Dear Rev Stratford,
Thank you for taking the time to make a detailed response to my article “Theology and Advocacy”. I enjoyed thinking about your approach.
We do I think differ on several important points. However, hopefully this discussion will help us both deepen our understandings.
Firstly, I would question your claim that “The Old Testament has little to say of the kingdom of God.” I agree with John Bright (1953, 7), the Old Testament scholar who wrote nearly 70 years ago, “For the concept of the Kingdom of God involves, in a real sense, the total message of the Bible. Not only does it loom large in the teaching of Jesus; it is to be found, in one form or another, through the length and breadth of the Bible.” A few pages later he comments cogently, “But ideas are ever larger than the words that carry them” (Bright, 1953,11) I think this is particularly true of the words, “The Kingdom of God’.
Secondly, I am not sure that the most relevant text for understanding the Kingdom of God is Lk 17:20/21: “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look here it is’ or ‘there it is! For in fact the kingdom of God is among you”. While Lk 17:20/21 is an important text, there are around 120 other texts dealing with the Kingdom of God. My position is that we must grapple with all of them. Impossible? Yes, but no less important to do. As one grapples with all the texts, one comes to realise more and more, how Jesus’ teaching subverts, challenges, undermines any Kingdoms/Reigns/Estates/Empires that are based on injustice.
Related to this second point is that overemphasizing Luke 17:20/21 can lead to an over spiritualising of the Kingdom of God, as something within our hearts alone or on another plane (spiritual experience) and not something that has existence in the things we do. I think this is highlighted in your comments on Exodus where the actions of Moses are sidelined.
Thirdly I found it difficult to understand what you meant by “I think that, with the advent of Christianity, presence became absence with God relocated to a heavenly place.” Perhaps it makes some sense to me if you mean by Christianity, the form of Christendom that followed from Constantine and which was forming earlier. However, if you mean that with the coming of Jesus and his message “presence became absence with God” that would make no sense. An important assumption of my article is that Jesus’s proclamation of the Kingdom/Reign/Estate/Empire of God makes possible an even closer relationship with what we might call God in the midst of our present world.
Finally, I would answer your question, “Was the real beginning of the Kingdom of God, the start of Christendom in the fifth century?” with a resounding No. The growth of Christendom was for the most part a retreat from Jesus’ radical teachings on and exhortations about the Kingdom of God.
The theme for our next Dayboro (Q) Explorers gathering on 26th September is
Glynn Cardy’sA Book ofBlessings takes the Jesus tradition in new directions. He well understands that the blessings of God are found in the ordinary, the familiar, the day-to-day. He affirms that blessings may be experienced and celebrated in unexpected situations and people.
This is a collection that inspires, delights and encourages. A Book of Blessings is in itself a blessing to the community called the church – and well beyond the church – for all who share a love and appreciation of everyday people and the richness and the ordinary of their lives.
In the Jewish and Christian traditions, blessings are generally looked for in extraordinary people and situations. And in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, the declarations of blessedness reflect Jesus’ approach of turning expectations upside down so that it is the poor, the sick, the bereaved who are declared blessed by God. Strange and unexpected beatitudes!
Here is a sample of Rev Cardy’s poems. Others will be shared at the meeting. What blessings do you have in your life?
Blessed is the world where the weak
Blessed is a world where the weak are protected, none go hungry, and the benefits of life are shared
Blessed is a world where everyone is treated with dignity and respect, and all know a safe place called home
Blessed is a world where animals and plants, the land and oceans, are respected and cherished.
Blessed is a world where peace is grounded in justice, justice is guided by love, and love is gifted unconditionally.
Blessed is a world where with courage, kindness, and grace we stand together, and create this vision of hope.
Venue: Dayboro Uniting Church, Williams Street, Dayboro, QLD.
A PERSONAL RESPONSE TO THE PROPOSED VOLUNTARY ASSISTED DYING (VAD) LEGISLATION SOON TO BE DEBATED IN THE QUEENSLAND PARLIAMENT
The great majority of people in Queensland support some basic form of VAD being endorsed in legislation. I believe it would be politically futile to oppose such a public endorsement.
However I believe we must gather strong support for critical amendments which are listed below:
All VAD legislation must be complemented by an accountable commitment for high quality palliative care, especially to regional Queensland where provision for significant palliative care is virtually non-existent.
Non-government hospitals must be given an ABSOLUTE right to deny any provisions for VAD services in their hospitals. This basic right is fundamental to respect the religious, philosophical and values of all peoples in the Australian constitution.
In the light of serious breaches of initial legislation in some European countries where VAD has been implemented in previous years, no legislation should be enacted until the investigated experiences in other countries be analysed to prevent such happenings in Queensland legislation. Legislation must cover those provisions of the Act where these breaches did occur in those countries.
Public media campaigns for discerned amendments to proposed VAD legislation insist that such a position is founded on basic religious and human rights and is extremely compassionate to alleviate suffering and terminal illness. To imply that those seeking critical amendments lack compassion to the proposed legislation is highly offensive to such committed individuals and groups.
Dr Kevin Treston September 2021
Kevin has taught and lectured for many years in 14 different countries. He is the author of many books, and a highly respected presenter among Catholic educators. He is also a subscriber to the UCFORUM and a regular participant in our seminars and conversations. Details about his publications can be found by following the link to Book Reviews on this site.
Concepts of God now take me back to two Old Testament stories, one about the beginnings of life, and the other the beginnings of a revamped covenant and a relationship re-established.
The beginnings of life for humankind occurred when God stooped down and breathed into the man’s nostrils. All stories require imagination and reading this story I am led to claim that with the breath we find the spirit. Of each other, they are together the one continual activity that begets and maintains constancy in the business of living. (Gen. 2:7)
The Moses story reintroduces the spirit, but in this story, presence is revealed and then affirmed in the words I AM. An element of the verb to be, it reveals an active attendance of the invisible spirit. This is further sealed in the events that lead the Israelites to freedom and stands by them as they enter their desert journey. (Exodus 3)
I think that, with the advent of Christianity, presence became absence with God relocated to a heavenly place. Creeds, and words of worship and prayer seem to reinforce this notion.
The Old Testament has little to say of the kingdom of God. Oblique references only can be gleaned. Certainly, God is supreme, sacred, the name of God can never be spoken. It appears to me that the essence of the Old Testament is in God’s sacred presence, ample evidence for this is to be found in the Psalms and among the prophets.
In the New Testament, Kingdom of God appears many times but perhaps Jesus’ comment as reported in Luke’s gospel (Lk 17:20/21): “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look here it is’ or ‘there it is! For in fact the kingdom of God is among you” is most relevant for understanding. It suggests that the thing being searched for is already present within. The claim of ‘kingdom’ always contains a claim of a monarch reigning, so perhaps it all makes more sense if we connect with the alternative reading which presents Jesus words as “The reign of God is within you”. These words recall the sense of presence powerfully present at the beginning of life, and reiterated in the conversation with Moses as I AM.
The kingdom of God may therefore more sensibly, and with greater meaning, be rendered something like – the presence of God as YHWH-spirit is always with you, riding the wind and contained in the breath that keeps one alive.
It may not be as straightforward, but makes more sense, than “Our Father in heaven – thy will be done on earth as in heaven …”
The first four hundred years of the church were tumultuous, with a host of claims and counterclaims about the shape of the faith. Among these, tradition became most important as a safeguard against heresy. Irenaeus claims that “the original revelation is guaranteed by the unbroken succession of bishops in the great sees going back literally to the apostles. Secondly, an additional safeguard is supplied by the Holy Spirit, for the message was committed to the Church, and the Church is the home of the Spirit.” (Kelly p.37).
Allied to tradition as a demonstration of the truths of the church, an “absolute authority was accorded to scripture as a doctrinal norm … as interpreted by the church, it was the source of Christian teaching.” (Kelly p.42). The scriptures were those of the Jews – our Old Testament.
In those years the church suffered persecution, Christians endured martyrdom with an entrenched belief that their soul was safe. Gnosticism became a force to be reckoned with, eventually becoming muted by the many forcefully argued refutations.
The church, after argument and discussion, conferences of bishops, and theological musings, committed to an after-life, and to a Son of God destined to be a king. It was all cemented into place with the conversion of the emperor Constantine, and his declaration of the truth of the Nicene Creed.
Hailed as a Christian Emperor, Constantine’s “death was received with universal manifestations of grief, and his reign was regarded as continuing after his death: his funeral, conducted after the arrival of his second surviving son Constantius, was a magnificent spectacle,” (Stevenson 396).
“By the middle of the fifth century the Roman church had established, de jure as well as defacto, a position of primacy in the West, and the papal claims to supremacy over all bishops of Christendom had been formulated in precise terms.” (Kelly 417).
Is this, I wonder, the real beginning of the Kingdom of God.
Kelly. J.N.D. (ed) Early Christian Doctrines. London: Adam & Charles Black 1960.
Stevenson, J. A (ed) A New Eusebius. London: S.P.C.K. 1960
A reminder that the Redcliffe (Q) Explorers will gather this coming Monday (6 September) to considerThe Importance of Ritual in Our Lives.As you know, this meeting has been postponed twice due to community health issues, but we’re optimistic that we’ll be able to get together again on Monday! Vicki Alsop will facilitate some small-group discussion about familiar rituals (including the sacraments) and some less familiar ones from other cultures, inviting us to consider whether the line between habit and ritual can sometimes be rather blurred.
We’ll meet as usual between 6 and 8 p.m. in the ground-floor activities room at the Azure Blue Retirement Complex, 91 Anzac Ave., Redcliffe. Everyone’s very welcome to participate in our lively discussions. If there are any changes to the Government’s health advice between now and then, it would be wise to give Ian a call (3284 3688 or 0401 513 723) to check whether the meeting is to go ahead as planned. The current Covid-safe conditions (including mask-wearing) will be observed, and of course you’re urged to stay at home if feeling unwell and get tested if you have any Covid symptoms.
In this easy read book Floyd reduces Christianity to a simple journey of love following the teachings and examples of Jesus. She uses the vernacular of the average Australian in a conversational style that requires no serious theological capability by the reader. This fills a much-needed gap in the progressive literature.
The author deconstructs the major biblical narratives and themes and casts a sceptical eye on those that have been read literally. She argues that the events of scripture are profound teachings that speak to our times if seen as metaphors, similes, and parables. She spurns the dogmatic teaching that has evolved as church doctrine but holds strongly to the notion of the importance of individuals using their own interpretations. The reader is left to make up their own mind while being encouraged to speculate and claim the right to make meaning on their own terms.
While emphasizing the many errors and contradictions in the bible resulting from the tradition of handing down the stories orally over several generations, she calls for proportionate thinking when considering the influences of culture, history, scientific knowledge, and power politics over what we now know about Jesus and the events of his life. She sees the Church as generally not the best instrument for transferring understandings as it has a prime concern to maintain its own authority and influence, sometimes at the expense of authenticity. It does not have a good record on tolerating critical thinking and has often discouraged people from exploring outside the boundaries of doctrine and dogma.
Floyd has achieved her goal to transmit the simple but profound message of Jesus and enriched the conversation about the meaning of life. She has opened a pathway to contemporary faith that applies Jesus’ teaching on love to modern situations.
Floyd’s thinking is influenced a little by Hugh Mackay, and John Spong and has relied on her own thoughts for most of the commentary. This is an enjoyable read that challenges our thinking with its simplicity.
Bev Floyd is a regular participant in Progressive Christianity Network Queensland seminars.
We have received advice (25/08/2021) that CPRT Canberra has been wound up after a number of years of inactivity and after the achievement of its goals of advancing new thinking in spirituality.
The CPRT was established in 2002 with a small grant of seed funding from the Uniting Church in Australia. It was an initiative of St James Uniting Church Curtin, led by Rev Rex Hunt. Over the next twelve years or so, the Centre offered a rich and diverse program of speaker and other events and members participated in the Common Dreams Conferences – the direct outcome of CPRT initiative – and related ‘On the Road’ seminars.
There were many presentations by Australian and overseas theologians, biblical scholars and progressive theologians and many people will have fond memories of being challenged and fascinated by new thinking in spirituality. Of special mention is the support given by both St James and other churches /individuals to a small team of local organizers when they managed the Common Dreams Conference 3 in Canberra in 2013. On that occasion they welcomed Professor Marcus Borg to Australia!
The Centre enabled and empowered its members to explore spirituality beyond their locale. There are now so many progressive resources available in print and online either via membership of broader groups, podcasts, and blogs etc. that people are no longer limited in their spiritual journeys. Many of course, remain as members of local churches or faith organizations.
CPRT Canberra has done its job. Locally. Nationally. Internationally.
CPRT Canberra had a large number of books and other resources held jointly in the St James Uniting Church Library. These resources will remain with the Library to be managed as the congregation (now part of Woden Valley Uniting Church) wishes.
