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Rethinking what we believe – a discussion on ‘Catholica’

Michael Morwood puts some rubber down on the bitumen exploring how the religious beliefs of many people in countries like ours are changing today. In his new book, “Prayers for Progressive Christians: a New Template”, which we introduce to you today he explores some of the ways in which our prayers and liturgies might have to change.

Go to: Catholica to view the great discussion that is ensuing amongst progressive Catholics.

This debate was a response to Catholica’s lead comments on The Way Ahead for Catholics

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What is Christmas all about?

Our friends at Progressive Christianity Network Qld will be discussing this at their final gathering for the year on 27th November at Merthyr Road Uniting Church, New Farm.

What is Christmas all About? And what are we celebrating?

It’s a wonderful time, but I wonder …….

So started a song I learnt many years back! Back then I did not think any deeper than a manger, shepherds, angels, wise men ….

Now, I do wonder more about the meaning of Christmas and its celebrations each year. Do you? Do you have a new understanding? 

Let’s explore Christmas together at our next PCN Explorers meeting on 27th November, facilitated by Paul Inglis. There are many books that look at Christmas, drawing on new research and thinking. We have attached 2 one page documents that will introduce our thinking. I hope you have time to browse them in the next 10 days before we meet.  Request these from Paul . Maybe you will have other resources in your own library. You might also like to look at Jo Holden’s blog on “I don’t believe in the virgin birth”.

Now for some starter questions for you to play around with and meld with your own:

In what you have read about Christmas from a ‘progressive’ Christian viewpoint:

  • What was an aha moment for you?
  • What makes you say – “that is something I have not considered before”?
  • when did you say – “that does not sit easily with me”?

What do you think of the statement that Christmas is a celebration “under construction”?

Tim O’Dwyer wrote: I once had a letter published in The Courier-Mail recalling how, many decades ago, there was a move to “put Christ back into Xmas” and suggesting the churches should vacate 25th December, leave it to the secular world and celebrate the birth of Christ sometime back in September. How do you react to that suggestion?

PCN Explorers will meet for the last time this year on Wednesday 27th November, 10 am, Merthyr Road Uniting Church.

Come at 10 for eat, meet and greet and we will start our conversation. Some people like to continue the fellowship at Moray Cafe after the discussions so maybe you would like to plan for that also.  

Desley


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No need for a Religious Freedom Bill

Statement from the Rev Peter Catt, President of A Progressive Christian Voice Australia.

“There is no need for a Religious Freedom Bill. There are many people throughout the world who are persecuted for their faith. To align oneself with them in the current Australian climate is self-indulgent.

Freedom of religion has to do with the freedom to hold to a particular belief system, freedom to assemble for worship unhindered, and freedom to undertake religious observance and practice. It does not and should not include insulating church institutions or members from being challenged or criticised for poor behaviour.

There is a real danger that a Religious Freedom Bill will become a Freedom to be Sectarian Bill. Religion when it functions properly is about love and inclusion. No Religious Freedom Bill should ever sanction hate speech. Neither should such a Bill allow people who provide goods and services to withhold them from say, LGBTIQ+ people. To allow this would be a retrograde step, taking us back half-a-century to the days when goods and services were withheld from people based on perceived race.

I get attacked more often for my views and practices by fellow religious travellers than I do by people from outside the faith community. Will the Bill stop that from happening? Not that I think that it should. But the Bill is predicated on the idea that it is them (secular forces) and us (religious people). The reality is more complex. How will the Bill deal with religious people attacking one another?

Finally, the Government should reflect on its behaviour during the last Parliament when the greatest threat to religious freedom was the Government’s attempt to curtail religious charities from speaking out on policy matters that affected the poor and vulnerable.”

The Rev Peter Catt is available for further comment  via advocate@progressivechristians.org.au

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Book Review: The Bible in Australia: a cultural history

[See my review below this background information]

By Meredith Lake, ABC RN Soul Search presenter and academic.

Meredith Lake collected the Australian History prize for her book The Bible in Australia in the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards last month. Lake said when public debate about the national history curriculum was in full swing she decided to write the book as an antidote to the so-called culture wars. She said the phrase “Bible basher” had been coined in Australia and her research revealed Australians still held passionate and varied opinions about the Bible.

“[There exists] the idea of Australia as a somehow Christian nation adrift from its Judeo-Christian moorings, a nation whose freedoms may be somehow under threat. On the other hand, the idea of a Godless or secular nation in which religious belief has been at best weird and is best now put behind us [also prevails],” she said.

Woman with short brown hair stands at podium indoors speaking.

The ceremony at Parliament House was hosted by ABC presenter Annabel Crabb. The Prime Minister’s Literary Awards were launched in 2008 by then prime minister Kevin Rudd as the nation’s richest literary prize for fiction and non-fiction.

They no longer claim the “richest” title after the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award was raised to $150,000 but they do offer the largest prize pool, with $600,000 distributed in six categories. Winners receive $80,000 and finalists receive $5,000 each, all tax free.

Full list of awards

Australian History:
Meredith Lake for The Bible in Australia: A Cultural History (NewSouth Books)

Fiction:
Gail Jones for The Death of Noah Glass (Text Publishing)

Young Adult Fiction:
Michael Gerard Bauer for The Things That Will Not Stand (Scholastic Australia)

Children’s Literature:
Emily Rodda for His Name Was Walter (HarperCollins Australia)

Poetry:
Judith Beveridge for Sun Music: New and Selected Poems (Giramondo Publishing)

Non-Fiction:
Tanya Dalziell and Paul Genoni for Half the Perfect World: Writers, Dreamers and Drifters on Hydra, 1955-1964 (Monash University Publishing)

Review

This is a big sweep of the history of Australia and the influence of the Bible on that history and the developing and changing culture experienced by European settlers, indigenous residents, missionaries and in more recent times the new citizens from all parts of the world. The Bible was a staple text of colonial Australian life.

But the influence of the Bible on Australian culture goes back hundreds of years before European settlement and this is a fascinating piece of research that includes St Augustine and Portuguese and Dutch traders. By the time of Cook the Bible had been available in English for 250 years and was ubiquitous. It circulated widely as a whole volume or separate books and was in the hands of settlers and convicts and slowly also the indigenous inhabitants. But it was not a smooth pathway of acceptance. It was a contested document right from the start of European settlement, with settlers, convicts and aborigines. Yet it was clearly locked into popular culture and the basis for many decisions, laws and practices. In a European imperial guise it was wrapped in colonial thought and culture. For indigenous it was a new mind set, one that challenged much of their world view. The ‘civilizing’ view of missionaries played out in many different and conflicting ways. They made reading, hearing and learning from the scriptures a part of the rhythm of mission life.

At the same time it became a focus for challenging the encroachment of colonial thought on the original inhabitants. Many efforts to include a rewriting of the Bible in local languages were the subject of enormous battles within the churches and amongst aboriginal communities. But for colonial governments the role of missionaries was to ‘civilize’ and make the aborigines compliant to the new overlords. One great challenge in translations was to agree on a name for God and in several cases ‘boss’ was the substitute.

The legal notion of terra nullius was a crucial cultural product of the bibles European history. people who knew the Bible, believed it, were among those who harmed aboriginal people or profited from frontier violence. There were humanitarians making some noise about the treatment of aborigines but they stopped short of saying colonialism should end.

Lake does a great job of covering the whole territory that includes how the ‘word’ was spread, the growth of publishing houses, the massive influence of the Bible Society, frontier work in a huge country, the way a devotional attachment to the Bible was seen as a means to a good society, the Bibles influence upon the development of banks, schools, hospitals and much more. But it never produced an agreed model for a good society.

Inevitably the text was re-examined as new scholarship in the form of scientific knowledge made its impact on the developing nation, as it did elsewhere. By the late 19th century many works began to appear critiquing the Bible and by 1869 Jesus was being credibly portrayed as a man rather than a God by none less the evangelical Chief Justice of South Australia. New ideas flourished and spread, but only for a couple of decades. By the 1920s 96% of the population was identifying as Christian and dissent was minimal. Once again new views evolved with the development of critical thinking groups, feminist critics and gradually the Bible became one of many books that informed ethical and good practice. At the same time temperance and moral reform movements were influential until mid-20th century.

From the moment the first Australian parliament met, scripture and prayer were locked into politics. The constitution ‘humbly relied on the mercy of God’. The White Australia was indirectly influenced by interpretations of scripture. religion pervaded political parties and influenced policies. Two world wars had a great influence on future perspectives where faiths were shaken. Nevertheless the commemoration ceremonies captured the scriptures as integral to ceremonies for generations. The country continues to erect ‘religious’ memorials with biblical quotes. ANZAC day has become the new religion for Australians.

So much more could be told here, but that would spoil it for the reader.

At 439 pages this is a big read, but an easy one, full of interesting characters and anecdotes from our history. This is a book that all seekers after the truth about our Australian biblical heritage will find fascinating and enjoyable.

Paul Inglis, November 2019

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Australia Talks – ABC Survey

On ReligionInformation release from ABC’s Australia Talks with Annabel Crabb

“Australians firmly believe that religious people are subjected to discrimination in this country.

But all the same, we’d rather the godly kept their views to themselves.

Seventy-one per cent of Australians told the ABC’s Australia Talks National Survey that religious
discrimination happens “occasionally” or “often” in this country.

Ironically, this is a point on which the devout and the heathen are in agreement.

Even among Australians with no religion, 68 per cent agreed that there is discrimination, as did 74 per cent of Catholics, 72 per cent of Protestants and 74 per cent of “other religions”.

Still, we’d rather the devout kept quiet  

But a broad majority of Australians — 60 per cent — would prefer that people keep their religious views to
themselves.

This was a view held most strongly, as you might imagine, by non-religious respondents, of whom 73
percent wished not to hear the religious views of others.

But even a slim majority of Catholics — 53 per cent — agreed that it was better to keep religion a private
affair.

Protestants were more inclined to support full disclosure; only 39 percent of them felt religious views should be private.

And people from other faiths were divided on the question: just shy of a majority — 47 percent — agreed
religion should be a hush-hush affair.

If you’re wondering why all religious respondents besides Catholics and Protestants are grouped together, it’s because only those two faith groups provided a large enough sample to isolate in a statistically reliable
fashion.

According to the 2016 Census, 2.6 percent of Australians follow Islam, 2.4 percent are Buddhist, 1.9 percent
are Hindu and 0.4 percent are Jewish.

Catholicism is the leading single religious group, claiming 23 percent of the population, while 13 percent
identify as Anglican and 16 percent as “other Christian”.

We are not our faith

Australia is not a country in which religious belief is the dominant determinant of identity, social status or
indeed even social activity.

When given a list of eight attributes and asked which was most central to the respondent’s sense of self and
identity, Australians placed religion stone-cold, motherless last.

Respondents were more likely to identify themselves through their political beliefs (this was the top-rating
response, scoring 6.4 on a scale of one to ten), gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation than they were through
their religious views, which rated 4.7 out of ten.

What not to bring up at a dinner party  

Intermingling between religious groups is commonplace in Australia; 84 percent of respondents said they mixed socially with people of different beliefs to themselves.

But there are some subjects probably best avoided at such ecclesiastically-mixed gatherings.

Climate change, for one; while 80 per cent of atheists think climate is a problem for them personally, only 63
percent of Protestants agree.

Gender roles, for another; 35 percent of Protestants believe that Australia would be better off if more women stayed home to look after children, while only 14 percent of the godless were also of this view.

Would more religion help or hurt?  

Overall, Australians are not looking for more religion. Only 15 percent of respondents thought the country
would be better off if more people were religious.

And one of the survey’s most striking findings is the poor esteem in which religious leaders are held.

When asked who they trusted, Australians opted for doctors and nurses (trusted by 97 percent) and scientists (93 percent) well ahead of their preachers.

Religious leaders were distrusted by a full 70 percent of the population, with 35 percent saying they did not
trust them “at all”.

Even within their own flocks, religious leaders were viewed with some suspicion.

Protestants were the most obedient among the faithful; 58 percent of them trusted their religious leadership. But only 47 percent of Catholics had the same level of faith, while other religions came in at 49 per cent.

It seems trust in religious leaders may be a thing of the past; nearly half (47 percent) of those aged over 75 felt it, but only 23 per cent of those aged 25 to 29.

Where do you fit?  

If you’ve not had a chance, use the Australia Talks online tool to see how you compare (and share it with
your family and friends). It is available in English, Vietnamese, simplified Chinese and Arabic. 

Then, tune in at 8.30pm on November 18 for our unmissable live Australia Talks TV event, which I will
present with my excellent co-host Waleed Aly. 
Annabell Crabb

   
Forward this email to a friend so they can sign up to this newsletter here.  

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Opinion: What really happened?

From possibly our oldest subscriber.

About Kevin: As a free-thinking progressive-christian messianic god-seeker. Kévin Aryé Hatikvah Smith, aged 98, deaf in a wheel-chair in Sydney / Supreme Cross of Honour in 2005 (from Benedict XVI) for 50 years of ecumenism (Christian, Jewish, Muslim) in France and Australia. My mother, Esther Myers, was culturally Jewish although non-observant and became Catholic before wedding my Catholic father in 1921. She was a splendid model of Hebrew neighbourly-love and wrote poetry about the blessed virgin Mary and Jesus. I made friends with a messianic rabbi and he invited me to be a reader in his synagogue, which I loved doing. With my wife we were foundation members of the NSW Council of Christians & Jews. Happy Hanukkah to you and yours  from  Kevin  in Sydney NSW.  My Jewish Cockney ancestor Emmanuel Solomon arrived in Sydney in 1818 and in about 1835  he became a patriarch founder of Adelaide. As a leading Jew he became a close friend of Saint Mary MacKillop and helped her during her excommunication… more than once supplying free accommodation on his properties to the nuns expelled from thier convents by a bishop.  


WHAT REALLY HAPPENED? … studying the Rabbi Yeshuah story … Terentius (195-159 BCE): “As a human person, I consider that nothing human is unworthy of my concern”. (Homo sum. A me nihil humanum alienum puto.) -As a human person, I, Kevin/Gauvain, have cast my limited observation powers on the material world that has nurtured me and also beyond at the physical universe that gave me birth.

-I have had it pointed out to me that the universe is part of a greater realm, the cosmos, where there is Creator-God, heaven, angels, purgatory , hell, demons, etc.

— Concluding a session of my limited observations and drawing on life-long learning I conclude in this essay, or I arrive at the opinion …

(i) that I am a citizen of a planet where all human observations, conclusions and opinions are tentative and challengeable;

(ii) that nobody has totally died and then come back to everyday life again, no resurrection;

(iii) that virgin-mary type pregnancies do not occur [Yeshuah had no male DNA.];

(iv) that all miracles are scientifically suspect;

(v) that the existence of divinity / divine-nature is theologically suspect;

(vi) that a great literary work, the Bible, is a wholly human construct and therefore has very questionable verisimilitude on account of its many discrepancies, contradictions and mistakes;

(vii) that you must not trust Christianity because of the christology that it created which was presented to followers as unchangeable ‘deposit of faith’ dogma;

(viii) that faith is often the enemy of evidential fact;

(ix) that history shows for me no evidence of what I taught as a catechist for 20 years, “God the Father is a loving, caring God”.

(x) that it has been most difficult for me to advance this thesis since it has taken me 7 or 8 decades of devoted application trying to find out WHAT REALLY HAPPENED?

(xi) that these observations are for me joyful and liberating.

— As one born saved, I spiritually embrace Rabbi Yeshuah of Nazareth as my mentor; he is Israel’s greatest prophet,, an original thinker, an inspiring preacher, gifted healer & exorcist, convincing teacher of wisdom and integrity, Jewish mystic, model of kingdom-oriented life-style and promulgator of the ancient Hebrew ethics of neighbourly love with esteem for Adonai-Elohim as our loving Father. I walk daily hand-in-hand with this most admirable spiritual companion and silently converse with him and I greet his mother too. [] Kevin Aryeh Hatikvah Smith in Sydney []

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Heaven on Earth – Taming the Ego

Brian O’Hanlon, retired psychologist

Today’s gathering of the PCNQ Explorers at New Farm was another excellent interactive discussion, this time including practical exercises.

Discussion leader, Brian O’Hanlon, is a member of the group, a frequent homily presenter at St Mary’s in Exile, South Brisbane and author of:

A Path to Peace based on his work with veterans experiencing PTS, and

Experiencing the Spirit

Brief notes from the session

  • Scripture, especially the NT is often seeking enlightenment from a position of love
  • Jesus taught that the kingdom of heaven is within and around you
  • The Buddhist concept of Nirvana similarly calls for a quietening of the mind (taming of the ego)
  • An enlightened person lives without judgment, with acceptance, awareness of the eternal dimension, the sacred
  • Matthew Fox, from the recent Common Dreams Conference – What the world needs now is a sense of the sacred
  • Eckhart Tolle’s concept of the mind is open to God/love when it is empty
  • Damascus Road experiences are brain activities of experiencing enlightenment or liberation from/of the ego. But there are also many examples where the outcome of an experience of enlightenment where the ego is not completely managed leads to a dogmatic view of life – the ego has not completed the awareness experience. Many examples in history of people who have not managed their egos and taken others on pathways to destruction
  • Dogmatic thinking comes from the left side of the brain – shifting this allows/prevents the spiritual ego stopping an advancement of awareness.
  • Ego is your past insisting it is you now.
  • Example from Philippians 2:7 – but emptied himself,
        taking the form of a slave
        being born in human likeness.
    And being found in human form
  • Ego is a verb, a process and like power can be good or bad
  • A balanced mature ego is found through silence/meditation/emptying the mind.

Brian took us through exercises to demonstrate to ourselves how this can be done. It was good to have a psychologist’s perspective entering our very diverse discussions.

Watch for a notice about our November gathering.

Paul Inglis 30/10/19

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Redcliffe (Q) Explorers next gathering

Dear Explorers

Our next gathering will be on Monday 4th November – to hear Lozang Tsultrim talk about Tools for Happiness: a Buddhist approach to finding happiness. Lozang is Carla Pearse’s adopted name since being ordained a nun in the Buddhist tradition ten years ago. She has gained degrees in Counselling (UNE, Armidale), Social Science (UQ, Brisbane) and International Studies: Peace and Conflict Resolution (UQ), and has decades of experience in pastoral care, suicide prevention counselling, and running mindfulness workshops and retreats in Queensland, New South Wales, Nepal and India. I’m sure Carla will be happy to answer your questions about Buddhism to the best of her ability!

As usual, we meet at 6 p.m. in the Azure Blue coffee shop (91 Anzac Ave, Redcliffe) for tea/coffee and bikkies, after which Lozang’s talk will start at about 6:30. All are welcome. For more information please give me a call on 3284 3688 or 0401 513 723.

Shalom

Ian

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PCNQ – Explorers meets on Wednesday

You are invited.

This is a reminder that our next PCN Explorers meeting will be on Wednesday next week – 30th October, at Merthyr Road Uniting Church, 52 Merthyr Rd, New Farm.

Brian O’Hanlon will be our leader. Brian is a regular at our gatherings – he is a retired Psychologist, Meditation Teacher and Feldenkrais Practitioner.

A Spiritual approach to Christianity: Understanding the Spiritual Ego:

  • A summary of the ideas of Pierre de Chardin with particular emphasis on ‘we are spiritual beings!’
  • A summary of ‘Heaven on Earth’
  • We are spiritual beings, so why are we not in the Kingdom, ‘Heaven on Earth’? (The Spiritual ego – what is it?)
  • Turning down the Spiritual Ego
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
was a French idealist philosopher and Jesuit priest who trained as a paleontologist and geologist and took part in the discovery of Peking Man. He conceived the idea of the Omega Point and developed Vladimir Vernadsky’s concept of noosphere. During his lifetime, many of Teilhard’s writings were censored by the Catholic Church because of his views on original sin. Recently Teilhard has been praised by Pope Benedict XVI and other eminent Catholic figures.

Come at 10am for eat, meet and greet and we will start our session about 10:30 am

Desley Garnett – drgarn@bigpond.net.au

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Reforming the Catholic Church?

Geoff Taylor has drawn our attention to the ‘Amazon’ Synod and the debate that is going on in the Roman Catholic Church.

But not all the Cardinals are happy! Cardinal Muller, a German Cardinal without a portfolio is being very vocal on his concerns about the reforms posited by his German Cardinal colleagues who are not prepared to be limited by Rome. Even the reformist Pope Francis is concerned about the pace of the thinking about changes including an end of priestly celibacy, the ordination of women, the reform of sexual morality, and the democratization of powers in the Church. The Synod that is promoting all of this thinking will for the first time give equal voting rights to laity and clergy and almost certainly shake the church to its foundations.

For more about this go to: They have driven Jesus out of the Amazon Synod

From L’Espresso

And Cardinal Müller also sees worldliness in the way in which part of the Church has sided with environmentalist ideology:

“The Church belongs to Jesus Christ and must preach the Gospel and give hope for eternal life. It cannot make itself a protagonist of any ideology, whether that of ‘gender’ or environmentalist neopaganism. It is dangerous if this happens. I come back to the ‘Instrumentum Laboris’ prepared for the synod on the Amazon. In one of its paragraphs it speaks of ‘Mother Earth’: but this is a pagan expression. The earth comes from God and our mother in faith is the Church. We are justified through faith, hope, and love, not through environmental activism. Of course, taking care of creation is important, after all we live in a garden willed by God. But this is not the decisive point. What is is the fact that for us God is more important. Jesus gave his life for the salvation of men, not of the planet.”

To “L’Osservatore Romano,” which has published an obituary for the Icelandic glacier Okjökull, which died “through our fault,” Müller objects: “Jesus became man, not an icicle.” And he continues:

“Of course, the Church can make its own contribution, with good ethics, with social doctrine, with the magisterium, recalling anthropological principles. But the Church’s first mission is to preach Christ the son of God. Jesus did not tell Peter to concern himself with the government of the Roman empire, he does not enter into dialogue with Caesar. He kept himself at a good distance. Peter was not a friend of Herod or of Pilate, but he suffered martyrdom. Cooperation with a legitimate government is just, but without forgetting that the mission of Peter and of his successors consists in uniting all believers in faith in Christ, who did not recommend involvement with the waters of the Jordan or the vegetation of Galilee.”

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Please Leave?? – No please stay!!

by John Squires

Rev. Dr John Squires was formerly Principal of Perth Theological Hall. He is currently undertaking an Intentional Interim Ministry with Queanbeyan Uniting Church and is Canberra Region Presbytery Minister (Wellbeing).

John’s blog An Informed Faith is linked to this site in Links – Categories – Leading Practitioners

There has been a lot of media interest in the recent declaration by the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, concerning the way that some dioceses, a number of ministers, and many, many people of faith are grappling with our changed understandings of gender and sexuality, and how that relates to Christian faith.

It is a complex matter, with many nuances, that deserve careful consideration, and compassionate reflection.

The words of the Sydney Diocese leader, however, cast the situation in a clear black-and-white manner, with the stinger of a sharp command to those with whom he (and many in his Diocese) disagree: “please leave”.

The full set of words from this part of his speech is instructive: “My own view is that if people wish to change the doctrine of our Church, they should start a new church or join a church more aligned to their views – but do not ruin the Anglican Church by abandoning the plain teaching of Scripture. Please leave us.”

So sayeth the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, the Rev. Dr Glenn Davies.

(A full account of his speech to the Anglican Synod is reported on the Sydney Diocese webpage at https://sydneyanglicans.net/news/guarding-the-faith-in-a-changing-world and in Eternity News at https://www.eternitynews.com.au/australia/please-leave-us-sydneys-anglican-archbishop-tells-progressive-christians/)

But there are a number of problems with what Dr Davies said.

The Archbishop distanced himself from “people who] wish to change the doctrine of our Church”. The first problem is, that doctrine is always changingIt was changing in the early decades of the church. It changed significantly in the various Reformations of the 16th century, under the leadership of Jan Huss, Martin Luther, Jean Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli, John Knox, and then the response of the Council of Trent in the Roman Catholic Church.

It changed in 1540, when Henry VIII of England sanctioned the complete destruction of shrines to saints, and further in 1542, when Henry dissolved monasteries across the country—actions which changed doctrines and led to the formation of the very church in which Glenn Davies was ordained and then consecrated!

It changed when, during the Enlightenment, theologians and scholars applied principles of rational thinking to scriptural texts and faith concerns. It continues to change in the postmodern world, as new discoveries and insights lead Christian leaders to bring new questions to faith issues, and to formulate beliefs in ways that connect with and make sense within the changing world.

In my own denomination, the Uniting Church in Australia, we recognise this when we recall the paragraph in our Basis of Union that affirms “the continuing witness and service”, not only of evangelists, prophets, and martyrs, but also of scholars; and which notes that as we engage with “literary, historical and scientific enquiry … [of] recent centuries”, we are able to develop “an informed faith” of relevance to the current times.

Doctrine is dynamic; it is always in a state of flux. Theology is transient; it is always developing. Church teaching is constantly evolving; it is never static.

(On my take on interpreting the classic creeds of the church, see https://johntsquires.com/2018/11/02/interpreting-the-creeds-in-a-later-age/; on how the Uniting Church envisages the factors involved in this process, see https://johntsquires.com/2018/07/30/seeking-an-informed-faith/)

Second, the Archbishop referred to “the plain teaching of Scripture”. The second problem, then is that scripture does not actually have a plain teaching. There are words, written in the Bible, which need to be interpreted, if they are to be understood and applied to contemporary life. There is no plain and simple teaching in these words; they are words which always need interpretation.

This interpretation starts with the choice of text. We do not have an “original version”; we have copies of copies, some complete, many fragmented. There are always options to consider–and we all rely on experts in this matter. Then comes the matter of language. Biblical texts were written in languages other than English. We English-speakers are reliant on the careful work of translators and scholars, seeking to render the phrases of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, into contemporary English. There are already multiple interpretive decisions that have been made for us, in our English Bibles.

Then, interpretation needs to take into account the differences in culture that exist, between the patriarchal, honour-shame cultures of antiquity, and the current state of play within (in our case) contemporary Australian society. We can’t just assume that something from an ancient culture “makes sense” in our contemporary culture, let alone that it can be “directly applied” into our context. There are interpretive decisions to be made.

(I have written about this dimension at https://johntsquires.com/2018/12/07/to-articulate-faith-contextually/)

The process of interpretation also needs to bear in mind how the usage of particular words and ideas has changed over time. Awful, for instance, once had a very positive sense, “full full of awe or admiration”, whilst nice had an earlier sense of “silly, foolish”. Guy (from the historical British figure Guy Fawkes) had an earlier sense of a frightening figure, not the generalised reference to men that it has today, whilst meat in earlier centuries was a catch-all term referring to food in general. (And, most pertinent to the particular issue at hand, “gay” once had a very different point of reference in English!)

These kinds of shifts in usage are also found in terms that appear in the Bible, especially in translations from some centuries ago. We need to factor that in to our interpretation.

And then, reading and interpretation of the Bible involves application, discerning how and in what ways a biblical passage is relevant for us today. That means knowing what our situation is as well as what we hear in the biblical text, and connecting the two. It is not simple or straightforward.

In an earlier interview about his view of matters of sexuality (and other issues), Dr Davies referred disparagingly to “a virus in the national church, caused by not teaching properly the word of God” (see https://www.thepastorsheart.net/podcast/2019/9/17/archbishop-davies-on-public-christian-leadership).

That’s an unfair and unhelpfully polemical characterisation of what is a complex and nuanced matter—reading biblical passages about sexuality in contemporary society. The biblical texts about sexual relationships involving people of the same gender are not simple and self-evident prohibitions on such behaviour, and should not be read as such.

Elizabeth and I have contributed a discussion of this matter which, I believe, offers more constructive lines of understanding; see https://johntsquires.com/2018/07/30/marrying-same-gender-people-a-biblical-rationale/ as well as https://johntsquires.com/2019/06/26/human-sexuality-and-the-bible/ and https://www.unitingnetworkaustralia.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/02-Human-Sexuality-in-Biblical-Perspectives.pdf.

(More generally, see https://johntsquires.com/2018/07/30/the-word-of-god-scripture-and-jesus-christ/)

Third, the Archbishop—quite strikingly—has urged certain people to leave the Anglican Church. I believe that advocating that people leave one church to start another church is not a helpful activity. Anglicans, like other mainstream denominations, have a commitment to unity in the church. So, the third problem is a lack of commitment to the unity of the church.

That’s quite an amazing position for a leader in a denomination which affirms that it is, indeed, an integral part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church—and which is universally recognised by other denominations as an integral part of that Church.

Each Sunday, in Anglican churches around Australia (and beyond), faithful people affirm, “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” That’s a line in the Nicene Creed. And those Anglicans are joined by many Roman Catholics, members of the many Orthodox churches, and quite a number of folk in the various Protestant churches, to say these words together on regular (even weekly) occasions. Across the denominations, there is a commitment to unity.

Not in the Sydney Anglican Diocese, however. The Archbishop’s invitation to those who see things differently from him to leave the church and form their own branch is fracturing the unity of the church even more by this narrow, sectarian dogmatism.

Even his own colleagues, it seems, have recognised that Dr Davies has crossed a line with his rhetoric in recent days (see https://www.theage.com.au/national/even-conservative-rectors-shuddered-why-sydney-archbishop-s-words-hurt-20191018-p531ye.html). Such rhetoric serves only to exacerbate differences and intensify hurt. Is that really being faithful to the office into which he has been called?

The worldwide leader of the Anglican Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Justin Welby, has affirmed that “reconciliation is the hallmark of Anglicanism, the heart of the gospel and a life to which we are all called” (see https://www.anglicancommunion.org/mission/reconciliation.aspx).

Archbishop Welby is promoting through the Anglican Communion a resource entitled Living Reconciliation, which “offers a vision of Church marked by honesty, truthfulness and love … [and] applies the teaching of the Gospel at precisely the point where we need it most today” (see http://living-reconciliation.org/thebook/).

Is the Archbishop of Sydney aware of just how contrary his words are, to the principles of reconciliation and the commitment to an honest, loving church that is being championed by the Archbishop of Canterbury?

Finally, the Archbishop of Sydney is quoted as imploring those with whom he disagrees: do not ruin the Anglican Church. The fourth problem I see is that exploring and developing ideas is not a process of ruination.

Rather, the exploration of ideas and the development of thought is a constructive process that offers a gift to the church at large: the gift of an ever-evolving, ever-refining articulation of beliefs in ways that resonate with life in the contemporary age. Questions, provocations, redefinitions, and developments in thinking and believing are wonderful gifts!

I wouldn’t characterise the process as one of causing ruin. Rather, I would celebrate it and affirm the importance of this process. The problem, it seems to me, is that if you really believe that you have The Truth, then you are impelled to convince others of that Truth. But if you believe you are called to Love others, then you will listen and learn.

Sadly, the Archbishop has demonstrated this stark difference: when we prioritise Truth, we inform, lecture, admonish, even berate; whereas when we prioritise Love, we enter into relationships, affirm, explore, nourish, question, rethink, and develop in community with each other. Quite a different ethos. Quite a different result.

Please Leave? No—Please Stay! To the people addressed by Dr Davies, I say: Please stay in the Christian church and help us to be faithful to the Gospel. Please stay in the Christian church and help us to change in ways that are positive and life-giving. Please stay and gift your distinctive contribution to the life of the church in your locality and beyond.

And to the Archbishop, if he really is committed to the process of leaving, I say: you please leavePlease leave behind homophobic fear and discriminatory rhetoric. Please leave behind your insistence on conformity to your particular dogmatic assertions. Please leave behind your criticisms of those who happen to be born different from you. That’s what I would like you to leave.

oOo

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Opinion: Australia and Globalism

A  Response To the Prime Minister’s Lowy Lecture

by (Rev.) Dr Noel Preston AM, nwpresto@gmail.com  (9th October 2019)

On October 3, 2019, the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, delivered a lecture to the Lowy Institute outlining his vision for Australia’s role in relation to what he called “globalism”.

On the surface, the tone of his speech was plausible and reasonable. But, on closer examination, his declarations, couched as they were in general terms,  are disturbing for many Australians of goodwill who seek a better direction for our nation as an international citizen – including progressive Christians (to whom this response is primarily directed).

PM Morrison rejected what he described as “unaccountable international bureaucracy”, clearly a side swipe at the United Nations. There was no acknowledgement of the role prominent Australian leaders of the past  played in establishing international forums which have defended peace along with human and environmental rights.

While rejecting “isolationism”, Mr Morrison opted instead for what he called “positive and practical globalism”. Moreover, ignoring his power and responsibility to lead the nation and inspire Australians to less self-centred policies, he  insisted that he was “responsible to the will of the Australian people” (whatever that is) invoking that slippery term, “the national interest”, as his justification.

Throughout  this bench-marking oration he did not once mention the issue of Global Warming and Australia’s responsibility to take a strong lead internationally, as life on the planet faces climate change.  Interestingly, he did not repeat his recent assertion to a United Nations assembly: “We are meeting our commitments and reject any say to the contrary…” That dubious assertion was strongly disputed by experts as demonstrated on the ABC TV program “The Drum” on the 8th of October 2019.

Sadly, his silence about this number one global issue in the Sir Frank Lowy lecture speaks volumes about his unwillingness to  prioritise a national strategy on the matter. Instead, the priority Mr Morrison espoused was  “security through economic strength”, seemingly code for “business as usual”.

Furthermore, there was no mention of his government’s record (and that of recent governments of all persuasions) on matters such as our diminishing humanitarian overseas aid budget or border protection with its unnecessarily cruel policies. Clearly, he was asserting, the Australian government will not listen to “unaccountable” international bodies who justifiably accuse Australia of violating  human rights.

That said, the lecture also, presumptuously, invoked Australia’s “higher values”, presumably the tradition we share with other middle powers like Canada and New Zealand.  Arguably, these nations  with whom we share much history apply values  that promote a somewhat different stance toward “globalism”.

The content of the Prime Minister’s speech is all the more disturbing when set in its context.

Clearly, it was fashioned and delivered against the background of his recent international tour which included his absence at the UN Climate Conference in New York, but an elaborate State visit to Trump’s USA (and it is President Trump who has given currency to this term, “globalism”). Of course, the context is wider: China’s rise to power, Vladimir Putin’s nationalistic style and the UK’s Brexit push.

These geo-political shifts provide a reason for the Prime Minister to clarify Australia’s approach to international affairs but they also emphasise the need for caution, lest Australia fall into line with  the mood for regressive nationalism.

Finally, in my view, people of Christian faith and all those who share a hope for the common good, cannot avoid the conclusion that, as he has become a custodian of great political power, the Prime Minister’s loudly proclaimed Christian faith has evaporated in the years since he delivered a testimony to that faith in his maiden speech.

Understood prophetically and progressively, Christianity, along with other like worldviews, believes the interests of the global community of life are paramount. It will be up to civil society in Australia, including  strong advocacy by religious leaders, guided by a different understanding of globalism, to push back and sound a different note. Otherwise, we will continue to slide further  from  authentic international responsibility toward a narrow and self-focussed national interest.

oOo

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Progressive Church of Christ? Resourcing Ministry and Worship No.12

TLC Church Bayswater North, Melbourne.

265, Canterbury Road.

Truth and Liberation Concern (TLC Church) is an organic
community, responding to God’s grace and the call to love.
Just as the TLC community is a ‘work in progress’, so its vision
and mission statement is a work in progress. It is a snapshot of our
community and aims to give clarity to what is evident among us.
And it helps us dream and plan for what may be possible for the
journey ahead.

The TLC elders and pastors recognise and name the things that
give life and breath to the TLC community. We acknowledge the
founding faith statements and mission statements that have
underpinned our community for over 40 years.

Our Mission Statement

Spirituality and worship We affirm worship as an all-of-life endeavor, expressed in diverse ways as we respond to God and to one another. We seek to nurture the Christian faith within our community and to provide opportunities for spiritual growth.

A place to belong We offer people a home and a place to belong. We provide a space where people can find love, grace and dignity through their relationships with Christ and with one another.

Mission and community engagement We encourage one another to encounter God as we reach out beyond our boundaries, exploring and sharing the love and justice of Jesus.

An Empowering Community We empower people to take ownership within our community. We encourage one another to embrace both the freedom of the Gospel and the responsibility that the Gospel brings. Our challenge is to express our faith through the way we live.

Restoration & Healing We offer rest, healing and rejuvenation. We invite people to experience the love of God within our community, and we provide space for people to journey towards wholeness.

Go to – Our facilities

Go to – Global focus

Go to – Sermons

Go to – Fairs fair

Sunday Service – 10am.

oOo

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Book Review: Opening Doors

A seeker’s reflection on the rooms of Christian living

by Kevin Treston

I have been looking forward to more from Kevin Treston since his The Wind Blows Where it Chooses made practical sense of the crisis facing western Christianity. Opening Doors is a great follow on from that book and once again he has produced a text that is useful for personal as well as group studies. This time the exercise is to reconcile a contemporary faith with modern science, cosmology and spirituality.

Dr Kevin Treston has taught and lectured for many years in 14 different countries. He is the author of 30 books, and a highly respected presenter among Christian educators. He was a visiting Scholar at Boston College and is a member of the association of Practical Theology Oceania. He was awarded an Order of Australia Medal (OAM) for his services to education.

He calls himself a seeker because he has taken on board Jesus’ invitation to open the door to him, get to know him better and at the same time bring Jesus wisdom into contemporary society. He invites us to be seekers and gives us the tools for shifting from the old anthropocentric (human centred) faith to an ecocentric faith better suited to our times.  This is a very personal exercise and the book acts as a resource that guides the reader/s through a range of elements that enhance Christian living today.

For Kevin it is obvious that the Christ Story is told within the Great Story of the Universe which is a much longer narrative than the 2000 years of Christianity. The profound mystery of God within and beyond creation needs to be reframed within the wondrous story of the universe. He has developed this theme in previous books so that the three great movements from Jewish beginnings to the traditional story we are familiar with are linked to the emerging cosmic story including teachings, theology, liturgy, ethical living that form a new consciousness that includes modern science.

Kevin builds the discussion on a foundation of human evolutionary destiny for homo sapiens as an exclusive species of hominoids exhibiting unique attributes of self-reflection, language, art and consciousness over 150,000 years through towards today’s global people to emerging trans human forms. This is accompanied by a history of the development of religions and especially in the Christian religion the rise of the clerical class which has had a depowering effect on individuals ‘reducing them to a spiritually dependent lay state’. He makes the point that the propensity to be religious deeply embedded in the human psyche is not confined to those who endorse creeds and doctrines. But it does give each of us an inclination to consider the question What Does it mean to live life given the fact that one day I will die? He gives fresh insights into the meaning of ‘incarnation’ as core thinking in the human narrative.

The reader is given opportunities to consider the issues and questions raised by the author’s commentary on life, religion, spirituality, advances in science, love and relationships, the divine, sin, God as Trinity, the worship of Jesus, the teachings of Jesus and the Cosmic or Universal Christ, the exercise of ministry, the role and status of women and the problems of patriarchy and domestic violence, morality and shifts in teaching about morality. All of this leads to Kevin’s model for the spirituality journey which is really a framework for each of us to develop our own intentional model.

I found this book personally liberating and I was motivated to follow up on Kevin’s invitation to describe the room of life that I would like to be in after opening the door. Highly recommended for individuals, conversations and self-directed groups who will find some great ideas for getting underway. It is a resource suitable inside and outside the church with particular benefit to communities looking at the renewal and relevance of their mission focus.

Paul Inglis 14th October 2019

To order online go to: www.coventrypress.com.au

Phone: 0477 809 037 Email: enquiries@coventrypress.com.au

Post to: Coventry Press, 33 Scoresby Road, Bayswater Vic. 3153

Cost: $24.95 + *Postage: $9.95 for 1-3 books; $11 for 4 and more; free freight for orders over $100

oOo

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Early thinking on sexuality in divine-human relations

[Posted to demonstrate the diversity of thinking amongst our growing cohort of progressives and the fact that this sort of thinking was in scholarly circles in the 18th century...]

From Brother Mac Campbell, Society of St Francis

I became interested in an eighteenth century German philosopher/theologian who was responsible for the birth of Romanticism.

Perhaps the following might interest readers:

Johann Georg Hamann on sexuality; Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy:
“One must also remember that Hamann confessed that he could not conceive of a Creative Spirit without genitalia; indeed, he was quite happy to assert that the genitals are the unique bond between creature and Creator. So sexuality in divine-human relations has two aspects. First, as paradigm of creativity, it is the way in which our God-likeness can most strikingly be seen. Secondly, as the point of the most profound unity, it is the locus for our union both with another human being and with the divine. Provocatively, Hamann sees original sin and its rebellion as embodied not in sexuality, but in reason. Overweening reason is our attempt to be like God; meanwhile, prudery is the rejection of God’s image, while trying to be like God in the wrong sense (bodilessness). (See Essay of a Sibyl on Marriage and Konxompax.) One should therefore distinguish ‘likeness to God’ from ‘being equal to God’. In the Sibyl’s essay, the male version of grasping at equality with God (cf. Phil. 2:6) is the attempt to be self-sufficient, to be the God of monotheism: the sole ruler, who possesses self-existence. Instead, the encounter with the opposite sex should engender in the man an attitude of profound respect towards the woman’s body, as the source of his own existence, from his mother. As the source of his own joy, lovemaking also is an acknowledgement of his own dependence, his lack of self-sufficiency and autonomy. But this dependence on another paradoxically is the Godlikeness of the Creator, the father, the one who humbles himself in self-giving (a favourite Hamannian theme in his discussion of God). Meanwhile, the woman’s temptation is to an artificial innocence; a secret envy of God’s incorporeality and impassibility. The defence of one’s virginity is another cryptic attempt at self-sufficiency. Instead, the woman must brave the ‘tongues of fire’ in a ‘sacrifical offering of innocence’, in order to realize her Godlikeness; which is not to be found in bodilessness and the absence of passion, but in passionate creativity; in the willingness to be incarnate. Thus, if human beings are in the image of God, it is a trinitarian image of God, a mutual relation of love of ‘Father’, ‘Son’ and ‘Spirit’; found in creating, in saving, and in tongues of fire.”

Brother Mac Campbell (the Society of St Francis)   October 2019

The German philosopher Johann Georg Hamann (1730-1788) was known as the “Wizard of the North.” He held that truth is a matter of subjective belief, and he sought to reveal the divine in things and people.      

oOo           

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Book Review: Why are you here Elijah?

The Mystery of Meaning

by Walter Stratford

While reading this wonderful book, I felt a real sense of hope for the future despite the obvious challenges facing humanity and the growing challenges to our planet and humankind. It is a work that is dense with serious philosophical reflections on ‘the meaning of life’. Elijah is a great vehicle for demonstrating the conundrum that inevitably every thinking person is faced with – Why am I here?

Drawing on a range of great scholars in the field of existential theory, Stratford takes the reader on a journey through our links to land and Spirit, of our being in the world, our search for personal meaning that makes this being significant, the mystery of ‘God’ in the shaping of the meaning and the part played by shadows that hide the pathway ahead.

Ultimately, he grounds all of this in a series of case stories provided by a range of people who reflect on their own being experiences.

As the author says, there are two realities that undergird all in this book. Land and Spirit are fundamental for our being, and attachment to the land anchors our life…Imagination and story bind us to the earth and open pathways for the recognition of the Spirit.

We are reminded that a good religion has been ruined by its advocates, who got so caught up in literalism that its essence was lost. Consequently, much that passes for a Christian message makes little sense for so many. Stratford addresses this by describing God as a verb rather than an elsewhere person. In the web of possibility for hope and affection emerging from this view of God appears mythology and poetry which give life to a personal spirituality that has been lost, in the main, in the evolution of the Church.

Why are you here Elijah? Why in this place? Why not somewhere else and doing the job I called you to? This question encourages us to evaluate the situation in which we find ourselves and to live through that situation. It also encourages us to continue in a way of being, consciously, in a way that can be modified but which needs to be valued, to get on with living.

There is an intentionality about being that honours the earth as a gift for humankind, a place that needs to be nurtured if we are to maintain a healthy viability of being for all people. It also requires that we maintain kindness and truth as fundamental building blocks so that all people are accepted. There is a measure of personal responsibility implied. There is also a suggestion that we can all be greater than who we are now, and this will be validated, despite moments of uncertainty, as we become more aware of all that makes the framework of our life.

This book will cause the reader to think! You will also want to capture the hundreds of great philosophical reflections that Stratford produces, to stop and to make links to your own experiences of life. For me it was not for a single sitting because I needed to put it down for a while and let the ideas settle before coming back to it. Clearly this work comes from someone who has thought long and hard about the meaning of life. You won’t get a single answer to that question but you will be better able to answer it from your own perspective once you have engaged with this book.

The author: Rev Dr Walter Stratford is a retired Uniting Church Minister who served in such diverse places as the New Hebrides, Traralgon, Townsville and Dandenong. He also spent time as secretary to the Queensland Ecumenical Council, and as a chaplain at the Wesley Hospital, Brisbane. During his ministry Walter found time for study and completed a number of degrees, including a PhD in 2012. He is married with four adult children, a number of grand children and great-grandchildren.

Currently available as paperback from Amazon.com for $18 plus shipping cost.

Reviewer: Dr Paul Inglis

oOo

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CD5 Paper – Post-colonial theology and sovereignty

From the recent Common Dreams Conference in Sydney

Rev Dr Chris Budden

[Published with his permission]

Cert. Bio-Ethics, Cert IV A&WT, BA(Hons), GradDipRelEd, DMin
Sessional Lecturer
Phone: (02) 8838 8981
Email: rdcgb49@bigpond.com

Chris is a Minister in the Uniting Church, a resource worker with UAICC, an adjunct member of faculty at UTC, and an associate Researcher in the Public and Contextual Theology Research Centre at CSU. He has a long interest in relationships with Indigenous people, and a commitment to more just ways on being the church in this country. His particular research interests are theological method, theology in Australia, justice for Indigenous people, the relationship between discipleship and citizenship, issues in social ethics, and the social and theological location of the church.

He has a particular interest in the way theology and church practices are shaped by relationships with power. He spent the last five years of full-time ministry as National Coordinator for the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress. He remains committed to supporting efforts to develop Indigenous theologies in Australia. His writings include Following Jesus in Invaded Space: Doing Theology on Aboriginal Land (Pickwick, 2009), and Why Indigenous Sovereignty Should Matter to Christians (Mediacom Education, 2018). He contributed to Unsettling the Word: Biblical Experiments in Decolonization (edited Steve Heinrichs; Orbis, 2019).

Thank you for the invitation to make this presentation.

I pay my respects to the custodians[1] of this place and particularly to their Elders – past, present and emerging. I thank them for sustaining the land and the stories of sacred life.

Introduction

Today we are talking about postcolonial theology and sovereignty for First Peoples. A more academic understanding of Postcolonial theology would highlight its reliance on critical theory, and the critique of structures of power, dominant systems, and embedded ideologies for social transformation.

More simply we can say that postcolonial theology seeks a more liberating response to the exercise of power – political, social, economic and religious – over access to what is needed to live, our bodies, and relationships, including with the earth. It is ‘postcolonial’ in the sense that it is focused on the struggles of those who have been invaded and settled by colonial powers, the justifying stories of those colonial powers, and the role of theology in the colonial context.

Postcolonial theology is a form of liberation theology. The difference is its emphasis on empire and empire studies of Scripture, and a very conscious focus on power.

Culture and power

Thanks in no small part to Reinhold Niebuhr’s work Christ and Culture, Western Christians are aware of the relationship between faith and culture. Joerg Rieger reminds us that we can no longer think about culture apart from power. He says:

The primary context in which we think about Christ – whether we realize it or not – is shaped by large and ever-changing conglomerates of power that are aimed at controlling all aspects of our lives, from micropolitics to our innermost desires…[2]

Power is about (i) the ability to determine/ influence the shape of economy and who accesses ‘wealth,’ (ii) the ability to make political decisions that shape the structure of society – including who belongs and who doesn’t, and (iii) the ability to influence the stories and practices that explain and justify the world.

Narrative

Power has to do with both the material and relational realities and the narratives – expressed in history-telling, law-making, rituals and celebrations, education and news, and memorials – that explain, justify and defend the world.

In his book, Dominion and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts, James C. Scott talks about the public transcripts that those with power tell to ensure that people see the world their way. These are the transcripts that explain why some deserve to flourish and others do not. People who invade tell stories to justify to themselves why they – as good people, and we all want to be good people – can do this.

Scott also talks of hidden transcripts – the stories that oppressed people tell in private to sustain their lives. They are stories that mock those with power and affirm their own worth. They are dangerous stories, and when they surface in public spaces they are often ambiguous stories – i.e. stories that seem harmless to those with power, but are understood as quite subversive by those with ears to hear.

Let me explore the example of Jesus and taxes (Mark 12: 13-17). The story starts with people coming to Jesus to trap him, so keep that in mind. They ask Jesus is it ok to pay taxes to the Romans? Romans didn’t pay taxes; only those who were defeated militarily. Taxes were a constant reminder of occupation.

Jesus asks the religious leaders for a coin, which they produce fairly quickly. The coin had the emperor on one side and his mother – claimed to be a deity – on the other. First class example of idolatry, and yet they used the coin. Sort of takes away their high moral ground.

Jesus looks at the coin and says: give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. Good answer – affirms the Romans and God – and Jesus is safe. A divided world – which we love.

But while this interpretation suits us, it is – I think – fundamentally wrong.  Jesus believes that everything belongs to God. In Jesus’ world there is nothing left for Caesar and his idolatrous claims. And those who knew Jesus heard this as a word of hope.

That is why the debate about monuments and Australia Day is important – it is about which stories shape our identity, access to power and economy, and sense of belonging. There is a questioning of the public transcript of discovery and peaceful settlement.

That is why the issue of whether people sing the national anthem at a football game matters. National Anthems are part of the public transcript, the way the nation’s story is told, how people’s history is dealt with, and what place people have in the nation. Not singing challenges the transcript – it is about voice and truth.

Because of its relationship with power and empire, the church and its theology is usually a public transcript. It is theology that has been shaped by its place alongside, and its role justifying, power.

Postcolonial theology explicitly recognises the way narratives/ celebrations support or question power and seeks to take the side of those who are oppressed and marginalised. It is a form of theology that is closer to a hidden transcript.

Postcolonial theology also stands against the way our society has, for three hundred years, divided the world into religious, political and economic spheres. It claims that religion is not a separate part of life but is deeply woven into every part of daily life.

Religion is not about personal and individual beliefs and behaviour. It is the narrative that holds together, underpins and makes sense of the world. It is a community agreed-upon set of social practices and rituals.

The problem when we let the world be divided into spheres is (i) religion is told to leave politics and economics alone and (ii) these other two areas of life have their own narrative and soteriology/ story of salvation – ‘security’ for the state and ‘the market’ for economy.

Distorted colonial theology

To understand the need for a postcolonial theology, we need to understand the distorted nature of colonial theology; the centre of which is the decision of the church to align with power and empire rather than with those who have been invaded.

There is no such thing as a neutral theology. All theology takes sides. The issue is: which side does theology take in our time and continuing colonial context, and what theology shapes that choice of location?

Continue reading
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Request from Rex Hunt

G’day folks,

Does any one on the UCFORUM list subscribe to Westar Institute publication, FORUM?

If you do I would love a copy of the paper “The Ritual of the Hellenistic Meal: Early Christian Everyday Practice as an Exegetical Challenge,”  by Soham Al-Suadi, published in the current (probably still winging its way down under) issue.

Thanks, RAEH 

Reply by email to: Rex Hunt rexae@optusnet.com.au

Hellenistic art, 3rd century b.C. Marble relief with scene of family meal. From Cyzicus, Turkey.

Hopefully there might be someone in our large following that can help Rex find this publication. He has raised my interest and for the interest of our readers –

Soham Al-Suadi develops Hal Taussig’s work on the Eucharist meal as a typical Hellenistic meal, which was a site of “social, political, and religious experimentation.” Like McGowan, Al Suadi sees the origins of the Eucharist meal in the everyday practices of the ancient world. But it is important to understand that even an ordinary communal meal could be the place of transformation. So Al-Suadi examines the earliest account of the Christian banquet from Rom 14:1–12 and looks at what it reveals about Christian identity formation. In essence, Paul was faced with a tension between Jews and gentiles at the table and sought a remedy to the tension between them to “minimize the disruptive state of experimentation.” The decisions about identity made at the meal—on how the menu settles differences between Jews and gentiles—then continue after the meal, influencing daily life. Al-Suadi moves from comparisons to Hellenistic meals to the creation of a new hermeneutical method that combines socio-historical criticism with ritual theory and applies it to portions of Paul’s letters related to the Eucharistic meal. She focuses on several aspects: the terms of identification used for the participants, how the order within the meal ritual influences the interconnectedness of those involved, and what the order of reclining during the meal reveals about group and individual identity. As a result, the exegete becomes acutely aware of how participation in the Eucharist at once provides an opportunity to break or transcend social divisions, reflects the tensions that exist in the larger community, and seeks to resolve their differences in pursuit of forming a new group identity. Most interesting about Al-Suadi’s discussion is her argument that the birth of Christianity was not a singular, remarkable event; rather, it arose from the everyday experience of communal meals, occurring wherever Christianity had taken root.

Paul

oOo

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Common Dreams Conference in Retrospect

COMMON DREAMS 2019 a reflection by two members of the PCNQ

Steven and I attended this gathering during July, at Newington College and Pitt St Uniting Church in Sydney. To be honest, we were also attending the Royal School of Church Music Winter School and as these two events overlapped, we missed some sessions of both.

However, COMMON DREAMS was the fifth gathering of its kind, drawing people from across Australia, New Zealand and even further afield. The fourth was held at Somerville House in Brisbane in 2017.

The vision for COMMON DREAMS is described by Rev Greg Jenks, an Anglican minister, former Principal of St Francis Theological College in Brisbane, but now Dean of Bathurst Anglican Cathedral:

Common Dreams is intended to be an interfaith and ecumenical project to promote, protect and expand the role of reasonable and tolerant religion in the public space. The significance of Common Dreams as a name for this movement is its potential to invite us beyond differences derived from culture, ethnicity and religion into a shared space where we have common dreams for a better future.

The theme of this year’s conference was Sacred Earth: Original Blessing, Common Home. It was a focus for advocates of spirituality and social change, providing inspiration for progressive seekers and sustenance for practical dreamers. International guest, Matthew Fox, leading exponent of creative Spirituality, addressed the conference with topics such as Spiritual but not Religious: the future of religion and of spirituality and of the Earth; On being Deeply Human in a Time of Earth-Crisis; But there were so many inspirational speakers – Norman Habel and Anne Pattel-Gray lead us in Time to Publicly Acknowledge the Creation Spirituality of our Aboriginal Custodians; Jonathan Keren-Black (Jewish scholar) spoke on In Judaism it is actions that count above all in healing the world; Rod Bower, from Gosford’s Anglican Church challenged us with his understanding of Common Home and A Just Society; Ro Allen, Victorian Commissioner for Gender Equality, showed us through honest dialogue and courage how to Honour the Rich Diversity of Sex, Sexuality and Gender within the Cosmos; and Rev Margaret Mayman of Pitt St UC gave the final keynote – Holding Hope and Acting Out: Engaging Tradition and Doing Ethics in Times of Conflict and Crisis.

We have come home, inspired and emboldened to look for ways we can put into practice our common dreams.

Here are some sound-bites which I can share with you. I hope you might find something that engages your thoughts, your feelings ……

We have twelve years left – before it is too late – to change direction in response to the climate crisis.

We are the first species who can choose not to become extinct. We haven’t made that choice yet!

Rabbi Hershel, who walked with Martin Luther King on the Selmer bridge, said of his own actions “I felt my feet were praying”.

Beware the sole path of rational thinking – look to intuition, deep feelings, mysticism. Rationality should serve intuition because this is where values come from.

There is nothing wrong with the world today other than we have lost the sense of the Sacred.

Thinking and defining needs to be led by experience and tasting. How do we do this – through silence, through the Arts, which will then open us to the Holiness in all things.

The Mystic is the Divine Child in us – the Arts will nurture this.

Albert Einstein believed God is the oneness of creation. The Cosmic Christ points to the Divine in the big spaces as well as in the little spaces.

The story of Abraham’s journey into Caanan has important parallels and lessons for us about our place in this land we call Australia, which is, was and always be Aboriginal land.

Abraham, the peacemaker, respected the peoples of the land.

We ask the same.

Abraham recognized the God of the Land.

We ask the same.

Abraham and the peoples of the land shared mutual blessings.

We ask the same.

The western concept of buying and selling land is not in the aboriginal ideology.

The wind existed before everything else in the stories of many indigenous peoples.

Life without wonder is not worth living.

The transcendent spirit becomes the inner presence of God in our hearts.

In our communities, “fitting in” isn’t “belonging”. A just society is about “belonging”.

PHILOXENIA means loving the stranger. This points to the act of hospitality.

