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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

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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!

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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

oOo

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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

oOo

 

 

 

 

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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

oOo

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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

oOo

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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

oOo

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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

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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

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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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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.

oOo

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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.

oOo

 

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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!

Continue reading

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

oOo

 

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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

oOo

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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

oOO

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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

oOo

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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

 

oOo

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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

oOo

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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.

oOo

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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.

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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.

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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
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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.

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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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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

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Professor Joe Bessler in SEQ – 5th,6th,7th,8th July

Common Dreams On the Road and  Progressive Christian Network Queensland present:

Professor Joseph A. Bessler

and extend an invitation to attend one or more of the following:

Theology in the Age of Trump Thursday July 5, 6pm. St John’s Cathedral 373 Ann Street, Brisbane A conversation with Joe Bessler over wine and cheese as we explore the intersection of the religious and the political amid the current climate of debate over freedoms and authority. Entry by donation.
Reimagining Prayer and Practice Friday July 6, 6:30pm. Eastern Hills Anglican Church 101 Watson Street, Camp Hill An evening of wine, cheese and conversation with Professor Joe Bessler as we reimagine liturgy as practice for public life. Entry $10. Enquiries: Fr Chris Tyack parish@easternhillschurch.org.au / 0404 518 011

Rise and Fall of The Christian Myth and A Change for the BetterTheology in the Modern and Contemporary Periods Saturday July 7, 9am – 1pm Uniting Church Centre 52 Merthyr Road, New Farm Registration from 8:30am. $35 entry includes morning tea.  Discount available for fulltime theology students. Please register for catering purposes via Desley Garnett  drgarn@bigpond.net.au / 0409 498 403

Theology in the Age of Trump Sunday July 8, 3pm. St Mark’s Buderim 7-17 Main Street, Buderim A conversation with Joe Bessler as we explore the intersection of the religious and the political amid the current climate of debate over freedoms and authority.  $10 Entry includes afternoon tea. Enquiries: Rev’d Deb Bird dbird@stmarksbuderim.org.au / 0404 816 202

Joseph A. Bessler is Professor of Theology at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

In addition to teaching theology courses, Joe Bessler specialises in the interaction of religion and

contemporary culture. He is the author of ‘A Scandalous Jesus’ and enjoys the challenge of opening up cross-disciplinary conversations that define theological questions in new ways.

You can read more about Joe here: https://www.westarinstitute.org/membership/westar-fellows/fellows-directory/joseph-a-bessler/

Find us on Facebook @pcnqld and @cd5sydney Look out for the Common Dreams 2019 Conference in Sydney: CommonDreams.org.au

Paul Inglis 14th June 2018

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The House Church – a quick survey of some literature

House Churches – complementing or replacing Institutional Church?

[Not an academic paper – information extracted from available publications]

Our friends at the Milpara Project have been examining the potential for and growth in House Churches. At a time when many congregations have had to abandon their church buildings because they have become an economic liability, and when there is a global disenchantment with institutions including the Church, there are many motives for small groups finding fellowship and a group of friends to share their faith with.

The first house church is recorded in Acts 1:13, where the disciples of Jesus met together in the “Upper Room” of a house. For the first three centuries of the church, Christians typically met in homes, if only because intermittent persecution (before the Edict of Milan in 313) did not allow the erection of public church buildings. Clement of Alexandria, an early church father, wrote of worshipping in a house. The Dura-Europos church, a private house in Syria, was excavated in the 1930s and was found to be used as a Christian meeting place in AD 232, with one small room serving as a baptistry. At many points in subsequent history, various Christian groups worshipped in homes, often due to persecution by the state church or the civil government.
In the second half of the 20th century after the Maoist revolution, China outlawed organised religion. The Chinese model during the persecution was the longest lasting revival in the history of the church. There were no missionaries, dollars, sacred buildings, pastors, Sunday service, tithing or even Bibles. There was Body Ministry, where the people prayed and ministered to each other, quietly under the radar. No wonder the church grew exponentially from one million to 100 million.

Persecution has not been the only motive for the development of House Churches,
Today, Christians who meet together in homes have often done so because of a desire to return to early Church style meetings as found in the New Testament. The New Testament shows that the Early Christian church exhibited a richness of fellowship and interactive practice that is typically not the case in conventional denominations. They believe that Christians walked closely with each other and shared their lives following Jesus together. The modern house church movement has both captured allegiance and anxiety. Many acclaim it as a rediscovery of New Testament Christianity, while others see in it an escape from the realities of established church life.

Although not in a climate of persecution, India has adopted many of the best practices of the then Chinese model and is experiencing similar growth and multiplication. The Global House Church Summit in India in 2009 was an attempt to create awareness among the participants of the need to revert and replicate the original house church principles as modelled in the New Testament. Victor Choudhrie stated that the objective of the Summit was to put the primitive first century church (as implemented by the first trainees of Jesus Christ) firmly on the map as the model for churches today. He summarised his message as follows: “The house church is not the destination, it is only a convenient vehicle. “Kingdomization” of home, the office, the market place, the boardroom, the parliament and of the nations is the real objective, until all the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdom of our Lord and His Christ.”

Several passages in the Bible specifically mention churches meeting in houses. “The churches of Asia greet you, especially Aquila and Priscilla greet you much in the Lord, along with the church that is in their house.” I Cor 16:19. The church meeting in the house of Priscilla and Aquila is again mentioned in Romans 16:3,5. The church that meets in the house of Nymphas is also cited in the Bible: “Greet the brethren in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in her house.” Col 4:15.

For the first 300 years of Early Christianity, people met in homes until Constantine legalized Christianity, and the assembly moved out of houses into larger buildings creating the current style church seen today. Choudrie describes this change in stronger terms:
Then came the Roman Emperor Constantine (CE 272-337), a sun worshipping hybrid Christian who did a lot of good but also imposed the solar cross instead of the Menorah the lamp, as the sign of the church (Revelation 1:20). He built the first Cathedral, appointed professional clergy, declared Sun-Day as a day of worship, appointed himself the virtual Pope, banned the house churches and herded all believers in the brick and mortar buildings and called it the church and corrupted the Bride for 1700 years. However, the authentic church survived in secret, often illegal house churches.

In North America and the United Kingdom, the recent developments in the house church movement is often seen as a return to a New Testament church restorationist paradigm and a restoration of God’s eternal purpose and the natural expression of Christ on the earth, urging Christians to return from hierarchy and rank to practices described and encouraged in Scripture. According to some proponents, many churchgoers are turning to house churches because many traditional churches fail to meet their relational needs. Continue reading

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Just published – White Woman Black Heart

Mapoon community is situated on the traditional lands of the Tjungundji people.  A church mission commenced near Trathalarrakwana (unconfirmed spelling of a Tjungundji word meaning ‘Barramundi story place’) or Cullen Point on 28 November 1891.  Mapoon Mission was established under the name Batavia River Mission by Moravian missionaries on behalf of the Presbyterian Church of Australia, with Queensland Government financial assistance, on land reserved by the Government under the Crown Lands Act of 1884.   Within a few years the mission became known as Mapoon, a Tjungundji word meaning  ‘place where people fight on the sand-hills’.   Mapoon is also known as Marpuna.  As the influence of the mission widened in the surrounding lands, the reserve was extended south to the Mission River near Weipa.  Some of the traditional owner groups who eventually came to live at Mapoon included the Mpakwithi, Taepithiggi, Thaynhakwith, Warrangku, Wimarangga and Yupungathi people.

The story of the closure of Mapoon in 1964 meshes into the sad history of resettlement that was occurring widely. By 1984 traditional owners were coming back. I (Paul Inglis) visited Mapoon in 1985 while doing research for Comalco in Weipa and saw where the settlement had been destroyed and the beginning of rebuilding.

Barbabra Miller tells the story beautifully. Thanks Noel Preston for sending the details.

White Woman, Black Heart recites, with powerful eloquence, an amazing story: the personal journey of the author and the heroic resilience of the Mapoon Aboriginal Community from the Western Cape. The author, Barbara Miller, has lived in Cairns for more than four decades. I (Noel Preston) first met her soon after she published the story of the Aboriginal people ejected from the Mapoon settlement on Cape York in the late 1960s. This community had been conducted by the Presbyterian church in conjunction with the State government. The devastating impact on these indigenous Australians was an injustice inherited by the Uniting Church. Miller’s account weaves her own story with that of the Mapoon people (some of whom have now returned to their original land). Miller continued her advocacy for First Australians in various roles in the north such as being part of the original founding team of the North Queensland Land Council with her first husband, Mick Miller, and in the 1990s as CEO of the Aboriginal Coordinating Council which represented Aboriginal local government councils.

This enthralling personal memoir, with its incredibly detailed recollections, extends from the turbulent times of the sixties and seventies to the present which she shares with husband Norman in pastoral ministry. White Woman, Black Heart is also an inspiring testimony to the empowering convergence between her authentic spirituality and her never-ending struggle for social justice. As a contribution to the history of that political struggle in Queensland and the Western Cape particularly, it is important for scholars, activists and all who are committed to supporting the First Australians find their rightful place in Australian society.

To purchase: Either through Amazon or from Barbara Miller. Other publications by Barbara Miller are also available at this site.

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SoFiA – One-Day Conference in Brisbane

One-day conference Gender Diversity: What, Who, How?

(in conjunction with the SoFiA AGM, see below) Sunday 17 June, 10.30am – 3.00pm Lecture Theatre, Watermall Level, Queensland Art Gallery South Bank, Brisbane –  Cost:  $20

What is gender and how does it differ from sex? Is gender diversity social engineering, or a fact of life? How can we respond when transgender people assert their personal and civil rights? How does this change human identity? How can we develop flourishing lives and relationships for us all?
 

Hear  – researchers in this field,  transgender people,  family and friends of transgender people

Understand – terms and concepts in gender diversity

Feel –  the experiences of gender-non-conforming    people.

More details in the March/April Bulletin or as below

To register:
Numbers are limited, so to ensure a seat register and pay online  (https://www.eventbrite.com/e/gender-diversity-what-who-how-registration43434891931). Payment is also accepted at the event. Lunch will be available for purchase at the GOMA Café Bistro, State Library Café or QAG Café.

What is SoFiA?

The SoF movement started in 1984 as a response to Don Cupitt‘s book and television series, both titled Sea of Faith. Cupitt was educated in both science and theology at the University of Cambridge in the 1950s, and is a philosopher, theologian, Anglican priest, and former Dean of Emmanuel College, Cambridge.  In the book and TV series, he surveyed western thinking about religion and charted a transition from traditional realist religion to the view that religion is simply a human creation.

The name Sea of Faith is taken from Matthew Arnold‘s nostalgic mid 19th century poem “Dover Beach“, in which the poet expresses regret that belief in a supernatural world is slowly slipping away; the “sea of faith” is withdrawing like the ebbing tide.

Following the television series, a small group of radical Christian clergy and laity began meeting to explore how they might promote this new understanding of religious faith. Starting with a mailing list of 143 sympathisers, they organised the first UK conference in 1988.[5] A second conference was held in the following year shortly after which the SoF Network was officially launched. Annual regional and national conferences have been key events of the network ever since.

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Book Review: A Scandalous Jesus-How three historical quests changed theology for the better

Professor Joe Bessler is coming to Australia. Watch for information about his presentations for Common Dreams on the Road

Thanks to Rex Hunt for this book review

Joseph A. Bessler.
A Scandalous Jesus: How Three Historical Quests Changed Theology for the Better
Salem: Polebridge Press, P/Back, 250 Pages, 2013.

I had been waiting for this book since late 2006.

John Smith, Dick Carter and myself met with Joe in Santa Rosa, CA. in 2006 to invite him to come to Australia in 2007 to the first Common Dreams Conference in Sydney. We shouted him a beer and he told us about the book he was writing. He accepted, came, and was brilliant.

Bessler is a theologian, affectionate known as the ‘Jesus Seminar theologian’, stationed at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa. His book covers each of the three quests of the historical Jesus—from the original quest in the early 20th century, through the new quest of the 1940 and 50s, to the renewed quest in the late 20th early 21st centuries, initiated by the Westar Institute and its famous ‘Jesus Seminar’. He seeks to capture the historic questions that surround and shape each of these research endeavours and assess the impact of these differing quests on theological and cultural life.

He is critical of neo-orthodoxy—justifiably so I reckon—because in their rejection of the historical or human Jesus in favour of the Christ of faith, they missed something. What they missed was the possibility that the question of the historical Jesus was in fact, “not only a historical question but also a historic question—a question that created a series of profound social, political, and theological impacts that have continued to shape and reshape our world” (Pg:2).

In short, the ‘quest’ for the historical Jesus “is not (and was never) simply about the historical Jesus; it was always already about larger issues involving churches’ theological self-understanding and their relation to broader society. And… the theological rejection of historical Jesus research was almost always a refusal to deal with those larger issues” (Pg:3).

Moreover, there was not simply one quest, but differing quests that emerged within distinct periods and places. Quest One: 18th and 19th century and Reimarus, Strauss, Schweitzer, and medieval background, and emergence of new tensions; Quest Two or ‘New’ Quest: Bultmann, Kasemann, Robinson, Kung; and Quest Three or ‘Renewed’ Quest: as expressed in the work of Funk, Patterson, Taussig, Crossan, Scott, and the Jesus Seminar.

There is theological continuity across these quests “in that they press the Christian institutions of their period to alter long-held theological assumptions in order to make room for a new depth and range of discourse” (Pg:4).

How have they challenged the institution? Q1—move beyond the use of ecclesiastical power to control civil society and embrace greater religious freedom; Q2—embrace the full historical humanity of Jesus and be open to the full range of human experience in modern life; Q3—reject the politicised power of Christian fundamentalism and open up modes of faith beyond the too-narrow confines of right belief.

The publication of such historical Jesus scholarship has often created a climate of scandal. “Blaming scholars for confusing and disturbing the faith of the simple believer, outraged officials have sought to mock and suppress such inquiry as a kind of treason against the church. Historic questions are often the most scandalous precisely because they raise basic, fundamental challenges about the assumptions governing their societies” (Pg:5).

Bessler has written an important book. It deserves to be widely read and internally digested. I am grateful for his research and publishing efforts. For, in each time and place where a ‘quest’ has become important theological inquiry, “what has appeared initially as a threat and as a scandal, has brought both greater openness and vitality to discussions of faith” (Pg:227) even as it has brought the human Jesus and his teachings into clearer view.

As Bessler says: “if one can see the importance for models of faith that go beyond official claims of right belief and supernaturalism to speak in publicly assessable ways, then what appears to others as scandal assumes the weight of a risk worth taking” (Pg:227).

oOo

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Book Review: An Eternal World, messages from the other side

By Rev Ron Ramsay

Reading Ron’s book, I had to keep reminding myself that this was a serious writer telling of his journey through a world of psychic experiences. Time and again I thought I was reading a mystery novel. His writing style is loaded with building anticipation and new turns and twists in a dramatic and fascinating set of experiences.

As a somewhat critical skeptic, I was often tempted to pass judgment against this retired Uniting Church minister. But as I persevered, it became harder to easily dismiss the many episodes of ‘life after death’ that he reported. But the eternal life he gives evidence for is not physical and in many ways not greatly dissimilar from that of the orthodox or traditional view taught in many churches.

However, the range of existing spiritual perspectives I have come across is huge and this is just becoming obvious to researchers. The complex nature of these perspectives makes it unproductive to categorize thinking Christians.

So my motivation is to encourage inclusive discourse and to give voice where so often there is derision, and therefore I can recommend coming to this text with an open mind. Readers may not agree with all the arguments, but they are likely to enjoy the way they are told and to be fascinated by Ron’s personal challenges and decisions.

 

This is a real life story full of personal experiences ranging through dialogue with the dead to coming to grips with reincarnation. Ron’s world view has taken a long time to evolve and to be come coherent to himself, but his writing is clear and precise. He now challenges both orthodox Christian teachings as well as liberal perspectives. For Ron, these experiences have answered two vital questions – ‘Who am I? ‘ ‘Why am I here?’.

I am always looking for the Jesus factor in conversations about spirituality and in this two elements are important to me – ‘joy in life’ and ‘sharing with justice’. The Jesus ethic calls for living life in abundance without the threat of fears and doubts. It also calls for living a life of sharing in justice and compassion. These elements did not jump out at me in Ron’s book, but they were there in the way he sought to ease the mental torments of others and his search for a truth that brings peace of mind.

I found a different kind of good news – being able to stay in touch with deceased family and friends! That produced enormous satisfaction for many of Ron’s acquaintances. This seemed like a very risky enterprise to me. It could also have fed old conflicts.

For people like Ron Ramsay and many he has met in his life journey there is an element of ‘ joy in life’ coming from discourse with the spirit world – the assurances, warnings and support they receive from all of this. But as someone who has never had such experiences and been tutored to think suspiciously about them, I cannot see how it would benefit the world to be able to do so. That didn’t stop me enjoying the book as it filled a giant gap in my understandings.

This is a book that will challenge because it is piled high with ‘evidence’ that cannot easily be dismissed. Every reader will have their own response based on their own view of reality and life experiences. I enjoyed the book but was not significantly changed by it. It would be good to have other reasonable viewpoints on this book.

Paul Inglis 13th May 2018

Can be purchased as an e Book through Amazon Australia for around $11.99…you can read the first 2 chapters before buying.

Before buying the book, consider reading Ron’s short essay first at no cost: ‘Valid evidence for a spiritual world view.’ Just send him an email request to:

rjsmramsay@bigpond.com

 

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Caloundra Explorers growing within and beyond

Now ten years in operation the Explorers Group at Caloundra Uniting Church has grown from within the congregation and an additional 100 + subscribers from across the Sunshine Coast. It is a group with representation from many denominations and none. With a team approach to leadership the group has a sophisticated set of protocols for ensuring continuous development and a welcoming profile. 2018 is going to be packed with great events and studies:

In his report to the Church Council, John Everell had this to say –

1. Book Study Discussion Groups:
a) First Semester – period February – March 2018 concentrated on discussions arising from the book “Honest to GOoD” by Rev John W.H. Smith with the sub-title “ Discerning the Sacred in the Secular”. His story of his unusual theological career opened up much discussion such as ‘family influence’; theological training’; ‘spirituality and disability’; ‘healing narratives’ and ‘Faith Communities of the Future’.
b) Second Semester will run for six weeks from 11th September to 16th October. The “book” will be Rev. Dr. John Bodycomb’s just completed but unpublished work “Twelve Healing Words”. John is very ill and it is unlikely that this work will ever be published. However, he has made it available to the Caloundra Explorers Group as a special gift to acknowledge the strong relationship that he and his wife, author Rev. Dr. Lorraine Parkinson have had with our Group. It is a lovely thought and very much appreciated by us. We continue to keep John in our thoughts as he endures what will be his last period in his life’s journey. We will prepare this into a six period Study for the second Semester. Suitable for the broad Congregation: Minor Printing and Folder costs will be recoverable. It has Chapters such as:
“Grief without Despair”; It’s hard to Forgive; do we know why?”; “When It’s hard staying positive”;
The grace of gratitude”; ”Enjoying who you are”; How’s your sense of Humour?”;
“Big challengers for truth seekers”; “Truth about things mad, bad and sad”.”Ever want to get away from it all?

2. “Gatherings”:
a) April 15th Gathering: Led by guest Dr. Paul Inglis of Dayboro Uniting Church and CEO of the UC Forum on the Synod website. He spoke on the results of a major survey by the SE QLD Progressive Network as to “The Progressive Call to Action-Revisioning the Church for the 21st Century”. His information and ten point summary became the basis for serious discussion and further interaction with the speaker. Meditations from Michael Morwood’s new book “Prayers for Progressive Christians” were introduced by Margaret Landbeck. Good attendance including strong “Friends” attendance.
b) June 17th “Gathering”: Theme “Parables and Politics – A Reflective Exploration “ Leader-Margaret Landbeck . Includes discussion periods and light byo community meal. Those attending this Gathering will be asked to bring their bibles as a resource for several reflective periods within the service.
The Explorers are extending a special Invitation to the church’s other three Bible Study groups and also the Congregation to join in this particular evening, as there will be much commonality to be celebrated around the theme of Jesus’ use of Parables.
c) August 19th “Gathering”: Theme “ What have we learnt from our ‘Exploring’? to be led by Anne and Pieter Hoogendoorn.
d) October 21st “Gathering”. Theme “Matrix, Memory and Midrash”;. Leadership Team under development.

3. Seminars:
Annual Seminar: Our 9th Annual Seminar will be held on Saturday 29th September with the Guest being Rev. Glennis Johnston, Counsellor, international voluntary worker and retired UC parish minister. She was the Spiritual Director of a multi-faith residential community in Melbourne before retiring to Dorrigo NSW where she leads individual and group Retreats at ‘Fernbrook Lodge’. She is the author of “Turning Points of the Spirit”- ‘a journey from institutional religion to authentic spirituality’. This will be a quite different theme for our Annual Seminar and we are working closely with the “Sunday Conversations” group from St Mark’s Anglican Church Buderim to have both our full day Seminar and their next day “Sunday Conversations’ feature Glennis. She is known to several of our clergy advisors and highly recommended.

4. Library: Four new books have been added to the Library, and quite a number of Explorers have also taken the opportunity to purchase their own copy within our order:
– “Turning Points of the Spirit” by Glennis Johnston
– “The Wind Blows where it Chooses” by Kevin Treston ( Catholic Education Leader– Brisbane)
– “Prayers for Progressive Christians” by Michael Morwood.

5. Church Profile: The following summary – “The Explorers Group” -has been developed to help the Church Council provide informed information on the philosophy, mission, and activities of the Explorers Group for the Church Profile and, particularly, for subsequent support for discussions with potential ministry placement applicants. It may also assist new Councillors in a more detailed understanding of the Explorers place and Mission within in the Caloundra church family .
The Explorers Group:
The Explorers Group, now ten year old, has a strong contact group within the congregation  whose spiritual journeys find comfort and support within the ‘progressive Christianity’ strands of theology.
They express their purpose as: “The Explorers Group is set up to enable people to experience some of the challenge and intellectual stimulation available from the growing breadth of contemporary theology and emerging biblical scholarship. We get together to explore, discuss and debate within a safe, non-judgmental and structured environment, recently published writings and lectures from contemporary theologians, eminent scholars and others.”
The Explorers Group has three activities supporting their ministry:
a) Book Discussions/Studies in two six week Semesters during the year- Tuesday afternoon group in the Hall and a Thursday night group in a private home in Pelican Waters. Attendances range from 16 to 24.
b) “Gatherings” –{set evening services – 3rd Sunday in every 2nd month}. These “Gatherings” allow a much greater flexibility in style and theme and particularly for a liturgy more appropriate to its underlying ‘progressive’ influence. A byo light meal is part of the liturgy. The “Gathering’s” discussion opportunities are the favoured interactive segments in the evening’s format. A ‘Theme’ has proved very popular. Usually led in turn by Explorers Leaders. Attendances range 25 -40.
c) “Seminars”- two to three a year, with the major effort being an Annual Seminar {the 9th Annual Seminar will be held on Saturday 29th September 2018}. Speakers are leading Australian or International theologians and authors. Attendances range from 50 to 75(capacity).
The Explorers Group’s “Friends of the Explorers” is a specific Ministry to people beyond this congregation. It’s contact ministry uses the regular “Gatherings” and, particularly the Seminars, to engage with (and provide support to) other ‘progressives’ from the Sunshine Coast and Hinterland, many of whom seek support not available in their own regions. Contact list has over 100 people registered. We also link with UC Forum and other SE Qld ‘progressive’ networks.
Our current Faith And the Modern Era series (FAME) concept is providing enthusiasm and inspiration as we look at the Explorers moving beyond ‘ simply learning’ and putting ‘knowledge into action’.

If you would like to be connected to this group, contact John Everell.

oOo

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Women In Ancient Christianity: The New Discoveries

Thank you Paul Wildman for passing on this article from:

FRONTLINE investigative journalism

Women In Ancient Christianity: The New Discoveries
Scholar Karen King examines the evidence concerning women’s important place in early Christianity. She draws a surprising new portrait of Mary Magdalene and outlines the stories of previously unknown early Christian women.
by Karen L. King
Karen L. King is Professor of New Testament Studies and the History of Ancient Christianity at Harvard University in the Divinity School. She has published widely in the areas of Gnosticism, ancient Christianity, and Women’s Studies.
In the last twenty years, the history of women in ancient Christianity has been almost completely revised. As women historians entered the field in record numbers, they brought with them new questions, developed new methods, and sought for evidence of women’s presence in neglected texts and exciting new findings. For example, only a few names of women were widely known: Mary, the mother of Jesus; Mary Magdalene, his disciple and the first witness to the resurrection; Mary and Martha, the sisters who offered him hospitality in Bethany. Now we are learning more of the many women who contributed to the formation of Christianity in its earliest years.

Perhaps most surprising, however, is that the stories of women we thought we knew well are changing in dramatic ways. Chief among these is Mary Magdalene, a woman infamous in Western Christianity as an adulteress and repentant whore. Discoveries of new texts from the dry sands of Egypt, along with sharpened critical insight, have now proven that this portrait of Mary is entirely inaccurate. She was indeed an influential figure, but as a prominent disciple and leader of one wing of the early Christian movement that promoted women’s leadership.

——————————————–

Certainly, the New Testament Gospels, written toward the last quarter of the first century CE, acknowledge that women were among Jesus’ earliest followers. From the beginning, Jewish women disciples, including Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna, had accompanied Jesus during his ministry and supported him out of their private means (Luke 8:1-3). He spoke to women both in public and private, and indeed he learned from them. According to one story, an unnamed Gentile woman taught Jesus that the ministry of God is not limited to particular groups and persons, but belongs to all who have faith (Mark 7:24-30; Matthew 15:21-28). A Jewish woman honored him with the extraordinary hospitality of washing his feet with perfume. Jesus was a frequent visitor at the home of Mary and Martha, and was in the habit of teaching and eating meals with women as well as men. When Jesus was arrested, women remained firm, even when his male disciples are said to have fled, and they accompanied him to the foot of the cross. It was women who were reported as the first witnesses to the resurrection, chief among them again Mary Magdalene. Although the details of these gospel stories may be questioned, in general they reflect the prominent historical roles women played in Jesus’ ministry as disciples.

WOMEN IN THE FIRST CENTURY OF CHRISTIANITY

After the death of Jesus, women continued to play prominent roles in the early movement. Some scholars have even suggested that the majority of Christians in the first century may have been women.