Secondly, funds held in account totaling approximately $7,358.58 will be transferred to Common Dreams Inc, to be used to facilitate progressive spirituality events as the management board of that organization determines. More information on Common Dreams Inc can be found at: https://commondreams.org.au/ including links to like-minded progressive websites.
This information was provided by the CPRT Canberra Team-
Advocacy, Evangelism and Service to the Community are related concepts in theology. All are about announcing and making present the Kingdom of God. Advocacy is about the prophetic role of proclaiming that even though the Kingdom of God has been announced in Christ, the poor, the exploited and even the earth itself still cry out for the fulfillment of that promise and reality. In Evangelism we put in words our experience of the Kingdom so that others might understand and join in the liberating work of the gospel. In Service we act as exemplars of what is happening as the Kingdom of God becomes real.
The theology of advocacy cannot be understood in isolation from Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of God. However, the theology of the Kingdom of God is itself no simple matter. In the synoptic gospels the Kingdom of God or Kingdom of Heaven is mentioned in over 120 verses. The references are wide ranging, often challenging or perplexing and yet central to Jesus’ message. It is not coincidental that Jesus’ prayer to the Father begins,
Father, May your name be held holy, Your Kingdom come (Luke 11:2).
The word “Kingdom” sounds strange to modern ears. Scholars at times use other words to translate the Greek. These include Reign,1 Estate,2 and in the case of the scholars of the Jesus Seminar, “Empire”,3
Each of these alternate translations alerts us to the depth and breadth of the reality that
Jesus is proclaiming. It is clear that for Jesus the Kingdom of God is not just an idea but a happening, an event:
The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand (Mark 1:15).
Central to this event is a change that is occurring simultaneously at several levels; the individual, the relational, the societal, the cultural and even at the Kingdom or Empire level, which includes all the others. This is perhaps clearest in the first Beatitude which reads,
To the ancient ears this is both a scandalous upturning of political and cultural reality, and also a liberating word for those who are poor who suddenly find themselves first in this announced
Kingdom. And yet of course the Kingdom announced is not yet fully formed. Its existence in space and time depends on those who respond to Christ’s call. For the initial small gathering of Jews and associated gentiles this took incredible faith, especially when faced with the massive power and then hostility of the Roman Empire. They responded by building small communities in which they tried to enact the reality of this new Kingdom, and they spread the good news of this new way of living and responding to God.
Today our era is both different from and similar to biblical times. The differences include increases in technology that have led to our computer or information age, significant advances in health care and medicine, and a standard of living for many that is far more luxurious than any Roman emperor could imagine.
[1 Glen Stassen & David Gushee, 2003. Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context.
2 John Cobb, 2015. Jesus’ Abba: The God Who Has Not Failed.
3 Robert Funk, Arthur Dewey & the Jesus Seminar, 2015. The Gospel of Jesus: According to the Jesus Seminar (2nd edition) ]
Yet many people still live in poverty while others profit from their labour and live in extraordinary luxury; there are wars and rumours of wars, corruption and exploitation.
Empires have come and gone, but empires remain. In ancient times there were the Egyptian,
Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian and Roman empires all juggling at some time for power. Until recently we had the British Empire, and now today we have the American, Chinese and perhaps re-emerging Russian empires. Such human empires have not stopped being exploitative.
Australia as a nation-state (a small kingdom if you will) has had a history of identifying first with the British Empire and more lately with the American. The most obvious example of this is our
participation in wars over the last 130 years. However, it is not just wars but a way of thinking about power, race, and exploitation that we have taken for granted, that is at odds with the Kingdom of God proclaimed in Christ.
This has led to a cultural framework in which people aspire to a material security and comfort for themselves and those like them at the expense of the other. This results in a fear of the other. Our current treatment of refugees and the previous white Australia policy are examples of this framework in practice. The more one is caught up in the empire framework, the harder it is to hear the liberating call of the Kingdom of God. Churches which accept these human empire values uncritically (often unconsciously) lose their ability to identify with or announce God’s Kingdom.
Paradoxically, the modern democratic movement has grown out of human empires. Democracy
provides churches and church members new opportunities for working with others to create a
better and fairer society and hence herald the Kingdom. The churches and church members in
Canberra are uniquely positioned to play an advocacy role in the unfolding of the Kingdom of God.
This is not only because of proximity to the Parliament, but because so many church members have experience either working in the public service or as members of political parties or national organizations such as The Australia Institute or Australia 21. The challenge for the Uniting Church in the Canberra region is to seize this opportunity. As inequalities grow in Australia and meanness of spirit stalks our political culture, it is certain that God continues to hear the cry of the poor and witnesses their oppression (Exodus 2: 9). Even though we feel inadequate and ill prepared, we have the ability to advocate on a wide range of issues. Will we
respond to the call to advocacy? “So come, I send you to Pharaoh … to bring my people out of Egypt. … I shall be with you.” (Exodus 2: 10-12)
Len Baglow Len is a member of the Canberra Region Presbytery Social Justice Group and of Woden Valley Uniting Church and subscriber to the UCFORUM.
Once upon a time – in the time before time began, a large ball of energy – a seething mass of grumblings and groanings, of flashes and fire, of bumblings and bouncings, floated here and there. Then one day – in that time before time began – it exploded with a tremendous bang and bits and pieces of energy flew far and wide – continuing to this day. The Universe was born!
Many, many, many years later than that time before time began, a group of scholars – probably all men – probably all elderly men, gathered to reflect on the world they knew – their aim, to write about its beginnings. This a really impossible task so they decided to tell it as a story.
It began – “In the beginning …” and went on to tell of the way God went to work to create the world. It was a story of great acts by God out of which the world was assembled. They write “God said let there be this, and let that occur…” and they added, “and it was so” as each action was completed. The picture that may be imagined is of a powerful – remote – God sitting some distance away and creating by decree. It all happened, wrote the scholars, and the earth became a finished article. (Genesis 1&2).
But then the story changes and the God of decrees becomes a worker of dust. (Genesis 2:7) “The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground.” I wonder if you have ever tried to form anything from dust – it is an impossible task- the dust remains a pile of dust.
The story persists – and God persists, and the human form takes shape – but without life. And then God draws even closer and “breathes into the man’s nostrils.” Perhaps you have never breathed in anyone’s nostrils, but if you ever decided to do that – how close would you need to be? Very close!
One might imagine hearing God say as breath was breathed, “The life of God for the life of humankind.” And the man lived!
The man received a gift of life – a gift handed to him in the action of the God whose spirit had a major part in creation. The breath, we may claim, contained something of the breather, and imagination can show us that something, as the presence of God – not from a distance but in intimate contact.
We know and understand that our breathing is an absolute necessity for the preservation of life. If we stop breathing, we stop living. The breath contains the elements necessary to energize the activities of our body.
The imaginings in right brain thinking, remind us that with breath comes the presence, or spirit of God, in whom life is enriched. As we cannot survive without breathing, so also, we cannot not receive the Spirit. They are fundamentally linked as foundational for life, the gift that knows no boundaries. There is more!
If we now take something of a giant step forward in time, we will discover Moses talking to a bush. (Exodus Chap.3 But this was no ordinary bush. Moses was soon to discover that this bush and its surround were emblematic of sacred presence. Even the ground on which he stood was sacred.
From the bush a voice called Moses to return to Egypt, there to challenge Pharoah to let the Israelites go free. This was a daunting task and Moses was loath to take it on. The challenge continued, so Moses asked for some identification. It would be useful to know who or what it was that was speaking to him. “Give me your name…”
What he received was not a name but an enigmatic statement of being. I AM! Then for further affirmation a reminder of an ongoing presence from the God of their ancestors. Transliterated in English as YHWH the term is unpronounceable but most expressive as a doorway to understanding presence. Finding security in this presence Moses took on the task and confronted Pharoah. Pharoah had to learn to his considerable cost, that this presence was not going away, and finally set the people free.
My name for this presence is YHWH-Spirit. It makes sense for me when linked to the story of beginnings and humankind’s gift of life. YHWH-Spirit fed and led the Israelites away from slavery into a desert, there to wander for some time. Visible as smoke in the day and fire in the night YHWH-Spirit guarded and guided the Israelites as they continued their journey home – to the place originally promised to Abraham. As they travelled, they had to learn again the true nature of the covenant to which their ancestors had committed their lives in the gift of the life given.
The life that each has is what it is. The profile of life is the same for all and is not affected by shape or colour or creed or behaviour. So, how do we account for the range of difference among the many lives being lived?
If I decide to present you with a gift (for whatever reason), and carefully wrap it securely in attractive paper, you may be very pleased and even find the wrapping expressive of my feelings in giving it to you. But you will know nothing of its contents until you remove the covering.
If life is to take on meaning and find expression in your daily peregrinations, it must like any gift, be unwrapped. Unwrapping life does not, and indeed cannot occur in a moment. Life is always continuing and expanding. This changing condition of life requires a progressive unwrapping – always more is revealed.
There is, however, abundant evidence to suggest that the unwrapping is not proceeding well and, in many cases, not at all. I wonder if many are fearful of what they might find.
Failure to unwrap, it might be suggested, leaves the gift languishing on the table; we pass by daily.
This book is a must read for anyone concerned with climate change and lack of Government action addressing this rapidly unfolding crisis.
The authors, tell their story of introducing the new technology of observing Earth from Space into the WA Government, following the first images of Earth being sent back by man from space some 50 years ago.
Earth Observing Satellites (EOS) soon followed giving a new and unique view of the Earth revealing the massive human impacts driving climate change, species extinction and human conflicts. For the first time in history key WA Government agencies had unparalleled access to the means of measuring and sustainably managing WA’s natural assets across the whole continent and surrounding oceans. Many new and innovative applications of EOS were developed.
However these applications encountered the fundamental conflict between Ecology and Economics, which caused a drastic cutback when WA’s Land Information Authority found that in pursuit of its commercial goals, sustainability was unsustainable. A fatal paradox that the authors argue, urgently needs to be addressed if climate catastrophe for future generations is to be avoided.
About the Authors
Richard Smith BSc (Agric) Hons (Lond), Dip Agric Econ (Oxon) PhD (UWA), migrated in 1965 to Western Australia aged 23, as a farm management consultant to 35 farmers, managing over a million acres. Then an Australian Wool Board Scholar, CSIRO Post-doctoral fellow, University Lecturer, CSIRO Research Scientist and NASA Research Associate. He has worked in the USA, Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia. He was recruited by his co-author, Henry Houghton in 1990 to lead the WA State Government’s Satellite Remote Sensing Centre. He has 66 peer reviewed scientific publications and given 52 conference presentations. He helped found a not-for-profit charity for indigenous peoples in the NW Kimberley and W Papua, Indonesia and wrote business plans for over $7 million of community development. He is a volunteer guide on Rottnest Island and a Lay Preacher in the Uniting Church, with an interest in Eco-theology.
Henry Houghton BSc (Surveying), Licensed Surveyor (1968), migrated from England to Western Australia in 1957. As a licensed surveyor of the Department of Lands and Surveys, he undertook land, soil, engineering, farm subdivision and mapping surveys across the State. In the mid 1970s he was coordinator of the State’s satellite remote sensing, establishing the WA remote sensing centre in 1982 leading in 1991 to the purpose-built Leeuwin Centre for Earth Sensing Technologies. Then as Director of Survey and Mapping and Surveyor General in the then Department of Land Administration he guided the development of the land information data sets essential for land management. Following retirement in 2001, he worked as land consultant in Victoria and Tasmania before working on land projects in the Philippines. He is a Fellow of the Institution of Surveyors Australia and was awarded an Australian Centenary Medal in 2001 for services to the community.
We have received the sad news that Emeritus Professor Peter Fensham has died in Melbourne from pulmonary fibrosis.
Peter was the first Professor of Science Education in Australia at his appointment at Monash University. He was also the founder of the Australasian Science Education Research Association in 1971 and first national President of ASTA and of AAEE. He served as an Adviser of the TIMSS project in the 1990s and of the OECD’s PISA (Science) project in the 2000s. He has published nine books and many research articles. His international contacts have included Visiting professorships in England, Sweden, Canada, Japan and Brazil.
Peter was a great explorer within the progressive Christian movement and a friend to many of us. He stayed connected to the UCFORUM over its two decades and kept in touch with us with some wonderful reflections on issues we were discussing.
His research and publication peer assessed publications were prolific producing 113 papers. He last work in 2016 was:
He was published as 9 books, 80 articles, 17 book chapters, 6 conference papers, and several commissioned reports. As well as all this he found time to join our seminars, offer advice and encouragement and care for his wife Christine who survives him.
Rev Glynn Cardy is the Minister at the Community of St Luke’s Presbyterian congregation in Auckland, who is closely involved in Common Dreams. He has very recently released a small book of his “blessings” which he composes for use in his weekly liturgies. Glynn is a fine poet and these blessings are a lovely expression of this talent. The blessings can be read as an affirmation that joy and encouragement can be found in the ordinariness of our everyday living but they also may be interpreted as having deeper layers of meaning. I wholeheartedly recommend it. It is published locally by Coventry Press.
