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John Backman
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As a longtime writer and associate of an Episcopal monastery, John Backman writes extensively on spiritual topics, including contemplative practice and its ability to help us dialogue across divides. His new book, Why Can’t We Talk? Christian Wisdom on Dialogue as a Habit of the Heart, will be published by SkyLight Paths Publishing in fall 2012. His articles have appeared in numerous faith-based publications, progressive and conservative, including Fellowship, Episcopal Life, Presbyterians Today, The Living Church, RELEVANTmagazine.com, and Prism. He maintains a blog at www.dialogueventure.com.

Entries by John Backman

Eternal Truths Need Unpacking, Not Defending

(2) Comments | Posted June 10, 2014 | 6:05 PM

I don't know whether God consists of three people with one divine essence, as Christianity claims. I do know that I love to think about it.

Perhaps that's a good way to handle our "eternal truths" going forward.

Many observers have written about the change occurring in the Christian...

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For a Friend Who, Like Me, Has Thought About Suicide

(0) Comments | Posted May 21, 2014 | 7:57 PM

I think about suicide a lot. If you do too, I want to run an idea by you. See what you think.

I don't have to tell you that a lot has been written and said about suicide. A search for "suicide" on Google Scholar yields 1.7 million hits....

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Did Jesus Know What He Was Doing? Do We?

(1) Comments | Posted March 31, 2014 | 4:36 PM

From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. -- Matthew 16:21

What did Jesus know, and when...

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How Human Was Jesus?

(35) Comments | Posted February 24, 2014 | 11:00 AM

"Do you also wish to go away?" -- John 6:67

The Christians of my teen years were big on optimism at all costs, and they used verses from the Bible to support their claim. A girlfriend once interrupted my confession of weakness with "I can do all things through...

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The Bible Lesson You Might Have Missed

(2) Comments | Posted January 21, 2014 | 12:06 PM

"[The high priest] can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness..." --Hebrews 5:2

"Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night..." --John 3:1 -2

I read these verses the other day and wondered...

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Aging Well Through the Presence of God

(0) Comments | Posted January 8, 2014 | 11:04 AM

I am paying attention to old people.

This is not from some noble sense of "respecting my elders." It is not even because an ancient in-law is living in my house. Rather, I believe older people -- at least the role models among them -- can fill a big...

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Putting the God of Vengeance in His Place

(131) Comments | Posted November 20, 2013 | 2:58 PM

Not long ago, my church's lectionary (a fixed order of sacred readings for each day of the year) prescribed 2 Kings 17:7-41 to be read over two days. In that passage, the author interrupts the Hebrew scriptures' long, compelling narrative of kings, prophets, and events to sum up...

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The 'And Yet' of Syria, War and Peace

(3) Comments | Posted September 24, 2013 | 7:53 PM

We have to do something about Syria's chemical weapons. And yet...

No person of compassion can ever sanction war. And yet...

There is a great deal of power in that tiny phrase. And yet stops us dead in our tracks. It confronts us with an entirely different aspect of...

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Why We Can't 'Move On' from Race -- And Why We May Want To

(42) Comments | Posted August 19, 2013 | 11:13 AM

"Can we please just move on?"

I heard this refrain running through the endless conversations about the George Zimmerman verdict. You might take it as an indication that everything on the topic of race in America has already been said -- that now we're just talking in circles.

To me,...

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3 Other Things Christians Ought to Worry About

(79) Comments | Posted July 12, 2013 | 1:27 PM

"You tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others." -- Matthew 23:23

Like many of Jesus' recorded sayings, this critique did not exactly endear him to the...

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How Much Can the Christian Church Embrace?

(33) Comments | Posted May 28, 2013 | 4:01 PM

Within the space of a few hours, my friend revealed to me that he sleeps with multiple partners and uses drugs. For a recovering fundamentalist like me, this was a lot to swallow.

As he elaborated, though, my initial knee-jerk discomfort gave way to ambivalence. He lives in a deeply...

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When Easter Is No Comfort: A Jesus for the Darkest Times

(2) Comments | Posted April 3, 2013 | 12:30 PM

I didn't attend church at all last week -- not even on Easter. What kept me away may have brought me closer to the heartbeat of faith.

Absence from church is uncharted terrain for me, particularly at this time of year. I cherish the rituals of Holy Week, the...

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Does Everyone's Life Have Meaning?

(2) Comments | Posted March 20, 2013 | 12:52 PM

"For those whose lives are and always have been without human hope or promise; for those for whom all hope is dead...for the terrible wasting of lives for which we human beings are responsible; we say: Lord have mercy."
-- "Jesus Is Laid in the Tomb," Station XIV from...

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Is There Absolute Truth?

(14) Comments | Posted January 29, 2013 | 1:15 PM

My brother-in-law, a thoughtful and deeply spiritual conservative, has a gift for raising provocative questions. Like this one, which he asked me during an author event for my new book: "Do you believe in absolute truth?"

Perhaps I should have seen this coming, but it caught me...

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Does God Intervene in Our Lives?

(431) Comments | Posted January 2, 2013 | 4:35 PM

Years ago, a member of my church -- well into her 80s, with limited mobility -- told me she would ask God for a parking space near the front door of wherever she was going. Almost every time, the space was waiting for her.

More recently, I lost my prescription...

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A Place for Silence in the Face of Horror

(0) Comments | Posted December 17, 2012 | 8:53 AM

Somewhere in the past few days, amid the lingering shock over the horror in Newtown, I had to shut off the news. I wonder whether that gut instinct holds a nugget of wisdom that might help us through the aftermath of tragedies like this.

Our reactions in the aftermath are...

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Trying to Make Sense of God's Judgment

(0) Comments | Posted November 28, 2012 | 8:53 AM

Is it time to lose the whole judgment part of Christianity -- to consign the Bible passages about God's wrath and retribution to the ash heap of history?

It's tempting to throw off judgment entirely, particularly in the season of joy and peace. Bible readings in Christian worship during...

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How God Makes Us Civil People

(71) Comments | Posted September 13, 2012 | 2:21 PM

One word was all it took. In any other context, I might have skipped right over it. Yet in this context, it shone a spotlight on the potential of faith and spirituality to heal -- rather than deepen -- divides.

Recently, I read a profile of Rev. James...

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Why Faith -- and We -- Need Contradictions

(2) Comments | Posted August 14, 2012 | 12:11 PM

I had never seen a collection of bumper stickers quite like this. The trunk lid of the car before me proclaimed three messages:

  • Imagine all the people living life in peace
  • Coexist (written in the symbols of various faith traditions)
  • Bush/Cheney 2004

I'm willing to bet that no other car...

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Do We Really Need Beliefs?

(114) Comments | Posted April 9, 2012 | 7:26 AM

We know very little about God.

This is hardly a new idea. Most of the best-known faith traditions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, view God as utterly shrouded in mystery. The traditional Christian belief about God -- one essence, three persons -- is enigmatic to the core. Meanwhile, the...

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