“Jesus – the Man for Others” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Feeding of the Five Thousand – a metaphor for “if we share what we have, there will be enough to go around –  and maybe even more”.

Trying to be religious in the public domain often results in what we say getting lost in translation. We need to find better ways of acting as well as talking!

We are called to Act Up, that is, to disrupt the establishment.

But we are also called to Act Out, which means exploring God’s expectation of love, justice and a shared joy of life.

Being disturbed by what we see around us can give us courage to Act Out into society.

We go to a theological reframing to help us understand the sacred in the world: we have been evolving this understanding for ever – there was Abraham, then there was Jesus, what next??

“If you want to follow Jesus, you’d better believe you look good on wood” – Daniel Berrigan (Jesuit)

Everything we say about God is metaphor…

God is our experience of God!

Jesus was the incarnation of love and freedom: he showed the divine power of LOVE and that we have the FREEDOM to act. Faith is believing this!!

The opposite of bad is good. The opposite of EVIL is the SACRED. There’s more good than bad in the world, but not by much…..

We can find inspiration in the words of Italian priest and philosopher Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and German theologian Meister Eckhardt (1260-1328). For example – Aquinas said “The proper objects of the heart are truth and justice”.

Taking a stand can be costly. Stand up for truth and justice: be surprised by joy (C S Lewis).

Trust is the basis of courage. How do you learn courage? Go to courageous people.

COURAGE – this word means “a large heart” – a heart so full that it sustains us for whatever ….

Trust is the basis of all courage.

Adele Nisbet September 2019

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News and an Invitation from the PCN Explorers

Last Wednesday around 20 of us met to hear from some folk who had attended the Common Dreams Conference in Sydney in July. We heard about the highlights for each person – some notable quotes from Adele and Steven Nisbet are in a following post. Our discussions always take on a perspective of their own and led to some considerations around our relationships with our first nation people and I think that will lead us into another topic for one of our Explorers mornings in the future. 

David Hale, Anglican chaplain at UQ told us about his work encouraging students to explore theology in an open thinking environment and about their multi-faith activities. David has issued an invitation to an event  on 8th November, 7 pm to 9 pm at Old Bishopbourne, St Francis College, Milton, Brisbane.

How Can Christianity become a better wall against injustice?

How Can Christianity become a better wall against injustice? The Holocaust occurred in a mostly
Christian country, as did slavery in the US, and so how do we ensure Christianity can stop injustice.
To register, go to: www.eventbrite.com.au

Our next PCN Explorers is on Wednesday 30th October, 10:30 am at Merthyr Road Uniting Church, 52 Merthyr Rd, New Farm, led by Brian OHanlon, Retired Psychologist; Meditation Teacher; Feldenkrais Practitioner

A Spiritual approach to Christianity: Understanding the Spiritual Ego:

  • A summary of the ideas of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin with particular emphasis on ‘we are Spiritual beings!’
  • A summary ‘Heaven on Earth’.
  • We are Spiritual beings so, why are we not in the Kingdom, ‘Heaven on Earth’? (The Spiritual Ego what is it?) 
  • Turning down the Spiritual Ego.

Sound interesting? make sure it is in your diary – we are always the last Wednesday of the month. Come along and join in the interesting conversations and fellowship.

journeying and exploring together,

Desley

Desley Garnett
drgarn@bigpond.net.au
0409 498 403

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An Invitation from the Redcliffe (Q) Explorers

Dear fellow Explorer

Our next meeting will be on Monday 7th October which (yes!) is the Queen’s Birthday holiday. I’ll be making some personal observations on a number of inter-related topics including:  

Faith, Belief, Truth, Science, and do I believe in miracles? Be prepared for an occasional slightly irreverent interlude, along with some fairly serious stuff which will no doubt generate a bit of vigorous discussion! As usual we meet for our pre-session coffee and chat at 6 p.m. in the ground-floor meeting room at Azure Blue, 91 Anzac Ave. Redcliffe. All are very welcome. For further information please give me a call on 0401 513 723.

Shalom, Ian

Note: If you are coming please be sure to call Ian and let him know so you can be given access to the community at Azure Blue.

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An Invitation from the Caloundra Explorers

From John Everall, Mob 0408 624 570 Email: jjverall@bigpond.com

The Caloundra Explorers Group’s Evening Service is coming up and we invite you to add this activity to your diary:

GATHERING     Sunday Evening   20th October 2019   5.30pm.

THEME: SCIENCE AND THEOLOGY

LEADER: Rev. Brian GILBERT

The theme is a fascinating one – I’m sure you will have discussed this at many levels at some stage.  On Sunday evening, we have it presented by an Elton John fan – Rev. Brian Gilbert.

Inspired by his song “Rocket Man”, and adding in a number of people stressing the link between love and justice eg, JP2nd, Crossan, King, Dowdell, Brian develops love without justice is sentimentality, or banal; justice without love is legalism or brutality.” 

He says “ Explorers would be familiar with that. I want to draw a relationship between science and theology – “either without the other can be dangerous, or meaningless.”  “ Just because science can do things (even very well), is it right? – should we do it?.”

Our evening will include music and song and our meditations will draw on thoughts by Michael Morwood and Matthew Fox, the keynote speaker at Common Dreams 2019.

 Enjoy your byo light meal/finger food – relax in discussion around your table – “Science and Theology”.

Everyone is welcome.  We discuss and debate within a safe and non-judgemental environment

Explorers are very mindful in discussion that each of us may have a different personal understanding of G.O.D that underpins our thinking at this stage of our life journey.      So, come along and join in what will hopefully be a very satisfying evening for you among friends, and new friends.    

CONTACT:  Leaders – Brian Gilbert – Mob 0417 002 274  or  John Everall Mob 0408 624 570

WHEN:    Sunday 20th October 2019 at 5.30 pm thru to approx 7.30pm

WHERE:  Caloundra Uniting Church HALL, 56 Queen Street Caloundra.

EMAIL:    jjeverall@bigpond.combmgil@westnet.com.au

Caloundra Explorers Group                                        Faith And the Modern Era

Mars ain’t the  kind of place to raise your kids
In fact it’s cold as hell
And there’s no one there to raise them if you did
And all this science I don’t understand
It’s just my job five days a week
A rocket man, a rocket man

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Continuing discourse: Why I do/don’t go to church

From Tim O’Dwyer

Hi guys,

Thanks for this.

Here is a snapshot of my introductory remarks at our last “exploration”:

On the wall behind the pulpit at the Thompson Estate Methodist Church where I grew up was a large painted scroll with these words: “Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness”. Have been reflecting on that text for more than six decades…

Gained some insight as an adult when I discovered Micah 6:8 :

8 He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

My Aussie paraphrase:

The good oil from God:

Fair go, cobber; be a mate, mate; and let’s all be humble little Vegemites.

Meanwhile, I found much the same message in the Gospel’s setting for Jesus’ Good Samaritan parable where Jesus essentially tells the trickster lawyer to never mind asking who your neighbour is – just be a freaking neighbour!

At the same time, I’ve always been gobsmacked by this New Testament insight: “God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.” (From 

1 John 4:16)

So to the term “God” which Lloyd Geering in “Christianity without God” has not only had a long and complex history but also has become a very confusing word. After suggesting that we can functionally take “God” to refer to the highest values which motivate us, Geering favourably quotes Theologian Gordon Kaufman’s observation that  even in a secular world the term “God” can still have for us a useful function as “an ultimate point of reference”. Hence “To believe in God is to commit oneself to a particular way of ordering one’s life ans action. It is to devote oneself to working towards a fully humane world…while standing in piety ans awe before the profound mysteries of existence.”

Finally why I “go to church” is summed up in part by this provocative passage from Don Cupitt’s “Radicals and the Future of the Church””

“…we should stay in the church and attempt by deception, by reinterpretation, by political stratagems and by perverting the minds of the young to do something for the transformation of Christianity and the future of religion…Self-imposed exile right outside the church may be the right thing for a few very creative people, but…many of us will find it more stimulating to be internal e iles, plotting, scheming and suspected, inside the church…(thinking) of the carefully thought-out deceptions by which we plan to use the old vocabulary as a disguise for smuggling new ways of thinking into the church.”

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Continuing discourse: Why I go to church

On going to church
Rodney Eivers
23rd August 2019
These notes were prompted by a presentation to be made to the Progressive Christian Network at Merthyr Road Uniting Church New Farm by Tim O’Dwyer on 31st August 2019.

Tim put the questions: Do you still go to church? If so, why? If not, why not? He invited me to throw in a few remarks from my own experience, so here goes. I have attended church probably from the time I was a baby in my mother’s arms and presumably before then when in my mother’s womb. My earliest memory of any sort, as related in my coming memoirs, was of returning from some function – perhaps a birthday party – alone. This, remarkably at the age of about three or four years. I looked down on my family home from the adjacent traffic bridge and pondered life and the future.

It would be easy to say that from that period on till my now 9th decade I have more or less regularly attended church because I accepted the invitation to be a Christian, or more accurately, as I would put it this way today, a follower of the ethical principles proclaimed by the wandering sage, Jesus of Nazareth some two thousand years ago. But the questions being put by Tim are part of a wider issue and we need to narrow it down quite a bit. I shall assume that going to church and being Christian in ethos and practice is not necessarily the same thing. I shall be referring to belonging to a specific congregation and attending weekly services on “the Lord’s day” more or less regularly. I have been doing that for nigh on 80 years. Why have I been doing this? It is largely habit. It is one of my life’s rituals. Presumably this routine has some benefit to it.

That need not have been the case for everybody. Only the other day when I suggested that the church is an institution which undertakes to make the world a better place, my table companion responded that this has not been the experience for her. An immediate response to the original question may be that the church is my “community”. It is a community which caters for our social, personal and some might say “spiritual” needs. It does that in contrast to just about all other communal institutions, from the cradle to the grave.

We engage in that community at our baptism, we engage in that community at our marriage, we engage in that community in the moral guidance of our children and grandchildren, we engage in that community often in sickness and at our ending with our funeral. I am reminded of the large part a congregation played for so many of my family and acquaintances in our entertainment and social interaction.

Most of my social dancing was with church groups, any girlfriends I might have had would have come from church congregations – not necessarily my own – I met my wife outside the doors of a church in Port Moresby. I have written recently on the impact of Christian Endeavour in nurturing confidence as a public speaker and office-holder in secular as well as religious groups.

One concern I have with the loss of attendance at church by children and young people is that disappearance of an important source of “moral guidance” for those growing up and establishing a place in an adult world. That a congregation provides moral guidance is not taken for granted these day and I would be the first to challenge the negativity which comes from the supernaturalism and rules which come from the preaching in most of our churches. Some of the old stories of vengeance and slaughter in the Hebrew scriptures are truly horrifying. When reading or preaching from the Bible one does need to be selective and in practice this is what preachers and especially Sunday School teachers do.

One can take stories from a recent Sunday as an example. The lectionary reading was from Luke Chapter 13 where Jesus was chided for healing on the Sabbath. The moral guidance from this surely is that acting in a caring spirit is more important than complying with restrictive rules and regulations which can entangle us in exercising the practice of love. Or take the Bible story that my grandson absorbed this morning at his Sunday school class – that of Paul and Silas freed from prison because of an earthquake. After returning home the youngster – six years old – was able to repeat the whole story. It clearly provided for him the lesson of caring for others through its punch line. That is that Paul and Silas the two prisoners chose not to run to freedom because they recognised that this would mean big trouble for their prison guard,

Another aspect of a congregation which draws me is that it is a great social leveller. I am talking largely of the non-conformist Protestant tradition here. Any persons of whatever social class can be officers in the congregation. She or he can rub shoulders, for instance, as an elder, with peers from any level of society.

I recall in my teen years belonging to a congregation whereby the local mill manager shared a pew with people who would have been his employees. For me, personally, it also provides the opportunity to develop administrative and leadership skills. It is rare for me to be associated with an organisation and, in due course, not end up holding some office or other. Such offices are usually within that congregation or with other associated entities. It provides me with a vehicle through which to further my life-long aim of seeking to leave the world a better place than when I came into it.

Some might respond, “But how can you put up with all that supernaturalism and gobbledy-gook language which goes along with the enjoyment of companionship and familiar music, songs and liturgies?”

Well, one may well be swamped by starchy, unintellectual tradition but there is also the opportunity to introduce congregation members to new songs, new ceremonies and even new ways of looking at the scriptures. You have to be in it to win it and it may be that some of the examples we set as individuals may rub off to become new ways of being appropriate for a 21st century community.


My recent sermon on the Trinity (https://ucforum.unitingchurch.org.au/?p=2990&cpage=1#comment-273795 ) led some to say, “I had never thought about it that way before!” One privilege that we have in the Uniting Church is that anyone may address a congregation from the pulpit and additionally there is always the opportunity to express points of view in the variety of study groups.

So yes I continue to “go to church” and what’s more, I enjoy “church crawling” when I am travelling to other places and other countries. Although not to the same extent as with Roman Catholic followers, for whom going to church is regarded as a moral obligation, I enjoy seeing how other Christians express their faith through their church services. The familiarity of the liturgies and the communal environment helps me to sense the connection which Christians have with one another all over the world.

So I anticipate that I shall continue to go to church until they put me in a box. Hopefully this will be after I have cautioned my family and the presiding minister to express none of this supernatural “in my father’s mansions” hope at the final “celebration of my life”.

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What do Unbelievers believe?

What Do Unbelievers Believe?

We get atheism wrong if we see it simply as a detached, philosophical (dis)belief in God, argues Nick Spencer. 06/06/2019

My colleagues Elizabeth Oldfield and Lizzie Stanley had to go to Rome last week. It’s tough working for Theos sometimes. 

I tease. It was work, and rather interesting work at that. They were recording a Sacred podcast from a major conference, hosted at the Pontifical Gregorian University and part of the Understanding Unbelief programme, in which interim findings about “unbelief” in Brazil, China, Denmark, Japan, the UK, and US were presented.

Here is a stereotype about unbelievers. They don’t believe in stuff. It’s a stereotype that is popular among some believers and unbelievers alike. The former, in a move of what is essentially self–protection, like to think that being an unbeliever entails abandoning belief in moral absolutes, or in human purpose or dignity. The latter, in a move that is no less self–serving, like to think that unbelievers are rational, materialist, naturalistic, and completely immune to the childish absurdities of “belief”. 

The reality is very far from these poles, as the Understanding Unbelief research shows. Two issues stood out for me. 

The first relates to what atheists believe. As one would expect, atheists are rather less likely to believe in the supernatural than agnostics or believers. But less likely does not mean unlikely. When presented with a list of such phenomena – life after death, reincarnation, astrology, objects or people with mystical powers, supernatural beings, underlying forces of good or evil, a universal spirit of life form, or karma – somewhere between 10% and 40% of the people in each country said they either “strongly” or “somewhat agreed” in their existence. Indeed, only a minority of atheists were “naturalists” in the sense of rejecting all such supernatural phenomena. The answer to the question of what atheists believe turns out to be quite a lot after all. 

The second issue relates to how they believe. Here the answer is, not as strongly as you might think. As the project’s interim report puts it “being an atheist does not necessarily entail a high level of confidence or certainty in one’s views.” In all six of the countries studied, “atheists express overall levels of confidence in their beliefs about God’s existence [that is] either notably lower than…or broadly comparable to the general population’s.” In other words, atheists are not usually much more confident in their (non)beliefs than the rest of us are in ours. 

I think these findings are interesting, encouraging and, in two particular ways, familiar. 

Several years ago, Theos conducted a much smaller and more local survey into what UK unbelievers believed, which we published as Post–religious Britain?: The faith of the faithless. This reported that:  

  • Around a third of people who belong to no–religion, over a quarter of “Nevers” (i.e. those who answered “never” in response to the question “How often do you participate in a religious service as a worshipper?”) and 15% of atheists said that they believe in life after death; 
  • One in five “Nevers” (21%) said they believe in angels as did 7% of atheists;  
  • More than two in five “Nevers” (44%) believe in a human soul, as do almost a quarter (23%) of atheists;  
  • A quarter (24%) of the non–religious believe in heaven and 15% in hell; and 
  • A fifth (20%) of non–religious people believe in the supernatural powers of deceased ancestors, compared to 23% of the total sample. 

More generally, the proportion of people who are consistently “naturalistic” – meaning that they don’t believe in God, never attend a place of worship, call themselves non–religious, and don’t believe life after death, the soul, angels, etc. – was very low, at 9%. 

There are lots of ways one might read this. No matter what some atheist polemicists say, thoroughgoing atheistic naturalism is extremely rare, and not even the default position among atheists themselves. Even among those who reject God, there linger persistent beliefs about the supernatural or numinous; the sense there is more in heaven and earth than we dream of in our naturalist philosophies nags away. Atheism is much more variegated and interesting, and atheists are a lot less dogmatic, self–assured or certain, than some public advocates might lead us to believe.  

All of this is true, but there is one other reading which interests me and leads back to my second reason for a sense of familiarity. 

The matching of atheistic certainty (or lack thereof) about God with the general population’s un/certainty says something more than “atheists aren’t as dogmatic as you imagine”. Take this sentence about unbelief in the US from the Understanding Unbelief report:  

“the comparatively high level of confidence exhibited by America’s atheists matches more–or–less exactly the high ‘religious confidence’ of Americans–in–general.”  

Or, with slightly more interpretative boldness, the atheists (and atheism) of a nation take their cue (and possibly also their hue) from the believers in it. 

This is perilously close to the argument that ran central to my history of atheism, namely that we get atheism wrong if we see it simply as a detached, philosophical (dis)belief in God. Today, as in history, atheism is embedded in the lives (and politics) of the wider culture. A generous, thoughtful, self–reflective culture of belief will generate a similar culture of atheism; an aggressive, self–righteous and exclusionary one will do the opposite.  

The parallel is not perfect – Chinese and Brazilian atheists are somewhat less sure about their beliefs than the general population in those countries – and other factors naturally come in to play. Nevertheless, the arguments in the Understanding Unbelief study, our Post–religious Britain? report, and my Atheists: The Origin of the Species, seem to cohere on this issue of the socially– and politically– mediated nature of unbelief, as they do on the wider point that whatever else it might be, the discussion between what believers and unbelievers believe is emphatically not an issue, simply, of us vs. them. 


Understanding Unbelief, which was exhibited at the Vatican, interviewed people who were atheist and agnostic (Photographer: Aubrey Wade)

Nick Spencer

Nick Spencer

Nick is Senior Fellow at Theos. He is the author of a number of books and reports, most recently The Political Samaritan: how power hijacked a parable (Bloomsbury, 2017), The Evolution of the West (SPCK, 2016) and Atheists: The Origin of the Species (Bloomsbury, 2014). Outside of Theos, Nick is Visiting Research Fellow at the Faiths and Civil Society Unit, Goldsmiths, University of London and a Fellow of the International Society for Science and Religion

Theos

Theos conducts research, publishes reports, and holds debates, seminars and lectures on the relationship between religion, politics and society in the contemporary world. We are a Christian think tank based in the UK. We are part of The British and Foreign Bible Society, charity number 232759.

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Reflection: The Planet and its People

We joined a very large crowd at Gosford, NSW, for the Climate Action demonstration on 20th September. Gosford is the home of Rev Rod Bower, Anglican priest and advocate for many social justice issues. He has had significant influence here and across Australia.

What we noticed was the high level of participation by Seniors who outnumbered the school children. They carried placards declaring their concern about the future for their grandchildren and our Pacific Island neighbours.

It is clear that there is a rapidly growing consciousness about the state of the planet and the urgency of the need to accelerate the response to climate change.

A standout for us was the strong presence in the ‘Strike’ of UCA, Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Quaker church people under their banners. All of these have active social justice and green departments that generated a lot of encouragemental to their members prior to the event.

The climate strikers have a purpose beyond establishing a public image and demonstrating. We have three goals:

  1. No new coal, oil or gas projects, including Adani’s mine.
  2. 100% renewable energy generation and exports by 2030.
  3. A just transition and job creation for all fossil fuel workers and communities.

The critics fall into many camps. There are those who deny climate change and their numbers are shrinking. There are those who deny human influence on climate change but to makes their case they will have to counter the growing scientific evidence. There are those who claim that God is in control and we should do nothing. I have never found it fruitful to conduct any discourse with this group whose God is both loving and cruel at the same time. There are those who have given up, live in fear and feel powerless. There are those who think that demonstrating is a waste of time and will not produce a change and there are those who are just complacent or cynical. I am sure there are many other groups.

I am optimistic but frustrated by governments that are obfuscating. But perhaps this is a wasted concern. With growing globalization of opinion and action this may be a change that occurs despite governments. Already there is strong evidence that industry and commerce are moving towards renewable energy sources.

Jesus-inspired people wanting integrity in the change process are getting stronger voices in the movement to turn around climate distopia towards real collaborative action. Instead of claiming to know better than others they are working with science, with conservationists and with those who have found ways to get the message out. Their tradition has always had available arguments but these have been buried in pointless doctrinal and organizational mediocrity.

“God so loved the world….” is a restatement of powerful messages in Psalms, Micah, Genesis, 1 Timothy, Numbers, and hundreds of other encouragements to look after the planet and it’s people. The World Council of Churches has since 1970 been helping to build sustainable communities. In this Season of Creation many church groups are working hard on sustainability projects.

Jesus eschewed political power and sided with the vulnerable. .. We should do the same.

Rev James Bhaguar, the general secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches, addressing the UCA demonstrators in Sydney, appealed to Mr Morrison (PM) for Australia to do more to reduce its carbon emissions and transition to renewable energy:

Weve watched as our homes are eaten away by rising tides, and as Australia allows it’s emissions to rise. For Christians acting to prevent climate catastrophe is not just about survival. It is about loving your neighbour and protecting God’s creation. Right now, Australia is doing more than most to desecrate the precious gift that humanity has been given.

He too is learning how pointless it is to rely on governments.

All of this points back to myself and I have to recommit to doing all I can as an individual to further the goals of our Climate Change Strikers.

Paul inglis 22 November 2019.

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Some great feedback – more please

In case you have not looked at the ‘Replies’ we are getting to our post seminar question on why or why I don’t attend church , here is a sample:

Lauren Toogood

1.MY JOURNEY INTO ‘PROGRESSIVE’ FAITH

I had a traditional Catholic upbringing, including Catholic schools but not especially devout parents. My mother was Italian Catholic and my father Church of England but religion didn’t play a big part in our family. A sense of God and the sacred seemed to be a central part of my life though and I was open to issues of faith.

At university I chose the Protestant route but it was an evangelical, fundamentalist denomination although I managed to find the more relational, personal stream of that denomination fortunately. Doctrine was central to having a strong relationship and independent thinking was discouraged over ‘faithful’ obedience and belief in a set of rules.

Once childrearing was slowing down, and I started mixing more in the wider world through work. I started pushing the boundaries of the traditional beliefs (my husband was an evangelistic minister) and my thirst for deeper spiritual values was ignited. I could no longer agree with the most fundamental theology of my denomination which led to my choosing to be removed from membership.

My journey didn’t end there, as now I started questioning the fundamental beliefs of Christianity itself – did Jesus really say all those things?; did he have to die for my sins?; what kind of God allows so much suffering?; is the bible really an accurate account of history and God’s interaction with mankind?; who is God?….

With the internet I could explore and I was esp drawn to the writings of Marcus Borg, Rob Bell, Henri Nouwen and then I came across the writings of David Richo a former catholic priest who wove together ideas of Christianity, Buddhism and Jungian psychology. That is where my heart resonated. I have deep respect for the compassionate values of all faiths and no faith and I now believe Christianity is a little arrogant when it says it is the only way to God (or the sacred).

God has become much bigger and more mysterious than any one faith teaches for me and I believe we do well when we learn from one another and help one another to grow closer to the greatest values of loving kindness and do no harm.

I did try to find a faith community but I ended up in a small coastal town where there are only a few individuals here and there who might have similar journeys. I would say I align the most with progressive uniting church ways and Universalism. I am not used to liturgy though after leaving the Catholic church so I really don’t miss that.

I like to think I belong to a tribe somewhere but I have grown more content with surrounding myself with individuals with similar values whether they have a faith or not. I find there are many places where these people can be found – bushwalkers, environmentalists, meditators, those interested in health, community volunteers, artistic people, and social justice advocates. I don’t feel the need specifically to be in a church. Part of me believes that if I belonged to a denomination again it would be a step backwards in my journey.

Having said that there is one sacred gathering that I did feel met a need in my heart but it was only in Canberra. It was a monthly gathering called “the Gathering” and it was a reflective hour where a theme was chosen based on world issues and art, music, and reflections from wisdom teachers (including Jesus) were shared by 2 leaders and a time of contemplation and fellowship over a meal was included. That would be the most I would look for now. Otherwise I feel I belong to the world and do not want to be labeled or boxed in by a denominational label. That is my journey which as others have expressed is always ongoing. It is encouraging to know there are like minded people out there also journeying in somewhat similar ways even though the specifics are all unique to each one of us.

Thank you for the opportunity of sharing.

***

2. MY EXPERIENCE OF CHURCH

Peter Marshall

Paul and readers, my experience of church as a child through the 60s, early 70s will be familiar to many. My way of understanding this experience is to acknowledge to myself that my childhood saw the death of an innate desire to explore a wonderful supportive presence that I could sense but not explain. I’m not sure if back then I viewed this presence as resulting from imagination or not, but it sure felt real. Unfortunately the strong message that got through to me was that Jesus died as payment for my sins and that I was a worthless sinner, fit only as kindling for the great fires of hell where most of us were destined to spend eternity. Eternity being a concept a little beyond my understanding as a 12 year old. So by age 16 I decided not to set foot in church again, except for marriages, deaths and christenings. Now the most wonderful thing is that I can see with hindsight that supportive presence of my childhood never left me. Don’t now focus too much on the word GOD, but it seemed I had rediscovered the supportive arms of GOD whilst understanding this was the case all along. All completely at odds with that main message I received from the church. Very important to note I genuinely harbor no ill will to those that delivered the message. No space to explain here but the all pervasive spirit and the Jesus story are central to my genuinely not retaining any malice at the theological teachings received as a child which ran parallel with Billy Graham crusades in Brisbane at the time. At 50 years of age I wanted to strengthen bonds with the supportive arms of GOD which I now understood as real because I deeply needed that connection. I saw the only option to get help with this quest was to reconnect with church. I went to a Uniting church, initially found some help there but after a couple of years saw that the old theology was still dominant, just not as overtly marketed. That may have been the end of church for me but along the way I discovered Greta Vosper and the wider progressive movement. This gave me the space to continue the quest which is very ably facilitated by the West End Contemplative service and West End Explorers group (I do not live close to West End but it is the best I am aware of to continue a quest around the GOD question, though I also do not sense that Progressive theology is dominant in this congregation. But at least we so called progressives are tolerated there and quite possibly are genuinely welcome) Would love so say more about how Sunday evenings at West End are helpful to my quest, but obviously can’t do so in this post. Maybe later if any are interested.
Peace – Peter Marshall

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Different responses to miracles in the tradition of enquiry

Thanks to Geoff Taylor for drawing our attention to this thesis.

How miraculous can we consider Jesus to have been? Different responses to miracle in the tradition of inquiry

Head, Ivan Francis (1984) How miraculous can we consider Jesus to have been? Different responses to miracle in the tradition of inquiry. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.Full text available as:

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Abstract

Accounts of miracles are found in the four Gospels, elsewhere in the New and Old Testaments, and at other times down to the present. Responses to the figure of Jesus among his Gospel miracles differ with the different judgements that are made about the possibility of there being miracles at all. As a matter of fact, our tradition of inquiry contains diverging, even opposing conclusions on this point, and this has a definite impact on the study of the Gospels and their central character.

This thesis constitutes a comprehensive response to the issue of miracle as it affects the interpretation of the Gospels, and hence, what we are able to believe about Jesus and the extent of his miraculous activity. Having outlined the divided response to miracle (Chapter One), the thesis is built up by studies of six principal respondents to the issue of miracle.

On the one hand, we have chosen St. Thomas Aquinas, Cardinal Newman and C. S. Lewis to represent the ’maximal’ depiction of belief in miracle. These three studies exhibit the interpretations of the Gospels that accompany, and in part depend on, the non-problematical acceptance of miracle. On the other hand, we have chosen David Hume, D. F. Strauss and Rudolf Bultmann to represent the ’minimalistic’ position on miracle. While Hume does not formally discuss the Gospel miracles, his conclusions are plainly relevant, and in the two latter studies, close attention is paid to the actual interpretation of Gospel miracle stories.

In all the studies, wherever possible, I have tried to concentrate on what in particular they believed about Jesus in his miracles. In effect, this has meant pursuing a miracle-structure from conception through to Ascension. In discovering what has been believed about Jesus in his miracles, we have often placed the emphasis on the interpreters’ response to a Gospel or Gospel passage. In the concluding chapter, I direct my own attention to St. Mark’s Gospel and, in the light of earlier chapters, put my own questions to it.

While interesting results emerge from the studies of the six interpreters, my principal conclusion is that there are good reasons not to identify the Jesus of the Gospel miracles with Jesus in his pragmatic existence. While it remains coherent to develop an apology or world-view in which literal miracles on the greatest scale have a place in nature and history, it is their very magnitude that raises the decisive objections to locating them as events in Jesus’ mundane existence, prior to the Resurrection.

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We want to hear from you

On Wednesday last week, around 40 people met together to share their experiences about church attendance since moving into a “progressive” understanding of Christianity. I put the word progressive in inverted commas for a couple of reasons – that there is no one understanding that we would all ascribe to, and that no one has yet come up with another word to use for those of us who still want to engage with the Jesus story, but within the framework of the 21st century.  

We were a varied group who wanted to share something about why or why not church attendance is part of our practice.

We discovered that we are on a continuum of belief and practice. I did not take notes, but will share a few of my observations that I can recall from people’s stories.

attend church every Sunday … attend occasionally … haven’t been in 30 years… find church services meaningful … finding traditional theology frustrating … finding more meaning in a more ordered liturgy music  is inspirational … not able to sing words of old hymns…have been loved and nurtured by the church (people) … my questions have been rejected … have felt emotionally abused…service is most important … Micah 6:8 was an important verse for a lot of people

Now …. as a follow up … It has been suggested that we could collate people’s thoughts on this topic. If you could write a reflection on this topic thinking about the following questions and send them to me, we will learn more about each other and the variety of pathways we have followed to come to our present understanding of participating in organised religion. Half an A4 page would be manageable for us to collate and share. If you were not at the Explorers meeting, you are still welcome to share your thoughts.

 These are just a few of the questions that were given by Smith and Hunt to the those who were asked to contribute their stories to the book“New Life; Rediscovering Faith – Stories from Progressive Christians.” .

Has this journey affected my church attendance?Has it changed how I express my faith?Is anything different and does this difference influence why I attend or do not attend church?Why did I / didn’t I walk away?

Our nextPCN Explorerswill be on Wednesday 25th September,10 am, Merthyr Road Uniting Church 

Come at 10 for eat, meet and greet and we will get started about10:30.

Several members of the network will share their experience of attending Common Dreams Conference in Sydney last July. We will hear the highlights of the speakers for each person.

Our meeting on Wednesday 30th October will be facilitated by Brian O’Hanlon, retired psychologist, on the topic: A Spiritual approach to Christianity … Understanding the Spiritual Ego:

A summary of the ideas of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin with particular emphasis on ‘we are Spiritual beings!’We are Spiritual beings so, why are we not in the Kingdom, ‘Heaven on Earth’? (The Spiritual Ego what is it?) Turning down the Spiritual Ego.

West End Explorers are trying to get hold of a copy of the video series …The Challenge Of Jesus by John Dominic Crossan. If you can help with this, please contact Kris 0404 645 007 or kris.maslen@gmail.com 

journeying together,

Desley

Desley Garnett
drgarn@bigpond.net.au
0409 498 403

Paul Inglis psinglis@westnet.com.au

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A Theological Reflection on the Ending of Mark’s Gospel

By Dr Peter Lewis
All the synoptic gospels have the high priest asking Jesus if he is the Messiah (Mark 14:61, Matthew 26:63, Luke 22:67). In Mark Jesus says, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” In Matthew the “I am” is replaced by “Yes, it is as you say.” In Luke, Jesus says that if he told them they would not believe him, and he goes on to say, “But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.” Despite these differences, in all three gospels Jesus asserts that he will sit at the right hand of God, but only in the longer ending of Mark’s gospel does this actually occur. In Mark 16:19 Jesus is taken up to heaven and sits at the right hand of God. This is what the reader would expect: it is the logical conclusion to the story and it confirms that the longer ending is what Mark originally wrote. But why is it not in the endings of the gospels of Matthew and Luke?


It seems that Matthew did not know Mark’s original ending because there is nothing in his gospel that relates to Mark’s text after 16:8. Luke knows the original ending because the disciples do not believe the women (Luke 24:11), Jesus appears to two of his followers when they are walking in the country (Luke 24: 13-35) and the disciples stay in Jerusalem (Luke 24:49), but Luke does not have the Ascension (he was taken up into heaven – Mark 16:19) at the end of his gospel because he wants it to be in the beginning of Acts, which is the second volume of the orderly account that he wrote for Theophilus (Luke 1:3). In modern versions of Luke’s gospel the Ascension also occurs in the final verses; “He was taken up into heaven and they worshipped him” (Luke 24:51,52) but this is a later insertion. It does not occur in Papyrus 75 from the third century, Codex Vaticanus and other ancient manuscripts, and should not be in modern versions. But how does Luke deal with the Ascension in Acts?
In Acts 1:9, after Jesus spoke to the disciples “he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight.” Then two angels appear and the reader naturally expects them to say that Jesus now sits at the right hand of God, which is what he told the high priest (Luke 22:68), but instead they ask a stupid question, “Why are you standing looking into the sky?” What else would they be doing? Then the angels say that Jesus will come back in the same way as he went up. Why has Luke made such a significant change to Mark’s account (Mark 16:19)?
To answer this question we need to examine what Jesus said to the high priest in Mark 14:62. His first words were, “I am.” This is what God said to Moses when he asked what was the name of God (Exodus 3:14). God instructs Moses to tell the Israelites that ‘I AM’ has sent him to them. This is God’s name and although essentially a mystery it has the connotation of being alive, of being conscious and aware. It is an amazing statement for Jesus to make. It means that he thought he was God or in some way divine.
Then, in his answer to the high priest Jesus uses a mixed metaphor: he cannot be sitting and standing at the same time. Sitting at the right hand of God has the sense of permanence and stability, and this metaphor derives from Psalm 110:1, which Jesus quoted in Mark 12:36. Coming on clouds has the sense of movement and this metaphor derives from Daniel 7:13 – one like a son of man comes with the clouds of heaven. Obviously he would be standing not sitting.
Actually, what Jesus tells the high priest is a paradox. Divinity is a mystery: God cannot be known as He really is. Ultimate reality is beyond the human mind. Just as the ultimate basis of our material existence is a paradox, i.e. the particle/wave phenomenon of quantum physics, so must the ultimate reality of God be to us. This does not mean that God does not exist: it means we have to use metaphors in talking about Him. Of course He does not sit on a throne in heaven as Zeus was imagined on Mount Olympus. Whether thought of as Being, Mind or some other category God is beyond human comprehension.
In Luke’s account of the Ascension Jesus goes up with a cloud and the angels say he will return with clouds (Acts 1:11). Jesus will be standing, as the disciples were at the time, not sitting on a throne. This is confirmed later in Luke’s account because when Stephen is about to be killed he sees Jesus standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55). The significance of standing is that he is about to return.
Why has Luke changed Mark’s description of Jesus sitting with God, to Jesus being about to return? To answer this question we have to understand the time and circumstances of Mark and Luke. Mark was writing in Rome before the Jewish War (66 -70 CE). Although there had been violence such as the killing of James in about 41 CE it paled in significance compared with the terrible events of the war which climaxed in the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, and Mark’s circumstances were fairly stable. This is reflected in the ending he wrote: Jesus is seated with God and the Kingdom of God has come. If Luke wrote during or after the Jewish War he would have been greatly affected by it, as was everyone involved in it. It was a horrible time and Luke with all the Christians would have turned to Jesus. The expectation that Jesus would return was greatly heightened, and in his First Letter to the Thessalonians Paul describes the event: the Lord will come down from heaven and the Christians who are still alive will be caught up in the clouds to meet with the Lord in the air (1 Thess 4:16,17). Luke was one of Paul’s companions and he too would have expected Jesus’s imminent return, but to make his account more appealing he concludes it in 62 CE with Paul in Rome preaching the Kingdom of God, as Jesus commanded the disciples in Mark 16:15, and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 28:31).
The ending that Mark originally wrote is very significant for a theological understanding of his gospel. Jesus enthroned in heaven at God’s right hand is what it is all about. And it is amazing to think that Jesus did it all himself. He arranged the whole thing, i.e. the birth of Christianity was his doing. On three occasions (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34) he said he would be killed and rise again: he knew it would happen because he was going to make it happen. With his staged entry into Jerusalem and his disrupting the business in the temple he provoked the authorities to kill him, and most importantly with his giving of himself at the Last Supper he carried it off. What an achievement!
It was not a group effort: his disciples did not understand him and fled when he was arrested. Even their following him was not their doing: Jesus commanded them to follow him (Mark 1:17). It was all part of his plan, and finally he sat down at the right hand of God. How bold! How confident! Whether God liked it or not Jesus installed himself, and we acknowledge him as Lord. But God did like it because, you see, God was Jesus.
God became a human being in order to become involved in the life of the world that he created and to guide it into the future. In this way human beings become co-creators with God in creating the Kingdom of God. Paul summed it up when he wrote that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor 5:19a). God expressed his love by giving to human beings the model of Christ: caring, forgiving, healing, and by giving his Spirit. As Paul wrote in his Letter to the Ephesians, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us. . .” (Eph 5:1)

                **********
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The latest from Kevin Treston now available

Opening Doors: A Seeker’s reflections on the rooms of Christian living
Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. (Revelation 3:20) Opening Doors: A Seeker’s Reflections on the Rooms of Christian Living takes seriously the invitation of the Lord for us to open the door to him, and with confidence consider how our faith may be enhanced and energised through the wisdoms of contemporary theology and spirituality.
The book is written for those whom Charles Taylor describes as ‘seekers’ – Christians who are searching to reconcile their faith with emerging insights from modern science, cosmology and consciousness.
We are invited to open eleven doors and enter eleven rooms of Christian living. Each room offers a flavour of each of the topics in the Christian Story followed by focused questions for individual reflection and shared conversations in self-directed groups. The topics of the rooms include everyday spirituality, the universe story, humans and religion, the mystery of God, meeting Jesus, the church, ministry, women and faith communities, a Christian ethical way of life, Christian spiritualities and faith communities in a global world.
Kevin Treston graduated BA (Hons), MA (Hons), MEd., PhD (University of Notre Dame USA) and pursued post-doctoral studies in Washington, Boston and Chicago. He was visiting Scholar at Boston College and is a member of the Association of Practical Theology Oceania. He has worked in ministry across Australia and many countries.
To order online go to: www.coventrypress.com.au
Phone: 0477 809 037
Email: enquiries@coventrypress.com.au
Post to: Coventry Press, 33 Scoresby Road, Bayswater Vic
Opening Doors @ $24.95
*Postage: $9.95 for 1-3 books; $11 for 4 and more; free freight for orders over $100
OPENING DOORS
A Seeker’s reflections on the rooms of Christian living
Kevin Treston
Coventry Press
9780648566106 — $24.95

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PCNQ Explorers next gathering, all welcome

Hello all

Our nextPCN Explorerswill be on Wednesday 28th August, 10 am, Merthyr Road Uniting Church

Come at 10 for eat, meet and greet and we will get started about 10:30.

Tim O’Dwyer will tell us a bit about his journey within Christianity and would like to ask the question of all of us who are exploring the Jesus story in a new way:

“Do you still go to church? If so, why? If not, why not?”

We would like to encourage you to think about the how and why of your Christian experience and thinking prior to the meeting and feel free to write it down to share with everyone at the meeting. In 2013, John Smith and Rex Hunt published a book called “New Life; Rediscovering Faith – Stories from Progressive Christians.”  that focuses on people’s stories. If you have access to this book it offers some good background thinking. This is not essential to this seminar.

Here are a few questions you might like to ponder before the day. They are just a few of the questions that were given by Smith and Hunt to the those who were asked to contribute their stories to the book.

Has this journey affected my church attendance?Has it changed how I express my faith?Is anything different and does this difference influence why I attend or do not attend church?Why did I / didn’t I walk away?

journeying together,

Desley

Desley Garnett
drgarn@bigpond.net.au
0409 498 403

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Book Review: Into the Deep, seeking justice for the people of West Papua

By Peter Arndt (Catholic Social Justice Series Book 82)

I was moved to tears while reading this document about the challenges facing the people of West Papua, in particular their claim to freedom and independence.

In 2016, with ten fellow Christians from Australia, Peter Arndt, Executive Officer of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Commission, visited West Papua to hear first hand the stories of the local people. They were especially wanting to hear from survivors of the Indonesia massacre of 6th July 1998. This occurred at a peaceful prayer focussed demonstration for independence. These people had been under the governance of the Dutch, the Japanese and now the Indonesia military. The leader of the demonstrators, Filep Karma, at the time a prominent civil servant had insisted that his followers should only use bibles and hymns as their weapons. The vast majority of Papuans are Christians. They were attacked mercilessly by Indonesia soldiers.

Peter graphically describes this incident, it’s brutality, the many deaths and the torturing. This makes for hard reading as the incidents are dealt with so thoroughly. Peter was approached by Laurens who had been a teenager at the time of the massacre.

He gives evidence for Indonesia’s direct implication in some of the worst forms of human brutality and the incredible journey of Laurens and his Biak people.

Peter and his colleagues then experienced first hand the heavy hand of the Indonesia overlords and it seems they are not the first visitors to be interrogated and followed everywhere.

Peter Arndt’s clear and concise first hand account of the horrific suppression of justice and the state of fear in which the Papuans live is a moving tale.

Arndt sees the experience of Laurens paralleling those of Jesus and draws on the Scriptures to graphically make this clear. Laurens treatment and continuing struggle has moved Peter as it has moved me, to consider the way all Christians and people of good will must identify with the struggle of the Biak people.

Once read, the story cannot be dismissed or forgotten. The reader becomes part of the struggle for justice and freedom of the oppressed and abused people everywhere…

Peter and friends travelled to villages to hear more stories of brutality and killings and later Peter returned to West Papua several times gathering more evidence. The gathering of evidence was challenged at every step by police and corrupt officials and he was placed in fearful situations.

The author reflects on the way Papuans have been treated historically by colonial authorities and missionaries. It is a mixed history of blessings and mistakes. Their subsequent treatment is now part of the problem for a people ill prepared to fight for their rights. He also comments on the way in which Christians can express sympathy but cannot take the next step and offer real support.

The historical context for the current crisis helps to explain but not excuse the stark and shocking events that are now happening. The way in which the Indonesians are gradually reducing the influence of the Papuans culture, commerce, and faith practices is forcing them into minority status in their own land.

Within the Pacific Islands nations there is growing support for and solidarity with the people of West Papua. Drawing on the Scriptures Peter calls on the justice loving people of the world to recognize the plight of these people and for Christians who have been taught about restoration through love, the human values of freedom, dignity and hope to now come to the aid of a people begging for help. He also describes how a personal involvement in such a cause can bring to individuals a deep personally liberating outcome of living in the peace and love of God.

But there is more to this story….As First Peoples of West Papua they form a part of all those peoples who face injustice and deprivation. Advocating for them is advocation for all First Peoples.

I strongly recommend this paper to your reading and personal refection on how to be a part of the solution. If you are not greatly moved I will be surprised.

Paul Inglis 20th August 2019

Avaliable from Amazon Kindle Australia.

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Events: Coming soon, you are welcome

Redcliffe (Qld) Explorers

This is a reminder that our Explorers’ Group will meet on Monday evening (5th August).As usual, we’ll gather in the ground floor community room at Azure Blue (91 Anzac Avenue, Redcliffe) at 6 p.m. for tea/coffee, biccies and a chat.

At about 6:30 Graeme Adsett will introduce Rev Dr Noel Davis’ book Effective Beliefs – Towards Individual and Group Harmony – A Challenge to people of Goodwill. Graeme will challenge us to reflect on Noel’s Attitude 3 ‘A Sense of Community’, and Attitude 4 ‘A Minimising of Tribalism’ through individual activity sheets and a general discussion on the concept of ‘Christian Humanism’.

Hoping to see you there, Ian Brown

Caloundra (Qld) EXPLORERS GATHERING     

Sunday  18th August  at 5pm

“CONVINCING WORDS AND CONVERSATION”

Our Sunday Gathering, 5pm -7pm, on 18th August, will be led by Caloundra Explorers

in Conversations championing ‘the power of the written word’ in its ability to ignite a life changing ‘conviction’ within our Christian spiritual journey.

You are invited to join in this special and intimate opportunity to be part of a ‘Conversation’ with other Explorers and our Regional Friends.

We have put a proposition to five of our Explorers and Friends:

“  Have you ever read just a few paragraphs in a book or blog and realised that you had been struck by an absolute awesome ‘insight’ or  ‘truth’, in fact, a “conviction’” that had you saying almost out aloud “that is right!” YES!”

“ Will you share these excerpts with us?”.

The intimacy and security of our Explorers fellowship allows us to fully explore these five situations. Each of our five Explorers will present their excerpt to us, with a personal comment supporting that ‘insight’… ie “the convincing words” that are so important to them.

 We can then discuss, within our Gathering, whether that ‘conviction shared’ has resonance with others as we look through that ‘writing’ and analyse, discuss, and contemplate why it elicited such an enthusiastic YES! from that Explorer.

When our guests’ list of authors includes Dominic Crossan and Richard Rohr, you can see that we are in for a really fascinating evening together.

WHEN:   Sunday Evening  18th August  at 5pm thru to approx 7-15pm.

WHERE:  Caloundra Uniting Church HALL   at  56 Queen Street Caloundra

OTHER INFO:  The Gathering includes a byo light finger food meal as well as a full opportunity to discuss the issues around your table with friends-old and new!

CONTACT:  Anne Hoogendoorn Ph.0419 976 372 or Margaret Landbeck Ph.0402851422 .

 EMAIL:  annehoog@me.com   or jjeverall@bigpond.com

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Reflection: Death, Trinity, Hope and Religious Language


Rodney Eivers
Preached 23rd June 2019
Death has not been far away from me this week.
Indeed it may not be far from the thoughts of many of us in this congregation as we struggle with serious illness.
Even without serious illness most of us are in the later years of our lives and will wonder from time to time what lies ahead of us.
Some will be comforted by some confidence that this earthly life is not the end and that some heavenly destination awaits us. Do not let me persuade you otherwise.
One day we asked my father in law David, “Do you expect to go to heaven when you die?”
He did not give what might be called a simple answer but replied. “I have heard it said that we make our own heaven and our own hell here on Earth”
This leads me in to the thought of the way we use religious language. What do we mean when we talk about God, or heaven, or hell?
But first of all a little diversion over some of the assumptions we make about our Christian faith. A little bit of history.
Today is Trinity Sunday. We talk a lot about Trinity in our hymns and in our sermons don’t we? We assume “It’s in the Bible”. Actually Trinity is not in the Bible although there are a number of passages which lead people to think that this was what Jesus was talking about.
After Jesus died with his talk of love, of God as caring father and the Kingdom of God his followers thought so highly of him that they wanted to say he was equal to God. But then some of them wanted to take it further and say that Jesus was God.
In the next 300 years there were lots and lots of arguments about this and some people got very angry, even to the extent of killing one another. In the end Roman Emperor, Constantine got sick of it. He called all the Christian bishops together for a conference and said, “Enough quarrelling. Get this sorted out”
So they got this parliament together and there was lots of to…ing and fro…ing with debate. One fellow called Arius, said that if we were going to say that Jesus was the Son of God (there were actually lots of sons of God in those days, including the Roman Emperor) he could not be God equally with God as father. This is because children must obey their parents. That means they can’t be equal. Also if Jesus was the son of God and conceived as a baby he could not have existed at the same time as God as the book of John claims.
To complicate the matter some people threw in the idea of a Holy Spirit as also another form of God, thus making it three – That’s where we get Trinity from.
Hazel talked about the spirit of God in her sermon last week and I like the way she described it as an influence for good within our own minds and bodies.
Anyway, Arius and his mob lost. But the bishops kept arguing it for hundreds of years and indeed today it is still a source of argy bargy. Most of the ordinary followers of Jesus did not really know what was going on or what it was all about.
Perhaps they still don’t but we still make a big thing of the Trinity. You look at our hymns. Our Uniting Church school for ministers is called Trinity College Queensland.
Which brings me to the point that all we have for describing God, is our human language.
We find we have to think in terms of human beings. We know from our scientists these days (anybody watched Brian Cox on television?) that there are billions of stars bigger than our sun and millions of galaxies full of those stars. Where does a human being fit into all this?
A quotation used by many people since but including a Greek man called Xenophanes 2500 years ago noted “If horses could paint their gods, they would look like horses”.
So we are limited by our human language. We need to keep this in mind when it comes to interpreting what has been written in the Bible,
And we have a big problem here when it comes to bringing the Jesus story today to people, especially young people who have not read the Bible and if they do, find much of the Bible confusing and not making much sense.
We can talk about God and think we know what we mean but for people on the outside of the church our images don’t count for much. Most people in our culture (perhaps even some of us in this congregation) have decided that the God who controls and manipulates everything is unbelievable.
The characters in the Old Testament and Paul in the New were trying to sort our problems which existed for them at that time. They did not see them as applying to everybody for for the rest of history . It is not about sticking to the law. It is more about being “like Jesus” as best we can.
I trust that you, like me, even as we struggle to describe our relationship with God in human language and to cope with getting older and getting sicker will continue to “be like Jesus” as best we can. AMEN

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Feedback: Aboriginal Spirituality

Our recent post about the spirituality of the original inhabitants of Australia brought many personal responses to me. This was a standout reaction from Betty Vawser.

“I am fascinated by this information you have presented about the Aboriginal people at Mowanjum. We lived with the families of the tribes you mentioned for years in the 1960s during which Donny Wollagodja’s father took Professor I A Crawford with him and a group of Aboriginal men into the Outback to repaint and revive the painting of the Wandjina in the caves and crevices. Each major Wandjina had a personal name.

The book he wrote resulting from his annual visits is called ‘The Art of the Wandjina’ and was published by Oxford University Press. He gave us a copy of this excellent book as he stayed with us before and after his trips to see the Wandjina, hear their stories, and observe the men when they entered Wandjina caves or places.

We also had a book written by Donna and his friend Bundell called ‘Keeping the Wandjina Fresh’ which he gave to us while staying with us. We know and love these people. I have more presents than you can imagine, their stories,a massive Wandjina painting,….I could go on but will sign off there…”

Betty.

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Theology in changing times

This book “Doing Theology in the Age of Trump: A critical report on Christian Nationalism” is a work of theological reflections, about the state of Christianity and the moral character of the evangelical Right, which the nationalist/populist movement of Trumpism has co-opted. The contributors are academics in theology and religion of the Westar Seminar on God and the Human Future. While the Gospel is good news for the poor and woe to the rich, the authors expose how Christian Nationalism has led to various forms of economic oppression contributing to a vast, dynamic global network of systemic injustice and marginalization.
The books weakness from my science perspective was an adequate theology of the twin “Eco’s” of Ecology and Economy that describe two aspects of our common home. Ecology is governed by nature’s laws, within which humans construct their Economy governed by laws of human self-interest. While humans radically modify ecological systems for the economy they cannot change the fundamental laws under which these ecosystems have evolved to enable higher orders of life. These economies easily become corrupt, highly instable or self-destructive when the social contract on which they depend fails. The Christian Right long based on claims on the inerrancy of the bible have failed to accept science based on the immutability of the laws of nature leading to an escalating crisis of ecological destruction and global warming.

Richard Smith Progressive Christian Network, Western Australia

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An Informed Faith

That is the title of a blog moderated by Rev Dr John T Squires. John is a Presbytery Minister for the Canberra Region, minister at Queanbeyan Uniting Church, former Drector of Education and Formation and Principal of Perth Theological Hall.

John has been reflecting on a “small and extreme reactionary group that is generating much noise about matters of sexuality”.

He says
“There is clearly a place for an artculate, thoughtful, informed theology which is both conservative and evangelical. I dont dispute that. I have always valued such voices in the scholars have read,the students I have taught, and the colleagues with whom I work and interact. Good conservative theology makes a valuable contribution to the life of the church”.

We commend his blog to all crtically thinking members of the Church as well as those who have all but given up on it. In this blog John explores the reactionary edge of the conservative thread running through the four decades of the UCA. In the last three entries he focuses on the failed strategy of conservatives in the UCA as they ramp up the rhetoric, try to generate guilt and provoke panic in congregations and individuals.

Copy this link into your search engine and scroll through the most recent entries.

An Informed Faith – https://johntsquires.com
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Our Scholarship Awarded

First Trinity College Queensland Rodney Eivers Scholarship

TTC UCA Queensland Synod


On Tuesday 30th July 2019, a Trinity College Queensland, Auchenflower, the presentation of the first Trinity College Queensland Rodney Eivers scholarship for the 2019 year was made to Dylan Katthagen, a student currently at the College.
The scholarship of value $13,000 was awarded on the basis of the applicant’s undertaking some reading to write an essay on the topic: “My response to “progressive” Christianity “. In receiving the award Dylan commented that although he had some reservations about where the progressive approach to theology might be taking us, he was grateful that the studies entailed had led him to open up his thinking and become aware that there are options for Christian faith beyond orthodoxy.
The scholarships will continue to be offered in the coming years but discussions are yet to be held with Paul Hedley Jones, the new Principal of Trinity College Queensland to ascertain what the scope of the awards will be. Those interested in applying may contact the College to find current details.
In presenting the award Rodney made the following remarks, (with some editing) which seem to have been well received by the students at the gathering.
30th July 2019
On granting of Rodney Eivers scholarship to Dylan Katthagen
My first words must to be to congratulate Dylan Katthagen on being the first recipient of the Rodney Eivers scholarship. I have not had the chance yet to get to know Dylan well but from the brief interaction we have had I feel some confidence that he will be a worthy recipient of this award. Furthermore I am hopeful that his exposure to “progressive” Christianity through his studying for the scholarship will lead him to have an open approach to fitting the Christian gospel to the knowledge and experiences of people of the 21st century.
The College and I are still feeling our way with the field of applicants for the provision of the scholarships. I look with keen anticipation in getting together with our new Principal Paul to tease out some of the issues which arise. I would like, for instance, to widen the availability of the scholarships to all students and all potential students.
In doing this, however, I have struck a problem. It is connected with the nature of a theological college. A theological college course is different from an academic university course in, say, comparative religion. The nature of the university is to seek knowledge objectively. That is, all fields of enquiry are open.
Students come to a theological institution, however, from what might be called a faith position. That is, they already hold certain views and assumptions which are not to be challenged. Enquiry may seek to explain those assumptions but it may not probe into doctrinal concepts. Where do we draw that fuzzy line between “spiritual formation” and academic objectivity?
Now I look at the Australian religious scene where Christianity is declining steadily, where the census listed the biggest religious category as “no religion”. This applies for some one third of our population and growing fast. There may be many reasons for this but it is not helpful if we cannot explain Christian traditional doctrine in 21st century terms. I am sure our lecturers here at Trinity College Queensland seek to do that.
I must emphasise that I am very sensitive to the charge that I may be trying to buy influence in the content of Trinity College Queensland courses. Nevertheless, I do I see it as appropriate, to push the boundaries. To try to describe traditional orthodoxy not only in today’s language but also to explore its concepts. That would include the traditional doctrines such as the resurrection, the Trinity and substitutional atonement.
I trust you will join with me in nurturing the Kingdom of God by building up our student enrolments through such means as these scholarships. I count it as a privilege to have the opportunity to do that and look forward to engaging with your new Principal, Paul, In seeking ways that we might achieve our common purpose of being Jesus people in a turbulent world.

Rodney Eivers, Chair, UC FORUM.

oOo

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Mark: a new appraisal

Dr Peter Lewis has kindly offered a further reflection on Mark’s gospel following a very interesting seminar he recently conducted for the PCNQ in Brisbane.