Blessed are those who know the joy of a friend, parent, or child, who accept us without rhyme or reason or reward, who love us with a power that can withstand the assault of our doubt.
In the Jewish and Christian traditions, blessings are generally looked for in extraordinary people and situations. And in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, the declarations of blessedness reflect Jesus’ approach of turning expectations upside down so that it is the poor, the sick, the bereaved who are declared blessed by God. Strange and unexpected beatitudes!
Glynn Cardy’sA Book of Blessings takes the Jesus tradition in new directions. He well understands that the blessings of God are found in the ordinary, the familiar, the day-to-day. He affirms that blessings may be experienced and celebrated in unexpected situations and people.
This is a collection that inspires, delights and encourages. A Book of Blessings is in itself a blessing to the community called the church – and well beyond the church – for all who share a love and appreciation of everyday people and the richness and the ordinary of their lives.
“Enter Joe Biden, one of the most religious presidents of the last century, along with Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush. Biden attends Mass regularly and inhabits faith as Donald Trump merely brandished it (as if speaking to two Corinthians). Likewise, Vice President Kamala Harris is a
Baptist who says she has regularly attended church. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a Catholic who says her faith inspires her to address health care and climate change. Elizabeth Warren taught Sunday school. Raphael Warnock, a new senator, is an ordained Baptist pastor. Other Democrats,
including Cory Booker and Pete Buttigieg, speak the language of faith fluently as well, so a critical mass has formed of progressive Christians inspired by religion not to cut taxes for the rich but rather to slash poverty for children.” So wrote Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times recently.
Twenty-five years ago, hardly anyone used the term “progressive Christianity”. It used to be expressed as “liberal” or “mainline” Protestantism, terminology so fuzzy as to be nearly meaningless. Along came The Center for Progressive Christianity, now ProgressiveChristianity.org, and an organized movement was born. Churches around the globe
began to publicly identify themselves as progressive. A turning point came in 2004 when Jim
Wallis, a politically liberal evangelical, was described by Terry Gross as a “progressive Christian”
on her NPR show. Then Obama, a member of the United Church of Christ, was elected in 2008,
raising the profile of the term further. But evangelical and fundamentalist Christian leaders paid the movement scant attention. In 2003, Albert Mohler, the virtual Pope of the Southern Baptist Convention, poo-poohed it: “Christians should see The Center for Progressive Christianity, not as posing a threat to Christianity itself, but as exposing the basic hatred of biblical truth that drives those on the theological left. Evangelical Christians should be aware of this organization, not because we should fear it’s influence–it isn’t likely to have much.”
But times have changed, and so has the pitch of Mohler’s tune. Here’s what Mohler said in 2019, sounding the alarm about Pete Buttigieg’s candidacy for the presidency: “This is the great danger inherent in the candidacy of Pete Buttigieg… Buttigieg may quickly drop in the polls as fast as he ascended. That is the nature of American Presidential politics. What will not depart from the political scene, however, is the idea enshrined in Buttigieg’s campaign. The left in America desperately wants a leftist faith as its handmaiden. They want (and even demand) a new and “progressive” Christianity.”
Since then, the evangelical “apologetics” machine has gone into overdrive. And the rhetoric is
disturbing. Cissie Graham Lynch is Billy Graham’s granddaughter and Franklin Graham’s
daughter. Here’s what she had to say in May of 2021 about the dire threat of progressive
Christianity: “When the voice of Satan comes, that you are able to have that discernment—whether it’s the voice of God or the enemy talking.”
“But what is progressive Christianity? Where did it come from? Why is it growing in popularity?”
asks Alisa Childers, a prolific anti-progressive evangelical apologist. “There is a growing
movement in the church that seeks to re-interpret the Bible, re-assess historic doctrines, and re-define core tenets of the faith… Jesus not only predicted that Christians would be tempted by these false doctrines but pointed out that these teachings would be peddled by people who claim to be Christians. They would look like sheep, walk like sheep, and talk like sheep. But they would not be sheep—they would be predators looking to feast on the sheep.” Let’s pray that Alisa Childers is not issuing licenses to hunt what she considers to be “predators”.
Some evangelical detractors of progressive Christianity are doing a fine job of inadvertently
promoting our movement. In her diatribe against Kristof’s op-ed, the fundamentalist blogger
Natasha Crain writes: “Progressive Christianity is hard to define (and people would define it in a
lot of different ways), but in general, it’s the belief that our understanding of God is evolving as
society progresses, and the Bible simply reflects man’s understanding of God in the time it was
written. In other words, the Bible is a helpful tool—maybe even a beautiful one—but it’s not God’s final say for all time.” Nicely put! As is the description given by the president of the Reformed Theological Seminary, Michael Kruger: “In the modern day, there’s something very similar still happening, and we may not call it liberal Christianity today, although there’s a sense in which that’s true, but really the term now is progressive Christianity. It’s a version of Christianity that sells itself as a valid option for Christians that on the surface looks a lot like the Christian worldview and may seem in the eyes of many people to be more acceptable, more likable, a really more palatable version of the faith.”
Fundamentalist leaders used to describe progressive Christians as a shrinking heretical sect, if they noticed us at all. Now they condemn us as an existential threat to the survival of evangelicalism. Their rhetoric should inspire in us a healthy vigilance, as America drifts into deeper polarization and ominous threats of violence. Meanwhile, the louder they rail against us, the more folks – especially their own – are made aware of the existence of our progressive alternative to the still-dominant Christian paradigm. Are our progressive churches ready to welcome the flood of exiles pouring out of evangelical churches? We need to attract them by making changes in our styles of worship and congregational life that are necessary to seize this remarkable moment.
A novel about the final curtain call of life. Echo Books, 2021.
Everald Compton’s passionate advocacy for Voluntary Assisted Dying (voluntary euthanasia) shines in this respectfully compelling narrative based on the lives of four people who have the same doctor. In a carefully crafted and authentic set of vignettes the author manages to touch on and carefully handle many of the moral dilemmas confronting people who have learnt of their imminent death. He has chosen the vehicle of a novel to present the case for VAD. This works very well as the experiences of VAD are unique. By placing them in the context of a close portrayal of each person’s intimate thoughts and relationships, he manages to capture some of their incredible psychological journeys through highs and lows. It is a story of the triumph of life over death.
For those reading this book who might have been given notice of their pending death, it might help them to look death in the face and turn from fear and despair to calm anticipation. For the rest of us it will help us to re-appraise death in positive and real terms and that cannot be a bad thing.
Despite the inherent sadness of a termination of life, the stories are written in a way that raises our anticipation for the ‘event’ and how it will be handled. It is this culminating event that brings out the best and worst in the characters in the stories. Relationships evolve and change. Lessons are learnt and many surprises eventuate.
Along the way many tensions arise within families, partnerships, colleagues, and faith perspectives. There are also the dual conflicts of self-pity and goal setting as each person considers their situation. The significance of a trusted, thoughtful and compassionate doctor, families, good listeners and a willingness to share opinions and counter the negative aspects, all contribute to the empowerment of someone who has learnt that they are losing control of their destiny.
Compton has clearly drawn on situations he has witnessed as the stories are models of human existence themselves. He also brings into focus the different views that people hold about God or no God. He manages to address many of the issues raised by believers in eternity, atheists and agnostics. For the author, bad religion can make dying miserable and he uses the ultimate example of Jesus making a deliberate choice to go to his death to illustrate the integrity of VAD.
Within the narrative are clear concise and transparent descriptions of situations and people. The stories give balance to the many arguments for and against VAD and how in many ways we have failed the older generation in the provision of quality of life and concern for their dignity at the end. The emphasis is on the ‘voluntary’ nature of VAD and the importance of those who are mentally and rationally able to have the final say about their life.
It is very likely that we will at some time know of someone who is dying, and this very sensitive and critical subject may emerge for us. We may even consider VAD at some stage. I recommend a reading of this book as the stories in it are ultimately our own.
When you ask a Christian why Jesus died on the cross, they will almost automatically all answer “to pay for our sins.” This has become a deep rooted Christian belief that is widely taught in churches across the world. It has been accepted by many as Christian doctrine and been passed down from generation to generation. It’s a statement that has been accepted as fact, and one that is the foundation for many Christians.
Therefore it may come as a surprise then to say that the Bible doesn’t actually say this.
No matter how hard you search, you will not find a single passage in the entire Bible that says anything about Jesus paying the penalty for our sins. That’s because this is a “Christian belief” that the Bible doesn’t teach. Rather it was a theology created by humans.
The technical, theological name for this belief is “penal substitutionary atonement.” This theology was not part of Christian doctrine for the first 1,600 years after Jesus was crucified. The ideas was originated and developed by human beings who were having trouble understanding what the Bible teaches about how Jesus Christ saved humanity. They worked with what they could to better understand Jesus’ teachings, but missed the mark. This lead to a creation of a belief that wasn’t really based on the Bible.
There are some limited verses that speak about Jesus’ death in relation to our sins, but they only point to Jesus’ death somehow being related to our sins, but not that His death was a substitute or penalty because of our sins. His death did not scrub us clean of the sins we would commit in the future, or give us a “free for all” pass to do whatever we wanted. His death is not an excuse for our sins, which the “penal substitutionary atonement” alludes to.
Assuming there is no ‘lockdown’ the Progressive Christian Network (QLD) will gather at Merthyr Uniting Church, New Farm, Brisbane next Wednesday, 25th August 2021. 10am Hospitality and Fellowship. 10.30am Seminar starts. If you intend to come and would like to receive some background reading notes for this discussion please contact Paul.
What is the purpose of the Religion question in the Census? I have yet to hear a good justification but am as always open to being educated. It confuses denomination with religion; it uses outdated nomenclature, it doesn’t define ‘religion’ adequately, and it relies on categories that are no-longer the significant players. What purpose does it serve? Who needs to know and why would anyone base decisions on ‘nominals’ over ‘practitioners’? Time to review the need for the question and if not needed, drop it! Since it is optional it will never give a true indication anyway.
Starting All Over Again? Yes or No? by George Stuart
Ken Williamson, convenor of the Caloundra Explorers makes this observation:
“At my visit to the Merthyr Road PCN group in May, Rodney Eivers recommended George Stuart’s book Starting all over again? Yes or no? So I ordered a copy and read it. And wow, it is one of the most honest accounts I have read of the ‘progressive Christianity’ journey. He looks very carefully at the many beliefs the church has taught him throughout his life and undergoes a process of ‘faithful questioning’. From his position as a panentheist there are some things he has to reject and some things he feels he can hang on to. George is the author of Singing a new song, and there are many of his hymns throughout the book. For me the most dramatic thing in the book was his rewriting of the ending of the parable of the Prodigal Son (p 83-85).
The book is available electronically on George Stuart’s website and you are welcome to copy any of the book for discussion in study groups. Rodney Eivers has a few copies of the book for sale. I thoroughly recommend it—fantastic for discussion.”
Mary is an Australian religious sister of the Presentation Order. She is a New Testament biblical scholar who specialises in the Gospel of John and is currently a Professor at Yarra Theological Union – University of Divinity.
Mary has published a number of books and her presentation will be based on her recently published book, WISDOM COMMENTARY : John 1- 10.
At last Wednesday’s stimulating seminar led by Tim O’Dwyer, Tim made reference to David Keighley. Rev Keighley is a retired Anglican priest in the United Kingdom who has turned to Progressive Christianity for inspiration in his writings.
His interest in progressive Christianity started with correspondence with Don Cupitt at Cambridge and studying under the American progressive Bishop John Shelby Spong, who published David’s poem “Leaving Home” in his global newsletter in 2007. David’s anthology of progressive Christian poems for rebellious Christians, “Poems,Piety and Psyche”, was published in October 2020 by Wipf & Stock (USA).
Poems, Piety & Psyche” is also the name of his one-man show, based on his life as poet, rebellious priest and psychotherapist. The evening is a mix of progressive Christian poems exploring the state of the church and contemporary theology, anecdotes about 40 years of being a rural parson and insights into the human condition from the viewpoint of a counselling psychotherapist.
The show “Poems, Piety & Psyche” presents a fusion of the changes in church life and church people he has experienced over the years, the paradoxes inherent in theology, faith and belief, the abandonment of faith by today’s generation, the impact of modern neurology on the working of the mind, linked through the medium of his progressive, challenging Christian poetry.
More information about David can be found at David Keighley where information about purchasing his new book is available also.
You’ll recall that we had to postpone last month’s meeting because of Covid restrictions. In view of this, we intend to discuss the same topic – What is the importance of Ritual in our lives? – at our next gathering, on Monday 2nd August.
There are many activities which we do routinely in our daily lives, for a great variety of reasons. We might think they are ‘rituals’, but are they just ‘habit’? Dr Google suggests that a ‘habit is something done repeatedly for the purpose of performing the action itself, while a ritual is something done repeatedly with a purpose outside the action itself’. At our August gathering Vicki Alsop will lead a conversation about familiar rituals (including the sacraments) and ask us to consider whether the line between habit and ritual can sometimes be blurred. She will draw on insights from our fellow PCN Explorers at Merthyr Rd U/C who will have discussed a related topic, under the guidance of Tim O’Dwyer, at their meeting next week.
