass. I simmered it for hours yesterday and then set the pot out to cool overnight. Now I have to lift out the fat and solids, reheat the broth, and strain through cheesecloth. Then, voila! Nectar. It’s relaxing for me and something I do so regularly that I’m surprised I still enjoy it so much. And I think a post-Thanksgiving stock is something special; it’s a communal private affair, so to speak, as stoves across the land share in making soup.

Faith and Values: Acknowledge God’s hand in your Thanksgiving

‘What do you say?” The restless youngster stopped briefly, glanced at the clerk, then at the piece of candy, and shyly recited a phrase scripted by his questioning mother, and generations of moms before her: “Thank … you.”

Donald Clegg: Belief, religion can hinder search for answers

I just finished reading, for the fourth time, James P. Carse’s book, “The Religious Case Against Belief.” I’ve intended to give it a column-length review for some time now. Carse’s dilemma is this: How, when no one within any given religion has been able to adequately define it, can one who is admittedly without religion address the issue? After all, it becomes clear in the book’s progression that Carse himself, professor emeritus of religion at New York University, is not religious in any sense that a believer would recognize.

Pattern of peace

This week in Ohio a man was sentenced to life in prison for burning a woman to death. A bombing in Syria killed eight. A Utah doctor is on trial for drowning his wife. However, compared to the mass genocides and public executions that were commonplace in biblical times, and the tribal warfares of the 20th century, we’re actually living in the least violent era in history, said best-selling author Steven Pinker.

Faith and Values: Belief systems and reality

I’ve been pondering the nature of various types of belief systems and their relations to knowledge and ignorance, i.e., valid vs. invalid belief. Put another way, their congruence with reality. Always with my favorite definition of just what that wascally wabbit – reality (or Reality) – might be. Sci-fi master Philip K. Dick said it best: “Reality is that which, when we stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” Wow, what a concept, that when we turn our eyes, minds and all of our senses off of reality, it doesn’t go away. That our best hopes, wishes and dreams may not be in tune with it, and that we exist in that state of disaccord at our peril.

Faith and values: God gives grace, even when rejected

One of the religious clichés I’ve heard in recent years is that “grace is free, but it isn’t cheap.” That cliché should join arms with the variations of a patriotic cliché about the “price of freedom.” Both make their point, but like all clichés, there is more to the story. Grace is free but not cheap. OK. So let’s take a few hundred words to explore today’s spirituality question: What if there is more to free grace than we usually settle for? Whose freedom are we talking about? Ours? God’s? Contrary to our normal thinking, they aren’t the same kind of freedom.

Steve Massey: Faith should influence public, private lives

When faith fails to inform our public life, is it really true faith? I’m asking in the context of a political season in which candidates often are asked about their guiding values. Some respond in the safest way possible: “I’m privately religious.”

To see what is sacred, look around you

Recently, I drove across central Washington on my way to Seattle. For over two hours, I listened to marvelous music by George Gershwin. I was struck by the wildly diverse “soul colors” of his music. Driving up out of Vantage, I listened to “Rhapsody in Blue.” As I neared the Rye Grass summit, the finish of “Rhapsody” came closer and closer. Rounding the last corner to the summit I heard that great musical ending as Mount Rainier burst into my view. Wow! What outstanding timing for my ears, eyes, and soul! A very sacred moment for me.

GU’s new direction

With Michelle Wheatley’s promotion to director of University Ministry at Gonzaga University comes another first for GU. Wheatley is the first laywoman to lead the program. Her promotion comes four years after the university named Thayne McCulloh as its first lay president.