The letters of Paul – dated to the middle of the first century CE – and his casual greetings to acquaintances offer fascinating and solid information about many Jewish and Gentile women who were prominent in the movement. His letters provide vivid clues about the kind of activities in which women engaged more generally. He greets Prisca, Junia, Julia, and Nereus’ sister, who worked and traveled as missionaries in pairs with their husbands or brothers (Romans 16:3, 7, 15). He tells us that Prisca and her husband risked their lives to save his. He praises Junia as a prominent apostle, who had been imprisoned for her labor. Mary and Persis are commended for their hard work (Romans 16:6, 12). Euodia and Syntyche are called his fellow-workers in the gospel (Philippians 4:2-3). Here is clear evidence of women apostles active in the earliest work of spreading the Christian message.

Paul’s letters also offer some important glimpses into the inner workings of ancient Christian churches. These groups did not own church buildings but met in homes, no doubt due in part to the fact that Christianity was not legal in the Roman world of its day and in part because of the enormous expense to such fledgling societies. Such homes were a domain in which women played key roles. It is not surprising then to see women taking leadership roles in house churches. Paul tells of women who were the leaders of such house churches (Apphia in Philemon 2; Prisca in I Corinthians 16:19). This practice is confirmed by other texts that also mention women who headed churches in their homes, such as Lydia of Thyatira (Acts 16:15) and Nympha of Laodicea (Colossians 4:15). Women held offices and played significant roles in group worship. Paul, for example, greets a deacon named Phoebe (Romans 16:1) and assumes that women are praying and prophesying during worship (I Corinthians 11). As prophets, women’s roles would have included not only ecstatic public speech, but preaching, teaching, leading prayer, and perhaps even performing the eucharist meal. (A later first century work, called the Didache, assumes that this duty fell regularly to Christian prophets.)

MARY MAGDALENE: A TRUER PORTRAIT

Later texts support these early portraits of women, both in exemplifying their prominence and confirming their leadership roles (Acts 17:4, 12). Certainly the most prominent among these in the ancient church was Mary Magdalene. A series of spectacular 19th and 20th century discoveries of Christian texts in Egypt dating to the second and third century have yielded a treasury of new information. It was already known from the New Testament gospels that Mary was a Jewish woman who followed Jesus of Nazareth. Apparently of independent means, she accompanied Jesus during his ministry and supported him out of her own resources (Mark 15:40-41; Matthew 27:55-56; Luke 8:1-3; John 19:25).

Although other information about her is more fantastic, she is repeatedly portrayed as a visionary and leader of the early movement.( Mark 16:1-9; Matthew 28:1-10; Luke24:1-10; John 20:1, 11-18; Gospel of Peter ). In the Gospel of John, the risen Jesus gives her special teaching and commissions her as an apostle to the apostles to bring them the good news. She obeys and is thus the first to announce the resurrection and to play the role of an apostle, although the term is not specifically used of her. Later tradition, however, will herald her as “the apostle to the apostles.” The strength of this literary tradition makes it possible to suggest that historically Mary was a prophetic visionary and leader within one sector of the early Christian movement after the death of Jesus.

The newly discovered Egyptian writings elaborate this portrait of Mary as a favored disciple. Her role as “apostle to the apostles” is frequently explored, especially in considering her faith in contrast to that of the male disciples who refuse to believe her testimony. She is most often portrayed in texts that claim to record dialogues of Jesus with his disciples, both before and after the resurrection. In the Dialogue of the Savior, for example, Mary is named along with Judas (Thomas) and Matthew in the course of an extended dialogue with Jesus. During the discussion, Mary addresses several questions to the Savior as a representative of the disciples as a group. She thus appears as a prominent member of the disciple group and is the only woman named. Moreover, in response to a particularly insightful question, the Lord says of her, “´You make clear the abundance of the revealer!'” (140.17-19). At another point, after Mary has spoken, the narrator states, “She uttered this as a woman who had understood completely”(139.11-13). These affirmations make it clear that Mary is to be counted among the disciples who fully comprehended the Lord’s teaching (142.11-13).

In another text, the Sophia of Jesus Christ, Mary also plays a clear role among those whom Jesus teaches. She is one of the seven women and twelve men gathered to hear the Savior after the resurrection, but before his ascension. Of these only five are named and speak, including Mary. At the end of his discourse, he tells them, “I have given you authority over all things as children of light,” and they go forth in joy to preach the gospel. Here again Mary is included among those special disciples to whom Jesus entrusted his most elevated teaching, and she takes a role in the preaching of the gospel.

In the Gospel of Philip, Mary Magdalene is mentioned as one of three Marys “who always walked with the Lord” and as his companion (59.6-11). The work also says that Lord loved her more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often (63.34-36). The importance of this portrayal is that yet again the work affirms the special relationship of Mary Magdalene to Jesus based on her spiritual perfection.

In the Pistis Sophia, Mary again is preeminent among the disciples, especially in the first three of the four books. She asks more questions than all the rest of the disciples together, and the Savior acknowledges that: “Your heart is directed to the Kingdom of Heaven more than all your brothers” (26:17-20). Indeed, Mary steps in when the other disciples are despairing in order to intercede for them to the Savior (218:10-219:2). Her complete spiritual comprehension is repeatedly stressed.

She is, however, most prominent in the early second century Gospel of Mary, which is ascribed pseudonymously to her. More than any other early Christian text, the Gospel of Mary presents an unflinchingly favorable portrait of Mary Magdalene as a woman leader among the disciples. The Lord himself says she is blessed for not wavering when he appears to her in a vision. When all the other disciples are weeping and frightened, she alone remains steadfast in her faith because she has grasped and appropriated the salvation offered in Jesus’ teachings. Mary models the ideal disciple: she steps into the role of the Savior at his departure, comforts, and instructs the other disciples. Peter asks her to tell any words of the Savior which she might know but that the other disciples have not heard. His request acknowledges that Mary was preeminent among women in Jesus’ esteem, and the question itself suggests that Jesus gave her private instruction. Mary agrees and gives an account of “secret” teaching she received from the Lord in a vision. The vision is given in the form of a dialogue between the Lord and Mary; it is an extensive account that takes up seven out of the eighteen pages of the work. At the conclusion of the work, Levi confirms that indeed the Saviour loved her more than the rest of the disciples (18.14-15). While her teachings do not go unchallenged, in the end the Gospel of Mary affirms both the truth of her teachings and her authority to teach the male disciples. She is portrayed as a prophetic visionary and as a leader among the disciples.

OTHER CHRISTIAN WOMEN

Other women appear in later literature as well. One of the most famous woman apostles was Thecla, a virgin-martyr converted by Paul. She cut her hair, donned men’s clothing, and took up the duties of a missionary apostle. Threatened with rape, prostitution, and twice put in the ring as a martyr, she persevered in her faith and her chastity. Her lively and somewhat fabulous story is recorded in the second century Acts of Thecla. From very early, an order of women who were widows served formal roles of ministry in some churches (I Timothy 5:9-10). The most numerous clear cases of women’s leadership, however, are offered by prophets: Mary Magdalene, the Corinthian women, Philip’s daughters, Ammia of Philadelphia, Philumene, the visionary martyr Perpetua, Maximilla, Priscilla (Prisca), and Quintilla. There were many others whose names are lost to us. The African church father Tertullian, for example, describes an unnamed woman prophet in his congregation who not only had ecstatic visions during church services, but who also served as a counselor and healer (On the Soul 9.4). A remarkable collection of oracles from another unnamed woman prophet was discovered in Egypt in 1945. She speaks in the first person as the feminine voice of God: Thunder, Perfect Mind. The prophets Prisca and Quintilla inspired a Christian movement in second century Asia Minor (called the New Prophecy or Montanism) that spread around the Mediterranean and lasted for at least four centuries. Their oracles were collected and published, including the account of a vision in which Christ appeared to the prophet in the form of a woman and “put wisdom” in her (Epiphanius, Panarion 49.1). Montanist Christians ordained women as presbyters and bishops, and women held the title of prophet. The third century African bishop Cyprian also tells of an ecstatic woman prophet from Asia Minor who celebrated the eucharist and performed baptisms (Epistle 74.10). In the early second century, the Roman governor Pliny tells of two slave women he tortured who were deacons (Letter to Trajan 10.96). Other women were ordained as priests in fifth century Italy and Sicily (Gelasius, Epistle 14.26).

Women were also prominent as martyrs and suffered violently from torture and painful execution by wild animals and paid gladiators. In fact, the earliest writing definitely by a woman is the prison diary of Perpetua, a relatively wealthy matron and nursing mother who was put to death in Carthage at the beginning of the third century on the charge of being a Christian. In it, she records her testimony before the local Roman ruler and her defiance of her father’s pleas that she recant. She tells of the support and fellowship among the confessors in prison, including other women. But above all, she records her prophetic visions. Through them, she was not merely reconciled passively to her fate, but claimed the power to define the meaning of her own death. In a situation where Romans sought to use their violence against her body as a witness to their power and justice, and where the Christian editor of her story sought to turn her death into a witness to the truth of Christianity, her own writing lets us see the human being caught up in these political struggles. She actively relinquishes her female roles as mother, daughter, and sister in favor of defining her identity solely in spiritual terms. However horrifying or heroic her behavior may seem, her brief diary offers an intimate look at one early Christian woman’s spiritual journey.

EARLY CHRISTIAN WOMEN’S THEOLOGY

Study of works by and about women is making it possible to begin to reconstruct some of the theological views of early Christian women. Although they are a diverse group, certain reoccurring elements appear to be common to women’s theology-making. By placing the teaching of the Gospel of Mary side-by-side with the theology of the Corinthian women prophets, the Montanist women’s oracles, Thunder Perfect Mind, and Perpetua’s prison diary, it is possible to discern shared views about teaching and practice that may exemplify some of the contents of women’s theology:

• Jesus was understood primarily as a teacher and mediator of wisdom rather than as ruler and judge.
• Theological reflection centered on the experience of the person of the risen Christ more than the crucified savior. Interestingly enough, this is true even in the case of the martyr Perpetua. One might expect her to identify with the suffering Christ, but it is the risen Christ she encounters in her vision.
• Direct access to God is possible for all through receiving the Spirit.
• In Christian community, the unity, power, and perfection of the Spirit are present now, not just in some future time.
• Those who are more spiritually advanced give what they have freely to all without claim to a fixed, hierarchical ordering of power.
• An ethics of freedom and spiritual development is emphasized over an ethics of order and control.
• A woman’s identity and spirituality could be developed apart from her roles as wife and mother (or slave), whether she actually withdrew from those roles or not. Gender is itself contested as a “natural” category in the face of the power of God’s Spirit at work in the community and the world. This meant that potentially women (and men) could exercise leadership on the basis of spiritual achievement apart from gender status and without conformity to established social gender roles.
• Overcoming social injustice and human suffering are seen to be integral to spiritual life.

Women were also actively engaged in reinterpreting the texts of their tradition. For example, another new text, the Hypostasis of the Archons, contains a retelling of the Genesis story ascribed to Eve’s daughter Norea, in which her mother Eve appears as the instructor of Adam and his healer.

The new texts also contain an unexpected wealth of Christian imagination of the divine as feminine. The long version of the Apocryphon of John, for example, concludes with a hymn about the descent of divine Wisdom, a feminine figure here called the Pronoia of God. She enters into the lower world and the body in order to awaken the innermost spiritual being of the soul to the truth of its power and freedom, to awaken the spiritual power it needs to escape the counterfeit powers that enslave the soul in ignorance, poverty, and the drunken sleep of spiritual deadness, and to overcome illegitimate political and sexual domination. The oracle collection Thunder Perfect Mind also adds crucial evidence to women’s prophetic theology-making. This prophet speaks powerfully to women, emphasizing the presence of women in her audience and insisting upon their identity with the feminine voice of the Divine. Her speech lets the hearers transverse the distance between political exploitation and empowerment, between the experience of degradation and the knowledge of infinite self-worth, between despair and peace. It overcomes the fragmentation of the self by naming it, cherishing it, insisting upon the multiplicity of self-hood and experience.

These elements may not be unique to women’s religious thought or always result in women’s leadership, but as a constellation they point toward one type of theologizing that was meaningful to some early Christian women, that had a place for women’s legitimate exercise of leadership, and to whose construction women contributed. If we look to these elements, we are able to discern important contributions of women to early Christian theology and praxis. These elements also provide an important location for discussing some aspects of early Christian women’s spiritual lives: their exercise of leadership, their ideals, their attraction to Christianity, and what gave meaning to their self-identity as Christians.

UNDERMINING WOMEN’S PROMINENCE

Women’s prominence did not, however, go unchallenged. Every variety of ancient Christianity that advocated the legitimacy of women’s leadership was eventually declared heretical, and evidence of women’s early leadership roles was erased or suppressed.

This erasure has taken many forms. Collections of prophetic oracles were destroyed. Texts were changed. For example, at least one woman’s place in history was obscured by turning her into a man! In Romans 16:7, the apostle Paul sends greetings to a woman named Junia. He says of her and her male partner Andronicus that they are “my kin and my fellow prisoners, prominent among the apostles and they were in Christ before me.” Concluding that women could not be apostles, textual editors and translators transformed Junia into Junias, a man.

Or women’s stories could be rewritten and alternative traditions could be invented. In the case of Mary Magdalene, starting in the fourth century, Christian theologians in the Latin West associated Mary Magdalene with the unnamed sinner who anointed Jesus’ feet in Luke 7:36-50. The confusion began by conflating the account in John 12:1-8, in which Mary (of Bethany) anoints Jesus, with the anointing by the unnamed woman sinner in the accounts of Luke. Once this initial, erroneous identification was secured, Mary Magdalene could be associated with every unnamed sinful woman in the gospels, including the adulteress in John 8:1-11 and the Syro-phoenician woman with her five and more “husbands” in John 4:7-30. Mary the apostle, prophet, and teacher had become Mary the repentant whore. This fiction was invented at least in part to undermine her influence and with it the appeal to her apostolic authority to support women in roles of leadership.

Until recently the texts that survived have shown only the side that won. The new texts are therefore crucial in constructing a fuller and more accurate portrait. The Gospel of Mary, for example, argued that leadership should be based on spiritual maturity, regardless of whether one is male or female. This Gospel lets us hear an alternative voice to the one dominant in canonized works like I Timothy, which tried to silence women and insist that their salvation lies in bearing children. We can now hear the other side of the controversy over women’s leadership and see what arguments were given in favor of it.

It needs to be emphasized that the formal elimination of women from official roles of institutional leadership did not eliminate women’s actual presence and importance to the Christian tradition, although it certainly seriously damaged their capacity to contribute fully. What is remarkable is how much evidence has survived systematic attempts to erase women from history, and with them the warrants and models for women’s leadership. The evidence presented here is but the tip of an iceberg.

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A Brief Exploration into the Gospel of Luke

Deshna Ubeda was a participant in our Common Dreams Conference in Brisbane in 2016.

A Brief Exploration into the Gospel of Luke

12 April 2018
I would like to take a moment to explore the Gospel of Luke. When I read Biblical passages these days, I am looking for the deeper meaning behind the words. Meaning, I am not just looking for the dates, context, and scribes, though these are important pieces to the puzzle. I am looking for what the crisis might have been that caused the author to write it and how does the scripture speak to that crisis. I am seeking the wisdom that the passages hold for me in the moment as I read them. The wisdom found in sacred texts can shift as the reader shifts…that is one of the reasons why they are still valuable to modern seekers. My journey with the Bible has taken many turns through the course of my life. Growing up in a progressive Christian church, I was initiated into the Bible from a historical, informed, and liberal viewpoint. I never had to unlearn certain mis-translations or rescue the baby from the bath water. And yet, the Bible seemed outdated and irrelevant and I yearned for a break from it during spiritual community time. It felt forced. I stepped away from Christianity when I went to college… and then found myself back in its arms with the work I do today. Through my work with ProgressiveChristianity.org and studies in Interfaith Chaplaincy, I was called to look deeper into these sacred texts… to explore them like a treasure found in a time vault… to seek the magic in the words… to envision the ancient voices orally sharing the tales, the lessons, the songs, and the poetry around a bright fire, with an unblemished star-filled sky above them. Ancient wisdom holds much for us today, when we can see below the temporary concerns being addressed.

According to biblical scholars, the Gospel of Luke was written between 89-93AD, though there are, of course, debates about the exact time. During this time period, the Christian movement was largely concerned with legitimizing itself in the Roman Empire. This gospel also reflects the transition of Christianity out of Judaism toward the Gentile world. Bishop John Shelby Spong argues that the community Luke was writing for “appears to have been made up primarily of dispersed Jews, who no longer followed their traditions in a rigid pattern and, as a consequence, are beginning to attract a rising tide of converts from the Gentile world. These Gentile proselytes, as they came to be called, had little dedication to or interest in the cultic practices of circumcision, kosher dietary rules and unfamiliar liturgical practices such as a 24-hour vigil around Shavuot or Pentecost and the eight-day celebrations of the Harvest Festival known as Sukkoth. They were not intent on discarding or losing the meaning of these holy days, but they clearly were eager to reduce their place of importance and the hold they had once had on their lives.”[1] This is backed by many writings on Luke, including the “Parting of Ways,” by Anne Amos, who suggests that for early Christians, the 1st century was a time period focused on who was a Christian and who was not. This was also a time period when Jewish Rabbis were excommunicating those who used to be Jewish but then identified as Christians. Jewish Christians were heretics in the eyes of the Rabbi’s. Clearly this was a time period of great division as to Christians, Jews became “the others.”

The author of Luke is unknown, like many of the Bible’s authors, but tradition has always identified the book of Luke with the physician who accompanied Paul and is mentioned in both Colossians and II Timothy. Scholars also propose that the same author wrote Acts as Volume II of his gospel and “in all probability he was born a Gentile and had been drawn first into the ethical monotheism that marked Judaism. He appears to have actually converted to Judaism and to have joined the synagogue through which he moved into Christianity. He may well have been a convert of Paul’s, at least he has clearly identified himself with Paul’s point of view and he champions it in both the gospel and the book of Acts.” [2]

Much of Luke (at least half) was quoted from Mark and he makes no claim to have been an eye witness but honestly acknowledges the research he has done. He says in his first chapters that “many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of the things which are surely believed among us, even as they delivered them to us, which from the beginning were eye witnesses and servants of the word (Luke 1:1-5).” However, one thing that is quite obvious is that Luke’s purpose was to interpret Jesus in light of the Hebrew scriptures, not to recreate him as separate from it. As it was written during a time period of great division and accusations on both sides of the Judeo-Christian religious map- this would have been a crucial argument.

As always, these Biblical stories need to be seen as narratives, not historical fact. When viewed through the lens of Jewish mythology and prophecy, one can see how important it was to align Jesus with stories from the Old Testament as well as those from age old oral traditions so that words and deeds were inserted or deleted to fit the agenda of the time period. Luke, along with the other Synoptic Gospel writers, would have needed to somewhat fabricate a narrative about Jesus that could be threaded into the collection of sayings, miracles, and passion narratives that arose out of the Jewish history, theology, and storytelling and it needs to be understood that much of these writings are “the creative invention of the authors and assorted intrusive scribes” [3] This was likely done to not only continue to legitimize Jesus as the son of God and Messiah but also to legitimize Christianity in a time of great internal and external chaos. By all accounts the early years of the Christian movement were rife with conflict and rivalries. [4] As the Gospel accounts were based on data “transmitted…by those who were eyewitnesses,” (Luke 1: 1-3) we are dealing with thirdhand information at best.

In order to situate Jesus and his deeds in alignment with the Old Testament and the Jewish religion, while at the same time set him apart, Luke and other early Christian writers would have been organized to align with the annual Jewish liturgical cycle of the synagogue where Christianity lived in its first generations as a movement within Judaism. Just as the Jewish holidays of that time period were focused on cleansing of sins (Yom Kippur), Jesus is shown to not only not be corrupted by other’s sins and uncleanliness, but he also transforms and purifies the evil. He banishes demons, heals the unclean, and forgives the sins. Set against the Jewish liturgical cycle, Luke’s Jesus fits quite nicely. Luke, along with his fellow Gospel writers, were aiming to align Jesus with ancient prophesy and legitimize his birthright. And at the same time, Luke works toward creating a religion that can spread and exist outside of the ethnic group of the Jews. Brilliant, in my opinion.

These early Christian gospels must be read through the lens of Judaism. “The later Greek thinking period, which shaped the creeds in the 4th century and informs Christian doctrine to this day, has actually distorted the gospel message in a radical way.” [5] However, early on, the Christian community was made up of dispersed Jews living far from home and increasingly interacting with their Gentile neighbors. As Deborah Broome writes in Who’s at the Table? – Inclusiveness in the Gospel of Luke,

Luke was clearly universally-minded. He wrote of a Jesus that welcomed everyone at his table. This Jesus taught that faith was the most important characteristic, not wealth or status. During Jesus’ time, the synagogue rejected this message, but Luke’s Jesus persisted in this teaching, widening the door to allow all flesh, beyond Israel.

The Gospel of Luke is unique in its theology of inclusiveness. Only Luke tells us the parable of the Good Samaritan. This is another indication that the community he lived and existed in had moved beyond the Jewish mythology of a chosen people. Luke emphasizes a universal point of view, likely influenced by Paul, and this theology has a lot to do with why Christianity spread in the exponential way it did. In Luke’s gospel, it is emphasized that Jesus heals, teaches, and even often shares a meal with the sinners, the tax collectors, the unclean, the sick, the marginalized, the excluded, and the women, etc. Luke’s Jesus is a radically inclusive teacher who impresses people with his ability to heal and his lack of social boundaries. Luke emphasizes that the Spirit fell not only on the Jews but on the peoples of the world, who then proclaimed the Gospel in whatever language those hearing spoke. (Acts 2) Clearly Luke was aiming to move Christianity away from the exclusive ethnic Jewish group to a universal faith, which also meant all people were held accountable to their choice to be Christian or not and could be persecuted if considered a non-believer or heretic. For the next thousand or so years, this inclusiveness would shift from a compassionate stance to a justification of immense destruction and violence against non-believers. Whether or not Luke was considering that when he wrote about Jesus will remain unknown.

~ Deshna Ubeda

About the Author
Deshna Ubeda is a Director of ProgressiveChristianity.org, where she has worked since 2006. She is an author, speaker, and seeker. She has presented at conferences in Canada, Australia, Hawaii, Seattle, and Portland. She is currently studying at The Chaplaincy Institute to become an Interfaith Chaplain. She was a lead writer and editor on the children’s curriculum: A Joyful Path, Spiritual Curriculum for ages 6-10.

Deshna grew up in an amazing Progressive Christian church, IUCC, in Irvine California as a PK (pastor’s kid) and so was blessed to be involved in a community that was open, educated, innovative, and inclusive. She was involved in the church at many different levels, as a representative for youth at National UCC Conferences, as a youth group leader, and a camp counselor for many years. She went to the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she graduated with honors as a Religious Studies major and a Global Peace and Security minor. This led her to be a part of the Global Reconciliation Service in New York doing some work with the United Nations.

She has worked in Administration for the UC Education Abroad Program, as an Infant Specialist for a non-profit organization, as a Spanish Teacher for elementary children, and as a Yoga Instructor. She is also a certificated post-partum doula and a yoga instructor. Deshna co-wrote a book, Missing Mothers with her mom. During her free time, she continues to write, do yoga, hike, and enjoy her life in Portland with her wonderful community and family.
————————————————————-
[1] Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Origins of the New Testament XXIV – Introducting Luke http://progressingspirit.com/2010/05/27/the-origins-of-the-new-testamentpart-xxiv-introducing-luke/
[2] Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Origins of the New Testament XXIV – Introducting Luke
http://progressingspirit.com/2010/05/27/the-origins-of-the-new-testamentpart-xxiv-introducing-luke/
[3] The Joy of Sects, A Spirited Guide to The World’s Religious Traditions, Peter Occhiogrosso, page 285
[4] The Joy of Sects, A Spirited Guide to The World’s Religious Traditions, Peter Occhiogrosso, page 296
[5] Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Origins of the New Testament XXV – Concluding Luke and the Synoptic Gospels
http://progressingspirit.com/2010/06/03/the-origins-of-the-new-testament-part-xxv-concluding-luke-and-the-synoptic-gospels/

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Review:Christmas, Myth,Magic and Legend

Making sense of the Christmas stories. by John Queripel. John is a UCA minister  with a diverse set of experiences … city, rural, university and prison ministries. John is committed to scholarship and authenticity in faith.

 

A myth is not a lie. With that introduction, John Queripel captured my interest and held it to his last words. And his last words are good to read…We are not to pretend that the stories are history but rather to enter the experience and be transformed by them. I can think of no better way to be transformed than to use this book as a guide..John’s forensic skills have produced a classic critical analysis of the Christmas narratives, unpacking the true meaning of Christmas, and bringing into focus the powerful symbolic and metaphorical teaching. At the same time he has dismantled the a huge amount of overly simplistic thinking by sourcing the forces that have shaped and politicized the gospel writers.John helps us to see past our Western scientific mindset, profoundly shaped by Aristotelian logic of factual, objective and verifiable truth.

Most affected by the populist scientific framework is the literalist reader of Scripture.  Richard Dawkins is also influenced by the same logic!

But truth lies in  myth….

The Christmas Story is simply not factual but possesses deep truth in another way. Not to realize this means missing out on greater understanding of the purpose of biblical stories such as that of Adam and Eve.

Literal reading produces an ideological outcome serving self interest, eg of woman being born of man! Many biblical myths have had tthe power of ensuring men’s dominance over women and human dominance over the rest of creation. John carries out some of the best theological research to illustrate the development of the birth and crucifixion legends and myths. He makes it easy to see why it is foolish to take the stories literally and the consequent dumbing down of Jesus human role and purpose.

He has much to say about the way in which we have blended in the ttwo different biblical stories of Matthew and Luke. In his wonderfully attention grabbing writing style, he opens up to analysis many of the taken for granted assumptions about the world of Jesus. He shows how important is an understanding of the radical changes taking place in Judea at the time of the gospel writings.  This includes Challenging traditional views about pharisees, the Jesus Jews and the rabbinic Jews and their differences from the sacred traditions.It is important to understand the ‘anti Jewish agenda of Matthew.

I found his expose of the different infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke and finding their common ground and emphases ffascinating as well as informative. Each gospel writer has a different agenda. Knowing about these agendas is part of the exploration of honest theology.