              MARK’S GOSPEL
             A New Appraisal
                     by Peter E. Lewis

Having read Mark’s gospel in a critical way I have come to the conclusion that it is essentially true. It could well have been largely what Mark remembered of Peter’s preaching in Rome. It is the story of an extraordinary man, and it was told honestly by the original author within the limits of his time and pre-scientific world-view. Although the original text was interfered with in many ways, it can be reconstructed fairly easily. The most drastic interference was the removal of the beginning and the ending as explained in my book The Ending of Mark’s Gospel: The Key to Understanding the Gospels and Christianity. But there were other significant interferences which I would like to point out.
In Mark 8:35 Jesus says, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” A number of ancient manuscripts (including Papyrus 45 from the 3rd century and Codex Bezae) do not have ‘for me and’ in the text, and in the Greek New Testament published by the United Bible Societies it is stated that there is considerable doubt whether ‘for me and’ should be in the text. If the words are removed, Jesus says what is consistent with what he says all along in this gospel, that his mission is about the coming of the Kingdom of God. It is not primarily about himself although he does, of course, play the main role.
As Christianity spread and grew among the Gentiles in the Roman Empire the focus moved onto Jesus himself as a sort of semi-divine figure like Hercules and the other heroes of Greco-Roman religion who were conceived by a god impregnating a mortal woman, and when Matthew and Luke copied the information from Mark’s gospel they changed Jesus’ statement in Mark 8:35 so that ‘for the gospel’ was omitted. In their gospels the Christian loses his life for Jesus. It is the reverse of the situation in Mark’s gospel.
Mark 1:1, ‘The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God’, was obviously inserted by whoever removed the beginning of Mark’s gospel because it contradicts what Jesus says in Mark 1:15, that the gospel (the good news) is about the Kingdom of God being near. But what is the Kingdom of God? The answer is in Mark 12:29-34. When Jesus says to love God and neighbour, and a scribe agrees with him, Jesus goes on to say that the scribe is not far from the Kingdom of God: he is almost there. So the Kingdom of God is an ethical matter. It is about how we conduct our lives.
When Jesus speaks about love (Greek: agape) he means a self-giving concern for others, and this is what Jesus represents. He gives himself by healing and forgiving people and accepting everyone. But more than this: he gives himself to bring in the Kingdom of God. When he makes his triumphant entry into Jerusalem and disrupts the business in the Temple, he is provoking the authorities to kill him, but before they do he has a final meal with his followers. Jesus is the Love that is at the heart of it all.
Another significant interference in Mark’s gospel is in Mark 14:27-31 where Jesus tells the disciples that they will all fall away and be scattered like sheep, but Peter says he will not fall away. To anyone reading this passage, verse 28 (But after I am raised up I will go ahead of you into Galilee) seems out of place. It supports the disciples and looks like an insertion by a pro-Peter group. That this is the case is confirmed by the absence of the verse in the Fayyum Fragment, which is from the 3rd century and is the only papyrus manuscript with the text of Mark’s gospel after Chapter 12.
Mark 14:28 is significant because with 16:7 there are only two places where it is stated that Jesus will go ahead of the disciples into Galilee after he has been raised. Mark 16:7 has therefore been seen as confirming the prediction made in 14:28, but if Mark 14:28 is a later insertion, 16:7 must be critically considered in isolation.
Mark 16:7 is what the man in the tomb said to the women. He told them to tell Jesus’ followers to return to Galilee. If the Jewish authorities had removed Jesus’ body to prevent the site becoming a rallying point for his followers this is what the man would have said. The frightened women misunderstood him and the rest is history.
Actually the most important interference with Mark’s gospel was the removal of the ending that Mark originally wrote. It corresponds (with some modifications) to 16:9-20 in most modern versions. In 16:15 Jesus tells the disciples to preach the good news, and this must surely be that the Kingdom of God has come. In Mark 16:19 Jesus is lifted up to sit at the right hand of God, which is what he said to the high priest in 14:62. So the ending of Mark’s gospel is about exaltation. The model that Jesus provided (loving, forgiving, healing) is to be followed by those entering the Kingdom of God. It is the way they should conduct themselves. Then God will rule in their lives.
Jesus’ exaltation in Mark 16:19 following the crucifixion refers back to the Transfiguration in 9:1-10. There Jesus is glorified on a mountain between Elijah and Moses, but at the end of Mark’s gospel he is lifted up and glorified on the cross between two robbers (Mark 15:27). After both of these events his followers say nothing to anyone until after he has risen. (Mark 9:10 and 16:8).
The Transfiguration in turn refers back to Exodus 19 when Moses brings the people to meet with God. They stand at the foot of the mountain and God descends on it in fire. Then God speaks the Ten Commandments. In Exodus 19:16 God descends on the morning of the third day, and in Mark 16:9 it is early on the third day after the crucifixion that Jesus appears. Jesus has come down from the cross and the people meet with God in a spiritual way in Christ.
A careful reading of Mark’s gospel shows that it is very profound. To understand it you should go as far as you can using the God-given gift of reason. Then you will find that your faith is strengthened. Go beyond the exorcisms and miracles and read it in a realistic way with faith, and, like the scribe in Mark 12:34, you will be almost there.
***

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Personal reflection: ‘Two ways’

Marking NAIDOC Week

While on an extended journey through the Kimberley and Pilbara regions of NW Australia, I have been exploring indigenous spirituality through their amazing art. In particular, I have been ‘captured’by the artists of the Mowanjum people and the work of the noted white artist Mark Norval. Mark and Mary Norval are artists and teachers based in Derby whose lives for four decades have become entwined with those of the Mowanjum community made up of the Worora Wanumbul and Ngarinya tribes. The latter three groups are Wandjima tribes. Theirs is a part of the oldest religion in the world still practiced.

Their supreme spirit being is the Wandjima (see illustration).

Larinywar Spirit Wandjima 1998 Donny Woolagoodja

Only these three tribes see the Wandjima as the true creators of the land. Most of the other aboriginal tribes of Australia believe that the ‘Dream time snake’ or ‘Rainbow Serpent’ was the main creative force.

Mark Dorval, who has dedicated many years to encouraging indigenous artists has explained that some of the people of the Mowanjima believe that these Wandimas control everything that happens on the land, in the sky and in the sea. They created the people, the animals and the baby spirits that reside in the rock pools or sacred places throughout the Kimberleys. I was pleased to procure the following painting by emerging great young artist Tanisha Wungundin-Allies as she put the finishing strokes on her work.

Tanisha has sold over 250 paintings. Quite an achievement for any artist. My painting held by Derby Norval Gallery attendant.

Like most complex cultures, including Christian, opinions differ about creation. In one theme, the people had no laws or kinship until the Wandjima came down from the Milky Way. Until then they were wandering around lost. Familiar? These originals are portrayed in what (white) people call the Bradshaw figures. The ‘big boss’ Wandjima brought many other Wandjima to drive out the evil spirits which were taking ther babies. (The Wandjima had the power of the Rainbow Serpent which slid around everywhere and made all the rivers valleys and mountains. The snake represents Mother Earth.)

So the story continues of how the Wandjima originally painted their own faces and bodies in the caves. Their power is so strong they don’t have to speak. Their eyes are powerful – big and black like a cyclone and the lines around their heads can mean clouds, rain, or lightning.

Today’s artists who are loyal to the cultural tradition (or faith) are obligated to keep the Wandjima happy by continuing to paint them – a tradition that emerged long before the Pyramids of Egypt were contemplated and passed down through hundreds of centuries. The belief in the Wandjima is as strong today as it was for their ancestors.

Many Mowarjim people today follow the ‘two ways’ as a result of the Christian teachings brought to them 90 years ago by Presbyterian missionaries. Most have been able to integrate both cultures to form a unique Mowanjim ‘religion’ in which they believe that God was responsible for creating the Wandjima. Some have discarded the Wandjima altogether and others hold uniquely to the Wandjima spiritual power and shrug off Christianity.

This culture is still evolving as is Christianity. For me this experience has helped to give me greater understanding of the causes for culture clash and an appreciation of people like Mark Norval who give so much of themselves to helping indigenous people grow their wonderful identity and story.

Paul Inglis 14th July 2019.

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PCNQ QLD Coming events

Hello friends

Or next PCN Explorers will be on Wednesday 31st July, 10 am, Merthyr Road Uniting Church

Come at 10 for eat, meet and greet and we will get started about 10:30.

Our leader / facilitator will be Bev Floyd on the topic of Secular Christianity, the subject of her latest book not yet published.

Here is a note from Bev about this topic:

Secular Christianity:

This is the simple story of how the ideas of Christianity began in Judea 2000 years ago and then spread across the world. 

It is also an account of how the message has been changed so much even its founder might not recognize it.

It’s a pity it has been treated so badly, because the original message has quite a lot going for it.

Why write such a book?:

   ‘Western Society is floundering. There’s a lack of conviction, of belief, and I think a simpler form of Christianity 

   might be found in the actual words and example of Jesus’.

 Bev Floyd Bio: B.Ed.St., Dip. R.E. Taught in Queensland; Methodist Training College. Spent 12 years in PNG, several years on a mission. 

        Foundation member of Australian Democrats. Lectured at Southbank Tafe. Retired 2003. Writer.

Bev has authored several books, several of which are free e-books on her website. I suggest you check it out.          https://www.bevfloyd.com.au 

Let me flag with you the next 2 meetings: 

28th August: Tim O’Dwyer will lead our thinking and exploring. Tim is interested to discuss how the journey into “Progressive Christianity” has changed your opinion of and relationship with the church. A few questions to ponder before the day will be

Has this journey affected my church attendance?Has it changed how I express my faith?Is anything different and does this difference influence why I attend or do not attend church?Why did I / didn’t I walk away?

More to come about this next month

25th September: Brian O’Hanlon will be our leader – more info about the topic to come.l

journeying together,

Desley Garnett
drgarn@bigpond.net.au
0409 498 403

Desley

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Book review: on the global impact of Jesus teaching.

Book Review
All Things in Common: The Economic Practices of the Early Christians.
Roman A. Montero, 2017
By their economic practises the Early Christians discovered in Jesus’ life and teachings the corrective to the gross inequalities of the Roman Empire. Global Warming, a product of current economic policies poses a much greater moral challenge of gross inequality.

Is the answer to be found in “All Things in Common” with its striking parallels to the “communism of the apostles” passages in Acts 2:42-47 and 4:32-37, which tells of how early Christians built “social relationships” to solve their problems of discrimination, poverty and dispossession in the violent multi-ethnic world of the first century Roman Empire?

Citing sources ranging from the Qumran scrolls to the North African apologist Tertullian to the Roman satirist Lucian, “All Things in Common” reconstructs the economic practices of the early Christians to reveal that Acts 2:42-47 and 4:32-37 describes a long-term, widespread set of practices that were taken seriously. Practises that significantly differentiated the early Christians from the pagan world of the Roman Empire. Even taking into account Judean and Hellenistic parallels, the origins of the practises for promoting the common good are traced back to the very life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and their brilliant exposition by Paul, revealed in his six authentic and seven pseudo letters.

This book will be of value to anyone interested in Christian history, and the insights it offers to the human construct of capitalism based on self-interest, which now threatens the very basis of the civilisation it has built. Is the climax to the apocalyptic eschatology of the Gospels to be found in “All things in Common”?

Richard Smith

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Spong, Borg and Wright

The previous post has provoked comment to me which highlights the breadth of thinking and some caution when defining ‘progressive’ thinking. Readers may like to look at this text when it becomes available again through Amazon or chase a second hand copy. Paul Inglis

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Book review: Simply Jesus

A new vision of who he was, what he did, and why he matters

By N T Wright (Harper Collins, 2011)

NT WRIGHT is the former Bishop of Durham in the Church of England and one of the world’s leading Bible scholars. He serves as the chair of New Testament and Early Christianity at the School of Divinity at the University of St Andrews. He has featured on ABC NEWS, Dateline, The Colbert Report,, and Fresh Air. He is the award winning author of ‘The Day the Revolution Began’, ‘Surprised by Hope’, ‘Simply Christian’, and more.

Jesus is under-utilized in the Christian discourse. Anglican bishop NT Wright espouses a compelling thesis of tapping into the potential of Jesus more effectively in contemporary life. There has for too long been a pre-occupation with a biblical faith where Jesus is absent and the full significance of his teaching supplanted by negative pre-Jesus thinking. A focus on ‘the second coming’ also has meant that the work he gave to his followers to complete has been neglected. Postponing the development of the ‘kingdom’ ignores the Pauline precept (1 Cor) of the reign of Jesus in the present age. The God-givenness of authority needs to be constantly acknowledged as Jesus did with Pilate (John 19:11).

He points out how relevant this is when it comes to ‘winning an election’. We have come to think of political legitimacy in terms of the method of gaining it – eg winning an election . The ancient Jews and early Christians were more interested than today’s Christians in holding rulers to account in the name of appropriate values.

He says there are millions of things that the Church should be getting into that the ruling elites don’t bother about or don’t have the resources to support. No one would have thought of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission if Desmond Tutu hadn’t pushed to make it happen.

(In Australia, we could add no one would have listened hard to isolated rural communities as John Flynn did – a situation I have been looking at on a trip through the Outback.)

He rebuts the argument that most of the reforms are small with a reflection on Jesus explaining his own actions in terms of the smallest seeds that eventually grow into the largest shrubs. He describes this as ‘cascading grace’. His idea of the ‘good news’ is that all people can participate in the many small things that make for the kingdom that Jesus foreshadowed.

I am not sure if Wright realized it, but he was also demonstrating how ‘good things and good thinking’ are even now changing the Church.

The central part of the present day meaning of Jesus’s universal kingship is the many varied ways in which each generation or each local church can ‘figure out wise and appropriate ways of speaking the truth to power’ in ways that can’t be ignored by the powerful.

Recommended.

Dr Paul Inglis July 2019

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Anticipation is building for the Common Dreams Conference in July

Dr Val Webb – theologian and author

I have been reading Matthew Fox’s “Order of the Sacred Earth” in preparation for Common Dreams in July in Sydney. He says:
“The forms of organised religion and education have become frozen and dinosaur like, unable to adapt, too large and waited down with canons and prescriptions of far too many bureaucracies. The result is that the joy of worship and the joy of living out one’s conscience get lost in the maze of rules called religion. Similarly, the joy of learning and the ecstasy that accompanies truth can get equally muffled by the institutionalisation we call education. Both dimensions of life require a simplification, simplification, simplification. Where has all the joy gone?”

The joy of life
oOo
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Book review: English translations of the OT have been inadequate …..

Until now

The Art of Bible Translation, Princeton University Press (2019) by Robert Alter, Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Religion at University of California, Berkeley, where he has taught since 1967. He published a new translation of the Hebrew Bible in 2018.

Alter has been awarded: National Jewish Book Award for Modern Jewish Thought and Experience; Guggenheim Fellowship for Humanities (US and Canada.) He is currently President of the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics. He was born in 1935.

“The practice of translation, as I have learned from experience, entails an endless series of compromises, some of them happy, some painful and not quite right because the translator has been unable to find an adequate English equivalent of what is happening – often brilliantly – in the original language. “(Alter)

Alter is impelled in his years of work on translating the OT by ‘a deep conviction that the literary style of the Bible in both prose narratives and the poetry is not some sort of a aesthetic embellishment of the message of Scripture but the vital medium through which the biblical vision of God, human nature, history, politics, society and moral values is conveyed.’

He shows how word play, diction, rhythm, syntax and strategic choice of words are crucial to the shape of the literary authority and moral and religious outlook of the Hebrew Bible. No one else has done this! In the context of his overview in this book, he provides copious examples that give entirely different meaning to the text.

Reflecting on the history of English translations of the Bible, Alter claims all have been woefully inadequate.

The inspired literalism of the King James version has employed the original Hebrew parataxis (ordering of phrases and clauses), much of which has been discarded in modern English versions. He uses an example of the way ‘the flood’ in Genesis has been dealt with and the loss of authenticity and meaning. He demonstrates how ‘the rage to explain the biblical text’ has had unintended consequences in translation.

But the KJV shows how a limited knowledge of Hebrew by 17th Century translators has led to confused syntax, missed nuances and meanings. There is also a stylistic issue with the KJV. It’s treatment of Hebrew poetry is less successful than its treatment of prose. The Jacobean rhetoric has failed to capture the compactness of the Hebrew and introduced great amounts of extra information to the passages

Later translations have done worse.

“…The Hebrew writers reveled in the proliferation of meanings, the cultivation of ambiguities, the playing of one sense against another and the richness is erased in the deceptive antiseptic clarity of the modern versions.”

Many of the contemporary translations compromise the literary integrity of the biblical texts and Alter contends this is the fault of the university training of contemporary translators and he identifies their training institutions. Also, the absence of an understanding of the Sociology of Knowledge is a major culprit.

You cannot determine the meanings of biblical words without taking account of their narrative and poetic contexts. This has for centuries been a problem with literal translations. There are livelier and more surprising details in the biblical stories than we first realize but those are often erased by translators who have an inadequate grasp of how the narratives work.

Whether the reader of this work is a philological or OT translation scholar, or simply, like myself a seeker after truth in biblical literature and scripture, Alter’s work is seductive, interesting and rewarding.

My copy was purchased though Kindle Amazon Australia. Recommended.

oOo

Start reading it for free: http://amzn.asia/h9NeXdv

.

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Sofia Conference: At Sea on How to Live


Details of the one-day (free) SOFIA conference

At Sea On How To LiveWhere should we look now for moral guidance?

15 June 2019 Queensland Art Gallery

Announced in previous sofia bulletins; the conference is described in more detail below. The conference is FREE to attend, but please register on-line so the organisers can estimate numbers.

Registration

Saturday 15 June, 10.30am – 3.30pm Queensland Art Gallery Lecture Theatre South Bank, Brisbane – we seem to be all at sea. on how to live, many in our society struggle with social media and other addictions/abuses, our once most-trusted institutions (churches, councils, parliaments, banks, sporting bodies) let us down, advancing secularisation; cause, or ray of hope? popular culture looms large in contemporary moral guidance, from Harry Potter (eg the Harry Potter Alliance) to superhero films.

Can traditional religions, or civil society, claw back their moral authority? What other options are there?

Program 10.00 Registration/Welcome

10.30 Speakers

12.15 Lunch (available for purchase at nearby cafes/restaurants

1.30 Panel session with Q&A

2.30 SOFIA AGM

Speakers

(1) Rodney Eivers: Can a completely neutral stance towards ethics replace the unifying function of religion?

Perhaps from the influence of his mother and an early association with Christianity, Rodney started life with an aim to make the world a better place. In his teenage years he concluded that the prime need of human beings was food, which led him to became an agricultural adviser in Papua New Guinea. However, he soon came to realise that a more urgent factor than food for human beings, especially in Australian society, was personal relationships. For 30 years he instructed in Parent Effectiveness Training, a democratic approach to child-raising, which reignited Rodney’s interest in Christianity as a social binding force. With the collapse of a common institutional Christianity in Western society – to which, ironically, Rodney contributes with his espousal of ‘progressive’ Christianity – he has become uneasy about where people today imbibe those values which contribute to building a harmonious community. Rodney is currently President of Sea of Faith in Australia.

(2) Gail Parataz: Religion as Culture – how Judaism has different strands of observance within an overall religious culture

Gail was born in Sri Lanka (Ceylon at the time) and emigrated with her family to Melbourne when she was a very young child. She lived there for 30 years before moving to Brisbane. Gail is married to David and has 2 sons – Benjamin 26 years and Jonathon 24 years. She has been a high school Art teacher and her last teaching post was at Brisbane Girls’ Grammar School. Nowadays Gail is the Interfaith Chair on the Queensland Jewish Board of Deputies (QJBD) and is also the Chair of the Queensland Faith Communities Council (QFCC).

(3) Professor Sarva Daam Singh: Pursuit of peace and happiness in a world riven by intolerance

Sarva Daman Singh stresses the indivisibility of humanity and its cultural diversity as a natural expression of its bountiful creativity. Professor Sarva Daman Singh, BA(Hons), M.A., PhD (University of London), PhD (University of Queensland, Australia), F.R.A.S., was born at Angai, in District Mathura of Uttar Pradesh, India and migrated to Australia in 1974.He won many awards and five gold medals during the course of a distinguished educational career at the universities of Lucknow and London. He has taught at the University of Lucknow; National Academy of Administration, Government of India, Mussoorie; Vikram University, Ujjain; and the University of Queensland, Australia; and held chairs of Indian History, Culture and Archaeology. He is at present Director of the Institute of Asian Studies, Brisbane. He was the Honorary Consul of India in Queensland from 2003 to 2011.

Panel moderator

Neil Davidson is a community activator, catalyst and keynote listener who listens deeply, empathizes, synthesizes, and reflects back to diverse groups: interfaith gatherings, organizations, not-for-profits, NGOs and rural communities in ways that reveal patterns, weave threads and lift those present by unlocking hidden/ignored potentials. Neil takes photographs, writes poetry, and sometimes finds himself seeing/channeling the multiple wisdoms present in ways that surprises him and transforms those present. His academic background was Marine Biology and Geology.

oOo


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Grounded in Truth – Walk Together with Courage

Your guide for #NRW2019 and beyond!

Go to: NRW Grounded in Truth

At its heart, reconciliation is about strengthening relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous peoples, for the benefit of all Australians.

“… A reconciled Australia is one where our rights as First Australians are not just respected but championed in all the places that matter …”
Kirstie Parker – Board Member, Reconciliation Australia

For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, Australia’s colonial history is characterised by devastating land dispossession, violence, and racism. Over the last half-century, however, many significant steps towards reconciliation have been taken.

Reconciliation is an ongoing journey that reminds us that while generations of Australians have fought hard for meaningful change, future gains are likely to take just as much, if not more, effort.

In a just, equitable and reconciled Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children will have the same life chances and choices as non-Indigenous children, and the length and quality of a person’s life will not be determined by their racial background.

Our vision of reconciliation is based and measured on five dimensions: historical acceptance; race relations; equality and equity; institutional integrity and unity.

These five dimensions do not exist in isolation, but are interrelated. Reconciliation cannot be seen as a single issue or agenda; the contemporary definition of reconciliation must weave all of these threads together. For example, greater historical acceptance of the wrongs done to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples can lead to improved race relations, which in turn leads to greater equality and equity.

“Reconciliation must transcend Australian political theatre and promote a sense of national unity …” Patrick Dodson – The State of Reconciliation in Australia, 2016

“Reconciliation isn’t a single moment or place in time. It’s lots of small, consistent steps, some big strides, and sometimes unfortunate backwards steps …” – Karen Mundine – Chief Executive Officer, Reconciliation Australia

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Common Dreams Sydney

Singing is a form of communication that predates language. It is a way that animals and humans alike identify as a group and it is a very important part of our church life.

Yet so many of the songs that we sing within our churches contain outdated language, that make it hard for us to sing out and identify with the messages within the music.

Join Heather Price at Common Dreams on July 12 to warm up your voice and learn new songs that express a progressive theology and embody diversity, while rediscovering the joy of community through voice and song.

Can we find our voice again?

Read more: http://tiny.cc/wz656y
Book now: http://tiny.cc/7f9s6y

oOo

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Accessing Progressive Texts at Trinity Library Brisbane

Trinity Theological Library serves the Uniting Church in Australia, Queensland Synod, by supporting theological, ministerial, adult faith and chaplaincy education through Trinity College Queensland, Adelaide College of Divinity and Flinders University.

It resources the learning community that consists of students and staff of Trinity College Queensland and Adelaide College of Divinity and Flinders University, Queensland Synod staff, Uniting Church members throughout the Queensland Synod and guests.

The Library offers free membership to Uniting Church members throughout the Queensland Synod, as well as Raymont Residential College students and St Francis Theological College members. Members of the public are welcome to join on an annual membership basis (fees apply).

Through the generosity of Rodney Eivers (chair of UCFORUM), many progressive texts have been added to the library. Rodney continues to add more books on a regular basis. The current list of progressive texts is:

Webb, Val Testing Tradition and liberating theology
Hunt and Smith Why Weren’t we Told
Windross, Tony Thoughtful Guide to Faith
Flanigan, Martin Peter Kennedy
Jensen, Rod Two Small Books on Laypeople & Church
Lorraine Parkinson Made on Earth
Don Cupitt Ethics in the Last Days of Humanity
David Boulton The Trouble with God
Gretta Vosper With or Without God
Funk and Hooper The Five Gospels
Michael Morwood In Memory of Jesus
Webb Val In Defence of Doubt
John Spong Christianity Must Change or Die
Nigel Leaves Odyssey on the Sea of Faith
George Stuart Singing A New Song
Morwood Tomorrow’s Catholic
Heath, Emily Glorify
Crossan, John, Dominic How to Read the Bible and Still be a Christian
Taussig A New New Testament
Morwood God is Near
Mascord Faith Without Fear
Butler-Bass Diana Christianity After Religion
Morwood Faith, Hope and a Bird Called George
Robinson Honest to God
Bodycomb No Fixed Address
Smith & Hunt New Life – Rediscovering Faith
Robert Funk Honest to Jesus
Rex Hunt Against the Stream
MCNab Francis Discover a New Faith
Lloyd Geering Jesus Rediscovered
Preston, Noel Ethics, With or Without God
Dinah Livingstone This Life on Earth
Spong, John Jesus for the Non-Religious
Bodycomb Two Elephants in the Room
Macnab, Francis This Hungry Time

oOo

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Coming very soon – PCN Explorers at New Farm

  • PCN EXPLORERS MEETS WEDNESDAY 29TH MAY, 10 am at Merthyr Road Uniting Church, New Farm Brisbane Q.

I have asked Terry Fitzpatrick from St Mary’s in Exile Community (SMX) to lead our thinking into this topic:

How do we continue to maintain resilience and relationships as we strive to sustain a viable future for our planet?

What are the conversations you have been engaged in (or overheard!) since the election last Saturday? In the bus? at the supermarket checkout? at the hairdressers? Are the conversations different in the city and the country? Is there a difference between the ‘Christian’ and the ’non-Christian’? How does our understanding of the Christian story inform our thinking?

Come at 10 am for eating, meeting and greeting. About 10:30 we will move into a time when Terry introduces our theme and its challenges and we can all join in further discussion to look at the ‘how’ question.

Please send a quick reply to this email to say “I am coming” so we have an indication of numbers . Send email to Desley Garnett please. 

Journeying together …

Desley

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Towards a Partnership Society in Australia

Not Just a Dream by one of our subscribers, Bev Floyd, poet and author

Not Just a Dream is my attempt to explore how far Australia has travelled along the path to a partnership society. I have not tried to write a learned or academic book. My aim has been to give a panoramic overview of social change from circa 7000 BCE to the present and to illustrate (with examples) the gradual ‘return’ to a partnership society.
My definition of a partnership society is one in which ‘men’ and ‘women’ participate equally and can reach their potential to contribute to society. It is a society where poverty is minimised; race and religion are not hindrances to contribution and the environment is protected. I have tried to describe what a Partnership Society, ¹ might be like in various areas such as business, gender, the environment etc.
I have been influenced by a book called The Chalice and the Blade by Riane Eisler… a work of enormous scope and impeccable research….

It is my hope that Not Just a Dream will clarify issues around contemporary trends and events that threaten our world—that it can be a blue-print for everyone seeking to hasten the return of an inclusive society free of war and want, a society filled with peace, happiness and love….

PARTNERSHIP AND GLADIATORIAL MODELS COMPARED
The partnership model The partnership model is a mediator model rather than a gladiatorial model. People who support this model are active peacemakers. They believe in participation, compassion, inclusiveness. They are kind-hearted and thoughtful. Their role is to take care of children and the family. From early childhood, they develop nurturing skills. They have a full emotional range and use it in their role as peacemakers. Around them develops a flat management system where everyone is valued for themselves without a need to prove their worth. Their role is a virtuous and beautiful one. More females than males are in this category but there are also many males.
Equality for females is extremely important to social change as women are more closely aligned to the partnership model of life and when their voice is truly heard and respected then society is more likely to change for the better.

The gladiatorial model The role of gladiators is to fight. They are reared knowing they will be gladiators and are trained for their role. They are competitive, heroic and tough. They must be courageous and have an intense will to win. In times of war they are in the forefront of the battle and keep the rest of their community safe. The most successful gladiators develop leadership skills, are decisive and good in crises. They learn to guard their emotions and to switch them off when hard decisions are required. Around them develops a hierarchical system where they test their strength and courage against the next gladiator on the ladder. The hierarchical system is valued also for its ability to instil obedience to commands as well as ensuring quick and effective responses to dangerous situations. Gladiators are generally male although not always.

Amongst many of Bev’s publications, she has made this one free, online. Go to: Not just a Dream

Contents
Introduction 1. Not just a dream 2. Social change we have inherited 3. Australia, the lucky country 4. Signs of the times 5. Governance within a partnership society 6. Husbands and wives 7. Religion within a partnership society 8. Gender in a partnership society 9. Growing older in a partnership society 10. Doing business in a partnership society 11. Minding the environment 12. Role of the media in a partnership society 13. Creativity in a partnership society 14. Ethics, responsibility and regulation 15. Australia’s future role in the world

To find other publications from Bev Floyd go to: Bev Floyd

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Progressive Baptist? Resourcing Ministry and Worship No.11

Is Hamilton Baptist Church in Newcastle, NSW our first known progressive Baptist Community?

COMMITTED TO LOVE

“We seek to be a community in which people matter more than dogma or institution. We aim to value each other, celebrate each other’s joys, care for one another in difficult times, and spur one another on to be the people we were created to be..”

DIVERSE & INCLUSIVE

“We seek to be a community that embraces diversity in age, gender, sexuality, culture, and social status. Our congregation includes young and old, straight and gay, abled and disabled, and people of Anglo, Asian, and other backgrounds, each contributing uniquely to our community life.”

Are you a “Bible believing” church?

“Bible believing” is often shorthand for churches that have a very conservative outlook on social issues, fundamentalist approach to truth, claim that all their views are the clear teaching of the Bible, and see conformity to all those beliefs as the basis of their community life.

That is not the type of church you will find at Hamilton Baptist. We’re bound together by a common conviction that we want to be followers of Jesus and to love and support each other on that journey. We very much value and honour the Bible and look to the story it tells to enable us to understand who God is, who we are, and how we should live in this world. We recognise that interpreting the Bible is not always simple and that there is room for significant difference of opinion. We have also found that the values of the Biblical story, and particularly of Jesus, need to be applied afresh in every generation. Sometimes this means continuing past traditions and sometimes creating new traditions.

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A timely Vision for a Just Australia – from the UCA

“Our vision, grounded in the life and mission of Jesus, is for a nation which: • is characterised by love for one another, of peace with justice, of healing and reconciliation, of welcome and inclusion. • recognises the equality and dignity of each person. • recognises sovereignty of First Peoples, has enshrined a First Peoples voice and is committed to truth telling about our history. • takes seriously our responsibility to care for the whole of creation. • is outward looking, a generous and compassionate contributor to a just world.”

Our Vision for a Just Australia: Foundations – The Uniting Church’s vision and hope for a just Australia is expressed in seven Foundational Areas, the first four of which are set out below:
An Economy for Life • Our government makes economic decisions that put people first: decisions that are good for creation, that lift people out of poverty and fairly share our country’s wealth. • The economy serves the well-being and flourishing of all people.
An Inclusive and Equal Society • We live together in a society where all are equal and free to exercise our rights equally, regardless of faith, cultural background, race, age, sexual orientation and gender identity. • We defend those rights for all.
Flourishing Communities – Regional, Remote & Urban • We live in communities where we are connected and we care for one another. • In communities all over Australia, from our big cities to remote regions, we seek the well-being of each Australian and uplift those who are on the margins.
Contributing to a Just and Peaceful World • Australia acts with courage and conviction to build a just and peaceful world. • We are a nation that works in partnership with other nations to dismantle the structural and historical causes of violence, injustice and inequality. Our government upholds human rights everywhere, acting in the best interests of all people and the planet.

The full document is available at: UCA Vision for A Just Australia

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Latest from Caloundra Explorers

Open invitation to:

“Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s contribution to understanding the future of Christianity and the church in a secular world is fascinating – and even more challenging today!”

We especially invite you to join us in our June 16th Gathering with this intriguing theme  appropriate to the co-incidence of dates-“Heretics’ Sunday” and our Gathering!

Confined to Tegel prison in Berlin from April 1943, until his death 9th April 1945 in Flossenburg concentration camp, Bonhoeffer reflected on the future of ‘The Church’ and of Christian communities in a secular world. He questioned the Orthodox understanding of the Gospel as well as Roman Catholic and Protestant church practices. That is, he challenged the church ‘norms’ that many in his lifetime took for granted. Orthodoxy, according to Bonhoeffer, has held sway for 1900 years, condemning those who thought differently and silencing them where possible… even putting to death some unrepentant heretics.

 “Letters and Papers from Prison” became Bonhoeffer’s final words on the subject.

Our Leader, Rev Pieter Hoogendoorn, says “In spite of many developments since, congregations today act as if nothing has occurred”.

Our theme is developed on Pieter’s proposition that only two options are open to today’s Christians and congregations. On the one hand ignore his writings- as many do; or struggle with his insights and take up the implied challenges. Pieter says “ For Explorers, and modern ‘faith seekers’, the latter is the only option. It is better to struggle with the challenges of Bonhoeffer’s thoughts than to throw up our hands in despair because he has not provided a full answer for us to endorse.”

Intrigued?….Why not make this a special occasion and  come to this Gathering:

WHEN:   Sunday Evening  16th June  at 5pm -7pm

WHERE:  Caloundra Uniting Church HALL   at  56 Queen Street Caloundra

OTHER INFO:  The Gathering includes a byo light finger food meal as well as a full opportunity to discuss the issues around your table with friends-old and new!

CONTACT:  Pieter Hoogendoorn Ph.0419 976 372 or Margaret Landbeck Ph.5438 2789 .

 EMAIL:  hoogpar@bigpond.com  or jjeverall@bigpond.com

Caloundra Explorers Group

 Faith And the Modern Era Series

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Resourcing Progressive Ministry and Worship No.10

South Woden Uniting Church: A Church with No Walls

Vision:

We seek to explore the boundaries of faith for the 21st century: by focussing on how we live out the gospel and our faith in our daily lives and being aware of current religious issues and trends in theological thinking. We encourage a spirituality of compassion and freedom: by encouraging members to be actively involved in the preparation and conduct of worship, supporting social justice initiatives and building a Christian community which actively helps and cares for each other.

We celebrate life in all its aspects and phases: by sharing in a deep and realistic way the joys and sorrows of life from birth, baptism, relationships, family and working lives, children and grandchildren, life challenges, sickness, and death.

We look to be an enlightened presence in the wider community; by actively supporting social justice activities for asylum seekers and refugees, the homeless and other people in need. We also support and encourage members as they are involved in community and volunteer activities in the wider community.

We respond to the needs of people near and far with the resources we have: by intentionally setting aside a significant amount of money we have raised for selected wider work projects in the local community, Australia and overseas.

We advocate for justice and peace in our nation and in the world: by supporting social justice programs, making representations to decision makers, and where appropriate participating in protest activities.

We continually challenge people to respond to the grace of God in Jesus Christ: by involving the congregation in decision making, affirming people in the contributions they make to the wider community, and to encouraging a faith community which is meaningful, spiritual and life giving.

Sunday Worship: 9.30am

Pearce Community Centre, Collett Place, Pearce, ACT.

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Making an important correction

Following my request to the President of the UCA for a clarification of the recent ABC TV, Radio and Online news other media reports that the Uniting Church had joined a small number of other denominations in presenting a petition to the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader related to so called “freedom of religion” in the Israel Folau case, I have received the following:

“Hi Paul.

At our urging, the ABC has acknowledged, corrected the online story and apologised to us for its error. The SMH also corrected its story at our urging to distinguish between Dr Fihaki’s comments and any official position of the Church.

We are reminding news editors that the Uniting Church is not a signatory to any letter to the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader seeking reassurances about freedom of religion.

The Uniting Church’s actual position on freedom of religion, as expressed to the Expert Panel of Religious Freedom in January 2018, is that “such freedoms are never to be self-serving, but rather ought to be directed toward the Church’s continuing commitment to seeking human flourishing and wholeness within a healthy, diverse society.” The full submission is available here.

Individual Uniting Church ministers and other members of the Church from time to time express a range of public views.


However, we expect ministers, lay leaders and others and the journalists who cover them not to misrepresent these views as official positions of the Church.

The only authorised spokespeople on the Church’s national positions are the President Dr Deidre Palmer or in matters of regional significance, the Moderators of Synods.

Thanks for your query.

Cheers

Matt/Assembly Comms “

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Anne Pattel-Gray a Keynote Speaker at Common Dreams 2019

Dr. Anne Pattel-Gray is an Aboriginal woman who is a descendant of the Bidjara/ Kari Kari people in Queensland and she is a recognised Aboriginal leader within Australia – nationally and internationally. She has dedicated her life to the struggle of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and she is a strong campaigner and lobbyist and deeply committed to seeking justice, equity and equal representation for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people. She is very proud of her Aboriginal culture and heritage and is a strong advocate for Aboriginal women, children, families and community regarding our Cultural and basic Human Rights. She has developed a leadership quality that promotes and builds a deeper sense of community and participation that brings a greater Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage and cultural identity and cohesion with the broader community that leads to beneficial partnerships, engagement and reconciliation.

Dr. Anne Pattel-Gray has an earned Ph.D. from the University of Sydney awarded in 1995 in the Studies of Religion with the major focus on Aboriginal Religion and Spirituality (she was the first Aboriginal person to graduate with a Ph.D. from the University of Sydney). And a Doctor of Divinity from India awarded in 1997 (the first Aboriginal person to be awarded the D.D.). Dr. Pattel-Gray has achieved many firsts in her prestigious life and she is known as a trail blazer and she has opened many doors for her people. She is a recognised scholar, theologian, activist and prolific writer with several publications – chapters, articles, edited works and authored books. Dr. Anne Pattel-Gray is deeply committed to the advancement of Aboriginal people and to reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians. She has over thirty years in senior management as a CEO and she possesses a wealth of experience and she has developed enormous expertise.  

Anne will deliver a Major Public Address on Saturday evening 13 July.

  • FAQS
  • Student (full-time or unwaged part-time; ID check at event)
  • Early Bird (discount on Regular & Concession rates on & before 31 May,2019)
  • Concession (pensioners & those on unemployment or health benefits)
  • Short Program (Friday night to Sunday)
  • Cancellations received before 11 June, 2019 will be refunded in full. Thereafter a refund of 50% applies.
  • Accommodation not included
  • Packed lunch provided on Friday & Saturday only
  • Dinner voucher provided Saturday evening only
  • Morning & afternoon refreshments will be provided
  • Registrations on-line close on 9 July, 2019.
  • Prices include all relevant fees & taxes applicable to Common Dreams at the time of registration.
  • Prices are in Australian dollars

For tickets go to ticketing details.

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A PROGRESSIVE CHRISTIAN WORKSHOP

St. Thomas’ Anglican Church Toowong, Q is delighted to announce a workshop examining the Progressive Christian Movement.

Date And Time: Sat., 1 June 2019, 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm AEST

About this Event

The guest speaker will be former Roman Catholic Bishop of Toowoomba Bishop William Morris. He will be discussing Creation Spirituality as a Social Justice issue. This will be followed by an introduction to A Progressive Christian Voice Australia (APCVA) by the Rev’d Ray Barraclough. After some afternoon tea, a panel discussion will be held looking at various aspects of the progressive movement. One of the panelists will be Rev’d Tiffany Sparks, most recently seen on the SBS special ‘Christians Like Us’.

Location: St Thomas Anglican Church, 67 High Street, Toowong, QLD 4066

To register attendance: go to Eventbrite.

Enquiries: Adi Gibb

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“Spiritual but not Religious”

The Future of Religion and of Spirituality and of the Earth

That is the topic for one of four sessions with Matthew Fox at Common Dreams 2019 International conference, 11th-14th JULY, 2019 at Newington College in Stanmore, Sydney, Australia and Pitt St Uniting Church, Sydney, Australia.

A conference dedicated to the Sacred Earth: Original Blessing; Our Common Home surely is in pursuit of recovering a sense of the Sacred. This looms as a primary prerequisite for our survival as a species and for our planet’s survival at this amazing but perilous time in human and planetary history. How do we recover the sense of the sacred when it has been lost?

In this context it is of considerable significance that more and more people (80% of people under 30 in the US) are identifying as “spiritual but not religious” today. Is this a judgment against religion? Is it a shout-out for bringing about a re-sacralizing of our relationships? Does it represent a quest for the deeper elements of religion, the “inwardness” of religion that the mystics like Howard Thurman and Dorothee Soelle and Meister Eckhart talk about?

We will reflect on these and other deep matters in this presentation including how we can put such questions into practice, what movements we can create to hasten the journey since the United Nations and scientists tell us we have twelve years left to turn things around.

Those who attended the 4th CD Conference in Brisbane can attest to the mind blowing experience of a Common Dreams Conference.

Early bird tickets are on sale until 31st may 2019.

For full program and ticketing details and bookings go to Common Dreams 2019.

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Message: LOVE, JUSTICE and SPIRITUALITY

Rev Dr Noel Preston has forwarded his homily for Sunday 19th May. It is a timely presentation as the Federal Election and political discourse has refocussed many minds on the teaching of Micah … acting justly, loving tenderly and walking humbly (Micah 6 v. 8. and vs. 6-16.)

It is a message for politicians and for all of us who are deciding who to vote for, as well as a message for the whole population in our individual journeys.

Comments can be left here at “Reply” or directly to Noel.

We have heard the reading from the Old Testament Book of Micah – one of the “minor prophets”, together with Hosea and Amos and part of the book of Isaiah. These prophets were around  8 centuries before the Christian era.  As prophets they were not foretelling the future so much as declaring Yahweh’s judgement on the way the nation was going. In other words they were  speaking truth to power in their own times, a prophetic word of the Lord. Jesus and the Gospels were strongly influenced by these 8th century BC prophets.

Micah was speaking for the poor and spoke as one of them. He is horrified at the luxurious , degenerate and corrupt life of the city, and realises that he and his fellow peasants are paying for it. In another age he might have led a Peasants’ Revolt though his message is more than political. It is about right relating with each other and with Yahweh, their God – interesting challenges the day after a national election!

These days it is rare to hear a preacher announce a single Text to preach on but that is what I am doing today. This text is bracketed within Micah’s declarations  about false worship and a denunciation of corrupt dealings. Let’s look at this text, not in the translation of the Good News Bible we used in today’s reading but in 3 other paraphrases or translations from different versions.

You may know “The Message” – this is how our text reads there:

…..what God is looking for in men and women is quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbour, be compassionate and loyal in your love, And don’t take yourself too seriously – take God seriously…..

And maybe some of us who are old enough have heard of the J B Phillips version of the Bible:

…..For what does the Lord require from you, But to be just, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God…

And now the version I am most familiar with, known as the The Jerusalem Bible:

….This is what Yahweh asks of you: only this, to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God….

 It is this latter version which guides my preaching this morning – the words for today (and everyday) are 

Living the Gospel = loving justly, tenderly and humbly

I am going to reverse the order of these injunctions – so walk humbly with your God

Walking – we are all on a journey aren’t we? We don’t know where or how it will end  but we know that, in the company of God who is Love, God’s  Spirit will guide our journey. This suggests a prayerful approach to daily life…..

Walking humbly – that also suggests to me “living by Grace”, knowing that nothing can separate us from the Great Love. Furthermore, we are called to live graciously, sharing that Love unconditionally.

Let me add another thought – walking humbly is a rejection of self-righteousness. We are to be careful of how we speak and think about “knowing or doing the will of God”.

Walking humbly empowers us for the life of love and justice to which the rest of the text points.

So now, love tenderly……

To me, “tenderness” is virtually a synonym for “compassion” . “Mercy” is another like term which some translations of this text use. Practising “mercy” is also about sharing “grace”, again “unconditional love”, which never deserts us even when we fail to live that way.

Tenderness is often a characteristic of those who themselves have been hurt or damaged. Such tenderness is the style of the wounded healer or suffering servant. It will be tinged with a forgiving, empathetic and merciful spirit.

It is in caring for the “little ones” that we learn to love tenderly -(the anawim of the Hebrew scriptures or Jesus’ reference to “the least” of our brothers and sisters, as in  Matthew 25) – the poor, the hungry, the imprisoned, the naked. In our time we must understand “the least” or “the little ones” in a total ecological sense. In caring for the Earth,  threatened species and their environments, we will learn to love tenderly. So, I am talking about eco-justice which is nurtured by a comprehensive tender love.

Some years ago I wrote of “tender loving” in my journal, particularly in the context of recovering from serious illness. I was inspired by the words of an American medico who wrote a book with the wonderful title, “Love, Medicine and Miracles”. I wrote in my diary as I contemplated  my wounded body: such “loving is the life-stream which combines wholeness, healing and holiness.”

Then, we are called to Act Justly……….

This is the hardest word to hear….this is the message for followers of the Jesus way, especially it is what we needed to hear as Australians in the last few weeks facing an election and what is needed as we move on as a nation. Justice is not about personal needs primarily, but about the common good, and why the Gospel is a call to SOCIAL justice.. We all belong to the human family, indeed the family of all living beings. When we are grasped  by this insight, the burdens of others are not so heavy to bear – for they are the burdens of our brothers and sisters.

Of course “justice and love” are closely related. Indeed, it has been said that social justice is love distributed. This is why the biblical message is full of references to living justly. One of the strongest is in the Book of Jeremiah – “To know God is to do Justice”. Essentially, the biblical idea of justice is about “right relating” to each other, to our God, to all who share this planet. We are a Covenant people called to be faithful to all – this is what Jesus said in the Synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4) where he named his mission. So the Biblical notion of Justice goes beyond the way some of our leaders use the word, “fair”. Biblical Justice has a bias to correcting injustice. It suggests that we must be constantly, and courageously,  ready to change not only our minds but our actions. Social justice is more than simple charity. It gives a priority to the marginalised, the vulnerable and the powerless. We  see that clearly in the Jesus Story.

It’s worth wondering how we develop  our sense of justice and fairness. Let me share an autobiographical reflection.

I was a five year old in my first grade, walking home from school. The entertainment for the afternoon was for a group of us boys to tease a little migrant Scottish girl. I’m talking 1947 when Scottish migrants were the outsiders, the Asian migrants or asylum seekers of our time. We called her names  and threw stones at her. My father found out about this incident. He was very angry with me, righteously wrathful in fact. He did not hit me but gave me a piece of his mind (and heart) and insisted on taking me around to the girl’s house to apologise. This I did very tearfully. My father had opted to take the side of the aggrieved and ostracised migrant girl to correct the hurt and injustice we boys had perpetrated. The whole encounter made a profound impression on me, searing into my self (my emotions, my will my mind, my spirit) a  sense of injustice, righteous anger and empathy on behalf of the vulnerable and victimised. For me, that encounter was a lesson in right relating and I’m sure my father’s response did something to empower that migrant family. On reflection, for me it was a lesson on how just or right  relating may correct the imbalances  of power in our society and world.

In a nutshell, empowering justice requires us to reflect ethically about economic issues from the standpoint of the poor, not the rich; or race relations from the standpoint of the oppressed race; or environmental questions from the standpoint of the most vulnerable species and so on. There is no better way to learn what social justice is than to identify with the victims of injustice, as far as that is possible. In my adult years my own understanding of justice was fashioned by a decade of close involvement with aboriginal peoples in the seventies.

One of the great contributions of the Uniting Church has been a readiness to take a stand for Social Justice. And to tackle issues directly, not just speak vaguely about social justice matters.

When the UCA was formed I was the Assembly Convenor for Social Responsibility. With others it was our task to design “A Statement to the Nation” – written in 1977 it still has currency and meaning. I want to share 3 paragraphs…..

We pledge ourselves to seek the correction of injustices wherever they occur. We will work for the eradication of poverty within our society and beyond. We affirm the right of all people to equal educational opportunities, adequate health care, freedom of speech, employment or dignity in unemployment if work is not available. We will oppose all forms of discrimination which infringe basic rights and freedoms.

We will challenge values which emphasise acquisitiveness and greed in disregard of the needs of others and which encourage a higher standard of living for the privileged in face of the daily widening gap between the rich and poor.

We are concerned with the basic human rights of future generations and will urge the wise use of energy, the protection of the environment and the replenishment of the Earth’s resources for their use and enjoyment.

(Can give you a full copy of the Assembly Statement)

Now back to our Text. “Act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with your God……”

That is a great guide for living. That is a great motto for a congregation to adopt or for our Uniting Churches in the Redlands to make their chief guideline in the current planning for a shared future.

Let us make these matters of prayer for others, especially the marginalised. Let us join action with our prayer. AMEN

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Taking a standing against hate speech

From our friends in the Progressive Explorers’ Group (PEG) in Melbourne who have signed this statement.

Action on hate speech: a letter to the churches

   We, the undersigned, are members of a group of mostly clergy, both women and men, still actively involved in the life of the Church. We meet on a regular basis to explore and discuss issues of faith, church and society from a contemporary perspective. We express our profound concern at the horrific events in Christchurch New Zealand in March 2019, and believe that our church should respond strongly, and with conviction.

   While we understand the complexity of the situation, which makes the sheeting home of blame problematic, we accept responsibility to examine our own thought and practices and those of our various churches. We do this in the hope that we can identify our contribution, intentional or otherwise, to the construction of a social, religious and political environment conducive to race-based hate speech.

   We, as followers of Jesus, acknowledge that our churches have in times past promoted notions that racial and cultural superiority are justified. We acknowledge that such notions have contributed to the worst behaviour imaginable.  The fifty deaths in Christchurch are but the most recent symptoms of faulty theology, poor education, careless talk and the mistaken identification of faith as a marker of superiority. Often when our society, or individuals within it, behave in a violent and offensive manner we have said little or have maintained our silence.

   In recognition of our churches’ complicity we, the undersigned, ask of the churches that, in word and deed, we together:

  • embrace inclusiveness, and publicly denounce division;
  • engage in open-minded study of other faiths
  • actively build bridges between faiths and cultures, and decry the forces that keep them apart;
  • resist the urge to convert or demean people of other faiths;
  • proclaim love and peace as the very essence of God’s will;
  • stand up in our communities for justice;
  • speak out against hate speech;
  • call out racism.

Signed: Members of the Progressive Explorers Group as at Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Name Status Institution
Robert Renton Retired minister Uniting Church in Australia
John W. H. Smith Retired minister Uniting Church in Australia
Lorraine Parkinson Retired minister Uniting Church in Australia
Margaret Black Retired Deacon Uniting Church in Australia
Karel Reus Previously minister Uniting Church in Australia
Gillian Crozier Retired minister Uniting Church in Australia
John Cranmer Retired minister Uniting Church in Australia
Peter Sanders Retired minister Uniting Church in Australia
Ric Holland Minister (Hampton Park) Uniting Church in Australia
Alex Poore Retired minister Uniting Church in Australia
John Gunson Retired minister Uniting Church in Australia
Jeff Shrowder Retired minister Uniting Church in Australia
Rex Hunt Retired minister Uniting Church in Australia
Neil Tolliday Retired minister Uniting Church in Australia
Kath Baldini Retired minister Uniting Church in Australia
Coralie Ling Retired minister Uniting Church in Australia
Denham Grierson Retired minister Uniting Church in Australia
Howard Ainsworth Retired priest Anglican Church of Australia
Neil Wilkinson Retired minister Uniting Church in Australia
Jim Cunnington Retired minister Uniting Church in Australia

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Youth Justice Reform

One of our very active members has been working with the team at Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation group. Wayne Sanderson has this to say about the ANTaR Q presentation:

This will be an exceptional night with over 300 people present. A great opportunity to meet ANTaR Q supporters and First Peoples Elders – particularly those integral to Youth Justice reform in Queensland. In particular, we are honoured to have Mr Mick Gooda as special guest. Mick is a Gangulu man from Central Queensland.  He has worked as Social Justice Commissioner with the Australian Human Rights Commission; and more recently as Co-Commissioner in the Royal Commission into Youth Crime in the Northern Territory. In particular, Mick will address the  movement towards constitutional recognition of First Peoples and the Makarrata (treaty) momentum.

We are happy to recommend this event to our subscribers. Enquiries to Wayne (click on his name above).

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Redcliffe Explorers – next conversation

The Redcliffe Explorers will meet on Monday 6th May in the Azure Blue function room, Anzac Avenue Redcliffe, with tea/coffee and chat from 6:00 p.m. The  night’s discussion, starting at 6:30, will be facilitated by Greg and Meryem Brown, who recently participated in two conferences in the US – The Universal Christ: another name for everything (conducted by the Center for Contemplation and Action) in New Mexico, and Conversations with Jesus (hosted by the Gospel Coalition) in Indiana. The focus of the evening’s conversation will be comparing and contrasting the presentations and theological underpinning of the two groups.

The CCA is led by Fr Richard Rohr, a Franciscan, who now has more than 300,000 on line subscribers.

The Gospel Coalition “helps people know God’s Word with their mind, love God fully with their heart, and engage the world with grace and truth.” It has a very strong Calvinist bent, with an emphasis on cultural transformation.

All are welcome; if you’re new to our Explorers meetings please call Ian on 3284 3688 or 0401 513 723 for details of how to access this venue or email Ian.

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Religion is no cloak for hate speech

by Rev Dr Gregory Jenks

The media has recently been awash with stories about the hateful comments made online by Australian Rugby Union star, Israel Folau, about various classes of people being destined for hell unless they repent and conform to a set of beliefs (and related lifestyle choices) promoted by extremely conservative Christians.

His original Instamgram post then reinforces his threats of damnation in the fires of hell with a series of citations from the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible.

To be fair, similar claims can be heard at almost any Anglican Church in the Sydney area, as well as in many other congregations around the country where ultra-traditional religious views survive to this day.

Such views are abhorrent, no matter who makes them. They also reflect a profound ignorance of the Bible and of biblical hermeneutics.

Now we find Des Houghton—a Courier-Mail columnist and opinion writer—arguing that criticism of Folau for his hateful views is really an attack on Christianity, and perhaps on all forms of religious faith.

This is going too far.

Religion is neither an excuse for hate speech nor a protection for those who engage in it.

Condemning people to the fires of hell because of their beliefs or their lifestyle—like claiming divine approval for slavery, ethnic cleansing and patriarchy—is an element of Christian faith that progressive believers have long since laid aside as inappropriate; along with burning peoople at the stake and interrogating them under torture.

These are indeed among the darker elements of Judaism and Christianity, but are no longer practices that we can endorse or defend.

Just as polygamy and female gential mutilation are not permitted under Australian law despite their status as traditional religious practices, hate speech that threatens people with hell fire cannot be excused as ‘protected religious activity’.

Sadly our religious leaders—bishops and moderators alike—have been strangely silent in reponse to the hateful social media posts by Israel Folau. For sure some will secretly agree with him although they mostly do not speak so openly about their views these days. Most have simply been silent, and perhaps thereby were mistakenly assumed to agree with his views.

The Bible does not justify hate speech even when the Scriptures themselves descend to the gutter in the heat of some particular conflict.

Our society has moved on and the views promoted by people such as Israel Folau serve best when they remind us of how far we have come. Theocracies are one of the most dangerous forms of human society, as we see daily in both Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The best response to such extremist nonsense is perhaps ridicule rather than prosecution. Laugh them off the stage and move your discretional spending to other recreational pursuits.

In two weeks time I will be in Sydney to speak at the Festival of Wild Ideas, an event sponsored by the Mosman/Neutral Bay Inter-Church Council. My topic for that address is: Reading the Bible to promote human flourishing.

The proposal at the core of my presentation is that the immense cultural and spiritual significance of the Scriptures lies precisely in their capacity to inspire us to move beyond earlier expressions of humanity and to reach new levels of awareness, courage and compassion; in short to be more fully human than ever before.

Needless to say I will use the Bible very differently from Mr Folau and I shall come to very different conclusions about God’s desire to bless us profoundly across all of our diversity as humans.

About the writer:

Anglican priest and religion scholar. Senior Lecturer in the School of Theology at Charles Sturt University. Dean, Cathedral Church of Christ the King, Grafton and Rector of the Anglican Parish of Grafton. Formerly Dean at St George’s College, Jerusalem. The opinions expressed in my publications, including my blog posts, are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Diocese of Grafton nor Christ Church Cathedral in Grafton.

Recent publications:

The Once and Future Bible (Wipf & Stock, 2011), The Once and Future Scriptures (Polebridge Press, 2013), Jesus Then and Jesus Now (Morning Star Publishing, 2014) and Wisdom and Imagination (Morning Star Publishing, 2014).

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High interest in Seminar this Wednesday (1st May)

By the number of registrations for our talk/conversation Can a Christian be a Politician? this seems to be in the minds of many people…..for many different reasons, I expect! It is a question that raises many more questions and challenges us to think about the very concept Christian.

It is not too late to come but please RSVP to Desley or Paul

10am Morning Tea for 10.30am start. Merthyr Rd Uniting Church, New Farm, Brisbane.

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Was Paul Wrong?

Rodney Eivers – 23rd April 2019

1 Corinthians! 5: 13-14 “If there is no resurrection of the dead then Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain”

          In responding to his UC Forum posting on 23rd April 2019 I would state my admiration of Rod Bower from what I know of him and congratulate him on his initiatives in bringing a relevant Christian gospel to people of the 21st century.