Local health regulations permitting, we’ll gather between 6 and 8 p.m. on Monday 2nd August, in the ground-floor activities room at the Azure Blue Retirement Complex, 91 Anzac Ave., Redcliffe. And of course everyone’s very welcome to participate in our lively discussions. If there are any changes to the Government’s health advice it would be wise to give me a call (3284 3688 or 0401 513 723) to check whether the meeting is to go ahead as planned. Also, if you haven’t been to one of our meetings before, you might call me for advice on access and parking arrangements.
The current Covid-safe conditions will be observed, and of course you’re urged to stay at home if feeling unwell or get tested if you have any Covid symptoms.
Just a reminder that the PCN Explorers meet on Wednesday 28th and we will take up the topic that was planned for June – cancelled because of lock-down. We now have the Qld Government Covid QR code, so please checkin as you arrive. A contribution of $3-$4 each will help to pay for the COVID cleaning after our meeting. A small plate of food from a few people will nourish us.
Wednesday 28th July
Merthyr Road Uniting Church Warner Hall, 52 Merthyr Road, New Farm.
10 am for Eat, Meet and Greet.
10:30 am we start our exploring.
Tim O’Dwyer will facilitate our exploring on “The Second Coming!” – the topic of Holy Communion / Eucharist. He asks the following questions:
IF YOU ARE STILL REGULARLY ATTENDING CHURCH SERVICES, DO YOU PARTAKE OF COMMUNION/EUCHARIST/LORDS SUPPER? IF SO, WHY? IF NOT, WHY NOT? GENERALLY, HOW DO YOU REGARD THIS “SACRAMENT”?
If you would like to receive some background reading for this seminar, please email your request to Desley – email@example.com
Today the unnecessary suffering on this earth is great for people who could have “known better” and should have been taught better by their religions. In the West, religion became preoccupied with telling people what to know more than how to know, telling people what to see more than how to see. We ended up seeing Holy Things faintly, trying to understand Great Things with a whittled-down mind, and trying to love God with our own small and divided heart. It has been like trying to view the galaxies with a $5 pair of binoculars, when we have access to a far superior lens.
Contemplation is my word for this superior lens, this larger seeing that keeps the whole field open. It remains vulnerable before the moment, the event, or the person—before it divides and tries to conquer or control it. Contemplatives refuse to create false dichotomies, dividing the field for the sake of the quick comfort of their ego. They do not rush to polarity thinking to take away their mental anxiety. Importantly, thisdoes not mean they cannot clearly distinguish good from evil! This is a common misunderstanding in early-stage practitioners. You must succeed at dualistic clarity about real and unreal before you advance to nondual responses.
I like to call contemplation “full-access knowing”—prerational, nonrational, rational, and transrational all at once. Contemplation refuses to be reductionistic. Contemplation is an exercise in keeping your heart and mind spaces open long enough for the mind to see other hidden material. It is content with the naked now and waits for futures given by God and grace. As such, a certain amount of love for an object or another subject and for myself must precede any full knowing of it. As the Dalai Lama says so insightfully, “A change of heart is always a change of mind.” We could say the reverse as well—a true change of mind is also, essentially, a change of heart. Eventually, they both must change for us to see properly and contemplatively.
This is where prayer comes in. Instead of narrowing our focus, contemplative prayer opens us up. “Everything exposed to light itself becomes light” (see Ephesians 5:14). In contemplative prayer, we merely keep returning to the divine gaze and we become its reflection, almost in spite of ourselves. “All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image” (2 Corinthians 3:18). I use the word “prayer” as the umbrella word for any interior journeys or practices that allow us to experience faith, hope, and love within ourselves. It is always a form of simple communing! Despite what Christians have often been taught, prayer is not a technique for getting things, a pious exercise that somehow makes God happy, or a requirement for entry into heaven. It is much more like practicing heaven now by leaping into communion with what is right in front of us.
The Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) is an educational nonprofit introducing seekers to the contemplative Christian path of transformation.
Who We Are
Franciscan Richard Rohr founded the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) in 1987 because he saw a deep need for the integration of both action and contemplation—the two are inseparable. As Father Richard likes to say, the most important word in our Center’s name is neither Action nor Contemplation, but the word and.
Contemplation is a way of listening with the heart while not relying entirely on the head. Contemplation is a prayerful letting go of our sense of control and choosing to cooperate with God and God’s work in the world. Prayer without action, as Father Richard says, can promote our tendency to self-preoccupation, and without contemplation, even well-intended actions can cause more harm than good.
I rather like this article by Alisa Childers, extracted from the Internet.
Although her position on Christian faith is not my own, I acknowledge that she knows what she is talking about. This is in contrast to so much comment on a topic from one side or another when neither side is prepared to listen to or understand that other. Alisa’s 5 signs shows that she has done her research and can write from a knowledgeable base. Her approach contrasts clearly the difference between traditional orthodox Christianity and “progressive” Christianity.
She then makes the considered decision to stay with her tradition. From my perspective, however, it is interesting to note that she implies that, of the members of her initially “evangelical” congregation, she and her husband were the only ones to do so. The rest of the congregation appear to have chosen the progressive path.
This sort of process is at the heart of my programme of scholarships for theological students. These are two starkly, one might say opposing, approaches to Christian faith. We have a choice of which we find the more satisfying. But that choice is going to be more firmly based if we have the knowledge to make an informed judgement. That can only be done if we are prepared to expose ourselves, as Ms Childers, has done, to both points of view.
In that way I would hope no matter which path we choose. we can be more confident exponents of the Jesus Way we would hope to proclaim.
PS The link to Alisa’s website is Alisa Childers I Blog . There is a long list of comments to her original article.
I originally thought of calling the next gathering’s topic ‘Looking back to our origins’ but decided that it sounded too much like a study of the early chapters of Genesis, and that ‘Looking back to our future’ might be a better – though perhaps more quirky – description!
We will reflect on how we as a group commenced exploring and talking about our various spiritual journeys by ‘re-living the questions’ that have led to our adoption of the ideals of ‘The Way’ of Jesus, through questioning, challenging, and in many cases jettisoning, some long-held theological beliefs. We’ll also examine an article by our respected exploring colleague and progressive bookseller Rodney Eivers, who comments on a posting by Alisa Childers titled ‘Five signs your church might be heading towards progressive Christianity’. Rodney poses the question as to whether this is a threat, a challenge or an opportunity. The Childers post and Rodney’s comments are both in the attachment.
I encourage you to look at the Childers article and bring some ideas to Monday’s discussion about any parts of it that you think deserve an airing – whether or not you agree with them!
As usual, we’ll gather between 6 and 8 p.m. on Monday 7th June, in the ground-floor activities room at the Azure Blue Retirement Complex, 91 Anzac Ave., Redcliffe. Everyone’s very welcome to participate in our lively discussions. If you haven’t been to our meetings before it would be wise to give me a call (3284 3688 or 0401 513 723) regarding access and parking arrangements.
The usual Covid-safe conditions will be observed, and of course you’re urged to stay at home if feeling unwell or get tested if you think you might have any Covid symptoms.
Twelve Rules for Living a Better Life – Bill Crews
What a man, what a life, and what an inspiration for living the Jesus Way at the “grass roots”!
I had hardly heard of the Rev. Bill Crews until a few years ago. No more than two or three times when he turned up on television or the wireless as promoting some charitable event such as his annual Christmas meal in inner Sydney. I got the impression that he may have had something to do with Uniting Church minister Ted Noffs who founded and was associated with the Wayside Chapel in Kings Cross.
Ted Noffs was one on my pin up boys in the early days of the Uniting Church. One of my most memorable reading discoveries being his book, By What Authority?, Published in 1979. It turns out that Bill Crews was very much a long-serving protégé of Ted Noffs, at the Wayside Chapel. On departing from that association he studied for the ministry and was appointed to Ashfield Uniting Church where I gather, he is still the minister.
These days, in reading of any Christian religious leader I am always curious about her or his religious orientation. That is, in that fundamental divide between orthodoxy and progressive Christianity. Ted Noffs would have been a “Progressive” leader in his day although that term was not in common usage at that time. I gather he was put on trial by the Methodist Church for heresy. Bill Crews seems to have followed in Noffs footsteps. Academically, it would, however, have been to a lesser degree. Crews himself describes Noffs as the thinker and himself as the doer.
Nevertheless, the supernatural, to a varying degree a mark of traditional Christian orthodoxy, plays no significant part in Crews’s practice of Christian faith. In one chapter where he ponders on some of the remarkably favourable coincidences which have come his way, he dabs a toe into the possibility of an “outside” force guiding certain events. He does not dwell on this, however. No, his faith is expressed in what Jesus seemed to urge. If we want the world to be a better place it is up to us humans to do something about it, not wait for God to do it.
God does not get much of a mention but quotations of what Jesus is claimed to have said are scattered through many of the chapters of the book.
Bill Crews has an interesting description of what might be the God-drive in his life. He calls it “The Voice”. Although not naming it in the same way I find myself identifying with a concept such as he describes. Beyond early childhood, (and perhaps not even then) a theistic God – someone “out there” in control of the world and available to be called upon if we provide the right formula, has not been a realistic concept. Even Tillich’s “ground of being” or panentheism (God in everything) has failed to grip me.
And yet, right since early childhood something has driven me to seek to make the world a better place. Through an association with the Christian church this has come to be linked with the example and wisdom of Jesus of Nazareth. It is something that, like Bill Crews’s “Voice”, survives in me despite any eventualities which might threaten to subdue it. In my case, in spite of a restless desire to change the world, and although I have come up with new ideas from time to time over the years, I have never had the charisma, leadership or persistence, compared with Crews to put anything notable into practice. Maybe care in the deliberate preservation of intimate relationships which was part of Bill Crews’s struggle, also has had something to do with that.
The appeal of Bill Crew’s story is not that he displays an aura of perfection. On the contrary, the impact of the book comes from the raw honesty with which he describes his own failings, especially in his intimate personal relationships. I am sure that many ministers and other church leaders will identify with the tension which arises between “marriage and family responsibilities” and “doing the Lord’s work”. Crews acknowledges that this “blindness” contributed to the breakup of his two marriages and a long-lasting alienation from other close relatives. We see a comparable stress indicated by the gospel writers in their depiction of the family relationships of Jesus.
It may also be said, reading between the lines, that in person, Bill Crews may not have been an easy person to get along with. As they say, history is written by the winners. Some of those who hindered him in one or other of his projects could have had good reason to do so. If I had known him face to face we may well have had differences of thinking and practice to work our way through. Indeed, Crews acknowledges that for all the support and admiration he had for Ted Noffs. the two of them did not always see eye to eye.
Having pointed to these few caveats, however, I have to express, admiration and commendation for the example Bill Crews has set. He has demonstrated in a very practicable and achievable way how the church in this 21st century can, at the most fundamental level, identify with the poor and needy in this world. Venturing out in this way at personal risk can at least move us in the direction of establishing and nurturing that Kingdom of God which Jesus defined.
I would like to see every person training for leadership in our Uniting Church or any other churches for that matter, well acquainted with this story.
A niggly point about the presentation of the book and its title. A name like “Twelve Rules for Living a Better Life” does not tell you much. It could have been the title of dozens of books on pop psychology over the years. In my reading, the 12 rules tend to be incidental and not concise enough to be imprinted in one’s memory. What gives them their power is that they come from the experience of Bill, himself. It is his views, his experiences his practices which lead to the rules. I would have preferred to see the title of the book simply “Bill Crews his story”, or something like that, highlighting him as a person. “Twelve Rules…” could then perhaps be added as a sub title. I would also have preferred to see a tone, lighter than the black background for the cover.
The chosen depiction, however, may reflect Crews’s decision, in his later years, to wear black.
This book is available as an ebook or paperback at Amazon and I am sure Wally will bring a few copies with him for sale. Here is a little teaser for our conversation together:
I think Christianity has become stuck in doctrinal formulations established centuries ago but still held dearly. These include such as Jesus as Son of God/A coming reign of God/ a heavenly place/focus on salvation/anticipation of a future time and place when immortality can be enjoyed with the divine, all surrounded by religious language that tends to define the church.
Many have waited through the centuries for these things to come, and many continue to wait in this time for last days to arrive. The language of creeds and prayers and hymns continue to express this hope.
There is a tension between what is hoped for in the future and what humankind hopes for daily life. Another examination of what Jesus taught and how he lived his life and what his expectations for his people were, is a way to ease the tension while at the same time easing the problems that people face every day.
I look forward to seeing many of you there. Of course, COVID safe guidelines will be followed, so please stay home if you are unwell. I have reserved a table at Moray Cafe for those who want to have lunch together after the meeting.