Having dismantled the notion of Jesus being born of a virgin, the doctrine of perpetual virginity of Mary, and the Christian aversion to sex, the doctrine of immaculate conception is left with nothing to support it. Since the latter was only established in 1854 it is not hard to rrealize that the Church has played a major role in distracting us from the valuable mythological values.

After reading his comments about the jjourney to Bethlehem on foot over ten days while heavily pregnant and only so Joseph could be included in the census of males it is not hard to accept that the narrative has another purpose of fulfilling ancient prophecies about where the Messiah will emerge.

Highly recommended. Very transformative and loaded with brain stimulation and fabulous thinking.

Paul Inglis 29th April 2018.

See an earlier post for ways to purchase.

 

 

 

 

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NZ Common Ground Conference

If you can make it to New Zealand in September, be assured of a great conference.

Creation: Ecology, Theology, Revolution

Aotearoa New Zealands’ 3rd 

PROGRESSIVE SPIRITUALITY CONFERENCE

Wellington – Friday 7– Sunday 9 September 2018

progressivechristianityaotearoa.com for all the details.

Guest Speakers

Prof Martin Manning One Earth, One Future, One People

Dr Emily Colgan  A Place to Call Home? Reading the Bible from the Perspective of Earth

Hon Grant Robertson MP  People, environment, economy— the triple bottom line

Workshops

Creating down to earth prayers— Bronwyn White

Earthed! Progressive Funerals— Rev Dr Jim Cunningham

Full immersion: Jungian slow release from the Christian ties that bind— Sande Ramage

Labyrinth, guided local walks

Lively panel discussion: How we “do” Progressive Christianity

Progressive Christianity Aotearoa is an informal network of churches, individuals and faith communities.

We are linked with Common Dreams (based in Australia) and ProgressiveChristianity.org (based in the US).

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David Williams Play – Quiet Faith

Coming to the Brisbane Powerhouse Theatre at New Farm:

Quiet Faith

From award-winning documentary theatre maker, David Williams comes a surprising journey into the world of the quietly, progressively faithful.

 

Go to:  https://brisbanepowerhouse.org/events/2018/05/11/quiet-faith/ to see a trailer of this impacting work and read more about the play, reviews and how to get to the venue.

The place of Christian faith in Australian politics is often linked to conservatism and intolerance. Many members of the current Federal Government profess deep Christian beliefs and groups such as the Australian Christian Lobby loudly intervene in public policy debates.

Yet, new faith-based social movements actively campaign against government policies. The spectacle of religious leaders undertaking non-violent acts of civil disobedience, including prayer vigils in the offices of Christian politicians, has captured the imaginations of many.

Generated from hours of interviews with Christian Australians, Quiet Faith offers a beautiful, immersive and heartfelt portrait of the very different ways that faith can underpin civic life.

Dates: FRI 11 + SAT 12 MAY, 2018

Venue: Visy Theatre

Tickets: Full $49*

Times; Fri 7pm, Sat 4.30pm + 7pm

Length: (70 mins )

Presented by Brisbane Powerhouse in association with Alternative Facts.

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Books by John Queripel

Thanks to Rex Hunt for drawing our attention to Australian writer John Queripel

John Henry Queripel is a minister of the Uniting Church in Australia, author, scholar, teacher musician and community activist. He has a concern for speaking and living faith in the modern context in a manner which has scholarly integrity yet is accessible to the average reader. He has worked in a wide range of contexts: urban and rural congregations, community-based ministries, university and correctional centre chaplaincies.His strong social justice concern has been recognised in his being awarded several community and civic awards. He also enjoys being out in the surf riding a Malibu.

Watch for a review soon as well as more details about each of his books.

 

Christmas: Myth, Magic and Legend.’ John has stock ($23 incl post) queripel@tpg.com.au or order from Morning Star Publishing (Australia) or Wipf and Stock (USA).

 

• ISBN: 9780648232353
• ISBN: 9781498288088
• Pages: 144
• Publication Date: 20 February 2018

 

 

On the Third Day; Re-looking at the Resurrection‘, a study on the Easter events. John still has stock ($23 incl.post) queripel@tpg.com.au or order from Morning Star Publishing (Australia) or Wipf and Stock (USA).

• ISBN: 9781532619953
• ISBN: 9780987619365
• Pages: 136
• Publication Date: 7 April 2017

 

 

Bonhoeffer: Prophet and Martyr, a play and essay on the inspiring 20th century German theologian martyred for his opposition to the Nazi regime. John still has stock ($23 incl. post) queripel@tpg.com.au or order from Wipf and Stock.

• ISBN: 9781498229609
• Pages: 114
• Publication Date: 17 January 2016

 

 

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Caloundra Explorers – Revisioning a Church for the 21st Century

Caloundra Explorers GroupCaloundra Uniting Church

56c Queen St Caloundra

Gathering Sunday 15th April 2018 – 5.30pm

Revisioning a Church for the 21st Century
with Special Guest Dr. Paul Inglis.

[A progress report on the Revisioning Project]

with bring and share finger food meal at 6.40pm.

Caloundra Explorers have been developing over many years a contemporary gathering format that includes a conversation with critical thinking about a relevant topic of concern. This is embedded in a context of reflection, song and food. There are many innovative elements in the gathering which breaks with traditional worship, captures much of the mood of the original Jesus followers and draws on contemporary elements of meditation, community peace and solidarity,

Dr Paul Inglis is CEO of the UCFORUM and chair of the Progressive Christian Network Queensland. He was for 11 years the Community Minister at Dayboro Uniting Church where he and Robyn remain and assist with its development. Dayboro UC also has a thriving Explorers Group. Previously Paul was a Teacher, Principal and Lecturer in Education at QUT. The Revisioning Project is a healthy discussion about change and adaptation that is needed in the Christian Church to make it relevant to people in the 21st century.  There was an enormous response to Paul’s questions:  What practical initiatives will help the Church become a significant part of society, give integrity to its work and attract new members as followers of Jesus? What do progressive Christians want the church to be like? and this is being analysed to move the discussion on to a practical stage.

Ideas have been offered from former moderators, clergy, lay people, theologians, writers and people who have left the church but have an abiding interest in the role of the church in our life journeys.

At this gathering there will be further opportunities for feeding ideas into the project.

Everyone welcome. Further enquiries to Paul

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The Common Good and Compassionate Communities

On 23rd March, UCFORUM Subscriber, Everald Compton posted on his blog The Vision and Politics of Nation Building

“Democracy is dead.

Murdered by political, financial and religious ideology inflicted upon us by ‘leaders’ with closed minds who survive by divisively spreading fear and greed.

It is time for a new world order called THE COMMON GOOD to take over.

It will succeed when decent people, with brains, commonsense and courage, step forward and insist on dramatic and decisive changes in the opposite direction to the insanity of Donald Trump and the woeful wilderness of Australian politics….”

To see what he said go to Everald’s blog at The Vision and Politics of Nation Building.

Rev Bryan Gilmore, also a UCFORUM subscriber, responded:

Hello Everald,
This is Bryan Gilmour who with Dennis Robinson and a bunch of enthusiastic laypersons began the first Regional Church in Queensland, where we attached a low fee Christian College, and together with other denominations established an Ecumenical College which also admits children of all faiths. Each of these were driven by a Christian principle, the golden rule, -“Do unto others what you hope others would do to you” – to reach a COMMON GOOD – or as Jesus said, let LOVE be the core virtue that sets the criteria of what we do TOGETHER in determining our values and attitudes towards ALL OTHERS. Yes the CHURCH (all denominations) is grossly at fault in over capitalizing its property with centres in every little community, rather than REGIONAL COMMUNITY CENTRES where they can work with other sectors of the COMMUNITY to build the COMMON GOOD. On the GOLD COAST a small group have established a COMPASSIONATE CITY thrust, where the GOLD COAST CITY COUNCIL have adopted the concept of becoming the first active COMPASSIONATE CITY in AUSTRALIA. This will reach to every sector of the community, where each grouping, – health, education, essential services, business, politics,faith groups, scientific exploration, etc will work together for the COMMON GOOD. I want to strongly endorse your plea for the whole COMMUNITY working together for the COMMON GOOD. On the Gold Coast a group called MAAG (Multifaith Advisory and Action Group) has been established for building better and stronger compassionate relationships between the respective faiths towards the COMMON GOOD. I want to endorse your concept of the COMMON GOOD across the whole society and where the political and economic leaders need to take a lead in identifying this concept to build a better AUSTRALIA and a better WORLD.

With great enthusiasm, Bryan Gilmour Past MODERATOR of the UNITING CHURCH in QUEENSLAND

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Book Review: The Wind Blows Where It Chooses

The quest for a Christian story in our time – by Kevin Treston

This is a text that is hard to put down. It is a powerful work addressing Christianity’s crisis of authenticity and integrity. But once outlined effectively, it does not dwell on this crisis. Instead it offers ways to recover the authentic Jesus and presents a way to a lived spirituality based on hope and positive seeking that does not deny the reality of the secular world, nor modern scientific advances, or the evolution of humankind.

The author has the right credentials (academic and experiential) to offer this guide to moving forward – practical and applied theology, work with learners and leaders in the churches and a wonderful knowledge of our Christian heritage beyond orthodox and traditional practices.

This is an aid to facilitating a renewal of a faith that incorporates everyday living, rapid social change, evolving family and community structure, the process of aging, and dealing with the many challenges of life. For those who want it, it also offers a way forward for progressive church reform. To do all of this, one needs to have a helicopter view of society, a method for telling the Jesus story to inhabitants of an increasingly secular world, a way to eliminate the irrelevant doctrines and dogmas that obscure this story, and ways for enriching and living life ‘in full abundance’.

For me, it was good to read  for my own learning. But the book is also useful as a guide for small group study. It is loaded with resource references. As a tool for church councils at all levels and across denominations in the Western world it is bound to provoke worthwhile discussion and action.

While reading the book, I kept telling myself that this material is very timely – a post truth era, the diminishing identity of Christianity in our culture, the competition for people’s allegiances, the proliferation of aggressive ideologies, the fragility of world peace. Where is Jesus in all of this? The author urges us not to retreat into secure enclaves to shut out the world, but to live among the cutting edges and paradoxes of life lived in reality – no more fantasy, just awake to what is happening and calling up the teachings of Jesus as a guide.

Kevin Treston calls up new scholarship to recover the authentic Jesus story and helps the reader to unpack the accumulation of uncritical baggage that diminishes the real value of the cosmic Christ and links him into all of creation. In this, there are some strong messages for those leaders who have substituted clericalism for ministry and widened the gap between priest and people and reduced the people of God (laity) to passive observers.

But there is much more ….. I won’t tell you…go get the book and enjoy!

Scroll this blog for a recent post for the details for purchase. Or contact Kevin Treston

Dr Paul Inglis 22 March 2018

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Book Review – Resurrecting Easter

Resurrecting Easter: How the West lost and the East kept the original Easter Vision, by John Dominic Crossan and Sarah Sexton Crossan, 2018.

Front Cover: Apse, Church of the Saviour in Chora, Istanbul Turkey

Book Review by Dr Richard Smith
Biblical scholars John Dominic Crossan and the late Marcus Borg conducted pilgrimages over the years to Italy and Turkey, two of which I was fortunate to attend. We learnt that all the major events in Christ’s life are described in the Gospels but no direct reports of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Instead many artistic impressions of Jesus’ resurrection were created, some we visited in churches, caves and museums. The first direct image appears by 400 and is part of the West’s individual resurrection tradition. The second direct image by the year 700 is part of the East’s universal resurrection tradition named the Anastasis, Greek for resurrection. For 15 years Dominic and Sarah Crossan travelled across Europe and Asia creating a comprehensive photographic archive of this resurrection imagery. How timely when this book with Sarah’s images, the ancient texts which inspired them and Dominic’s scholarly interpretation arrived for Easter. The cover image of their book is from the 1300s Chora Church in Istanbul, where we gazed at this beautiful Anastasis mosaic high in the half dome of the apse of the risen Christ, enveloped by a star studded mandorla, grasping the wrists of Adam and Eve, the personification of humankind.

Christ pulls them from their tombs while standing firmly on the shattered gates of Hell with lock and bolts strewn around his feet. Christ is trampling down a well-trussed Hades, guardian and personification of death, who is lying prone beneath his feet. Looking on are a rough clad John the Baptist and Solomon and David with crowns. Among an unidentified group on the other side is Abel with his shepherd’s crook, the victim of the violence by which the bible first defines sin, the ultimate cause of Jesus’ death. A death where the power of evolution represented by the Anastasis creates a movement of non-violence offering the Gospel of peace to a violent world. In the second millennium why did the West gut this heart of Christianity’s understanding of the Resurrection by rejecting this once-common universal iconography in favour of the original individualistic vision? Resurrecting Easter re-introduces this inclusive, community-based ideal that offers renewed hope and possibilities for our world. In the final images, the symbolism of an Anastasis image in the twin arches of the Resurrection Gate in Moscow’s Red Square challenges the display of Russian military might. Through this amazing re-visioning of Easter, such profound scholarly insights should empower us as a church “.. to confess The Lord in fresh words and deeds” (Para. 11, Uniting Church Basis of Union, 1992).

Available from Amazon Australia.  as hardcover or kindle.

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God Talk – a response

The conversation about the existence of God is ongoing. So often the concept God is used without any clear definition and we are left asking what does the speaker mean by God? We are grateful to Judith for the following comments on Rodney’s recent “Musings”. I am sure many people share her concerns:

Having been brought up in a strict Christian family, regular church goer for over 60 years, I have recently started to ask questions which the Church cannot answer. Consequently, I am at present an agnostic.

Who or what is God? I can see absolutely no evidence of his existence. The horrors and pain I see and hear of makes me ask where could he be! I am told he is love and loves humanity – show me. No, not just an example of the many fine Christian people who struggle to make the world a nicer place. I need to understand how a loving? Immortal? Being can watch the mess of this world and not intervene. Church just tells me to have faith, God is in control and everything will be alright in the end. Sorry, I am not convinced.

I have asked Rodney to respond to her comments:

Dear Judith,

Thank you for your thoughtful and heartfelt reply to my musings on walking the streets of Brisbane city on a Sunday morning. Our website manager invited me to respond further and I am glad to do so. You write of moving into a stage of your faith life where you are starting to ask questions. I trust you will continue to do so.

You seem to be challenging some of my comments but it is not clear which particular ones they were. There does seem to be some connection though with what may have seemed my pleading for the reality of God and the way it may affect the behaviour of people as they live, work, and walk the streets of Brisbane or any other locality. Perhaps your quarrel is with my implication after the visit to the Museum of Brisbane that Godliness is of benefit to society. You will note that I cautioned that to the extent Godliness assumes a theistic entity (more on that later ) this may not necessarily be a good thing. Continue reading

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The hidden influence of progressive theology.

The following post from Len Baglow is reproduced here with his approval. It was first posted in the APCV blog – A Progressive Christian Voice Australia

Recently I had the opportunity to attend the Henderson Conference 2018 at the University of Melbourne. Professor Ronald Henderson, led a national inquiry into poverty from 1968-1975. From this inquiry came many wide-ranging reforms including increases to the aged pension. It also saw the creation of the Henderson poverty line, which continues to be updated by the Melbourne Institute, and is used by policy advocates like myself to this day.

The conference brought together outstanding speakers from around Australia all of whom were committed to reducing poverty in Australia. This resulted in truly fascinating discussions and it was great to be among so many committed people.

However, one of the highlights for me was at the conference dinner, when Ronald Henderson’s son William spoke of his memories of his father. In particular he remembered a framed quote from the protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr which was on his father’s desk. The quote ran, “Remember, if a thing is worth doing, it will take more than one generation: hence the extreme importance of hope.”

I am not sure how traditionally religious Ronald Henderson was or whether he was a church goer at all. However, it is apparent from his son’s recollections that there was something in the progressive theology of his day that helped guide and galvanise his actions.

As it happens, I had been thinking a little about Niebuhr of late because it was he who championed the Jewish philosopher Abraham Heschel in the USA during the 1950s. For the last 4 months I have been engrossing myself in Heschel’s work, which, though written over half a century ago, prefigures and resonates with much postmodern theology.

Towards the end of his life, Heschel became involved with Martin Luther King in both the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam war demonstrations. He was involved with the Selma march and his daughter, Susannah Heschel records, “The greatness of that Selma march continues to reverberate because it was not simply a political event, but an extraordinary moral and religious event as well. For my father, the march was a deeply spiritual occasion. When he came home, he said, ‘I felt my legs were praying.’”

Progressive theology needs legs. If it does not lead to loving committed action it is useless, a waste of time. It also needs to be grounded in that loving committed action and not something produced in the ivory towers of universities alone.

One of the things that Henderson did when he first began his research into poverty was that he sent his young university researchers out into the community to talk with every community group who would listen. They talked about their findings and discussed their implications. In this dialogue, their ideas were tested and they developed a strong sense on how to communicate. I am not sure whether he got this idea from Niebuhr or not, but it is certainly a model which is strongly biblical.

Today, too often theologians and the church have forgotten this and talk just to themselves and those like them. (Perhaps this is why Bishops often appear to be talking gobbledegook; they have forgotten the common language.)

Palm Sunday is coming up. This is a time Christians have traditionally prayed with their feet. In Australia while church attendances have been dropping, those in the secular society committed to justice have taken this festival up. It is now a rally for those who want justice for refugees and for people seeking asylum. What a sign of grace! Though we in the churches have forgotten the covenant, God has not forgotten!

Palm Sunday is our opportunity to do theology on the street and with our legs and with our ears. On Palm Sunday you will hear a God who confronts, who calls for justice, who challenges and for those who have committed themselves to justice, who also consoles.

My first challenge then to progressive Christians reading this article: Get out on the street this Palm Sunday. My second challenge is for you to ask your local Minister, Pastor or Bishop to be there as well.

Len Baglow  March 2018

Management Committee of APCVA (A Progressive Christian Voice Australia)

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A new kind of Christianity

From Rev John Churcher – Permission to Speak

Following the Way of Jesus means that we have chosen the responsibility to speak truth to the powers that be, challenging injustice and any unjust systems and laws that work against both the individual and the common good.

As followers of the Way of Jesus we have chosen the responsibility to be involved in creating a world in which there is a fair sharing of the abundance of all the good things that Earth has to offer to all people.

Followers of the Way of Jesus are called to defend human rights, freedom of speech, freedom of actions, civil liberties – and we should never take our hard-fought for freedoms for granted, nor should we use them irresponsibly to abuse or exploit others.

Following the Way of Jesus means that we have chosen to serve and, if necessary, to sacrifice our comfort and even risk our lives for the benefit of others.

Following the Way of Jesus is to choose to ‘love your neighbour as you love yourself’.

Following the Way of Jesus is to choose to work to tackle the causes of poverty both at home and abroad.

For the full article go John Churcher

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Book Review: Prayers For Progressive Christians

Michael Morwood has been engaging Christians searching for a more relevant faith for thirty years. He has interacted with people from various denominations who have been prepared to reflect, discuss and change their thinking in the face of new information and discoveries. He uses the word progressive to describe the willingness of these Christians to move beyond traditional forms of thinking and acting.

I have found this book an inspiring resource that fills a great need in the growing progressive movement and I will get a great deal of use out of it for personal as well as corporate use.

For people who have severed all ties with the church, it is a wonderful tool for personal moments of deep contemplation, meditation and reflection. For them it would be a liberating resource. For others who form small groups meeting privately, and for those who still attend church services it will help to support their questioning minds.

Prayer has been a contentious matter for many progressives who would rather see it as an instrument for centring their thoughts and finding ways to be practically helpful to others in need, than a means for calling up God to intercede and change the course of events.

Michael introduces the themes of prayer with a discussion on why prayer should change so that we pray for what we believe. He says: Twenty-first century followers of Jesus of Nazareth deserve better than prayers based on an outdated redemptive worldview that has been, and still is, perpetuated by the Christ-religion.

One option is to continue praying the prayers despite their disbelief. Another option is to walk away from church attendance. A further option is to look for liturgical prayers that resonate with what they now believe. This approach will reveal the shortage of such prayers.

Michael enters into a refreshingly bold conversation about “God”. He asks the reader to think about where we got our concept of God from. He does not ask for everything to be discarded. The discernment about such knowledge is left to the critical thinker.

Next he asks about the purpose of life. In the context of this he has constructed some lovely contemporary prayers where the thoughts paint pictures of reality, relate to our world and ourselves. One feels very humanly fragile and humble while reading and thinking about the prayers. They capture the seasons of life, the seasons of the church and the key events in a full lifetime. Although they are meant for people of all ages in all situations I managed to find a lot that stirred my senses as a 72 year old and like Michael Morwood brought me to a sense of reality and meaning.

I would commend this book to everyone. [See an earlier post for purchasing details]

Paul Inglis 17/3/2018

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A convenient truth – the creation story and the substance of God

Serving the interests of the Roman Empire

Many indigenous spiritualities, Franciscans, and Celts saw creation as good, as a theophany or revelation of God’s very being, just as Genesis taught. How did Christianity come to be so divorced from nature? John Philip Newell (b. 1953), a poet and scholar known for his work in the field of Celtic spirituality, traces the roots and impact of the doctrine creatio ex nihilo. He offers an alternative, still orthodox, view of creation based on the writings of Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon:
Irenaeus [130-202] . . . taught that the whole of creation flows from the very “substance” of God. [1] All things carry within them the essence of the One. Irenaeus . . . signaled his concern about the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, creation out of nothing. . . . This was to become the standard of Western Christianity’s approach to creation. Creation would be viewed not as coming forth from the substance of God but as fashioned from afar by a distant Creator, made out of nothing from on high.

Irenaeus intuited that this would be a disaster, that to neutralize matter, to teach that creation does not come from holy substance, would lead to the abuse of creation. It was a convenient “truth” . . . [meaning] that the empire could do whatever it wished to matter. Matter was not holy. It had not come forth from the womb of God’s Being. Rather it was made from nothing. It was essentially devoid of sacred energy. So, every imperial mind could ravage the earth’s resources with impunity. It could disparage the rights of creatures and subordinate the physical well-being of its subjects. Religion had become the accomplice of the state’s subordination of the earth. It had sanctioned the separation of spirit and matter.

For the rest of this article from Richard Rohr go to The Substance of God  

and scroll down the page.

From this link you can also sign up to receive Richard’s daily meditations.

oOo

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A Church for our times

 

 

As a Mission, we provide community based services to Bondi and the Eastern Suburbs. Our goal is to turn good intentions into great action with a large dose of compassion. Our programs are designed to:

Connect people and break down the facelessness of modern urban communities – you care more for the people you know;

Provide a helping hand to those who are struggling in life and a means to get back onto their own path;

Connect people, those wanting or in need, with the opportunity for growth, prosperity, and sense of belonging;

Shepherd our environment and leaving it improved for the next generation.

Chapel by the Sea is a community hub for the exploration of spirituality, justice, community building, creativity and human and eco-solidarity. We are inclusive of all faiths, including agnostics and atheists and all people. We have developed a range of programs and made the Chapel available to other groups with these goals.

The Chapel’s ministry, under the leadership of Rev John Queripel, seeks to promote Jesus as a liberating life-giver. At the heart of Jesus’ ministry is his commitment to the vision of a society where right relations would be present between all people. To that end we work toward justice, peace, harmony and reconciliation with a particular concern for the poor and marginalized both in our community and the world.

Chapel by the Sea celebrates the Christian faith – that God loves us all and entered our world as the man Jesus Christ to bring us forgiveness, joy, hope and peace. We also believe life is to be celebrated as something beautiful and creative. The Chapel service and programs are open to all those interested in building a stronger community and helping others. Our congregation and volunteers share their skills, passions and ideas at our events, community and childcare centres, for which we are truly grateful.

For more information about this UCA congregation go to: Chapel by the Sea

oOo

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Study Guide for the 8 Points of Progressive Christianity 2012

This Study Guide has been re-edited and re-printed.
This edition is the second printing.

By: Fred Plumer, Author and President

This Study Guide is for the third edition (2011) of the “8 Points” that have both identified and guided ProgressiveChristianity.org since the organization’s founding in 1994.

It can be used for small group study, intentional communities, conferences, or any group who would like to delve more deeply into the history and the process of living out the core teachings of Jesus. There are discussion questions and space after each point for groups to come up with their own thoughts and ideas.
We have often been asked why we change or update the “8 Points.” There are three main answers to that question. First, we change the wording based on thoughtful comments and suggestions from our readers and supporters. Some of these suggestions are theological, and some are seeking greater clarity, showing us areas where we were not as clear as we need to be.
Secondly, as people with open minds and soft hearts, we continue to evolve and change. That is what “progressive” is all about. New scholarship, conversations and even detractors challenge us to rethink what we have been positing, and at some point, after much discussion and conversation with our advisors, we may decide that we should make a change or emphasize new points. This seems to happen about every five years or so.
Thirdly, we never want the “8 Points” document to become something sacred in itself, beyond testing and questioning. In another words, we are not trying to challenge creedal thinking and outdated dogma with a new creed.
The background material and the questions of this Study Guide were designed to stimulate conversation and to raise issues that might not otherwise come up. None of these materials are intended to make a final theological, Christological, or canonical argument. The last thing we would want to do is to tell anyone how he or she should believe or approach their faith. We simply offer this as a starting point to the conversation and we look forward to the continual evolution of our faith.
The study guide includes The 8 Points Flyer, a Reflection Preface by Jim Burklo, an Introduction on What is Progressive Christianity by Gretta Vosper, and a Personal Note from the Author, by Fred Plumer. Each section has the 8 Point, a discussion about the point, discussion questions, and a space for notes.

Excerpt from the Study Guide:
By calling ourselves progressive Christians, we mean we are Christians who…
Point 4 — Know that the way we behave towards others is the fullest expression of what we believe.

Most scholars would argue we learn more about the Jesus of the scriptures from the things he does rather than what he says. The Jesus we meet in the gospels is a man of action, who heals, who demonstrates compassion, who takes a stand against injustices, who loves unconditionally, and who then tells his disciples to go and do likewise. Maybe that is why the writers of all three synoptic gospels wrote that Jesus believed the most important commandment is to “love God with all of our hearts, minds and souls and to love your neighbor as yourself.”
According to the writer of Luke’s gospel, Jesus then tells a story that suggests our neighbor is anyone who might need our help. Nowhere in these important passages do we find Jesus suggesting that before we extend ourselves on behalf of another or before we love our neighbor, we should first expound a theology, or a belief system. Nor does it appear there was ever a litmus test Jesus used before he befriended someone or helped him or her. Progressive Christians believe our actions of compassion are more important than the expression of our beliefs.