          Nevertheless, I am left confused by his references to the place of the resurrection of Jesus in our contemporary faith.

          Rod notes: “Whether the bodily resurrection of Jesus was an historical fact means little to me, while I respect that it is central to the faith of many. That the bodily resurrection is a theological fact is an essential element of my faith because it affirms the incarnation and the material creation as the vehicle through which the Divine Eternal life is expressed.”

          So what are we talking about?  What does this mean? Just about all liberal/orthodox ministers and theologians over the past century or more seem to want to have it both ways.

          Apostle Paul never claims to have met Jesus in the flesh and yet he assures us that he has “seen” him. (As a reminder, Paul’s letters were apparently written before any of the gospels).  Clearly then when he talks about resurrection Paul is not talking (in his case anyway) about a visible body which jumps out of the grave and starts walking around the streets of Jerusalem or the villages of Galilee.

          So, on the one hand, we 21st century commentators take on board Paul’s vision of a spiritual form of Jesus. But then we turn round and make it a big issue that Jesus’s fleshly body came back to life.

          Why do we still do this?  It is now two thousand years on, with all the scholarly study and scientific research which has gone on, particularly in the past two hundred years or so.

          But I would go even further than this and pose the question.  Was Paul wrong? Is our faith in vain if we ignore the resurrection?

          In a previous posting, Richard Smith demonstrated that the pre-Easter Jesus made enough of a statement and lived enough of a life to inspire and challenge us to nurture, the Kingdom of God – making this world, here and now, a better place.

          Further, I would ask.  What is it to us if Jesus’s body did come back to fleshly life for a few months?  I presume this is because we can then accept that supernatural life resuscitation is a reality (there could be some Nobel Prize winning research for those who work out how this happens).  This means, as the Nicene Creed implies, that all people who die and accept the creed will come back to life. This means that our parents, grandparents, great grandparents and further back may come back to live with us.

          Is this what our ministers and theologians believe, in their inner selves?   I suspect not. I was told of one instance  where a minister had been queried as to whether he really believed that dead bodies come back to life again,  The minister’s reply was, “No, but you can’t say  that.

          May I plead that we take the magnificent and powerful Jesus story and express it in terms which can transform our whole secular world. Let us not only be prepared to think it but also to say it.

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Rod Bower on Resurrection

Fr Rod Bower, Anglican Parish of Gosford, NSW

Thanks for this reflection Rod

Whether the bodily resurrection of Jesus was an historical fact means little to me, while I respect that it is central to the faith of many. That the bodily resurrection is a theological fact is an essential element of my faith because it affirms the incarnation and the material creation as the vehicle through which the Divine Eternal life is expressed. .
To Proclaim Christ is Risen is to proclaim that the living one is here and now, not a future hope, but a present reality. That the Creator is in creation calling us to be respectful, reminding us that this planet and this life are unique and that we must value every atom of it.
So let us proclaim with every fiber of our being, with heart soul mind and strength and let all creation resound with us.
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!

Link to Rod’s sermon on FaceBook

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Easter Reflection: Dad, why did you go to church?

Richard Smith – Wembley Downs UCA, WA.

My Son asked: Why did you go to Church this Easter?

Good Friday from God’s Friday was a reminder about the Domination Systems of political power that amass wealth at the expense of the poor causing social distress, extreme environmental damage and climate chaos. Jesus is remembered because he pushed back against the Domination System of the Roman Empire which responded by having him publically tortured and killed, a warning to others, do not mess with the system.  Modern Domination systems continue with modern weapons and cyber techniques as the normalcy of civilisation where violence in its many evolving forms is the human choice of resolving difference.

Jesus advocated for the Kingdom of God where everything to be shared, is shared equitably. Gospel or Good News for the poor, but warning to the rich to share their wealth and knowledge. This kingdom was named after God’s image because at Creation it was shared equally among all of humankind (Genesis 1:26), to be experienced as “God is Love” (1 John 4:8).

On Easter Sunday, the Resurrection is the metaphor that despite his untimely death Jesus’ advocacy of the Kingdom of God would live on and be vindicated.  St Paul (AD 53-54)  used the evolutionary concept of a seed being planted and dyeing before new life could emerge to offer the opportunity of an evolutionary step forward or alternatively extinction by a process of self-destruction (1 Cor. 15). The choice is ours to make or ignore, to live or to die, to plant and to harvest or create a dry desert.

Jesus’ advocacy has weaved its evolutionary way through history reducing violence and bringing the peace many enjoy today. The sharing of political power through representative democracy has brought peace and universal systems of welfare, education, health, child care and human rights. But the normalcy of civilisation continues with all the modern forms of rhetoric and force, to reassert its desire for Domination leaving many is distress.

The cycle of such violence in Jesus’ prayer is broken by practising justice, mutual forgiveness and resisting the use of violence (Matt 6 11-13). Violence creates more violence in an escalatory process which is the bible’s the earliest definition of Sin (Genesis 4.6-7). Thus Jesus dies not for our sins, but by dying for his advocacy he exposed the sin of humankind and revealed an alternative way of living for peace through non-violence.

Why then Church? Religion derives from the Latin word religo “Conscious concern for that which matters” for which the people have regularly gathered as the Synagogue, Ecclesia or Church.   One concern of contemporary human consciousness is the social, environmental and economic sustainability of our world and our diminishing ability to hand it on to the next generation in a better condition than we found it.

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Climate Action Petition

Silence is no option – Speak Up For Earth

Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia and Papua New Guinea started this petition to Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison and 5 others

A list of candidates can be accessed here – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Candidates_of_the_2019_Australian_federal_election
You are invited to sign our petition and send an important message on climate action to the next Australian Government.

The growing climate emergency means that we must ensure that climate concerns be given top priority during this Australian election.
Australia needs to elect a government whose members recognise the reality of a changing climate and who can develop credible policies, plans and actions to address this emergency.
The Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia and Papua New Guinea encourages you to email and write to politicians, candidates, and newspapers, and to meet your local representatives.

The petition can be found at – http://chng.it/HXL9TZHhfB

Please note, we ask you not to donate to this petition. Sign the petition and share on social platforms instead. Thank you.

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ITS EARTH DAY: PAY ATTENTION!!

A message presented to the Spirit of Life Unitarian Fellowship at Kirribilli last Sunday by Rev Rex A E Hunt MSc(Hon)

What the kangaroo and the koala are to Earth, we are to the universe… The secrets of the universe are not different from us” (Paul Fleischman)

In a couple of weeks time two celebrations will occur. One is the Christian festival called Easter. A time when the life and death of a Jewish peasant sage called Yeshu’a, is remembered. Jesus’ death mattered to the early storytellers, but only because his life mattered more. And about the cross we can say: for many of the earliest Christians, the cross was about the integrity of Jesus, not about a sacrifice or a divine plan. As a result of the recent religion-led protests surrounding the artwork entitled ‘McJesus’ which displayed a crucified Ronald McDonald, it has become necessary to unpack some of the traditional baggage that has encased the cross in church history. So let me be clear: the positioning of the cross of Jesus as the sacred centre of Christianity was not central to the earliest Christian communities. It has only occurred since the Middle Ages, when it became the object of worship. As a result the symbolism of ‘McJesus’ – as making a point about capitalism and asking us to think about how we have, or whether we have, placed consumerism above the value of life (David Galston 2019) – has all but been lost, due to anti-intellectual piety propped up by fear and religious fundamentalist superstition. There are good and bad ways to think about Jesus. And part of the job of the progressive biblical scholar is to identify how concepts of Jesus have been used destructively.

The second celebration is a more recent one – Earth Day. Indeed, the 49th anniversary of what many consider the birth of the modern environment movement, in 1970. This year’s theme or campaign is “Protect Our Species”. And the goals of the campaign are to: • Educate and raise awareness about the accelerating rate of extinction of millions of species and the causes and consequences of this phenomenon. • Achieve major policy victories that protect broad groups of species as well as individual species and their habitats. • Build and activate a global movement that embraces nature and its values. • Encourage individual actions such as adopting plant based diet and stopping pesticide and herbicide use.

As the campaign organisers are at pains to highlight: (i) We are amidst the largest period of species extinction in the last 60 million years. (ii) Habitat destruction—in the past 200 years we have seen 75% of our Australian native habitats destroyed or degraded by human activity—exploitation, and climate change are driving the loss of half of the world’s wild animal population. (iii) Forty percent of the world’s bird species are in decline, and 1 in 8 is threatened with global extinction. (iv) Worldwide bee populations are in decline, including the honey bee and many wild native bees. On all this, and others, the available data is multilayered and complicated. While existing studies may not be perfect, for a host of environmental factors, we would still be wise to heed the warnings contained in those studies. oo0oo Science is the grand narrative we construct to make meaning out of the mystery of existence. In the world of science, the most widely accepted modern estimate of the Earth’s age is approximately 4.5 billion years.

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Hope that demands action

A message presented to the congregation at St Andrews UC, Creek Street, Brisbane yesterday by

Dr Mike Pope,

Professor of Environmental Mission, Missional University, Ethos Environment Coordinator, Ethos: EA Centre for Christianity and Society

A sermon on Romans 8:19-23 preached by Dr Mick Pope at St Andrew’s Uniting Church, Brisbane, April 7 2019.

Introduction

I’d like to begin by thanking you for the invitation to speak to you this morning. But I also have to have to brag at your expense. For those who follow Rugby Union, the Melbourne Rebels were up here a couple of weeks ago and beat the Queensland Reds. There is something else Victoria beats you at, although I am less proud to speak about it.

We had our hottest summer on record, along with four other states. However, as a consolation prize it was your hottest January on record, with rainforest damaged by fire, and record breaking rains in Townsville. All of this consistent with long term warning trends, and the warmest Australian summer on record. Now I know that some in the churches are unwilling to accept that climate change is real, but I want you to suspend your disbelief if that is you and come along on a journey with me.

Recently, roughly 150,000 Australian school kids participated in the school climate strike, and I attended during my lunch break in support. I was very proud of them. The strike is an expression of their anger at politicians on both side of the spectrum, whom they believe are not delivering enough on climate change. This generation is growing up in a different climate to the one you and I have, and they have fear and anxiety about the future.

When I went home, a friend of mine who writes for Eternity News, a Christian website, asked me to jump onto their Facebook page and answer some of the comments on a piece they had published. The article spoke about two Christian schoolgirls who had attended the strike. After 45 minutes of responding, I was despondent and had a stress headache. There was so much outrage, with comments of ‘fake news,’ poorly understood science, and poor theology.

What would you say to the youth of today? Particularly those within the church? Do you respond with denial, or simply say that God is in charge and not to worry about it? How does the church become more pro-active and less ­re-active on climate change?

Our text for this morning reads

20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

Straight off the bat, Paul is making two big theological statements that say ‘God is in charge’:

  1. God has subjected creation to futility
  2. God will set it free

So doesn’t that wrap it all up? Can’t you say ‘Mick, there’s no more to say, just sit down?’ We I think that this passage begs three questions.

  1. What is the nature of this futility?
  2. How will creation be set free?
  3. Is there anything we can do?

So let’s look at each of these questions in turn.

1. What is the nature of this futility?

It is best to start at the beginning. If ever like me you have tried to read the bible from cover to cover, you would have started with Genesis. We learn about the beauty of creation and its great blessing, and human responsibility in Genesis 1-2. In Genesis 1 we learn that to be made in the image of God means to be fruitful and multiply, and subdue the earth, which means to engage in agriculture and feed ourselves. In Genesis 2 and verse 15, we learn of our vocation to care, tend, and keep the earth. We have an intimate relationship with the soil, the pun from the Hebrew being humans from the hummus. And then in Genesis 3, it all goes pear shaped, or better still apple shaped. Our relationship with the soil becomes cursed. We see the same thing at end of the book of Deuteronomy where Moses warns the people of Israel to remain faithful. Human disobedience leads to broken relationships with the soil.

So the subjection to frustration in Romans is due to the fact that God has let us run it – and what a fine job we’ve done of polluting the air and water, cutting down trees, warming the climate, and killing all the animals (60% of all living things in less than 50 years).

In Rome, Paul could also see the devastation that human misrule brought. He could see the regular silting up of the Tiber River because all of the trees had been cleared, and it needed to be dredged regularly. Although Paul and the ancients did not understand this, this swampy ground was the ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes. In 452 AD, those brave Huns were afraid to enter Rome because of the bad air, or malaria. There is evidence to show that malaria was one of the factors that was involved in the collapse of Rome. The air quality was also poor. Philosopher and Senator Seneca (4BC – 65 AD) wrote that

“No sooner had I left behind the oppressive atmosphere of the city and the reek of smoking cookers, which pour out, along with clouds of ashes, all the poisonous fumes they’ve accumulated … I noticed the change in my condition at once.”

Paul was making an observation then not in the abstract, but in the particulars of how Roman misrule produced damage to the world around him. In Romans chapter 1, he identifies the root of these problems, that we make idols out of things like wealth and power. Reformer John Calvin identified the heart as an idol factory, and Paul would agree, and link that idolatry to damage to creation.

In our day, Pope Francis notes in the encyclical Laudato Si’ that “the present ecolog­ical crisis is one small sign of the ethical, cultural and spiritual crisis of modernity.” In other words, the worship of progress, technology, consumerism and individualism, which may have once been done in ignorance, is now done in full knowledge of the consequences for our world, God’s good creation. This is recognised both within and outside of the church. Environmentalist Gus Speth says “The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed, and apathy … to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation … we scientists don’t know how to do that.” But we in the church do! We know about repentance. What is needed by the church is to join the dots between sin and repentance with issues of the environment.

2. How will creation be set free?

The answer to my second question, how will the creation be set free, is found in verses 22-23.

22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

Creation is suffering now in birth pains, but that suffering will one day give way to joy. Any woman here who has carried a child will know what this is like. I can remember watching my own wife with her distended belly, it getting hard to get comfortable at night. But the suffering is all worth it when a child is born. What Paul is saying is that creation is longing for the resurrection of the dead like a pregnant woman groans for the baby to come out. Renewed humanity at the resurrection means a renewed relationship with the Earth, and not the abandonment of it. Christianity is not just about going to heaven when you die like some Christians believe. Anglican theologian Tom Wright has said that heaven is important, but it’s not the end of the world. The future of us and the future of the creation are entangled together.

What this means is that we have a message of hope to offer the world. But what does that mean for the here and now?

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Can a Christian be a Politician?

PCN Explorers at New Farm, Brisbane (Merthyr Road Uniting Church, New Farm.)

In the Brunswick Room.

Wednesday 1st May

10am for Morning Tea – 10.30am start.

Speaker: Everald Compton

Some information about Everald who I am sure you have heard on radio on many different topics:

Everald is an elder in the Aspley Uniting Church and a Research Fellow at Per Capita, a progressive think tank.  He is a veteran of ageing and infrastructure policy, and has advised every Australian Prime Minister since Robert Menzies. (among many other roles) https://everaldcompton.com/about/  

 This talk and discussion will be during the lead up to the Federal Election. It will not be a time to tell anyone how to vote, but I am sure it will raise some issues to inform our decision making on who to vote for.

The first in the series of “Christians like us” has just been broadcast on SBS. Maybe part of our thinking is informed by what we understand as “Christian”. Did you watch it?

Your RSVP will be helpful for planning morning tea and for knowing how many chairs we need to have out. We will be meeting in the Church building, not the hall where we usually meet.  We would also be appreciative of your donation of a few dollars to cover the cost of morning tea and a contribution to the church for the use of the premises. As an opportunity to continue the fellowship and have further discussion on this or any other topic, some of us plan to have lunch at Moray Cafe just down the street. Everyone is welcome. “>RSVP to Desley

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Easter Reflection: Resurrection repeated every day in our lives

Don Whebell

Reading: John 20: 1-18

She had gone there to anoint a dead body – who has stolen it? She finds it easier to believe in the night-time antics of grave-robbers than in the night-time antics of a God who refuses to let death have the last word.

The Easter story begins with someone who many had written off as a lost cause: Mary Magdalene. When she reaches Jesus’ tomb she finds that the stone had been rolled away…

When Peter and the Beloved Disciple hear her story they immediately head for the tomb – and we have a great marvellous action-picture of the Easter jog! The Beloved Disciple [his name was John] seems to be a better sprinter than Peter. He reaches the tomb first, looks in to see the cloths lying about …and waits for Peter, who catches up and goes straight in as you would expect of him!

The climax of the Story is the Beloved Disciple following Peter in. He sees the same evidence as Peter does – and more: he sees more than discarded cloths: he sees with the eyes of faith what this means.

            His is a love that sees through the dark.

One of he features of The Gospel According to John is a specially-mentioned love between Jesus and one of the Twelve. The Beloved Disciple is presented as the ideal follower of Jesus, the one who sits closest to him at The Supper, the one who stands at the foot of the Cross. Now in running to the tomb on Easter morning, the urgency of his love gets him there first, and he is the first to believe.

And some days later, when Jesus stands unrecognised on the lakeside, it is the Beloved Disciple who informs Peter: “It is the Lord!”His is a love that gets him there first.

In celebrating Easter we rejoice in the light that darkness cannot dim; we celebrate the God who raises Jesus from death and calls us from death to life.

We bless God for the faith that challenges us to see more in others as we respond to them with the grace and love that has touched and changed us.

It means that we take a part in the sufferings of the Risen Crucified One And take part in God’s protesting against the violence and suffering in the world… the violence and suffering that too often is accepted as an inevitable part of life in the world. Death is not just a fate that we meet at the end of our lives. We see death around us in the midst of life.

In that Easter Faith we catch a glimpse of the Messiah who makes us friends with each other because he has made us friends with God. The challenge of Easter is to understand the history of human suffering… and to understand the histories of our own sufferings… in the light of Jesus’ resurrection.

In an Easter sermon, theologian Jurgen Moltmann says:

            “Death is an evil power now – in life’s very midst.It is the economic death of the person we allow to starve…It is the political death of people who are oppressed… It is the noisy death that strikes through bombs and torture…It is the soundless death of the apathetic soul.”

To accept this litany of death as inevitable is to deny the power of the Resurrection for today. Resurrection faith faces the cross and protests against the finality of that violence on Calvary Hill. It calls us to see as God sees: to act as so many people have chosen to do when, with enormous courage, they refuse to worship the powers of darkness that use suffering and death to gain and keep power.

The Resurrection is a proclamation that this hanging, suffering outcast is the living Son of God, who cannot be held in the grip of death.

The truth that God raised Jesus from death gives hope, healing and health    to all who need that miracle to be repeated in the midst of a world that is cruel, harsh and empty of love.

We are convinced that God’s work continues: for we have been grasped by the words of the One who again and again says to us: “I am Resurrection    and I am life.  Those who trust me,  though they die,  yet shall live…”

We can catch something of the reality of the Resurrection when the light of new life bursts in upon us in the midst of the darkness of despair and hopelessness. We see it in hospital wards where nurses hug people back from death to life. We see it in the women and men who risk their own lives protesting against the dark, mindless violence inflicted by their fellow human beings. We see it in the disciples of Jesus who see in the dark what no one else sees.

For all this, we will rejoice. It is Easter in our midst. It is the refusal to accept that anyone should be left for dead. Listen – again – to the Basis of Union:

Paragraph 4:

Christ who is present when he is preached among people is the Word of God who acquits the guilty, who gives life to the dead and who brings into being what otherwise could not exist. Through human witness in word and action, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ reaches out to command attention and awaken faith; he calls people into the fellowship of his sufferings, to be the disciples of a crucified Lord; in his own strange way Christ constitutes,     rules and renews us as his Church.

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Eugene Peterson – a tribute

Don Whebell

Eugene Peterson wrote over 30 books. My library includes Peterson’s Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and The Praying Imaginationa Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society The Message Bible: The Bible in Contemporary Language, and The Daily Message.

Books especially for Ministers:  Working the Angles, Five Smooth Stones, Under the Unpredictable Plant, The Unnecessary Pastor, Run with The Horses. 

I often turn to these books for timely inspiration. Peterson’s lectures and courses are still available for download from Regent College Book Store.

Eugene Peterson’s most remembered Christian contribution will be The Message Bible. The Message Bible is not a direct translation or paraphrase, it was written in the words of Peterson: “for two different types of people: those who hadn’t read the Bible because it seemed too distant and irrelevant and those who had read the Bible so much that it had become ‘old hat.’”

For me, Eugene Peterson’s contribution to Christianity is on par with C.S. Lewis and JB Phillips’ paraphrase of the Bible. Peterson’s interpretation of Galatians 3:1-5 puts his style, legacy, and passion for Christ in clear unvarnished prose. Here it is:

“You crazy Galatians! Did someone put a hex on you?

Have you taken leave of your senses?

Something crazy has happened, for it’s obvious that you no longer have the crucified Jesus in clear focus in your lives.

His sacrifice on the Cross was certainly set before you clearly enough. Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin?

people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. If you weren’t smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it? Did you go through this whole painful learning process for nothing?

It is not yet a total loss, but it certainly will be if you keep this up!

Answer this question: Does the God who lavishly provides you with his own presence, his Holy Spirit, working things in your lives you could never do for yourselves, does he do these things because of your strenuous moral striving or because you trust him to do them in you?”

Eugene Peterson died on 22nd October 2018.   Among his final words were, ‘Let’s go.’ And his joy: my, oh my; the man remained joyful right up to his blessed end, smiling frequently. In such moments it’s best for all mortal flesh to keep silence. But if you have to say something say this: ‘Holy, Holy, Holy.’

Rev Don Whebell is a former Moderator, Queensland Synod, UCA.

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Reflection: Why are we here?

Back before Copernicus and Galileo, we used to believe we were at the centre of the universe, and everything revolved around us. Then we worked out that we lived on one of nine planets that circled the sun, and later that we were in an arm of the Milky Way that circled its centre. We now know we are part of a supercluster of clusters of galaxies, called Laniakea.  

To the centre of our supercluster, called the Great Attractor, is about 250 light years. The distance to the edge of the observable universe is 46 bn light years away. For us the reality is that we sit at the centre of all we can observe in space. 

We have measured and mapped three “great walls” of galaxies, parts of a series of filaments of galaxies. We think all up to the observable edge, there are 1-2 trillion galaxies, of which we are capable of detecting about 100 billion.

So that is an awful lot of rock, and gas, some liquids, and nuclear fusion reactors to light up our night sky, just for nine billion human beings on one relatively very tiny planet, with only the sun and moon really of any interest to organisms other than us.

So that’s ten detectable galaxies each. As the author of the song about a sunburnt country might have put it, wilful and lavish. 

A recent paper even suggests that before the Big Bang, the point from which it came was the result of a previous universe shrinking to that point.

There is also evidence that the radiation flowing to us from the earliest days of the formation of the universe, the cosmic microwave background, is aligned with the plane of our solar system. Some cosmologists find it disconcerting that of all the solar systems in the universe, ours is at least one of those with this seemingly special alignment.

We are here, conscious, and self-aware, with the scientific skills to observe those things which are outside the radiation detection range of our eyes or detectable using instruments, and with the knowledge we have developed of maths. There is no one else that we know of who would know that the universe exists. Of the organisms on earth, only we know we exist. Our chances of ever holding a conversation with anyone else beyond our solar system are very low. Physics says that it would take nine years to receive a response from a planet near the nearest star, Proxima Centauri. (7.8 years for someone around in 11900 AD, when Barnard’s Star gets closer). 

We have somehow found ourselves with passions and emotions, some connected to sex, procreation and child-rearing.  Some positive, some negative. We are not the only species to experience some of these. 

Why all that, with just us here as far as we know or are likely to know, on this, relatively speaking, ultra tiny blue speck?

A variety of responses to our situation has arisen among us, some brute, some philosophical based on a shared view of what is reason. Some are grounded in experiences and beliefs which are considered to reflect an ultimate reality beyond anything we can observe logically. They give us a sense of where we “fit in”.

Geoff Taylor

Some readers may like to watch this, showing galaxy flow:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RTws86Z_YI8

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Redcliffe Explorers next gathering

A quick reminder that we’ll be meeting next on Monday 1st April (yes, April Fools’ Day!) in the functions room on the ground floor at Azure Blue (91 Anzac Ave, Redcliffe, Qld).

Please remember the new starting time – 6 p.m. for coffee and chat!

At 6:30 the two Graemes (Adsett and Foon) will be leading a discussion on the UN World Interfaith Harmony Week event which was held on 3 February at the Brisbane Baha’i Centre of Learning in Milton. The discussion will also, I’m sure, benefit greatly from the input of two visitors – Lorraine Powers and her friend Bonnie – who will be happy to inform us and answer our questions about the Baha’i faith.  

Hope to see you there.

Shalom

Ian (Dr Ian Brown) Enquiriesbrowniw5@optusnet.com.au

[Ask Ian about access to the venue before coming.]

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Euthanasia legislation submissions

The Queensland Government is currently conducting an
inquiry into aged care, end-of-life and palliative care and voluntary assisted dying. Following an excellent seminar and discussion by members of the PCNQ this morning it was obvious that this is a topic that touches the lives of many people. Dr Ian Brown from the Redcliffe Explorers group led the discussion and backgrounded this with a broad explanation of the various subtopics, legislation in Australia and overseas, and a series of case studies of people who have travelled the path of voluntary assisted dying (VAD).

This stimulated many in the gathering to describe their own experiences. Clearly there are many challenges facing individuals, medical professionals, para-professional staff and governments. Legal, economic and personal issues add complexity to the thinking.

The Uniting Church Queensland Synod is currently compiling a submission to the Queensland Parliament after inviting its members to submit their thoughts. This submission will offer a ‘theology’ of euthanasia to the deliberations prior to a Bill being drawn up. Other submissions that have been received by the Parliament so far demonstrate the diversity of perspectives on this topic.

The inquiry overview, related publications and copies of the submissions received so far can be found at Queensland Parliamentary Inquiry.

Submissions to this inquiry can be made up to 15th April 2019.

The UCA Queensland Synod Consultation paper on VAD is available at VAD Paper. The consultation process is now complete and submissions are being examined to assist the production of the Church’s submission to the Queensland Parliament.

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Gatherings of Progressives

  1. Firelight – an Easter gathering at Dorrigo

Glennis Johnson has sent the following message to anyone planning to come:

“Some of you are planning to be here over Easter and some of you are still wondering if you can make it. So here’s an update. There is a lovely group of people planning to attend for the whole weekend. But others of you, especially Dorrigo locals, are busy but may be able to make it to one or two sessions.

My suggestion is that there will be two sessions ideal to drop in for – public occasions as it were. The first is Good Friday morning at 11am. Following the welcome to country from one of our local Gumbaynggirr elders, there will be a Good Friday reflection from a progressive point of view.

Anyone coming is welcome to stay on for lunch if they wish.

The second is a Sunrise Service at 6am on Easter Sunday morning. If it is clear, it will be a magnificent spot up the hill, overlooking the rolling hills, to celebrate all that gives hope and nurtures life.

Anyone wishing to, is welcome to stay on for breakfast.

And just a reminder  for those coming from warmer climes – you will probably need a coat at night, and knowing Dorrigo, maybe even during the day. Mind you, if the days are warm, you may want your swimmers as there is a lovely swimming hole at Dangar Falls –  just minutes away.

We are planning to provide meals from the Thursday night onwards. Anyone coming earlier for an extra holiday is welcome, but will need to provide for their own meals prior to the Thursday night. We can also provide bath towels and toiletries for anyone wanting them (in case space is limited in you vehicle).

If you are coming, please let me know of any dietary needs as soon as possible. Thanks.” Email – +++

2. John Everall has sent the following details for a gathering at Caloundra on Palm Sunday:

Caloundra Uniting Church  –  A Gathering of Explorers and Friends of the Explorers – Sunday   14th April 2019   5.00pm in Hall

                               Exploring on Palm Sunday

Each year, our church community gathers, along with all churches in the west to explore the great themes of death and resurrection.

‘We don’t, however, focus on a death and resurrection that took place two millennia ago. Rather, we explore these themes as they are relevant right now in our world, our relationships, and our lives.     However, it is important for many to honour the tradition, while doing so in language, metaphor, and symbol that can be interpreted by anyone to be meaningful regardless what worldview through which they are experiencing it.

That’s one of the things that we and many other worldwide ‘progressives’  do, and struggle to do ,with more integrity each year.’Gretta Vosper-Easter 2018.

Join with us in this April 14th Gathering, as we touch just the edge of the complexities and challenges that resonate with an ancient story but face us at this moment in time, and seek within them the beauty of possibility and hope. 

We especially celebrate New Zealand’s progressive Song Writers, Poets and Theologians, in honouring and support of our grieving brothers and sisters “across the ditch”.   You will be stretched by these Contemporary Songs and real time thinking; experience a short period of directed meditation and quietness; size up the challenge;   enjoy a Contemporary Meditation anduse this and a further extremely challenging poem to interact with your table friends in a ‘Response and Discussion’ period.

We also Celebrate Community in the Tradition of the Meal, taking part in a ‘progressive’ Communion leading us onto our byo Light Finger Food Meal.

So, make a point of freeing up Sunday Evening 14th April, arrive at 5.00pm ( our ‘winter’ starting time)and enjoy friendship, sharing, and stimulating discussion.

Your Leaders for this Gathering are John Everall (Ph 0408 624 570); Hazel Bachler (Ph. 5492 3420), supported by Rev. Kevin Bachler and Musician Wendy Lowry.

Looking forward to seeing you there.”

3. Merthyr (New Farm) Uniting Church Explorers and PCNQ

27th March, 10 am at Merthyr Road Uniting Church

Ian Brown, coordinator of the Redcliffe Explorers, will lead a discussion about some of the contentious issues associated with assisted dying and euthanasia. We’ll be looking at the similarities and differences between a number of cases, including the (fictitious) Last Cab to Darwin story, the final communication from our dear Redcliffe friend and Explorers supporter David Judd, and Prof. David Goodall’s life-ending trip to Switzerland at age 104.

The Queensland Uniting Church Synod has recently consulted on the issue, and its comprehensive Consultation Paper ‘Voluntary Assisted Dying’ is available at https://ucaqld.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/VAD-Consultation-Paper_Print-Final-003.pdf. It should be noted that responses to the two Synod options are now closed, but it may be interesting reading prior to our discussions. Responses to this close on 15th April.

See earlier posting at: Euthenasia

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APCV recommended voting guide for the 2019 Federal election.

A Progressive Christian Voice Agenda for the 2019 Federal Election.
Introduction
A Progressive Christian Voice Australia (APCVA) promotes public awareness of the politically progressive dimensions of Christian opinion. The APCVA agenda for the 2019 Federal Election is based on consultation with members and on the issues that have directly concerned those members over the last 3 years. Underlying the agenda is our understanding that God identifies in a special way with those who are excluded or oppressed in our society.
APCVA supports

  1. An inclusive society in which everyone is valued and treated with respect and in which no one is excluded because of race, colour, creed, age, sexuality or differing ability. a. The commencement of a well funded and supported Royal Commission into the abuse of people with a disability b. The banning of gay conversion therapy c. The ending of gender inequality with regard to salary for equal work, positions on boards and as elected representatives
  2. A just and fair society in which no one lives in poverty. a. An increase in the Newstart Allowance, Austudy, Youth Allowance for students and Abstudy to 100% of the Aged Pension b. Doubling of the rate of Commonwealth Rent Assistance c. Addressing the issues of inequity and a lack of transparency in the Australian superannuation system that currently favours the well off with overly generous tax concessions. d. Reducing substantially negative gearing on established properties e. Reforming the tax system to be fairer and simpler as per the recommendations of Richard Denniss of the The Australia Institute Go to: Video f. Increasing substantially funding for education across all sectors
  3. A profound respect for the earth. a. The halting of the Adani coal mine b. A renewed commitment to reducing carbon emissions c. A realistic timeline for the phasing out of our reliance on coal and the encouragement of sustainable energy sources d. A substantial reduction in the amount of waste produced by Australia e. A renewed commitment to an ecologically sustainable Murray Darling agreement
  4. A welcoming approach to refugees and asylum seekers. a. An increase in the intake of refugees under the humanitarian criteria b. Discussions with Indonesia and other countries in our region as to how we can help them with asylum seekers and refugees in their countries and discourage people smugglers c. Granting asylum seekers the same opportunities as refugees while they are awaiting their refugee status to be determined, for example, consistent access to income support, medical services, education and the right to work d. An increase in funding for agencies that are assisting refugees and asylum seekers e. The closing of the Manus Island, Nauru and Christmas Island detention centres with the result that all asylum seekers, no matter how they arrived, will be assessed on the mainland of Australia f. The cessation of mandatory detention of asylum seekers
  5. A peaceful society that serves the world as a peacemaker. a. Ceasing all government support for the arms export industry, especially sending arms to the middle east b. Demilitarising our approach to international migration and the world refugee crisis. c. Increasing our foreign aid to 1% of GDP
  6. A society that learns from, respects and includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. a. Committing to the Uluru Statement from the Heart which includes “that a referendum be held to provide in the Australian Constitution for a body that gives Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples a Voice to the Commonwealth Parliament” b. A nation-wide reform of the law enforcement system that currently produces such a disproportionate number of Indigenous incarcerations c. A national recognition of “the fallen” as regards Indigenous people who died defending their homelands – i.e. this continent and its islands
    For comment on APCVA’s election agenda please contact the Rev Peter Catt at advocate@progressivechristians.org.au

Authorised Ray Barraclough, 25 Buderim Street, Currimundi, Qld, 4551.

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12 Psychological Traits likely to affect dispositions of ‘progressives’ and ‘evangelicals’.

Psychology / our disposition to certain ways of responding to the world is very powerful. How much does psychology influence the preference of a person to take up an “Evangelical” or socially conservative view of the faith? The same question could be asked of socially progressive and theologically “liberal” Christians.

This post is not so much interested in the reason people are “Evangelical” or otherwise. Rather the concern is how do we navigate our relationships and build consensus when psychology is such an influence on our views of the world.

Go to: Making Church Decisions

Building Consensus Across Psychological Barriers

To say that there may be a psychological disposition to preferring an “Evangelical” or “liberal” expression of faith does not go to the question of who is right or wrong. However, it is important for us to understand this personal background so that we can have a better understanding of one another.

Terence Corkin is an ordained Minister of the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) and the former General Secretary for the Uniting Church in Australia. He is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and is a nationally accredited mediator.


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New Publication from Tom Drake-Brockman

Now available from Wipf and Stock Publishers (US) or Amazon Australia as hard, paper back or digital copy.

Jesus was murdered by the Jewish religious leaders whose power base was the temple of Jerusalem. Saul of Tarsus–later the Paul of Christianity–was one of these, and his brand of faith theology mirrored their theology of covenantal entitlement. Thus, Christianity’s basic theological principles derive from those who killed Jesus.This is just one of many challenging propositions backed with strong evidence that appear in this book. Jesus, like most Jews, was attuned to faithfulness rather than pure faith, to ethical behavior based on human empathy rather than metaphysical beliefs and rituals.The central focus of Jesus was hesed, the heart of the Jewish covenant with God which linked God’s mercy to human compassion and forgiveness, making both mutually interactive. This hesed forgiveness was anathema to the temple’s faux forgiveness and threatened its very existence.Therefore, Jesus came not to save us, but to show us how to save ourselves. Reinterpreting a key parable of Jesus in this light, the Parable of the Tares, Jesus can be most plausibly understood as an incarnation of Adam, the original prototype human who God, in Genesis, appointed to oversee his creation and guide our spiritual evolution. His mission was not about any sacrificial death, but about establishing the spiritual humanism of Judaic hesed as the central purpose of human existence.

The Author: Tom Drake-Brockman has several degrees, including a Master of Theology from Charles Sturt University. In completing this course, he twice received the Dean’s Award for Academic Excellence. He has also taught secondary school history and has had articles published in university journals, as well as an opinion piece on the subject of his book in The Australian newspaper.

Other Book by this author: Christian Humanism reviewed by Rex Hunt for Insights magazine (NSW UCA Synod).

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News from the PCNQ

Seminars

(1) 27th March, 10 am at Merthyr Road Uniting Church

Ian Brown, coordinator of the Redcliffe Explorers, will lead a discussion about some of the contentious issues associated with assisted dying and euthanasia. We’ll be looking at the similarities and differences between a number of cases, including the (fictitious) Last Cab to Darwin story, the final communication from our dear Redcliffe friend and Explorers supporter David Judd, and Prof. David Goodall’s life-ending trip to Switzerland at age 104.

The Queensland Uniting Church Synod has recently consulted on the issue, and its comprehensive Consultation Paper ‘Voluntary Assisted Dying’ is available at https://ucaqld.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/VAD-Consultation-Paper_Print-Final-003.pdf. It should be noted that responses to the two Synod options are now closed, but it may be interesting reading prior to our discussions. I have attached the Qld Government inquiry paper for your interest. Responses to this close on 15th April.

  • If you are able, it would be useful to view the Last Cab to Darwin film before the PCN meeting, but be warned – it does contain a lot of strong language!

+++

(2) 16th March at Merthyr Road Uniting Church, New Farm

Loving the Earth – Cancelled

Unfortunately, with just 6 days to go to the planned seminar, numbers are not as good as needed to make this an engaging conversation, so we have decided to cancel this seminar. We may look for another opportunity to share in Dr Mary Tinney’s work.

We apologise to those who had already registered, and suggest you might like to watch an interview with Mary at  https://institute.mercy.org.au/news-centre/videos/

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Book Review: A New Spiritual Tapestry

Woven from the frayed threads of traditional Christianity

by Glennis Johnston

A great read by a very capable and experienced practitioner of progressive ministry. It deserves to be included in the pantheon of great progressive texts.

God is experienced within our mortal, messy lives, which is the heart of spiritual living. The new spiritual tapestry that we are weaving affirms this truth, while calling into question the basic doctrines of traditional Christianity….

Christianity is losing credibility because observers notice that it is built on a foundation of guilt and fear, both promoted by religious doctrines. It is time we recognised that these doctrines can be traced all the way back to a misleading interpretation of myths, such as the Garden of Eden. We need to develop a spirituality on a different view of humanity and on gratitude that, within our imperfect lives, the divine impulse is always, faithfully present.

In dismantling many of the myths and shibboleths of church taught traditional doctrine and biblical interpretation, the author manages to demonstrate the inconsistency of the teaching and the way in which ‘God’ is portrayed. Is God wrathful and encouraging violence (apparent in both Testaments) at the same time as offering unconditional love? How does this inconsistent teaching work for contemporary society and a humanity challenged to address violence, racial hatred and inequalities?

Students of the biblical text searching for the real Jesus can be forgiven for any confusion. As Glennis Johnston points out they need to separate out the material that can be attributed to writers who paint a picture of Jesus as the son of a vengeful God and those who portray him as unconditionally loving. It is not possible to accept these two opposing images as co-existing.

So which stream of thought in the New Testament should inform our spirituality? The “one focussed on sacrifice, judgement, religious identity and supportive of organisation and hierarchy; the other committed to non-violence, social justice and supportive of non-hierarchical community”? Both exist in tension in current Christian thought and practice.

The ‘new spiritual tapestry’ that Glennis Johnston seeks to weave is an intelligently crafted non-coercive, morally persuasive ethic that is always looking for opportunities to improve ‘global social justice’. All of this draws together ‘threads of wisdom’ from the best of the Christian tradition and a God of ‘goodness, hope and beauty’.

All the time that the author takes us through a discussion about the inevitability of our need for a new spiritual narrative, she is holding fast to key principles of honesty, equity and mercy. There is no need for any one to miss out with fair distributive justice as a guiding principle. Life values and parameters can still be sourced from a careful reading of Hebrew teaching as well as the teachings of Jesus which, unfortunately, have often become distorted, obsessively negative elements rather than followed with a spirit of a loving and forgiving God.

It is made clear that if the Church is to have a role in the evolving new spiritual paradigm, it will have to heed the groundswell of theologians, biblical scholars, economists, historians, scientists, educators, philosophers and cultural critics who are in consensus that an alternative story about our collective social responsibilities is imperative.

This is a book that has multiple uses. It informs as well as teaches. Groups committed to church reform will find it invaluable for ideas, values and mission focus when shaping a progressive profile. For students of theology and ministry education it provides an essential instrument for helping them to recognise the reality of many of the mistakes that have been made in the past and opens up possibilities for making Jesus relevant and without boundaries or barriers. For those who no longer can tolerate the Church, it offers ways to bridge from the secular to the sacred without artificial barriers that have for so long made this appear impossible.

 A strong thread running through the stories that are used to explain the vision of a transforming spirituality is the emphasis on how the new spirituality will be a liberating experience. The sense of entitlement and power of some over others disappears. Inspired by the life and teaching of Jesus as reported in the gospels our everyday lives in community will come ever closer to the kingdom of God.

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The author: Glennis Johnston BSocWk BTh BA(Hons) is an ordained Uniting Church minister with a research degree in New Testament Studies. She has worked in counselling and parish ministry for 22 years as well as voluntary work in Australia, India and Europe for 5 years. Glennis now operates Fernbrook Lodge, a Retreat Centre and B&B in Dorrigo, NSW where she facilitates individual and group retreats.

To order a copy ($30) email to Firelight Publishers

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Now published – The Ending of Mark’s Gospel: the Key

By Peter Lewis

The Key to Understanding the Gospels and Christianity

Zeus have just published Peter’s new book and it is available from Amazon Australia

In an earlier posting, we gave details of this work when it was in draft format.

Scholarship and determined exploration of ancient sources for the canonical gospel of Mark has brought great rewards for the writer and readers of The Ending of Mark’s Gospel. Peter Lewis’s work has indeed provided new ‘understanding of the gospels’. The reasons for and impact of variations in the form of the ending of Mark has been speculated on for a long time. Dr Lewis puts a credible case for a reconstructed original ending while providing multiple peripheral insights. His work challenges some long held assumptions and makes worthy corrections to previous scholarship. This is a theological adventure in forensic classical philology and reads like an unfolding mystery novel with the evidence building for his ‘case’. An enjoyable read that takes theology and contemporary Jesus studies into a new era of thinking.

Dr Paul Inglis, CEO UCFORUM www.ucforum.unitingchurch.org.au

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Resourcing Progressive Ministry and Worship No.9

West End Uniting Church, Brisbane

This church is a safe place for all people to worship, regardless of age, ability, gender, race, cultural background or lifestyle. The church and hall are wheelchair accessible.

They affirm and celebrate the place of LGBTIQ people in the church, and welcome the decision of the Uniting Church Assembly to allow same-sex marriages to be celebrated in Uniting Churches.

To find out more about WEUC click here.

Sunday Service Times

9:30am – Family Worship including children’s activities. Refreshments are served after worship in the hall at the rear of the church.

5:30pm – Contemplation Service (check Facebook/newsletter)

6:30pm – West End Explorers – (2nd & 4th Sundays); check Facebook and newsletters re times/events; or contact: weuc.explorers@gmail.com


Located on the corner of Vulture and Sussex Streets, West End, Brisbane (adjacent to the well-known Boundary Street cafe and coffee strip and a ten minute stroll from South Bank).

Inspired by Jesus’ vision for a world made new, a world where justice and compassion, especially for the marginalised and disadvantaged, are the key values and priorities.

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5th Common Dreams Conference

Sacred Earth Original Blessing; Our Common Home

A conference dedicated to progressive religious thought and action.

11th-14th JULY, 2019

Newington College in Stanmore, Sydney, Australia.

Early Bird tickets now on sale.

Matthew Fox
Anne Patel-Gray
Rod Bower

For all ticketing, program, venue, speakers, workshops, etc go the conference website at Common Dreams 2019

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PCN QLD News

The Progressive Christian Network (Q) Explorers group have an interesting topic for their morning tea conversation next Wednesday

PCN EXPLORERS – WEDNESDAY 27TH FEBRUARY – 10 AM – MERTHYR ROAD UNITING CHURCH, NEW FARM, BRISBANE

Join us for our regular monthly friendly conversation about something provocative or tantalising….. Do you follow an ‘ism’? What are some of these ‘isms’? How much do they contribute to the betterment of humankind?  

Actually, the suffix –ism is from latin -ismos or a doctrine or principle or a faith system. So almost all religions can be called with the –ism suffix. Here are a few ….. 

Theism, monotheism, Atheism, A-theism, Agnosticism, Pantheism, Panentheism, fundamentalism, humanism, Hinduism, Sufism, Buddhism, Absolutism ….. and the list goes on

but Christianity and Islam are not ‘ism’ words (Is that significant?)….

Some ‘isms’ we won’t focus on!……

Let’s talk over morning tea…..Could be fun! Just turn – no cost.

Please note our conversation about Euthanasia is now in March. More details coming.

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The Message “OF” Jesus: According to the Gospel of Mark

Six sermons by Smith, Rev John W H, author of “Honest To GOod”, Morning Star Publishing 2016.

Written in December 2018

“Always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.  Silence encourages the tormentor never the tormented.”

                                Eli Wiesel, Jewish writer, Professor and political activist.

Suggestions – scroll down to the Conclusion to get an overview of John’s theme and background to this set of articles. Taste one….then come back for more!

Introduction

I have been requested by a number of parishioners from Stonnington Community Uniting Church to provide written copies of sermons that I presented while providing short term supply when their minister Rev Greg Crowe was on study leave.  I have taken the opportunity to add a further sermon from Mark’s Gospel set aside for Pentecost 19B, because it supports the theme set out by Mark in the other sermons.

The following is a written documentation of these sermons with an additional introductory explanatory essay and a short conclusive statement of the background to these sermons. I have also included, by request, two articles written for “Inspire” –  the Stonnington Community Uniting Church Newsletter.

I record here my sincere appreciation for the support I have received from my colleague and close friend Greg Crowe to respond to the requests of his parishioners. In particular I wish to thank my friend Faye Pattinson for her friendship and support to produce this booklet and especially for her keen proof-reading talent.

Foreword

“The Empowering Nature of Relationality.”

For a number of years now I have been writing and talking about my concern that Christian orthodoxy continues to emphasise a message about a divine Jesus rather than to proclaim the message of the human Jesus.

Firstly to understand the importance of this concern we need to read the sayings of Jesus in the context of their time.  The object of drawing these essays together is an attempt to understand in 21st century language the message of the human Jesus.  In the discourses Jesus shares with his disciples he does not imply that his person is the answer to the problems of the world.

Jesus does have a vision of what the world should accept as vital if people are to live positive and fulfilled lives.  Jesus refers to this vision as God’s domain or realm, which he affirms is present within and between the lives of his disciples and all people.  This is a realm that Jesus did not create or control, it was present before he was born. We find that in the ‘healing narratives’ Jesus states six times that a person’s healing comes from the sacred energy that resides within and is not because of his person or influence.  Nor does healing have to wait until Jesus is crucified.

This is the vision that Jesus is asking his disciples to affirm and this includes all who value their friendship with Jesus today.  His original disciples like us today, unfortunately continued to stare at his finger and not at where that finger was pointing.  Jesus vision was of a world where peace, justice and compassion expressed in our relationships with others would bring about ‘God’s Realm’ as defined by the gospel writers.  Perhaps the translation of the Greek ‘Basileia tou Theou’ does not truly reflect what Jesus means by the ‘Kingdom of God’.  Most scholars agree that Jesus’ native tongue was Aramaic not Greek and the most likely word used by Jesus would have been the Aramaic ‘Malkuta’. This is important because unlike the Greek and English notion of Kingdom with all its imperial connotation of top down authority and obedience, the word ‘Malkuta’ denotes a concept of mutual empowerment, where power is equally shared and dispensed for the benefit of the receiver rather than the giver.

This definition of the ‘Kingdom’ fits well with Dominic Crossan’s concept that the ‘Kingdom’ is in reality a ‘Companionship of Empowerment’. So the call to “Seek first the Kingdom of God” is Jesus calling us to share in the ‘companionship of empowerment’ because in this companionship we will find that the ‘relational’ activity is what liberates, nurtures and leads us to a life of wholeness.  This is the Jesus vision.

Perhaps we might even suggest that Jesus is saying, “Don’t concentrate on looking at me, but reflect and contemplate on the relational nature that is unfolding within and around me.  If you contemplate this phenomenon you will discover what defines and constitutes the kind of person I am, because I am at all times the sum total of my personal relationships.”  (Diarmuid O’Murchu p115 2017)

This concept has been most engagingly affirmed by John Shelby Spong (2016 p140.)  “When we pray, Thy Kingdom come, it means that our eyes must be trained to see the sacred source of energy in each other.  It means that the ‘Kingdom’ is visible when we are empowered to live fully, love wastefully and be all that we are capable of being.  Clearly the work of the ‘Kingdom’ is the work of enhancing human wholeness.”

The attached essays were delivered as sermons to the Stonnington Community Uniting Church during the period of Pentecost in 2018.  These essays were based on the texts in the Gospel According to Mark.

These texts record the words of Jesus that provide us with some insight into the type of human being he was, but more importantly, they emphasise the importance of bringing to visibility through our relationships that we are companions in the empowerment of each other.

Continue reading
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Resourcing Progressive Ministry and Worship No.8

St Andrews Alphington Fairfield Uniting Church

85 Gillies Street, Fairfield, Melbourne, 3078

Fairfield Uniting Church is a diverse community gathered around the Jesus Story, coming together to break bread, nurture the vulnerable and challenge the status quo.

An ultra progressive congregation….

We are passionate about the spiritual nourishment of children and feel called into the ongoing development of a JUST CHURCH, which seeks justice, mercy and walks humbly with our god.

Minister: Rev Alex Sangster

Services: Every Sunday they gather around the Jesus Story at 10am (85 Gillies St, Fairfield). They are a welcoming and diverse group.

Podcasts:  Messages

Mission: Approach

Faith exploration: Exploring progressive theology

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Resourcing Progressive Ministry and Worship No. 7

Thanks to subscribers for referring churches to us.

Stonnington Community Uniting Church

59 Burke Road
East Malvern VIC 3145

“As a community of faith we are more interested in:

  • exploring life than having the answers to life.
  • being fully human and celebrating the beauty, wonder and mystery of life.
  • valuing life, and every creature as a unique expression of the Divine Energy of life.
  • being companions on the way, listening, learning and helping each other in the journey of life.

Stonnington Community is:

  • A listening Church
  • A helping Church
  • A learning Church

We are a Christian Community committed to following the way of Jesus rather than following religious dogma.”

Worship

“Currently our community meets regularly on Sunday morning at 10.15 am.  Our gathering is traditional in style but contemporary in content. Our public services are a celebration of our experiences of God’s love and goodness to us.

We all come from different backgrounds and experiences of God. Each of us will interpret the foundations of our faith through different lenses. Some interpretations will be helpful while other interpretations may be a stumbling block to us living in the experience of the Divine loving presence. Each generation and community needs to interpret the heart and truths of the Christian life in its contemporary context. To this end we commit ourselves to an evolving liturgy and worship celebration that reflects our contemporary insights and discoveries.”

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Reflection: Oh my God! Meeting ‘God’ in the ‘thin places’

John W H Smith

 We all embark on tasks then wish that we hadn’t, because it becomes all too hard.    You try to walk away from the whole thing, but you find that it continues to nag at you until you go back and take up the cudgels again.  When I first began to explore the historical Jesus and tried to define what I believed God was it all seemed so exciting and straightforward, however I quickly discovered that this wasn’t the case.  Whilst I was able to question the traditional interpretation given of Jesus birth, the miracles and some of the sayings that were attributed to him; the logical consequence of what I did believe when these concerns were removed told much more about what I didn’t believe.   Would it have been better if I had continued to hold the faith of my teenage years and not be too critical about matters of reason and intellect?

The questioning began simply, I argued that if the God I believed in was not someone whose wrath brought Tsunamis as a punishment for a wicked world, and this phenomenon could be explained by the science of massive earth movements under the sea, then could I call upon God to make other changes in our world.  Could I ask God to heal my friend who has a massive brain tumour or heal a child involved in a car accident?  It was so much easier as a teenager to talk about God as a personal being, a loving parent, rather than as ‘essence’ or a ‘sea of love’ or as Tillich says the ‘ground of our being.’  It was easier to talk about “prayers of intercession” and handing over the responsibility of doing something to God; than to meditate on how I could respond to the plight of my friends, the poor or disadvantaged and actually do something about it.

Could I continue to be blissfully ignorant and disregard these nagging doubts and their accompanying quests for openness and truth, or having once been challenged would this change my way of functioning forever?  To face the reality that I do not know what God looks like and that the person of Jesus is a much more complex and confronting figure than we were taught at Sunday school was a daunting prospect.

I remember being in a study group with a group of people who had just studied Albert Nolan’s Book “Christ before Christianity” and I posed the question, “Could we change Jesus’ mind on a particular issue?”  “Could he accept advice from us?”  All of the group participants were considerably younger and all stated that Jesus’ thinking was far above ours and that he would not have accepted our advice because he had the ability to foresee the outcomes we were postulating.   If this is the case then is it possible that Jesus was just game playing with his disciples when he asked them questions and he already knew the answers?  It would mean, that when he invited us into discussions and debate, he wasn’t interested in what we had to say, because he already knew the outcome, he already knew what we would say.

Can you now see something of the dilemma, if Jesus is really human then when he asks us for advice he is really seeking help.  Jesus is seeking help from us because he is searching for an answer, which is beyond his human ability.  Is it possible that he could be seeking from us the wisdom of the word of God within us as a response to his questions?

If we hold to this image of Jesus then understanding his words and actions as portrayed in the gospels requires a lot more explanation than a literal interpretation.   How wonderful to begin to understand that Jesus was able to convey a wisdom and spiritual understanding of God and people, whilst being authentically human.  It really means that it is possible for us who are wonderfully human to reach a similar understanding.

Having taken a step along this path it is impossible now for me to turn back and accept the teaching of the past, even though the journey is not smooth, it is exciting.  There have been times when I have experienced the God activity in my life and where there is no other explanation than to recognise the Spiritual influence of a loving God. These are the times that Marcus Borg calls the ‘Thin places”; these are the places where we recognise the activity and presence of God.   Not an ‘elsewhere God’, but a God who is present ‘here and now’.  Borg tells us that if we want to recognise the thin places we must keep our ‘hearts open’.  A closed heart is insensitive to wonder, it affects the mind and the reasoning process.  As Borg says ‘blindness and limited vision go with a ‘closed heart’, but most of all a closed heart forgets God; it does not allow for the ‘magic’ around us to become reality.”  Borg quotes Thomas Merton the Trappist Monk in expressing his understanding of God:

“We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent, and God is shining through it all the time.  This is not just a fable or a nice story.  It is          true.  If we abandon ourselves to God and forget ourselves, we see it sometimes, and we see it maybe frequently. God shows himself       everywhere in everything – in people and in things and in nature and         events.  It becomes very obvious that God is everywhere and in everything and we cannot be without him “

Every now and then we experience this God Spirit shining through.  According to Borg these are the ‘Thin places’ where the veil momentarily lifts and we experience God. A thin place is anywhere where our hearts are open.  It is the boundary between our world and the world of the Spirit.  A thin place is a mediator of the sacred and this can appear to us in the shape of a stranger or friend, so keep your hearts and minds open, for even though the path may be bumpy the experience of meeting God is mind blowing.

John W H Smith

oOo

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Resourcing Progressive Ministry and Worship No. 6

Pitt Street Congregation, Sydney
Uniting Church in Australia
264 Pitt Street, Sydney NSW 2000

A progressive faith community of justice-seeking friends in the heart of Sydney.

Pitt Street Uniting Church, Sydney
The Sunday gathering is vibrant, inclusive, participatory and progressive. Everyone is welcome.

Start your tour of Pitt Street Church and what it has to offer here.

oOo

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Easter gathering of progressives – an invitation

FIRELIGHT

Fernbrook Lodge near Dorrigo NSW

Enquiries: Glennis Johnston

FIRELIGHT
Forging Identity Relationships and Empowerment through        
Listening Interconnection Gratitude Hope and Transformation

EASTER GATHERING     2019
                                                                                               
Friday 19th April – Monday 22nd April  
                     
Easter – a time for lamenting loss and nurturing life, *storytelling*,
exploring the spiritual challenges of a divided world.                               
         
TIMING     The formal gathering begins 11am Friday and concludes 10am Monday.    Participants are welcome to arrive earlier or stay a day or two afterwards in order to explore the beautiful Dorrigo plateau with its
waterfalls and rainforest before returning home. Please phone Glennis to arrange longer stays.
PARTICIPATION  An invitation is extended to all those interested in a ‘progressive’ perspective on all things spiritual – social cohesion,
diversity, compassionate communities, sustainability, connecting the
personal with the global, forming and strengthening friendships of
support. Children are welcome to participate. Glennis Johnston will
facilitate the gathering and guest speakers will open discussion on these
important topics.
LOCATION   Dorrigo is a small country town on the highland plateau just one hour from the airport in Coffs Harbour. Fernbrook Lodge is a B&B
and retreat centre a short drive outside of Dorrigo on 5 acres at 4705
Waterfall Way. The retreat centre boasts glorious views across the
plateau.
ACCOMMODATION  & COST        The B&B has a limited number of queen rooms as well as spots to park a campervan or tent  near an amenities
block. Dorrigo also offers a variety of accommodation from motel and
B&B to caravan park.    $50 per participant or $100 per family will
contribute to the cost of hosting this event plus a suggested donation of $10 per meal. All meals from Friday morning  until Monday lunch will be available. There is no charge for camping or breakfasts.
ENQUIRIES & REGISTRATION           
NSW – Glennis Johnston 0427 338008 glennis.johnston@gmail.com      
QLD – Lesley Bryant 0408 777197 lesley-b@bigpond.net.au    
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Caloundra Explorers 2019

Gatherings planned for 2019:

Theme for the year: The Teachings of Jesus and Society

at Caloundra Uniting Church
56c Queen St Caloundra, Sunshine Coast, Qld.

