The inadequacy of institutionalized religious responses to the jarring reality of real life issues is part of Spong's self-questioning. He finds hope as well as pain, however, in his search, expressing the excitement of thoughtful study and discussion with like-minded others in an effort to find a Christianity of integrity, love, and equality. It's clear it takes courage and determination to face the hoary old traditions one's life is built on, and question them thoroughly and openly. As he notes:

If I were honest, I could never again use the pious clichés of my profession as a substitute for hard study and effective scholarship. It was as if I knew that I could not continue to be the kind of priest I had been.

It did not affect my political or sociological convictions, for those still seemed to have enormous integrity, but it did challenge radically my theological convictions, for increasingly I realized they did not have either depth or integrity. I could no longer pretend that the Bible had the answers when its verses were read literally.

The journey of scriptural exploration is well-laid out for the reader to follow as well, should they choose. As Spong notes, the early creeds formed in the third, fourth, and fifth centuries were produced in a process which was "deeply political and highly compromised." His effort to uncover inner Truth from those historic political processes is both painful and inspiring, and offers hope to those who've fallen away from their religion-of-birth in despair of finding a faith which does not insult their intelligence.

I very much enjoyed this book — it was both gripping and uplifting. In some ways the religious struggles I read about were very familiar to me. Like him, I also must master my inner debates intellectually before I can master them emotionally. I too cannot reconcile a primitive and atavistic culture's religion with the culture I live in today, with anything like rational intellectual inquiry.

More importantly (to me), I also have wondered who we protect when we fear to question — and also concluded it was only our own insecure selves. I felt a painful pang of wearily amused recognition when I read his statement, "Honesty and integrity were more important to me than either popularity or tranquility."

I confess one of the reasons I felt uplifted by his book was his quietly sure statements regarding the importance of being faithful to your core values. Sometimes one may falter, but remaining true to what you believe is right is and always will be of more worth than simply winning for a moment.

Literary truth

Writing a book review on an autobiography is not easy, I've discovered. I'm already aware of how nebulous memory can be, seeing as it consists of nothing more than chemical changes in the brain. I also know we're all the sum (in a way) of the stories we tell ourselves — and that few people wish to tell themselves stories where they are not the hero.

On the other hand, I also know you can't just insist on forcing the "truth" of past actions or behaviors on someone, since truth is just as nebulous, in its own way, as memory. Truth is as often defined by memory as the other way around, and as the old saying goes, 'history is written by the winners.' Thus, even if I can out-shout someone else, that doesn't make my story truer than theirs… just louder.

That being said, I try to take stories of the past with a grain of salt. However, I also want to be realistic — I figure there must be some element of truth in most folks' stories, upon which they built their memories and base their beliefs. After all, I wasn't there. If I don't know someone or their story, how could I know if they're telling the truth or not?

So, with all that up front soul-searching, I find myself somewhat torn regarding Spong's autobiography. It's a fascinating and inspiring book, which I read with great enjoyment. Is everything he wrote absolutely and completely true? I don't know; I hope so. I'd like to think such unflagging courage, kindness, and honor were real, and that people can be inspired by such a story to stand up for those weaker than themselves — to stand for integrity, love, and equality.

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