Our next Explorers Gathering will be on Sunday 6 June in the Caloundra Uniting Church hall from 5.30 until 7 pm. I am excited to announce that our speaker will be Rev Matt O’Donoghuewhose topic will be What is ‘Real’ Church? How younger generations reimagine and reshape Church community. Following his presentation there will be discussion, and he will conclude the evening with a New Liturgy by Aaron Niequist. With the relaxation of Covid restrictions we can bring a plate to share. However we will need to be served by people who have done the Dining In course.
One of our subscribers, Karel Reus, is on a quest for progressive expressions in liturgy. Recently he has put together an introduction to the The Great Prayer of Thanksgiving (see “Approaching the Eucharist” below), and is wondering if a conversation is possible between like-minded progressive liturgists.
Please make suggestions, offer ideas, ask questions or give a personal opinion. We do have the work of Rex Hunt, see When Progressives Gather Together (2016) or William L. Wallace’s Sacred Mass, the Salt of the Earth Liturgy from St Mark’s Episcopal Church in Washington DC, the thoughts of T.Mark Dove in his Communion Invitation, or that including children by Ana Gobbledale, but your thoughts are as valuable as any, so please help Karel (and others) in his quest.
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread,and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’
The rabbi leans in again –
this time to raise a cup –
no chalice this, but common-or-garden kitchenware,
infused by his words:
The cup is raised
In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’
and Paul sums it up for all the ages:
“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
No record is kept.
No one takes notes.
No motions are moved,
but they know that the earth has moved;
that the rabbi has set something in motion of immense importance,
and we watch and obey and remember.
The atmosphere has changed
as the contest of life with death plays out before them
and a tangible sense of betrayal
hangs in the air.
Rabbi Yeshua feels the walls closing in – tomblike;
he longs for fresh air and he suggests a walk in the garden….
With the benefit of hindsight, we know he will not return – in the flesh, that is.
Dear Member of A Progressive Christian Voice (Australia) inc [APCVA],
I was delighted to discover that I was able to have a letter published in the Monday (3 May) edition of the Sydney Morning Herald.
The issue I addressed in my letter was sparked by responses to a speech that the Australian PM gave to a gathering of his fellow-Pentecostals….
I was responding to the claim that Australia was founded on “Judeo-Christian values”.
I am sure there were a whole mixture of values influencing the framers of The Australian Constitution from Enlightenment-influenced lawyers to a spiritualist Alfred Deakin, and others in between, including Judeo-Christians..
My take is that, like the framers of the American Constitution, the chief movers-and-shakers wanted to entrench the separation of Church and State. That is why both the American and the Australian documents refer so very sparingly (and warily) to any role the state may have in regards to religion.
Anyway, the SMH printed my letter. A copy is printed below.
PS. I hope that a number of APCVA members could pen letters on important issues to their appropriate media. (And let us know that they have done so.)
If the Australian federation was founded on Judeo-Christian values, as Judith Bond asserts, (Letters, May 12) then two explanations at least are needed.
The federation speedily enacted laws based on white supremacy, namely the ‘white Australia policy’.
While also no mention was made of prior Indigenous occupancy of the country.
And the federation was created through the dispossession of the same Indigenous peoples.
What Christian values shaped the supremacist action and the dispossession?
Christianity served as a chaplain to white supremacist European empires that, for centuries, dispossessed Indigenous people across four continents.
Since writing the 2nd edition of my book The Ending of Mark’s Gospel: The Keyto Understanding the Gospels and Christianity in 2020 I have come to realize how different Jesus was and that his life before his baptism was the foundation for what became Christianity. Although his mission began suddenly when he was about 30, his previous experience must have provided the motivation for what he said and did.
According to Mark, Jesus’s birth was natural, but he was very different from everyone around him and he knew it. His relatives thought he was mad (Mark 3:21) and went to take charge of him. They knew he was different, and the most likely reason for this was that he was illegitimate, the result of his mother being raped by a Roman soldier when Sepphoris, just a few kilometres from Nazareth, was sacked by Roman forces after the death of King Herod in 4 BC. So Jesus looked different, probably with non-Jewish features.
He was also different in other ways. He was obviously very intelligent and religiously minded, and as a carpenter he would have been involved in the rebuilding of Sepphoris, which was the capital of Galilee and a centre of Jewish culture. It was probably there, rather than in his village of Nazareth, that he learnt the Hebrew scriptures, and in the gospels he is sometimes called “Rabbi” meaning a teacher. As a rabbi he should have been married with children but there is no evidence for this in the New Testament, and it is reasonable to assume that he was gay.
Being gay in that Jewish environment he would have felt alone; and as Joseph, his legal father, had probably died when he was very young there was no father-figure in his life. It is therefore understandable that he should form a close personal relationship with God, whom he called “Abba” (an intimate term for “Father”) in Mark 14:36. This relationship for Jesus was a loving one.
So we have a young man who is gay, looks different and feels different, yet is steeped in the Jewish culture of his time and place. Because of his loving nature he finds consolation in his relationship with God. Although not accepted by others he feels accepted by his Creator. It might have been when he was a teenager that he identified with the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 who was ‘despised and rejected.’ Isaiah does not say why the servant was despised, but as someone so different in this very religious environment Jesus probably felt the same. In the gospels there are allusions to the book of Isaiah, and several times Jesus says that the son of man, meaning himself, must suffer. In Mark 10:45 he says that he came to serve and give his life.
When he was about 30 he went to receive John’s baptism of repentance. At his baptism Jesus experienced his old life being washed away, although he must still have been aware of his gayness and accepting of it. At the same time something amazing happened: the Holy Spirit entered into him (Mark 1:10). In the Greek text published by the United Bible Society the preposition is
which means ‘into’. Jesus felt that the power of his Father was in him.
This man, so different and alone, now had a purpose in life. He could see the meaning of it all: his Father had put him in this time and place to bring in the Kingdom of God. So as a commanding and charismatic figure he embarked on his mission. He told everyone the good news, that the Kingdom of God was near (Mark 1:15), and he was determined to bring it in.
In the Kingdom everyone is loved by the Father and with his love there is acceptance, forgiveness and healing, just as Jesus had experienced it. When others believed him remarkable things happened and large crowds gathered to hear him and bring their sick loved-ones to him. The gospel writers all agree that he taught about the Kingdom of God, usually in simple parables so that the people could understand. Some readers, however, have seen Jesus as a passive character in the story, the helpless victim of a cruel world or an innocent man crushed by the wheel of fate. This perception could have derived from Isaiah 53:7 where the Suffering Servant is led like a lamb to the slaughter, but this only applied to Jesus after his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. The situation was actually very different because Jesus was in control all the way.
He knew he was the Messiah but not in a political sense. The idea of a coming Messiah was in the Old Testament, and the gospels are full of allusions to passages in it and quotations from it. Some readers have suspected that the gospel writers just made up these connections to support their belief that Jesus was the Messiah. Although this was sometimes the case, as when Matthew referred to Isaiah 7:14 to support Jesus’s virginal conception, the allusions are mainly there because Jesus used them in his mission. His stage-managed entry into Jerusalem refers to the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9. His disruption of the business in the Temple, which must have caused the authorities great concern, referred to Jeremiah 7:11. Jesus knew his Hebrew scriptures and he intended to follow them in what he said and did. Even when he was silent before the high priest (Mark 14:61) it was not just a coincidence. He was following the script in Isaiah 53:7. He knew exactly what he was doing.
Jesus arranged everything according to his plan, which was also God’s plan. He had provoked the Jewish authorities to kill him, and to make sure he told Judas to inform them where he would be after their fellowship meal, which was the Passover meal in Mark’s gospel. The Passover festival was significant for Jesus’s purpose because it symbolized the salvation of the people. What is supremely significant is that during this meal Jesus said that the bread he gave them was his body and the wine was his blood, meaning that he would live in them. Like the Suffering Servant he ‘poured out his life’ (Isaiah 53:12) just as the wine was ‘poured out for many’ (Mark 14:24). He did this out of love. In the gospels the Greek word for love is
(agape) which means a self-giving concern for others. In this way Jesus gave himself for others and brought in the Kingdom of God.
Jesus would have arranged with Joseph of Arimathea, who was waiting for the Kingdom of God (Mark 15:43), to put his body in his tomb. Jesus expected that when the disciples came together to eat food after his crucifixion, they would realize that he lived in them. He probably did not expect that the Jewish authorities would remove his body to prevent the tomb becoming a rallying site for his followers, but the empty tomb proved to be an added bonus for his purpose, which was to bring in the Kingdom. Actually it was the Father who arranged for the tomb to be empty. He had prompted the authorities to think of removing the body.
Jesus had to die as the Suffering Servant died. ‘He poured out his life unto death.’ (Isaiah 53:12) It was God’s way of putting his spirit into the hearts of human beings. The Kingdom of God is thus the community of spirit-filled disciples. They are held in God’s love, which goes out to the world through them. It is amazing to think that it originated in the love that a gay man felt for his God and God had for him.
A new approach required to alter the youth justice trajectory
In response to the Youth Justice and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 passed by the Queensland Government, the Uniting Church in Australia, Queensland Synod (Uniting Church in Queensland) calls for effective, compassionate and evidence-based solutions.
“Most repeat young offenders are growing up in entrenched, intergenerational disadvantage. We need to address the complex and long-term causes and resource real long-term solutions.” said the Moderator of the Uniting Church in Queensland, Rev Andrew Gunton
“Family support services are crucial in assisting the whole family when trying to address offending by children and young people. Unfortunately, there are long waiting lists to access these services due to a lack of funding.” he said.
The Uniting Church in Queensland with agencies like UnitingCare Queensland and Wesley Mission Queensland provides services and support to Queensland families and young people coming into contact with police and the courts.
“We have seen that engagement in education is central to developing the skills and capacity that children and young people need to enter and remain in the workforce, which is what really brings change. It is vital that teachers and principals receive adequate training to identify and respond to the trauma related responses they see in the classroom. Increased funding should be directed at the Youth Support Coordinator roles in Queensland Schools and alternative models of education delivery, such as flexi schools.
If we address family issues at an early stage and provide therapeutic, flexible and innovative support for children, we have a better chance of reducing youth offending and increasing the wellbeing and security of the whole community.”
The Uniting Church in Queensland’s position paper on youth justice is available here.
The second edition of my book The Ending of Mark’s Gospel: The Key to Understanding the Gospels and Christianitywas published in 2020, and in it I described a paradigm shift in my thinking about this gospel. Also I argued that Mark wrote his gospel in Rome in about 52 AD. Such an early date is very much a minority view these days, but the more I investigated the matter the more convinced I became. The date is important because if Mark wrote only about twenty years after Jesus’ crucifixion it supports the essential truthfulness of his account. As I explained in my book, although the text was subsequently interfered with in several places the original author (or authors) was genuinely trying to relate what he or she knew and believed.
In Mark 13:2 Jesus predicts the demolition of the temple in Jerusalem, and scholars have assumed that the gospel was written after 70 AD when the temple was destroyed. But in 1952 the British biblical scholar Vincent Taylor explained in his commentary that in prophesying the destruction of the temple Jesus stood in line with the prophets Micah and Jeremiah, and he went on to say, ‘In point of fact the temple was destroyed by fire, and of this there is no hint in the saying, a difference which cannot lightly be dismissed.’ After the destruction of the temple Josephus wrote in JewishWar 4:388 that there was ‘a certain ancient oracle’ that the city would be taken and the temple burnt. D.R. Carson and Douglas Moo in An Introduction to the New Testament published in 2005 state that Jesus’ predictions in Mark 13 ‘reflect stock Old Testament and Jewish imagery having to do with the besieging of cities rather than the specific circumstances of the siege of Jerusalem.’ However, for other reasons Vincent Taylor concluded that ‘the weight of evidence favours a date after Peter’s martyrdom rather than during his lifetime.’ (According to tradition Peter was martyred in Rome during or after the persecution of Christians in 64 AD.) Taylor considered that Mark writing ‘during Peter’s lifetime is improbable in the light of the testimony of Irenaeus and the Anti-Marcionite Prologue.’
Concerning the prologue to Mark’s gospel, Bernard Orchard and Harold Riley examined it in detail in a section of their book The Order of the Synoptics Why Three Synoptic Gospels? published in 1987. They considered that even if its composition was as late as the second half of the fourth century it reflected second-century traditions. They explained that there are two recensions of the prologue. In the first there is a sentence stating that ‘after the demise of Peter’ Mark published his gospel. In the second, before these words are repeated, there is another sentence which states that ‘when Peter heard about it’ he approved it. Orchard and Riley concluded that ‘there is no discrepancy between them, but merely the clarification that a later situation allowed to be brought out and which the compiler of recension I did not include.’ Orchard and Riley thought that the recensions simply reflected the statement of Clement of Alexandria who wrote in about 200 AD that when Peter knew of Mark’s gospel ‘he neither actively prevented nor encouraged the undertaking.’