First for year is on Sunday 24th February 5.30pm.  Theme “Called Home: Heaven, Hell and Eternal Life – An Afterlife?”. Leader is John Everall with a support team. Please note the change in regular date to allow for the first church service for our new minister the previous week.  Summer starting time applies 5.30pm to 7.30pm approx.

Second Gathering is also slightly date adjusted.  To avoid a clash with Easter, the Explorers Gathering is Sunday 14th April.  5pm. Theme is offered as “A Liturgy for the Celebration of Life”.  This model Liturgy has been prepared in full detail by Rev. Rex Hunt for use by progressive groups and churches.  A Leader and Team to develop this specifically for our Explorers’ use is open for offers. Contact John Everall  mob.0408624570.

And then we have our third Gathering : Sunday June 16th at 5pm.   This is “Heretics Sunday” which opens up some fascinating thought patterns and discussion.  Who should we dwell upon?  Geering, Vosper, Spong, Joan of Arc, many more!

Pieter Hoogendoorn has gone for Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a so-called ‘heretic’ whose writings  have enthused Pieter for many years.  Pieter will lead this Gathering  themed as “Heretic?- Bonhoeffer and Christianity “  ( Dietrich Bonhoeffer was only thirty-nine years old when he was executed in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945, yet his courage, vision, and brilliance have greatly influenced the twentieth-century Church and theology.)

A theme for the second half of the year is ‘ Lives in Conflict”, a highly contemporary topic within our society. Leader Anne Hoogendoorn.

Should be some good discussions during this year if the above is anything to go by!

Shalom,

John Everall

Caloundra Explorers Group

 Faith And the Modern Era

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EXPLORING ECO-THEOLOGY, ECO-SPIRITUALITY and ECO-JUSTICE

The world is slowly coming to grips with the reality of climate change, human influence on the biosphere and impending dramatic changes which will force social and political activity that is unprecedented.

What has this to do with human spirituality and the teachings of Jesus?

Together with the Progressive Christianity Network (Qld) we are planning a seminar in March around the theme of Eco-Spirituality. This paper presented to the Common Dreams Conference in 2007 by Rev Dr Noel Preston makes excellent background reading and should be of interest. If you are busy, try, at least, to read the paragraphs in bold type.

Noel’s book Ethics with or without God (2014) is also recommended reading. It is available from Morning Star Publishing.

***

Dr Noel Preston – workshop address at the Common Dreams Conference, Sydney, August 2007 

I. Introductory Background

Let us turn to an ancient scriptural text to begin (Psalm 139 – You know me, I thank you for the wonder of myself, for the wonder of your works.

Perhaps the lyricist of Louis Armstrong’s song “What a wonderful world!” says the same thing:

I see trees of green, red roses too, I see them bloom for me and for you, And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.

I see skies of blue, and clouds of white, The brightness of day and darkness of night, And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.

On my study wall there hangs a beautiful photograph taken by the crew of Apollo 17 during their space journey to the moon. It shows Earth our home, the blue planet set against the inky blackness of space. Earth appears as a ball-like, single organism. We are a privileged generation to have this image and, associated with it, an understanding of the cosmos in its magnificence. But we are also the generation that is responsible for unprecedented damage to Earth’s life systems – a system that has been almost five billion years in the making. In our time, the collision between our human story and the Universe story demands some accounting and reconciliation, as well as a revision of the narratives by which we live.

I expect that for many of you, as for me, progressively, across a lifetime, you have been awakened from a false consciousness which dulled your sensitivity to the whole planetary community of life. The Christianity I grew up with didn’t have much to say about the themes we are looking at in this workshop, though there was a date in the Church calendar we called “Harvest Festival”. In fact my early Methodist formation was not only human centred but rarely discouraged our misuse of natural resources or questioned what we called progress. A 1950s understanding of God had little to do with the natural world, indeed it was something of a heresy to imagine you were nearer to god in nature than you were in church on a Sunday, while, of course, many of my colleagues regarded the Biblical account of creation as literal fact. Things have changed. Pope John Paul II called for “an ecological conversion” and certain American evangelical Christians have become converts. Check out the website:

http://www.WhatwouldJesusDrive.org.

Here in Australia there are initiatives described as “eco-ministry”. Great stories can be told about individual churches trying to make a difference. Theologically, liturgically and practically, religion in the new millennium is greener. The question is how much new wine can old wineskins hold? My assumption is that, by and large, even the greener churches have not substantially embraced the worldview, the new paradigm and the new theology behind this presentation.


Personally, I now speak from the vantage of a multi-layered identity, no longer content with being identified simply as a Christian or an Australian or even as a human being, though I am all that. I take seriously what science teaches about the nature of life. As I see it, I am primarily a member of the community of Earth’s beings and my moral universe of responsibility extends to non-human beings and future generations. Therefore what I call eco-spirituality and eco-justice are lenses through which I must now see politics, economics, theology and indeed all relationships. That said, I don’t stand here as an expert on the topic of this workshop. Nor do I profess to practise all I preach. What I want to offer is a work in progress which hopefully will intersect with your own quest to find a framework of belief and commitment as a responsible member of the community of life.

I don’t intend to say much about the crisis that confronts earth’s community of life. My assumption is that you have a broad awareness of the gravity of the situation. The Genesis mandate that we, homo sapiens, are to have dominion over the Earth now haunts us in the guise of global warming, the threat to eco-systems and loss of biodiversity, depleting energy sources, a deepening water crisis, international security flashpoints, crimes against humanity, gross inequalities between and within nations, and absolute poverty and destitution facing 1.2 billion of a human population rushing toward 9 billion (i). The situation is unsustainable. Collectively our global consumption of resources is 1.23 of our ecological footprint, that is we humans are already using one and a quarter planet Earths, 23% more than the ecosystems can sustain. And for those interested in the global social justice gap the situation is even more dire. The affluent 20percent of the world’s population, of which most Australians are a part, controls and uses approximately 80 percent of the Earth’s resources. So we have this double-edged urgent challenge: to achieve environmental sustainability on the one hand and a fairer and more equitable distribution of resources and life opportunities in the human community, on the other. This double-edged challenge is what I mean by eco-justice.

(i) There are many performance indicators that mark this crisis but let us just note two at this stage: Fact 1. more than half of the world's original forest area has been lost and a third of what is left will be gone in 20 years at current rates of deforestation, to say nothing of the loss of species and biodiversity this represents; Fact 2. in the next hour more than 1000 children under the age of 5 will die from illnesses linked to poverty, half of them in Africa.(Porritt)

I now want to introduce you to The Earth Charter (if you do not already know of it) – its 61 principles are a comprehensive global ethics vision, comprehensive because it is more than a green document. It covers the double edged challenge which is why I call it a manifesto for eco-justice. The opening words of the Charter set the scene:

We stand at a critical moment in earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise. We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society, founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice and a culture of peace. (www.earthcharter.org)

Continue reading
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Resourcing Progressive Ministry and Worship No.5

St James Uniting Church, Curtin, Canberra. ACT


About St James

St James is across Carruthers Street from the Curtin shops but the entrance and parking is at 40 Gillies Street Curtin.

Seeking to discern and follow the ‘way’ of Jesus as a part of the Uniting Church which since inception has seen itself as a ‘pilgrim people’ looking for continuing renewal, open to change and seeking a wider unity.

Thanks to subscribers for drawing attention to this great congregation. This will be a help to the many people who visit Canberra.

When in Canberra you can visit St James for its worship, library and pleasant environs.

The Library collection is one of the best for progressive literature. You can check the catalogue here: St James Library

and some book synopses here: Recent books

Worship is also a great experience: Worship events

Resources:

Forget about the sermons you remember as a child. St James is a safe place to explore history, social context and questions in faith. This is the place where we share the musings, wonderings and questions presented in services by visiting worship leaders and members of the congregation’s preaching roster.

Aaron HarperWrestling With GodHow Should We Pray – Exploring Prayer Within A Progressive Christian Framework, Come as we are liturgy & word, What Is Our Prophetic Progressive Christian Voice, Come as we are liturgy & word, Liturgy – Celebrating Progressive Christianity – Internet Version, Reading – Recognition and Respect – Justice for Aboriginal Peoples, Celebrating Father’s Day

Piers BoothA new beginning at St James, ; elephant & mouse; A call to action 14.4.13

Ruth Doobovthe new reformation,

Jenny JarvisThe Prodigal Son, Liturgy and sermon 28 July 13

Guest speakersPalm Sunday Luke 19 28-40, 2013 05 12 John 5 1-9 sermon, Free for all – Jan Huggett. I am notes for sermon

Jean ShannonRock soup, Soul Breathing ,a round tuit, When we have the keys (reader’s v), It ain’t over yet liturgy, Baptism Liturgy 7 July 2013 final, The shape of our belieiving

Red Wings is their local magazine where they review new media and information as well as explore contemporary issues. Poetry, graphics – you never know what’s going to fly out of Red Wings:Red Wings Issue 1 Jan 13 final, Red Wings Issue 5 Nov 2012l,  Red Wings Issue 4 Aug 2012 final , Red-Wings-Issue-2-Mar-13-final.pdf, Red Wings Issue 3 May 13 final pub,, Red Wings Issue 4 July final, Red Wings Issue 5 Sep final (2)LiturgiesMD’s Liturgy for 22 June 13, 1 Sept 13 liturgy, Liturgy 8 Sept 13t

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Faith, a piece of cake?

Rodney Eivers

31st January 2019

            For some 20 years I have been providing morning tea at our Acacia Ridge Uniting Church between 10 and 11 a.m. every Thursday. In all this time it has been disappointing.  I had hoped that, during these get-togethers, members of our congregation would take the opportunity to discuss “theological” questions in a warm, friendly and safe non-judgemental atmosphere.

            That has not happened. The morning teas have been convivial enough but there has been no discussion beyond the mundane day to day events and perhaps an occasional diversion into the current congregational politics.

            I recognised why this might be when one officer of the congregation put it this way.

“Rodney likes to ask questions but I prefer not to do that.  If I asked questions relevant to my Christian faith, I might start to think I was wrong about some things and then my whole faith would collapse”

            I love my colleagues and do not wish to make them uncomfortable over their orthodoxy, so do not press such issues.

            Perhaps the best I can do is just be a “witness”.  We had a visit from a Presbytery officer last Sunday,  I assumed he did not know me very well, So what I usually do when I get into conversation, with others known to  me to be Christian, is usually state, to be clear on where I stand, “You need to know that I am a “progressive”  Christian.”

            I was a bit taken aback when he responded. “Oh yes, we in the Presbytery know all about you and your “progressive” Christianity.”   In the end I was very pleased about this. It means there is no need for me to be preachy and, so far as I am aware, I remain on friendly terms with all those with whom I interact (including my congregation)

            But to get back to morning tea. It so happens that lately we have been joined regularly by a man who “dropped in” one day.  He is a Baptist and very secure in his orthodoxy. What has attracted him to the morning teas, however, is that we can have these “theological” differences, talk about them and still remain on friendly terms.

            Then this morning we were joined by a member of my own congregation, she is one who is prepared to explore a little but only goes so far.

            The subject of faith came up.

            Karen explained it thus.  It is like someone offering you a cake to eat. It tastes good. You’ve eaten many cakes before and no harm has befallen you. Thus you take it on faith that accepting that cake will be a good thing to do. You don’t question it.

            I responded, and Karen saw the point. “Yes, but I may have been offered cakes like this before and they have turned out to be not at all what I was expecting.” Therefore I want to question

 What’s in the cake? Who made it? How old is it?  Can we freshen it up a bit?

            So that is the difference between blind faith and questioning faith. It does not mean that in the end eating the cake or having the faith is not worthwhile. But, in being confident in “what works” for us rather than in supernatural expectations which we struggle to demonstrate we can have a secure foundation in how we see and operate as Christians in this wonderful, complex world of ours.

oOo
           

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Engaging Spirituality in an Emerging Universe

[This Thesis is brought to you for free and open access by the Document Types at ACU Research Bank. It has been accepted for inclusion in Theses by an authorized administrator of ACU Research Bank. For more information, please contact LibResearch@acu.edu.au. Follow this and additional works at: https://researchbank.acu.edu.au/theses
Part of the Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion Commons  ]

When Heaven and Earth Embrace:
How Do We Engage Spiritually in an Emerging Universe?

Mary M. Tinney, PhD
Australian Catholic University

Sr Mary Tinney, RSM has been the founder and coordinator of Earth Link a community which envisions a world where there is respect, reverence and care for the whole Earth community. They believe that the heart of this lies in deepening our bond with Earth. Earth Link is endorsed by the Sisters of Mercy, and open to all who share their concern for the whole Earth community.

Abstract: In this thesis I am proposing that we can engage spiritually in an emerging Universe if we have a vision of the embrace of Heaven and Earth that is informed by contemporary science, if we underpin that with an ecotheology that recognises Heaven and Earth as interconnected while respecting their differences, and if we have an ecospiritual praxis that is open, attentive to and aware of divine presence in all that is. I am convinced that a vision of the embrace of Heaven and Earth has the potential to drive action for justice for Earth at a time when there is ecological devastation in our evolving cosmos. This vision is at the heart of Christian ecospirituality in an emerging universe. Using the craft of practical theology, the thesis is a study of how one community group, Earth Link, engages spiritually in an emerging universe in a way that moves it to transformative practice towards its vision of a world where there is “respect, reverence and care for the whole Earth community.” The dialogue partners in the process are Thomas Berry and Elizabeth Johnson in the fields of ecospirituality and
ecotheology respectively, with some reference to Laudato Si, the 2015 encyclical of Pope Francis. The thesis concludes by proposing enhanced principles for Earth Link in the light of this dialogue. The author is the instigator and currently the facilitator of Earth Link, so approaches the work as both participant and observer.

Submitted by Mary M Tinney, B A (UQ), M Ed (Boston College), M Pastoral Studies (Loyola, Chicago), School of Theology, Faculty of Theology and Philosophy, McAuley Campus, Brisbane,
in fulfilment of the requirements for a Doctor of Philosophy. ACU Graduate Research Office, Level 16, 8-20 Napier St, North Sydney NSW 2060.  Date of submission: 16/10/2017

Mary has been awarded a Doctor of Philosophy as a result of this research.

For the complete thesis, go to: https://researchbank.acu.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1713&context=theses

Thursday, 14 February, 11am Brisbane time. Mary Tinney will be providing insights into her thesis, When Heaven and Earth Embrace: How Do We Engage Spiritually in an Emerging Universe? Register here. A recording will be available afterwards.

oOo

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Resourcing Progressive Ministry and Worship No.4

Thank you to UCFORUM subscribers who recommended Wembley Downs UC

130 Calais Road, (cnr of Minibah Street)
Wembley Downs, Western Australia.
Phone 08 9245 2882
Ten kilometres northwest of Perth city centre,
set amongst the suburbs of City Beach, Churchlands,
Scarborough, Wembley Downs and Woodlands

Wembley Downs Uniting Church 

WORSHIP SERVICES are held in our multi-purpose building, the normal time for all services is 9.30 am, Second Sunday services are followed by sharing time and a sausage sizzle, on 5th Sundays, we share a combined service with Wembley Downs Church of Christ at 9.30am, the venue being each of the two church buildings alternately.

“A place for radical Worship and a place for Radicals to Worship”

that seeks to be a community of Christian people who:-

  • follow the way of Jesus, allowing his gospel to inform how they lead their lives in a changing world
  • welcome all, regardless of race, age, or gender
  • join together regularly in worship and activities which enable them to live out God`s love in the world
  • recognise that every person is unique and encourage all to share their wisdom and gifts
  • affirm, support, nurture and accompany each other on their spiritual journeys
  • are committed to living out their faith by serving wherever called.

Worship at Wembley Downs is multi-faceted. The first Sunday in the month is dedicated to diversity. On the second Sunday, we seek simplicity. On the third Sunday we have our Liturgical Service. On the fourth Sunday we push the envelope and go beyond the boundaries.

The word “Radical” is derived from the Latin word for “root”. On this fourth Sunday, we return to the root of our faith and seek to re-narrate it for our day and generation. We run the risk of irrelevancy if we look back and speak of a world that has gone.”

oOo

 

 

 

 

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5th Common Dreams Conference

The Fifth Common Dreams Conference will be held on 11-14 July 2019 at Newington College in Stanmore, Sydney.

The conference theme is Sacred Earth, Original Blessing, Common Home.

Matthew Fox will be our distinguished international keynote speaker.

The conference will involve other inspiring speakers, musicians, performers, and artists who will engage with the 12 Principles of Creation Spirituality (Subject of a future post).

Matthew Fox (b. 1940) is an internationally acclaimed spiritual theologian, Episcopal priest, and activist who was a member of the Dominican Order for 34 years. He holds a doctorate, summa cum laude, in the History and Theology of Spirituality from the Institut Catholique de Paris and has devoted 45 years to developing and teaching the tradition of Creation Spirituality, which is rooted in ancient Judeo-Christian teaching, inclusive of today’s science and world spiritual traditions; welcoming of the arts and artists; wisdom centred, prophetic, and committed to eco-justice, social justice and gender justice.

He has reinvented forms of education and worship and awakened millions to the much neglected earth-based mystical tradition of the West, revivifying awareness of Hildegard of Bingen, Meister Eckhart, Thomas Aquinas, and Thomas Merton, among other premodern and post-modern spiritual pioneers. He has authored more than 35 books on spirituality and contemporary culture, among them: Original Blessing, The Coming of the Cosmic Christ, The Reinvention of Work, A Spirituality Named Compassion and Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior for Our Times. His books, celebrated around the world, have been translated into 60 languages.

Matthew Fox might well be the most creative, the most comprehensive, surely the most challenging religious-spiritual teacher in America . He has the scholarship, the imagination, the courage, the writing skill to fulfill this role at a time when the more official Christian theological traditions are having difficulty in establishing any vital contact with either the spiritual possibilities of the present or with their own most creative spiritual traditions of the past….He has, it seems, created a new mythic context for leading us out of our contemporary religious and spiritual confusion into a new clarity of mind and peace of soul, by affirming rather than abandoning any of our traditional beliefs.” (Thomas Berry, author of The Great Work, The Dream of the Earth and The Universe Story.)

COMMON DREAMS is an alliance of Australian and New Zealand kindred organisations which promote engagement with progressive Christian thought and practice, and with progressive developments in other religious and spiritual traditions. It does this through the major “Common Dreams” conferences (Sydney 2007, Melbourne 2010, Canberra 2013, Brisbane 2016), and sponsorship of annual “Common Dreams on the Road” tours by international scholars to cities and communities across Australia and New Zealand.

Stay tuned for conference and registration details!

oOo

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Resourcing Progressive Worship and Ministry No.3

Thank you to UCFORUM subscribers who recommended:

St Mary’s in Exile, South Brisbane.

St Mary’s in Exile is an inclusive community, grounded in the teachings of Jesus and the transformative spirit of Christ. The community emphasis is on working towards peace and justice for all and supporting community members in their ongoing spiritual growth.
The community is inspired by the quote from Micah ‘to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God’. St Mary’s in Exile community welcomes people from all faiths and denominations  who wish to participate in our collective faith journey. St Mary’s in Exile is a vibrant, diverse community comprising people of many faiths and traditions. Between 300 and 500 community members participate in weekend liturgies, including people from a wide range of suburbs, coastal, regional and rural locations. The community regularly welcomes interstate and overseas visitors and over 1200 people maintain connection via our community’s eNews. Spiritual and social events are also held throughout the year.
Spiritual Practice

In addition to liturgies, community members can participate in meditation and mindfulness practice, spiritual retreats, community building activities, action for social justice, and ‘Cluster’ groups.

Social Activities and Pastoral Care
St Mary’s in Exile aims to build community through connecting the spiritual, social, pastoral care and social justice focus of the SMX community. Community members coordinate regular social activities including morning teas, dinners, spiritual and cultural events, support for social justice actions, and pastoral care for people experiencing illness, grief or difficult times.
Cluster Groups
These are small groups across Brisbane that meet at various times during the year. Cluster Groups gather to discuss matters of common interest, or of interest to the broader St Mary’s in Exile community including books, social justice issues and general topics of interest. Individual group’s activities vary from social ‘get-togethers’ to theological discussions and spiritual reflection. Cluster Groups are held in Northern, Southern, Fairfield, Windsor, Paddington, Tarragindi and Redlands Bayside regions, in addition to the ‘Perfect Brilliant Stillness’ group. For information about joining an existing cluster or hosting a new cluster group, send us a message via the Contact Us page on this website.
Social Justice
A key aspect of St Mary’s in Exile is the community’s emphasis on social justice focusing on partnership with, and commitment to Micah Projects and the relief of homelessness, support for organisations and individuals assisting refugees and asylum seekers, advocating on environmental and other social justice issues, and supporting various programs that assist vulnerable people at home and in other countries.

For more information contact:
Mark Chalmers  For more information contact:  0401 684 782

Liturgy Times
Saturday: 6:30pm / Sunday: 9am & 5pm TLC Building, Lvl 2, 16 Peel St, Sth Brisbane Q 4101

To read recent homilies go to:  Homilies

Resources:

To enquire about book lending go to: https://stmaryssouthbrisbane.com/book-collection

For other resources go to: https://stmaryssouthbrisbane.com/resources

We welcome further recommended sources of ministry and worship resourcing in Australia and New Zealand.

oOo

 

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Book Review: Seasons and Self – Rex Hunt

Seasons and Self: Discourses on Being ‘at home’ in Nature

                                                                                        Bayswater. Coventry Press, 2018. P/back. $34.95 + post and packaging – 264 Pages
Author: Rex A E Hunt

Available from the author at a discount price of $30 + $8.95 p and p. Email Rex

Reviewed by Rev John Churcher, Former Chair, Progressive Christianity Network Britain,
Author, Retired Methodist Church Minister.

For those of us who have thrived in our preaching and worship leading on the back of Rex Hunt’s on line sermons and liturgies, this is another splendid resource looking closely at ecological theology and religious naturalism. The problem of the on-line material has been, at least for me, a resource overload that often has taken many hours of seeking among the huge range of material to find just the right phrase or the liturgical insight that will take the congregation into a deeper understanding and experience of that which Hunt refers to as ‘G-o-d’. And for those seeking to explore the links between progressive Christianity or progressive spirituality and such as science, ecology, cosmology and environmental justice here is the resource at our finger tips. No longer needing to explore the on line resources, it is here in a book of sermons, insights, poetry and good clear references to some 200 publication in his combined bibliography – an amazing resource in itself.

This book will doubtless be criticised by those of the old killing paradigm of conventional institutional theology for yet again going beyond the creeds and established doctrines of the Church. Others will probably be equally as critical on the grounds that Hunt is not jettisoning the primitive spiritual quest and going whole heartedly into rational scientific developments. However, in line with many other passionate progressive writers [e.g. Matthew Fox, Lloyd Geering, Bruce Sanguin, Gretta Vosper, et al] Hunt is clear that progressives need to explore and to extend the work beyond conventional theology into an exploration of natural theology that is relevant for our time.

The sub-title of the Prologue signposts the way in which his argument is going to develop: “To Walk on Green Earth! Religious Naturalism and Ritual in Progressive Spirituality.” The book has 23 addresses / sermons all usefully arranged in Themes: Seasons; Earth / Early Spring; Humour; Environment Day / Climate Change; Learning to Be More Genuinely Human; Autumn: the Season of Leaves and Harvest; G-o-d / Jesus; Blessing of Animals; Evolution / Darwin; Desert / Wilderness; Advent / Ordinary; Apocalyptic / End Times; Ocean; After Christmas / Year’s End; Cosmos; Family; Land / Power; Creation / Universe; Children / Education; Meaning; Celebration / Life; Evolution; Food / Eating.

A number of the themes are accompanied by John Cranmer’s thought provoking poetry.

Throughout the book there are gems of quotes and insights. Among those that stood out for me are the following:
• “The miracle of each moment awaits our sensual wonder. Hosannah! Not in the highest, but right here. Right now. This Horizontal transcendence. Nature embedded in humanity. Humanity embedded in nature. Of, in and as nature.” [page 32];
• “Each of us is a collection of unfinished stories. We are fully linked with our surroundings in time, space, matter/energy, and causality. We do not live in straight lines.” [page 55];
• “…religious naturalism says religion is human. It is about us. … As a religious naturalist I, along with others, claim that the sacred is fully present., hidden in the ordinary details of a life, any life. Expressed in ‘creativity’, and ‘mystery’, ‘awe’ and ‘wonder’.” [page 79];
• “… people who have the courage to be different, and more especially those who carry a hint of danger, are always the source of excitement and interest.” [page 119];
• “If we are only against something, we are doomed to negativity. So too if our actions are only attempts at domesticating dissident voices, making religion and politics safe for one another.” [page 153];
• Writing about the opening verses of the Gospel attributed to John, “… the Hebrew for ‘word’ is ‘dabhar’ which means divine creative energy. The word that gave birth. Event. Those of you who are right brain thinkers will probably have already resonated with this and made a connection. For the Hebrew ‘dabhar’ is about the creative, the imaginative, the heart, the feeling. And this divine energy is more than just a concept.” [page 167];
• “Nature and naturalism are for us today ‘the main game’ for any progressive spirituality. … Whether or not we believe that there is something more, nature is so significant that all our beliefs must be reformulated so as to take nature into account.” [page 207];
• “We are made of the rarest material in the universe: stardust.” [page 247]

The book concludes with a comment on the bread and wine of communion, “… may our celebration be a ritual reminder that, as we share the bread and share the wine, civilisation depends on sharing resources in a just and humane fashion.”

The only additional note is that the seasons are those of the southern hemisphere so those in the northern hemisphere will need to make some adjustments to the preaching cycle.

“Seasons and Self” is a wonderful resource, and not just for the preachers and worship leaders. It is a challenging, thought provoking book for all spiritually progressive thinkers. It could be excellent group study material. Above all it is an exciting, warmly reassuring exploration of a spirituality that is not new but one that is becoming better known among the open, progressive thinkers within and beyond the Church. It is highly recommended.

John Churcher January 2019

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Resourcing Progressive Worship and Ministry No.2

Our UCFORUM subscribers have recommended:

St Andrew’s on The Terrace, a lively and active faith community in central Wellington New Zealand. They value being progressive, inclusive, intellectually engaging and spiritually aware. This a Presbyterian Church with links to the Uniting Church in Australia.

The aim of the congregation is to create a lively, open Christian faith community, to identify a spirituality which ‘works’ in the 21st century, to act for a just and peaceful world, to be active agents and facilitators of progressive spirituality and social justice.

This a community which encourages theological reflection that is intellectually engaging and spiritually nourishing.

They place high value on
Openness: we are inclusive.
Exploration: we encourage journeys of discovery, spiritual and otherwise.
Justice and peace: we strive for social justice.
Integrity of creation: we respect the whole of creation.
Stewardship: we nurture and care for our human, spiritual and physical resources.

Visit the 10am Sunday morning celebration or explore their website for lots of great ideas for progressive practitioners.

Thanks for letting us know about recommended progressive communities.

oOo

 

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Book Review: Honest to GOoD

Honest to GOoD: Discerning the Sacred in the Secular

Author: John W H Smith                First Published 2016,  Morning Star Publishing  $26.95

We have not given sufficient attention to the action of a spiritual energy present in the world being exhibited by many people, some of whom would not confess a religious faith in much the same way that Jesus didn’t… There is a need to change the way we interpret the events of life in the light of the wisdom of Jesus of Nazareth. (John Smith)

John Smith has been on a life-long search for what he calls a sense of ‘wholeness’ or ‘completeness’…an attempt to make sense of his world and his life. Many people will find common ground with this search and relate to his experiences. This book is the result of this search and how Jesus has influenced and stimulated his journey.

Each chapter examines a major influence and together point the way to various understandings of the sacred spirit he calls God.

  • the influence of family and in particular his relationship with an encouraging mother who saw good in the world
  • how reading and later formal education shaped his life and helped him to understand practical Christianity. A study of the classics was the major force in his refining of knowledge about the sacred
  • the part played by the church, in particular the youth club where he learnt to manage adolescent anger and see the narratives of Jesus as lessons for life
  • through a painful period, the guidance of several Methodist ministers
  • Wesleyan theology and John Wesley’s Quadrilateral motivate him to search for personal authenticity and accept an inner suburban ministry
  • developing philosophically and practically through secular social work
  • discovery of a need to re-interpret the orthodox Christian explanation of the gospels as they impact on people with disabilities
  • making sense of the New Testament by close examination of Jesus and his words where he grew as a progressive or evolving Christian greatly affected by scholars in the Westar Institute and Jesus seminar school
  • his thinking about the atonement, concluding that there is no biblical evidence to suggest that Jesus’ death is in any way ‘substitutionary’ sacrifice for human misdemeanours
  • what Jesus meant by the Kingdom of God
  • learning how the historical Jesus and the way in which the organisation church falls short of appropriate modelling of this Jesus
  • doubt about an ‘interventionist’ God
  • the growing movement of groups leaving the church to form spiritual groups that are relevant to their 21st century needs
  • realisation that Progressive Christianity offers the world a faith that makes sense and encourages each of us to seek evidence of the spirit of love we call God, at work in the lives of ordinary human beings.
  • and ultimately the impact of new scholarship (something the Basis of Union of the UCA encourages) on himself and many others.

Although he claims this is not an academic text, it is well referenced and a great way to get an overview of the field of progressive thinking.

This book is written in the fervent hope that it will encourage others to continue to explore their own unique spiritual journey. (John Smith)

Paul Inglis, January 2019

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Resourcing Progressive Worship and Ministry

With the growth of Progressive Christianity throughout the world, the call for resourcing progressive ministry is also increasing. An enormous amount of the materials has been developed in the USA and UK and now for some years from Australia. We regularly post about new Books but we have decided to also inform about sources for resources with an emphasis on Australian produced or sourced Ideas and Materials. We welcome information from our large following that can be shared with others who are regularly asking us to point them in the direction of congregations and resources for small groups who can’t find a suitable place to fellowship.

Today we recommend visiting Pilgrim Uniting Church in Adelaide either physically or online.

They offer several types of worship:

https://www.pilgrim.org.au/worship/index.php

You can explore their worship resources at – http://pilgrimwr.unitingchurch.org.au/

Explore their groups at – https://www.pilgrim.org.au/groups/index.php

including progressive discussion and reading groups.

Listen to messages at – https://www.pilgrim.org.au/listen/index.php

oOo

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“Philomena” – A film with many powerful messages.

A review of the 2013 film. Also now a book.

[Review by Rev John Smith]

Introduction:
Recently Robyn and I had the emotionally evocative experience of watching this film superbly acted by Judy Dench and ably supported by Steve Coogan. The film is enhanced greatly by a magnificent classical music score. Overall it is a film with a number of very powerful messages about the practice of the Catholic Church regarding young unmarried mothers and the adoption of their offspring. The self righteous attitude of the church authorities in their disregard for the rights of young unmarried mothers and their chiIdren is placed under the microscope as is the reactionary and equally self righteous attitudes of their critics. As a beautiful counter balance we have the reaction of Philomena who has experienced the indignity of being treated as a “sinner” who gave into ‘her carnal desires’ coupled with the forced removal of her three year old child by being coerced into signing away her parental rights. The intriguing response from Philomena is not the seeking of revenge. She does not want the perpetuators punished; she is simply seeking to find out what happened to Anthony her son fifty years after his birth. Regardless of the indignity inflicted on Philomena by the Catholic authorities she still continues to practice her faith in a devout and committed manner.

Philomena reveals her circumstances to her daughter from a subsequent marriage and declares her secret desire to find her son. Her daughter in turn through a chance meeting recruits an ex BBC journalist and Labour government advisor Martin Sixsmith, played by Steve Coogan. He is in need of work and an editor urges him to assist Philomena and to write a ‘human interest’ story rather than some dry Russian history research that he is planning to do.
Martin is not fully convinced that he wants to have any part of this until while drinking in a pub in the locality of the convent in which Philomena gave birth he is provided with information by a young bartender. It appears that the reason the convent has no records of the adoption activity is that the nuns deliberately destroyed all the records by burning them. The bartender further suggests that the convent received a thousand pounds for each child sold to American couples. If that was not enough Martin was also aware that the young unmarried mothers had been put to work in a laundry for virtually no pay while being treated like slaves.

Martin through his work at the BBC has many contacts in the United States and through these contacts he searches the passport records to discover that Anthony had been adopted by Dr and Marge Hess who renamed him Michael. Michael had studied law and had become a senior official in the Reagan administration and served the Republican Party with distinction. Martin also realises that he actually met Michael when he was a journalist with the BBC while covering the news in the US. Martin also discovers that Michael was a closet homosexual and his long-term partner is Peter Olson. Michael had unfortunately died of AIDS nine years previously.
Armed with this information Martin informs Philomena of his findings and her initial reaction to this news is one of sadness that Michael was not able to be open about his lifestyle, because of his position in a political party, which at that time condemned homosexuality. Philomena although upset at not being able to meet her son as an adult wishes to meet the people who did know him.

The first person they meet is a woman known as Mary who had been adopted with Anthony/Michael from the same convent in Roscrea Ireland. Mary is able to tell Philomena the whereabouts of Michael’s long-term partner, but cannot tell Philomena what she most wants to know which is, ‘did he ever seek to find his birth mother’?

The initial approach to Michael’s partner Peter by Martin Sixsmith, is met with resistance, but he finally he agrees to meet Philomena after she makes a personal plea for his help. Peter is able to tell her that Michael has always wondered about his birth mother and that he had actually visited the convent in Ireland in an attempt to make contact with her. Unfortunately the nuns had lied to him saying that they had no record of Philomena’s whereabouts and had no contact with her. Michael’s life is dreadfully cut short by his AIDS condition but his dying wish is to be buried at the convent with a headstone stating who he is in the hope that Philomena will find it.
Martin and Philomena return to the convent where the nuns continue to deny Philomena the information she seeks regarding Michael’s grave and his last days. In a final scene Michael confronts a senior nun, Sister Hildegarde and in a dramatic and poignant scene demands she explain why she had denied Philomena access to her son and further lied to her son regarding knowledge of his birthmother’s whereabouts. In this scene the aggrieved person is not Philomena as one would expect, but Martin the journalist who rounds on this elderly nun and demands she make an explanation of her behaviour. The nun testily answers that Martin is not her judge only Jesus will judge her and Philomena had relinquished her right to justice through her sin of fornication. The nun is clearly unrepentant and it is this that triggers an outburst from Martin when he tells the nun that if Jesus had been present he would have tipped her “out of her F—-g chair”. The dialogue and acting in this scene is transfixing, but it is Philomena who comes to the nun’s rescue when she tells Martin that his anger is really a waste of energy and she tells him to examine himself, because the anger is all consuming. Philomena doesn’t want to end up hating anyone and at this point she turns to Hildegarde and exclaims, “I forgive you”. The nun shows no recognition that she needs to be forgiven but it is important for Philomena to utter these words.

An analysis of the message
Throughout the film Martin and Philomena present two quite contrasting views on the value of religious adherence. Even though Philomena has suffered rejection and condemnation from the Order of Catholic Nuns it does not deter her from her belief in the sacred presence of God found in the ordnances of the Catholic faith. Whereas Martin is angry at the self-righteous deceit that he has discovered in the brutal and guilt-laden treatment of young unmarried mothers, one who had died in childbirth aged fourteen years. Early in the film Martin declares that he is a lapsed Catholic who no longer believes in a God. The respective positions of Philomena and Martin add significantly to the message of the film.

Each of the major characters continues to question their particular religious viewpoints and these become vital scenes in the film. I was particularly taken by the scene when Philomena goes to make confession whilst in the United States. The painfulness of this scene is palpable, because she cannot say confession. The reason being she has nothing to confess. Earlier she has told Martin that having sex as a teenager had been a wonderful experience, quite unlike what she had been told and that she never regretted it. She explained it as a sense of ‘floating free.’

During the confessional scene the priest offers her forgiveness in response to her silence, but the telling moment is that as she is leaving the church she does not use the holy water just inside the door to bless herself. Martin who is witnessing her leave the church stands watching the bowl of water well after she has left the church as if to say, “Is she questioning her faith?”
The film raises for me the question, ‘how then should we approach our events of life?’ Should we be like Martin who wants to right a wrong and sees the injustice of the church going almost unchallenged? Or should we respond like Philomena who doesn’t want to end up consumed by anger as is Martin and in her offer of forgiveness is saying to the church through Sister Hildegarde you have not won there is a faith that is life enhancing and not a guilt ridden life–destroying existence.

However watching Hidergarde’s expression when Philomena offers forgiveness I did not see any recognition that she was feeling guilty and filled with remorse for her attitude and actions regarding Philomena and her son. It also reminded me that here in Australia we have witnessed the Catholic Church hierarchy showing self-righteous indignation when being called to account for it’s deliberate cover up of the many instances of Child Sexual Abuse. Will it take the anger of someone like Martin Sixsmith to confront the church with it’s errant behaviour before there is any admission of guilt for what has occurred? How many times have the authorities of the Church claimed that they are responsible only to God or Jesus for their behaviour, and not to the community in which they live. As if they have been ordained with some special wisdom that prevents them from being accountable to the wider community.

The argument given by Hildegarde that she is responsible only to Jesus for what she has done again raises the issue that the church has seen itself above the law and responsible only to some sacred presence. A number of my friends in the Catholic Church will tell me that they can experience a special relationship with the sacred in the Mass and that I as a ‘Progressive Christian’ cannot experience this relationship; because my rational thinking denies me an understanding of the awesomeness of God. In the words of Paul Keating many Catholics give the impression that they have a ‘divine guidance’ that is unavailable to those who are not of the Roman faith. I wonder if this is the very attitude that has allowed such abuses to occur, particularly when people place themselves above common law. Surely the compassionate God that has been revealed in the person of Jesus would claim that we have a responsibility to our fellow human beings, because when we cease to care for our fellow human beings we cease to care for the sacredness of a divine presence.

In the final scene Martin and Philomena find the headstone that Anthony/Michael was hopeful his mother would discover. While standing at the graveside Martin out of respect for Philomena and perhaps as a result of being chastened for his anger tells her he will not publish the story. Her response is a surprise when she tells him that she has changed her mind and that the story really does need to be told.

I am sure I am not the only person who is grateful to Philomena for changing her mind.

John W H Smith

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Who is Jesus for us today?

Sermon preached by Rev Dr Noel Preston last Sunday.

Psalm 23. and Luke 4. v. 16- 21; 9 v.18 – 21

We are here today because of Jesus of Nazareth – that is the simple fact. So who is this Jesus, the one who traditional Christianity has named “the Christ”, and the “second person of the Trinity”.

I want to preach about brother Jesus today because, more than any other, his life has influenced mine and the lives of others who have most influenced me. In fact I have a memory that when I was a seven year old I went to my father and said, “I want to give my life to Jesus.” That commitment remains. (though my understanding of it has evolved over a further 70 years)

I have another reason: I made a deal at Christmas time with my teenage grandson, who rarely goes to church, that I would try to preach a sermon for him which conveys who Jesus of Nazareth is and what he is to us today.

If we are to understand Jesus, we must situate him in his time. He lived in a period when the Roman Empire controlled his home country. Actually, he was probably known as “Joshua” in his time. The name we give him is the result of Graeco-Roman influence. He was a Galilean. And Galileans were simple folk. He was not a Christian. He never read the Christian Scriptures. He read the Hebrew Scriptures, and developed his faith from them.

Apart from the Christian scriptures the only historical record of him is found in the work of a Roman Jew historian named Josephus. Nevertheless, his impact on history has been profound and his message has been a saving grace to millions.

As far as the detail of his life, our knowledge comes initially from the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The account attributed to Mark, was the first written, some decades after Jesus’ death. Inspired as Mark’s Gospel is, this and the other versions of the Gospel, rely much on fallible human memory and oral story telling.

Nonetheless, as our Gospel readings today reveal, Jesus himself went through a gradual process of self-discovery. Our second Gospel reading describes Jesus sounding out who his disciples thought he was. In the other reading from Luke we heard how : At the outset of his ministry in the Synagogue of Nazareth he chose a significant passage from Isaiah – his mission statement if you like – I am here to give sight to the blind, free the oppressed and bring good news to the poor. As that mission unfolded, apparently titles like “son of man” and “son of God” were used of him.

In my lifetime, there have been many commentaries on who Jesus is for us today. Scholars have done much detailed analysis on questions like –
who did Jesus himself think he was?
Or, how are we to interpret the miracles recorded in the Gospels?
Or, what do we really know about his birth and the stories we recall at Christmas time?
Or what is the meaning of his cruel death?
Or, how are we to understand the Easter faith of the disciples who declare his Resurrection?

It wasn’t until the late nineteenth century that biblical scholars began applying the blow torch of historical criticism to the Gospels. A German biblical scholar by the name of Albert Schweitzer (who, incidentally, was one of Europe’s finest organists) published a book titled The Quest for the Historical Jesus and that scholarly quest continues today.

And the Jesus story keeps being told by endless and various story tellers. When I began my ministry there were the musicals, Jesus Christ Superstar which made Jesus a rock star and Godspell popularizing him as a clown. Then there was Monty Python’s irreverent Life of Brian which had a measure of truth in it, and would’ve had the real Jesus laughing in his grave I’m sure. In a way these pop culture presentations have humanised Jesus by correcting what I call the dehumanising of Jesus. This “dehumanising” happens through idolatrous beliefs and practices which make him half-human and half divine, a process which was underlined by the Nicene Creed adopted in the 4th century AD. The writers of the Creeds may have lost touch with Jesus of Nazareth and his early followers who were known as “followers of the Way”. Jesus never said, “Worship me” but he did say, “ Follow me.” Of course, it is much easier to worship him than follow him daily.

Reading the traditional Creeds today, you may conclude that they lose sight of the life Jesus lived and what he taught. The language they use attempts to make him someone to worship rather than a brother who is “Saviour and Lord” – He is my Saviour and Lord because he exemplifies and calls us and empowers, to be the best that humanity can be, by living a life of unconditional compassion.

Thus far, I have tried to give some background as to how I answer my grandson’s question : “Who is Jesus for us today?” But there is more to tell.

FIRST A STORY. I have a fellow retired minister friend with whom I was talking recently about this topic. I mused with him. “Some of the supernatural elements which do not fit 21st century knowledge, like the Virgin birth and the Ascension into heaven, have kept the Jesus story alive over the centuries. If we strip the story of these parts, how do we keep the Jesus story alive today?” Instantly Bob, whose mind is burdened by Parkinson’s disease, said: “We keep it alive by living it.” (Repeat)

I have a book by a South African Catholic priest, Albert Nolan, which I have found very helpful. Called “Jesus today”, it explores Jesus’ spirituality, how his mind and spirit were nurtured in the intimate relationship he had with the One he called, in his language, “abba”, a word which means “father”.

Nolan’s opening sentence is challenging: On the whole we don’t take Jesus seriously – whether we call ourselves Christians or not.

I have to confess that’s true for me – the demands of discipleship can be overwhelming – remember the story of the Rich Young Ruler ‘Go and sell all you have and give it to the poor and then come and follow me’! What of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5) where Jesus teaches us to love even our enemies. Or, if we took seriously the parable of the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son, what a conversion that might involve!

Nolan interprets Jesus as a deeply mystical prophet, one who had a special relationship with his abba, his God experience, the intimate father, whose love was boundless. That relationship is the secret of his extraordinary life – and death: A Love that has no limits. So intimate was the relationship between Jesus and his abba that about 100 years after his death, the writer of John’s Gospel has him saying “I and the Father are one.” Jesus’ abba relationship was expressed in his friendship with the downtrodden. He practiced inclusion not exclusion in relationships. He lived by a sense of oneness with all. He empowered others to see through religious hypocrisy and stand up to the abuse of power in the Temple or by Roman overlords. Though he was radically critical of his society, Jesus never blamed, accused or condemned any individual person but his attitude to people labeled ‘sinners or outcasts’ was strikingly different from that of other religious leaders.

Jesus of Nazareth is a breakthrough in human history calling us to be truly human.

Of course no account or interpretation of Jesus the Christ is complete without engaging with the fact and the meaning of the end of his life. The Crucifixion of Jesus is the climax of a life lived so close to abba that the dereliction and abandonment of those cruel hours demands explanation.

But the explanation consistent with the Jesus I have tried to describe is not one about a sacrifice for our sins to placate a god who doesn’t sound one bit like Jesus’ abba. No, the meaning of the Cross is that it is the culmination of a life which challenged the powers that oppress the downtrodden through the costly way of compassionate Love. This demonstration of LOVE to the bitter end means that the cross cannot be the end. So it is that his followers, then and now, claim the realization by faith that Jesus’ life is not extinguished by a burial. But, his followers must learn that the significance of the Cross is that it must become OUR CROSS.

Jesus becomes the one who never goes away, who meets us today, who invites ongoing interpretation of the relationship of our life to his, whose challenges to us may change, but who persists through history as a challenge in all times and cultures. He does not go away; he keeps invading our lives, our society – so, it is not atrivial question to ask, “What would Jesus do ?” “What is the Jesus way of handling this matter in our time?”

I mentioned Albert Schweitzer earlier, the author of a ground-breaking theological treatise, “The Quest for the Historical Jesus”. I also said he had fame throughout Europe as a musician. The real story about Schweitzer’s quest is that in his thirties, his life changed direction. He came to the conviction that Jesus is to be known and followed in deeds not just words, costly deeds for the needy . So he took up medical studies and became a Doctor and spent the rest of his long life as a missionary Doctor in Africa.

In the final paragraph of The Quest he prefaced this change in discipleship:
He comes to us as one unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, he came to those who knew him not. He speaks to us the same word, “Follow thou me” and sets us to the tasks he has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey, whether they be wise or simple, he will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings that they shall pass through in his fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their experience, WHO HE IS.

SILENCE – your response

Noel Preston 13th January 2019

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The UCA and the National Redress Scheme

In December 2018, the Uniting Church in Australia provided the Federal Government with its application and supporting documentation to participate in the National Redress Scheme for people who have experienced institutional child sexual abuse.

The Church’s national council the Assembly submitted information from all six Uniting Church Synods to be covered through the UCA’s participation in the Scheme to the Department of Social Services in Canberra.

The submission followed months of work in cooperation with the Department and Uniting Church bodies across the country.

In that time the Church has established a national vehicle for dealing with redress claims for survivors of child sexual abuse.

The Department will advise in due course when the UCA will be an operational member of the NRS.

President Dr Deidre Palmer has affirmed the Uniting Church’s commitment to the National Redress Scheme and acknowledged the pain caused for survivors, who are waiting to access redress through the National Redress Scheme.

“For those who might have been concerned about our commitment, please be assured that we are working to make amends and to ensure that our Church has a strong and robust culture of child safety that empowers children and adults in our care.”

“For anyone who was abused in the care of the Uniting Church, in our churches, schools or agencies, I’d again like to apologise sincerely. I am truly sorry that we didn’t protect and care for you in accordance with our Christian values,” said Dr Palmer.”

If you need support, please contact the following 24-hour support services:

Lifeline 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800
MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78

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Death of John Bodycomb

We have learnt of the loss of our friend Rev Dr John Bodycomb.

Dr Val Webb, theologian and author, and friend of John had this to say:

So sad to hear of the death yesterday of Rev Dr John Bodycomb, Melbourne. John’s career in sociology, academia, church growth and pastoral care over half a century and his provocative challenges to the church at large have inspired many. Only last September, his latest book was published “Two Elephants in the Room: Evolving Christianity and Leadership”. Sympathies to his wife Lorraine Parkinson and their families.

As a contributor and friend of the UC Forum, we have valued his insights and experience and his huge contribution to progressive thinking. His works stand as continuing reference points for those wanting to take religious professionals into a new era. In his own words – My fear that we were programming men and women for failure – according to a model that belonged to another era…..

He has challenged many and influenced many more with his big question – In a world where we know we are seven million miles away in space from where we were this time last week, and in a universe nearly fourteen billion years old, what ever do we think we mean by the formula G-O-D?

I hope that we can continue to ask this question and openly do what John did – question the many assumptions that have not been challenged effectively. In that way we will be paying our respects to a great man.

[See an earlier post for details about his last book published in September.]

Paul Inglis 14th December 2019

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Pastoral Letter from the UCA President

Pastoral Letter – Post Fifteenth Assembly Update

To all Congregations and Faith Communities

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Greetings in this new year, that brings fresh opportunities, as we serve Christ together as the Uniting Church in Australia. I am greatly encouraged by the ways the Uniting Church is engaging in mission and exercising ministry through our local churches, Presbyteries, Synods, our Agencies, schools and the Assembly.

On this Sunday the 13th of January, six months will have passed since the members of the Fifteenth Assembly gathered in Melbourne to discern prayerfully the national priorities and directions of our Church.

Decisions of the Assembly
During this time, members of Synods, Presbyteries, Congregations and Faith Communities have heard about and discussed the decisions we made in Melbourne. In many parts of our Church, our members are living out the hopes and vision that relate to our decisions on domestic and family violence, sovereignty of First Peoples, care for creation, access for people with disabilities, and support for seasonal workers.

Our Decision on Marriage
In respect to our recognition of two statements of belief on marriage, there have been a variety of responses. Across our Church, there are many people who have embraced the decision as a wise way of moving forward as a Church, respecting the different views we hold on marriage, and giving freedom to Ministers and Congregations to hold to a view of marriage, that they believe is faithful to the Gospel of Christ. Leaders in our Church have journeyed alongside those Uniting Church members, Congregations and Presbyteries, who have difficulty in living with the decision of the Assembly.

In 2009 an additional Clause 39 (b) was approved by the Assembly, which allows Presbyteries and Synods to ask the Assembly to reconsider a decision it has made.

Clause 39 (b) of the Uniting Church Constitution states:

(i) If within six months of a decision of the Assembly, or its Standing Committee, at least half the
Presbyteries within the bounds of each of at least half the Synods, or at least half the Synods, notify the President that they have determined that in their opinion

• a decision includes a matter vital to the life of the Church; and
• there was inadequate consultation prior to the decision

the President shall notify the Church that the decision is suspended until the Assembly has undertaken further consultation.

Six Presbyteries chose to exercise their right to notify me as President, that, in their opinion, the matter was
“vital to the life of the Church and there was inadequate consultation prior to the decision.” There were five
Presbyteries in Queensland and one Presbytery in the Northern Synod. On Saturday the 5th of January 2019, the Presbytery of South Australia met, and decided that the majority of members did not support the proposal that the Fifteenth Assembly marriage decision was a “matter vital to the life of the Church and there was inadequate consultation prior to the decision.”

This means that the threshold for the suspension of the Assembly decision has not been reached.

As a result, the Assembly decision on marriage stands, and will continue to be lived out in our Church, in various faithful expressions.

At this time, I would like to acknowledge with deep gratitude, the many Uniting Church members who have listened to one another with open hearts, and who have entered into challenging conversations, as you have responded to the Assembly decision and what it means for your particular community – and in many cases for your families and friends.

During this first six months as President, I have had many opportunities to meet with Uniting Church members, Congregations, Presbyteries and leaders of National Conferences and listen to their concerns and their hopes for our Church. Some of our conversations have focused on Assembly decisions, including our decision on marriage. Our broader focus has included the ways we can witness to God’s reconciling love, which is beyond measure and has power to transform people’s lives and the life of our society.

I know that there are Uniting Church members who have been hurt and have felt distress – either by the decision on marriage, or the possibility of the suspension of the decision. Let us remain conscious in the weeks and months ahead that this is a time for us as a Church to pastorally support one another, to act compassionately toward one another, and to hear Christ’s invitation to love each other, as Christ loves us, with grace, healing and hope. This call for us to love as Christ loves is at the heart of God’s mission.

A Prayerful and Loving Community

After the Fifteenth Assembly, I noted that I was proud of the way our Assembly members modelled a loving Christian community, by holding together and caring for each other as they exchanged strongly and faithfully held views from different theological and cultural perspectives.

In the months ahead, I pray that we will reflect the marks of the Christian community that Paul speaks of in his letter to the church in Philippi: “encouragement in Christ, consolation from love, sharing in the Spirit, compassion and sympathy.” (Philippians 2:1-3).

I invite you to pray for the Uniting Church, and for each other, that we may faithfully embody the Gospel of Christ in all we do and say. I have included a prayer for our Church, that I invite you to pray in your congregations and faith communities.

May we all know God’s abundant grace and liberating hope as we seek to journey together, shaped by God’s reconciling love.

Grace and peace.

 

Dr Deidre Palmer
President
Uniting Church in Australia Assembly

11 January 2019

oOo

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Confessions of a Saboteur and Subversive Agent of the Jesus Liberation Movement.

Today I have decided to confess that for the last sixty years I have been a covert subversive revolutionary for the outlawed organisation the Jesus Liberation Movement, (JLM). I was recruited to this organisation in 1956 at the tender age of 16 years with the promise that I would become a vital agent of change for this revolutionary body. The liberation movement was aimed not only at liberating people controlled by internal and external forces, but to insure that the Spirit of Jesus our founder was also liberated to be a continuing influence in the world and not controlled by any one person or body. So often we hear Christian church leaders and state and national politicians falsely claiming allegiance to the Spirit of Jesus by calling themselves Christian, but they are proclaiming their own message about Jesus rather than his message about living graciously with a commitment to social justice for all people. These leaders, by their actions and words have demonstrated that they are morally incoherent, because they are more concerned with gaining personal power than empowering others. It is their actions that belie their words. The true spirit of the Jesus message must be once again established in the community.

Prior to this decision, I had been oblivious that for many years, my mother, who persistently encouraged me to believe that the world in which I lived could be a better place, had subjected me to an initial grooming for this role. She had encouraged me to believe that all people should be afforded the opportunity to develop their full potential and that it was possible to establish a more socially just and financially equitable society. Further, she insisted that we could not leave these tasks to others, that we all had a responsibility to ensure these were not simply hollow words, but through our own endeavours we could make this a living reality.

I am now aware that even as a small child my thoughts and actions were being formed and even manipulated by my mother who encouraged me to look for the best in people and to do whatever I could to help them to achieve their full potential. She also encouraged me to read the subversive literature of Hugo, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. However, the impact of this indoctrination only became significant when at the age of sixteen, I came in contact with the JLM it was here that my mother’s grooming in my early years began to blossom.

It was explained to me at the time of my recruitment that the revolution to which I was being called, as mentioned earlier, had in fact been operating for nearly 2000 years and that many organisations such as national Governments and the Christian Church had attempted to destroy it. They had subtly pretended to adopt its principles whilst all the time undermining its authority by watering down its principles, beliefs and practice. The major task of the true revolutionary was to smuggle the influence of the JLM not only into the Christian Church and the administration of civil government activities but in fact into all aspects of living. I was given strict instructions to operate covertly, for fear that as soon as people realised what my true mission was they would pretend to support it with the prime purpose of emasculating its power.

It was made abundantly clear to me by my mentors at the time of my recruitment that my role was to be a covert one. I was to at all times remain under cover so that the real purpose of my orders could be carried out without detection. It was suggested that I should belong to the organised church as my cover and even to accept a full time working arrangement. It was also made abundantly clear that I should not allow myself to be seduced by the orthodox approach of the Christian Church, but that I should remain true to my commitment to the revolutionary arm of the JLM and all that it stands for. To maintain my true mission goals I needed to continue to remain in a covert operation so as to prevent these from being undermined.

My reason for coming in from the cold at this time is to reveal, in the life I have left to me, what my allegiance to the JLM has meant personally and why I have given my life to the task of smuggling Jesus into the Christian Church and into everyday living against all opposition. In the person of Jesus I have discovered a human being who has a faith and belief in the inherent goodness of common humanity, and who seeks to offer the opportunity for all people to be liberated from the fears and restrictions placed upon them by the structures of society and their own feelings of insecurity. Our founder, the sage, Jesus of Nazareth, had been quick to point out the dangers to civil liberties of a hierarchal religion and a power obsessed, brutal government.