To buy – go to Progressive Christianity.com – $10 US

oOo

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The quest for a Christian story in our time

Kevin Treston’s latest book:

There is general agreement that Christianity in the West is facing a major crisis, with research confirming that there is a rapid decline in church membership, especially among young people. Why is this happening? And does the crisis present opportunities for the church in its evangelising mission? Why have the life and teachings of Jesus – the way of Jesus – become so complicated? Based on a key New Testament text that the Spirit ‘blows where it chooses’, the author argues that part of the problem is that so much of Church doctrine, structure and life is based on a world view that no longer makes sense. In faith, he reflects on how the Jesus tradition can be presented to a world where scientific discovery makes us aware of our planet within a vast universe and the interconnectedness of every living thing in the cosmos. He asks what are the implications of this new cosmic awareness for the Christian story in the third millennium? He well understands the experience of those many people who have abandoned traditional church communities yet express deep longings for spiritual sustenance and support to lead a good life; and to find meaning in their Christian heritage or recover something of a lost faith heritage. He calls for serious and sustained renewal in the church, attentive to the Spirit, learning to trust, listen, study, celebrate, act and above all, discern the most authentic paths to experience the presence of a living God in our ever-evolving world. THE WIND BLOWS WHERE IT CHOOSES The quest for a Christian story in our time

Coventry Press – 9780648230304 – $22.95
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

oOo

 

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Core values of the UC FORUM

Our statement of values is a working document that is open to change and further input. We base our work on the following three principles:

  • Acknowledgement of a diversity of beliefs and respect for those who hold them, with a consequent need to encourage actively creation of a diversified unity centred on Jesus, rather than continued self-centred-divisiveness.
  • Dedication to continued teaching, learning and spiritual growth by open and frank discussion of significant church, religious and theological developments at all levels of the church.
  • Recognition of the importance of listening to the church membership and taking them into the confidence of the church bureaucracy in discussion of new knowledge and new approaches to spiritual development.

We welcome comments about this statement and consider it subject to review and revision at all times.

oOo

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Our Impact on the Earth

Hosted by West End Explorers

Sunday 11th March 5.30pm

Uniting Church West End · Brisbane

For our next Contemplative Service, we will be reflecting on our impact on the Earth …

Join Mark Delaney, a Brisbane local who’s spent much of the last 20 years in the slums of India, as he helps us reflect on our impact on the earth. In response, Mark invites us to change the only thing we can – ourselves.

All welcome.

oOo

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Award of Bursaries

Good news for two students of Trinity College in the Queensland Synod of the UCA.

They have been successful in their submission of essays on Progressive Christianity and each will receive a UC FORUM bursary to cover costs associated with their studies this year.

Bursary applications for 2019 will be advertised towards the end of this year.

oOo

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Prayers for Progressives

 

Just published …and eagerly awaited…

Michael Morwood’s previous book of prayers, Praying a New Story, received wide acclaim. Awarding the book among the Best Spiritual Books in 2004, Spirituality & Health Magazine commented, “Invigorating, poetic and imaginative… the perfect resource for small groups interested in exploring new avenues of devotion and spiritual practice.”

Morwood goes beyond “devotion and spiritual practice” in Prayers for Progressive Christians, A New Template. In the first part of the book he summaries the key theological shifts that necessitate changes to liturgical, group and personal prayer. In the second part he demonstrates how these major shifts in theological thinking can be incorporated into a new template for meaningful, contemporary prayer.

246 pages
[$24.95US at Amazon.com not including postage.]
$20US including postage (faster than Amazon) within Australia … so order now from the author!
A 30% saving until 1st May.
Order from www.morwood.org

Contents

Introduction

Part One: Praying From What We Now Believe

Why Prayer Should Change
God
Revelation
The Purpose of Life
Jesus
The kingdom of God
Liturgy
Christ
Religion
Prayer
General Principles For Composing Prayers

Part Two: Prayers

The Gift You Are Think of Yourself As a Gift of the Universe
The Flower That Shattered the Stone Trusting the power within us
All Is One Everything and everyone is connected
Personifying the Great Mystery Pointers to the beyond
Come on Home What lies at the heart of our being?
Embedded Wisdom We know the path to progress
Advent What are we longing and hoping for?
Christmas Who is this child for us?
New Year Moving beyond our comfort zone
First and Foremost Working for a better world
Light Let your own light shine
Human Like Us Being fully human is more than enough
The Cost Paying a price for what is right
Perseverance Standing firm in the face of opposition
Ash Wednesday From stardust to human
The Power of Story Giving thanks for storytellers
Palm Sunday What “following Jesus” really means
Holy Thursday A human story of hope and trust
Good Friday Let us not lose sight of Jesus who leads us in our faith
Easter The seasons of life
Being God-Conscious Becoming more mindful
Pentecost Celebrating the “Spirit” in everyone
Nella Fantasia Our shared human longing for the world
Forgiveness Prayer Drawing strength from within.
Baptism Celebrating the wonder of new life
Wedding The wonder of human love
Death Living on beyond death
Suicide Funeral reflection and prayer
Prayer and Children Deepening Awareness of the Great Mystery
Prayer of Petition One with everyone and everything
Sickness and dying Prayers with the sick; prayers with the dying
Facing Reality A reflection on progressive religious thinking

oOo

 

 

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A critical conversation on “salvation”

Brian Coyne of Catholica poses the following question to one of his correspondents:

“Titus, I’ve been meaning to ask you this for a few days: what do you make of the salvation theology or mythology today? Did the first followers of Jesus believe it was all about being ‘saved’ from their sins and some ‘eternal reward’ in the afterlife; or was that all added later?”

What followed is a great expose of Pauline mythology.

Go to: Salvation discussion to find this conversation

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The UC FORUM’s Foundational Perspective

Looking at the formation of the UC Forum 10 years ago

Professor Rod Jensen, former chair of the Qld Ministerial Education Board and lifelong active layman in the Methodist and Uniting Churches, passed away on Sunday 23 August 2009.

Prof Jensen was an inspiration to many people who have wanted the church to engage more intentionally with contemporary society, to make appropriate adaptations and changes that would address the obvious fall in worship attendances and the aging of congregations.
After comprehensively researching ‘the problem’, he published his findings and reflections in Two Small Books on Laypeople and the Church in 2007. In essence, he called upon the laypeople of the Uniting Church to take responsibility for leading the church to position itself for a rapidly changing world.

He also challenged the clergy and leaders of the Christian church to come to terms with its decline in positive and effective ways. Many lay people heard this call and as soon as Rod’s book was released, they formed the Uniting Church Lay Forum (now UCFORUM, who under Rod’s leadership and encouragement identified the central themes for renewal of the Uniting Church as:
The need to present the Christian message in a manner consistent with the experience and insights of modern society. The need to appeal to the contemporary generations of younger groups. The need to eliminate the divisiveness of ideological splits in the church by the encouragement of diversity within and between congregations and in methods of ministry
The need to engage the laity in open and frank discussions of different theological developments and approaches to worship. The need to interpret the Christian message in the light of developments in modern science and technology. The need to cultivate spirituality rather than religion in our churches.

This enterprise had begun when Rod died in 2009 and Rod’s founding influence, commitment to working with all stakeholders in a supportive and sensitive way, his love of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, his writing and research and indefatigable faith in humankind has sustained and inspired the Forum for a long time and continues to attract more members.

In Rod’s own words the nucleus and momentum for change must begin with us (the lay people of the church).  Thank you Rod for your friendship, knowledge and example.

Note: The UCFORUM has a broader membership these days with many ministers, retired ministers, former moderators, lay people, theologians, friends from other denominations and many who no longer attend any congregation.

oOo

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Musings on walking the streets

A reflection from Rodney Eivers

I had the happy experience this weekend (early February) of getting to know more intimately that busy and highly built-up part of Brisbane city where Alice and Edward Street intersect. This is at the point where they meet the Brisbane River and the City Botanic Gardens. My wife and I had been given an “away weekend” by our families. We were settled 17 floors up at the Stamford Plaza Hotel – about 2 to 3 hundred metres from where Brisbane’s tallest building at 90 stories and 274 metres (the current height limit because of air traffic considerations), now under construction, reaches up into the clouds.
We had a glorious view, including that of the thunder and lightning show of a violent storm on the Sunday night. What interested me, though, was what was going on down on the ground. We descended to the Lobby on the Sunday morning and went for a stroll in the direction of the Museum of Brisbane at City Hall, something I would recommend to any visitors to the City.
The traffic was busy. The streets, fortunately in the Australia fashion shaded with awnings, provided relief from the mid-30s temperature and were crowded with people. It seemed to be as busy, or busier, than on an ordinary week day. Some of the major stores were closed for the weekend but the opportunities for “retail therapy” were now enhanced by the setting up of street markets.

My 100-year-old father-in-law is fond of recalling that in his younger generation “you could fire a rifle at random down Queen Street, Brisbane’s main street, and not hit a soul”.
So I reflected. “A generation or two ago a very high proportion of these people now so busy shopping, scurrying along the pavements and chatting at coffee shops would have been attending church services. There is now no break in the week when people pause to give thought to the bigger questions of life, away from shopping, burying their faces in their “screens, and worshipping sporting heroes and “celebrities”.*
I continued with my musing. “Is this good or bad? No point regretting it. That’s the way life is. Religion has lost its appeal for the public. Perhaps a lot of the commitment to a life of Christian faith and practice. was just a lot of show and we are better off without much of it anyway.”
So we idled our way up the gently sloping streets of the metropolis, in due course reaching our destination of the Museum of Brisbane in the City Hall – my first time there. Hard to believe, perhaps, but we dawdled around and ended up spending four hours studying the exhibits! As we were winding up our visit we came to a presentation called DNA. This was a display, demonstrating amazing electronic technical wizardry and reporting on a survey of a group of 100 people selected on a what seemed to be a sound statistical sample from the city neighbourhood.

There were a number of questions. They included such things as: What do you like about Brisbane City? What transport do you use to come into the city? Have you experienced domestic violence? What sort of accommodation would you like to see developed? And so on and so on. All worth raising and relevant to people’s lives. Despite its being such a strong element in what makes people tick it looked like religion was not going to get a mention? Or so I thought. Then to my surprise, as the survey neared its end the question was put. Do you go to church? About 20 per cent of the respondents said, “Yes!”
That did not seem like news to me. It was about what I would have expected. But then came the next question. Do you believe in God? The answer astounded us. Between 60 and 70 per cent said they believed in God. To the extent that this large proportion accepted a concept of a theistic God I had no reason to be greatly encouraged by this. It did, however, raise a couple of issues in my mind. I had interpreted the universal devotion to shopping and TV etc. as indicating that people are not being very thoughtful nor interested in wider questions and deeper personal exploration of themselves (spirituality, if you like). From the response to this survey, however it looks as if a large majority of people do look for explanations of life’s mysteries beyond their day to day lives. It was not all just shopping and TV.
The other thought was that if 65 per cent of people believe in God but only 20 per cent participate in religious activity then maybe the churches need to give some attention to this disconnect in meeting the spiritual needs of a 21st century populace.

…ooo…

So with a little more understanding and perhaps a little more wisdom it was back to base at the hotel. There I concluded my reading of Michael Morwood’s , “God is Near”. I see that this title has been listed in a recent posting on the UC Forum website. But I may tell you about that later.

*PS. By coincidence, I note from the UC Forum website this week a quotation: “Sheridan reminds his readers that there is more to living than the pursuit of pleasure. After all having a good time never lasts for long”.

oOo

 

 

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Converging of Science, Philosophy and Religion

Thanks Geoff Taylor for this piece. More available at Catholica Forum.

This is in a topic conversation from Warren, replying to Tony Equale in the US.

“….Lothar Schafer who is an emeritus professor of quantum chemistry has written a book Infinite Potential—What Quantum Physics Reveals About How We Should Live in which he says “The phenomena of quantum physics force us to believe that the basis of the visible world doesn‘t rest on some material foundation but on a realm of nonmaterial forms that have the properties of waves as though our world were afloat on an invisible ocean.” (p.33)
“When material particles dissolve in fields of mathematical forms and patterns of numbers- when they become such patterns and forms they transcend the domain of matter.—the basis of reality is a domain of transmaterial forms , images or elementary thoughts.” (p.238)
It seems that what happens is that “When electrons and atoms and molecules are left alone they become waves. (p.42)— When an elementary particle enters a wave state it abandons all matter.—When they become waves elementary particles become numerical patterns, mathematical forms or numbers.” (p.44)
“As a wave the material particle has no actual position in space but many potential positions. Thus the wave states into which microphysical objects dissolve are potentiality states. When a material particle enters the realm of potentiality it leaves the empirical world.—we can conclude that the visible reality emanates out of a realm of potentiality that is underlying all things.”—
“It is in this way we are led to the view that physical reality appears to us in two domains : the realm of the actuality of localised material things and the realm of potentiality of the nonmaterial forms that are spread out in space. These forms are real even though they are invisible because they have the potential to manifest themselves into the empirical world and act in it.” (p.46) But then Plato said all that in the fourth century BCE!
“The emergence of wavelike properties in the behaviour of elementary particles forces us to accept some amazing conclusions regarding the nature of physical reality. There is a realm of the universe that has the nature of potentiality—a realm that isn’t made up of visible, material and energetic things but of invisible mathematical forms : patterns of information or images.” (p.49)
Quantum chemists say that these empty states should be called virtual states and “Virtual states are real but since they are empty they are nonempirical. You can think of them as mathematical forms, wave functions or probability patterns.—They are truly existing potentiality.” (p.253)
“These forms are real even though they are invisible because they have the potential to manifest themselves into the empirical world and act in it.” (p.46) They do not actually exist in the empirical world but even so they can act on the empirical world.

So Schafer can say “I think that the quantum phenomena have led us to the point where we don’t have a choice anymore. There is no denying that a transcendent part of reality exists.” (p.187)
Schafer concludes that “In this regard science is facing an unavoidable paradox: Even though it must avoid in its descriptions of the world any reference to a transcendent realm of reality, scientific explorations of the world nevertheless force us to accept that such a transcendent realm exists.” (p.267)
Of course it is most extraordinary that Pythagoras as one of the Greek founders of Western philosophy in the sixth century BCE claimed to have found irrefutable arguments for the thesis that all things are numbers and Plato in the fourth century BCE taught his students that atoms were mathematical forms. (p.5). It is no wonder that scientists just love mathematics.
Also fascinating is that the followers of Pythagoras were a religious sect and their theory of numbers was connected with their spiritual teachings. So Schafer claims that “The fact is that the way in which it describes the world (in quantum numbers) quantum physics has taken science right into the middle of historic traditions of spirituality.” (p.21)
Fascinating that we are headed for virtual reality and its capturing of forms in numbers with the video game paradigm! But even more fascinating is that what Schafer is saying as a result of what quantum science has revealed is no longer metaphysics but phenomenology. Teilhard de Chardin predicted it would happen when he said “Like the meridians as they approach the poles, science, philosophy and religion are bound to converge as they draw nearer the whole.” (p.29)”

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Lloyd Geering turns 100

On 26th February Sir Lloyd George Geering ONZ GNZM CBE turned 100.

Geering was born in Rangiora, Canterbury, New Zealand, and “embraced” the Christian tradition in 1937. He holds a Doctor of Divinity from the University of Otago and a master’s degree in mathematics. He was a minister in the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand (PCANZ) and turned to theological teaching in 1956.

In 1967 Geering gained a high profile when he was charged with “doctrinal error” and “disturbing the peace and unity of the (Presbyterian) church”. The case was brought before the 1967 General Assembly of the PCANZ, and dismissed without being much discussed. The charges were brought by a group of conservative laymen and a conservative minister. During his church trial he claimed that the remains of Jesus lay somewhere in Palestine and that the resurrection had been wrongfully interpreted by churches as a resuscitation of the body of Jesus. He also rejects the notion that God is a supernatural being who created and continues to look over the world.

Geering is a member of the Jesus Seminar and a participant in the Living the Questions program, an alternative to the evangelical Alpha course, which he views as dangerous indoctrination sadly growing among even mainstream churches. He is also a member of the Sea of Faith Network (New Zealand), and St Andrew’s On The Terrace as well as Principal Lecturer at St Andrew’s Trust for the Study of Religion and Society.

He was honoured in 1988 as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire and in 2001 as Principal Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit. In the 2007 New Year Honours List he was made a Member of the Order of New Zealand. In 2009, his status as a Principal Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit was re-designated to that of Knight Grand Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

Geering is a patron of the Coalition for Open Government.

oOo

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Response to the question

We had a wonderful response to the question:

What practical initiatives will help the Church become a significant part of society, give integrity to its work and attract new members as followers of Jesus?

The amount of material and the quality and depth of thinking from our network friends has meant a lot of work doing the analysis to produce this summary.

The summary only tells part of the story but gives some idea of the breadth of thinking around progressivism.

If you would like a copy of the summary please request one by clicking here. Continuing in the participative action learning way, we welcome further comment, questions and points of clarification. If we have not made your thoughts clear please let us know.

We are working towards a document that can be used in making a case to various church councils and leaders.

Thanks for the great response and thoughtful reflections.

oOo

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Opinion: A Basis of (for) Union …. not a Basis of (for) the Uniting Church

THE UNITING CHURCH AND THE DEATH OF NON-CONFORMITY.

John Gunson

In 2017 we celebrated both the 40th Anniversary of the Uniting Church in Australia and the 500th Anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation in Europe.

These seminal events were worth celebrating, not because they defined forever how we should understand and define the nature of the church and of Christian faith, but because they were declarations of exactly the opposite, namely that “the church” must be under constant reformation.

The very last thing we ought to do is to assume or believe that the so-called “truth” arrived at at a certain point in history is the final truth about either faith or life. The evil and ignorance of such a position is of course best illustrated by the tragedy of Christendom, the approximately 1200 years that preceded the Reformation when Church and State were co-terminus, and when the church decided on what was truth, not only in the religious sphere, but in every human field of knowledge and endeavour, including science and law.

Without the Protestant Reformation the vast advances in human knowledge and well-being that we enjoy today may not have occurred. The “Enlightenment” itself would have been a much greater struggle without this challenge to the church’s control of all truth.

I have no desire to return to the Reformation’s re-definitions of Christian faith and church. They are as dated and imperfect as that which preceded it, which was largely defined by a very flawed, political and academic process which occurred in 325CE under the Roman Emperor Constantine, a definition of Christian faith and expression of church that bears little resemblance (if any) to the foundational events of Christianity in the early decades of the Common era.

The Uniting Church came into being, however, not to reform the churches’ doctrinal positions nor to escape coercive and corrupt leadership and practices, as in the 15th century, but because of an overwhelming ecumenical spirit that saw the scandal of competing denominations of common “free church” or non-conformist origin, and because of a mutually held, and in hindsight naïve and impossible dream of ultimately moving on to greater Christian union with Anglicans and others.

It was precisely this dream that lay behind the Uniting Church’s expression of it’s faith in the “Basis of Union”. Two significant factors guided the expression and content of “The Basis”. The first and most significant was the deliberate calculation that other, especially larger denominations such as the Anglicans, would not take us seriously if we did not, like them, stand under a largely universally accepted definition of faith such as the historic Nicene Creed, which we carefully re-expressed in the Basis of Union.

Second was the purely accidental fact of history that the young “turks” of the three negotiating non-conformist churches (over-represented on the Joint Commission preparing for the union of their respective churches) were largely, if not entirely, the product of a Barthian theological education and who were moving away from their denominational roots to a neo-orthodox theological position. I have to confess that I was one of them at that time, but not myself on the Joint Commission.

Also on the Joint Commission were a number of senior Congregational representatives who were alarmed, both by this step backward to neo-orthodoxy, but equally by any effort to appear to limit the possibilities of a growing, on-going understanding of the truth, or, as some would have put it, the on-going revelation of the Holy Spirit, and the findings of new scholarship.

These insightful representatives of both the Reformation spirit and of their non-conformist heritage, deliberately fought for the inclusion of para. 11 in the Basis of Union, to ensure that that Basis did not in the future restrict the Uniting Church’s ability to respond to new ways that the Holy Spirit might be leading us, and the new discoveries and insights into our origins and our faith that contemporary and future scholarship would inevitably bring us.

The young neo-orthodox “turks” on the Joint Commission would not themselves have introduced para 11. For them the “Basis of Union” was not simply to be the basis on which we came together or united, but the on-going permanent basis of the Uniting Church. So, if they had to bow to the Congregationalist insistence about para 11 it was imperative that it be drafted with sufficient ambiguity to both satisfy the non-conformists, but to allow some of its interpreters 40 years later to misunderstand, and hence misinterpret, the original purpose of its inclusion in the Basis. Fortunately, the uniting document is correctly called the Basis of Union (i.e. the basis on which we agreed to come together), not The Theological Basis of the Uniting Church.

As readers can see, the practical effect of the neo-orthodox majority on the Joint Commission was to reject the foundational principles of reformation of the three non-conformist traditions they were there to represent, in favour of a return to orthodoxy, along with the impossible dream of a return to the bosom of mother church.

So, the Uniting Church, born out of a great ecumenical vision and hope, has effectively managed to deny both the reformation and non-conformist traditions which the three uniting churches had nurtured and expressed for hundreds of years. And it has replaced its ecumenical vision and reforming spirit with a craven desire to be accepted as orthodox by the other branches of the church universal.

Thus the Uniting Church, through some mistaken view that the Holy Spirit has spoken definitively and for all time in 325CE, and fortunately also in the Basis of Union, is afraid to embrace contemporary movements of reform or contemporary scholarship that doesn’t fit with Constantinian or Barthian presuppositions.

There never was only one interpretation of church and gospel until Nicea; and to equate Nicea with the guidance of the Holy Spirit is not only heresy, it is also blasphemy. Diversity, freedom and the necessity of on-going reformation are essential to the Reformation and non-conformist tradition. Since Constantine, uniformity, authority and institutional bureaucracy have been the defining marks of orthodoxy, and are alive and well in the Uniting Church.

It would seem that the Uniting Church has left it too late to reclaim its heritage, especially its Congregational heritage which regrettably was never understood by the other two partners, and has been completely lost in the Uniting Church. But if our church is to have a future it needs to move on from the Basis of Union as para 11 of the Basis encourages it to do.

While the Uniting Church in Australia has many strengths that flow from its greater size and resources, it has failed entirely in its reforming function that its three former denominations once represented in the life of the church at large and the community in which it lives.

Non-conformity is now dead in Australia, and the Uniting Church is moving rapidly towards the same fate.

oOo

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Foundational Reform of Christianity

Creation

The Story that Defines Us
Sunday, February 11, 2018

Richard Rohr

The first book of the Bible, Genesis, is not the Bible’s oldest book. Genesis’ two accounts of creation were compiled in their present form as late as 500 BC. During this period, the Jews were likely in exile in Babylon, where they were exposed to multiple creation stories.
Two excellent teacher friends of mine, Walter Wink (1935-2012) and Rob Bell (b. 1970), both describe one of the most popular stories of that time, the Babylonian Enuma Elish. It describes creation happening after a battle between two gods. The male god kills the female god, then tears her body apart and uses half of her to create the heavens and half to create the earth.
Both teachers point out that the driving engine of this story is violence, carnage, and destruction. So, the exiled Jews decided to write down their own oral tradition, surely to stay cohesive as a tribe among all the competing influences from Babylonians and others. In the Judeo-Christian story of Genesis 1, God—who is “Creator” in verse 1, “Spirit” in verse 2, and “Word” in verse 3 (foretastes of what we would eventually call Trinity)—creates from an overflowing abundance of love, joy, and creativity. Humanity’s core question about our origins is whether the engine of creation is violence and destruction or overflowing love, joy, and creativity. Is our starting point love and abundance or is it fear and hatred? How we begin is invariably how we end and how we proceed. Our creation story is important.
The Judeo-Christian creation story says that we were created in the very “image and likeness” of God (Genesis 1:26) out of generative love. The focus is original blessing instead of original sin (which comes two chapters later, in Genesis 3). We are first sent out with cosmic hope rather than a big problem that must be solved. The Holy Spirit holds this divine image within every created thing, and becomes its “soul.” It drives us toward “life, and life more abundantly” (John 10:10). When we start in a positive way instead of with a problem, there is a much greater chance we will remain positive as we move forward. Even the business world today knows that a vision statement must precede and inform the mission statement. As Matthew Fox taught many years ago, Christianity’s contrived “Fall-Redemption” spirituality [1] just keeps digging us into a deeper and deeper hole (my words!). We must return to our original “Creation Spirituality” for the foundational reform of Christianity.

oOo

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Book Review: The Numinous Factor

 

The Numinous Factor: The Spiritual Basis of Science and of Life

by John L Walker

Thanks George Tully for recommending this book. I downloaded an e-copy from Amazon Kindle for $5.21 AUS. 187 pages – easy and enjoyable read.

The author, Dr John Walker, in his seventies, has been a professor of religion and languages, a university administrator, religious leader, prison religious counsellor, public speaker, author and mystic. He and his wife live in California.

“Maybe there is a Creative Power that really is the energy, is the gravity, is the rock, and is the fusion process in the stars. Maybe there is no separation between Spiritual and Physical. Maybe everything that we see or measure physically and everything that we might sense or feel spiritually is really One, a Unity. If this is so, then Spirituality, a human term referring to an awareness of the Presence of the Divine, cannot be left out of scientific reasoning. At the same time, science can enhance an understanding of the concrete aspects of the spiritual.”

“Numinous” carries the idea of relating to the Spiritual Essence of things in non-rational ways. It refers to a creative force, a spiritual nature that inhabits, or even is, every material entity and is part of the Creative Force. It refers to the sense of the Presence of Divinity in everything, a Presence that exists in, as, and through everything that is manifest, including what is not known to us yet. The term sees all things as being made up of a Divinity that can be felt but not logically grasped by our human thinking at the present time.

oOo

 

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Caloundra Seminar: The idea of God is perfectly logical.

“The Idea of God is perfectly logical”

‘Elite culture sneers at belief, but it is no less believable than atheism.
‘ Weekend Australian’ : Article leader by Senior Foreign Editor Greg Sheridan – 28th/29th October 2017

All are welcome at the Caloundra Explorers’ examination of this idea on

SUNDAY 18th FEBRUARY at 5.30pm.

Venue: Caloundra Uniting Church

Enquiries or for more on the Sheridan article email John Everall.