The testimony of Irenaeus has been a big obstacle to an early date for Mark’s gospel because in the late second century he stated that Mark wrote after the departure of Peter and Paul. Here the word ‘departure’ means death. The full text is as follows: ‘Matthew also issued a written gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon his breast, did himself publish a gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.’ Rudolf Von Harnack, following J.W. Chapman, was convinced that ‘Irenaeus simply wished to prove that the teaching of the four chief apostles did not perish with their death, but that it came down to us in writing.’ Harnack was Professor of Church History at the University of Berlin, and in his book The Date of the Acts and of the Synoptic Gospels published in 1911 he argued that this meaning becomes clear when Irenaeus’ text is carefully examined. So according to Harnack, ‘Irenaeus does not mean to say that the gospel of St Matthew was composed at the time when St Peter and St Paul were preaching in Rome, nor that the second gospel was not written until after the death of the two chief apostles. He had no further information concerning the origin of the two gospels than what could be read in Papias, upon whose words his own are based.’ In the early second century Papias had written that Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately all that he remembered of the things said and done by the Lord.
A multitude of scholars have written about the date of Mark’s gospel and given various opinions. Harnack argued that it was written in the 50s because he believed that Luke read it before writing The Acts of theApostles, which he finished in about 62 AD. As I explained in my book, I think Luke wrote during or after the period 64 to 70 AD when the temple was destroyed. Luke showed that he knew what happened in the Jewish war because he changed Jesus’ prediction that the abomination that causes desolation would be set up in the temple (Mark 13:14) to ‘When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near.’ (Luke 21:20) Luke knew that Jesus’ prediction recorded by Mark never happened. All things considered, I believe that Mark wrote his gospel in about 52 AD.
Progressive Christians should try to think independently in regard to biblical studies and be wary of majority opinions. It is so easy to jump on a bandwagon and be carried away. John Shelby Spong in his book Unbelievable published in 2018 wrote on page 183, ‘Biblical scholarship is quite certain that the earliest copies of Mark ended with verse 8 of chapter 16 – that is, with the women, having heard the resurrection message, fleeing in fear and saying nothing to anyone. . . . The great majority of New Testament scholars now accept the fact that Mark ended his gospel exactly as we find it at 16:8.’ Readers of my book about the ending of Mark’s gospel know that the great majority are probably wrong.
Hans Küng died last Tuesday aged 93. I had the honour of knowing him as a friend. He was a rare breed: a theologian who spoke to people of diverse beliefs and none.
It’s not often that you get a chance to improve a world-famous Swiss-German theologian’s English as you drive along the Reuther Freeway in Detroit, Michigan in your Volkswagen Golf. Yes, I know ‘world-famous’ is not a term that you usually apply to theologians, but this was 1983 and the theologian in question was writing op-eds for the New York Times, was being interviewed by all the major US networks, was giving lectures all over the country and was Visiting Distinguished Professor at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. I was his temporary amanuensis and occasional driver.
‘Paul, make sure I speak proper ‘English’ English, not American English,’ he said as we drove to yet another lecture. I took as our guide to ‘proper’ English some of the patter arias from Gilbert and Sullivan. No one can write tongue-twisting English like Sir William Schwenck Gilbert, and Küng took to the modern major general and Sir Joseph Porter, KCB like a duck to water. He was fascinated that the British navy minister was called ‘First Lord of the Admiralty,’ and he loved the ‘three little girls from the ladies’ sem-in-air-ry’.
Born in Sursee, Switzerland, in March 1928, into a middle-class family, Küng was the eldest of seven with five sisters. Deciding to be a priest at age 11, he studied for the Diocese of Basel and was educated at Rome’s Gregorian University, the Sorbonne and the Institut Catholique de Paris. In his Memoirs he says that he grew up ‘in the time of Adolf Hitler’s seizure of power and the threat to our national and personal freedom’ in Switzerland and that, he says, ‘shaped my early years.’ Freedom of thought and speech were primary values for him.
[This is a long but very interesting paper but one that contributes an enormous amount to the field of critical progressive thinking. Treat it like a book and come back to it with coffee in hand! It lends itself to much debate! George has conducted probably his last service at Toronto Uniting Church, Hunter Valley NSW, because of what he describes as age (85) and frailty.
For a number of years, he has thought it important to give worship leaders alternatives to the lyrics which are in the official Australian hymnbook volumes – The Australian Hymnbook, first published in 1977, and Together in Song, first published in 1999. Most of the tunes he uses can be found in many different hymnbooks throughout the world. The tunes he uses are always identified by name. He writes lyrics from a ‘progressive’ theological perspective.
All his new lyrics are available free, for use in public worship. They can be printed and copied; they can be projected through data projectors as Power Point Presentations; they can be electronically stored for future use. Most of the musical scores can also be printed, as required; all from his Website. This is a huge resource and a great asset in the world of progressive christianity. ]
Truth-Telling and our sacred book.
In the pursuit of ‘Truth-Telling’, I believe the church has some difficult ‘Truth-Telling’ to do about our past particularly regarding our sacred book, the Bible. Why the Bible? Because it comes to us from our somewhat distant church past. This ‘Truth-Telling’ is not absent but I believe it has to be far more obvious to the general public and also needs to be given more voice within the church to help our members confront the issues this ancient book raises. By this, I believe the church may gain again some credibility in our world today.
With the call to excise from our present situation the ‘honoring’ of the names of historical figures who are now being exposed as slave-traders, violent leaders, racists, etc., along with the disfiguring and dismantling of statues of past prominent figures of history, some of it in the name of the ‘Truth-Telling’, maybe now could be an opportune time for some more hard thinking about what more needs to be said by the church about the our church’s past.
There are many issues raised by our sacred book but being specific, I believe it is very necessary for the church to ‘call out’ and repudiate the violent activity of the God which is depicted on so many of the Bible’s pages, particularly of the Old Testament but also to a lesser extent of the New. I think this ‘Truth-Telling’ about our sacred book needs to be done especially when Christians and Christian leaders make critical comments about the way some people, particularly non-church people like President Trump, use the Bible.
‘Truth Telling’ about the past, as we all know, can often be very difficult and painful because it can bring to the light those parts of history we wish to ignore or forget; parts that we do not wish to discuss with, or teach to those who may not know. It often raises those parts of history about which many of us take a very different posture today, thank goodness, but it can also raise guilt feelings which we find very uncomfortable and to a degree, sometimes resist.
Self-examination within the church can be unsettling particularly when it exposes our ‘dark’ past and thus can offend others who are members of our own ‘tribe’.
When Jesus involved himself in some ‘Truth-Telling’ about his Jewish history in the Hebrew Scriptures, he got himself into strife. Early in his ministry, we are told, he was in the synagogue at Nazareth, teaching. The reaction of those listening was,
And all spoke well of him and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth ;…(Luke 4:22.)
However, the gospel writer tells us that Jesus continued his teaching with,
And he (Jesus) said, “Truly I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his own country. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, when there came a great famine over all the land; and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon to a woman who was a widow. (Referring to a story in 1 Kings 17:8-24.) And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha; and none of them were cleansed but only Naaman the Syrian. (Referring to a story in 2 Kings 5:1-14.) (Luke 4:24-27.)
Jesus certainly knew his Jewish scriptures. Very selective in his quoting, but the stories are there and were probably avoided by the current religious leaders and teachers. Some confronting ‘Truth-telling’! Was this exposing a side of their history his fellow Jews didn’t want to hear? The stories he was referring to were suggesting that foreigners were respected and even cared for more than their own Jewish ancestors. What was the result of this ‘Truth-Telling’?
When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath, and they rose up and put him out of the city and they lead him to the brow of a hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong. But passing through the midst of them he went away. (Luke 4:28-30.)
It amazes me how quickly crowds can turn from praise to persecution. I find it worrying that this can be the reaction to ‘Truth-Telling’. The fear of persecution may even lead to the avoidance of ‘Truth-Telling’ particularly if it is thought that this persecution could be carried out by members of one’s own ‘tribe’. It may also lead to unwanted division within the ‘tribe’.
So, I hope you find this paper useful. It is my honest attempt to do some ‘Truth-Telling.’, as I see it. I think we regular church-goers sometimes accept, without a great deal of scrutiny, what we are told in the church.
Although extremely difficult for me, I feel I need to construct this paper using the concepts of God that are nearly universal in the church and certainly promoted right throughout the Bible. These concepts include the anthropomorphic characterization of God and connected with this, that God is a being, a person, who ‘does things’. This biblical God intervenes in human history to execute God’s will and purpose. Being a panentheist I find all this unacceptable and I use quite different images when speaking of God. I am somewhat reluctant to use the word God at all, because of the immense unwanted baggage which it carries and which seems extremely difficult to throw off. My concept of God is that God is in everything and everything is in God, so for me, the life force, the inherent underlying foundation of all that is, is ‘involved’ but not intervening from ‘outside’.
So in this paper I use biblical images and concepts to try to connect with regular church-goers because I think this is where many start. But by using these images, I do not wish to convey the impression that I like using them or that they are the foundational images and concepts of God that I embrace. Not so!
In this paper I refer to ‘Reader-Response interpretation’, quite a few times. Because of the study I have done regarding the numerous Bible references I make throughout this paper, I recognise my interpretations can differ from other people’s interpretation. I have found that very different interpretations are given by various biblical commentators when they deal with the same text.
‘Reader-Response interpretation’ is reading into the text one’s own experience of one’s own day and culture, rather than reading the text itself; taking note of what the text actually states and then learning from it, always taking into serious consideration its 1st Century middle-eastern cultural context.
I think those who have preached, using the Bible as their prime resource, have indulged in this ‘Reader-Response interpretation’ a great deal, and in extreme cases, have created their own text and then proclaimed it as being what the Bible teaches. I have been and still am certainly involved in this sort of interpretation, hopefully not to an extreme.
Moises Silva expounds on this matter.
Insofar as every reader brings an interpretive framework to the text, to that extent every reader generates a new meaning, and thus creates a new text. 
Edgar McKnight, a respected proponent of Reader-Response theory, suggests that since we cannot completely break out of our self-validating system, ultimate meaning is unreachable. All we can hope for is to discover and express truth ‘in terms that make sense within a particular universe of meaning’. We may, therefore, continue to discover or create meaning, ‘which is satisfying for the present location of the reader’. 
With this in mind, in this paper I am claiming to do some ‘Truth-Telling’. That may be seen by some as being arrogant. Am I saying, “My interpretation of the Bible is one of ‘Truth-Telling’ whereas other approaches and interpretations are false and not concerned with ‘Truth-Telling’?” I certainly hope not. I don’t wish to give that impression but I suppose this is the predicament that one can get into when one expresses one’s views with passion and strong commitment. Others who disagree with me are ignorant and wrong!! I don’t wish to even suggest that. I certainly have passion and strong commitment to what I put forward in this paper, however, I wish, in no way, to say or suggest that other people who have different approaches are not as concerned with the truth as much as myself.
Their search for truth may be more productive than mine. For you to decide.
Violence and the biblical God who uses it and commands its use.
For me, one of the very troublesome issues of ‘Truth-Telling’ in the church is violence in the Bible.
Violence in itself, must have a place in telling about humanity’s past, the church’s past. Not telling the violent aspect of the past can cause the cry for ‘Truth-Telling’. However, when ‘Truth -Telling’ about the past in the Bible involves telling about a God being violent and commanding humans to be violent, I have a huge problem. Not that it is there, but that it is often either just accepted, explained away, ignored or completely avoided.
For years I have been faithfully questioning many parts of the Bible as to whether they really teach me about the God of love that I perceive Jesus taught and reflected in his life. I have no right to expect all the stories in the Old Testament to teach me about the God I learn from Jesus, however, being a follower of Jesus and a member of the church, I have the whole Bible, including the Old Testament with its stories and its teachings in front of me. In every church service, at least one, and sometimes up to four Bible passages are read. Thus, the Bible is presumed to be extremely important in the instruction of Christian beliefs and for guidance about how we should live. I need to determine whether particular stories and teachings help my spiritual growth or hinder it. I believe this dilemma is shared by many regular church-goers, but many who think about this issue of violence, put it out of sight because it is just too difficult. Why is it difficult? Because the Bible is revered as authoritative but it has stories in it that speak of a God demanding the slaughter of infants and children!
The other day I was sharing with a friend in my congregation, my concern about violence in the Old Testament. She is one whom I regard as a faithful follower of Jesus. She is a regular church-goer like myself. She said to me, “Well George, just don’t read it.” Maybe sound advice. However, the whole content of the Bible is still available for everyone, including church-goers, to read and study and so my concern remains. When such issues are addressed by serious ‘Truth-Telling’, and when followed by essential, competent teaching, this helps us ordinary church-goers address these. Otherwise we are encouraged to keep our heads in the sand!
So, to my endeavor.
At the outset, it is important to emphasize that in the Bible, the violence of God and God’s commands to be violent, are nearly always God’s response to idolatry, worshipping other Gods, and/or the practice of injustice and corruption by the Israelites and their national and religious leaders. Regarding God’s violence, the ‘religious’ aspect of life, the human relationship with God, is nearly always bound to the ‘secular’ practice of justice and the appropriate use of power, the relationship that humans have with other humans.