My role over the years has undergone a process of refinement but the revolutionary zeal still remains. My mother’s encouragement to be an agent of change is I believe stronger today than at any other time in my life. I have tried to assist the people I meet to personally discern that they have the ability to reach a sense of wholeness of being, by recognising the power that resides within them, in much the same as did the founder of our revolutionary movement.
I was carefully taught that the best modus operandi was to alert people to the fact that the power to change was within them, in much the same way that the founder of our revolutionary movement had been able to effect change: this indwelling power he claims is connected by a spiritual force to the great energy of the universe. This energy becomes visible not only through the words and actions of people operating in normal everyday situations but often in a subversive way such as through humour, wit, sarcasm, or exaggeration. Many people who became influential in this movement are unaware that they had become instruments of the revolution. Some of the greatest exponents of liberation would not be able to raise to consciousness the reasons for their behaviour, which in no way demeans their efforts.

My coming out will not deter me from continuing my mission, as it has now become a vital part of who I am and what I have become.

Viva la Revolution.

John W H Smith
February 2018

oOo

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The Future Spiritual Community

The Future Spiritual Community – John Wessel

22nd September 1932 – 29th December 2018

[Presented to the Gold Coast SoFia Conference, 2012]

Yesterday, Karen Armstrong spoke about the urgent world wide need to establish a Charter of Compassion. Today I intend to present a practical way that Future Spiritual Communities can become agents to make this Charter a reality. I want you to be courageous enough to-

IMAGINE – WE CAN CHANGE THE WORLD

Gretta Vosper in her book With or Without God says

“When we allow the progressive scholarship of the past century to challenge us to reconsider the foundations of our faith, we find ourselves left with an enormous task: constructing something viable to replace what we find to be no longer working”

We who have gathered have entered a process of walking with a group of people, however slowly, toward the future.

What I intend saying has a Christian perspective about it simply because Christianity is my spiritual home, I know no other. We each inherit our particular faith, along with our language and our culture so then that particular faith becomes ‘right’ for each of us. However, I believe what I have to say is also applicable to all religions because all future spiritual communities will have to take into account the modern social and cultural context in which they must work.

I believe that the church has not come to grips with, or has understood the effects that post-modern cultural change is having of the thinking of modern people. By clinging to the past we not only lose sight of the present but we fail to allow the future to be born.

Hugh Mackay – a well know social annalist has said – “the cultural shift is so radical that it amounts to the discovery of a new way of thinking…. a new kind of change is taking place in our society… we are at a turning point… these recent changes have affected Australia’s’ view of life and religious faith in a very profound and irreversible manner”

A whole new way of presenting the Christian story will have to be developed if it is to make sense to our modern world.

The traditional package we offer to this new world came out of a completely different culture and world view and is no longer adequate to deal with the challenge of this age. Religions have always been based on the human search for meaning. The central question for all religions is, “What do humans want?” In Christianity the traditional answer has been salvation from sin.

When we reply today to the question “What do humans want?” with the above answer, we find it is an answer that only a few are seeking and for the majority it has little meaning. Modern culture wants to find harmony and liberation; wants to find some wisdom for living in the here-and-now, in an otherwise religion- less world.

We are living through what may be the greatest time of change in Christian history. All institutions, political, secular and religious, are being questioned.

Bp. John Spong says: – I believe Christianity is in deep decline because it cannot bring itself to face the fact that the presuppositions on which our faith story was erected in the past are today no longer self-evidently true or even believable. We are living through a cataclysmic transition from the presuppositions by which we once lived – and have no idea how to tell our faith story in terms of the emerging world view for which our religion of yesterday has no relevance. So churches are dying. Church’ business as usual’ is a prescription not only for disaster, but for extinction”.

What have all the above statements been saying? They have clearly said that because of globalisation which had its birth following the Second World War and in the light of our now pluralistic world, along with many other issues, there is an urgent need for all religions to implement some radical change from within.

The spiritual community of the future must not be based upon what we believe so much as on how we live. It must be a pathway we walk, a journey we take, into the Divine Presence; a journey of connection with people, not just about ideas and dogma which too often divide. It must therefore proclaim a new concept and understanding of “Incarnation”…..What do I mean?

In his book “Eternal Life” John Spong says “ if we read John’s Gospel through a mystical lens we see that his story is not of a divine life invading the world, as we have been accustomed to reading it, but a portrayal of Jesus as a human being having a relationship with the holy – an inseparable unity. “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” What this means is that the time has come when we need to define humanity –®
as that in which the life of the Divine lives,– define
human love as that through which the Divine loves- and how in humanity
the being of the Divine is made manifest in the world.”

This means that the Divine is not met beyond life but at the very heart of life. Therefore the task of any future spiritual community becomes no longer that of clinging to creeds and doctrines that are based on a dated world-view that is bound by the idea of an external theistic deity: the task of such a community is to seek a humanity in which the divine is part of, and indeed, at the very heart of what it means to be fully human.

To walk in Jesus’ footstep is to be conscious of the indwelling of the Divine Presence in all people. This then will direct and influence the way we live,… how we relate to others,.. and to the world at large. Thus our presentation must teach and live the Way of Jesus – as follows.

First, Unconditional love is an important aspect for any New Community. Unconditional Love. Think about what ‘Unconditional’ means.

Then, if love matters in our personal lives, we must also find ways to give love expression in the public and political arena. That is, in the justice of political systems; systemic justice. Such love is grounded in the interconnectedness of all life

Secondly the New Story must break down all barriers that divide. Read the Gospels and you will clearly see that Jesus broke down so many of the religious and cultural barriers of his time- this was important for him, it must be important also for us. However, from the time the Creeds were formulated they have created division and barriers, both within the church itself and beyond.

Coupled with this, and part of the breaking down of barriers, any future spiritual community must eradicate prejudice in all its forms by the way all of its people think, speak and act.

And Inclusiveness is a keystone that needs to be central in any New Story. (e.g. The stories of the Good Samaritan, of Jesus eating with the tax collectors, his touching lepers, and his conversation with the woman at the well.) All are about inclusiveness.
If you think about it, for some to be “Chosen” means that there are others who are ‘unchosen’ (excluded). This can have no place in any future Spiritual Community.

Jesus early followers were known as followers of The Way. This Way was a way of life…. Jesus called his followers to interact with their world with peace, compassion, respect, tenderness, grace and justice.

Any New Story needs to stop concentrating on the after-life, on judgement and the rescue role of Jesus and face the spiritual and practical needs of this life. It needs to help all people find LIFE, life in all its fullness in the here-and-now. It will need to teach people “how” to live and NOT dwell on ‘what” to believe. It must encourage people to walk, every day, within the divine Presence.

Jesus followers felt that the Divine Presence was part of who Jesus was and now that same Spirit was calling them to give expression of its presence in their lives. Humanity was seen as the vessel in which the divine lives and loves. That is what has been lost and it is that which must be experienced anew in any future community.
The challenge that confronts all religions today is a practical one. It calls me, as a Christian, to actually live my understanding of what it means for me to follow the Way of Jesus. But, I cannot do this alone.

This brings me to my final point.

This Way of life that I have described was what Jesus meant when he spoke of The Kingdom of God. This phrase appears 140 times in the four Gospels. Thus, for Jesus, and the gospel writers, this phrase embodied a concept of primary and foundational importance and perhaps was the very core of his message to the world.
He had lived his whole life in bondage to an occupying, dominate power. Israel knew many dominate powers during its history. His followers would have clearly understood the difference between dominate kingdoms and that of Jesus’ “Kingdom of God.”

It involves giving who you are and all you have completely, wholly away to something greater than yourself. The Divine Presence is at work in each of us, in you and me and yet, there is also a cosmic reality about it that no longer rests on the narrow association with any one religion.

At a gathering in Brisbane where Lloyd Geering was the guest speaker I had the opportunity to ask him what his vision was for the future church. His reply was “The Kingdom of God”. I did not immediately understand what he meant until I read his book, “Christian Faith at the Crossroads”. In it he explained that the Old Testament and the Jewish faith did not look for salvation in another place called “heaven” which was beyond earth; it looked for the Kingdom of God to be established on Earth (when the Messiah would come.) Jesus would have known this, he was a Jew, a man of his time, so when he spoke about the Kingdom of God he was teaching and living an example of what the Kingdom will look like when we humans live in such a way as to make the Kingdom come, here on earth.

For 2000 years, because of the Gentile influence, we in the church have got it wrong. We have placed the emphasis in the wrong place. We have allowed the dualistic concept of natural and supernatural – of earth and heaven – to blur us from hearing what Jesus was saying to us.

He was pleading with us to actually live in such a way as to enable the Kingdom of God to be experienced here on earth. He saw that the Kingdom can be a present reality. It is not a future hope to be found elsewhere as was developed by later Gentiles.

The concept of the Kingdom of God is not clearly understood in modern Australia. We do not live under, nor have ever lived under, a dominate king, so to use words that capture Jesus concept and place them in a modern context, I want to alter Jesus’ wording, as suggested by John Dominic Crossan, and use in its place the phrase The Companionship of Empowerment.(R)
This means that together we are to empower each other to live Jesus dream for the human race.(R) .
As a companion, as a mate, we empower, we encourage each other to:-

Love unconditionally
To rid ourselves of prejudice
To dismantle all barriers that divide
To seek justice for all – both personal and systemic
To respect other people… and our planet Earth
And to live with compassion

Any future spiritual community needs to create an atmosphere, an expectation, a Companionship of Empowerment to ensure that ALL people whoever they are and wherever they live experience abundant life.

We stand today on the edge of a new, exciting journey;
a journey of unknown opportunities and perils;
a journey of yet unfulfilled hopes and dreams

The question is… have we the nerve and the will?

Our choice lies between continuing the spiritual decline that we see today, which is clothed in private comfort and security… and a spiritual greatness where the inner spirit breathes new life and new hope into the world.

You may ask, “Can I do this, can we do this?”
My answer is YES –YES – Why? – Because,

“The K of G is within you”®

All human life is part of who the Divine Mystery is and what it is, and this Mystery is part of who we are and what we are.

As a human being Jesus modelled this generosity; modelled, this new Way of living, which became the experience in others that gave birth to Christianity.(R)

This birth took place when his followers “saw” (realised), after the shock of the crucifixion had passed, that they too could model this Way of Jesus’, by giving who they were and all they had completely, wholly away to something greater than themselves.

Tim Costello recently said,

The Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed involved the transformation of our hearts and minds, our society, our politics and our economics.

If only, that insight into what Jesus meant by the Kingdom of God, became today the motivating force and the Way of life within the modern Spiritual community, as it did with his disciples, Jesus’ dream for humanity would be fulfilled and that Future Spiritual Community would breath NEW LIFE into the world.

Such a community would be the place where we freely and openly reflect and process our life experiences with others, in such a way, that it encourages us all,
empowers us all, to become more compassionate, more loving human beings whose life’s goal is to seek justice for all and thus through whom the love of the Divine Presence becomes known.

I conclude by saying that any future Spiritual Community must seek a global ethic through which salvation is not found in… or confined to… any one set of theological doctrines, rather;

Salvation is to be found in people’s hearts; a salvation that is experienced daily and which governs the way we live and how we relate to all people by showing them respect, compassion and seeking justice.

I may be too idealistic but such a Community, I believe:-

Would indeed be “Good News” for our modern, confused and angry world.

So I invite you to go from this place and simply

ENJOY THE JOURNEY.

oOo

 

 

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John Wessel – a great gift to the progressive spirituality movement.

Sad to report the death of Rev John Wessel.

Rev Bryan Gilmour had this to say to us about John –

This is just a brief summary.

John and Beryl have been close friends since I (as Presbytery Chair/Minister), was involved in his induction into the new merger of Twin Towns, Kingscliff and Coolangatta Churches. We became close friends and kept in touch through the years. He led the opening of new ministries and a new Ministry Complex at Banora Point.

He was always exploring wider aspects of the Christian faith, and after retirement in 1997, continued to expand his spiritual horizons and in early years, led the Gold Coast Sofia Group, probably soon after John Spong‘s first visit to Australia in about 2002. He wrote many articles related to political and religious contentious issues and was one of the Guest Speakers at the Gold Coast Sofia Conference in 2012. I’m attaching that Paper -“The future Spiritual Community” which could be good to publicize again (see next posting).

John was an active community person, having been President and Tour Director of Probus and a member of the local Golf Club.

When ministering at Bradden in Canberra, he was strongly engaged as Chaplain at Duntroon and will be given an RSL Tribute at his funeral tomorrow at the Melaleuca Station Memorial Gardens Chapel at 1pm (NSW Time).

John has been a valued contributor to the UC FORUM. One of his notable papers will follow.

oOo

 

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Genuine Hospitality

Hospitality as a Way of Life

When we say it is our responsibility to offer hospitality to the alien and stranger what exactly do we mean and in particular where does this impetus come from?

Firstly, as Australians our government has committed us to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights; which defines a refugee as:

“A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”?

Thus, by simply being an Australian we have a responsibility to ‘refugees’ regardless of our religious beliefs, because our country is a signatory to the “Convention relating to the status of Refugees”. If you like it is our civil responsibility.
When we say that it is our responsibility to offer “hospitality” what does this mean? A simple definition of the term hospitality is;

“The quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm and friendly way.”

However, as we are people from a Judea/Christian heritage does this mean that more is being asked of us? In response to this question let us briefly turn to both the Old Testament and the New for assistance in understanding our responsibilities.

The Jewish instructions respecting strangers/aliens pervade all the writings of the OT from the history through to the Torah and the prophets. For example in Leviticus 19:34 we read:
“The stranger/alien who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you and you shall love him (them) as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.”

And in Deuteronomy 14:29 we read:
“The Levites, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you, as well as the resident aliens, the orphans and the widows in your towns, may come and eat their fill so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work that you undertake.”

In Job 31:32
“The Stranger/Alien has not lodged in the street. I have opened my doors to the traveler.”
The New Testament adds an even greater demand on us regarding the stranger/alien or person in need. The most appropriate translation of the English word ‘hospitality’ from the Greek word Philoxenia means a ‘love’ of the guest or stranger. Emphasising that it not just what we do, but how we personally regard the one in need. Our hospitality should be a way of life and an embrace of the other, rather than a simple response to someone in need.

Our response to people in need is perhaps best brought to our attention by the words of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel according to Matthew 25:31ff.

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me” v35

And when his disciples asked him, “when was this?”, he responded by saying:
“Truly I tell you as you did it to the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” v 40

The charge then is this; we must treat all we meet as if they are a loved one and by responding with love we are responding to the Spirit of Jesus.

It is not only in the words of Jesus, it is also in his actions that we understand the importance of a personal response to others. For example Jesus practices “Open Commensality” or more simply open table; where everyone is invited to share the meal with equal status. The stranger is not simply tolerated, but respected and is welcome at the table.

If we follow the actions of Jesus then that we become in Dom Crossans’ terms, ‘companions in empowerment’ because as the story of Ruth illustrates it is through her steadfast loyalty that the offer of love and acceptance from Naomi is returned in even greater measure, when Ruth proclaims:
“Where you go I will go; where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people and your God my God” v16

Ruth was an outsider she was a Moabite, or in today’s terms she was one of ‘them’, but Naomi needed her for the completeness of her character as much as Ruth needed Naomi for the fulfillment of hers.

Is it possible that we need the stranger more than they need us? As Henry Nouen in his book “Reaching Out” suggests, hospitality is about offering a safe space where the stranger can enter and become a friend. Hospitality is not designed to change people, but to offer a space where a relationship can take place.

So the challenge to us as people of faith is clear; genuine hospitality is a deeply personal commitment to love the stranger. It is not some act we perform, but something that defines the people we are by the way we share our lives.

Hospitality then is a way of living life and living it more abundantly by sharing not only what we have but, who we are.

John W H Smith
December 2018

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UCA holds onto principles of inclusivity and diversity

So, what just happened? (An Explainer, Updated)

The last six months in the Uniting Church has been something of an intense roller-coaster, revolving around the issue of marriage. Our processes are somewhat idiosyncratic and, as events unfolded, matters came down to a rather arcane provision in the UCA Constitution.

I offered An Explainer about this process some months back. In light of more recent events, here is An Updated Explainer.

1A. On 13 July 2018, the 15th Assembly decided that Uniting Church ministers are able to conduct the weddings of people of the same gender. Assembly did have a proposal before it at that time, declaring that changing our understanding of marriage was a matter that was “vital to the life of the church”. This drew on a provision in the Constitution in Clause 39(a), which provides that On matters which, by a two thirds majority vote, the Assembly deems to be vital to the life of the Church, the Assembly shall seek the concurrence of Synods and/or Presbyteries and/or Congregations as the Assembly may determine.
1B. At that same July 2018 meeting, Assembly decided that the matter was not “vital to the life of the church”. Assembly Standing Committee subsequently approved an alternate order of service for use in marrying “two people” (with gender not specified), and since late September, Uniting Church ministers have been conducting marriages where the couples are of the same gender.

2. Since July, Presbyteries have been considering the matter. Some Presbyteries have considered that the decision of the Assembly did include “a matter vital to the life of the church”, which requires the Assembly to suspend the decision and undertake further consultation.
This in accordance with Clause 39(b) of the Constitution, which states:
(i) If within six months of a decision of the Assembly, or its Standing Committee, at least half the Presbyteries within the bounds of each of at least half the Synods, or at least half the Synods, notify the President that they have determined that in their opinion
• a decision includes a matter vital to the life of the Church; and
• there was inadequate consultation prior to the decision
the President shall notify the Church that the decision is suspended until the Assembly has undertaken further consultation.

3. This meant that if half the Synods, or half the presbyteries in half the Synods, wrote to the President stating that they believe there has been inadequate consultation, the decision would be suspended. The timeframe of within six months means that this runs until 13 January 2019. In October, the General Secretary of the Assembly advises all ministers that there was a possibility that Clause 39(b) might be invoked, and thus, the decision might need to be suspended, pending further consultation.

4. There are six Synods. No Synod asked that the clause 39 process of seeking concurrence be invoked.

5. The number of Presbyteries varies in each Synod. The single Presbytery in WA and many of the Presbyteries in Victoria-Tasmania and New South Wales and the ACT have not considered that this is a matter which needs to be reconsidered. So nowhere near one half of the Presbyteries in these Synods have asked for any further process of consultation.

6. In two Synods during 2018, the threshold of Presbyteries invoking Clause 39(b) was met: by one of two Presbyteries in the Northern Synod and by four of eight Presbyteries in Queensland (North Qld, Central Qld, Mary Burnett and South Moreton).

7. South Australia just has one Presbytery. It met in November 2018 to consider this matter, but the decision of the Presbytery was not to ask for further consultation by invoking Clause 39(b). A notice of a special meeting was submitted at that meeting, and this meeting took place on 5 January 2019, the last day of the season of Christmas. Once again, the SA Presbytery did not support the proposal to request further consultation by invoking Clause 39(b).

As the deadline for invoking Clause 39(b) was six months after the decision (therefore, 13 January 2019), and as no further Presbytery meetings are scheduled to take place in the coming week, it is clear that the threshold of sufficient Presbyteries requesting a suspension and further consultation, has not been met.

So the status quo stands: the decision of the Assembly remains in place, marriages of same-gender attracted people can continue to occur, the President of Assembly does NOT need to issue a notice that same gender marriages must be suspended, and Assembly does NOT need to arrange for further consultation on that decision to take place.

The Uniting Church thus remains faithful to its commitment, as articulated in the Basis of Union. We are, indeed, a pilgrim people. In the process of making this decision, people of the church have met in council to wait upon God’s Word, and to obey God’s will. The decision about marriage has involved so many difficult conversations and challenging moments for many people. The decision of Assembly steps out in a new direction.

I believe that this decision demonstrates how the Uniting Church continues, today, to look for a continuing renewal. In that search, we certainly affirm our readiness to go forward together in sole loyalty to Christ the living Head of the Church. This decision is one that many people believe is a faithful response to what God is today calling the Church to be and to do. It is a signal that we seek to remain open to constant reform under his Word.

Throughout this process, I believe that we have continued daily to seek to obey his will, and to discern ways by which we might confess the Lord in fresh words and deeds. We continue to do that now, in implementing the decision of the Assembly and rejoicing in the celebration of joyous marriages, within the church, of couples of the same gender.

As this takes place, I am certain in holding to the belief that we are not apostate, we have not betrayed our faith. We continue to hold to the essence of the Gospel. The marriages of people of the same gender serve to remind us, in a fresh way, of the grace which justifies [us] through faith, of the centrality of the person and work of Christ the justifier. As our President has reminded us, we are all included in that abundant grace and we look with anticipation to the promise of liberating hope.

We say often that we seek to be “an inclusive church”. I hope that my LGBTIQ friends who have felt so marginalised, objectified, and (sadly) even vilified over the course of the past 18 months (and decades back before that) now feel that they are truly accepted, valued and included within this church.

I hope that together, as a whole church, we might remain faithful to God’s calling to be a fellowship of reconciliation and, in this difficult process and courageous decision, we might see something of the foretaste of the Kingdom which Christ will bring to consummation.

See also https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/07/31/a-diversity-of-religious-beliefs-and-ethical-understandings/
https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/10/20/seven-affirmations/
https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/07/30/marrying-same-gender-people-a-biblical-rationale/
https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/08/30/the-additional-marriage-liturgy-which-allows-same-gender-couples-to-marry-in-uniting-churches/
https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/10/26/marriage-of-same-gender-people-a-gift-to-the-whole-church/

Cheers
John

John Squires
johntsquires@bigpond.com

Rev Dr John Squires is a Minister of the Word in the Uniting Church. He is a former Principal of Perth Theological Hall and is currently in placement in the Canberra Region Presbytery. He was a member of the 15th Assembly in 2018.

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Embracing the Joy of New Discovery

Did you see the previous post? Westar Institute – a new video about its work. Westar is a lighthouse for exploration of Christianity for modern thinkers – but we can all take part in the exploration….

John Smith takes us into a reflection on the notion of looking at, and enjoying, what is new in our learning about Christianity – (as always your comments are welcome – at “Leave a reply”)

I am always fascinated by the verse in the second chapter of the gospel of Matthew where the writer is referring to the response of the wise men. He says that on seeing the star of Bethlehem they were, “Beside themselves with joy.” How often do we become so excited by a revelation or discovery that we are beside ourselves with joy? What is it that excites the blood and sends the pulse racing for us?

Finding new ways of exploring traditional Christianity has become for many an exciting and fulfilling journey. Particularly, for people who have become disenchanted with a dogmatic, fundamentalist Christianity that claims to be the only true pathway to God. Many of these explorers have left the traditional Churches, but are still searching for a spiritual meaning to their lives; these are the people Bishop Spong refers to as the ‘believers in exile.’ They are people who are seeking an answer to their spiritual thirst that is not quenched by the tradition of the earlier Christian church.

There are others who have stayed with the Christian Church, but who have made compromises between what they believe, how they worship and how they act in everyday life. Some will tell you that they are caught in the moral dilemma of mouthing the words of prayers, doctrines and creeds that their intelligence tells them cannot be right. They have become moral pretzels twisted in on themselves, so that there is no longer a beginning and an end. People caught in this web are trying to justify Christianity as the only pathway to God and boxing themselves into a corner, which cannot be defended. Some Clergy have even spoken about living in a schizophrenic state because they are being asked to perform duties that conflict with their personal integrity.

In 2005 I read a book by Jim Burklo called “Open Christianity – Home by Another Road”. Jim was a Presbyterian Minister from Sausalito in California and I met with him in October 2005 after attending a Conference in Santa Rosa. Jim’s book is about the dilemmas being experienced by many congregations in the United States. These dilemmas we have been facing for some years in Australia, dilemmas about how to be true to our faith whilst being constructively critical about our theology and our public and private worship.

Jim suggests in his book that, outdated theological concepts only tend to serve the separate identities of the various faiths and the only way forward is to accept that the Christian church’s organisational structures of the future will need to be different. He says, “… the church needs to break free from its triumphal mission of dominating the planet, putting magnificent sanctuaries in every neighborhood, enlisting lots of members and raising lots of money.” He argues for a church with greater flexibility, more of a movement without walls than an organisation with a more responsive and inclusive theology. Further, we need to accept that Jesus of Nazareth may be for us a gateway to God; but others will find other pathways.

There is no one form for the future church, no one size fits all, in fact there needs to be as many responses as there are needs. Jim particularly challenges the language of the church as in need of reform; he claims that we need to use the language of the day if we are to communicate with people outside the church. When Matthew claims that the tax collectors and the prostitutes will enter the kingdom of heaven before, and instead of the church elders, it is quite possible he is insinuating that we can learn more about God’s love and compassion from those outside the church. We can learn more from those considered to be the dregs of society, than the leaders of our faith community. Matthew also is alluding to the belief that the Jewish leaders of the day are hypocrites. Can these same accusations be leveled at us today?

Perhaps we need to ask ourselves the question, “If the church as we know it ceased to exist would God’s work continue?” What is it that the church adds to our understanding of the society that makes for a better world?

These are the questions that we must honestly face and wrestle with if we are to be followers of Jesus of Nazareth rather than Jesus the Christ. Is it possible that by looking outside the square of traditional Christianity that has in many ways restricted us; we just may find the true soul of God? How compelling to contemplate such a proposition, but also how challenging. Does the proposition of such an exploration quicken your pulse and speed your blood? Are you beside yourself with joy?

OR
Are you afraid of taking away something, which is comfortable and secure, even if it is intellectually untenable?

John W H Smith. December 2018

Note: Jim Burklo’s “Open Christianity” is an invitation to keep the faith but drop the dogma. Many Christian-heritage seekers struggle with conflicted yearning. They value much that the tradition offers. But the church door feels closed unless they accept beliefs at odds with logic and the truth of their hearts. “Open Christianity” maintains that yes, you can leave behind that which has ceased to make sense, and still be very Christian. Burklo’s discussion of complex topics such as “a theology of ‘enough’,” “soulful sexuality” and “the gospel truth” will be controversial–but enlightening. A product of the author’s work as a Stanford chaplain, a Protestant pastor, and an urban/street minister, this book encourages spiritual growth that won’t founder on efforts to believe the unbelievable. (Available from Amazon Australia).

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Westar Institute: searching for the truth fearlessly

Westar Institute — home of the Jesus Seminar — is dedicated to fostering and communicating the results of cutting-edge scholarship on the history and evolution of the Christian tradition, thereby raising the level of public discourse about questions that matter in society and culture.

What is Westar? What does it stand for? Its new video gives an overview of the history, scholarship, and future of Westar.

Go to: Westar Institute

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For the New Year – a positive view from George Stuart

With another new year approaching, we have looked for something encouraging, hopeful and good in humanity to launch our thinking about the future. From George Stuart‘s yet to be published book: Starting all over again…Yes? or No?

So what for me now?
I was very pleased the other day to receive an email which commenced with,

There is nothing in nature like the daily acts of kindness that characterise humanity. We are by far and away the most altruistic of all known species.

There was no identifying sender and no attribution of the quote given. However I thought, “I’m pleased that at least someone can say something good about humanity.”

Having done a lot of ‘faithful questioning’ with this fundamental, I wish to change the emphasis and remind myself of the following injunction as being an appropriate and wholesome attitude to life, even my life.

Finally brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8.)

I find it very sad that the mantra for the mass media seems to be,

Finally publishers, whatever is false, whatever is criminal, whatever is unjust, whatever is profane, whatever is vile, whatever is corrupt, if there is any scandal, if there is anything worthy of punishment, publish these things. They sell!

My belief is that humans are basically good but, of course, capable of wrong doing in the extreme. As I have previously asserted, God Within gives us all a positive divine dimension. God Within is exposed in a million places by millions of people in millions of unreported human encounters. These loving encounters are sometimes prompted in rebellion to the behaviour of the powerful, when they behave badly, irresponsibly or corruptly.

Many of the expressions of love and compassion occur quite spontaneously, especially in response to some particular and present human need. Recently my wife had a serious fall in a public carpark. When she fell, she chipped a front tooth and hurt one of her knees badly. She was crying and calling out for help. I have never seen her so distressed. Thankfully no bones were broken. Within a few seconds, literally, there were four strangers with us, all wanting to lend assistance. They were able to help and for that, we were very thankful. This example demonstrated to me what just about always happens when someone is in trouble like that. It is ordinary and probably that is why it never gets into the TV news. It’s not sensational. Thank goodness it’s ordinary. It happens all the time. Little people keep love alive.

Why do I think that humans are basically good? It is because I believe that God is inherent in all life, within in a way that human-beings can experience, appreciate and respond to. This God dimension, I suggest is not dependent on adherence to any particular set of creeds or beliefs, not especially evident in religious people, not the prior possession of any particular human group or culture, but universally inherent. Human goodness, the God dimension of humanity is exposed, expressed and seen whenever love and compassion are lived. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that humans are spontaneously good and concerned for one another. I believe it is the millions of little people who produce this evidence. Why are there so many voluntary organisations which depend totally on the good will, support and effort of ordinary people?

In his last essay, Steve Jobs, before he died, wrote,

There is a big difference between a human being and being human.(1)

He is using the word ‘human’ in a positive sense and I think he was affirming that goodness is at the basis of humanity. I agree. He is implying that to be ‘human’ is to be good.
I am certainly not saying that humans are in no need of forgiveness and reconciliation, but I am saying that this is not the whole story, as is suggested to me by the early Genesis stories and the hymns I am constantly requested to sing in church services. In my lyrics below, I suggest there is a praiseworthy side of humanity. So much spontaneous love and concern as well as premeditated love and concern is shown by human beings to other human beings with no thought of reward or even recognition. Many may not call their behaviour actions of love and concern, but that’s what they are. Recently I heard of a neighbour breaking a window of a house which was on fire, to rescue two elderly people trapped inside. After the fire was put out and the two elderly people were safe and well, someone said to the neighbour who had risked his own life, that he was a hero. His reply was, “Well that’s a bit ridiculous. Anyone else would have done the same.” This sort of comment is made so often by ordinary people. Little people keep love alive. This is my experience in life and my beliefs need to reflect it.

From my lyrics No. 9.
Humans Do Amazing Things
Tune: Ebenezer

When surrounded with adversity
Humans do amazing things.
When struck down by grim calamity
Humans do amazing things.
Strangers risk their lives to rescue;
Danger ignored; the trapped must be freed;
People are of priceless value;
All to help each one in need.

I was speaking to one of my friends the other day and asked her about what she was doing. She said she was putting a lot of her time into helping refugees, Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar who had settled in Australia. She said she helped with English language learning classes on a weekly basis and recently had bought and made available sewing machines to some of the women who wished to learn how to make their own clothes, etc. She said this latest exercise took a lot of time and effort from her, because all sewing machines are different and she had to learn how to use them before she could teach anyone else how to use them. I was surprised because I though sewing machines were just sewing machines. Even though she sometimes got worn out with the refugees’ many and varied requests for help, she said she loved it all. “Sometimes the children call me Mother.” I do not believe she told me all this to get praise from me but she told me just in answer to my questions. She was telling me about her life and activities. However, I felt inspired. What a wonderful way to spend one’s life. Little people keep love alive. In different words and from my theological background, I wish to say, “The kingdom of God is alive and well.” Are we all ‘utterly depraved from conception’?

From my lyrics No. 10.
The Beauty Within Us
Tune: To God be the Glory

The beauty within us – the impulse to care
Is God’s image planted, of which we are heir;
For friend and for stranger when need is severe
Our heart gives attention; our help is sincere.
When we heed others’ need
And no matter how small,
When we heed others’ need
We respond to God’s call;
With God deep within us, our spirit is bold;
The Christ is then present; his love we unfold.
I believe there is an innate goodness in human-beings. God Within shines so brightly if we decide to let it.

I have to ‘faithfully reject’ what I understand to be this fundamental of the orthodox Christianity’s emphasis I have been taught, regarding the sinfulness and unworthiness of humanity. I don’t have to ‘Start all over again’ but I have to modify and reconstruct considerably, this emphasis that I have been taught in the past by the church.

  1. Steve Jobs – The world’s six best doctors

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Celebrating the Banquet of Jesus

I remember vividly the most heated theological debate during my time in theological hall. It wasn’t about a doctrine or creed as such, it was whether a dying person had really received the ‘host’ at Holy Communion just before death. There were a number of student theologians present including Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists and Catholics.

The debate included a wide range of opinions such as if the person vomited immediately after taking the bread and wine can we honestly claim they had received the ‘last supper’. Or if they died within a few minutes of receiving Holy Communion had they actually participated in accepting the body and blood of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Many in the debate argued that if a person held the elements in their mouth for more than three minutes it was sufficient to claim that they had received the ‘host’. Others argued that they would have to digest the elements to the point that they had entered the blood stream before such a claim could be made.

During this animated discussion I was aware of an anger rising within me. I was mentally asking myself the question, “Have we lost our way? Here is a person dying and wanting to be comforted, the bread and wine are symbols only. Was it possible that our supportive presence at the bedside was really the Holy Communion, in that we were sharing the presence of the God we had found in Jesus whilst recognizing the divine spirit in the person seeking our offer of comfort and assurance? Is it in the sharing of intimate thoughts and feelings and particularly those, of a spiritual nature, that is in reality Holy Communion? Why would we want to waste precious moments in being concerned about whether someone had ingested the elements or not when the suffering person is seeking assurance that they are worthwhile, and they are surrounded by a powerful source of love.

There is general agreement amongst biblical scholars that eating together and sharing are central elements in the life of Jesus and his followers. The emphasis on his eating habits is so pronounced that in Matthew (11:19) we read that Jesus is labeled a ‘glutton and a drunkard’. There does not appear to be any evidence that Jesus himself initiated the ‘Eucharist’ or ‘Holy Communion’ and it is more likely that it was a practice established some time after his death.
There are four significant accounts of the tradition of the ‘Lord’s Supper’ in the New Testament, these being; Paul in 1st Corinthians 11: 23-26, Mark 14:22-25, Matthew 26: 26-29 and Luke 22: 15-20. We have an account also in John’s gospel (John 13: 1-15) of Jesus at supper with the disciples and it is interesting to note there are no special words or actions used. Hence, rather than one single format there is a multiplicity of supper styles.

What was Jesus attempting to convey in his emphasis on table etiquette? John Dominic Crossan writes that meals for Jesus were a practice of ‘Open Commensality’, or simply ‘Open Table’ (the term ‘mensa’ coming from the Latin meaning ‘table’). They are egalitarian in style and format in that all are welcome as pronounced in his Parable on the Great Dinner (Luke 14: 15-24).
Does our current practice of Holy Communion convey the message of Jesus or has it become some secret little ritual where the terms we use, such as ‘body’ and ‘blood’, are an anathema to many of our members and total confusion to outsiders. Like the theological student debate are we more concerned with ritual than conveying the message of Jesus, which is to accept all people and welcome them to share the table with us?

Table fellowship is not just eating and drinking together it is a sharing of ourselves, the giving of ourselves to each other in the spirit of love. In our current practice are we sharing the spirit of God in Jesus with each other in a concrete practical way?

In his excellent book “The God of Jesus” Stephen Patterson states that many Christians discover the spirit of Jesus more in the sharing of meals than in contemplating the execution of Jesus at the hands of the Roman Empire. The open table fellowship means being accepted for who you are and being forgiven for your human frailties which is a profound spiritual experience.

Therefore, is it time to give our current practice of Holy Communion the ‘Heave Ho’ and replace it with the ‘Celebratory all-inclusive banquet of Jesus’ where all are welcome?

In our Church liturgy is it time to give all of our rituals a contemporary overhaul instead of preserving traditional forms developed by an early church, but with little relevance to 21st century language and practice. The language we use in our liturgy is more suitable to the first century of Imperial Rome and the life of Caesar Augustus who was referred to as: Lord, Almighty, Saviour of the World, and Son of God than to the historical Jesus.

We should welcome people with a real sense of hospitality to the banqueting table, where all human beings are considered equal and all life forms are respected. It is here that we can enjoy the hospitality of the God that we have experienced in the life of Jesus. It is here that we can witness to the transforming influence of God’s spirit.
John W H Smith
December 2018

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Featured post

Book Review: Outspoken

Fr. Rod Bower, 2018,

Outspoken: The Life and Work of the Man behind the Signs.

Penguin Books

Born to a young unmarried mother through to his adoption, Rod Bower shares his struggles to establish his identity in the midst of bullying and his step-father’s early death. He finds acceptance within Anglo-Catholicism, eventually going to seminary, ordination and appointment to the Gosford Parish with a deep passion for social justice. Promoted to Archdeacon, he resigns when prohibited from providing pastoral care to a parishioner because of their being on a criminal charge. He steps down from the high calling of celibacy, to marry a divorcee. Now a step-father to two teenagers, he loves into adulthood. His marriage energises his public ministry of billboard signs and social media posts from which they endure a conservative backlash.

His theology of billboard signs reveals a deep empathy for Jesus’ mission to the marginalised which in the modern context involves challenging attitudes towards “illegal” asylum seekers, Islam, LGBTQ and climate change. Fr Rod Bower demonstrates how billboards gives the Church a platform for sharing the Gospel in the public square, exposing the ethical failings of Parliament.

.
Fr Rod Bower’s “Stages of Spirituality” gives valuable insight into institutional Christianity, from Stage One “ego driven” Pentecostalism, to Stage Two “ego within safe boundaries” of Church rules and regulations, to Stage Three where Church people move out engaging in secular projects for the “Common Good”. The fourth and final stage is that of the Mystics who move seamlessly between all stages. Fr Rod Bower positions his ministry at Stage Three with a future goal of being an Independent Senator who maintains separation between Church and State, by resigning his priesthood if so elected.

A prophetic book by a deeply spiritual person engaged with the suffering of the world.
Richard Smith  22 December 2018

Richard C.G. Smith, PhD – From Farm Economist to Earth Systems Scientist measuring human impacts from satellite to help manage a global warming future. Lay Preacher and Chairperson of WA Progressive Christian Network. Chair of Creative Living Centre, Floreat Uniting Church, walking along side Indigenous peoples of Mowanjum in the West Kimberley and West Papua, Eastern Indonesia.

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More clericalism or a new doctrinal and organisation paradigm for the church

Is new life ahead in the (Catholic) church? An article by Sr. Ilia Delio

[Ilia Delio, a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Washington, D.C., is the Josephine C. Connelly Endowed Chair in Theology at Villanova University. She is the author of 16 books, including Making All Things New: Catholicity, Cosmology and Consciousness (Orbis Books 2015), and the general editor of the series Catholicity in an Evolving Universe.]

September 6, 2018

The recent disclosure of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and the extent of depravity reported in the news are symptomatic of a church in crisis. It is no longer acceptable for the pope simply to issue a public apology nor is it sufficient for any group merely to reflect on what has happened by issuing position statements.

The church has a deep structural problem that is entirely bound to ancient metaphysical and philosophical principles, not to mention imperial politics, that at this point requires either a radical decision towards a new ecclesial structure or the acceptance of the possibility of a major schism.

The rock-solid church has crushed human souls and twisted authority into deceit. The male-dominated Christ center no longer holds and there is simply no solution or comforting words that can placate the extensive damage to fragile human lives that has taken place over the past decades. The evidence of abuse brought to light in the Catholic Church is simply unfathomable.

There is something profoundly intransigent about the structure of the church. It is not church structures that have caused the abuse, but they have masked predators hiding as priests in a closed caste system of clerical elitism.

The resurgence of abuse points to something deeply amiss, if not embedded, in church culture. “Culture” is a complex term that encompasses the set of operative meanings and values. Church culture is based on operative principles of hierarchy, patriarchy, careerism and the notorious notion of priestly consecration as becoming “ontologically changed.”

The hierarchical pecking order from priest to pope has entailed obeisance in the quest for a higher position on the ladder of ecclesiastical success. Clericalism is a type of corporate ladder climbing and no different from the quest for power in the world of major corporations. Corporate power, like ecclesial power, is marked by the dominant male, akin to the evolutionary hunter who is “red in tooth and claw;” the priest-hunter can be cunningly deceptive at achieving his desired goal.

How did we get here? If the church is founded on the Good News of Jesus Christ, how did it become so radically disconnected from the itinerant preacher from Nazareth?

Read the full article here: Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

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Conservatives frustrate the transition away from clericalism

Address to the Concerned Catholics of Canberra and Goulburn Forum

Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta

28 September 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The Role of the Faithful in a post-Royal Commission Church in Australia”

Dear friends,

I would like to pay my respect and acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which this meeting takes place, and also pay respect to Elders both past and present.

Thank you for the invitation to speak at this forum and to have the opportunity to listen to the voices of the Concerned Catholics of Canberra and Goulburn in the spirit of genuine synodality.

The events in these last few weeks, including the sensational accusations against Pope Francis himself by the former nuncio to the U.S. has caused great turmoil in the Church. The sexual abuse crisis is inundating the whole Church like a tsunami and it has the potential to cause long-term damage, chaos and even schism. (Mind you, there is already a silent schism in that the majority of Australian Catholics have simply walked away from the practice of the faith.)

It is the biggest crisis since the Reformation and it exposes the ideological conflict that runs deeply through the length and breadth of the universal Church.

The anti-Pope Francis forces who have accelerated their frontal attacks against him in a coordinated and virulent manner. The gloves are clearly off and they have seized this moment of turmoil as an opportunity to undermine his papacy and derail his reform agenda. How time has changed in the Catholic Church!

Find the complete article at: Catholic Outlook

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The Humanity of Jesus

John Smith has provided us this reflection. John (bio below) is the author of Honest to GOod (see below). Comments are welcome at ‘Leave a reply’ (above).

I recently had a conversation with a friend who had just been to a retirement party. It was with some amusement that he told his story. Apparently he was enjoying some nibbles and a few drinks with friends from the office. He was happily chatting about old times when the formal part of the evening began. There was an impressive array of speakers waxing lyrical about the retiree. As my friend listened, he could not connect what was being said with the real flesh and blood person that he knew in reality. They were well into the speeches when he realized that the ‘saintly’, ‘wise’, ‘can do’ person that they were talking about was himself. So good were the compliments that for a brief moment he thought he had died and gone to heaven.

He became aware for the first time that all of the character traits that he disliked about himself were, in the eyes of others, noble strengths. Suddenly his ‘nitpicking’ became a special eye for detail and his ‘in-your-face’ aggression was, in reality a gentle confronting of people to look at themselves and to judge their own actions. His often used ‘cruel sarcasm’ to put people down were actually witticisms embedded in an unconventional wisdom. He wasn’t taking the ‘Mickey out of people’ he was helping them to be reflective and to gain insight into their own actions. His outbursts with people who made mistakes now became an expectation that the person could do so much better. It was an indication of his belief in the others potential and his commitment to excellence that were in evidence here.

The strangest thing about these comments was that the people making them were genuine and so he had to ask himself why is this. Were they afraid to tell him what a pain he had been and what they really thought of him? Were they so pleased to see him go from the firm that they didn’t mind lying about it?

Suddenly the penny began to drop, when the third speaker said through a flood of tears, that they loved him and wondered how they would cope at work without him and his support. Here was the answer; people somehow had come to love and care for him and truly only saw the best in him. Those who worked with him were able to honestly put a positive spin on all of his negative behaviours and to enlarge and make almost miraculous his many positive characteristics.

In a radio interview Professor Lloyd Geering comes to a similar conclusion about the gospel writer’s portrait of Jesus of Nazareth. He imagines that if Jesus had been listening to what they said about him he would not believe his ears. Jesus would probably have been like my friend and place his behaviour into a more human and realistic perspective. He most likely would have been appalled to hear that he considered himself the only avenue to God, when we know how inclusive his attitude to life was. Jesus being ‘the way, the truth and the life’ or the ‘light of the world’ or the ‘bread from heaven’ or the ‘Son of God’ was more a statement by the writer of John’s gospel than the actual words of Jesus. It is most likely that the interpretation of the so-called miracles would have been another source of irritation for Jesus; whether this was the miracles involving the control over nature or the feeding of the five thousand. The interpretation of the healing narratives and the formalizing of the Jesus movement into a church may not have met with Jesus earnest endorsement.

It is most likely that there were times when people did not understand Jesus’ humour, or his anger about injustice, or times when they misinterpreted his words and actions to justify their own behaviour.

We need to ask the question who is the real Jesus?

So why did people tell these stories about Jesus? Why did they embellish the stories about Jesus so as to make them almost impossible to believe? Was it to draw a connection between God and Jesus? Did the gospel writers want to establish evidence that Jesus was divine by attributing to him miraculous acts?

Or like my friend, did people tell stories of the larger-than-life Jesus because he meant so much to them. Did they embellish the stories because they loved him and wanted others to know how important he was? The stories of Jesus maybe possibly be a reflection of the regard that people had for him rather than factual details. However we interpret this it does indicate that this man from Nazareth had a profound impact on the people he met and developed relationships with.

We too can enter into a relationship with the authentic Jesus, but to do so it may require us to be more perceptive about human frailty than we currently are.

John W H Smith

Honest to GOoD is the story of a personal journey in search of spiritual wholeness with intellectual integrity. It is written in the hope that it will encourage others to explore the spiritual dimension of their lives and not be satisfied with easy answers or pronouncements by religious authorities, especially when they conflict with reason and personal experience. The writer asserts that we should recognise and affirm the presence of this spirit of the sacred energy, which he calls God, and which Jesus claims resides within and around all people in the ordinary events of life. Further, we should be prepared to follow its promptings, even if they confound conventional wisdom. Each spiritual journey is a unique experience in that each person must find his/her own religious voice – anything else is heretical. The God of Jesus is present and comes to visibility in our interpersonal relationships with others. The Jesus message that the reign of God is present is a most revolutionary one, because it challenges the Christian Church to reveal the presence of this sacred energy by affirming its visibility in every circumstance. This book is a message of hope because it affirms that the God Spirit is with us and is continually revealed in random acts of kindness and generosity.

The book retails at $25.00 plus postage and John has copies available should people wish to buy it.  Contact John Smith

John W H Smith. C.V.

Rev John Smith is a recently retired Uniting Church minister who was ordained in 1974 in the Methodist Connexion. John has had a varied ministry including, welfare management, chaplaincy and parish ministry. As a trained social worker with a Masters degree from Flinders University John is best known for his pioneering work with children, especially those in need of care and protection, including young offenders. His pioneering work in assisting adults who have intellectual disabilities to become accepted and recognised for their abilities, has received national recognition. John was a welfare service manager for 27 years.
He is a founding member of the Progressive Christian Network of Victoria and continues as a member on the state committee. He is also a founding member of Common Dreams Conferences and continues to serve on the national committee planning team.
He writes articles on the historical Jesus for faith communities and has co-edited with Rex Hunt on “Why Weren’t We Told? A handbook on progressive Christianity,” as well as “New Life Rediscovering Faith: Stories from progressive Christians”. His most recent book “Honest To GOoD Discerning the Sacred in the Secular” is the story of his personal journey in search of spiritual wholeness with intellectual integrity.

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Book: The Ending of Mark’s Gospel: the key to understanding the gospels and Christianity

Dr Peter Lewis has kindly made available his new publication at cost to interested readers. You can get this from Peter for $20 posted in Australia.  It has 56 A4 pages and contains three of his articles plus an Introduction and other material. To reduce the cost it has wire binding. Enquiries to pelew3@gmail.com

See our recent post – An Explanation for the Abrupt Ending of Mark’s Gospel for some background to Peter’s research.

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CHRISTMAS… AN EXTREMELY DIFFICULT GIG TO CHRISTIANISE!

From Rev Rex Hunt

Christmas and Popular Culture.
I preached/gave this at a Unitarian Fellowship in Sydney last Sunday.

[Comments welcome at ‘Leave a reply’, above]

I’ll call him Merv. A young Sydney Anglican minister fighting Christmas crowds.
Looking for a special gift at one shop,
a toy another place, a card at still another.

Eventually he finds something he likes, or more importantly,
that he thinks someone else will like.

The salesperson wishes him a ‘Merry Christmas’ as she hands back his purchase and change.
Merv responds with a smile and a cheerful, “Have a materialistic Christmas.”

Apparently the saleswoman misses the sarcasm,
for she returns the smile before moving on to her next customer.

Pleased with his protest, Merv moves on, too.
Not only is he determined to avoid the frantic shopping crowds
that seem to grab everyone else in December,
he will make a statement as well.

oo0oo

The Christmas that Australians celebrate today seems like a timeless weaving of
custom and feeling beyond the reach of ordinary history.
Yet the familiar mix of cards, carols, parties, presents, tree, and Santa
that have come to define December 25 is little more than 135 years old.

In 1788 when the First Fleet arrived from England, Governor Arthur Phillip not only established a penal colony he also won the land for ‘protestant’ Christianity. (Breward 1988:2)

According to some historians Phillip saw religion as a “useful package of warnings and admonitions that supplemented the cell, chains, the lash, the gallows, or the rewards and remissions for good conduct.” (Blainey 1987:429)

Hence christianity was in the main rejected by the convicts and only slightly embraced by the free settlers in latter years. Which has led others to conclude that in Australia, Christianity has always been rather a casual affair. And at best, the nation was only ever superficially christianised.

As an event in Australian society, Christmas in the early days of the colony held little importance. Unless Christmas Day fell on a Sunday a holiday was not declared. And the day was usually celebrated with a compulsory Anglican church parade or, if punishment had to be administered to a convict, perhaps a reduction in the sentence was ordered.

It would appear that on Christmas Day in 1788 a convict was arrested for stealing and,
because it was Christmas Day, had his sentence of 200 lashes reduced to 150.
At other times, a double share of rum and rations was offered.

It wasn’t until the mid- to late- 1800s that much of what we in Australia identify as ‘Christmas’ was really celebrated.

And this came about as the result of the influence of several events, primarily in England and America, including changes in technology, the development of the ‘penny post’ system, and
at least three samplings from within popular culture:
(i) an imaginative poem written by a protestant American minister of religion for his three daughters, called ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’;
(ii) some art sketches inspired by that poem, along with a series of commercial advertisements for an American soft drink manufacturer, and
(iii) a Christmas morality story published in England by Charles Dickens
originally called A Christmas Carol, in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas.

Much later, when Christmas did begin to influence the social and religious life of the colony,
it was mostly through secular ‘nostalgia’ rather than religious leanings.

Old customs and symbols such as the tree and presents were yearned for, and the arrival of food stuffs and other items were eagerly awaited as ships from England docked in December.
These old traditions were never totally abandoned, but aspects of the festival were ‘Australianised’ and became increasingly nationalistic. Australian Christmas Card art competitions were held, with cash prizes. The small tree, aptly named ‘Christmas Bush’,
which was growing in great abundance around Sydney, became a popular substitute for the fir (Christmas) tree.

And while American artist Thomas Nast introduced a ‘winter’ Santa Claus to the world in the 1860s, some enterprising Australian artists a few years later, gave him a cooler ‘summer’ outfit,
complete with kangaroo driven sleigh.

It was a big transition to form a southern Christmas in peoples imaginations when for so long the Christmas imagery focused on the north with mid-winter snow on a fir tree and a log fire in the grate!

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Pre-publication extract: Starting all over again. Yes or No?

George Stuart (Singing a New Song) has kindly given us open access to his yet to be published book.

Starting all over again? Yes or No?

A faithful questioning of all I have been taught
about God, Jesus, Creation, Humanity,
Prayer, Sacrifice, Life after Death, Heaven
and the Bible.

From the Conclusion and after a far ranging practical and interesting discussion questioning eight decades of traditional church teaching:

What comes next for me?
I have taken up the challenge presented by Dr Val Webb in her recent book ‘Testing Tradition and Liberating Theology’ where she states that her aim …’is to help lay people in particular to see that there has never been only one way to think about God and that traditional arguments have often been held in place by power and authority against other more refreshing theologies. My aim is to keep people ‘doing their own theology’- finding something that works for them and is transforming in our contemporary world.’

I hope I have not betrayed her trust in regular church-goers. Unlike most regular church-goers, I have had a formal theological training and I have probably done more theological reading and solid Bible study than most others so I suppose I am not really representative of the great bulk of people who still attend church services. Even so, not being an academic theologian, a biblical scholar nor historian, I still have this urge to make a response of my continual questioning. Some of this has been very difficult for me, but Val Webb has challenged me to find my faltering, and partially-informed voice.

So how do I respond to all this ‘faithful questioning’, concerning the exercise of my discipleship? Am I virtually saying that the Bible has got it wrong about a theistic God? Am I saying the early church fathers got it wrong about Jesus? Am I saying that the church, for hundreds of years has been preaching the wrong message about the Cross and God’s Plan for Salvation? To an extent I suppose I am. Some might say that is very arrogant. I’m not sure how to respond to that accusation. All I can say is, that this is where my study, my searching and all my ‘faithful questioning’ has led me.

Sometimes I feel I am betraying the church and Jesus. Sometimes I feel I have been betrayed by the church and its teachings. I never feel betrayed by Jesus.
So what is the outcome? In many areas of my belief I perceive I have had to ‘Start all over again’. However, I believe I am now in a much more belief-satisfying and Jesus-centred situation than before.

I have tried to argue my positions logically. I have included smatterings of cosmology, psychology and natural sciences in my comments. I have spoken of my experiences as nearly determinative for me. I have tried to state issues as I have perceived them to be, from a church-goer’s perspective. I have relied on new for me, and old information. I have tried to be rational in what I have proposed. I have concentrated on what I see as common sense, plausible and reasonable for my day and age.
I also realise that if I had been brought up as a Buddhist or a Muslim or in any other faith, I would probably have a completely different set of beliefs but I hope I would still be ‘faithfully questioning’ everything. There must always be the ‘Yes. But…..’
And in my continuing questioning journey I believe that

• I must allow both logic and dreaming to have a voice.
• I must embrace both the ‘possible’ and the ‘impossible’.
• I must allow science to be heard alongside poetry.
• I must consider new information but not let it silence wisdom.
• I must not allow the past to dictate the present or the future.

All these have a contribution to make to my human response to Mystery.

Having worked through these eleven major areas of my ‘faithful questioning’, I believe that if people shared only one of these concerns, they might find it sufficient reason to turn their back on the church and leave. I believe that altogether, these concerns could form a very solid basis for very serious consideration to do just that. I could expand further on my reasons for ‘clearing out’ so much, but I wish to state that I think my present beliefs are more Jesus-based. I also wish to correct any impression I may have given, that I feel there is nothing in the Christianity I have been taught which excites or inspires me. That is not the case. There is much, and it all has to do with Love; that which is an emphasis I experience in my church affiliation today.

What keeps me in the church and continuing to struggle with it, is the story of Jesus. For me, it would be good for the church, in its doctrine, its teachings and its practised liturgies, to concentrate more on the human Jesus and less on the distinct and often distant God. I believe we would then be on much more relevant and helpful ground. So I hope I have presented alternative ways of understanding and practising the faith of my childhood, youth and following years, even though in some areas of my questioning I have had to ‘Start all over again’.

So, endless questioning. Maybe some rather pointless. Continuing reappraisal. Maybe some rather dodgy. More rejections. Maybe some rather challenging. More affirmations. Maybe some rather bold. More journeying with Jesus. Maybe most of it rather exciting but always challenging.

All together, if it helps to nurture me and you as disciples, to bring love to blossom, to spread justice and mercy, to encourage ourselves and others to live abundantly, then all of this endeavour may have been worthwhile. If not, it has all been a waste of time, both yours and mine!

Let me conclude, remembering a saying of Jesus, “I tell you this; unless you turn around and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven.” So I appeal to the little child in me and each of us.

Do you know this rhyme?

Scintillate. Scintillate. Globule vivific.
Feign would I fathom thy nature specific.
Loftily poised in the ether capacious;
Strongly resembling a gem; carbonaceous.

You may not. However, I think you may remember this one.

Twinkle. Twinkle little star.
How I wonder what you are.
Up above the world so high;
Like a diamond in the sky.

I believe both rhymes are important. ‘To scintillate’ is significant and ‘to fathom’ can certainly lead to spiritual growth. I also wish to affirm that both ‘to twinkle’ and ‘to wonder’ are profound.

Let us twinkle for ourselves, Jesus and most importantly for others around us. Let us love. You in your small corner and I in mine.

The way we live is more important than what we believe.

My warmest greetings. Grace and Peace. George.

oOo

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Homily: The Older Christmas Story

THE OLDER CHRISTMAS STORY
Homily given by Terry Fitzpatrick on the first Sunday of Advent

at St Marys In Exile South Brisbane 02.12.18

Today I would like to examine the theological origins at the heart of our Christmas celebrations. And I wonder if it is time to be telling the older Christmas Story. Starting at the beginning I reflect on our Gospel today from the opening lines of John’s Gospel.
“In the beginning was wisdom…”
I deliberately used the feminine noun wisdom (Sophia) instead of masculine noun, word (Logos) in an attempt to return to the original text from which the writer of John’s gospel borrowed. It is widely understood by many biblical scholars that author of John’s gospel borrowed heavily from the wisdom literature to write the gospel. According to biblical scholar James Rendel Harris, “The origins of the prologue to John’s Gospel was probably a re-casting of a hymn in honour of Sophia, divine wisdom, echoed in the eighth chapter of Proverbs and the seventh chapter of Wisdom of Solomon.”