“Philosophy, religion and theology are not topics usually aired in a major Australian newspaper. Thus Sheridan’s article, ‘Idea of God is perfectly logical’, is a rare exception to a general trend”.

“I take Sheridan’s challenge as a plea for serious intellectual thought, reflection, and cultural engagement. This requires enlightened leadership. It is pointless for clergy to hide behind their monologues. The one man band has had its day. Church members need to be treated as responsible adults who are able to set a collective church agenda and manage their own learning. It is a question of their ‘empowerment’ and taking responsibility for the christian agenda. I believe congregations sidestep this challenge at their peril!”

“Anyone raising awkward philosophical and religious questions is said to be overstepping the mark of what is acceptable. The demarcation line between the secular and the ‘non-material’ sphere is a fundamentally given! In contrast Sheridan believes philosophical and religious discourses have a valid place in the public domain and can elucidate the intellectual and cultural ‘concerns’ raised there.”

“Sheridan reminds his readers that there is more to living than the pursuit of pleasure. After all having a good time never lasts for long”. [Seminar leader]

For one critique of Sheridan’s argument go to: Online Opinion

The Explorers Group is set up to enable people to experience some of the challenge and intellectual stimulation available from the growing breadth of contemporary theology and emerging biblical scholarship. We get together to explore, discuss and debate within a safe, non-judgmental and structured environment, recently published writings and lectures from contemporary theologians, eminent scholars and others.

 

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Opinion: Time to change our approach to worship

Changing church gatherings

Geoff

I appreciate the spirit and care for each other of Uniting (and other) church congregations. But equally I find church services call on me to say and do things I don’t believe.

What I find difficult is that the way the Bible is viewed fails to apply much of modern biblical scholarship. The Bible is still presented as the inspired word of God, when it is a collection of men’s (yes, men’s) thoughts about what we call God and is presented in a variety of literary forms and narrative settings. There is a part of the Hebrew Scriptures which is wrongly treated as identifying the Hebrew messiah with Yeshua.

And maybe we should stop translating “parthenos” as a woman who has not had sexual intercourse, rather than as just the young woman Mary was. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke may well be cases of writing to audience expectations.

We fail to recognise that the God of the Hebrew scriptures and the God of the New Testament are greatly different. By retaining stories about God from the Hebrew scriptures we muddy the New Testament view. The use of biblical texts which say “fear God” is unhelpful, retaining the Hebrew scriptures’ conception of God as quite different from the God of love. Ma
ny hymns reflect views which are out of step with modern understandings. There is still an insistence on including readings which sit ill with modern enlightened morality, especially in relation to the equality and roles of women.

We still talk in terms of worship and praise and adoration, even though our understanding of what the word God might mean has changed a lot (“logos” is just as properly translated as “concept” rather than “word”). Is the word “Lord” with its feudal connotations appropriate?
We need to drop readings which sit ill with modern science such as the two Genesis accounts of the origin of the world, and at least sometimes read astrophysicist Carl Sagan’s summary. Further, a story like the Gadarene swine story does not help people with mental illness, who have definite biochemical explanations for their condition.

We need to recognise that inspired writing about higher things did not cease in the fourth century AD, and that the choices made for the New Testament canon by the “patristic fathers” aren’t necessarily set in stone.

To the extent that a creed is needed, surely it needs to include the life and actions of Yeshua.
So in addition to innovations like Messy Church designed for children primarily, we need to introduce some other forms of meeting for those who feel embarrassed and uncomfortable with many aspects of the traditional form of church meeting and with the prescientific cosmology (but keeping the traditional approach for those who like it).

Many people today have been turned away from church by its failure to evolve along with human understanding.   I am sure others could add to this.

 

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Progressive Christianity within the Uniting Church in Australia

Dr Richard Smith, Chair of the Western Australian Progressive Network wrote the following for the UCA WA Revive magazine in response to the WA Moderator’s challenge to practise Reformation. It was published along with a counterpoint by Rev Dr Michael Owen UC WA’s Systematic Theologian that presents the Church’s supernatural alternative.

On the 500th anniversary it is time to practice Reformation. In so doing we soon discover that Christianity from its earliest days was characterized by diversity. This eventually led to fragmentation of the Western Church, with the separation in the 5th Century of the Egyptian Copts and Far Eastern Nestorians, followed by the Eastern Orthodox in the 11th Century. Even before Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door in the 16th Century, there were challenges to the authority of the Catholic Church in the 14th C, by English Papal critic, John Wycliffe and in the 15th C, by dissenting priest, Jan Hus of Bohemia.

Luther’s legacy of Sola Scriptura finds modern expression in the dogmas and doctrines of evangelical Christianity. In the WA Uniting Church, it is recognised in the Synod as PNEUMA, ‘Pastoral Network of Evangelicals Uniting in Mission Action’. These dogmas and doctrines enshrined in the Basis of Union, presuppose a parallel supernatural universe that is increasingly unrecognisable by the Australian population. However we need to recognise that the Reformation opened the door to independent thinking, which came to a head in the Enlightenment or “Age of Reason” in the 18th C, a cultural movement where human reason finally prevailed over the Church’s divine authority claimed by the Pope (for Catholics) or the Bible (for Protestants). According to Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), this was humankind’s escape from the bondage to the obligatory thoughts of others, whether secular or religious. Kant became an early exponent of the idea that perpetual peace could be secured through universal democracy and international cooperation.

Critical study of the bible led to the recognition of its human origins which revolutionized biblical scholarship, enabling the scientific discoveries of evolution and the origin of the universe. This caused a fundamental division between the science and orthodox religious cosmologies. Study of this division, revealed that scientific reasoning was a consequence of monotheism expressed so clearly and succinctly in the opening chapters of the Bible, in which everything was thought to flow from one creative source and constitute a Universe. For example on the first day God created “Light”, 3 days before the physical light of the Sun. This “Light” became synonymous in John’s Gospel with the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Such “light” in the 21st C is urgently needed to dispel the darkness of humankind’s apocalyptic scenarios such as nuclear war and human induced global warming. A truly worthy legacy of the Reformation for the Church in all its diversity to practice and bear witness to in the 21st C. This legacy finds expression in Progressive Christianity which urgently needs to be recognised by the UCA as a legitimate expression of Christianity as set out in the 8 points – borrowed from the Progressive Christian Network of Britain.

Recommendation: Seek collectively this formal recognition under Para 11 of the Basis of Union?

Dr Richard Smith Chairman, WA Progressive Network 2 Feb 2018.
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What are Progressive Christians?

Our friends at Western Australia Progressive Christian Network, Progressive Christianity.Org in the USA and The Progressive Christianity Network Britain offer these eight points, not as a creed, but as an expression of the Christian life.

We are people who:

1. Believe that following the path and teachings of Jesus can lead to an awareness and experience of the Sacred and the Oneness and Unity of all life;

2. Affirm that the teachings of Jesus provide but one of many ways to experience the Sacredness and Oneness of life, and that we can draw from diverse sources of wisdom in our spiritual journey;

3. Seek community that is inclusive of ALL people, including but not limited to:
Conventional Christians and questioning skeptics,
Believers and agnostics,
Women and men,
Those of all sexual orientations and gender identities,
Those of all classes and abilities;

4. Know that the way we behave towards one another is the fullest expression of what we believe;

5. Find grace in the search for understanding and believe there is more value in questioning than in absolutes;

6. Strive for peace and justice among all people;

7. Strive to protect and restore the integrity of our Earth;

8. Commit to a path of life-long learning, compassion, and selfless love.

oOo

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Reformation 2018 by Everald Compton

REFORMATION 2018

There are many thousands of Christians who believe that the 500th Anniversary of the revolt of Martin Luther is a compelling time to begin a new Reformation.
As an 87-year-old, who has but a few years left to take part in any revolution, I am one of them and I recognise that I can no longer sit on the sidelines and wring my hands.
So, I have made an irrevocable commitment to stop talking about reform and take blunt, decisive action, no matter what flack may hit me as the result.
Let me begin with a statement about my own faith as it is stronger now than at any time in my life –
I BELIEVE IN GOD
I AM A COMMITTED FOLLOWER OF JESUS OF NAZARETH WHO IS A MAN WORTH FOLLOWING
I WALK PURPOSEFULLY WITH JESUS ALONG THE PILGRIM WAY AS WE STRIVE TO CREATE A COMPASSIONATE SOCIETY BASED ON RACIAL, RELIGIOUS, SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC EQUALITY
I believe that Churches are failed custodians and advocates of the Christian Faith. They are fast approaching their use-by date. As an Elder of 60 years’ service, I accept my share of the responsibility for allowing this to happen.
My faith is sustained by a rejection of the creeds and dogmas that Churches declare to be the basis of faith. This denial means that I do not accept the virgin birth, a physical resurrection or an ascension as elements of my faith. Nor do I seek forgiveness for my sins, or want to be saved from them, as this is an abdication of my responsibility as a human being to make right all that I do wrongly.
I do not believe that God decides who lives or dies or that there is life after death or the existence of heaven and hell. Nor do I accept that there is eternal life, as scientists agree that eternity means living for trillions of years.
But, I firmly and irrevocably believe in a spiritual power beyond myself, without which my life is pointless and will achieve only a tiny fraction of its potential.
Jesus of Nazareth leads me to this power.
As I strive to relate to God, I gladly accept that this gift can have meaning only if it is accepted in the company of fellow believers whose faith does not need to be propped by baseless trivia.
I am sustained in my spiritual journey by the excitement of constantly stepping forward into the unknown.
EVERALD COMPTON
everald.compton@live.com.au

Everald is an Adjunct Professor at the QUT Centre for Future Environments, chair of the Longevity Innovation Hub, an Elder of the Uniting Church and Member of the Order of Australia.

oOo

 

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Encountering God in the Galilee

Liz Little recently presented a homily to the congregation at St Mary’s in Exile in Brisbane. It was based on her experience in the Holy Land. She gives some insight into the challenges for progressives visiting the popular biblical places.

Encountering God in the Galilee 

Liz Little 20/21 January 2018 – St Mary’s in Exile – South Brisbane

The Walk
Last April I was lucky enough to join three friends to spend a couple of weeks walking in northern Israel – in the Galilee area.

Israel is a country I am drawn back to for some reason. I’ve been there on study tours before. This was the first walking visit. We did it the easy way, staying in guesthouses at the holy sites and carrying just day packs. We had our main luggage transported for us.

We walked first across country from Nazareth to Capernaum and then we walked around the Sea of Galilee, which is actually a lake, of course.

There were markers to show the way and we had a guide book and a compass and various maps. In spite of that, we didn’t always manage to stay on the cross country part of the track. It was wildflower season and sometimes the flowers were so prolific that they covered the track markers. At other times, the track was just poorly marked.

It didn’t matter that we were not always on track. We could often see our destination from the top of a ridge, even if it was 15 kilometres away.

I think we might have sometimes trespassed on private property when the track wasn’t obvious to us. But, there didn’t seem to be anyone around to care. We saw only two other walkers during the whole two weeks.

The walk was not hard, but some days were long and some days were hot. Some days were long and hot. All days were beautiful.

Descending Mt Arbell was a bit hairy because it was quite exposed. But, the challenges are all part of the experience.

There is something about walking that nourishes the human spirit. It’s the rhythm of the movement and the challenges of the terrain and being out there in the landscape that seems to lift the spirit and engage the soul. The long walk provides time and space for one’s own inner thoughts. It brings to mind Narelle’s homily about human beings not human doings. A long walk allows for the experience of the now; an experience of wholeness and unity, of joy and peace; an experience of God.

God
Peter has pointed out from time to time that the word God has been tainted for many. In an attempt to understand the concept, religious teaching personified God, into a male of course. God was also presented as a judge, someone who would reward and punish and also as a puppeteer, someone who controls the world and what happens in it. God as the person, as the judge, as the puppeteer all imply that God is a separate entity; apart from human beings and apart from the world. None of those concepts seems to serve us adequately any more.

Lloyd Geering, a NZ Presbyterian minister and a scholar, explores the concept of God in his book Reimagining God. He says that God as the creator was once a useful way to explain the natural world, the seasons, the rains, the floods, crop growth, etc. (Geering 2014: 121) Over time, God the creator became God the controller, God the judge, God the puppeteer. As scientific knowledge developed, so did our understanding of the workings of the natural world and the traditional images of God became less and less convincing. Some people felt they had to choose between God and science.

And yet, for others, there is a sense that not everything about life and living can be explained by science or reproduced in a laboratory. For such people, there remains a dimension of life that is spiritual, a part of us that is inspired by the awe and the wonder of the universe, a part of us that is touched by the goodness of our fellow human beings; a part of us that senses something life giving in the human experience; a part of us that seeks to understand our place in the universe and our purpose in life. Continue reading

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Revisiting the Basic Issues

When the UC FORUM was established 16 years ago, we reflected as follows:

“The overwhelming and quite obvious issue is the decreasing relevance of our church to upcoming generations, as expressed in seriously falling church attendances and the notable aging of our church attenders.

We believe that the evidence suggests very strongly that the following are the basic issues to be addressed:

a) That the church needs to come to grips with the increasing intellectual maturity, expectations and discernment of recent generations of church people and the community generally. We must recognise and take advantage of this maturity when planning new directions for the church. We should recognise the reality of today, that the ‘heart cannot accept what the mind rejects”. Since the future visibility of the church will be determined primarily by the decisions of the members (through their decisions to accept or reject the offerings and programs of the churches), active consultation at the widest level with the people in the pews is critical to planning effective measures for the future church.

b) The evidence showing that the church has not kept pace with the massive societal changes which have occurred over recent decades, notably those which could loosely be called ‘post-modern’.

c) That the church has not dealt adequately with the divisiveness of the ideological split between the ‘conservative’ and the ‘progressive’ movements by emphasising sufficiently the commonality of the Gospel and the centrality of the teachings of Jesus. The UC FORUM seeks to address this split by offering a ‘safe place’ for all people to express, and act on, their views on these major challenges facing the church in the 21st Century.

d) That the pre-occupation with ‘clericalism’ has failed. The church must address its myopic and debilitating pre-occupation with impractical clerical ‘coaching’ models of leadership and encourage greater participation in growth, development, and direction by the general membership. A great deal of talent and commitment is being lost by this oversight and neglect of collaborative approaches. We believe that major cultural changes in the church will be necessary to address these issues adequately. We believe also that these changes will be welcomed in a very positive way by the overwhelming majority of people in the church.”

As always, we welcome comment about this statement.

oOo

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Asking the right question!

There has been a wonderful response to the key question we posed last week. The question obviously touched a chord. Now we have the task of going through all of the material and putting all the suggestions into a useful document.

It is not too late to add your thoughts on the question: What practical initiatives will help the Church become a significant part of society, give integrity to its work and attract new members as followers of Jesus?

Send your thoughts to: Paul Inglis

Responses have come from all parts of our progressive networks – theologians, senior clergy, lay people, individuals, writers, lecturers and groups. Clearly people take seriously the need for the progressive voice to be heard.

 

This question is posed at a time when many people are asking What is the future for the Church? 

Clearly we have many members who have given up on the church based on their experiences, but there are also many who are inspired by Jesus and see a future church as a great vehicle for presenting him authentically to the world.

There is now a good deal of urgency for a more practical focus by organisations like ours when trying to shift the agendas of faith communities towards informed, enlightened, contemporary and progressive teaching and activity.

Thank you for the rapid response and all the very practical ideas.  But your role in this exercise doesn’t stop there. We will be seeking your responses to the ideas as we develop an action plan of useful tools for encouraging the development of a more relevant church.

Stayed tuned…

oOo

 

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Review: Faith without Fear by Keith Mascord

The subtitle of this book is: Risky choices facing contemporary Christians. Published by Morning Star Publishers in 2016.

Keith Mascord is a Canadian-born Australian who has been a teacher, a priest, and academic and a chaplain. During the 1990s he taught philosophy at Moore Theological College (Anglican) where he journeyed out of fundamentalism. Also author of Leaving Fundamentalism in a Quest for God (2012)

The Hon Michael Kirby says of this book: Mascord explains that rationality, truthfulness and the love of God are the ingredients essential to the efforts to revive Christianity in countries in steep religious decline, such as Australia. His is a message for all Christians everywhere – but particularly for evangelical Protestants as they approach the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s fateful Reformation.

Dr Val Webb says this is a must read for those who struggle with biblical literalism, inerrancy of Scripture, male headship and anti-homosexuality within their Christian denomination, and an invaluable resource for those in dialogue with friends and relatives holding such views.

There is a consensus amongst reviewers that this book is well written. To me it was valuable because it focussed on the issue that is at the core of the differences between most Evangelicals and Progressives – literalism.

In a novel and authentic way Mascord has shown how literalism does not work – by drawing on the life experiences of people whose personal reflections could be that of many others. He has also demonstrated how, often, a commitment to literalism has backed many into unwinnable corners.

Some of the more obvious conundrums are dealt with early:

  • Why are humans and animals created twice?
  • Who are the other people that Cain is afraid might kill him?
  • Who was Cain’s wife? Was she his sister?
  • How many animals did Noah take into the ark – two of each or seven pairs of the clean and one pair of the unclean?
  • Did Methuselah drown in the flood?

Mascord also identifies the many ways in which these and other controversies have been explained by interpreters through the ages.

In the search for meaning in the Bible, it is worth noting how Origen in the third century saw the cryptic and metaphorical nature of the lessons in the Bible and while describing much of the literal interpretation as silly, he did not take away any of the high values of the stories and even found deeper meanings than those not seen through literal eyes.

Mascord makes many suggestions for the contemporary reader of the Bible. Standing out was his suggestion that we must become content with uncertainty. There is much we don’t know. There are many things about which we are reasonably uncertain. There is very good reason to think that our interpretations of individual biblical passages are not the only valid interpretations.

To be anything other than humble is to be out of touch with reality.

oOo

 

 

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Jesus of Nazareth by Richard Rohr

Whilst on the theme of identifying Jesus,  Richard Rohr at the Centre for Action and Contemplation has this to say:

Jesus of Nazareth


Love Needs a Face
Monday, January 15, 2018

It was probably St. Francis of Assisi (c. 1182-1226) who first brought attention to the humanity of Jesus within organized Christianity. During its first thousand years, the Church was mainly concerned with proving that Jesus was God. Prior to St. Francis, paintings of Jesus largely emphasized Jesus’ divinity, as they still do in most Eastern icons. Francis is said to have created the first live nativity scene. Before the thirteenth century, Christmas was no big deal. The emphasis was on the high holy days of Holy Week and Easter, as it seems it should be. But for Francis, incarnation was already redemption. For God to become a human being among the poor, born in a stable among the animals, meant that it’s good to be a human being, that flesh is good, and that the world is good—in its most simple and humble forms.
In Jesus, God was given a face and a heart. God became someone we could love. While God can be described as a moral force, as consciousness, and as high vibrational energy, the truth is, we don’t (or can’t?) fall in love with abstractions. So God became a person “that we could hear, see with our eyes, look at, and touch with our hands” (1 John 1:1). The brilliant Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas (1905-1995) said the only thing that really converts people is “an encounter with the face of the other,” [1] and I think he learned that from his own Hebrew Scriptures.

For the complete article go to: Love needs a face

The CAC now has more than a quarter of a million readers/followers.

oOo

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The Lost Gospels

For those who like their reading accompanied by beautiful illustrations, the National Geographic HISTORY edition for March/April 2017 includes an article on the Gospels not in the Bible. Written by Antonio Pinero, The Forbidden Books of the Gnostics: Seeking the Hidden Gospels, takes the discussion on the establishment of the Bible into popular reading culture. The NG has supported a significant amount of biblical archaeology for many decades. This report gives support to the notion that what we have in the Bible misses a lot of material hidden for 1500 years. Found in jars in an Egyptian cave near Nag Hamadi, 13 bound papyrus books in Coptic Greek were discovered in 1945. More gospels have been discovered since then.

Gnosticism was not well known until the 19th and 20th centuries. Bishop Irenaeus had been effective in his offensive against the movement from around 180CE. By 367 Bishop Athenasius was the first was the first to list the 27 books including the canonical gospels of the New Testament. The Gnostic writings did not get a look in!

With the Jesus movement growing to more than 300,000 in Asia Minor alone by the end of the first century, and many more through the Roman Empire, this was a movement without any authorized texts or formal organisation. But there were at least three major factional groups putting their claim on the new Church.

The first, mainly Jews, was growing from the group who had been closest to Jesus. Jesus was the anointed Messiah, representative of God, who would one day restore God’s kingdom on earth. Jesus was fully human and certainly not God.

The second, those who had, in the main, been converted to the Christian faith under the influence of Paul. Paul’s radical theology took the idea of Jesus as Messiah a step further – as God the Father who sacrificed his son in order to eliminate the sins of the Jews and all humankind. It goes without saying, that this faction shaped the way that Christianity would develop over the 2000 years.

But it was the third faction – very small in numbers, that was a threat to Pauline Christianity or ‘orthodoxy’. The Gnostics believed one could know God through a life of inner transformation – ‘gnosis’ would help bring salvation. Gnostics taught that all people bear something of the divinity of the Creator (demiurge) and that this knowledge (salvation) was being revealed by a series of beings beginning with Adam to Jesus who revealed the ultimate truth. They believed that they alone understood this absolute religious truth. Salvation was an intellectual activity.

The Gospel of Mary discovered in 1896 is possibly Gnostic. It is not hard to understand why this gospel was not included in the Biblical canon in the context of an official church that could not contemplate women being prophets and preachers.

The apocryphal Gospel of Judas was identified in the 1980s. It had been referred to by Irenaeous in 180CE as ‘fictional history’.

The process of stamping out opposition to the emerging ‘orthodox’ church begun by Irenaeus was continued until the Roman Empire took the Pauline Church as the official religion and documents such as those found at Nag Hamadi were hidden from the authroities.

oOo

 

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Who was Jesus? Evidence from beyond the Bible

This eBook examines the history of Jesus’ life, from where he was born, where he grew up and whether there is extra-Biblical evidence for his existence. Available as a free eBook from the Biblical Archaeology Society in Washington.

This particular book is actually a series of small books by several authors –

  1. Did Jesus exist? Searching for evidence beyond the Bible.
  2. Jesus’ birthplace and Jesus’ home.
  3. Has Jesus’ Nazareth house been found?
  4. Did Jesus marry?
  5. Was Jesus last supper a seder?

This is one of 24 free eBooks  downloadable from:

Biblical Archaeological Society free eBooks

As I like the forensic search for evidence from reliable sources, I have enjoyed reading the first of these and look forward to going through some of the others:

  • Israel: An Archaeological Journey
  • Ten Top Biblical Archaeology Discoveries
  • Jerusalem Archaeology: Exposing the Biblical City
  • Paul: Jewish Law and Early Christianity
  • The Dead Sea Scrolls: Discovery and Meaning

 

We are interested in opinions about these publications.

oOo

 

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Street Talk about Faith

Street Talk

Rodney Eivers – January 2018

I was out in the front garden the other day weeding my row of Autumn crocuses which make an impressive display when they all blossom at once after a good shower or rain.

A woman passed by on the footpath and, as happens, one exchanges greetings. She was impressed by the crocuses and asked to have a close look. I had, regrettably, been a bit too vigorous with the weed pulling and yanked up one of the crocuses, bulb, roots and all. I offered this to my new friend, indeed offered her a whole spadeful of bulbs of the easily grown plant. Jenny (let’s call her that) took the single bulb saying that this would do for now and she had some potting mix just ready for it.

We carried on talking and discovered that we shared an acquaintance, a fellow who attended one of the local Uniting Churches. Jenny who knew this person fairly well and the interests he had in the activities of his congregation, perhaps assumed that he and I might have common perspectives and said, “You are involved with Emmaus?”

Now although I do not shy away from talking about my personal philosophy of life and its linkages to Christianity I am all too careful about coming across as preachy, dogmatic, or even “bible-bashing”.

On impulse my reply was, “Oh, I am aware of Emmaus but I am into “progressive” Christianity”.

At this point Jenny was turning away, about to resume her evening exercise.

She halted, turned back and asked “ ”Progressive” Christianity? What’s that?”

As you can imagine I could easily have used this as a licence to waffle on. It can be difficult to encapsulate “progressive” Christianity in a sentence or two.

I simply replied though, “It’s the Jesus Way with the supernatural removed”.

“How can you remove the supernatural from Jesus?” was her next question.

Anyway, this went on to an extended conversation which at one point led to Jenny remarking, “I visited the Vatican once and I was not impressed. What would Jesus have thought of all that pomp and wealth? I felt nearer to the gospel when visiting the catacombs and the history that they represented.”

As our chat drew to an end Jenny noted. “You can disregard all those rules in the Old Testament. The New Testament gives us only two rules to live by.”

“Yes,” I said, “Indeed, “Love God and Love Your Neighbour””

At that Jenny turned again and went on her way.

“Give my regards to our friend,: I said.
“Yes”, she said. “I’ll do that. Happy New Year!”

***

The moral of this story is that there may be many people, such as those who marked “no religion” in the recent census, who are willing to talk about issues of faith and their philosophy life but do not readily do so. In some less direct way they need to be invited. Assuming that we see promotion of the Jesus Way as being a path to a better world let’s not be afraid to share and practise our philosophy. The key though is to acknowledge that whatever view of life is held by those we chat with, it is valid for them and we would be wise to recognise that as such.

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Overdue or overdone? ‘Fire and Fury’ and Trump

Certainly a great read…well written and enthralling …. especially for US citizens who would know all the characters! My reading of Fire and Fury: inside the Trump Whitehouse by Michael Wolff was biased by my personal dislike for Trump and all he stands for and so I enjoyed it immensely. What does that say about me?

The final word of Wolff is:

Trump, in Bannon’s view, was a chapter, or even a detour, in the Trump revolution, which had always been about weaknesses in the two major parties. The Trump presidency—however long it lasted—had created the opening that would provide the true outsiders their opportunity. Trump was just the beginning.

If this is just the beginning, what is the world in for? How do ordinary people deal with the current crisis of leadership in the world’s major economic and military power? Or is there no crisis?

