Several voiced questions (and maybe some didn’t voice them?) about last week’s piece in this column, which concerned a famous atheist. Are you losing your religion? Lionizing an unbeliever? Going for the controversy? None of the above.

One of the most difficult things about filling this space every week is that readers, more than likely, don’t consist just of Christians, and certainly not only United Methodists. My guess is that Buddhists, Muslims, agnostics and many others might have occasion to read. How do you write for such a diverse audience without it becoming mushy and oatmeal-like in consistency (no offense to oatmeal-lovers, of which I am one!).

The best you can do is to call your shots, try to keep an open mind and learn from others. It’s why I think New Testament disciples, for example, should try very hard to study the Hebrew Bible all on its own, partly because it came first, partly because Jewish believers have studied and followed it for centuries. And it’s why I think it’s a good idea to challenge yourself to see things from different perspectives, at least from time to time. “It is a great mistake to think that you cannot learn from someone who does not agree with you.” (John Wesley).

True confession: I do spend the vast majority of my vocational time in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. But I love reading (and re-reading) things like “Zen Guitar” (Philip Toshio Sudo) and “Five Cities of Refuge” (Lawrence Kushner and David Mamet). I recently bought a lovely edition of “The Book of Legends” (Jewish narrative commentary). Reading wide (and deep) keeps the mind keen and opens new paths of understanding. It’s fun, too.

Are you a card-carrying universalist, someone might be asking? No, I’m not. But I am hopeful for the future, because “there’s a wideness to God’s mercy.” At least, that’s one of the things that I believe about Jesus. “They hung him high, and they stretched him wide.”

The Rev. Eugene Stockstill is pastor of Ebenezer United Methodist Church and Myrtle United Methodist Church in Union County.

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