In understanding the older Christmas story we must get beyond even our Judaeo-Christian roots to a much bigger story.

Speaking of things in the beginning allow me to share a little story about a Steel company looking for a new beginning and a bit of a shakeup hired a new CEO. The first thing the new boss was determined to do, was to get rid of all the company slackers. On a tour of the facilities, the CEO noticed a guy leaning against a wall. The room was full of workers and he wanted to let them know that he meant business. He asked the guy, “How much money do you make a week?” A little surprised, the young man looked at him and said, “I make $400 a week. Why?”
The CEO said, Wait right here.” He walked back to his office, came back in two minutes, and handed the guy $1,600 in cash and said, “Here’s four weeks ‘pay. Now GET OUT and don’t come back.”

Feeling pretty good about himself the CEO looked around the room and asked, “Does anyone want to tell me what that goof-ball did here?” From across the room a voice said- he’s the Pizza delivery guy from Domino’s. Probably not the fresh beginning the new CEO was looking for.
Origins of Christmas.

Before I introduce you to the older story of Christmas allow me to examine our present origins of Christmas. As we approach Christmas I wonder increasingly how to make sense of it. I think I have found a way which I will share with you. I would like to acknowledge the work of Michael Morwood, theologian and educationalist, who has assisted me in my reflections. Some of you may be wondering what I am speaking about. Give me a moment to explain myself.

Christmas has come to mean the celebrations of the birth of Jesus, the incarnate one, the one from heaven, the God who becomes flesh, who comes to rescue us from our sins and for those who believe, provide a doorway/gateway back to God and for those who don’t find the doorway, an eternal life awaits in a not very pleasant place called hell.
Wow! What sort of God is that?

Do we really want to still promote that God in any shape or form? Where and when did this understanding of God arrive, and who or what does it serve?

From my wide reading I have come to see that it was a gradual emerging phenomena that came with the move from hunter-gatherer life-styles with deep connections to creation, to the rhythm and cycles of life and where the sacred resided. In order to survive and for heathy connection and understanding and preservation of the environment meant better chances of survival.

The move to agrarian, settler lifestyles, to the bigger gatherings of small villages to towns and cities meant the need for proper crowd control and the promotion of moral codes and standards for living together in close proximity. Here we witness the rise of the priestly class, middle management, between God and humankind. The sacred and divine which was once found in nature, in the rocks, rivers, and the movement of the tides and breezes, now resides in another place beyond this world which became known in the Judaeo- Christian tradition as ‘Heaven’. Over time we were told by the priests that it becomes increasingly difficult to get to this place unless certain beliefs and actions were performed and lo and behold for those who did not fulfil the prescribed requirements an eternal life of punishment and hell.

The priests developed elaborate rituals and actions which could placate this increasingly ANGRY GOD. We were informed that we were fortunate to have these go-betweens who knew how to please God and how to get people into heaven and how to avoid hell. How to bless things to make them holy and sacred. Life of this earth was only a trial to get to the ultimate prize of heaven. For in the famous Hail Queen of heaven prayer which many Catholics would have said reciting the rosary about life on this earth. We were, “poor banished children of Eve mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.” Life on earth was an exile and a trial and was not sacred in any shape or form, unless a priest made it so.

In the famous carol, ‘O Holy Night’ we hear in the opening lines, “long lay the world in sin and error pinning, till he appeared and the spirit felt its worth. A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices…”
Jesus breaks open the doors of heaven by dying on the cross for our sins. It is only now thru this action we can gain access to the sacred, and the priest accesses Jesus and pleads with him now because Jesus sits on the right hand of the Father and has special access. When the priest prays all his prayers it is, “through Christ our Lord. Amen.” And only through Christ because we are still not worthy.

Let’s examine some of the words in our popular carols if you have any doubt that this is at the theological core of our Christmas celebration.

FIRST NOEL In the last stanza of this carol
“Then let us all with one accord,
sing praises to our Heavenly Lord
that hath made heaven and Earth of nought
with his blood mankind has brought
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel”
HARK THE HERALD ANGLES
“Hark the herald angles sing
Glory to the newborn King
God and sinners reconciled…”
Later on
“Born to raise the sons of earth
(not the daughters)
Born to give them second birth
Hark the herald angles sing
Glory to the new born king”
AWAY IN A MANGER
Last stanza “Bless all the dear children In thy tender care
And take us to heaven (that is where we encounter the divine not in this valley of tears, this place of exile) To live with thee there.
WE THREE KINGS (second last stanza)
“Glorious now behold him arise
King and God and Sacrifice (Jesus will pay the price, make the sacrifice so we can get into heaven) Alleluia, Alleluia Earth to heav’n replies”
THE OLDER CHRISTMAS STORY
All through our carols these small minded sentiments about the divine are central. But these narrow minded sentiments were not always central in Christianity. Throughout the ages the mystics, poets and deep thinkers have seen through this pantomime. Meister Eckhart writing in the 12th century,
” we find God in everything alike, and find God always alike in everything.”
Gregory of Nyssa writing in the 4th Century,
“When one considers the universe, can anyone be so simple- minded as not to believe that the divine is present in everything, pervading, embracing and penetrating it”

This thinking expressed by Gregory of Nyssa was more prevalent in pre-Constantinian times, but with the rise of the Constantinian church with its symbiotic relationship with State power, and becoming the moral guardian and sustainer of law and order in the empire through its reward and punishment theology, crowd control was assured.

It was not only Christianity who used this method of control through its religious class, it is found in other empires such as the rise of the Muslim empires for example the Ottoman Empire. But the mystics always broke through, we are most familiar with Rumi and Hafiz ,
“Stop acting so small, you are the universe in ecstatic motion” Rumi

We hear from Abdallah ibn Tumart writing in the 12th Century,
“Time does not enfold God
Space cannot hold God
Intelligence cannot conceive God
Imagination cannot conceive God
Absolutely nothing is like God”

These embracers of the silent world could intuit and know something beyond the world of the mind, the small critical judging mind, obsessed with whose in, whose out etc. I have spoken of in the past, where Jesus invites us beyond. To repent, to metanoia, to meta from the greek, to move above. The noia, the mind, the small judging critical mind to the bigger mind, the mind which can be truly present, Aware and Awake to this world, this amazing earth on which we live and move, this amazing body which we inhabit.

A body made up of 60 trillion cells with each cell made up of one thousand million, million, million, million atoms. Every night we replace 10 trillion cells no wonder we wake up tired in the morning. This body we inherit from a story which goes back to the beginning of the universe 13.8 billion years ago, and in particular our earth and solar system 4.5 Billion years ago when the great Super Nova imploded on itself generating the right amount of heat to create the elements we needed to produce an earth, Carbon, magnesium, potassium, Zinc, Sodium, iron…etc…

In this, Consciousness came into form, God, the word, wisdom, became flesh,,,as we heard in John’s Gospel. But much than flesh, not limited to the human, but all of life infused with the divine. Every common bush as we find in the words of Elizabeth Barret Browning,
“Earth is crammed with heaven (the sacred)
And every common bush afire with God (Consciousness)
But only they who see take off their shoes”
Or in the words of Gerard Manly Hopkins
“The universe is charged with the grandeur of God”

This is the incarnation story that the mystics, the poets and deep thinkers could see.
This is the older Christmas story we must celebrate. For Christmas is about celebrating the divine in our midst. A presence which has never left us.

A world infused with the presence of God, consciousness, the sacred, the divine. Not trapped in some heaven, where we may or may not encounter after death. Who is controlled by middle men who say what is holy and what is profane.

The universe story is our Common Story it belongs to everyone, not one culture or religion possesses it, its story we are learning about day by day, it’s unfolding, it invites wonder and awe.
In the words of the famous eco-theologian Thomas Berry” it’s the first time in human history that we have a common story”

And what a story this is. An older Christmas story which belongs to everybody.
Far more wonderful than we could ever have imagined.
I believe the mystics saw this, Jesus saw this, and hopefully many more. It’s a story that can unite us, it invites us to care for this earth which is infused with the divine.

This is EMMANUEL!
The beloved is truly with us and has never left us.

oOo

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St Michaels Collins Street Melbourne calling a Minister of the Word

Our friends at St Michaels , the thinking person’s church, and the VICTAS Synod of the UCA have asked us to circulate this notice:

St Michael’s Uniting Church in Melbourne, Australia has commenced the process of Calling for the sole position of Minister of the Word. This position will be advertised within Australia and internationally to ensure the most excellent person is called.

We would appreciate if you would please distribute this email and the attached advertisement for Minister of the Word to anyone in your network you believe to be suitable and interested in this position.

St Michael’s is a vibrant, city church which has a unique Mission and Vision for the
21st Century. We are committed to an innovative and progressive theology which supports our spiritual and psychosocial wellbeing, environmental stewardship, and community outreach.
Thank you for your assistance in this matter.
Kind regards,

Rev Alistair Macrae
Convener
Joint Nominating Committee
3rd December 2018

Applications are invited for the position of Minister of the Word St Michael’s Uniting Church Melbourne

An opportunity exists to lead and guide a receptive congregation, in a prestigious city church to its next phase of spiritual growth and development.

The congregation of St Michael’s is looking for a minister who embraces contemporary, progressive Christian theology.

St Michael’s enjoys a vibrant arts and music program which is integral to Sunday services and other scheduled events.

You must be a very well researched and inspiring preacher who understands the opportunities a well-resourced church can offer.

You need to demonstrate:

  •  Strong leadership ability and dynamic communication skills
  • Your ability to inspire, energise and facilitate growth and commitment in the congregation, the life of the Church and its missions locally and globally
  • A commitment to ongoing theological education, integrated with knowledge of other disciplines and contemporary thinking including promotion of psychological health.
  • How you have supported pastoral care initiatives, with insight into emotional and spiritual support.
  • Your experience, creativity and innovation in the development, management and evaluation of community projects.
  • Your capacity to work collaboratively with others in the Uniting Church and beyond.
  • Understanding of the dynamics of a city Church where all are accepted, and there is focus on the worth and dignity of every human being.

Applications Close February 27th 2019

For further information or to apply please contact:

Rev. Sue Withers Placements Secretary placements.secretary@victas.uca.org.au

About St Michaels:

St Michael’s is a unique church in the heart of the city. Unique for our relevant, contemporary preaching that embraces inner wellbeing as our core message.
Sunday services include a mix of traditional and modern presentations. Inspirational music is integral, and most Sunday services include guest musicians, who perform in-between readings.
St Michael’s offers a wide variety of experiences for growth and change. It is a place which affirms and encourages the best expression of who you are and who you can be, not only through the Sunday service but numerous wellbeing programs and our commitment to counselling and psychotherapy.
We believe faith, spirituality and a meaning to life are vital ingredients for our health and wellbeing and that there is a need to get hold of a more authentic religious understanding and to express it more confidently and diversely.
Sunday services commence at 10 am.

 

oOo

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An Explanation for the Abrupt Ending of Mark’s Gospel

One for the scholars and scripture explorers!

An Explanation for the Abrupt Ending of Mark’s Gospel
by Peter E. Lewis

(See author bio at the end of this article. Comments are welcome. Click on “Leave a reply” above.)

The gospel attributed to Mark is the shortest of the canonical gospels and there are features which suggest that part of it is missing. Although it is generally considered to be the earliest gospel the date of its writing is disputed by scholars. For the purposes of the argument presented here it will be assumed that it was the first gospel and that it was written at an early date in Rome. Rome is the most likely provenance given the strength of the early tradition and the fact that in the pericope about the widow’s offering (Mark 12.41–44) the author explains to the readers that her two small coins were worth a quadrans, which was a coin that circulated only in Italy. Moreover, the fact that Jewish customs are explained in Mark 7.3 indicates that the author expected that at least some of the readers would be gentiles.
The literature concerning the ending of Mark’s gospel is vast, and to engage in conversation with modern scholars in all aspects of the problem would inordinately expand the scope of this article, the purpose of which is to concisely present a new explanation for the abrupt ending of Mark’s gospel. It will be argued that Mark had written about the parentage and birth of Jesus but this information was on the first page which was removed when someone pulled off the outer leaf of the codex, thus removing the first and last pages of the gospel. Moreover it will be explained how the original ending of the gospel seamlessly followed on from Mark 16.8. The original ending is reconstructed and shown to be an appropriate ending to the gospel.

[Endnotes: 1,2,3]
Mark’s gospel ends at 16.8 in two ancient manuscripts, Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus (both from the 4th century), and Eusebius (4) and Jerome (5) both state that there was nothing more in most of the manuscripts available to them. The 4th-century Sinaitic Syriac version also ends at 16.8 as does the 12th century manuscript 304. In the other extant manuscripts, however, there is either an additional short ending (6) or long ending (7) or both (8). In those manuscripts with both endings the shorter ending always precedes the longer ending.
Some modern scholars believe that the longer ending is what Mark originally wrote (9). They point to the patristic citations of the longer ending as early as the second century (10). Scholars who find an ending at 16.8 incredible have suggested that the last page of the gospel is missing. Bruce Metzger considered it most probable that ‘the Gospel accidentally lost its last leaf before it was multiplied by transcription’ (11). James A Kelhoffer argued that the longer ending was added in the second century (12). Nicholas Lunn points to sectarians who were opposed to physical resurrection and considers that ‘their deliberate removal of the resurrection narratives from copies of Mark circulating in Egypt would seem to be the most probable cause of the textual problem’ (13). N. Clayton Croy considered that the beginning and end of the gospel were lost because of accidental mutilation (14). J. Keith Elliott considered that Mark’s original gospel was accidentally shortened within the first fifty years of its composition and the later additions to the end and the beginning could have been made in the second century. He speculated that Mark’s original composition was ‘a genealogy or a birth narrative of Jesus and even of John’ (15). In a more recent article he is convinced by Kelhoffer’s argument that the longer ending is a second-century apocryphal text, and states, ‘[W]e must make it clear that it was inappropriately cobbled on as a conclusion that can scarcely be said to develop or belong to vv. 1-8’ (16).
Although Mark might have originally written his gospel on a roll or scroll it would soon have been produced as a book (codex). Graham M. Stanton states that ‘use of the codex in the middle of the first century is perfectly possible’ (17). L. D. Reynolds and N. G. Wilson state that parchment notebooks (membranae) were in use in the first century BCE (18), but the notebooks would also have been of papyrus. Although no surviving manuscript of the New Testament is earlier than the second century, they are almost all in codex form (19). According to Harry Y. Gamble, ‘Most early papyrus codices are constructed on the single quire method’ (20). An example he mentions is P75 from the third century which had the gospels of John and Luke in a single quire of 144 pages. As Mark’s gospel is the shortest gospel it could have been written on only one quire. Therefore, if the last page is missing, the first page would be missing too.

[Endnote 21]
The beginning of Mark’s gospel as it is preserved in the most ancient manuscripts has several problems associated with it, which indicates that it might not be the original beginning. These problems include the following:
1. The first sentence is ‘The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God’, and (as Moule explained) if the first page of the gospel was missing then a statement like this would be necessary at the top of the new first page. If the outer leaf of the codex had been deliberately removed for some reason, this sentence would mean ‘This is the beginning of the gospel, and not any other text.’
[Endnote 22]
3. In Mark 1.1 the word ‘Christ’ as part of the name ‘Jesus Christ’ does not occur elsewhere in Mark’s gospel. The word does occur but it is not used in this way. Because the name ‘Jesus Christ’ is common in later writings it suggests a later hand in this instance.
4. The title ‘Son of God’ is absent from Codex Sinaiticus and some other manuscripts (23) but it was probably originally in Mark 1.1, which was written after the removal of the outer leaf of the codex. If the leaf was removed because Mark had described Jesus’ birth as natural, which the gentile Christians in Rome could not accept, ‘Son of God’ in 1.1 indicates the purpose of their action. Unlike the unclean spirits in 1.24 who acknowledged Jesus in a spiritual sense, the gentile Christians in Rome were referring to impregnation by a god, as was the Roman centurion in 15.39, because of the absence of the article.

6. Mark 1.2 is a mistake. The prophet Isaiah did not write the prophecy in this verse. It was written by Malachi, and is Malachi 3.1. It is unlikely that a writer would begin an account with such a blatant error. It can, however, be explained if the first page had been removed by someone and Malachi 3.1 had been at the end of the page and connected grammatically by ‘just as’ to the following quotation from Isaiah. That person then added Malachi 3.1 to the beginning of the new first page. This suggests that the person was not knowledgeable about the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) and was probably a gentile. Copyists of this mutilated and roughly corrected gospel began to realize that this was an unacceptable error and a number of ancient manuscripts such as Codex Alexandrinus, as well as all the Byzantine manuscripts, have ‘in the prophets’ instead of ‘in the prophet Isaiah’. Various other explanations have been proposed by modern scholars for the insertion of Malachi 3.1 at the beginning of Mark’s gospel. For example, William Lane states that ‘it is commonly regarded as a very ancient gloss, interpolated into the text at so early a stage that it has left its mark on the entire manuscript tradition’. (24)
7. Who is this ‘Jesus’ who is suddenly introduced in Mark 1.9? Such an abrupt introduction might have been because Mark assumed that his readers knew who Jesus was, but ‘Jesus’ was a common Jewish name at the time. Although the later gospels of Matthew and Luke, which were largely copied from Mark, have long passages (often conflicting) about the parentage and birth of Jesus, there is nothing of that in Mark. Where someone was born and who his parents were would have been of considerable interest to ancient readers. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is mentioned by name only once in Mark’s gospel (Mark 6.3) and Joseph is not mentioned at all. It is the thesis of this paper that Mark had written about the parentage and birth of Jesus but this information was on the first page of his gospel, and when the outer leaf of the codex was pulled off the first and last pages were removed. It is unlikely that the outer leaf just fell off accidentally or was lost through wear and tear, as some scholars have suggested.

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Reflection: The Wind, Jesus and Me

 

Jesus and his Disciples stand in a fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee.

There is a bible story that tells of Jesus in a small boat at sea with a few friends. The sea became extremely rough due to strong winds whipping up large powerful waves that threatened to swamp the boat. All on board, except Jesus, were very concerned for their life. The story narrates that Jesus was in fact enjoying a nap in the stern of the boat where he was apparently very comfortable. The friends on board were actually disciples and they thought they knew Jesus very well and were generally of the opinion that he had supernatural powers not possessed by human beings. They thought Jesus may be able to do something to prevent them all drowning at sea, so they woke him up, chiding him about sleeping while they were scared out of their wits and needed his intervention.

Jesus woke, commented on their lack of faith and immediately spoke with the wind, commanding it to calm down and return the sea to a more manageable state that posed no threat of sinking the boat. The boat and all on board made it safely to shore.
I have narrated this story from childhood memory so it may not be 100% correct on all facts, but it serves well as a prompt to consider just what powers Jesus may have displayed during his life and asks me to ponder my own potential, my relationship with nature and therefore with GOD. I don’t offer a strict definition of GOD or categorise the apparent supernatural powers accredited to Jesus. Rather, by relating a recent personal experience and setting this beside the story already presented, I hope to prompt you to consider your relations with nature and GOD.
Three weeks ago I was helping my son David trim a beautiful tall tree in his backyard. I, being the lightweight, had the job of scaling the tree and lopping the branches, while David gave instructions from the ground and acted as safety officer. Prior to climbing I explained our intentions to the tree, hugged the tree with genuine feeling and requested its cooperation in keeping me safe while the haircut took place.

Things went well for about one and a half hours during which time we sent a number of very large branches to the ground, suspended on ropes to hopefully ensure no damage was caused to house, shed, fence, clothesline and of course myself and David. At this point I was suspended on a branch about 6 metres from the main trunk and 7 to 8 metres above the ground. There was only air between me and the ground; no branches to slow me down if I fell. Dave later commented that branch and others would not have supported his weight and that if I did fall, it would mostly likely result in broken bones rather than death. I certainly agreed with the first point and qualified the latter by adding, as long as I didn’t fall on my head (and yes I was wearing a hard hat).

But now to the wonderful part of the story; I was by this time a bit fatigued, a little sore and probably in need of a good cup of tea. Then the wind blew. A wind that was not really strong, but neither could it be described as gentle, as it resulted in my body being moved to one side so that I had to grip more tightly on the branch, hug it closely, and pull myself back to a secure position atop the branch. Initially, I did feel fear, but that lasted probably one second. Then I said to the wind, “Yes I agree, I am tired and should go down and rest. Thank you so much wind for prompting me, I will climb down”. As I said the word down, the wind ceased and I climbed down in safety.

The rest of the day went well; no accidents or damage was caused. About a week later something prompted me to reflect more deeply on my exchange with the wind. Perhaps it was the spirit of Jesus himself nudging me; it is so difficult to determine exactly what goes on in this inner life. It was this period of reflection that led to the recollection of the bible story recounted at the start of this experience.

There seemed to be some parallels here. Jesus had spoken to wind and wave and these natural phenomena did as he asked with the implied understanding that it is all very natural for the forces of nature to cooperate with Jesus. My experience in the tree was not nearly so dramatic and certainly did not represent any power over nature. But in both cases communication between human and wind took place. In one respect it could be said that my experience was even more wonderful than Jesus in the boat, for in my case the wind actually came to my assistance with gentle advice that I had not even requested. Most people probably do not find this credible, but it is consistent with my view of GOD being present in all things. And if this is so, then talking with and expressing wonder and love to trees and wind is synonymous with talking to GOD.

Considering GOD’s assurance that no matter the ups and downs of life, his love and support is unending and unbroken, then why would one not expect the wind to provide assistance even before you know it is needed.
The handwritten draft of this story was produced under a gum tree in my own backyard on a clear and still Sunday. As the writing was coming to a close I went deeper within; the wind blew gently on my face and transported me back to my son’s tree where I had been perched, there to show me that I had not been alone.

Peter Marshall

1st December 2018

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A New Template for Religion ….

Following the posting of Michael Morwood’s New template for Religion on the Catholica blog a very healthy discussion followed. Following this discussion Michael posted a follow up summary of a set of core values.

Both make interesting reading.

  1. Michael Morwood’s New Template for Religion
  2. Michael Morwood’s Rethinking some of our core beliefs

Catholica, “an excitingly different way of looking at faith and spirituality”, can be accessed at;  https://www.catholica.com.au/

It is managed by Amanda McKenna and Brian Coyne.

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DARE International Conference June 2019

Call for Papers: DARE Global Forum 2019 – Christian World Mission (CWM)

Discernment and radical engagement (DARE) are at the heart of the mission that makes CWM what it is. Through DARE, CWM partners with committed and creative thinker-practitioners of our time, signaling to ourselves and to the world, that our loyalty is to the God of life who calls us to take on the life-giving mission for which Jesus lived and died. DARE also comes out of the conviction that another world is possible. Another world free from the politics of hate; ideologies of supremacy; enslavement to the imperial logic; a world in which ecology could heal; security of children is a priority; strangers welcome each other; movement of people is a right and freeing; the elderly are treated with compassion and care.

For more information about DARE 2019 and the call for papers, click here

For more information about CWM, click here

For a YouTube presentation clip from the General Secretary of CWM (Rev Dr. Collin Cowan) click here  Dr Cowan is based in Singapore.

The Council for World Mission is a worldwide partnership of Christian churches. The 32 members are committed to sharing their resources of money, people, skills and insights globally to carry out God’s mission locally. CWM was created in 1977 and incorporates the London Missionary Society (1795), the Commonwealth Missionary Society (1836) and the (English) Presbyterian Board of Missions (1847).

DARE brings together the radical soul of discernment and sense-making in theology and biblical criticism; with the yearnings for signifying engagement that rise out of the slums of modernity and the valleys of despair, and the commitment to redemption songs that inspire disturbance at the hubs of power.

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PCN Explorers meeting in Brisbane on Wednesday 28th November

Just 5 weeks to Christmas, but we will fit in one more PCN Explorers meeting on Wednesday 28th November – none in December of course!

In a previous email I suggested a meeting on Sunday 25th Nov, but had only a just a few who are interested in Sunday afternoon meetings and in particular, only 4 for the planned Sunday. For this reason, we have decided to cancel that date. HOWEVER, the topic is postponed to next year SO WATCH THIS SPACE FOR FURTHER NEWS ABOUT THE TOPIC OF EUTHANASIA. Seems like this topic will be one of interest next year as the State Government considers a change to legislation.

Wednesday 28th November

We will meet at 10 am at Merthyr Road Uniting Church for morning tea, fellowship and discussion. Since this is the period of Advent, leading up to Christmas, it might be a good time to reflect on these seasons of the year. As with the last gathering, there will be no ‘expert presenter’, but I am sure there will be plenty of people of diverse thought who can contribute their thoughts on the meaning of advent and Christmas.

Rev Rex Hunt has published Cards, Carols and Claus: Christmas in Popular Culture and Progressive Christianity which shares a brief story of the celebration of Christmas globally and in Australia and includes quotes from many authors. Hunt maintains that The festival called Christmas is a celebration still ‘under construction’ It is a weaving of story, myth, customs and ritual. From its inception, it has been debated, ignored, celebrated, banned, and from the mid 1800s, reinvented.

Here are some questions to get your thinking started. What is the significance of Advent that many churches observe? What are you waiting for? Is Christmas a time of devotion of just another festival? How do the Nativity narratives touch you? Do you have a favourite Christmas Carol or song? What words come to mind?

Maybe you could write no more than a page to bring to share with the group. You may have quotes from other authors that ‘speak’ to you. I certainly have one from Robin Myers that resonates with my thinking that I will bring.

I hope you can join us. I quick email to say you are coming is helpful (but not essential) so we know how many cups and chairs to put out. We are grateful to Merthyr Road Uniting Church for allowing us to use their central and versatile venue.

We continue to explore how to use language and music that speaks to 21st century people of a love that is relevant, not only sustaining our lives, but enabling hope, joy and peace to lift us above the mundane and allow us to live with all the human integrity we can muster. This too is our wish for your family and friends.
warm regards

Ross and Desley Garnett
drgarn@bigpond.net.au
Ross – 0409 498 402
Desley – 0409 498 403

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Opinion: Is the new ‘orthodox’ theology historical heresy?

In an age when ‘truth’ is increasingly difficult to identify, and ‘orthodox’ theology has become increasingly literal, it is more important than ever to develop skills of discernment and critical thinking.

When I began reading history at the University of Queensland in 1966, I was introduced to EH Carr’s What is History? It was compulsory pre-reading for history studies and I am so glad I was introduced to Carr before I went too far into any critical studies, especially when doing theology and doctoral research into adult learning.

In 1955, it was Professor G Barraclough (History in a Changing World) who said “The history we read, though based on facts, is, strictly speaking, not factual at all, but a series  of accepted judgments.” Barraclough was a trained medievalist.

Carr reminds me of the challenge we are faced with in the current retreat to conservative and fundamentalist use of the scriptures to address the world’s problems. This has really emerged in the nineteenth century and now strongly influences politics and legislation. It is also a major cause of a great division developing in all forms of religion. He describes the nineteenth century heresy that history consists of the compilation of a maximum number of irrefutable and objective facts …. “Anyone who succumbs to this heresy will either have to give up history as a bad job, and take to stamp-collecting or some other form of antiquarianism, or end in a madhouse.” Carr said this in 1961.

History and Theology both experienced the emergence of nationalism in the nineteenth century and reflected a society’s new interest in science and the social sciences. But they both continued to be sources of moral judgment on public actions and worked as conservers of political authority and power. It has taken a major opening up of the scriptures to critical analysis, contextual and historical criticism, to find deeper understandings beyond the literal and the fundamental to serve a world desperate for ways to address the imperatives of life on earth rather than irresponsibly “leave them to God.”

The way in which theology is often used as a set of historical documents and facts that claim to be accurate without bias, and flawlessly presented as a set of truths, is of great concern. It does not allow for establishing relevance with an educated world that is sceptical of knowledge that it is not permitted to challenge. But all history is the history of thought….it is dependent on the empirical evidence available at the time and the writer’s world view. One needs to study the writer before studying the facts! History means interpretation and theology needs to be examined in that light also. So for Carr, (and myself!), history (and theology) is a continuous process of interaction between the writer and his or her facts, an unending dialogue between the present and the past.

But not only is the material under examination influenced by the viewpoint of the writer, it is also rooted in a social and historical background. This is now the growing focus for the writers of alternative histories who, often, tongue in cheek, paint a picture of a world that would result from certain events occurring differently. For example, what if the Roman Empire had not fallen … would it have been the model of a well-governed, prosperous, cosmopolitan society, moved beyond the economic problems that dogged it? Perhaps the world would have been more technologically advanced sooner as the stagnation of scientific enquiry achieved by the Church would have been avoided,  Instead of the intelligentsia putting so much effort into Christian religious doctrine and hoarding knowledge in closed monasteries there would be a freer circulation of information that allowed engineering to innovate much faster (Jerry Glover, historical researcher, UK). Reading for enjoyment some of this material (example pictured above), I can’t help but think that attempts to grow a following for ‘orthodox’ theology has employed similar techniques….imagine an alternative future and make the narrative build a consciousness of it.

The study of history has been liberated by making it more scientific – with demands on those who pursue it to be more rigorous and seek to explain and respond to the incessant question Why?. It has become relevant to a bigger audience. Theology needs to eschew the tendency to move inside the fortress walls and open itself to critical examination. Instead of being a field of study for ‘insiders’ it could, as some are already doing, shed doctrinal and institutional constraints and be a science of enquiry and critical thought that relates to everyperson. This would cast a new optimism on the Church where change is not to be feared, where reason is no longer subordinate to the existing order and progress in human affairs once again is on the agenda.

Paul Inglis 17th November 2018.

Feedback/comments welcome at “Reply” at the beginning of this article. Good to share thoughts with everyone rather than just to me as many have done.

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Something different in a worship event

The 9:30am service on Sunday 18/11/2018 at West End Uniting https://www.westendunitingchurch.org.au/, corner of Vulture and Sussex Streets, Brisbane is advertised as an All Ages Service – it will follow the theme:
The wonder of God who comes close to us.

Guest presenter is Peter Marshall. He will give a Nature based kid’s address plus a personal reading relating to this theme which will be delivered in the time space where the Message would usually be given by the Minister. 15 mins of the service following his section will be for discussion, journaling, quiet time and craft activity (people attend their preference).

Peter has made the following reflection on our review of Peter Gunson’s God Ethics and the Secular Society to the UCFORUM as he prepares for this Sunday:

Like many books or précis of books I come across in very recent times they seem to echo my own thoughts. Generally I find them to support my world view, but in so doing usually do not provide any challenge for me. Of course there is inherent challenge within my world view so perhaps I expect too much in wanting books such as John Gunsons to provide more. At any rate I will be sharing something of my world view at the West End Uniting church on Sunday 18 November at the 9:30am service. I will be most interested to see how my sharing of personal experiences are received and am of course quite nervous about the outcome. But given I am not a minister or even a church member, I think it quite courageous of the West End committee to take a chance on turning quite a large proportion of the service over to me. I hope to bring people to a sense of great wonder through sharing personal experiences of nature and ecology that maybe are very foreign to many churched members. Oh well, gotta take a chance sometimes.

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Book Review: God, Ethics and the Secular Society

Does the Church have a Future? by John Gunson

Just how much are we prepared to be challenged? How far can a critique of the Church as an institution rather than a community be explored? John Gunson takes the reader on a ride that calls for a total rethink of what it means to follow Jesus. This is a no compromise, no apologies, intensely argued case against religion and in favour of a Jesus movement that is centred on ecological ethics and shared responsibility for the future.

Like all great journeys it will stay in the memory and forever affect the subconscious of the reader. For John Gunson the key question is not ‘What is the meaning of life?’ but ‘How should we live?’.

A Jesus ethical ecology will always go further than living for personal meaning – it is to live primarily with ‘the good of all’ being the goal – a pursuit of the greater goal … ‘acting from the point of view of the universe’.

This is a comprehensive coverage of the evolution of religious and theological thinking that has grown around ‘theories of God’ and the parallel growth of scientific thinking that provides alternative answers to developing doctrines. The author is not soft on supernatural theism and also does not see ‘panentheism’ the favourite of many progressives, as the answer. He describes a ‘third way’ – ‘God’ as symbol for the highest and the best that we know or can conceive, a symbol of goodness, truth and love. In doing this he accommodates a scientific world view. He rejects a dualism of the sacred and scientific and sees integrity of personal experiences explained realistically rather than by ‘faith’ and ultimately asks whether Christian theology is worth keeping. What do we lose if we throw out orthodox Christian theology? Is the world any poorer by rejecting scripture as literal?

But John Gunson argues for the retention of much – our urgent and desperate need to overcome self-centredness; our embracing of the Jesus Way as freeing us from self and being for all; the Jesus community as agent for nurturing and sustaining life; a world society where we can live out Jesus’ way of love.

He conducts a splendid survey of contemporary scholarship about Jesus that reveals much that we never had access to in our learning of orthodox theology. He critiques Paul, the dogmas of the Church, the historical perspectives that shaped the Church and makes the case for ‘ethical ecology’ as a basis for constructive living – the core message of Jesus. Ethical ecology asserts that the rational person’s knowledge of the world, and of self, can lead to understanding that the good of each depends on the good of all, and that our capacity for love and good can direct our energies towards successful ecological outcomes. A Christian (or rather a Jesus ecological)ethic will go one step further – lead to living primarily with good of all as our goal, and will need us to sacrifice our own good in the pursuit of that greater good. He presents an Ethical Manifesto to support this argument.

is it time to discard ‘religion’ as a primitive stage of human development – to challenge human maturity and responsibility for all of life and walk softly on the earth rather than have dominion over it? This calls for a new way to be Church. When Paul wrote to various churches that he had founded in Asia Minor, he was addressing the small Christian communities or fellowships in each place – not referring to a building or an institution. The Church should be like these small communities – places for discussion about ethical ecology – the radical ethic of Jesus.

But we are still trapped in Platonic thinking if we think that goodness, truth and love are discreet realities, separate from our thoughts and actions. At the same time Cosmology as a philosophy has outlived its usefulness – so how do we understand the meaning of life? For John Gunson it is through psychology, ethics and above all science.

And lest we fall into the trap of ‘resting’ in our search for understanding – Gunson manages to put under critical focus the major influential writers of this era and none are free from his assertion that they are individually faulty in their claims.

We are a people of new scientific thinking and should give greater credence to our own abilities to interpret the meaning of life.

Highly recommended reading.

Paul Inglis 5th November 2018.

This book is available in print (Morning Star Publishing)  and e-copy (Amazon Australia Kindle)

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Discussion: Panentheism

St Catherines Anglican Middle Park PAX (Progressive Anglicans) are having an advent dinner on 11 NOV 2018 at 6pm. During the meal there will be discussion about George Stuart’s writing on Panentheism. He has encapsulated this understanding of God in a nutshell and gives some answers to the difficult questions that are logical and form a solid understanding of God.

If you are interested in attending, contact Denis Freeman   dfreeman2006@hotmail.com            0409 640 637

43 Macfarlane Street, Middle Park Q 4074

There is plenty of parking at the church—the driveway is located between the church and the Guide Hut next door.

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Opinion: A Progressive/Radical Church for Today – Getting Started

by John Gunson (see some bio details at the foot of this article)

[Comments are welcome using the “Reply” option above.]

John is the author of God, ethics and secular society (2014) which will be reviewed on the UCFORUM soon. This piece is a timely challenge to progressive thinkers about the need to demonstrate change beyond just conducting a discourse. We hope Explorer groups and individuals will use this paper in some practical way.

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Progressive Christianity has lost its way. And it seems to have ground to a halt. Why? While it has been a wonderfully enlightening and liberating movement for Christians within the churches, and some who have left, it has failed to recognize its two fundamental blind spots.

Progressive Christianity has focussed on reforming and restating the church’s mythological, supernatural theology, and recovering the original Jesus Way before Jewish, Greek and Roman influences reshaped it into what became formalized and forever fixed at Nicea.

It has done this because it now has to exist in a secular world, especially in Europe, the USA, and above all in Australia.

Its first blind spot is that it doesn’t really understand the secular world’s attitude to the church and to religion itself. The average Australian isn’t simply put off by either the church’s theology or its boring Sunday worship, but by the church itself, and by religion generally (except for recent migrants), regardless of theology.

Reforming theology can be liberating for existing church members, but is irrelevant to secular Australians. They will not be attracted to the existing churches, no matter what we do. To them, the church as institution or God-worship centre in the main street is a discredited and irrelevant anachronism from the past.

The second blind spot is Progressive Christianity’s failure to understand that the existing historic church itself is part of the “Constantinian” theology that must be left behind. Under the Constantinian settlement churches were defined by large buildings (worship-of -God centres), clergy, hierarchy and theology, and as part of the establishment rather than the counter culture. This church has to be left to die, not modernised or reformed.
The future church has to look nothing like the existing church, and because the membership of the existing church is largely over 70 years of age the new and future church must be started from scratch from “young” secular Australians currently not only outside the church, but from among those either hostile or indifferent to it in its present and historic form.

Continue reading

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Something Special: Drama and Poetry from Caloundra Explorers

“Rubbed Out!!” “But Not Forgotten!!” “But How??”

written by John Everall.

Based on the fascinating research by Jesus Seminar Fellow, Professor Arthur Dewey in his book How the Death of Jesus was remembered – Inventing the Passion, we will become part of a Panel of Inquiry as “A Further Inquiry Reviewing ‘The record as to the death of Jesus of Nazareth’ under the title “ Rubbed Out!!” “But Not Forgotten!!” “But How??”. Think Banking Inquiry but with our seven actors testing and reviewing Professor Dewey’s proposition.

In a very ‘different’ Gathering, we will firstly explore some of the wonderful senses and sentiments that the “spoken word” can convey in meditations and poetry from our 21st century culture, and then , through the medium of Drama in a play, compare this with 1st Century Jewish culture.

All Explorer and our Regional Friends are especially invited to this Gathering at 5.30pm -7.30pm

Having our Presiding Officer (Zoe McLachlan) put a Roman Envoy (George Thomas) , a Jewish Scholar (Alan Hindmarsh), a refugee from Jerusalem’s sacking (Glenwyn Carson)and a New Testament Biblical researcher (Rev. Brian Gilbert) into the limelight through questioning by our Counsels Assisting,(John Everall and Margaret Landbeck) this should give our Gathering “Panel” an enjoyable and highly instructional night.

That Panel (played by YOU!) takes part in actually weighing up ‘the evidence’ and forming a ‘consensus’ opinion as to “Does Professor Dewey’s proposition have resonance in the ‘progressive journey’ for many of today’s active Christian explorers?

Having enjoyed challenging thoughts, indulged in both chuckles and straight out laughter, and maybe a little tear with our Jewish refugee, we also add in for you a byo light finger food meal in the context of a 1st Century Didache Syrian community shared meal, and, finally, round off the evening with a return to beautiful 21st Century thoughts through Rev. Bruce Sanguin’s work for “concentrating one’s thoughts”.

Caloundra Explorers Group is never afraid to offer something that is not only ‘inspiring’ but also a bit ‘challenging’ to our journey!

Why not join in this rather special, and different, evening Gathering.

Our actors have been in rehearsal for over four weeks, and they would be delighted if you could accept their personal invitation to ‘come along’ and be part of ‘the action’ on Sunday night, 21st October, in the Caloundra Uniting Church Hall.

Enquiries: Email contact

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Book Review: Two Elephants in the Room by John Bodycomb

Two Elephants in the Room: Evolving Christianity and Leadership, John Bodycomb, 2018, Spectrum Publications Pty Ltd, Richmond, Victoria.

John Bodycomb clearly has a long experience at the workface of the church and its ministry. His sociological, teaching and ministry skills are obvious in this short thesis on the two most significant elements challenging organised religion. He also demonstrates a wonderful sense of humour that ‘thinking’ readers will enjoy. He needs to be heard and responded to.
The two elephants:
• The future of organised religion in western society, and
• The future of professional ministry
are apparent at a time in Australia when the consensus is moving towards ‘no religion’ in their lives. Indifference to organised religion is steadily increasing. At the same time many young people still believe there is more to life than the material and view being ‘spiritual’ with its multiple meanings as a transcendent dimension that takes them to a higher experience of life.

Drawing on Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs and motivation research, he explains why some people stay with the church and that here is a key element for church leaders to note when looking for answers to how to grow the church. What has intrinsic worth in our lives today is very different from that of previous generations. This includes ‘ethical axioms’ that no longer produce this ‘transcendence’. Nevertheless, Bodycomb is able to identify real benefits to people engaging with organised religion. He offers 12 fascinating ‘benefits’ that effective churches demonstrate, including:
• Developing proficiency in relating socially – getting along with others
• An aid to an effective ‘inner gyroscope’ – enabling one to preserve a placid interior, undisturbed by outside buffeting
• Bringing ‘inklings’ of transcendence through music, philosophy and theology.

But Bodycomb emphasizes that the intangible benefits for ‘living life to the full’, in the sense of Jesus’ teaching, is dependent on the inventiveness of the local church. The church needs to be a thinking institution. He sees the greatest risk to the church is its tendency to discourage thinking. Theology needs to be re-invented, re-defined. ‘God talk’ has been manufactured. Doctrines need to undergo close critical deconstruction and theological colleges need to open up this discourse and encourage it.

Whilst Bodycomb has seen the expiration of the church as we know it, he insists that the great ‘existential’ questions will still exercise minds e.g. Is there anything to describe as ‘transcendence’ beyond what we can physically see? “Is G-O-D a fantasy or …. a reality?” What is G-O-D? Like Spong, Bodycomb sees the imperatives for change – without evolution we will witness extinction of organised religion. Evolution has been going on since the European Renaissance and the Reformation, but change has always been met with counter movements to restore the ‘authority’ of the church. This is no longer working. Consequences of massive socio-cultural changes are no longer able to be stopped. The ‘back to orthodoxy’ movement is alive but now only impacting on a slim minority.

Bodycomb identifies the key adaptive responses as cerebral and visceral with the former being adopted by ‘progressives’ and the latter by those who are still holding onto unquestioning fundamentalism. He has a long history of asking questions about theological education and has challenged the theological colleges with learning lessons from Tillich and others who knew the value of pastoral ministry over having the ‘right’ theology. His ideas about church today should be heard and acted on. What he says makes so much sense and, if acted on, would re-connect the church with the secular world. His 10 disincentives and 10 incentives to consider when going into ministry today are critical lessons to all church teachers and ministry mentors. His model for moving ministry into a sphere of relating to the world and its pressing needs stands as a credible guide that should be informing training programs.

This thesis could have been titled – Asking the Right Questions about the Church and its Leadership. It has convinced me that the church enterprise needs urgently to move from its ‘maintenance’ model to an urgent energetic response to a world that needs help with massive life-threatening problems.

The author: Rev. Dr John Bodycomb is a Melbourne-based minister of the Uniting Church in Australia. He retired in 1996 after forty years as parish minister, Christian educator, University Ecumenical Chaplain and former head of the Uniting Church’s Theological Hall in Melbourne. He was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for his promotion of religious freedom and to fostering ecumenism.

Reviewer: Dr Paul Inglis, 8th October 2018
Retired UCA Community Minister
Retired Academic, QUT Faculty of Education
CEO UC Forum – https://ucforum.unitingchurch.org.au

Where to purchase: Spectrum Publications

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Report: Visit of Glennis Johnston to the Caloundra Explorers.

Glennis Johnston will be remembered by many of those present at the Explorers 8th Annual Seminar for her fascinating insight into Process Theology, plus adding in a bit more with quantum physics, a touch on the concept of time, of course throwing in resourceful meditation, and all themed through an interesting introduction using some church history to put everything into our modern perspective; … how could we not be fully engaged and delighted!! Intriguing discussion as to ‘our dark side’ and much, much , more. Glennis’ new book “ A New Spiritual Tapestry” should give considerable thought to many readers.

And of course, being Caloundra, a fabulous spread for morning tea, and Subway excelled themselves in providing the basis for our lunch ;as always! Great credit to the Caloundra Explorers Team….. why would you buy sausage rolls for morning tea when you have the best ‘home grown sausage roll maker’ in town volunteering as part of the Team!

Our 8th Annual Seminar was a resounding success….. but we are now exhausted!

Of course, all will change by the 21st October when we have our final 2018 Gathering of Explorer and our Regional Friends at 5.30pm on the Sunday night.

We will firstly explore some of the wonderful senses and sentiments that the “spoken word” can convey in meditations and poetry from our 21st century culture, and then , through the medium of Drama in a play written by one of our members, compare this with 1st century Jewish culture. Based on the fascinating research by Jesus Seminar Fellow, Professor Arthur Dewey in his book “ How the Death of Jesus was remembered – Inventing the Passion”, we will become part of a Panel of Inquiry as “A Further Inquiry Reviewing ‘The record as to the death of Jesus of Nazareth’” under the title “ Rubbed Out!!” “But Not Forgotten!!” “But How??”. Think Banking Inquiry but with our seven actors testing and reviewing Professor Dewey’s proposition. Having our Presiding Officer put a Roman Envoy, a Jewish Scholar, a refugee from Jerusalem’s sacking and a New Testament Biblical researcher into the limelight through questioning by our Counsels Assisting, this should give our Gathering “Panel” an enjoyable and highly instructional night as they weigh up ‘the evidence’ and form an opinion as to “Does Professor Dewey’s proposition have resonance in the ‘progressive journey’ for many of today’s active Christian explorers?” We also add in a byo light finger food meal in the context of a 1st century Didache Syrian community shared meal, and round off the evening with a return to beautiful 21st century thoughts through Rev. Bruce Sanguin’s work for “concentrating one’s thoughts”.

Caloundra Explorers Group is never short of something or other ‘inspiring’ to our journey! Why not join in this rather special, and different, evening Gathering.

Contact: John Everall

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God, the Trinity and Panentheism

by George Stuart (see bio details at the end of this article.) 

Note: Following posting of Rodney Eiver’s article Our Father Who Art Up There, George has kindly given us this chapter from a book he is currently drafting. George Stuart has crafted the popular series of songs and music entitled Singing a New Song .

***

I am in the process of writing my theological autobiography entitled, ‘Rekindling Christianity by Journeying with Jesus, Starting all over again’. One of the sections has to do with my concept of God, my version of the Trinity. It is rather long but you may be interested.

I begin by saying that my present beliefs are panentheistic. I understand panentheism as the belief that God is ‘in’ everything and everything is ‘in’ God. This sets a completely new path for me, from which to view reality, the cosmos, humanity and the meaning of everything, including Jesus and his cross. This supersedes any anthropomorphic (human like) image of God. It replaces what I understand to be, the misleading idea about the separation of God from humanity – God, a separate entity, being away and distinct. It also precludes any violence in God. God being in control also becomes irrelevant. These are all built on anthropomorphic images and ideas.

This is so, so different to what I have believed previously, however, I still have connections with the Bible, with church teachings and some of what I experience in the current church services I attend.

I replace the anthropomorphic images of God with more complicated, mystical images of spirit and energy. These are somewhat abstract, and thus maybe more difficult to embrace. I am reminded of teaching in a gospel conversation that Jesus has with the woman of Samaria.
God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth. (John 4:24.)
Certainly not the easiest to comprehend. In this quotation, God is not ‘a spirit’, but ‘spirit’. For me, the two are different and the quote points beyond the dominant biblical images of God.

The quote includes, ‘those who worship him…’ (John 4:24.)
This falls back into anthropomorphic talk which, for me, is a pity. God again, becomes a ‘him’
I do not find the word ‘energy’ in my biblical concordance, so I’m not sure that this concept is present in the biblical way of thinking. Energy is not a first century concept but it is central to modern thinking, particularly with the explosion of scientific information and the current way of understanding the cosmos.

I also find it significant that God is referred to as ‘love’, see 1 John 4:16a, and not ‘a loving person’. Again, the two are very different for me. The first is mystically abstract but the second sounds very anthropomorphic.

Continue reading

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Report on today’s PCNQ seminar

It is fast becoming the norm for our gatherings of ‘progressives’ to be strong on fellowship and meaningful discourse. Today was no exception. The discussion about Bessler‘s third and contemporary quest for the human Jesus was preceded with a sharing of individual thoughts on the current state of the church, society, theological studies, leadership in a time of challenge to the very notion of truth seeking, and much more. This highlighted how comfortable we are with shared conversations rather than traditional dogmatics, with learning from each other as well as the literature and enjoying the tension of contested ideas.

Participants were invited to leave notes for the committee to consider future topics for discussion. This invitation is extended to everyone. Just send your thoughts to Desley.

We are currently looking at having either the October or the November gathering on a Sunday afternoon so that people who cannot make it to weekday sessions have this option. Watch for details coming soon.

Paul Inglis 26/09/18

oOo

 

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Reflection – Our Father Who Art “Up there”.

Rodney Eivers
22nd September 2018

“God” had a big press in Australia in mid-September!

This came about from the headline news that Bill Hayden, former Governor-General and a proclaimed atheist, had returned to Roman Catholicism.

It has made many people very angry judging by the comments in the newspaper letter pages and social media. Some people, though, have been heartened that a prominent person would make such a declaration. One curious thread for me from the remarks of the angry people is that Bill Hayden should not have allowed, or promoted, his decision as a front-page item. He should have kept it to himself. Another thread was that he became baptised because he wants to be sure of a place in heaven with his likely death in the next few years.

Now I can’t speak for Bill Hayden as to what his real motives were. If you take him at what he has publicly said, it was because, through the example of human beings known to him. Their care and compassion, was linked to their professed Christianity so it became a club he wanted to join. We do not have any detail of the finer theological rationale for the decision nor of his concept of “God”

This brings me to what prompted this reflection. Some months ago I offered some comment to “Judith” who had responded to a website article on the UC FORUM .She was distressed that after 60 years as a faithful Christian she still had not found the answer to “Who or what is God?”

I threw in some thoughts on how other people had responded to this question. Some would see God as being the still inner voice in our minds when we talk with ourselves when pondering life or needing to make decisions. At the other end of the scale some would see God as the sum total of all the probabilities and chances which came together from the Big Bang. From this followed the formation of the stars and planets, the evolution of life and ultimately to the churning over of ideas and emotions going on in our human brains. Some are satisfied to say God is a symbol for what is. Symbols for Life and love, if you want to pin it down further. Perhaps the Hebrew scriptures were putting it something like that (Exodus 3:14) when Moses had the same problem as Judith.

Going on a bit further, though in my reply to Judith, I put the question, “Was the supernatural a reality for Jesus?” My answer to that rhetorical question was, “Most likely, because everyone of that era, including Greek philosopher, Socrates, accepted the supernatural as a reality.

I commented further that because Jesus is identified with the Lord’s prayer, starting with “Our Father which art in heaven” then we can assume that he had some supernatural place in mind, perhaps up in the sky, where God lives. (Isaiah 40: 22)

Just this week, however, I discovered a new slant on this perception, something I had not been aware of before.

The new information was a comment which I have summarised and extracted as follows:
The New Testament of the Bible was written in the Greek. Jesus is said to have spoken in Aramaic. Greek culture had a strong concept of “heaven” as the home of the gods – something separate and distant from us mere mortals on Earth. In Aramaic however, the equivalent word can mean something quite different. The Aramaic phrase “Our Father who art in heaven” elicits the image of creation, of giving birth to the universe. At another level it presents the image of the divine breath (spirit) flowing out of oneness, creating the whole diversity of forms. The equivalent word for “heaven” conjures the image of light, sound and vibration spreading out and pervading all. In essence then “heaven” is conceived not so much as a place outside this world but as a dimension of reality that is present everywhere. The above translation is in dispute by some professional linguists. They quite rightly argue that as the language of that period is no longer in use one cannot rely on current versions of a language to accurately describe past events. Can one apply the English spoken during the Roman occupation with what is spoken in the British Isles today? Chaucer from a much later period is difficult enough to follow
Nevertheless, the exercise does demonstrate that we are well justified in seeking alternative interpretations of Bible passages. It may be true that, I was on the wrong track in using the opening line of the Lord’s Prayer to certify that Jesus was a supernaturalist. Perhaps he did have a vision of an entity which was not tied to Greek assumptions about heaven as the home of the gods. If so, perhaps we can take some comfort in imagining God not as being away up there, far from us, but as an ever-present component of our humanity and of our daily life here on earth.

oOo

Note: We welcome further reflections on this reflection. Just go to the “Reply” spot at the beginning of this entry and post your thoughts.

oOo

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Two great seminars with Glennis Johnston

Glennis Johnston is the author of “Turning Points of the Spirit” and Director of Fernbrook Lodge Retreat Centre, Dorrigo. She is an ordained UC Minister, and international volunteer and experienced counsellor. Creating considerable interest, is that she has also been the Spiritual Director of a multi-faith residential community in Melbourne.

  1. Caloundra Uniting Church – Saturday 29th September
  2. Buderim St Marks Anglican Church – Sunday 30th September

CALOUNDRA PROGRAM 9.30am Opening Session1 “Re-imagining God” ‘A view of God’ – finding a personal and meaningful understanding – exploring a little way into Process Theology
11.30am Session Two thru to 1.00pm “What does Worship mean from this New Perspective?” The difference between attending to God and worshipping
2.00pm Afternoon Session Three – thru to 3.30pm “Creative Transformation and our Beautiful Messy Lives”
—-Valuing imperfection and change within ourselves, and integrating our shadow side
—-What does creative transformation look like in our lives and how do we move towards it?

Where: Caloundra Uniting Church HALL, 56 Queen Street, Caloundra.
When: Saturday 29th September 2018 9.30am to 3.30pm
Cost: Fee $25 per person. (Lunch included) –Please note -Registration required for catering!
We encourage payment, after registering, by Direct Credit -Caloundra Uniting Church BSB 334-040 Account 5538-665-68
REGISTRATION: by 7pm Thursday 27th September. E:jjeverall@bigpond.com or Ph: 5492 4229: CONTACT: John Everall Ph.5492 4229; Margaret Landbeck Ph.5438 2789; Alison Green E:alisonjgreen62@gmail.com

BUDERIM PROGRAM Is there such a thing as ‘Christian values’? If so, where do they come from? Is it possible to reject the core doctrines of traditional Christianity and still be Christian? Is a progressive Christian spirituality different from a humanist spirituality?

More details: https://www.facebook.com/events/426975197797668/?ti=icl

Where: St Marks Anglican Church 7 Main Street, Buderim.

When: Sunday 30th September 3pm to 5pm.

Enquiries: Rev Deborah Bird

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Scholarship winning essay – My approach to Progressive Christianity

Prior to the establishment of the Rodney Eivers Annual Bursary this month, the UCFORUM with the help of Rodney offered an initial scholarship to students at Trinity College early in 2018. As part of the UC Forum’s Bursary Application process, interested parties were asked to write an essay exploring issues relating to progressive Christianity and traditional orthodoxy. Successful bursary recipient Deon Naudé writes about his response to Progressive Christianity.

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4–6, New Revised Standard Version).

In many ways, I consider myself to be a progressive Christian. There are a multitude of respects in which the various progressive approaches to God, faith, scripture, and the Christ event resonate with my way of thinking. That was not always the case. Five years ago, I would have been aghast at the words of Marcus J. Borg—not to mention John Shelby Spong! The fact that I can read Spong and somewhere in my heart be profoundly uplifted by his words is a significant departure from my previous approach to the faith. And for that change I am glad.

Nonetheless, rather than giving myself up to progressive thought and wholeheartedly embracing it with all that I have (like I used to do with reformed evangelicalism), I find myself occupying a strange, often uncomfortable, liminal space. I see so much beauty and hope in progressive Christianity. And yet there are foundations and footholds within the conservative expressions of the faith off from which I am not prepared to step. In this essay I will explore this tension more fully.

A strength of progressive Christianity is its willingness to ask difficult questions and its openness to explore avenues of thought, even if those avenues lead to uncomfortable insights. In contrast, I often felt shackled by conservative theology. The conservative commitment to “the truth” is a noble and sincere pursuit, genuinely sought by women and men who want nothing more than to honor God.

But often this commitment—as genuine as it was—resembled to me an attempt to cling to the party line, at all cost. Exploration of ideas was, in my experience, never encouraged, except if it was exploration of our ideas and our understanding. And there was often the unspoken threat: deviate from the party line, and you will be labeled an enemy of the gospel, because to deviate from the party line was to deviate from the very truth of God. Yet, as Val Webb points out in In Defense of Doubt: An Invitation to Adventure: “The world of the early church was a scene of great fluidity of ideas. Diverse memories of Jesus vied for attention in the struggle to make sense of his life and death.” She continues: “Many today whitewash the early church, presenting it as a devout bunch of people living, working, and worshiping in blissful, loving harmony. Instead, much of the period was spent in controversy.” So I value progressive Christianity, because it embraces this authentic exploration and wrestling with divine truths.

Of great importance in exploring progressive Christianity, in my thinking, is the question, “If Jesus is savior, from what does he save us?”