The bewilderingly repetitive description of most of Trumps closely aligned campaigners and political leaders as less than really impressed by Trump and often privately very critical of his actions and words, demonstrates the amount of political power games were at play in his election. Trump moved rapidly from a ‘no chance’ in early 2016 to ‘ a likely winner’ by the end of the campaign towards the end of 2016. Much of this can be attributed to alliances and back room deals with media. There were some fateful incidents along the way:

On May 12 (2016), Roger Ailes was scheduled to return to New York from Palm Beach to meet with Peter Thiel, an early and lonely Trump supporter in Silicon Valley who had become increasingly astonished by Trump’s unpredictability. Ailes and Thiel, both worried that Trump could bring Trumpism down, were set to discuss the funding and launch of a new cable news network. Thiel would pay for it and Ailes would bring O’Reilly, Hannity, himself, and maybe Bannon to it.

But two days before the meeting, Ailes fell in his bathroom and hit his head. Before slipping into a coma, he told his wife not to reschedule the meeting with Thiel. A week later, Ailes, that singular figure in the march from Nixon’s silent majority to Reagan’s Democrats to Trump’s passionate base, was dead.

Trump’s failure to offer condolences to Aile’s wife, Beth, was typical of many undiplomatic slips and the funeral with only close Aile’s allies present showed the way in which the Republican Party was imploding and now needed trump to survive.

The president had surely become the right wing’s meal ticket. He was the ultimate antiliberal: an authoritarian who was the living embodiment of resistance to authority. He was the exuberant inverse of everything the right wing found patronizing and gullible and sanctimonious about the left. And yet, obviously, Trump was Trump—careless, capricious, disloyal, far beyond any sort of control. Nobody knew that as well as the people who knew him best.

The Trump campaign was a giant exercise in bluff and bravado. He rationalised that he was a gift to the USA and the world, that he was one win away from turning the US problems, and inevitably those of the rest of the world, around.

But it is not just the story of the election campaign that enthrals. It is the events that have followed too.

Global liberal leadership had been all but paralyzed by the election of Donald Trump—indeed, by the very existence of Donald Trump. But it was an inverted universe in the Middle East. The Obama truculence and hyperrationalization and micromanaging, preceded by the Bush moral militarism and ensuing disruptions, preceded by Clinton deal making, quid pro quo, and backstabbing, had opened the way for Trump’s version of realpolitik. He had no patience with the our-hands-are-tied ennui of the post-cold war order, that sense of the chess board locked in place, of incremental movement being the best-case scenario—the alternative being only war. His was a much simpler view: Who’s got the power? Give me his number. 

Trump has worked on the principle that the ‘enemy of the enemy is my friend’. Consequently in its simplest form his notion that Iran was the bad guy in the Middle East brought him into unquestioning support for Iran’s enemies. His lack of foreign power knowledge of relationships will be his downfall. This approach has given Russia an enormous amount of freedom in Eurasia and who knows where this will go.

We are going to see a lot of ‘prosecuting’ in the months ahead and all of this will only add to the hype around Trump and help books like this to sell. We must not forget that a key player in all the events around Trump has been Murdoch, at first opposed but later a friend and advisor. With friends like that, and advice from that quarter, we can expect trump to have plenty of wins in his attack on former friends.

This is a book that must be a significant artefact in the collection of Trump critiques. But the best book is yet to be written … after Trump slips into history.

oOo

 

 

 

 

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Is Prayer acceptable to progressives?

Richard Rohr has recently put this practice into focus and offers this viewpoint:

Practice: Praying Always

Prayer is not a transaction that somehow pleases God but a transformation of the consciousness of the one doing the praying. Prayer is the awakening of an inner dialogue that, from God’s side, has never ceased. This is why Paul could write of praying “always” (see 1 Thessalonians 5:17). Prayer is not changing God’s mind about us or about anything else, but allowing God to change our mind about the reality right in front of us (which we usually avoid or distort).

When we put on a different mind, heaven takes care of itself. In fact, it begins now. If we resort too exclusively to verbal, wordy prayers, we’ll remain stuck in our rational, dualistic minds and will not experience deep change at the level of consciousness. Prayer is sitting in the silence until it silences us, choosing gratitude until we are grateful, and praising God until we ourselves are an act of praise.

Jesus tells his disciples, “Be awake. Be alert. You do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, at midnight, at cock crow, or in the morning” (Mark 13:33-35). Jesus is not threatening, “You’d better do it right, or I’m going to get you.” He’s talking about the forever, eternal coming of Christ now . . . and now . . . and now. God’s judgment is always redemption. Christ is always coming. God is always present. It’s we who fall asleep.

Be ready. Be present to God in the here and now, the ordinary, the interruptions. Being fully present to the soul of all things will allow you to say, “This is good. This is enough. In fact, this is all I need.” You are now situated in the One Loving Gaze that unites all things in universal attraction and appreciation. We are practicing for heaven. Why wait for heaven when you can enjoy the Divine Flow in every moment, in everyone?

oOo

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Love wins over guilt any day

With a new year about to happen, it is good to reflect on our experiences of the old year and look to the future. This reflection from Richard Rohr is pertinent:

When Things Fall Apart
Friday, December 29, 2017

The word change normally refers to new beginnings. But transformation more often happens not when something new begins but when something old falls apart. The pain of something old falling apart—disruption and chaos—invites the soul to listen at a deeper level. It invites and sometimes forces the soul to go to a new place because the old place is not working anymore. The mystics use many words to describe this chaos: fire, darkness, death, emptiness, abandonment, trial, the Evil One. Whatever it is, it does not feel good and it does not feel like God. We will do anything to keep the old thing from falling apart.
This is when we need patience, guidance, and the freedom to let go instead of tightening our controls and certitudes. Perhaps Jesus is describing this phenomenon when he says, “It is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:14). Not accidentally, he mentions this narrow road right after teaching the Golden Rule. Jesus knows how much letting go it takes to “treat others as you would like them to treat you” (7:12).

Transformation usually includes a disconcerting reorientation. Change can either help people to find a new meaning, or it can cause people to close down and turn bitter. The difference is determined by the quality of our inner life, or what we call “spirituality.” Change of itself just happens; spiritual transformation is an active process of letting go, living in the confusing dark space for a while, and allowing yourself to be spit up on a new and unexpected shore. You can see why Jonah in the belly of the whale is such an important symbol for many Jews and Christians.

In the moments of insecurity and crisis, “shoulds” and “oughts” don’t really help; they just increase the shame, guilt, pressure, and likelihood of backsliding. It’s the deep “yeses” that carry you through. Focusing on something you absolutely believe in, that you’re committed to, will help you wait it out.

Love wins over guilt any day. It is sad that we settle for the short-run effectiveness of shaming people instead of the long-term life benefits of grace-filled transformation. But we are a culture of progress and efficiency, impatient with gradual growth. God’s way of restoring things interiorly is much more patient—and finally more effective. God lets Jonah run in the wrong direction, until this reluctant prophet finds a long, painful, circuitous path to get back where he needs to be—in spite of himself! Looking in your own “rear-view mirror” can fill you with gratitude for God’s work in your life.

Wishing all our subscribers to the UCFORUM a peaceful and contented New Year.

oOo

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Fundamentalism is a new phenomenon

Writing in the October 2017 edition of New Scientist, Philip Ball argues that “today’s religious fundamentalism that denies evolution and Earth’s age is a peculiarly modern delusion”. Ball is a science writer and author of Curiosity: How science became interested in everything.

Ball asks “Did the religious revolution 500 years ago clear the way for the scientific revolution?”

In part it did.

Four years after nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg castle church, Luther defended his strong movement of conscience to the 1521 Diet of Worms. Much bolder than Galileo’s weak defence of astronomy, Luther’s challenge to the authority of the Church in Rome contributed to the liberating of an enlightenment in scientific thinking that would not be held back any more.

Ball’s argument is supported by John Henry historian of science at the University of Edinburgh, UK. The Protestant Reformation opened the door to thinking outside the Bible. Robert Merton, in 1938, fuelled the idea of the Reformation opening up scientific thinking. he pointed out how Puritanism, an English strand of the protestant movement, fostered the work of Newton, Boyle, Hooke and others.

Pure reason, mathematics and measurement became the tools for understanding the world.

The notion that Catholic dogma was putting a brake on science is a myth based on the misconception that science and religious belief are enemies. Ball highlights the many scientific challenges promoted from inside the Church from the 1400s. Early Protestantism was not exactly ‘progressive’ on science either with Luther calling Copernicus a fool.

The forces for change are more complicated than sometimes reported – with numerous reformations with different origins occurring across Europe in the 16th Century. But one thing aided all of these reformations – the growth of the printing press. At the same time as reformers such as Calvin and Luther were evolving, so too were their reactionaries and it is too big a claim to say science progressed only because of the reformation.

When Galileo asserted that the Bible was not a book of natural philosophy, this viewpoint was not criticised as it would be today by a large section of the Church. 16th Century theology and Church teaching did not dwell on belief in the creation myth so much as how humankind should give God appropriate precedence in all things on Earth. That form of fundamental interpretation was left to a later age.

oOo

 

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The search for the real Jesus continues

The December 2017 edition of National Geographic challenges skeptics about the existence of JC while attempting a fact vs fiction review of who he was. Author, Kristin Romey, herself an archaeologist, highlights the work of contemporary archaeology that throws new light on the man Jesus.

The difficulty of finding traces of proof for a person who lived 2000 years ago is acknowledged. The New testament texts, especially the Gospels (despite their divergent reports) remain as preeminent sources while being openly debated.

Tradition and archaeology inform each other in this search. Serious archaeology in the Holy Land is only 150 years old and has made shifts in perspectives in that time. Despite the emergence of some scholarly arguments against the existence of JC, few mainstream scholars today challenge his existence.

John Dominic Crossan, former priest and co-chair of the Jesus Seminar, supports the ‘existence’ arguments. However, stories of his miraculous deeds need considerable re-thinking.

Scholars who study Jesus divide into two opposing camps separated by a very bright line: those who believe the wonder-working Jesus of the Gospels is the real Jesus, and those who think the real Jesus – the man who inspired the myth – hides below the surface of the Gospels and must be revealed by historical research and literary analysis. Both camps claim archaeology as their ally, leading to some fractious debates and strange bedfellows. (Romey)

Archaeologists have succeeded in showing the influence of Rome’s first Christian Emperor, Constantine, in developing the ‘church’ in his building and organisational influence. But proof of links between Bethlehem and the Nativity are scant. Once again Constantine in the 4th Century was responsible for identification and veneration of key sites in the Holy Land. What credence can we give to this?

However, the search for Jesus has produced more evidence in Galilee which had been subjugated by Rome 60 years before the birth of Jesus. John Dominic Crossan’s The Historical Jesus in 1991, presented an influential thesis inspired by new archaeological discoveries that Galilee, more urbanised and Jewish than at first understood, had a more significant role in Jesus’ formation than previously thought. He argued that Jesus was a wandering sage, living a counter cultural lifestyle, and challenging the old rules of cleanliness and wealth and status seeking.

Romey’s article goes on to explain how recent (late 20th Century) digs have brought to light evidence for homage to Jesus in the first century homes and meeting places. Similarly, the discovery of a boat, a synagogue and the Magdala Stone from the time of Jesus have only enhanced the speculation about the real Jesus.

But it is in Jerusalem that many lines of evidence attest to the way Jesus died and this is also more consistently reported in the Gospels.

For progressive Christians this search for evidence is important to having a better understanding of Jesus, his life and teaching. The integrity of the arguments are important to following a man of substance and applying his principles personally.

oOo

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CIFS helps with cult advice

CIFS is a non-profit association, founded in 1996 by a small group of parents whose children were recruited into cults.
Supporting each other in similar situations soon led to a greater understanding of the common practices and thought reform used in all harmful groups, and the damaging after-effects on those who leave these groups.

CIFS soon grew in numbers to include former members, friends, families and individuals working together to increase awareness and educate the public regarding the potential dangers of becoming involved in cults.

Cult Information and Family Support has grown to be at the forefront nationally in offering support and information to people affected by cults and cultic relationships.

CIFS advocates to have stronger laws enacted by policy makers to protect Australian citizens from the untold harm these groups inflict on individuals families and our society.

For more information go to: CIFS

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Cults grow in an uncritical environment

ABC News reports on a cult making its way in Australia.

Providence is a religious group founded in 1978 in South Korea by Jeong Myeong-seok. A self-proclaimed Messiah who sometimes refers to himself as Pastor Joshua, he is a former “Moonie” or follower of the late Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church.

The group also goes by other names including Jesus Morning Star (JMS, which also happens to be the initials of the founder’s name), Christian Gospel Mission and The Bright Moon Church.

Headquartered in South Korea, Providence claims to have 300 affiliated churches and more than 100,000 followers in its home base. The group also boasts a worldwide following of over 10,000 and operates in a number of other countries including Australia, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, South Africa, Japan and Taiwan.

Providence was set up in Australia in 1997 and has established branches in major cities including Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Canberra.

for more on this go to: The bizarre world of Providence cult

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Recommended reading: God is Near: Trusting our Faith

Michael Morwood, author of Tomorrow’s Catholic and Is Jesus God? speaks to progressive Christians in a voice that is easy to understand, that resonates with their experiences and offers hope and encouragement to critical thinkers.

Michael calls on the reader to ask themselves some serious questions about how their faith or thinking about faith was shaped. How did the reader get to their current world view? The key question is: How is it that our Christian faith, which should be a privilege for us and a source of great peace and encouragement, is experienced by many Christians as a burden, as something restrictive, and, as such, is rejected?

This book can be used for personal or group study. It is structured in a way that the reader can interrogate the issues and question oneself along the way. Each chapter has a useful summary.

Chapter Topics:

  1. The God who is near to us
  2. Jesus: Revealer of the nearness of God
  3. The Eucharist: How close really is!
  4. The Church: called to be witness of God’s presence
  5. Prayer: Deepening our awareness of God’s nearness.

oOo

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Climate Change Action Group

As reported in a recent post, the ARRCC group led by St John’s Cathedral Dean, Rev Peter Catt, issued a media statement to the gathered media in the grounds of the Cathedral on 20th November 2017.

Faith Leaders Climate Statement November 2017

Dear Queensland Premier and Leader of the Opposition And Prime Minister and Leader of the Federal Opposition, We are from diverse faith traditions in Queensland including the Anglican Church, Catholic Church, Jewish faith, Pagan Tradition, Unitarian Universalists, Uniting Church, Quakers, and inter-faith and cultural organisations. As leaders in our faith communities, we feel compelled to challenge Queensland’s proposal to assist and partner with the Adani Group to develop the Carmichael Mine in the Galilee Basin because of the effect the resulting carbon emissions will have on our climate, our economy, the world’s poor and the environment. With global warming being a threat to the viability of our agricultural and tourism industries, our marine life, and the wildlife in this beautiful State, it seems unconscionable that any current or future Queensland government would make a development decision that puts all this at risk. We believe that people of goodwill must work together to reduce greenhouse gas pollution at emergency speed. Therefore, the development of the mine is unacceptable, as are all forms of government support, direct or indirect, for the mining, transport and shipping of fossil fuels.
We urge both governments to instead invest in renewable energy technology which will create far more employment opportunities than the proposed mine. We call on you to refuse approval for Northern Australia Infrastructure Funds to be used to build the railway line for the Adani mine. We plead with you on behalf of our fellow Queenslanders and Australians, for the members of our faith groups, for the millions of vulnerable people on earth, for future generations who have no say of their own, and for all of creation. Yours in peace Dr Paul Inglis – CEO UCFORUM – Uniting Church Peter Arndt – Executive Officer, Catholic Justice & Peace Commission of Brisbane Heather Abramson – Abramson Educational Consulting and member of the Jewish Community Dr Rose Elu – Anglican Torres Strait Islander Community Dr Brian Adams – Director, Centre for Interfaith & Cultural Dialogue, Griffith University Renee Hills – Brisbane Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Linda Ward – Pagan Tradition Dean Peter Catt – St John’s Anglican Cathedral The Rev’d Peter Moore – Chair, Angligreen Taisoo Kim Watson – Quakers Duncan Frewin – Quakers The Rev’d Dr Jo Inkpin – St Francis Theological College, Anglican Church The Rev’d Murray Fysh, Merthyr Rd Uniting Church, New Farm The Rev’d Bruce Boase – Member of the National Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Anglican Commission Queensland Churches Environmental Network.The Statement released at that gathering:

Another statement had been issued previously from the Council of the Union for Progressive Judaism:

STOP ADANI – STOP USING PUBLIC FUNDS FOR FOSSIL FUELS
PRESS RELEASE 15th November 2017

The Council of Progressive Rabbis of Australia and the Council of Masorti Rabbis of Australia oppose the development of the Carmichael Mine in the Galilee Basin by the Adani Group because of the devastating effect the resulting carbon emissions will have on our environment, and the subsequent risks to our World Heritage Great Barrier Reef.
It is unconscionable for the current or any future government to use public funds, services or loans to support the promotion of fossil fuels.
We urge governments to increase investment in renewable energy technology which will create cleaner and safer employment opportunities.

Further information: Rabbi Jonathan Keren-Black, Environmental Advisor to the Rabbinic Council of the Union for Progressive Judaism. 0417 104987

oOo

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Thanks and a Reflection from Hal Taussig

Professor Hal Taussig has written to us expressing his thanks for a very pleasant and productive time in Australia and New Zealand:

Dear Paul–
Well the whirlwind of 25 lectures in ten different cities and towns has just ended, and with it just in the rear-view mirror, I am writing to tell you how much your wonderful hospitality meant to me during my time with you. Thank you so much.
The whole event ended up being quite meaningful to me and was received very well. Since you are one of my official hosts, I am attaching a two page reflection on the whole time and an overall thanks to all of my direct hosts. I thought you might like to know how our time together related to the rest of the work I did in these two countries. Let me know what you think.
Again many thanks to you, and here’s hoping we meet again.
Hal

November 9, 2017
Dear Colleagues and Conversation Partners in Australia and New Zealand—
Yesterday I finished my 25th lecture or reflection to groups of people in your two countries since I arrived on October 5. So it’s finished, and I am writing first to thank you and second to report to you on how the whole process looks to me.
Here are the primary expressions of my gratitude to you. First, your deep, genuine, labor-intensive, and personal hospitality to me. I was new to this part of the world and far away from home, and you all made me feel at home and cared for. Second, even though we did not really know each other at all, you were individually, but even more importantly, collectively deeply open in our exchanges. I could feel your heart-strings loosen, your minds brighten and think energetically, and our wheels turn together as we worked on important issues. This was consistently very moving for me, and a great gift from you. Thirdly, thanks for your two (quite different) nations and all that is in flowing in your respective national gifts and graces. I did not know what I was in for on this trip, and come away wonderfully alive and thankful to all of you. Continue reading

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Is the Sea of Faith Rising?


Radio National (ABC)
recent broadcast (Sunday 26 November 2017 6:05PM) is available for download here.

The Sea of Faith, an international organisation of ‘progressive Christians’, takes its name from the famous poem Dover Beach about the ebbing of faith. But today’s SOF members entertain new developments in Christianity, including the New New Testament, incorporating ancient documents that were excluded from the canon, edited by Hal Taussig.
Image: Sir Lloyd Geering addressing the SOF in NZ (RK)

The founder of the SOF in New Zealand, Lloyd Geering, was charged with heresy, as was Hal Taussig, many years later. Are they heretics or reformers?
Image: Rev Hal Taussig, United Methodist Church of America (UMC)

Recorded at the Sea of Faith conference in New Zealand; includes members Margaret Rushbrook from north of Wellington and Patricia Crompton of Christchurch.

For more information or to join SOF contact Rodney Eivers.

oOo

 

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Friendship in the Presence of Difference – Study Guide

 

 

 

A new Study Guide is now available for people to think about forging friendships with people of other faiths.

The Study Guide has been prepared by the UCA Assembly Relations with Other Faiths Working Group which includes UCFORUM member Rev Heather Griffin.

The study guide can be obtained online for free from Heather or by downloading from The Assembly site.

The intention of this Study Guide is to open a conversation about the increasing religious diversity in Australia and how we understand our Christian identity in this context. It is also an opportunity to explore how we might respond to the use of violence or fear based on religious difference. As people of God, called to share in Christ’s love, the best way to overcome such messages of fear and hate is by building friendships with people of other faiths. The Study is based on the paper, Friendship in the Presence of Difference: Christian Witness in Multi-faith Australia , received at the 13th Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia in July 2012. The word “friendship” was chosen purposely. It underlines the Gospel call to love our neighbours regardless of our differences and to live with the people around us as “friends”. Genuine interfaith friendship embraces difference rather than allowing difference to create division and distrust. Through this Study, we learn that to live peacefully in the presence of difference is to also be renewed and transformed in our own Christian faith. Friendship in the Presence of Difference is an update to the document Living with the Neighbour who is Different adopted by the Assembly in 2000. These two documents offer guiding principles for the Uniting Church’s relationship with people of other faiths. The Study Guide examines the changed landscape of religion in Australia and the ongoing development in our Christian understanding of how we relate to different faiths.

oOo

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NCCA and the Stop Adani Coal Campaign

The National Council of Churches in Australia

After the recent news in relation to the Commonwealth Bank what are the next steps in this campaign?

People of faith are encouraged to join in the conversations in Summits being held in various locations around the country.

Stop Adani Summits
Since March over 160 local #StopAdani groups have formed right across the country from Cairns to Castlemaine, Perth to Parramatta. The campaign is moving quickly and opponents are still pushing forward, now is the time to come together

The #StopAdani Summits are gatherings which give us a chance to:

  • Meet and connect with others in your community taking action to #StopAdani,
    Hear an update on the state of play, from the politics to the finance and more,
    Share stories, resources and plans to make our movement powerful and coordinated.

Lobbying Federal MP
Faith leaders have been busy keeping the pressure on Federal Minister for the Environment and Energy, Josh Frydenberg. On Friday 25 July an interfaith group protested outside his office in Melbourne. A number of faith leaders met with the Minister on the 3 August, including the NCCA President, Bishop Philip Huggins.

See a further post below, about the ARRCC Media Alert to be presented from St John’S Cathedral next Monday. This will target the Queensland election campaigns.

oOo

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The Voice of Australian Christianity

Are you fed up with ACL speaking for ‘Australian Christians’? This amazing assumption has been given the boot by many of the mainstream church leaders and now a member of  A Progressive Christian Voice (Australia) Inc has started a tweet dispersal to challenge this thinking:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

oOo

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A Multi-faith Climate Statement presented in Brisbane

ARRCC Media Alert

Can you come on Monday 20th November, around 9 am to St John’s Cathedral, 373 Ann St, Brisbane City to be present when our climate change statement to the Queensland Government is released at a media event?

Climate Change Statment
Our statement is complete. We have 10 signatories. Rev Peter Catt can accept signatures until COB Friday 17th November. The list on the letter will be updated and corrected at that time. If you or someone you know would like to be a signatory, please contact Peter at pcatt@stjohnscathedral.com.au. It would be great to have some more signatures. Please note that a signatory does not have to be the head of Church/Faith Group. They can be any ordained/Lay person who is seen as a leader in that faith community.

The statement will become available on Monday 20th November.

Media Event
A wide range of media will be invited prior to the statement release on Monday 20th at 9.30 am but we’d like you to come earlier so that we can be organised. We need as many people as possible to come (with placard if you wish – similar to what we had at the Gathering along the lines of Energy Innovation; Not Earth Desecration), Save the Planet, etc, AND some STOP ADANI posters, T-shirts.

Wear smart casual clothing or religious garb and symbols if appropriate. We need a strong visual presence.

The event will be held in the grassed courtyard adjacent to the Cathedral, away from the street noise. If it’s raining, we will move into a room in the Cathedral.

The media event is due to begin at 9.30 am.

Please RSVP to me if you can come.

Warm regards,

Renee Hills

PS. Paul Inglis will represent the UCFORUM at this gathering.

 

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The Reformation 500 years on…

In recent days there have been many events commemorating the 500 years since Luther ‘posted’ his 95 theses and disturbed the Church in a way that it could not ignore. But the Reformation Dinner organised by the ACTS group of Aspley Uniting Church was different. Inspirational, 86 year old, dynamic elder, political lobbyist, conscience pricker and entertaining author and speaker, Everald Compton MC’d the event.

Many progressives took up the invitation to the dinner which was limited to 160 people.

Uniting Church Moderator, David Baker, led the field of Church leaders who spoke. He drew a parallel between the ‘indulgences’ that placed the Church offside with moral thinkers of the 16th century and the ‘indulgences’ that operate in our contemporary market driven society. We still seek after unfulfilled promises of great personal outcomes by buying our comforts. He was followed by the Roman Catholic Archbishop, Mark Coleridge, who emphasised the complexity of the social and theological milieu in which the Church has evolved its teachings and the search for Jesus in all of this complexity. Anglican Archbishop, Phillip Aspinall, drew our attention to the unique place of the Anglican Church as it straddles both Catholic and Protestant elements in its makeup and the way it has, since the Reformation, attempted to find the ‘middle’ way for the Church.

These religious identities were complemented with Wayne Swan, former Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, Tracy Davis, State Member for Aspley, and John Herron, former Senator and Ambassador to the Holy See. Rev Sandra Jebb provided both opening and closing reflections.

An encouraging message was received from the Governor, Paul de Jersey who is currently in Israel for the Beersheba ceremonies.

This is the first event in a long term plan outlined by the Master of Ceremonies, Everald Compton, to address the crisis of credibility facing Christianity in society. It was a great start to an ambitious project… but Everald is noted for many ambitious projects and also for his many successes. Watch for the next stage in early 2018 – calling together of 500 leaders in our community to launch a new Reformation!

oOo

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Book Review: A New, New Testament by Hal Taussig

Subtitle: A Bible for the 21st Century – Combining Traditional and Newly Discovered Texts

Edited with commentary by Hal Taussig, with a Foreword by John Dominic Crossan.

Marcus Borg has described this book as “Important both historically and theologically. Readers will not be able to see the New Testament in the same way again”.

In autographing my copy, Hal said of his own work: Here’s to the powerful way the old and the new combine to help us grow.

So this combination of the traditional and newly discovered and analysed texts arriving a millennium and a half after the canon was settled for the New Testament will inevitably be threatening and intimidating to some but to many the beginning of a new and exciting journey of discovery about Jesus and his teachings.

A New New Testament contains amazing new material from the first century Christ movements and places this alongside the traditional texts. An eclectic mix of bishops, rabbis, well-known authors, leaders of national churches, and women and men from African American, Native American, and European American backgrounds have studied many of the recent discoveries from the first two centuries rigorously together, and chosen these new books.

The story of the discovery of the new books and bringing them into the light is a remarkable thing in itself and the story of the evolution of the traditional New Testament over 500 years helps the reader to understand why these new texts have not appeared sooner.