As an example, a few quotes from Jeremiah.
For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow, or shed blood in this place, and if you do not go after other Gods to your own hurt, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers for ever. (Jeremiah 7:5-7.)
Both prophet and priest are ungodly; even in my house I have found their wickedness, says the Lord. Therefore their way shall be to them like slippery paths in the darkness into which they shall be driven and fall; for I will bring evil upon them in the year of their punishment, says the Lord. (Jeremiah 23:11-12.)
This connection of the worship of other Gods and the practice of justice in society are linked continuously throughout the Bible as that which incurs God’s judgement and consequentially, particularly in the Old Testament, God’s violent punishment. However, it must also be acknowledged that the violence of God is sometimes directed at the enemies of God’s chosen people and is often very excessive. The Exodus story is at the beginning of this violence and it continues in the violent conquest of the Promise Land. This particular partisan violence of the tribal God of Israel sickens me!
It takes the Bible only about 100 verses, not counting verses which are just lists of names in genealogies, for this biblical God to impose and carry out the death penalty on all humanity except one family and a few animals; Noah plus; see Genesis `6:7. This God burns to death all the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah except one family; see Genesis 19:24-25. And this God systematically inflicts death and destruction on the whole land of Egypt, including innocent men, women, young people and children; see Exodus chapters 7 to 14. I deal with this story in great detail later. I could go on and on and on.
These stories, being the product of a theology of about 3000 years ago, I take none of them literally but for me, the image of God presented in them is ultra-violently abhorrent. I do not believe that my reaction to this image should be ‘awkward and embarrassing’, as one much respected commentator seems to suggest. For me, that trivializes the matter.
This violent image of God continues throughout the early books of the Old Testament and then there are numerous references to this God of wrath and vengeance in the prophets, fighting against idolaters and God’s enemies.
And the angel the Lord…slew 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. (Isaiah 37:36.)
The violence of God continues in the later books of the prophets, including Amos, Hosea and Micah. These books have many statements about God waring against idolatry and injustice, those who don’t obey God’s commandments and even sometimes against enemies of God’s chosen people. These prophetic books are also appropriately quoted about God’s love, mercy and forgiveness and about God demanding justice and mercy from human beings in the exercise of their personal relationships with each other. An important example of this is in the Book of Micah in which there is the often quoted text of significant moral challenge. Notice again how the exercise of justice is linked to the peoples’ relationship to God.
He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8.)
However, only nine verses before this injunction, God says that God will act very violently.
I will root out your Asherim from among you and destroy your cities. And in anger and wrath I will execute vengeance upon the nations that did not obey. (Micah 5:14-15.)
Asherim refer to Gods who were worshipped, other than Yahweh, Israel’s’ God,
This violent image of God is not absent in the New Testament, as is clearly demonstrated in certain texts in the gospels and other parts of the New Testament, especially the Book of Revelation.
A major image of God in the Bible is that of a God who deals out rewards and punishments. These rewards and punishments are very often excessive. They are not absent in some parables of Jesus in the gospels.
Along with most regular church-goers, I do not believe in a violent or punitive God. I think this is because I do hear in church services, a lot of ‘Truth-Telling’ about the good content of the Bible. The violent image of God is by no means the only image of God presented in the Bible and in particular, in the Old Testament. Far from it; however, in my experience there has been a skewed instruction about our sacred book, which can be pinned down to a lack of ‘Truth-Telling’ about the ‘dark’ side of its content. This violent image is on a vast number of its pages, so in calling for ‘Truth-Telling’ about it, I need to highlight some stories, as I remember them.
At this stage I need to say that I believe this violent image of God plays little to no part in the message of Jesus, as I understand it, and I find it significant that Jesus seems to avoid parts of this ‘dark’ side of his Jewish scripture. I give examples of this a bit later
Probably the worst story.
It is the notorious story in 1 Samuel 15. It deals with the first command the Lord gave, through the prophet Samuel, to King Saul after he had been anointed king.
Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I will punish what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way, when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.’ (1 Samuel 15:3.)
Saul did not follow the commands of the Lord to the letter. He took Agag, the king of the Amalekites, a live prisoner and did not kill the best of the animals. This story concludes with how Samuel kills Agag by ‘hewing him in pieces before the Lord’; see. 1 Samuel 15:33.
According to the Hebrew word used for God, Yahweh, this story belongs to the ‘J’ tradition. I deal with this important issues in some detail latter on.
I believe this whole story is a disgraceful story regarding the image of God contained in it. Not a story to be read in a church service, especially if it is concluded with, ‘In this is the Word of God. Thanks be to God.’ Also, not a story for Sunday School children.
The Exodus story is important to me because it is taught as part of my Christian heritage and it still features in some of our church liturgies. Jews celebrate it very frequently and especially at their yearly Passover festival. To an extent, it tells of the origins of the Hebrew nation. This particular story is a pivotal story for the Children of Israel, told as biblical history of their great national liberation. Marcus Borg writes,
For the people of ancient Israel, the story of the exodus from Egypt was their ‘primal narrative’. It was the most important story they knew. 
…as Israel’s primal narrative, the exodus account is a paradigmatic story of God’s character and will. 
Also, I pick on the Exodus story because it is considered by some as a paradigm story for the whole of the Old Testament. Father Richer Rohr states,
One of the great themes in the Bible, which begins in the Hebrew Scriptures and is continued in Jesus and Paul, is called ‘the preferential option for the poor’; I call it ‘the bias toward the bottom’. We see the beginnings of this theme about 1200 years before Christ with an enslaved people in Egypt. Through their history God chooses to engage humanity in a social and long-standing conversation. The Hebrew people’s exodus out of slavery, through twists and turns and dead ends, finally brings them to the Promised Land, eventually called Israel. This is a standing archetype of the perennial spiritual journey from entrapment to liberation. It is a universal journey. 
Reasonably recent translations of the Bible are what many regular church-goers have and I am trying to put this paper together as one of those, a regular church-goer. So in my study of this Exodus story, I have concentrated very much on the biblical text in the Revised Standard Version. Also in this paper I have commented on what some liberation theologians say, given a brief reaction to the film ‘The Ten Commandments’, stated what some modern biblical commentators teach and also have researched some material about the historical growth of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Lastly, I have compared what some different translations have as the specific words of the story. In this comparison I have used the New Revised Standard Version, NRSV and the Good News Bible, GNB, comparing them to the one I usually use in the paper, the Revised Standard Version, RSV. This extra reading and study is probably significantly more than many other regular church-goers have done, so, there may be some new material for you in this paper.
I now comment in great detail, on the Exodus story as I understand it and interpret it, looking particularly at the image of God within it.
Like some other stories in the Old Testament, the Exodus story for me, presents an image of God as a separate, supernatural, very powerful Being/Person, intervening in human history to execute God’s will and purpose. I believe that, at the time of writing, ‘the Lord’ was understood as being the Hebrew tribal God.
In a nut-shell, this is the story I have been taught. This is how I remember it.
The Hebrews, called the Children of Abraham, were a nation of oppressed slaves in Egypt and their cries of suffering were heard by God, so God came down to earth and sent Moses to announce God’s work of liberation. God sent ten plagues to demonstrate God’s power in ‘signs and wonders’, and through them, punished Egypt because Pharaoh would not let the Hebrew slaves, God’s people, go. The first nine plagues in the story are; water in the Nile River and all over Egypt turned into blood; frogs; lice and gnats; flies; cattle death; boils; thunder, hail and fire; locusts and darkness for three days. These plagues caused untold death and destruction in all the land of Egypt; the death of all animals and the total destruction of all vegetation, fruit, plants and trees. The last and most devastating plague was that of the human death of the first-born of all Egyptian families and thus caused the death of countless humans, some infants, many older children and adults.
At midnight the Lord smote all the first-born in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the first-born of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the first-born of the cattle. (Exodus 12:29.)
After this, Pharaoh, wanting to rid himself and Egypt of these Hebrew slaves, submits to the Lord’s demand to let them go, but as they are escaping, Pharaoh turns on them again. The Hebrews slaves get caught at the edge of the Red Sea, with the sea of water in front of them and Pharaoh and all his warriors behind them. They are terrified. But God, in a show of almighty power, ‘divides’ the waters, enabling the Hebrew slaves to go forward on ‘dry land’.
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind all night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry land, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. (Exodus 14:21-22.)
The Egyptians had their hearts ‘hardened’ by God so that they pursued the escaping slaves. All the Egyptians in chariots and all Pharaoh’s horsemen get drowned when God ‘returned’ the water to its natural position. Thus God demonstrated, yet again, God’s power in this final ‘sign and wonder’.
And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, so that they shall go in after them and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots and his horsemen. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen. (Exodus 14:17-18.)
The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen and all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not so much as one of them remained. (Exodus 14:28.)
As a consequence of this final and most powerful ‘sign and wonder’, the people of Israel are at last liberated from their bitter slavery and continue their journey as God’s chosen people, freed from the oppression of Pharaoh. God’s power is greater than Pharaoh’s so the Hebrews’ great liberation is achieved.
The biblical background to the story.
This Exodus story and its biblical background is found in Exodus 1:1 to 15:21. I found the background in chapters 1 and 2 very important.
At the beginning of the Book of Exodus, it states that all the brothers of Joseph, together with their families, numbering 70, went to Egypt with their father Jacob. Joseph was already in Egypt, holding a very senior position in Pharaoh’s kingdom. However, after Jacob,
Joseph, all his brothers and all that generation died’, there ‘arose a king in Egypt who did not know Joseph. (Exodus 1:6,8.)
These Israelites are so numerous and strong that they are a threat to us. (Exodus 1:9 GNB.)
So the Egyptians enslaved them,
The Egyptians came to fear the Israelites and made their lives miserable by forcing them into cruel slavery. (Exodus 1:12-13 GNB.)
Although there is little hope of ever establishing correct dates for what was happening, if indeed anything did happen, it appears that this slavery continued for hundreds of years. Some estimates suggest upwards of 700 years. The Bible gives its comment when it states,
The time that the people of Israel dwelt in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years. (Exodus 12:40.)
The situation of the Hebrew slaves was hopeless. They were being treated extremely brutally at the hands of the Egyptians. They had no freedom. They were bitterly oppressed. They were slaves. Their slavery was accompanied by the systematic killing of every Hebrew male child, following the decree of the reigning Pharaoh.
Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live. (Exodus 1:22.)
And, according to the story, as already stated, this had continued for hundreds of years, so there were many generations of Hebrews who had known nothing in life except bitter, brutal slavery and the slaughter of their children.
There is a problem here. If all the Hebrew male children are killed at birth, who is to sire Hebrew children for subsequent generations. They would all be half Egyptian. Yet, many years later, at the time of the Exodus, there is said to be literally hundreds of thousands of slaves, and they wouldn’t be all women. My point is, I guess, that as with this, other statements in the story could be equally exaggerated or plainly false. This and the whole story, simply cannot be taken literally.
Such is the biblical background to the story; an immensely wretched situation for all the Hebrew people.
I read the story again, for the First Time.
With the above biblical introduction to the story, I read the story again ‘for the first time’. Thanks to Marcus Borg for that phrase. Initially I was delighted that the Lord was on the side of the desperately suffering slaves. At last they had someone who was concerned about their suffering and wanted to do something about it. They could not do anything for themselves. Their life had been so wretched for so long! They needed help. But, now, God being on their side, was going to do something. That was all very positive.
But alas, as the story continued, I became more and more disillusioned by the Lord who inflicted so much suffering and destruction on all the land of Egypt and its inhabitants, eventually killing thousands of Egyptian men, women and children, in order to free the slaves.
Five interwoven themes of the story.
So to my analysis of the story. After a close reading of the Exodus story itself, in chapters 7 to 15, there seems to me to be five different but intimately connected themes running through the whole story.
God’s self-promotion suggests to me that the Lord insists, ‘I am the Lord’, to be acknowledged universally. This recognition was to be given throughout all the earth. This Lord is determined to ‘gain glory’.
The Lord intends to free God’s people from the cruel, oppressive rule of the Pharaoh of Egypt.
God enlists human agents, Moses and/or Aaron, to communicate with Pharaoh and to cooperate with the Lord in performing the Lord’s ‘signs and wonders’.
The Lord ‘hardens’ Pharaoh’s heart and the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will try to resist God’s power.
Pharaoh is very brutal and is continually obstinate in refusing to obey the Lord’s commands and to recognize the Lord as Lord.
The text is saturated with all five.
I use both ‘God’ and ‘the Lord’ throughout this discussion because I believe there is no distinction between the two, in the minds of regular church-goers. ‘The Lord’ is ‘God’ and vice-versa.