The answer with which I grew up was always, “Jesus saves us by experiencing the wrath of God the Father in our place so that we can be forgiven of our sin and enter heaven.” However, I find Marcus J. Borg’s approach a lot more compelling. In his book The Heart of Christianity, he describes salvation as light in our darkness, sight to the blind, enlightenment, liberation for captives, return from exile, the healing of our infirmities, food and drink, resurrection from the land of the dead, being born again, knowing God, becoming “in Christ,” and being made right with God (or “justified”). “In the Bible,” he concludes, “salvation is all of the above.” Referring to Jesus, Borg also stresses, “It’s clear that his message was not really about how to get to heaven. It was about a way of transformation in this world and the Kingdom of God on earth.”

Michael Morwood also stresses the focus on this world in the message of Jesus. In In Memory of Jesus Morwood writes, “He was very clear about it: it is through their care and concern for others that people would come to know deep down their intimate connection with God.”

In The Trouble with God: Building the Republic of Heaven, David Boulton expresses this notion by recasting followers of the way of Christ as “radical religious humanists” whose aim is “to contribute to the making of the ‘republic of heaven.’”

Gretta Vosper puts forth a similar view in With or Without God: Why the Way We Live is More Important Than What We Believe, when she defines salvation as “removing the causes of suffering in the world, new life.” I very much value the “this world” and the “this life” focus of this view of salvation, because I think conservative Christianity has unwittingly confined salvation to an abstract idea that has very little to do with our lives in the here and now. It seems difficult for me to see how these conservative understandings of salvation can truly be integrated with Christ’s proclamation, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15, NRSV).

And yet, my trust remains in the hope of the age to come. I am not willing to jettison the belief, as some progressives do, that the kingdom that Christ heralds in is a purely earthly endeavor limited to the physical realities of the time in which we now live. I am not willing to follow those who, like Don Cupitt, claim, “There is no Beyond. To say that the Kingdom has come, then, is simply to say that we now recognize that everydayness is all there is.” (As expressed in Cupitt’s The Last Philosophy)

That is not enough for me. I do think Christians should pour themselves out in love and service for the people of this world. That is very much a realization of the salvation brought by Christ. But if I did not have hope that at the consummation of all things there would be an eternal reality where we experience the full resurrection, restoration, and reconciliation of creation, I would find it difficult to believe that I am not ultimately working in vain. And I find it difficult to divorce the meaning of salvation from this ultimate eternal reality. So while I greatly appreciate the earthly emphasis of this progressive view of salvation, I nonetheless also cling to a cosmic, eternal hope, as emphasized by the conservative understanding.

Other central questions, when exploring progressive Christianity, are, “Who is God?” and “Who is Jesus?” Spong answers the first question by insisting that traditional theistic views of God have become untenable. Instead, he paraphrases the ideas of Tillich in describing a new understanding of the divine in Why Christianity Must Change or Die, “This God would not be a theistic power, a being among beings, whose existence we could debate. This God would not be the traditional divine worker of miracles and magic, the dispenser of rewards and punishments, blessings and curses. Nor would this God be the capricious heavenly superparent who comforted us, heard our cries, and became the terrestrial Mr. Fix-It for some while allowing others to endure their pain to the bitter end in a radically unfair world.”

It is important to note that in denying a theistic understanding of God, Spong does not deny that God is real. Instead he writes in Why Christianity Must Change or Die: “This God was not a person, but . . . the mystical presence in which all personhood could flourish. This God was not a being but rather the power that called being forth in all creatures. This God was not an external, personal force that could be invoked but rather an internal reality that, when confronted, opened us to the meaning of life itself.”

Karen Armstrong states it perhaps more strongly in A History of God: The 4000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam when she describes Hegel’s view of God: “Hegel had in effect declared that the divine was a dimension of our humanity.”

These understandings of God, then, lead to profound impacts on one’s understanding of Christ. In addressing the traditional view of the incarnation, Michael Morwood writes in Tomorrow’s Catholic: Understanding God and Jesus in a New Millennium: “This way of thinking is founded on a religious worldview that is no longer relevant as an explanation of God’s relationship with human beings. It is founded on an outdated cosmology which presumes God is up or out there somewhere and sends his Son down to this planet. That cosmology does not take seriously the reality that the whole universe is permeated with the presence of God; it presumes the sacred, the divine is basically elsewhere and visits us, or deigns to break into our exiled world in unusual ways.”

John Robinson, too, sees no way in which the traditional understanding of the incarnation can survive, other than in the form of myth when he writes in Honest to God, “Myth has its perfectly legitimate, and indeed profoundly important, place.” He continues, however, “But we must be able to read the nativity story without assuming that its truth depends on there being a literal interruption of the natural by the supernatural, that Jesus can only be Emmanuel—God with us—if, as it were, he came through from another world … To tie the action of God to such a way of thinking is to … sever it from any real connection with history.”

Despite these shifts in thinking on the incarnation, Spong nonetheless maintains, “I still find the power of the Christ compelling. … Something draws me back to him again and again.” He continues, “Beneath the God claims made for this Jesus was a person who lived a message announcing that there was no status defined by religion, by tribe, by culture, by cult, by ritual, or by illness that could separate any person from the love of God. If love is a part of what God is or who God is, then it can surely be said of this Jesus that he lived the meaning of God. According to the Gospels, he lived it with a consistent intensity. It was as if his source of love lay beyond every human boundary. It was inexhaustible. It was life giving.”

I empathize with the above views of God. Theism struggles to answer basic questions about the nature of God, particularly in relation to the fact that evil and suffering exist in the world. There are conservative Christian preachers who have in so many ways painted a picture of God that makes God look petty and capricious; some ascribe to God the worst of our human foibles but insist on calling them good. I also value Tillich’s understanding of God as the “Ground of Being.” It resonates with the Apostle Paul who claims God is “above all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:6, NRSV). I think there is much here worthy of pursuit. And yet, alongside these concessions, I continue also to cling to traditional understandings. I readily admit I do not understand the intricacies of prayer. There are many challenging questions I cannot answer. Nonetheless, I am not yet ready to give up on being able to pray to a God who personally hears me, knows me, and cares for me. Spong might call my belief about prayer “naive at best and unbelievable at worst” and he could very well be right—but I am not yet ready to face a cold, silent universe, where God is a “what” rather than a “who”.

These issues are intensified for me when it comes to Christ. It is certainly possible for me to see value and beauty in the beliefs that Jesus was an ordinary human being, who, by whatever means, was able to live out his humanity in the fullest, most loving, divinity-saturated ways.

But I need more than this. I am not willing to give up on the notion that through the Christ event, that which was fully transcendent became immanent in the most humbling and kenotic of ways. I am not willing to give up on the notion that through Christ we see a God who gives up everything in order to be poured out in love for God’s children. I am not willing to give up on a God who embraces death—even death on a cross—to redeem a bitterly lost yet bitterly loved world. Whatever wisdom there may be in non–traditionally incarnational views of Christ, I am not willing to give up on the core understandings of Christ as the fully human and fully divine incarnation of the God who is love. That to me remains a refuge from which I am just not ready to sail.

I value and embrace progressive Christianity. I identify as a progressive. But I still remain at least within throwing distance of my traditional, conservative beliefs. It is, personally speaking, from within this liminal, in-between space that I perceive the Christian faith to have most beauty. I value, however, more than I can express in words, open, challenging, and respectful dialogue between all those who claim adherence to the Christian faith, and beyond. The Christian umbrella is a large umbrella, covering a broad, diverse community. Beyond this, we find ourselves in a colorful, diverse, eclectic world, spiraling outward into a glorious, mysterious, infinite universe. It is my hope that we can continue to explore the mystery of the divine and the material—and all things in between—with grace, humility, and a sense of adventure.

Deon Naudé (published with permission of the author).

Deon is in the final stage of completing a Bachelor of Theology through Trinity College, Brisbane. He is the library technician at Trinity College. This essay was also published in Journey On Line today. For information about the Rodney Eivers Bursary of $13 000 please go to the previous post.

oOo

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Exciting New Study Scholarship – The Rodney Eivers Bursary

The UCFORUM is pleased to announce:

The Rodney Eivers Annual Bursary – $13 000

Trinity College, UCA Queensland Synod

Rodney Eivers is the Chairperson of the UCFORUM

This bursary is awarded to new tertiary students of Trinity College Queensland, to assist with their course fees whilst studying for a Bachelor of Ministry degree. The aim of the bursary is to provide financial support to students and to encourage the development of a greater awareness of the breadth and diversity in theology and scriptural scholarship, as it relates to contemporary society.

Applications open – Monday 10 September 2018

Applications close – Wednesday 10 October 2018

The student will be awarded the bursary on or before Thursday 1 November 2018. The presentation of the bursary certificate/award will be on 14 November 2018.

For details and applications go to: The Rodney Eivers Bursary 

The Bursary requirements include the submission of an essay showing an understanding of Progressive Christianity. As this will require reading a selection of texts from a recommended reading list, applicants should not delay making a start on their application. The books are available from Trinity College Library.

oOo

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God is a Verb – Richard Rohr

A meditation or reflection

Trinity
Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Just as some Eastern fathers saw Christ’s human/divine nature as one dynamic unity, they also saw the Trinity as an Infinite Dynamic Flow. The Western Church tended to have a more static view of both Christ and the Trinity—more a mathematical conundrum than an invitation to new consciousness. In our attempts to explain the Trinitarian mystery, the Western Church overemphasized the individual names—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—but not so much the quality of the relationships between them, which is where all the power and meaning lies! So, let’s not spend too much time arguing about the gender of the Three. The real and essential point is how the three “persons” relate to one another: infinite outpouring and infinite receiving.
The Mystery of God as Trinity invites us into full participation with God—a flow, a relationship, a waterwheel of always outpouring love. God is a verb much more than a noun. Some Christian mystics taught that all of creation is being taken back into this flow of eternal life, almost as if we are a “Fourth Person” of the Trinity, or as Jesus put it, “so that where I am you also may be” (John 14:3).
The Cappadocian Fathers of the fourth century first developed this theology, though they readily admitted the Trinity is a wonderful mystery that can never fully be understood with the rational mind, but can only be known through love, prayer, and suffering. Contemplation of God as Trinity was made-to-order to undercut the dualistic mind. This view of Trinity invites us to interactively experience God as transpersonal (“Father”), personal (“Christ”), and even impersonal (“Holy Spirit”)—all at once.
The Cappadocian teaching moved to the West but was not broadly communicated. We find an active Trinitarianism in many Catholic mystics (e.g., Meister Eckhart, Julian of Norwich, John of the Cross, Teresa of Ávila). Scottish theologian Richard of St. Victor (1110–1173) reflected this early theology. He taught at great length that for God to be truth, God had to be one; for God to be love, God had to be two; and for God to be joy, God had to be three! [1]
True Trinitarian theology offers the soul endless creativity—an open horizon. Trinitarian thinkers do not seem to have much interest in things like hell, punishment, or any notion of earning or losing. They are only overwhelmed by infinite abundance and flow.
Our supposed logic has to break down before we can comprehend the nature of the universe and the bare beginnings of the nature of God. Paraphrasing physicist Niels Bohr, the doctrine of the Trinity is saying that God is not only stranger than we think, but stranger than we can think. Perhaps much of the weakness of many Christian doctrines and dogmas is that we’ve tried to understand them with a logical or rational mind instead of through love, prayer, and participation itself. In the end, only lovers seem to know what is going on inside of God. To all others, God remains an impossible and distant secret, just like the galaxies.

Gateway to Presence:
If you want to go deeper with today’s meditation, take note of what word or phrase stands out to you. Come back to that word or phrase throughout the day, being present to its impact and invitation.

[1] Richard of St. Victor, Book Three of the Trinity, trans. Grover A. Zinn (Paulist Press: 1979). My summary of his conclusions.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Shape of God: Deepening the Mystery of the Trinity (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2004), CD, DVD, MP3 download.
Image Credit: Deesis Mosaic (detail), 13th-century, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey.
Fr Richard Rohr – Centre for Action and Contemplation

oOo

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Next Conversation and Morning Tea for PCNQ

The Progressive Christian Network (Q) Explorers meets again on Wednesday 26th September at 10am.

Venue: Merthyr Road Uniting Church, New Farm.

Topic for Discussion: Professor Joe Bessler’s Three quests for the historical Jesus

Quest 1
From around the time of the Reformation – fuelled by both the growing concerns about the power of the established churches over public discourse and by an emerging recognition of the need for a new framework for public life. New models of faith and Reason. 17th Century development of toleration and breaking away from State controlled Churches.

Quest 2
The second quest emerges during a period of turning away from the growing influence of secular thought. By 1958 we have Vatican 2 – ‘opening the Church to allow some fresh air’.
This second quest involved a search within the Christian community itself, for a theology connected to human experience and the modern world. It focussed on eschatology (which is the ultimate destiny of humanity) as political critique of Church and Society. It brought liberation theology and black and feminist theology.

Quest 3
The stage was set for a renewed quest in the current era. The Jesus Seminar shaped the quest. A significant number of scholars moved outside the church and the academy to address a wider, public audience. It had a commitment to examine texts outside the Christian canon of the New testament and to making conclusions without regard to doctrine.

Bessler discusses these in A Scandalous Jesus.

It is not essential to have read this book but those who have could help with the focus on each quest. Enjoy a delicious morning tea and a great conversation.

oOo

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The deification of Jesus by the writer(s) of the Gospel of John

The Redcliffe Explorers will meet on Monday night 3rd September at Azure Blue (91 Anzac Ave., Redcliffe), when Rob Daly will lead a discussion on the deification of Jesus by the writer(s) of John’s Gospel. This is part of our exploration of the four gospels based on retired Uniting Church minister Rev Dr Lorraine Parkinson’s illuminating book Made on Earth – how gospel writers created the Christ.

As usual we meet at 6:30 p.m. for a pre-session cuppa and chat. All are welcome; if you’re new to our Explorers meetings please call me on 3284 3688 or 0401 513 723 for details and how to access the Azure Blue facility.

Ian

(Dr) Ian Brown

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Good start for PCNQ Explorers Conversation Group

With about 30 people at our first session this morning kicking off the monthly gatherings of this group, we are very pleased with the enthusiasm and interest. Accompanied by a delicious morning tea at Merthyr Road Uniting Church the 90 minute session was never short of input from the group. A robust conversation around Professor Bessler’s recent seminar on the Platonic influence that shaped the Church brought out many threads for future discussions. We never made it to the second topic we hoped to talk about so that may be the focus next month – The Three Quests for the Historical Jesus. Good to have people from other groups join us.

Next gathering – 10am on 26th September.

Paul Inglis 29th August 2018.

oOo

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Reminder: PCN Morning Tea Conversation

This Wednesday morning at Merthyr Road Uniting Church, New Farm, Brisbane.

 

 

For those who can make it on Wednesday 29th August from 10am.

Enriched from our seminar with Joe Bessler a few weeks back, encouraged to keep learning, inspired to have more fellowship with friends on the ‘progressive’ path of Christianity, we have decided to start a PCN Explorers Group which will meet monthly on the last Wednesday of each month at 10am for morning tea followed by 60 -90 minutes of sharing.

At this first session let’s reflect on the content of Joe’s talks. Maybe some people will have read his book and can contribute some thoughts from that. Joe’s early morning session at New Farm focussed on the influence of Plato on Christian thought, and the afternoon session looked at the three historical quests for Jesus that changes theology for ever. If you missed the talk and would like a copy of the PowerPoint slides, please ask,

Come prepared to contribute to the discussion so we can be enriched and encouraged on our journeys. Apologies to those who are still working, but this is just a suggested time to start a regular meet-up and I am open to other suggestions.

Warm regards,

Desley or phone 0409 498 493 (Desley Garnett) or Paul

If you get a chance, please have look at the introduction to Joe’s book – A Scandalous Jesus at the Amazon site:  A Scandalous Jesus prior to the conversation. (Not essential, but useful).

oOo

 

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Two Seminars with Glennis Johnston

1. Caloundra Explorers – 8th ANNUAL SEMINAR

SATURDAY 29TH SEPTEMBER 2018 – CALOUNDRA – 9.30 am

Our Special Speaker – GLENNIS JOHNSTON

Author of “Turning Points of the Spirit”

PROGRAM
9.30am Opening Session
“Re-imagining God”
—-‘A view of God’ – finding a personal and meaningful understanding – exploring a little way into Process Theology

11.30am Session Two thru to 1.00pm
“What does Worship mean from this New Perspective?”
—-The difference between attending to God and worshipping

LUNCH – A Light Finger food Lunch will be provided, with tea, coffee, and fruit juice.

2.00pm Afternoon Session Three – thru to 3.30pm
“Creative Transformation and our Beautiful Messy Lives”
—-Valuing imperfection and change within ourselves, and integrating our shadow side
—-What does creative transformation look like in our lives and how do we move towards it?

Where: Caloundra Uniting Church HALL, 56 Queen Street, Caloundra.
When: Saturday 29th September 2018 9.30am to 3.30pm
Cost: $25 per person. (Lunch included) –Please note -Registration required for catering!
We encourage payment, after registering, by Direct Credit -Caloundra Uniting Church BSB 334-040 Account 5538-665-68
REGISTRATION: by 7pm Thursday 27th September. E:jjeverall@bigpond.com or Ph: 5492 4229:
CONTACT: John Everall Ph.5492 4229; Margaret Landbeck Ph.5438 2789; Alison Green alisonjgreen62@gmail.com

MORE! YES, MORE!! ENJOY FURTHER STIMULATING DISCUSSION WITH GLENNIS JOHNSTON
2. On Sunday 30th September 2018, at St Mark’s Anglican Church Hall, Buderim – ‘Sunday Conversations’ at 3.00pm $10 at door.

Contact alisonjgreen62@gmail.com

Glennis Johnston addresses the Question:
What is the relationship between ‘beliefs’ and ‘values’?
Is there such a thing as ‘Christian values’? If so, where do they come from?
Is it possible to reject the core doctrines of traditional Christianity and still be Christian?
Is a progressive Christian spirituality different from a humanist spirituality?

oOO

 

 

 

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Book review: A World of Difference by Stratford and McWilliam

A World of Difference: Ways of Being-in-the-World

Authors: Walter Stratford & Linda McWilliam

Published by: Morning Star Publishing

Linda is an Anglican priest and the Director for Mission for Anglicare, southern Queensland who holds a Bachelor of Theology (honours) and a Master of Counselling from ACU.

Walter is a retired Uniting Church minister who has a number of degrees and completed a PhD in 2012.

How I wish this book had been available to me twenty years ago!

The authors demonstrate how ‘meaning’ is found when philosophy meets history, culture, ethnography and religion. It is also about a human search for truth and justice that is a both analytical and practical. It is a useful analysis of ‘spirit’ and ‘soul’ concepts illustrating how spirit and soul have captured the minds of many over millennia. The authors manage to separate these from long standing claims of the church and its teachings on eternity. They place the many notions of ‘being’ and ‘life’ in the lived experience drawing on Martin Heidegger’s sociological interpretation of ‘being-in-the-world’.

The authors have obviously experienced life at close quarters, both professionally and privately. This shows in the way they mesh spirituality with our complex social values as a counter to all the conflicting values of secular society and in a way that honours all life within creation. This is done against a context of claims on the ‘right’ faith perspective and the destructive path of fundamentalism and the way the latter has dismembered societies and produced a great movement of refugees across the world.

Our woeful history of religion that inevitably attempts to create God in the image of the practitioner is a persistent problem for authentic spirituality. But “making spirituality visible can be considered as contained in compassion, justice, kindness, honesty, and a commitment to peace”.

This is very much a commentary on today’s world of religion, politics and social mores. It is not about a spirituality that hides from the realities of a world in trouble – it is responsible spirituality finding value in self rather than in soul-less and mechanistic structures, and liberated from all restraints.

Meaning is found in covenants in all walks of life – marriage, community capacity building, with the environment and those sourced from Abrahamic traditions. These are all vulnerable and subject to human frailty, greed and power seeking. We are at a time in earth’s history when religious and political claims that assert value over each other are futile. The imperative of the future of humanity obviously depends on a universal covenant with the earth. This is a spiritual exercise.

Central to the human condition and influencing everyone is suffering in the world. This is not simply physical but existential as it challenges our search for meaning in events that affect us daily. For many, it goes beyond physical to impacting psychological and spiritual trauma. Guilt, depression, loss of hope, failure to discern any moral compass, loneliness, disconnection and hardening of hearts call for acknowledgement that all of this needs to be addressed spiritually. Sadly, for many ‘suffering’ is where they know ‘meaning’.

Attachment, Solitude and Community are closely examined as remarkable sources of spiritual energy. Grace and Presence (religious and secular) are viewed as part of human life and interactions, and Prayer is given a lot of attention. The latter is a contentious subject and all its facets and uses are explored and the question raised – What if the faithful lived the prayers rather than say them? What might happen?

Story as an essential part of all cultures helps in the search for meaning from the past and into the future. It is also a vehicle for increasing well-being. Finally, Hospitality, grounded in a sense of Spirit presence provides a framework for putting life meaning into practice. A powerful commentary on how all of this is a gateway to a world of difference I will leave for the reader to discover along with much I have not covered.

Concluding comments:

This discourse needs to continue beyond the book into conversations amongst groups. The impact of these conversations must be felt widely within the religious and secular communities. I look forward to seeing that happen.

Paul Inglis 18th August 2018.

Where to purchase this book: Morning Star Publishing $29.95 plus postage and from  Book Depository $30.95 delivered free from UK.

oOo

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Book Review: Australia Re-imagined by Hugh Mackay

Australia re-imagined: towards a more compassionate, less anxious society

by Hugh Mackay

The author: Hugh Mackay is a social researcher and best selling writer. This is his 19th book. He has examined many aspects of Australian life over six decades. He has been awarded honorary doctorates from five Australian universities and in 2015 was appointed an Officer of the Order of Austraia.

Among many appointments, he has been deputy chair of the Australian Council of the Arts, chair of trustees of Sydney Grammar and inaugural chair of the ACT government’s Community Inclusion Board. He is currently patron of the Asylum Seekers Centre.

This is a great resource reference for teachers, preachers, politicians, social commentators and most of all for thinking Australians who want this to be a great place to live and grow our children and grandchildren. I made great use of Chapter 7 – Religion’s noblest role: promoting compassion” in a sermon this morning.

At the outset he poses questions that are common, eg – Will my job be replaced by a robot? Is religion really on the way out? Why has politics become so annoying? Are gender distinctions becoming irrelevant? Will I be able to understand what my grandchildren are talking about? and so on.

He closes with a list of things we’d like to be able say about an ideal Australia – things we’d like others to say about us. The Reader is asked to tick those they agree with. eg

  • I want to live in a society where people respect each other, especially when they disagree, and most especially when they disagree on politics or religion.
  • I want to live in a society where we err on the side of generosity when it comes to our treatment of refugees; where we can rise to the moral challenge of dealing humanely with some of the world’s most desperate, vulnerable people who manage to make it to our shores by whatever means, and so on….

In between these bookends he deals comprehensively with the culture of busyness, diversity and choosing our words carefully; empathy and education; a better world starting in our own street; gender wars; religion; politics, choice as threat to public education; the real state of the nation and finally the best side of our profile – big hearts and open minds.

This is a fully indexed text with a large reference list. I think it should be part of the resources of every thinking Australian and especially those who want to remain relevant to their audiences (in the pews or classrooms). For ordinary Australians like myself, it has huge value in making me aware of the context and influences on my life and I can confidently talk to intelligent friends and hold their attention!

Available from bookshops and online, just search for Australia Re-imagined. More information about Hugh Mackay and his other books can be sourced from his publishers Pan Macmillan.

Paul Inglis 12th August 2018

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Assisted Dying – an important conversation

Last Monday evening the Redcliffe Explorers, capably facilitated by Dr Ian Brown, bravely entered the debate on assisted dying. Part of the inspiration for this session was the loss of one of their members who had left a carefully worded statement. Part of this dictated statement included:
“…By now some of you may have heard that I have made a decision to hasten my own death and end my suffering. Unfortunately, the only way open to me was the way that I had to choose, which other Motor Neurone Disease sufferers before me have also had to choose……I discussed it at some length with the family – my wife and children, and their spouses. They are all sorry to see it come to this but are very supportive. It will help me try to weather the huge challenge of the next few days….”

He made the decision to stop eating and drinking to expedite the slow and painful death he was facing if he let MND take its course.

Support is growing for a Queensland parliamentary enquiry into euthanasia. Queensland could soon hold parliamentary hearings on voluntary euthanasia, as ministers and senior government MPs speak out in support of a grassroots campaign for assisted dying laws.

The chair of the state parliament’s health committee, Aaron Harper, told a forum in Brisbane on Monday that he had sought a meeting with the premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, about holding an inquiry. The Guardian Australia newspaper understands the committee has already held private preliminary discussions in anticipation it would be asked to conduct broad-ranging hearings similar to those in Victoria, which would ultimately make recommendations to shape new laws.

Queensland is the only state never to have formally debated the issue. Reforms that passed the Victorian parliament last year have helped to spark a new campaign in the state.
So the Redcliffe Explorers were venturing into something very relevant and current. They looked at three cases – the situation posed by their friend, the story in the film Last Cab to Darwin, and the recent journey of Dr David Goodall to Switzerland at 104 years of age to achieve his goal to terminate his life. Three very different cases addressing the many issues. Accompanying the resources Ian provided for this discussion was the data from an Election Study from ANU based on the attitudes of religiously affiliated people with those who are not. That, in itself was most interesting.

Euthanasia is illegal in all Australian States and Territories and may result in a person being charged with murder, manslaughter or assisting suicide.

Assisted suicide is currently illegal in all Australian States and Territories. However on 29 November 2017 the Victorian Legislative Assembly passed the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017, which will legalise voluntary assisted dying (physician-assisted suicide) in Victoria from 19 June 2019.

Thank you, Ian and your group, for a discussion that brought a great deal of participation and hopefully will be a stimulus to other church and Explorer groups to become part of this important discourse. With the inevitable debate becoming a serious part of the Queensland political scene it is good to know that Explorers are getting informed. It was a privilege to be a part of this discussion.

Paul Inglis 7th August 2018

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West End Explorers – new meeting times

The West End Explorers, for a time, will now meet on the 2nd and 4th Sundays, until further notice.  The group meets at the West End Uniting Church (11 Sussex Street, West End, Brisbane) at 6.30pm on these Sunday evenings over tea, coffee and nibbles to explore questions of faith within contemporary thinking. Gatherings are in the Hall at 6.30pm.  They will be continuing with discussions on Val Webb’s book,  “Stepping out with the Sacred”

West End Explorers is on Facebook.

‘For open-minded discussions about faith and practice’

Contact Kris Maslen for more information.

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Redcliffe Explorers – assisted dying and euthenasia

Hello Everyone

The Redcliffe Explorers will meet next on Monday night 6th August at Azure Blue (Anzac Avenue Redcliffe), to discuss some of the contentious issues associated with assisted dying and euthanasia. We’ll be looking at the similarities and differences between three cases – the Last Cab to Darwin story, the final communication from our dear friend and Explorers supporter David Judd, and Prof. David Goodall’s life-ending trip to Switzerland at age 104. As usual we start at 6:30 for tea/coffee and a chat, and of course all are welcome. Call Ian on 3284 3688 or 0401 513 723 for details, particularly if you’re new to our Explorers meetings.

Best wishes

Ian Brown

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PCN Explorers – Morning Tea Conversations

For those who can make it (live in or near Brisbane and not at work):

Enriched from our seminar with Prof Joe Bessler a few weeks back, encouraged to keep learning, inspired to have more fellowship with friends on the ‘progressive’ path of Christianity, we have decided to start a PCN (Progressive Christianity Network) Explorers group which will meet monthly on the last Wednesday of each month at Merthyr Road Uniting Church, meeting at 10 am for morning tea and fellowship followed by 60 – 90 minutes of sharing.

Starting on Wednesday 29th August at 10 am. Morning Tea will be provided.

Let’s reflect on the content of Joe’s talks. Maybe some people will have read his book and can contribute some thoughts from that. Joe’s early morning session at New Farm focussed on the influence of Plato on Christian thought, so that might be something we could explore further. If you missed the talk and would like a copy of the PowerPoint slides, please ask,

Come prepared to contribute to the discussion so we can be enriched and encouraged on our journeys. Apologies to those who are still working, but this is just a suggested time to start a regular meet-up and I am open to other suggestions.

Warm regards,

Desley or phone 0409 498 493 (Desley Garnett)

 

PS. I’m bringing some handout material on Plato’s influence on the Early Church for those who would like it.  Paul Inglis

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New from Rex Hunt – Seasons and Self

Seasons and Self: Discourses on being ‘At Home’ in Nature, Rex A. E. Hunt

Rex’s latest publication is another handy resource as well as a good read.  John Cranmer also has eleven original poems in the book. Two reviewers have this to say:

Michael Morwood
“For progressive religious thinkers Rex Hunt provides ground on which to stand as they explore the often-asked question, “Where do we go from here?” This book will delight and inspire”
(Michael Morwood. Author of It’s Time. Challenges to the Doctrine of the Faith.”
Noel Preston
“This collection is a timely reminder to the religious that an ecological theology is now a necessity while, to those who eschew religion, justifiably in many instances, this book asserts that deep ecological consciousness is essentially spiritual.
The result is a valuable, accessible resource for both progressive preachers and activists who know that there is no other vocation more important than the defence of life on Earth”
(Rev Dr Noel Preston, AM. Adjunct Professor in Applied Ethics, Griffith University, member of the Australian Earth Charter Committee, and author of Ethics With or Without God)
John Cranmer comments:

Seasons and Self is a courageous exploration into religious naturalism – sometimes called the ‘forgotten alternative’ – as well as contemporary critical biblical studies by one of Australia’s leading progressives, Rex A. E. Hunt. A self-professed religious naturalist, progressive liturgist, and social ecologist., he belongs squarely within a post-liberal/ ‘progressive’ orientation.

The author acknowledges the principle attributed to the Brazilian theologian Rubem Alves: “I am not after conclusions… Conclusions are meant to shut… Every conclusion brings the thought process to a halt”.  The present collection is an invitation to readers to become curious and excited about what they read, and to explore further – beyond the tyranny of clear and distinct ideas! The author is concerned about ‘likelihoods’ and being ‘open-ended’ rather than closing any discussion with persuasion by argument. The intent is to strike a chord rather than ‘shoehorning’ something – ideas, answers, doctrine, correct belief – into people, often challenging the parochial and limited claims of traditional religions, or so-called pious biblical argument based on a proof-text zeal.

[Picture of Rex with Joe Bessler at the book launch last week]

While both science and progressive religion are to the fore in the topics and chapters of the collection of sermons, addresses and keynote presentations, there is also a strong hint of the poetic – all evoking a sense of awe and wonder at nature and the natural, rather than the supernatural. A radical theo-eco-logy! Themes addressed include evolution, earth, cosmos, food and wisdom, as well as Autumn, children, celebration and humour. All grounded in the Ordinary… in the hope that, collectively, they will stir one’s own imagination.

“Nature and naturalism are for us today the main game for any progressive spirituality,” writes the author. “We are fully linked with our surroundings in time, space, matter/energy, and causality, and where the metaphor of ‘web’ is used to describe this interrelatedness – we create the web and the web creates us…” 

How to get a copy:  Go to Coventry Press, Melbourne. $34.95 + p/p

oOo

 

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Invitation: Caloundra Explorers

Dear Explorers and ‘Friends of the Explorers’

The next Explorers Group “Gathering” for August will be held on Sunday 19th August at 5.00pm in the Caloundra Uniting Church Hall ( 56 Queen Street Caloundra).

You are invited to join in the evening’s activities and the byo light food Community Shared Meal which forms part of the service.

Our theme for this Gathering poses the question  “ What have we learnt as Explorers?” to develop, and continue to challenge, our thinking and understanding of the Christian story.

Our Leaders offer a comment “it can safely be said Explorers are curious, inquisitive, even  ‘driven’ people, committed to discover meaningful answers to their questions”.

Are we??….. let’s find out how well we meet the challenges that have been, and continue to be, placed before us in the context of a ‘spiritual journey in the 21st century”.  There is sure to be quite a bit of interesting discussion of the Leaders’ presentation.

Come along:   rug up!;  and bring a small plate of finger food for our shared meal; I’m sure that you will enjoy the company of others who share very wide ranges of interest in exploring further their ‘spiritual journeys’ within a ‘progressive Christianity’ context.

Put it in your “I must do this” list!!  We’d love to see you!

Shalom,  John Everall

Caloundra Explorers Group

Faith And the Modern Era

 

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Book Review: How to Read the Bible and Still be a Christian

How to Read the Bible and Still be a Christian

By John Dominic Crossan

The Bible teaches us how to be kind and loving people. Right? Those of us brought up from childhood as churchgoers and people of Christian faith, take this for granted. Millions upon millions of Bibles are given away or sold at concession prices every year by such institutions as the Bible Societies, and Gideon’s.

The assumption is that if only people would read the Bible they will become good people by following the examples set by the stories within.

But is this necessarily so? John Dominic Crossan suggests that we read the Bible in “full”. If we do this we find that the scriptures send very mixed messages indeed. This applies right from Genesis to Revelation. What would a perceptive reader coming in objectively to read the Bible without a background of religious faith find? In taking the writing at face value she would find that the non-violence proclaimed initially as the characteristic of God and Jesus initially, falls away in due course to recourse to power and aggression.

Crossan sees this pattern occurring from the stories of the Garden of Eden, right through the period of the kings and prophets to the gospels and on to the writings attributed to Paul.

He explains this duality through the changing context (his preferred term for this is “matrix”) of the times at which the various books of the bible came to be written. Through my 70 years or so of Bible study I was aware of this and allowed for it, but John Crossan brings new emphasis and new clarity. His recognised reputation as arguably the most acclaimed biblical scholar of this generation comes through in his historical referencing. The bonus is that in this instance, at least, his writing is very readable.

Crossan’s description and analysis of the setting of the Jesus story and the writings of Paul in that first turbulent century of the Common Era would be as clear as any I have studied. It matches well other insights I have had recently into the link between, the developing Christian theology of that period, Greek philosophical thought and the divine political status of the Roman emperor.

Crossan describes the see-sawing in Biblical thrust as between distributive justice (the loving side of God and Jesus) and retributive justice (the violent, vengeful side of God and Jesus). He makes a big thing of the Bible and its story about justice. Some would argue that justice requires vengeance – we see this in the newspapers and TV every day.

The author, however, makes this plea.

“Justice is the body of love and love is the soul of justice…We have separated what cannot be separated if each term is to retain its full power. Justice without love may end in brutality, but love without justice must end in banality. Love empowers justice and justice embodies love. Keep both or get neither”

So let us read the Bible in full. But let us indeed be selective in what we take from it, In observing that swing between goodwill and violence to be found there, may we extract, from the context, the message of justice with love. The responsibility to do so lies within our personal faith convictions as well as with the decision-making councils of our Uniting Church.

A couple of footnotes:

  1. For The Love of God – How the Church is Better and Worse than you ever imagined”. – There has been some recognition recently of the mixed messages on violence promoted by Christians over the centuries in this informative documentary produced this year (2018) by the Centre of Public Christianity. It is recommended viewing.
  2. Some, like me, would initially, reject the description of Jesus in the Bible as violent and vengeful. For those claiming to be “Biblical Christians”, however, John Crossan and I would recommend that you read the Book of Revelation in full.

Rodney Eivers, July 2018

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What does a Progressive Church/Congregation look like?

West Hill United Church in Toronto Canada

West Hill is a people, a place, and an idea. It is a community living out a progressive faith, striving to make a positive difference in our own lives, the lives of others, and the world.

Its mission:
Moved by a reverence for life to pursue justice for all, they inspire one another to seek truth, live fully, care deeply and make a difference.

Over the past many months, they’ve been challenged to engage broadly about who they are and what they see the future of church can be. They are willing and keen to talk with others about it and have extended an invitation to congregations across Canada to reach out if they are interested in having a conversation with them. It can be about what this “theologically non-exclusive” church is really like. It might be about the rise of the “Nones” and how they are engaging them. People might want to just talk about the review of their minister, Gretta Vosper.

Gretta Vosper is the best-selling author of With or Without God: Why the way we live is more important than what we believe and Amen: What Prayer Can Mean in a World Beyond Belief. These books are informed and inspired by her pastoral ministry at West Hill United Church, and reflect her conviction that it isn’t good enough to talk about an abstract belief that has no consequences for living well in community. That is what her work at West Hill is about: promoting an environment where people, often of widely differing opinions and backgrounds, can come together and work at living well within themselves, with one another, and in right relationship with the whole world.

That means that church at West Hill looks very different. Much of what is said in done in a traditional church environment is designed to set boundaries between those on the inside and those on the outside. Gretta is committed to ensuring that the language within a church community is non-exclusive, and that people – ALL PEOPLE – have a place to ask tough questions and give free rein to their spiritual yearnings.
Gretta Vosper is also founder of the Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity. To learn more about Gretta, visit her website www.grettavosper.ca.

Gretta’s husband Scott Kearns is the Music Director. One of Scott’s gifts is improvisation, providing graceful transitions from one part of a service to the next or offering poignant music in the background as Gretta speaks. Another of his gifts is composition. As West Hill moved to a more progressive approach, it found that there is a dearth of worship resources to support this transition. Scott has responded by composing 30 pieces of music, most for worship, but some for special occasions, and he has gathered these in a collection called “The Wonder of Life.” which can be ordered from the Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity. 

Babette Oliveira – Vocal Director. West Hill is blessed with an abundance of vocal talent and Babette’s gift is to help bring out that talent to its fullest capacity. With her own beautiful voice, she mentors and directs the vocal ensemble to provide music and lyrics that speak to the values of West Hill; love, justice, compassion, and hope.

For more details go to: http://www.westhill.net/

oOo

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Politics and Religion

Connecting Inner and Outer Worlds
Sunday, July 8, 2018

Go down to the palace of the king and declare, “Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the orphan, or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.” —Jeremiah 22:1, 3
The primary role of religion and spirituality is to reconnect, the very meaning of the Latin word religio. The Greek word polis—which led to the word politics—simply means city or public forum, where people come together. Why have religion and politics become so antagonistic when they have similar goals?

The Hebrew prophets and Jesus clearly modeled engagement with both faith and the public forum. However, unlike its Jewish forbears, in its first two thousand years Christianity has kept its morality mostly private, personal, and heaven-bound with very few direct implications for our collective economic, social, or political life. Politics and religion remained in two different realms, unless religion was uniting with empires. Christianity looked to Rome and Constantinople for imperial protection; little did we realize the price we would eventually pay for such a compromise with Gospel values.

“Separation of church and state” is important to safeguard freedom of religion and ensure that governments are not dominated by a single religion’s interests. But that does not mean people of faith should not participate in politics. Today many believe that “inner work” is the purview of spirituality and that we should leave the “outer world” to politicians, scientists, businesses, and workers. Most of the negative feedback I receive is “Don’t get political!” Yet how can I read the Bible and stay out of politics? Again and again (approximately 2,000 times!) Scripture calls for justice for the poor. The Gospel is rather “socialist” in its emphasis on sharing resources and caring for those in need.

Like it or not, politics (civic engagement) is one of our primary means of addressing poverty and other justice issues. I am not talking about partisan politics here, but simply connecting the inner world with the outer world. As a result of our dualistic thinking, the word “partisan” has come to be synonymous with the word “political.” And so many church-goers do not want to hear the Gospel preached—as it might sound political!

To be a faith leader is to connect the inner and outer worlds. In the United States’ not-so-distant-past, Christians were at the forefront of political and justice movements to abolish slavery, support women’s suffrage, protect civil rights, and establish and maintain Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Today I am encouraged to see many of my Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist brothers and sisters actively engaged with the political realm, speaking truth to power, and holding our political leaders accountable. Being political is a basic civic, human, and spiritual duty!

The author: Fr. Richard Rohr is a globally recognized ecumenical teacher and a Franciscan priest of the New Mexico Province and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Fr. Richard’s teaching is grounded in the Franciscan alternative orthodoxy—practices of contemplation and self-emptying, expressing itself in radical compassion, particularly for the socially marginalized.

Fr. Richard is the author of numerous books, including Everything Belongs, Adam’s Return, The Naked Now, Breathing Under Water, Falling Upward, Immortal Diamond, and Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi. His newest book is The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation (with Mike Morrell).

Fr. Richard is academic Dean of the Living School for Action and Contemplation. Drawing upon Christianity’s place within the Perennial Tradition, the mission of the Living School is to produce compassionate and powerfully learned individuals who will work for positive change in the world based on awareness of our common union with God and all beings.

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UC FORUM News

  1. Our friends at the Progressive Christianity Network Q are very pleased with the response to the advertised seminars with Professor Joe Bessler, Professor of Theology at Phillips Theological College in Tulsa Oklahoma. The good response to the half day of two sessions and morning tea at the Uniting Church, New Farm, includes many first timers. There is clearly a growing interest in Progressive Christianity and we continue to challenge traditional thinking and encourage contemporary and practical understandings of the Jesus Way. A well stocked bookshop will be operating at this seminar. It is not too late to register for this Saturday’s program (See earlier posts in this Forum) or at other venues. Just send me an email message if you are coming: Paul Inglis . PCNQ can be followed on Facebook .
  2. Planning for the next Common Dreams Conference in Sydney is well under way. The fifth Common Dreams conference will be held in Sydney on either 4 – 7 July or 11 – 14 July 2019(the exact dates will be determined when the availability of the venue is negotiated). Matthew Fox has been booked as the distinguished international keynote speaker. Matthew is a well-known writer & inspired speaker with at least 30 books to his credit. Professor Bessler is part of the build up to CD5 and is visiting several state capitals as well as New Zealand.
  3. The UC FORUM has just awarded two students at Trinity Theological College in the Queensland Synod of the UCA with study scholarships of $2500 each. They were successful in meeting the criteria associated with writing an essay on Progressive Christianity. The scholarships are part of a gift from Rodney Eivers the chairperson of the UC FORUM. Negotiations are advanced for much larger annual grants commencing later this year and managed through the Synod Foundation. We would welcome others contributing to these awards. Watch for further announcements.
  4. Mark Gregory Karris the editor of Divine Echoes: Reconciling Prayer with the Uncontrolling Love of God, referred to by Len Baglow in a recent post has made a generous offer. He says: I am very excited this book is making an impact all over the world! For those who are interested, and who purchase the book or audiobook, the publisher has given me permission to give away the workbook selling on Amazon for free. Just let me know if you bought it, and I will email you the workbook with over 100 questions of reflection. Many are using the workbook individually and in small groups. I also love to field questions or just know your experience of the book, so don’t hesitate to reach out!   Peace, Mark  Email: markgkarris@gmail.com 
  5. The UC Forum Executive meets monthly in the café space at the Queensland Synod for a 90 minute session of informal conversation about emerging issues in our fields of interest. if you would like an invitation to join us please let me know: Email Paul
  6. Our friends at the Milpara Project are currently discussing the growing phenomenon of House Churches. There are many aspects to the trends that we are seeing…some are the result of a movement away from the institutional church and others are staying well inside the tent but offering alternatives to congregational worship and fellowship. Indeed, some are clearly quite progressive. And some are down right scary! You can subscribe to as well as contribute to this discussion by visiting the Milpara site.

oOO

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Let God be God – Richard Rohr

Adapted from Richard Rohr, A Spring Within Us: A Book of Daily Meditations (Centre for Action and Contemplation Publishing: 2016), 214-215.

See below for a note on the author.

Let God Be God
Sunday, July 1, 2018

It takes a long time for us to allow God to be who God really is. Our natural egocentricity wants to make God into who we want God to be. The role of prophets and good theology is to keep people free for God and to keep God free for people. While there are some “pure of heart” people (see Matthew 5:8) who come to “see God” naturally and easily, most of us need lots of help.

If God is always Mystery, then God is always in some way the unfamiliar, beyond what we’re used to, beyond our comfort zone, beyond what we can explain or understand. In the fourth century, St. Augustine said, “If you comprehend it, it is not God.” [1] Would you respect a God you could comprehend? And yet, very often we want a God who reflects and even confirms our culture, our biases, our economic, political, and security systems.

The First Commandment (Exodus 20:2-5) says that we’re not supposed to make any graven images of God or worship them. At first glance, we may think this means only handmade likenesses of God. But it mostly refers to rigid images of God that we hold in our heads. God created human beings in God’s own image, and we’ve returned the compliment, so to speak, by creating God in our image. In the end, we produced what was typically a small, clannish God. In America, God looks like Uncle Sam or Santa Claus, an exacting judge, or a win/lose business man—in each case, a white male, even though “God created humankind in God’s own image; male and female God created them” (see Genesis 1:27). Clearly God cannot be exclusively masculine. The Trinitarian God is anything but a ruling monarch or a solitary figurehead. [2]

Normally we find it very difficult to let God be greater than our culture, our immediate needs, and our projections. The human ego wants to keep things firmly in its grasp; so, we’ve created a God who fits into our small systems and our understanding of God. Thus, we’ve produced a God who requires expensive churches and robes, a God who likes to go to war just as much as we do, and a domineering God because we like to dominate. We’ve almost completely forgotten and ignored what Jesus revealed about the nature of the God he knew. If Jesus is the “image of the invisible God” (see Colossians 1:15) then God is nothing like we expected. Jesus is in no sense a potentate or a patriarch, but the very opposite, one whom John the Baptist calls “a lamb of a God” (see John 1:29). We seem to prefer a lion.

The author: Fr. Richard Rohr is a globally recognized ecumenical teacher and a Franciscan priest of the New Mexico Province and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Fr. Richard’s teaching is grounded in the Franciscan alternative orthodoxy—practices of contemplation and self-emptying, expressing itself in radical compassion, particularly for the socially marginalized.

Fr. Richard is the author of numerous books, including Everything Belongs, Adam’s Return, The Naked Now, Breathing Under Water, Falling Upward, Immortal Diamond, and Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi. His newest book is The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation (with Mike Morrell).

Fr. Richard is academic Dean of the Living School for Action and Contemplation. Drawing upon Christianity’s place within the Perennial Tradition, the mission of the Living School is to produce compassionate and powerfully learned individuals who will work for positive change in the world based on awareness of our common union with God and all beings.

oOo

 

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The Rise and Fall of the Christian Myth then ….. A change for the better: Theology in the modern and contemporary periods

We have had a good response so far but there is room for more people.

Professor Joe Bessler is coming to New Farm Uniting Church
UNITING CHURCH CENTRE 52 MERTHYR RD NEW FARM
Saturday 7th July

Times: 9 am to 1 pm – registration from 8:30 am

Cost: $35 including Devonshire Morning Tea. Pay at the door, but please register your intention to attend by emailing Desley to assist with numbers for catering. – drgarn@bigpond.net.au or let Paul know you are coming: 0414 672 222 or psinglis@westwet.com.au
Fulltime theology students: $20

“The Rise and Fall of the Christian Myth then ….. A change for the better: Theology in the modern and contemporary periods.”

Time to listen….. time to question….. Time to discuss.

Joe Bessler is Professor of Theology in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He has worked closely with the Westar Institute and is the author of A Scandalous Jesus: How Three Historical Quests Changed Theology for the Better.

Brought to Brisbane by:
Common Dreams on the Road and Progressive Christianity Network, Qld
oOo
The Uniting Church at New Farm is at Bus Stop 13 on Bus Route #196
Off street and on street parking – no meters or time limits.

oOo

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Book Review: Deep Work – spiritual practice in our workday world

Thanks to subscriber to the UCFORUM, Professor Peter Fensham for this review:

Available from Mediacom.

Deep Work: Spiritual Practice in our Workday World: Jenny Tymms, MediaCom Education, Inc.

This book is addressed to all those who find it hard to giving attention to their inner life in the face of the expanding demands of our everyday lives during the week. The author, still in employment, has persons like her very much in mind, but the pressures and complexities of modern society make many others feel concerned about the problem of holding the spiritual and everyday life together.

The book has an interesting layered structure. The first layer is set in the eight-fold rhythm of a day beginning with Waking Up, Heading Out, Showing Up, Working, Taking Time Out, Toiling, Finishing Up and Heading Home, and Resting and Recreating. Its other layer provides five sub-themes of each of these eight stages, and gives a variety to them that mirrors the differences the days of many working and everyday weeks can have.

It was pleased to see that each of the sub-themes is introduced by both a short extract from the secular and more contemporary literature, juxtaposed with a relevant biblical piece. This use of the secular spiritual writing can open up what follows to the majority of today’s seeking persons who are not as familiar with the Bible as a resource as are regular church goers.

At the end of each sub-theme a practice is suggested, so the book introduces forty practices in all. These practices are ‘intentional disciplines that foster and nourish our desire for spiritual depth. They shape us into people who joyfully participate in God’s compassionate and justice making work in the world.’ Among them I found some that fitted my limited understanding of spiritual practice, and a few that I fairly regularly do. Many more of the practices are actions I haven’t thought of in spiritual terms, but can see would be worth a try.

The book is available from www.mediacom.org.au

Professor Peter Fensham  19th June 2018.

Note: Jenny introduces her book with:

I believe there is a growing thirst in our western contemporary culture for depth, purpose and meaning in our lives. It feels like our world is speeding up. Economic pressures are leading to workloads that are ever-increasing. Our capacity to attend to our inner lives weakens in the face of expanding external demands. We often feel either wound up or worn out. Yet we are aware of our alienation (although sometimes only dimly) even in the midst of our frantic busyness. We do sense our dis-ease.

Rev Jenny Tymms currently works for the Uniting Church in Queensland as a member of the mission team.

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Gender and Sexual Diversity – terminology

Congratulations to SoFiA (Brisbane) – Sea of Faith in Australia on today’s well planned and high interest conference on Gender Diversity. The impact of the presentations and discussions is sure to be far reaching and long lasting. Presentation by a trans woman priest, pyschologist, trans man lawyer, young ‘agender, trans, queer, femme and fabulous’ person, a mother and many ‘stories’ from the audience made this a very rich conversation.

I was almost overwhelmed by the extent of the nomenclature associated with topic. So I have reproduced them here for everyone’s benefit. If we are serious about inclusion and supportive of diversity, it demands an understanding of the language as a primary criterion.

Bisexual: The word “bi”, meaning “two”, speaks of a person’s attraction to two genders. Bisexuality is unrelated to a person’s own gender or promiscuity, it simply means they feel attraction to men and women.

Transgender: The word “trans” is Latin for “cross”. Transgender people are people whose gender identities are different to the gender they were assigned at birth. In our medical system, most babies born are categorised as male or female based on their physical characteristics (genitals, hormones, etc.).

For many people, however, the gender they were assigned is not the identity that actually exists within them – though they are not “broken”, “mismatched” or strange.

The term “transition” can describe a process that transgender people undergo in order to live their lives more fully as themselves. Transition does not necessarily have an end point, and there are many reasons why transgender people choose to include hormones or surgical procedures in the process, or not choose those things.

Importantly, trans people have no obligation to explain why they’ve made the decisions they have. Questions about their bodies are among the countless acts of aggression and violence faced by trans Australians every day.

Queer: The word queer is still a contentious word, originating as a threatening label for gender and sexuality diverse people. Its origins squirm all the way back through English and Scottish, always meaning something “not straight”. By the 1980s, the AIDS epidemic brought the issue of homophobia irrevocably to the fore.

One of the first groups to flip the meaning of queer and reclaim it were four gay men from ACT-UP (an organisation for gay men’s health), who named themselves Queer Nation.

Since then, the word has somersaulted through radical communities and academia alike. Now queer is not just an umbrella term for sexuality and gender diverse people – it is a proclamation of fearless difference, a self-identifying commitment to counter culture.

Intersex: Intersex people have genital, chromosomal or other physical characteristics that don’t fall into what is typically labelled as male or female.

To be intersex has long been the butt of the great gender joke, stigmatised and all grouped under the term “hermaphrodites” or sidelined and assigned a single gender. There are many variations within humans’ biological makeup that are intersex – more than most people realise.

As intersex refers to biology, it does not describe a person’s sexual or gender orientation. As Safe Schools Coalition explains, “intersex is often associated with a medical diagnosis of disorders, or differences of sex development (DSD). Some intersex individuals may prefer to be described as a ‘person with an intersex variation’ or be identified by their specific variation.”

Source: ABC (online) News –

LGBTQIA glossary: Common gender and sexuality terms explained

Updated

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Rethinking Prayer – Len Baglow, APCV

Reproduced, with permission, from A Progressive Christian Voice Australia and Len Baglow.

Goanna Prayer

Recently I had a camping trip to Wombeyan Caves. It was at the campsite that this picture of a goanna was taken. On seeing this photo, one of my friends asked, “Were you using a telephoto lens, or were you very close?” My initial answer was “A bit of both.” In fact, when I lifted my eyes from the viewfinder of the camera I went “Oops, I’m a lot closer than I thought I was.” Initially the goanna had been much further away. I had not moved but had been concentrating on taking photos. Slowly the goanna had been moving toward me and the photos had been getting better and better.

A few days later I was reminded of Abraham Heschel’s comment on prayer that often we are mistaken in thinking that we must search for God, rather it is God who comes to us and it is we who must respond. Often in prayer we are tempted to keep God at a distance. We don’t like the experience of “Oops that was a bit close” because prayer opens us up to the dangerous and to the unexpected, at least as far as our self-centredness and our fantasies of our self-importance are concerned. Prayer may often be reassuring and comforting, but it never loses its underlying “goanna” edge.

Often progressive Christians struggle with the notion of prayer. Many progressives have rejected the idea of an omnipotent powerful God, who micromanages the universe on our behalf if only we have enough faith, are persistent enough or pure enough. However, the question is often left open as to how God responds, or even does God respond, or perhaps can God respond to prayer. These are complex questions which have been asked well before modern times. In a sense these are questions which each person must struggle with and formulate their own answers.

Yet, I think the progressive Christian movement could have given more guidance. Too often the questions on prayer have been quickly dismissed as infantile. Yet they are among the deepest and most meaningful of questions.

With this is mind, I was heartened to hear a fascinating podcast on petitionary prayer in which the author, counsellor and theologian Mark Karris was interviewed by the eccentric broadcaster and theologian Tripp Fuller.

Mark Karris proposes that when we seriously petition God, we should think of it as “conspiring” with God. Conspiring has the sense both of “breathing with” God, but also being subversive to injustice and evil in the world. In this sense, when we petition God, it is not we who are waiting on God to act, but God who is waiting on us. God has already acted and is acting in the world. God’s love is already in the suffering and hurt and pain that our prayer has spoken of. It is we who must enact that love. What are we are going to do? This is why Karris calls petitionary prayer, “beautifully dangerous.”

Karris goes on to criticise the petitionary prayers that we often hear in churches. He claims that they mar the image of God. They do this by putting all the responsibility for changing the world on God. In so doing they distance us from God and let us off the hook. We lose the opportunity to conspire with God, to breath together.

This is a challenge for nearly every church. The prayer of petition should not be the section in which we quietly go to sleep, but the section in which we go “Oops, that was a bit close, how must I respond?”

About APCV:

A Progressive Christian Voice (Australia) is a group of Christians who wish to contribute to public debate by promoting a generous and future-focused understanding of the Christian faith.

A Progressive Christian Voice (Australia):

  • Understands Christian opinion to be more diverse and broader than that portrayed by the media.
  • Is dedicated to contributing insights from progressive streams of the Christian faith and community.
  • Seeks to minimise the effect that powerful lobby groups have on public discourse.

A Progressive Christian Voice (Australia):

  • Is therefore concerned with promoting public awareness of the diversity of Christian opinion.
  • Welcomes fresh and challenging contemporary insights into the interpretation of the Christian scriptures and tradition.
  • Does not speak on behalf of any Christian denomination, congregation, community or organisation.

For more information or to become a subscriber go to: APCV

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Featured post

Professor Joe Bessler is coming to New Farm

UNITING CHURCH CENTRE 52 MERTHYR RD NEW FARM

                                    Saturday 7th July

A morning with Joe Bessler

Times: 9 am to 1 pm – registration from 8:30 am Cost:  $35 including Devonshire Morning Tea. Pay at the door, but please register your intention to attend by emailing Desley to assist with numbers for catering.  drgarn@bigpond.net.au

Fulltime theology students: $20

Time to listen  …..  time to question  …..  Time to discuss

Joe Bessler is the Professor of Theology in Tulsa,  Oklahoma. He has worked closely with the Westar Institute  and is the author of A Scandalous Jesus:  How Three Historical Quests Changed Theology for the Better.

Brought to Brisbane by Common Dreams on the Road and Progressive Christianity Network, Qld

The Rise and Fall of the Christian Myth then …..  A change for the better: Theology in the modern and contemporary periods

The Uniting Church at New Farm is at Bus Stop 13 on Bus Route #196

Off street and on street parking – no meters or time limits.

Enquiries: 0409 498 493

oOo