The new texts, like the traditional texts were all written between 50 and 175 CE, somewhere around the Mediterranean Sea, with similar themes and within certain realities of life. Like the traditional books, the new ones had a life of their own before they were added to the new New Testament.

The reader is helped through new texts (including The Gospels of Thomas, Mary, Truth, The Prayer of the Apostle Paul, the Odes of Solomon, and the Acts of Paul and Thecla) by a guide to reading the material and making sense of its chronological and thematic order. The reader is encouraged to read thoughtfully taking into account historical contexts. It is important to give thought also to who wrote each text and why. So it is a good book for personal reflection.

Expect to be surprised about the common material found in the old and the new, but most of all be excited about the the totally unique concepts and messages that we did not see in the traditional text. This is a book that provokes feelings and forces the reader to think about the nature of God, of Jesus’ mission and develops positive attitudes about the gift of learning we have in front of us.

Paul Inglis, 2nd November 2017.

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PCNQ does fellowship and discussion

Today’s gathering of PCNQ members at New Farm served two purposes – an opportunity for fellowship by progressive Christians and a chance to talk about the impact on each of us of the seminars led by Hal Taussig and Michael Morwood. Some people came because they missed the seminars and had heard about how good they were. So we were able to give them a taste of the topics. 

As this gathering came soon after several of our group attended the (New) Reformation Dinner at Geebung, the discussion also included reflections on what was a very interesting event.

PCNQ plans to have regular fellowship/discussion mornings (with great morning teas) to respond to the growing interest in conversations, literature, and developments in progressive Christianity. Also on their agenda is a desire to bring together all the progressive Christian groups of South East Queensland in an informal network of mutual support.

Watch out for future developments from this enthusiastic group by following this blog or the PCNQ FaceBook page – https://www.facebook.com/pcnqld/

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Reflecting on a very successful seven seminars

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As we look back over the last fortnight and the successful running of seven seminars in New Farm, Redcliffe, Buderim, Fortitude Valley and Caloundra, it is very pleasing to report that each seminar was unique and interesting and brought positive feedback.

Thank you to the team at PCNQ and each of the Explorers Groups that mounted the seminars. Thank you also to the hosts who billeted the speakers and kept our costs down.

It was a great challenge to offer two notable exponents of progressive Christianity, both organisationally and economically, but in the end it was worth it.

Professor Hal Taussig was starting a Common Dreams on the Road series in several States after doing the same in New Zealand as a build up to next years Common Dreams Conference in Sydney. Book sales and orders, especially for his A New New Testament were greater than we anticipated. Watch for a review of this book soon. We brought Michael Morwood from Perth after the incredibly good feedback we had about his presentations at Common Dreams 4 in Brisbane last year. Once again he achieved a very high standard of teaching and discussion. As organisers we were impressed with the way the two speakers who had never met set to work to integrate around common themes.

The PCNQ has resolved to continue meeting monthly at New Farm as a fellowship and discussion group. Watch for more news about this and for events at other Explorers groups.

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The last words – Harry T. Cook’s final essay

Testament by Harry T. Cook

10/11/17

NOTE: Harry T. Cook died Monday, October 9, 2017, following a three-year battle with prostate cancer. He wrote this essay in advance, anticipating a time when his disease would force him to retire. In fact, he published his last essay just three days before his death. You can read his obituary in the Detroit Free Press.

Circumstances dictate that this essay is to be the last in a series that began in April 2005 and now ends with this post. The magic of the Internet has garnered for these essays an international readership and response that has both surprised and pleased me.

The Readers Write feature that has followed each essay has been the best part as consumers of my prose have responded with critiques, complaints, praise and anger — just as it should have been.

Readers whom I did not know before the series began and have never yet met in person have become friends. They live in Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, South Africa, France, across Canada and in most of the United States. Their company I shall miss very much.

I have entitled this essay “Testament” because that is precisely how I mean it to be taken. The disease with which I was diagnosed within a week of my 75th birthday has come to call with the message that I am now on a path that will slow me down sufficiently that I could not do my work with the effort I insist on putting into it. As one who has always thought he wanted to quit while he was ahead, I am doing just that. Also, I have promises to keep with not quite as many miles as I hoped in which to keep them.

Meanwhile, I leave you with these somewhat random thoughts:

+ Love the English language and use it with respect and care. None of us is Shakespeare redivivus. Winston Churchill, H.L. Mencken and Graham Greene still stand alone with their Firsts in English composition. They should be our standard.

+ A question — and, indeed, its formulation — is likely to be more rewarding than straining to produce a quick answer. Inquiry, research and hypotheses tend to invite more thorough thoughtfulness — a supreme value in human relationships at any level. If you have never read the work of the late philosopher Richard Rorty and his take on what he termed “contingency,” now would be as good a time as any to do so.

+ Beware the politician who runs for office with an index finger pointed at those of an identifiable nationality or ethnic group whilst blaming the woes of the nation on them. Jews were long victims of such an evil, African Americans and Native Americans, as well. Mexicans and Muslims in recent times became targets of such calumny. Who needs a reprise of Nazism?

+ Resist the claims of absolute truth made by those who march under various religious banners. No one can possibly know what any possible deity wants or wills. Likewise, no one can encompass the whole truth about anything.

+ Conserve Earth, her atmosphere, her waterways and seas, her land, her creatures as good stewards would estates entrusted to their care and protection. One can lick away on an ice cream cone only so long before it disappears.

+ Help society understand that punitive incarceration in and of itself is cruel and unusual punishment. Justice is not served by putting people behind bars in violent environments. In the same spirit, help society understand that capital punishment is legalized murder, collective vengeance under the guise of doing justice.

+ Give all you can to encourage compassion for women who struggle to retain control of their own bodies where unwanted or dangerous pregnancies are concerned. Tell the anti-abortion zealots that, if they oppose the practice, they should take care not to submit to it.

+ At least once a year, listen to all six of J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerti (BWV 1046-1051) and overture to Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro (K. 492) as well as his Symphony No. 41, (K. 551), the Jupiter. Each one of them is guaranteed to bestow upon the listener both joy and profundity, mercifully tuning out the mindless cacophony that presses in on every side.

+ Above all, follow the wisdom offered by Hillel the Great more than two millennia ago: “What you hate, do not do to another.” The great sage must have known that such behavior as a habit runs contrary to nature. Also he must have believed that humankind could outdo nature. William Faulkner in his speech accepting the 1949 Nobel Prize in literature appeared to have shared Hillel’s optimism: I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. As a dear bishop friend was wont to say, “May it be so.”

Now an important credit: Susan Marie Chevalier, my loyal and loving wife of almost 38 years, made these essays not only possible but readable by crowding into her busy work schedule their editing and design.

Finally, this last flourish of defiance, taking the closing lines of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses as my own valedictory:

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are, —

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

 

 

Copyright 2017 Harry T. Cook. All rights reserved. This article may not be used or reproduced without proper credit.

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Join Everald Compton’s Celebration of 500 years since the Reformation

Aspley Uniting Church has taken up the suggestion of our good friend, philanthropist and church elder, Everald Compton to mark the occasion of the 500th anniversary of Luther’s declaration to the Church that big changes were essential for it to survive, with a dinner at which the Heads of Churches will briefly outline what the Reformation means to the Church today and tomorrow.

Like many insider observers, Everald recognizes that the time is right for a New Reformation, one that will re-instate the integrity and authenticity of the institutional Church as a pivotal player in our nation’s destiny. People of goodwill and commitment to the future church will gather for this event, which marks the beginning of a project that will evolve in the months ahead.

Robyn and I are keen to be there and participate in the development of this initiative. Everald has asked me to extend this invitation to subscribers to the UCFORUM of which he is one. I hope you will give this serious thought. Instead of RSVPing as advised in the Invitation below, please respond directly to Everald at 0407 721710 or by email here.

Rev. Sandra Jebb

ASPLEY UNITING CHURCH

is pleased to invite you to attend our REFORMATION DINNER

at GEEBUNG RSL CLUB  Newman Road, Geebung

on

TUESDAY, 31 OCTOBER, 2017 at 6.30pm for 7.00pm

to celebrate the 500th Anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses on the door of Wittenberg Cathedral.

Archbishop Mark Coleridge, Archbishop Phillip Aspinall and Moderator David Baker will speak on the meaning of the Reformation today.

There will be a charge of 50 dollars per person for food and drinks.

Any surplus funds will be donated to

“Aspley Caring Through Service” (ACTS)

our outreach program to people in need.

Please RSVP by email to – minister@aspleyuc.org.au

Or Phone the Church office 3263 9275.

Arrangements for payment will be advised

oOo

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Seminars update

Michael Morwood led an enthusiastic crowd from the Sunshine Coast and hinterland at our first seminar in the current series. Yesterday’s event at Caloundra Uniting Church focussed on Putting Exploration into Practice. Michael’s brilliant talent as a speaker and discussion facilitator was on show.

Exploring how we think and talk about “the mystery in which the universe is bathed”, the discussion picked up on much of the wonderful material that Michael introduced to the Common Dreams Conference in Brisbane in 2016 and delved deeply into our understandings of a progressive and relevant faith.

Great crowd – great event! Congratulations to the Caloundra Explorers.

The program continues over the next two weeks:

Monday 2nd October – 6.30 to 8.30pm – Redcliffe – Michael Morwood “Articulating a 21st century Christian Spirituality”.

Wednesday 4th October – from 7pm – Holy Trinity Church, Fortitude Valley – Michael Morwood “God and Jesus through a 21st Century Lens”.

Saturday 7th October – 9am to 3.30pm – Merthyr Uniting Church, New Farm – Hal Taussig and Michael Morwood – “Christianity, 1st Century, Now, and in the Future”

Monday 9th October – 6pm – Buderim Tavern, Buderim – Hal Taussig – “Breaking Bread, Breaking Rules”.

Tuesday 10th October – from 7pm – Holy Trinity Church, Fortitude Valley – Hal Taussig – “What’s in and what’s out: Canon/Extra Canon/A New New Testament”

Bookings: If you have yet to book a place at one of these sessions please send an email to psinglis@westnet.com.au as soon as possible, and I will help you to negotiate the booking process.

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Registration for Morwood/Taussig Seminar at New Farm

REGISTRATION FORM

Merthyr Explorers and Progressive Christian Network Qld present:

 Christianity – 1st Century …. 21st Century …. what is the future?

7th October 2017       9 am to 3:30 pm

Merthyr Rd Uniting Church, 52 Merthyr Rd, New Farm

 Cost: $50 including morning tea

BYO lunch or order for $15 per person – pay on the day

Name: ____________________________________________________________________________________

Email: ____________________________________________________________________________________

Phone: ______________________________Dietary requirements_____________________________

(  ) Payment Enclosed for _____­­­____ registrations: $___________     (cheques or money orders made out to Progressive  Christian Network Qld)

(  ) Payment for __________ registrations of $ ___________ has been paid by bank transfer (please post or email registration information)

BSB: 638010     Acct no: 14431629

Acct name: Progressive Christianity Network Qld

Reference: Please use your surname as on this form as the reference.

Name/s of others for whom registration is being paid

Post registration to: PCNQ, PO Box 374 New Farm Q 4005

Or email to:  drgarn@bigpond.net.au

Enquiries: 0409 498 403

Registration closing date: Wed 4th October

I am planning to purchase catered lunch          Yes      No

Transport and Parking:

Small amount of off-street parking, plenty of on-street parking (no parking meters).

 

Bus route 196, Stop 13 (outside Venue). Bus leaves from Cultural Centre, outside City Hall in Adelaide St and in Brunswick St, Fortitude Valley.

 

Our guest speakers:

Professor Hal Taussig from USA

Michael Morwood from Western Australia

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Redcliffe seminar with Michael Morwood

Articulating a 21st Century Christian Spirituality

The Redcliffe Explorers Group has pleasure in inviting you to this talk by well-known Progressive Christian

Michael Morwood

Michael regularly lectures and conducts retreats and workshops in Australia, USA, Canada, Ireland and England on themes such as Re-Shaping Christian Thought and Imagination; Praying a New Story; Contemporary Christian Spirituality and Questions of Faith for Modern Christians. A retired Catholic priest, he has authored a number of international best-selling books, and was voted ’most popular speaker’ at the 4th International Common Dreams Conference in Brisbane last year.

Monday evening 2 October 2017 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.

Azure Blue Retirement Centre Common Room

91 Anzac Ave Redcliffe 4019

Cost: $5 (payable at the door)

Note: security gates are open between 6:30 and 6:55 p.m.

Please register by calling Ian Brown on 3284 3688 or 0419 513 723 or email Ian Brown

*This session has been subsidized by the Redcliffe Explorers to enable a reduced fee.

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Buderim Event with Hal Taussig

Breaking Rules Breaking Bread

Hal Taussig

Professor Hal Taussig is one of the leading theologians of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Hal has recently retired as Visiting Professor of New Testament at Union Theological Seminary, New York where he taught masters & doctoral level studies. He is Professor of Early Christianity at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia. Hal is co-chair of the Society of Biblical Literature’s Consultation on Greco-Roman meals, & on the steering committees of SBL’s Seminar on Modern Theories & Ancient Myths of Christian Origins.
Professor Taussig is a foundation fellow of the Westar Institute & participated in that Institute’s celebrated Jesus Seminar.
Among his 14 published books are A New New Testament: A Bible for the 21stCentury & Newly Discovered Texts (2013); A New Spiritual Home: Progressive Christianity at the Grass Roots (2006); & Re-imagining Life Together in America: A New Gospel of Community (2002).

A meal and conversation with Professor Hal Taussig

Monday October 9th, 6pm Buderim Tavern
81 Burnett St. Buderim $40 for dinner and talk (3 options for mains, plus dessert and tea/coffee) or $15 for the talk only.

Meal tickets available until midnight Friday October 6th.

Bookings essential: https://www.trybooking.com/RXTR

Talk only tickets can be purchased at the door.

Enquiries: Deborah Bird 0404 073 306 deborahtbird@gmail.com

A Common Dreams on the Road event – more information at
www.commondreams.org.au/index.php/events

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Bursary Applications for students of theology in 2018 close 30th October

UCFORUM and Fresh Steps in Faith Pty Ltd Bursaries

We have posted application forms and other material to students who expressed interest in receiving assistance with their study expenses at Trinity Theological College in Brisbane in 2018.

It is not too late to make an application. Closing date is 30th October 2017 and successful applicants will be advised after 30th November 2017.

Application forms are available from Dr Paul Inglis

We are pleased with the amount of interest in this offer of up to $5000 for graduate studies and up to $500 for short courses.

We also welcome expressions of interest for grants in 2019. We will advise these people when applications can be made formally.

The condition for receiving assistance is the provision of a short essay: “My Response to progressive Christianity”

Important Note: The personal position of the applicant in favour or against arguments presented in the field of progressive Christianity is welcome and will not be used as a determinant of acceptance for a bursary. The award will be based on evidence of understanding. The purpose of the awards is to equip more students to have an awareness of the growing interest within many congregations of critical scholarship in the field of progressive Christianity.

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Recommended: Two books on God

  1. “A History of God” by Karen Armstrong, author of “The Case for God”
  2. “God’s Human Future: the struggle to define theology today” by David Galston

1. A History of God

Karen Armstrong is one of the world’s leading commentators on religious affairs. She spent years as a Roman Catholic nun in the 1960s, but then left her teaching order in 1969 to read English at St Anne’s College, Oxford. In 1982, she became a fulltime writer and broadcaster. She is a best-selling author of over 15 books. An accomplished writer and passionate campaigner for religious liberty, Armstrong has addressed members of the United States Congress and the Senate, has participated in the World Economic Forum, and in 2005, was appointed by Kofi Annan to take part in the United Nations initiative ‘The Alliance of Civilisations’. In 2008 she was awarded the Franklin J Roosevelt Four Freedoms Medal for her work on religious liberty.

“Indeed, our current secularism is an entirely new experiment, unprecedented in human history. We have yet to see how it will work. It is also true to say that our Western liberal humanism is not something that comes naturally to us; like an appreciation of art and poetry, it has to be cultivated. Humanism is itself a religion without God – not all religions, of course are theistic. Our ethical secular ideal has its own disciplines of mind and heart and gives people the means of finding faith in the ultimate meaning of human life that were once provided by the more conventional religions” (Armstrong)

Her description of the 4000 year history of God from Abraham to the present day makes for easy and interesting reading and challenges at all points. She is both reverent and curious and ultimately discusses the question: Does God have a future? Which is the subject of our next text ….. This is a big book but held my interest all the way.

 

  1. God’s Human Future

David Galston is a University Chaplain and Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at Brock University in St Catharines, Ontario, Academic Director at Westar Institute, a regular speaker at the Quest Learning Centre, and academic adviser to the SnowStar Institute in Canada. He is the author of Embracing the Human Jesus: a wisdom path for contemporary Christianity (2012) and Archives and the Event of God: the impact of Michael Foucault on Philosophical Theology (2012).

“The Bible holds uncommon authority in Western history and everyone presumably needs to know at least a little bit about it for no other reason than to appreciate great Western literature like Shakespeare. Still, once the surface is scratched, it turns out that underneath the cultural level basic knowledge about the Bible is piecemeal, even among the well-educated and, more surprisingly, especially among Bible fundamentalists. Before it is possible to talk about God and the western tradition of theology, the presupposition of that tradition, which is the Bible and its authority, must be encountered. It is important to know all that we commonly do not know about the Bible.” (Galston)

One of the great strengths of this work is the careful way in which it explains how we got here and where the current state of our thinking is likely to take us. As history it is a very different view of theology from that taught in most mainstream colleges. It is great reading for the sceptical and the progressive thinker. Galston managed to cheer me on rather than paint the depressing picture of human futures. There is a level of liberation in this book that justifies reading and re-reading it.

“We call something that is challenging, playful, and creative a work of art. In religion, we call it a parable. As a theology we can call it one of joy.” (Galston)

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Seminars in SE Queensland

Hal Taussig and Michael Morwood

The following program is now confirmed:

Saturday 30th September – Michael Morwood full day program at Caloundra Uniting Church For details – contact John Everall

Monday 2nd October – Michael Morwood evening program at Redcliffe Azure Blue (UCA Village). For details – contact Ian Brown

Wednesday 4th October – Michael Morwood evening program at Holy Trinity Church, Fortitude Valley – contact Steven Ogden

Saturday 7th October – combined one day program with Hal Taussig and Michael Morwood at New Farm (Merthyr Road Uniting Church)  [See next post for details] – contact Desley Garnett 

Monday 9th October – Hal Taussig evening program at Sunshine Coast.                                    For details – contact Deborah Bird

Tuesday 10th  October – Hal Taussig evening program at Holy Trinity Church, Fortitude Valley   For details – contact Steven Ogden

We are currently identifying transport, accommodation, cultural and hospitality opportunities for Hal and Michael.

Watch for further updates on this program.

oOo

 

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Diary marker: 7th October at New Farm.

“Christianity .….

1st Century…..
Now…..
In the future”

Speakers:

Prof Hal Taussig,

Bio – Hal Taussig has just retired from a seventeen year tenure as professor of New testament and Early Christianity at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York where his teaching ranged widely through the New Testament and recent new documents discovered from the Christ communities of the first and second centuries. Continue reading

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Recommended reading – The Book of Common Prayer: a biography

by Alan Jacobs – Distinguished Professor of the Humanities in the Honors Program at Baylor University.

Publisher: Princeton.

I found this little text in a book shop in rural Queensland! It is a gem that tells the full story of the evolution of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.

The BCP has had an enormous influence on the evolution of church, prayer, doctrine and church and national politics in the most post reformation churches.

The book’s chief make, Thomas Cranmer, created it as the authoritative manual of Christian worship throughout England. It has been the focus of celebrations, protest and even jail terms.

Many forms have been developed to serve English speaking nations, wherever the British Empire extended its arms.

“From pious aspirations to ruthless politics, and from bonfires of hated communion rails to the Star Wars prayer, the history of the Book of Common Prayer, in Alan Jacob’s hands, is both an education and a bright panorama. I can hardly remember another read so swift yet at the same time so helpful.” Sarah Ruden, author of  Paul Among the People: The Apostle Reinterpreted and Reimagined in His Won Time.

Few texts have had as much influence on the language, culture and religious life of English-speaking nations as the Book of Common Prayer. Alan Jacobs masterfully distills its history with a poetic touch that is at once scholarly, reverential, and highly engaging. There is no better introduction or guide to the Book of Common Prayer than this one.” Carlos Eire, author of A Very Brief History of Eternity.

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Common Dreams preparing for Sydney in July 2019….

Common Dreams on the Road 2017 …. coming your way (perhaps!) soon:
You will be interested to know that Common Dreams has arranged for Professor Hal Taussig, one of the leading theologians of the late 20th & early 21st centuries, to tour Australia & New Zealand in October & November this year under the Common Dreams on the Road banner.

Hal has recently retired as Professor of New Testament at Union Theological Seminary where from 1998 he taught masters & doctoral level studies. He is also Professor of Early Christianity at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia. He has also retired from 30+ years as a United Methodist pastor & now is specially assigned by his bishop as a consultant to local congregations. Hal is co-chair of the Society of Biblical Literature’s Consultation on Greco-Roman meals, & on the steering committees of SBL’s Seminar on Modern Theories & Ancient Myths of Christian Origins and the Greco-Roman Meals Consultation.

Professor Taussig is a foundation fellow of the Westar Institute & participated in that Institute’s celebrated Jesus Seminar. He is currently co-chair of Westar’s Christianity Seminar. Among his 14 published books are A New New Testament: A Bible for the 21st Century & Newly Discovered Texts (2013); A New Spiritual Home: Progressive Christianity at the Grass Roots (2006); & Re-imagining Life Together in America: A New Gospel of Community (2002).
While in Australia Hal will visit SE Queensland, Sydney, Perth, Albany/Denmark, & Melbourne. The New Zealand segment includes events in Auckland & Wellington and at the Sea of Faith conference. Details of the dates he will be in each centre & the local contacts for enquiries are:
SE Queensland: 5 – 11 October. Contact Paul Inglis, psinglis@westnet.com.au
Sydney: 11 – 18 October. Contact, Margaret Mayman, m.mayman@gmail.com
Perth & Esperance: 18 – 25 October. Perth contact Richard Smith, richbert@it.net.au . Esperance Contact Elizabeth Burns, elizabeth.burns@bigpond.com
Melbourne: 25 – 29 October. Contact info@pcnvictoria.org.au or (03) 9571 4575
Auckland: 29 October – 2 November. Contact Glynn Cardy, glynn@stlukes.org.nz
Wellington: 3 – 5 November. Contact Susan Jones, minister@standrews.org.nz
Sea of Faith: 6 – 7 November. Contact Adrian Skelton, adrian.skelton@gmail.com

Don’t miss the opportunity to hear this remarkable progressive thinker & speaker.

Common Dreams 2019

This is long range advice that the fifth Common Dreams conference will be held in Sydney on either 4 – 7 July or 11 – 14 July (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. Formerly a member of the Dominican Order within the Roman Catholic Church, he incurred the ire of the then Cardinal Ratzinger which led to his eventual expulsion from the Catholic Church after which he became a member of the Episcopal Church. Fox was an early and influential exponent of a movement that came to be known as Creation Spirituality. The movement draws inspiration from (though diverges doctrinally from) the mystical philosophies of such medieval Catholic visionaries as Hildegard of Bingen, Thomas Aquinas, Saint Francis of Assisi, Julian of Norwich, Dante Alighieri, Meister Eckhart and Nicholas of Cusa, as well as the wisdom traditions of Christian scriptures. Creation Spirituality is also strongly aligned with ecological and environmental movements of the late 20th century and embraces numerous spiritual traditions around the world, including Buddhism, Judaism, Sufism, and Native American spirituality, with a focus on “deep ecumenism”.

Make a note in your diary & plan to attend what will prove to be another exciting & stimulating gathering of progressives featuring leading international, Australian, & New Zealand speakers & workshop leaders.

Dick Carter, Melbourne.

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Reflection from Noel Preston: 50 year evolution of his perspective

Congratulations to Noel and others who are celebrating 50 years since their ordination. A great opportunity to look back on the influences upon his life and the development of his current progressive thinking. A good read giving insights into local and international developments that helped produce new thinking.

NOEL PRESTON REFLECTS

A SHORT PROLOGUE: THESE FIFTY YEARS (1967 – 2017)

 2017  marks many anniversaries.

 Fifty years ago, in 1967, the seeds of the turbulent sixties were coming to fruition. Multi-factors  triggered these social changes: the gross mistake of military incursion in Vietnam,  the sexual revolution, the civil rights struggle in the USA or the major shifts in academic debates which even made respectable the idea that “God Is Dead”. Late in 1967 on December 3, an amazing medical landmark was reached – the first human heart transplant was performed by the South African surgeon, Dr Christiaan Barnard. It was around the same time that Australia’s Prime Minister, Harold Holt, disappeared in the surf at Portsea, Victoria. As citizens we followed the grisly search on our black and white TVs. Earlier in the year a more grotesque demise was the hanging of Ronald Ryan in the dawn of February 3 at Melbourne’s Pentridge Gaol. Thankfully, Ryan’s execution was the last such capital punishment in Australia. There are other milestones from 1967: for instance, the Seekers were Australians of the Year and Gough Whitlam became Leader of the Federal Labour Party. Most momentous of anniversaries  in Australia was the overwhelming vote of Australians  on May 27, 1967, which opened the way for a constitutional change, resulting  finally in the inclusion  of  First Australians in the population count and granting the  Commonwealth power to legislate on behalf of indigenous Australians.

Another anniversary of major historical significance to the Western World is marked for All Saints’ Day in 2017. Then,  it will 500 years since Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the  door of the Castle church in Wittenberg, initiating a Reformation which, following the Renaissance,  transformed  Western culture and  the shape of Christendom.  Luther’s action and subsequent events crossed a threshold toward the movement historians now call modernity. It was a protest  congruent with the mood of rising nationalism and the emerging philosophical emphasis on the rights of the individual. Some might argue in this “semi-millenium” that 2017 should be celebrated as the death of Protestantism. Others might prefer to understand the present era  as a departure point for the Christian churches of  Protestantism to be revived beyond the recognition of  founders,  Luther, Calvin, Knox and Wesley. From my  perspective, I am convinced that I have lived through the death of the Protestant movement which can be traced back to Luther’s actions and the revolt against Rome which spread across northern Europe.   In multicultural societies like Australia, those who represent religion, as well as those who wish to find an authentic spirituality, must now make their way in a society dominated by secularism and post-modern cultural manifestations where science and its technological offspring shape the way we live and, to a great extent, what we believe.

Continue reading

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Progressives tell of their re-think on faith

An unsolicited viewpoint:

Hello, I’m sitting with my wife, Debbie, in our living room here in Pakse, Laos, reading through various websites on Progressive Christianity. I’m looking for a group/community to become part of, as it has been a challenge being a Progressive Christian for the past 3 years.

We’re from Perth and volunteer with Australian Volunteers in S.E. Asia. Formerly missionaries for 11 years and pastor I have now studied, listened and read too much about the origins of my faith to be able to return to what I believed before. As a result it has been a somewhat lonely journey with a few “heretic” accusations from some of our mostly Evangelical friendship base.

I have written a story of my changes in a blog, www.changedbeliefs.blogspot.com

Any way would be interested to join your group.

Cheers

Albert Gentleman

Rural Development Advisor
Program Consultant
English Teacher
Pakse, Laos
+856 020 55099593
Skype: adgentle

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Its time for a free vote in parliament

Media Release from A Progressive Christian Voice (Australia)

1st August 2017

Progressive Christians Welcome Move Towards Free Vote on Marriage Equality

President of A  Progressive Christian Voice (Australia) (APCVA), Dean Peter Catt, has welcomed the call by LNP members of Parliament for a free vote on Marriage Equality.
‘This vote is long overdue’, Dr Catt said.
‘Most Australians are in favour of marriage equality.
‘This includes the majority of Christians.
‘A free vote should happen as soon as possible as it makes no sense to withhold marriage from
sexuality and gender diverse people any longer.
‘The time is here and all we need is for the politicians to step up to the plate and do what they are there to do,’ Dr Catt said.
Dr Catt is available for interview on phone … 0404 052 494

For a link to APCV news:

Progressive Christians Welcome Move Towards Free Vote on Marriage Equality

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Small is good

Robyn and I are on a seven week caravan tour of Central and Far North Queensland. We are intentionally visiting ‘small’ Uniting and Anglican churches because of our wonderful experience at Dayboro. We have not been disappointed. They usually demonstrate:

  • great commitment by the whole congregation
  • closeness to their communities
  • a desire to maintain the pioneering spirit of their founders
  • people who are living out the challenging life of the outback or small towns
  • wonderfully friendly and great conversationalists
  • morning teas to die for!

Today was no exception as we dropped into the service at St Mark’s Yungaburra, the smallest church on the Atherton Tableland, built in 1912 and determined to be here in another 100 years.

The conversations resonated with our own experiences, but they had more to tell us than we expected. The church in the Far North was founded in the boom years of gold, copper and tin in the late 19th Century and that boom had busted by 1910. Their survival can be attributed to a level of determination we long for today. In the case of St Mark’s the Bush Brotherhood were the drivers of the Jesus train through the Outback and this little church was one of their biggest supporters.

Best of all, for us, was the standard of preaching that raised important and critical questions about our following of the Jesus paradigm. We will have recorded seven of these experiences by the time we finish this tour. Go small churches…!

Paul Inglis, 6th August 2017.

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Book review: Christianity after Religion

The end of church and the birth of a new spiritual awakening

Diana Butler Bass

What is behind the great changes that are replacing traditional forms of faith with new ethical and areligious choices? Diana Butler Bass argues that we are at a critical stage in a completely new spiritual awakening and a wholly new kind of post-religious faith

This is a hope filled engagement with changes that are creating a fresh and authentic way of faith that stays true to the real message of Jesus.

In her typically provocative, well-informed and inspiring way Diana provides a range of essential questions, great insights and wise counsel about the future. She sees a new ‘Age of the Spirit’ dawning which brings both fear and hope. Her critical point is that faithful people should intentionally engage with the emerging issues and be part of the reform, renewal and re-imagination of traditions so that they make sense to contemporary people.

The trend to being multi-religious in outlook reflects the considered ‘choices’ that are replacing unquestioning ‘obligation’ and conformity. at the same time, more people consider themselves spiritual than religious. Many are dissatisfied with institutional religion and want to connect with with God , their neighbourhood and life in a more considered and personal way.

The resemblance of many denominations to corporations that have dominated life for the last century gives the impression of selling a ‘product’. This is a tough spiritual climate for them. Public trust in religious institutions has dropped dramatically in the last decade. Young people are leaving evangelical Christianity in droves. This is an age of choice. Diana sees this discontent as a gift. It is one short step from creating a better way of life, a better society, and a better world. Discontent reflects a longing for a better sort of Christianity, one that embodies Jesus’s teaching and life in a way that makes a real difference in the world. This calls for a return to pre-creedal church while calling for a more responsive and relevant church.

This ‘ great awakening’ is a call to human connectedness, economic equality, democracy, love of creation and spirituality. We need religion imbued with the spirit of shared humanity and hope, not religions that divide and further fracture the future.

Diana gives the last word to Dietrich Bonhoeffer whose prophetic voice from the mid-twentieth century offers:

There is a need for spiritual vitality. What protection is there against the danger of organisation? …. our relationship to God [is] not a religious relationship to a Supreme Being, absolute in power and goodness, which is a spurious conception of transcendence, but a new life for others, through participation in the Being of God. (Letters and Papers from Prison)

This review has not done justice to a wonderful book. There is much more that could be said about it. The reader will soon find that out. It is an important text and one which Brian McLaren expects and hopes will be the must-read church book for years to come.

Paul Inglis, July 2017

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Caloundra Explorers: August ‘Gathering’ – all welcome

CALOUNDRA EXPLORERS GROUP

              GATHERING    5pm.  – Sunday 20th AUGUST 2017

“WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF THE CHURCH AND RELIGION?”

How religious will the World be in 2050?

           V S      

 

 

 

 

Background: All around us rapid change is taking place.  How does the Church cope with all that is happening?   Is religion still evolving in the midst of this change or is it phasing out?        And, in the midst of this rapid change, the population of our World is increasing dramatically.

The number of Australians stating “no religion” in the Census has been increasing and now stands at 29.6%.     Is our society predominately secular and materialistic?

Does religion have a future in a Secular Age!!!

Our Leader this Gathering is Rev. Kevin Bachler: Kevin looks at this stark statistic and brings us into the reality of our current church trends.  We will be invited to explore the potential for us, that is, a group of broadly progressive, and certainly spiritual people.   We are part of that census statistic shown as “religious”.      What issues within our community will respond to the influence of these seemingly inescapable pressures accelerating around us.       “What future for religion – we ask?”       “And we discuss !”

YOUR  INVITATION.

Join with the Explorers and regional “Friends of the Explorers” as we meet at 5pm for our 20th August “Gathering” with a byo light meal and ‘progressive’ liturgy.  Explorers’ “Gatherings” maintain a safe environment and all views are respected. We encourage stimulating discussion and support each other on our individual “exploring journeys”.

Contact:  John Everall                            P: 0408624570  E: jjeverall@bigpond.com

                  Rev. Kevin Bachler               P. 5492 3420      E: kbachler@bigpond.net.au

                 Margaret Landbeck              P: 5438 2789    E: margaret.landbeck@bigpond.com

Where   :   Caloundra Uniting Church Hall           56 Queen Street    Caloundra.

  

A Faith And the Modern Era series                           

 

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Invitation to a book launch

‘IMAGINING THE CHURCH AS AN OPEN SPACE OF FREEDOM’

Book Launch

@ Holy Trinity

After the 6:00 pm Evensong at Holy Trinity Fortitude Valley on 20 August, join Trinity’s special guest, The Very Reverend Professor Martyn Percy

for the launch of The Reverend Dr Steven  Ogden’s  latest book

The Church, Authority and Foucault”.

Fork dinner to follow proudly sponsored by Holy Trinity’s Hospitality & Arts Consortium.

Please assist with catering: RSVP by Tuesday 15 August to admin@trinityvalley.org.au

or leave a voice message on (07) 3852 1635.

Sunday 20 August, 6 pm

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Coming seminars: an update

 

Many of our associated groups are preparing for the visit of Michael Morwood and Hal Taussig.

The dates and locations are still being settled on, and possibly more will emerge. We still have dates available for other venues. This is the picture to date:

 

Professor Hall Taussig:

Arrives in Brisbane – 5th October

7th October – Merthyr Uniting Church, New Farm – all day

9th October – St Marks Anglican Church – evening

10th October – Holy Trinity Anglican Church Fortitude Valley, Brisbane – evening

Departs Brisbane – 11th October

Michael Morwood:

Arrives Brisbane – to be confirmed

30th September – Caloundra Explorers (Uniting Church) – all day

2nd October – Redcliffe Explorers (Uniting Church) – at Azure Blue Residential – evening

4th October – Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Fortitude Valley, Brisbane – evening

7th October – Merthyr Uniting Church, New Farm – all day.

Departs Brisbane – to be confirmed.

Enquiries: Paul Inglis

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Muslims against terrorism – a presentation

From – Renee Hills, Brisbane Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

“The Queensland Iman of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association, Ahmed Nadeem will be presenting an ‘Introduction to Ahmadiyyat -True Islam and removing misconceptions’ during the Brisbane Unitarian Universalist Fellowship service this Sunday, 23rd July.  Ahmed Nadeem is Iman at a mosque at Jimboomba, Logan City.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim community is a a sect of Islam that rejects terrorism and violence of any kind. Members practice loyalty to the government of the country in which they are living and regularly undertake community service. For example during the March floods 50 members of the Logan Ahmadiyya Muslim Community joined the ‘Mud Army’ to help cleanup after Cyclone Debbie flooding in the Logan area.

Go to: Muslims help the Mud Army in Brisbane

The sect is ostracized and persecuted by other Muslims in many countries. There are approximately 4000 members living in Australia, many from Pakistan, with mosques in Queensland, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.

Ahmadiyya Public Relations spokesperson Ibraheem Malik said:

‘Thank you so much for giving us the opportunity to present the True Islam – which is just Peace, Love & Respect to all Humanity. We all have to stand up for any kind of evil and support goodness. Together we will be stronger & fight the evil and the people who tries to divide society for their personal gains.”

Please join us in welcoming members of this community to our Fellowship and feel free to invite other interested members of your networks to hear this presentation.

We meet at Brisbane Theosophical Society Rooms, 355 Wickham Terrace, Spring Hill at 10 am.”

Enquiries: Renee Hills

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Getting ready for our notable visitors – an update

Coming in just over two months time – Hal Taussig and Michael Morwood

The picture is starting to become clearer about the location and times for seminars in South East Queensland for Hal Taussig (left) and Michael Morwood (below).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Confirmed venues dates and times:

Michael Morwood

Caloundra Uniting Church Saturday 30 September – full day

Redcliffe Monday 2 October – 6.30pm – 8.30pm

Holy Trinity Fortitude Valley –– Wednesday 4 October – 7.30pm – 9.30pm

New Farm, Brisbane – Merthyr Road Uniting Church – Saturday 7th October – all day

(Subject to changes and additional venues)

Hal Taussig –

St Marks Buderim  to be advised

New Farm – Merthyr Road Uniting Church – Saturday 7th October – all day

Holy Trinity Fortitude Valley – Tuesday 10th October – 7.30pm – 9.30pm.

(Subject to changes and additional venues)

Note: The seminar on 7th October will include Michael and Hal in a series of presentations. More details on location of venues, all topics, ticket prices, programs and other details will be available soon.

Other groups wanting to engage either speaker at their venue should contact Paul Inglis as soon as possible.

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Opinion: ‘Grantchester’ and moral choices

Some recent commentary on the ABC TV program Grantchester has prompted us to post this opinion piece. Perhaps you have been watching this program. For Rodney Eivers it has been more than just a story….

I recently watched the final   episode of the television series, Grantchester (ABC TV)

[Incidently this program comes from the pen of James Runcie, son of a former Archbishop of Canterbury.]

I deliberately minimise my television viewing except for some ABC news and documentary programmes but usually because certain “family” nights occur at the weekends I have come to sit back and enjoy what generally turns out to be one or two British crime shoes on ABC TV.

I don’t pick and choose. Thus it came about that a recent show which I could not avoid turned out to be the series “Grantchester.” This features an Anglican clergyman who strikes up a friendship with a police detective. As usual with just about all popular TV shows there is a love theme with sexual tension running in the back ground.

So I continued to watch episodes of this show each week enjoying the story at face value. As time went on, though, I got caught up in the moral questions it raises.  The writers certainly know their Christian church culture, especially within the Church of England environment. The preaching is intelligent and related to the  struggles for human nature in being people of the Jesus way. It avoids both sanctimony and ridicule in evaluating a Christian life.

As the series drew to a close and certain catastrophes in personal relationships had to be unravelled I  feared that the self-centredness of erotic love would win out.

Although God as a concept is assumed, that presence is represented as something  of an internal struggle, an argument within oneself, as to what might be the priorities of a person committed to the Way.

It turned out in the end that I was happy with the way the writers wound up the story.

Although the tale focuses on sexual waywardness in relationships(after all that probably makes it more compelling for the general viewer) rather than the other “sins” which engage us, I think it paints a good story of what can go wrong and hopefully ultimately right.

This series has finished on ABC television for now but for those who like to ponder these things and may well have had their own struggles in human relationships I would make it recommended viewing if repeated or available on iView or DVD.

Rodney Eivers

 

 

 

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Earth Link Commentary/Review- Defiant Earth

DEFIANT EARTH

Our responsibility to care for Earth receives a new impetus from the recent publication of Defiant Earth  by Clive Hamilton, who is an ethicist at Charles Sturt University in Canberra.   He stresses that this is a new time in geological history, the Anthropocene, which he explains as a new geological epoch where “human imprint on the global environment has now become so large and active that it rivals some of the great forces in nature”.  A new science has emerged which studies the whole Earth system.  The data is emerging that humans are changing the course of Earth.  This is a time to acknowledge the rupture that we are causing, and stand in solidarity with Earth rather than continue our exploitation.  Earth is increasingly angry, and all species are vulnerable in the face of this new situation.
Rather than offering you a review of this book, I am providing you with a link to the blog page of Bishop George Browning who responds to this situation in way that you will probably find helpful.

Earth Link began in 2000 in Brisbane, and moved to “Four Winds” at Ocean View, which was its base until the end of 2011.  During that time, Earth Link developed programmes and conducted workshops, retreats and rituals in cosmology, ecospirituality, sense of place, sustainable living, permaculture, and property management.  These were held at “Four Winds” and at other venues.
 
Earth Link continues to facilitate deep bonding with the whole Earth community through  resourcing, reflecting and acting.  We do this by conducting events, responding to invitations, and through our e-newsletter and this website.  Earth Link has a library from which you can borrow for the cost of the postage.

Earth Link invites you to

  • Deepen your connection with nature, the cosmos, self and the Sacred
  • Nurture a spirituality that links Earth, humans and the Sacred
  • Act with concerned others on behalf of the whole Earth community

    For more from Earth Link go to: http://www.earth-link.org.au/

oOo

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Contemplative Gathering on ‘Acceptance’

Hosted by West End Uniting Church and West End Explorers

Sunday at 5:30 PM – 6:15 PM

Uniting Church West End

Vulture St, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Enquiries: Kris Maslin

Free Admission

 

Our guest, Lucy Lopez, will facilitate a guided contemplation on the theme ‘Acceptance’.

A bit about Lucy:
She has trained in MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, based on the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn) and has also trained in MBSM (Mindfulness Based Stillness Meditation) with Ian Gawler, Australia’s own former athlete, veterinarian and cancer-survivor. She is a fully Accredited Meditation Teacher with Meditation Australia.
Her professional portfolio includes High School and Tertiary teaching, Consultancy in Human Resource Management, Retail Assistance, Research, Mentoring, Counselling, Teaching Meditation and Transpersonal Workshopping for individuals and groups.
Her website is Get Enlightened Today (http://www.getenlightenedtoday.com/)
and her Facebook page is Get Enlightened Today (https://web.facebook.com/GETwithlucy/)

more about Lucy’s direction for Sunday night; she explains:

“I recently ran a mini survey with my Facebook friends most of whom I have never met in person. I asked them some questions about ‘Acceptance’ as it pertains to personal issues such as loss, disappointment and illness as well as to more global issues such as war, social and financial inequity and racial and religious extremism and intolerance.
The responses seemed to me to be very thoughtful and honest expressing familiar ides, beliefs and values. Two or three of them were refreshingly ambivalent. (The true seeker, I have come to realize, is willing to accept that he/she does not know :)).
One answer, however, stood out from the rest, both by its simplicity and by its crystal clear ring of truth. I shall use it as the basis of our contemplation on ‘Acceptance’.”

A bit more about Lucy:

Lucy has a Bachelor of Science honours degree from the University of London, a Postgraduate Certificate in Education from the University of Hong Kong and completed 80% of her Masters of Education degree before switching to a research degree toward a PhD. She chose not to complete that after spending approximately 5 years part-time researching and reading in the area of Cognitive Psychology where her particular focus was on the impact of beliefs on our wellbeing. She continues, however, to research independently.

She has done courses (and in some cases worked) with Lifeline Australia, Volunteering Australia and the remarkable visionary, scholar and researcher, Jean Houston (a student of Joseph Campbell), as well as the enormously successful, heart-tuned, smile-inducing Mike Dooley, author of Notes from the Universe.

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Letter – Freedom to think progressively

The “Progressive”Christianity Option

A month or two ago in response to some earlier Christmas greetings I received a message from a retired  Uniting Church minister which included the words, “I would like to know more about your work in ‘Progressive Christianity’ “.

With some hesitation, because I was not sure of his religious orientation, I duly sent my friend a couple of books, one of which was Hunt and Smith, “Why Weren’t We Told”. This is the title I usually recommend for Australian newcomers to “progressive” Christianity .

Some time later I was pleasantly surprised to receive a further greeting:

Dear Rodney,

            I appreciate your kind gift. It was the right book at the right time!

            On retirement I shed the cloak of “orthodoxy” and became much more “progressive” in my thinking (and writing). So there was little I would disagree with. In fact, I have even gone further in some of my perceptions and understandings.

            So the context of the book came as a reassurance that I was not alone!

            Thank you for this. It surprises me that I should have come to similar conclusions.

           

            With best wishes…

                    G……..

The moral of this story is that there may well be any others out there having a comparable experience.  If you, as a viewer of this site, have your own story along these lines we would be pleased to hear from you.  If you would prefer to remain anonymous send an e-mail to  psinglis@westnet.com.au .

Of course it would be good if our ministers could become aware of the progressive option before they enter ministry rather after they leave it.  This is the rationale behind our UC Forum bursaries. That is to provide payment of fees in full or part – up to a value of $5,000 for students aspiring to attend (in the first instance) Trinity Theological College Queensland courses. Enquiries may be made to ucbursaries@bigpond.com .

 

Posted by Rodney Eivers   

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Opinion: Was Jesus really a humble carpenter?

Yuri Josef Koszarycz, Former Theologian, Ethicist and Historian at Australian Catholic University, Brisbane (1975-2010)

Translations of the Old and New Testaments into “modern languages” was discouraged by the medieval church – but from 1520 onwards more versions began to appear, particularly after the invention of the printing press. The word for ‘carpenter’ in Greek was ‘tekton’ – and a ‘tekton’ in the Middle ages was someone who was a “hewer of wood” or someone who collected wood shavings from various building sites – usually sold very cheaply as kindling wood to start a robust fire.

What we have to realise is that by the time biblical translations began to be given in the 1500’s, there was a lot of “unionisation” of the building trade. In fact the guilds at that time listed 17 different levels of “tekton’ beginning with the arche tekton (the tirst tekton – and we still retain that engineering term with the English word “archtect!”). His assistant would be the ‘duotekton’ followed by the tritotekton, and so on down the chain until we ended up with the poor, humble tekton at the bottom of the list!

So when, for example Martin Luther translated into German in 1522, and he came to the word “tekton” he would have assumed that Joseph and his sons lived in dire poverty as the poorest of one in the building trade. However, to REALLY understand the meaning of that word as used in Jesus’ time, and in that period of history, we have to see how the word “tekton” was used by the Hellenistic/Romanwriters in that period! There were the Greek philosophers of course, and writers like Menander, Apollonius, historians like Timaeus, Polybius, Diodorus, and Dionysius of Halicarnassus – and of course, there were large chunks of the Old Testament that was actually written in Greek by the time Jesus was alive, teaching and preaching.

If we examine these texts, we see that a “tekton” was what we would call “a structural engineer” today – someone who built fortresses, main roads leading the city, someone conversant with ship building and construction, and definitely would be equivalent (but more varied in the tasks they could do) to the architects of today. They would be skilled in understanding the maths, physics, and geometry of the period – much based on the works of Archimedes and Euclid – and certainly extremely skilled artisans! A tekton was NOT a humble carpenter, but rather a valuable and skilled (and no doubt quite wealthy) professional!

oOo

 

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Harnessing our Passions

From Being Driven to Being Drawn
Thursday, July 6, 2017

Richard Rohr

When I was a young man, I liked ideas and books quite a lot, and I still read a great deal. But each time I come back from a long hermitage retreat, I have no desire to read a book for the next few weeks or even months. For a while I know there is nothing in any book that is going to be better, more truthful, or more solid than what I have just experienced on the cellular, heart, and soul level.

If you asked me what it is I know, I would be hard pressed to tell you. All I know is that there is a deep “okayness” to life—despite all the contradictions—which has become even more evident in the silence. Even when much is terrible, seemingly contradictory, unjust, and inconsistent, somehow sadness and joy are able to coexist at the same time. The negative value of things no longer cancels out the positive, nor does the positive deny the negative.

Whatever your personal calling or your delivery system for the world, it must proceed from a foundational “yes” to life. Your necessary “no” to injustice and all forms of un-love will actually become even clearer and more urgent in the silence, but now your work has a chance of being God’s pure healing instead of impure anger and agenda. You can feel the difference in people who are working for causes; so many works of social justice have been undone by people who do all the fighting from their small or angry selves

If your prayer goes deep, your whole view of the world will change from fear and reaction to deep and positive connection—because you don’t live inside a fragile and encapsulated self anymore. In meditation, you are moving from ego consciousness to soul awareness, from being driven by negative motivations to being drawn from a positive source within.

Through a consistent practice of contemplative prayer you will find yourself thinking much more in terms of both/and rather than either/or. This is what enables mystics and saints to forgive, to let go of hurts, to be compassionate, and even to love their enemies.

Gateway to Silence:
Give me a lever and a place to stand.

Reference: Adapted from Richard Rohr, Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer (Paulist Press: 2014), 17-18, 22.

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CARDINAL and PRIME MINISTER – What does the future hold?

Friend of the UC Forum, Everald Compton, has posted his latest opinion bulletin on the topic of the current circumstances of three Australian leaders – George Pell, Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott. Everald presents an observation on the parallels and linkages amongst these three men of church and state and makes a prophetic observation on their futures. Time will tell how accurate his is, but be aware that Everald has been right many times before!

Go to:  https://everaldcompton.com/2017/07/08/cardinal-and-prime-minister/  for this story.

Everald is a Uniting Church member, and has a strong commitment to the huge task of implementing the Blueprint for an Ageing Australia as Chairman of the LONGEVITY INNOVATION HUB.

His work as a consultant to ATEC RAIL GROUP LTD, of which he was Chairman for 18 years, is part of his plan to see that Australia has top quality long distance railways to efficiently transport domestic freight and export commodities, preferably owned and managed by private companies.

He also chairs Tenement to Terminal Ltd (3TL) which is building a live cattle export facility at the Port of Gladstone in Queensland. The challenge of designing and implementing the logistics of this operation and establishing export markets in Asia is a fascinating one.

His other passion in infrastructure is WATER, especially the drought proofing of the entire continent. In partnership with his friend John Thompson, they have planned a major project to divert tropical water to the Darling River and constantly lobby governments to implement it.

As an Elder of the Uniting Church in Australia, he is actively involved in the positive role of Christianity in the world.

Two particular activities are:

ACTS, a charity founded by the Aspley Uniting Church to care for people in need. Everald is its Chairman and the activities are mainly concentrated on broken homes, domestic violence, deprived children and refugees.

NORTH BRISBANE INTERFAITH GROUP, which brings together people of all religious faiths in regular dialogue. They particularly concentrate on improving religious understanding, poverty and illiteracy.

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Coming in September – Michael Morwood

We are anticipating having Michael Morwood in South East Queensland as guest of the Progressive Christianity Network in the second half of September 2017. Dates and venues will be posted soon.

About Michael Morwood

Michael MorwoodMichael Morwood has an extensive background in spirituality and adult faith formation. He is internationally acclaimed for his clear and accessible writing, workshops and lectures on the need for Christians to reshape religious thinking and imagination. He lives in Perth, Australia, with his wife, Maria

Michael Morwood has over 40 years’ experience in retreat, education, parish and adult faith development ministries, and is well known in Progressive Christian movements in Australia and the USA.
 
Bishop John Shelby Spong wrote of him:
 
“Michael Morwood … is raising the right and obvious questions that all Christians must face. In his response he provides fresh and perceptive possibilities for a modern and relevant faith.”
 
 
Michael’s particular interest is in helping adult Christians examine what they believe and why they believe it, what they imagine and why they imagine the way they do.
 
 
While articulating Christian faith in ways that resonate with contemporary understanding of our place in the universe, Michael is also concerned to shape an understanding of “God” and revelation that is not exclusive to any particular culture or religion. No group, no religion can validly claim to have exclusive access to God if God is the mysterious Presence sustaining everything in existence.
 
Michael’s speaking and writing have focused on the urgent need to shape Christian belief and practice in the understanding that the Divine Presence has always permeated everything that exists. Each of his books addresses this need in different ways. They include:
 
God Is Near. Understanding a Changing Church.
 
Tomorrow’s Catholic. Understanding God and Jesus in a New Millennium.

Is Jesus God? Finding Our Faith;

Praying a New Story; 

From Sand to Solid Ground: Questions of Faith for Modern Christians;

Children Praying a New Story: A Resource for Parents, Grandparents and Teachers;

Faith, Hope and a Bird Called George. A Spiritual Fable

It’s Time. Challenges to the Doctrine of the Faith.

In Memory of Jesus.
 
In December 2010 he was a speaker in the Evolutionary Christianity series hosted by Michael Dowd, who invited listeners to: “join thirty-eight of today’s most inspiring Christian leaders and esteemed scientists for a groundbreaking dialogue on how an evolutionary worldview can enrich your life, deepen your faith