I cannot ignore the self-promotion by the Lord. The story is full of it. In my interpretation, ‘I am the Lord’ is a short, emphatic proclamation that demands an immediate response. This self-promotion as well as self-identification, occurs 15 times. ‘I am the Lord.’ occurs in the text as spoken by the Lord or by Moses, quoting the Lord to Pharaoh or to others. Seven times in the text it is stated that something will happen ‘so that they will know that I am the Lord’. God’s intention is for God’s glory/name to be known throughout the earth and be acknowledged as its Lord; see Ex. 9:14,16,29. This emphasis on God ‘gaining glory’ is stated several times late in the story, notably as the reason for the last ‘sign and wonder’; see Ex. 14:4,17-18.
Brueggemann states in his commentary about this last ‘sign and wonder’ that,
The reason for Yahweh’s action is crucial for our interpretation. The last confrontation will be staged so that “I will get glory over Pharaoh.” Yahweh arranges the confrontation as an exhibition of enormous power, not for the sake of Israel. The final decisive intention is not Israelite freedom, but Yahweh’s glory, which is decisive. The outcome of the struggle (which Yahweh will win) is that Pharaoh in all his recalcitrance shall come at last to know “I am Yahweh.” 
In other words, in the final ‘sign and wonder’ of God, this first theme, that of the Lord wanting to ‘gain glory’ and be recognized as Lord of all, totally overshadows the second theme, mentioned below, that of the emancipation of the Hebrew slaves. Parting of the waters is the final act which secures the successful escape of the slaves, yet that is not mentioned as the reason for this last ‘sign and wonder’. It all has to do with God ‘gaining glory.’
From the very beginning, God’s intention to free the Hebrew slaves is made abundantly clear; see Ex. 3:7-10. The Lord is aware of God’s peoples’ situation of suffering; see Ex. 3:7-8, 6:5; and God demands the freedom of God’s people by commanding Pharaoh to “Let my people go.” This demand occurs six times in the text; see Ex. 7:16, 8:1,20, 9:1,13, 10:3, however, every one of these is linked to the first emphasis above, because the full demand is “Let my people go that they may serve/worship me.” For me, the purpose as stated in the text, is not specifically to give freedom to the slaves, which is vital and obviously intended, but that ‘they may serve/worship me’ thus giving the Lord more glory. Was the Lord’s main intention the freedom of the slaves or the worship they would give the Lord after their liberation? Obviously both were important. Freeing the Hebrew slaves is certainly a major intention of the Lord. God chose which side to be on, the side of the oppressed, and because they were God’s people. God intends to make good, God’s promise in the covenant God made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; see Ex. 6:4-8.
The Lord uses Moses and/or Aaron as God’s agents to communicate all God’s messages and demands to Pharaoh, sometimes at great risk to their own safety; see Ex. 10:28. The Lord never speaks directly to Pharaoh. God enlists Moses’ and Aaron’s cooperation by constantly being the Lord’s mouthpiece, and also by doing certain things like using Aaron’s rod; see Ex. 7:9,20, 8:5,17, 9:25, 10:13, 14:16, throwing ashes skyward; see Ex. 9:10, raising their hands to the sky; see Ex.9:22,33, 10:22, or stretching out their hands; see Ex. 14:21. In the text, God constantly executes God’s ‘signs and wonders’ with the assistance of Moses and/or Aaron throughout the story. Moses is told by the Lord to perform the miracles; see Ex. 4:21, and he and Aaron perform them; see Ex. 11:10. At one point, Moses seems to have the power to perform miracles without the Lord’s involvement, in that, by stretching out his hands, he stops the thunder and the hail; see Ex. 9:29,33. This may be the case, but it is God who gives Moses this power.
I find it interesting that the Lord does not request any involvement of Moses or Aaron in the killing of the first born Egyptians. God does it by ‘himself’; see Ex. 11:1,4, 12:12,13,29, 13:15. God’s ‘destroyer’ is mentioned as God’s agent only once; see Ex. 12:23. The story conveys to me that God alone is the deliberate killer.
Even though Moses and Aaron are important ‘agents’ of God, I still believe that accountability for all the ‘signs and wonders’ always and ultimately rests with the God of the story. For the story, it could be no other way. God is the initiating force behind what happens and without the Lord nothing would have happened.
Before the story of the actual Exodus story begins, the purpose of ‘hardening Pharaoh’s heart’ is made explicit; see Ex. 4:21, ‘so that he will not let the people go.’ Then halfway through the story; see Ex. 10:1, ‘that I may show these signs among them.’, and near the end of the story, see Ex. 14:17, ‘so that they will go in after them.’ These purposes are confirmed many times through the story, in that the phrase, ‘harden Pharaoh’s heart’ is immediately followed in the text by Pharaoh deciding to ‘not let the people go.’ This suggests that a causal connection exists. There are 19 times stated in the text when this ‘hardening’ occurs; ten of which state that it is the Lord who does the ‘hardening’; seven times when no attribution is made and twice where it is stated that Pharaoh ‘hardened’ his own heart. These numbers strongly suggest to me that the ‘hardening’ in the story, is God exercising God’s unopposable influence on the decision making ability of Pharaoh.
However, near the beginning of the story and even before the Lord performs any ‘signs and wonders’, Pharaoh slaps a further severe dictate on Hebrews, in that they are to gather straw for themselves as well as continue to make the same quota of bricks: see Ex.5:10-13. Previously the slaves had been given the straw. Pharaoh is a merciless slave-driver, before we are told his heart is hardened.
Pharaoh is totally unwilling to bow to the Lord’s demands or to recognize the sovereignty of God. Even after God has consistently shown that God has much superior power, Pharaoh refuses to accept he is the loser, and that in the end, all he will do is incur more determination by God and thus eventually leading to God inflicting death on all Egyptian families. 12 times it is stated in the text that Pharaoh would ‘not let the people go’, several times associated with ‘he would not listen to them (Moses and/or Aaron)’; see Ex 7:4,13, 8:15,19, 9:12. Near the end of this saga, just prior to the warning about the last plague of the death of the first-born of all Egyptian families, Pharaoh threatens Moses that, if he comes back into Pharaoh’s presence, he will be killed; see Ex. 10:28.
Comment on 4 and 5.
For this story, I to try to sort out the puzzle raised by Nos 4 & 5 above, as to who is actually the real force behind Pharaoh making his decisions. On the one hand there is the Lord’s ‘hardening Pharaoh’s heart’, which is dominant in the text, but on the other hand Pharaoh does ‘harden his own heart’, twice in the story. Also the Lord knows what Pharaoh’s reaction will be to the Lord’s demands; see Ex. 7:22, 8:15,19, 9:12,35. Probably this is quite predictable to anyone who knew the way Pharaoh exercised his authority so ruthlessly and without fear. Several times in the story Pharaoh makes hostile decisions without any mention of God ‘hardening his heart’; see Ex.5:10-11, 10:10-11.
Even though the Lord’s influence on Pharaoh’s decisions is unmistakably evident and extremely compelling, maybe irresistible, I think Pharaoh would have welcomed such influence because it confirmed what he was going to decide anyway. This, of course in no way excuses the way God uses God’s powers of influence. For me the puzzle remains.
So what for me now?
Pursuing a line of questioning, causes me considerable unrest because I am questioning a fundamental story of the Bible and thus, the Jewish celebration of it. I am a follower of Jesus but might I separate myself off from my heritage if I keep on questioning? If, however, I am going to do this exercise of what I understand to be ‘Truth-Telling’, I must keep questioning.
With the above as my understanding of the content of the story, although difficult, I must be honest with myself and ask the questions, ‘What does the story actually say to me?’ and ‘What is the image of God that I perceive is being conveyed to me in the story?’
I know I can answer questions only from within my own prejudicial predisposition, whatever that prejudice is. My prejudices and predispositions will become far more evident to you as you read, rather than to me as I write. However, I have tried to avoid bias and let the text itself have dominance.
I am trying to look at meanings within the story. I am not taking the story literally.
I believe I have looked at the actual content of the text in close detail and have given it, I think, little expansive interpretation. I have given what I think is a logically simple interpretation, while still regarding it all as story, albeit told at a particular time, in a particular situation, to a particular group of people in a particular culture, all very different to my own.
For example, if the words in the text say, ‘Let my people go, that they mayserve/worship me’, I have given the interpretation that the reason for God wanting God’s people to be let go from the oppressive rule of Pharaoh, is ‘thatthey may serve/worship me’. If this is repeated through the story in the text, then I have understood that the story-teller is trying to emphasize that this is the reason. If the command elsewhere in the text, to ‘let my people go’ is not immediately followed by some other reason, then I understand this to mean that, ‘that they may serve/worship me’ is the only reason for slaves’ liberation. There is no other. I think this is logical, reasonable and may well be correct.
However, underlying the actions of the Lord in the story, is the intense and resolute intention to free the Hebrews slaves. As I have already said, God has chosen sides because God’s purpose is to liberate the oppressed slaves, who are God’s people. This is also determinative in God wanting to keep God’s promise made to Abraham; see Ex. 2:24, 3:7-8,17, 6:2-8.
I came away from the story feeling alienated from the Lord because of all the destruction, terror and suffering the Lord inflicts. This feeling however, made me totally confused because the Lord had to do something major to free the slaves. Violence seemed the only possible way to accomplish this. Pharaoh was so obstinate and recalcitrant. One might even say the Pharaoh ‘forced God’s hand’. But the violence of the God involved was excessive and God was responsible for it all; no one else was.
I am in a bind because the more I look at this story and try to understand its teachings, the more I become confused. The image of God it portrays, I think, is of a power-hungry, self-indulgent, violent individual who will use any strategy to extract total submission from an adversary. If the Lord in the story was a human being, I think most people would agree but if this main character is God, then I have a huge problem. Yet this same God is on the side of the oppressed slaves, determined to bring them to freedom. This God is determined to put a stop to the terrible injustice dished out by Pharaoh. The difficulty for me is the means by which this God achieves it. God in the story is more violent than the brutal force of Pharaoh. My problem increases.
Are there times when being confronted with the violent abuse of power, the only way to prevent it is by using stronger violence? Is the teaching of Jesus about enemy love always adequate and appropriate?
God of the Exodus and Jesus.
Richard Rohr states;
I believe the Exodus story is the root of all liberation theology, which Jesus fully teaches and exemplifies, especially in the three synoptic gospels; see Luke 4:18-19. Jesus is primarily a healer of the poor and powerless. That we do not even notice this reveals our blindness to Jesus’ obvious bias. 
While I accept Rohr’s comment as far as it goes, like most other commentators I have read, he does not address here, the profound difference between Jesus and the God of the Exodus, regarding how each achieve liberation. Also, like most people who quote the incredibly significant and well known Luke passage, he fails to comment that Jesus, by cutting short that reading from Isaiah, separates himself off from the violence of God; ‘and the day of vengeance of our God.’; see. Isaiah 61:2b. I deal with this later when commenting on how Jesus uses his Jewish scriptures.
Carol J. Dempsey, Associate professor of Theology at the University of Oregon, USA Portland, states
Christians came to understand themselves as “the new people of God”; see, 1 Peter 2:9-10; Exodus 19:6, and thus heard the Exodus story of liberation in relation to their own lives and to the Christ event. Release from the tyranny of sin became analogous to the freedom gained by the Hebrews from Egyptian bondage. Within the gospel tradition all the stories that depict Jesus healing people of their infirmities; see Luke 10:1; forgiving their sins; see, Mark 2:1-12; and working for their benefit in the midst of rigid political, social, and religious institutions and mindsets; see Matt 12:1-14, embody the spirit and theology of liberation first heard in Exodus, where God is depicted not only as hearing the people’s groans but also as committed to doing something about their pain and suffering. 
For me, linking the liberation of the Hebrew slaves to the liberation ‘from the tyranny of sin’, gives approval for God to deal violently with sin by the ‘killing of his son’, as in substitutionary atonement theory. Both are totally unacceptable to me.
What was Jesus on about, regarding the meanings I see in this Exodus story? I make four points.
Unlike the God of the Exodus, Jesus was non-violent in his work of liberation. He acted with acceptance and hospitality, and thus liberated the poor, the diseased the outcasts and oppressed; see the above quote from Carol Dempsey. And he was ridiculed and criticized by the people, including the religious leaders of his day, for associating with the oppressed and the outcasts.
…the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ (Matthew 11:19.)
Now the tax-collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:1-2;)
And when they saw it, they all murmured, “He has gone to be a guest of a man who is a sinner.” (Luke 19:7.)
Jesus was not interested in ‘gaining glory’ or having ‘his name known throughout the world’ or ‘showing his power’ through violent, destructive ‘signs and wonders’.
Jesus’ third temptation as recorded in Matthew’s Gospel.
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them; and he said to him, “All these I will give you if you fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Begone Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’ (Matthew 4:8-10.)
And, when people wished to make Jesus their king, thus giving him glory, he would have none of it.
Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the hills by himself. (John 6:15.)
And again, about being known throughout the earth;
Then he (Jesus) strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. (Matthew 16:20.)
And yet again, Jesus seems to turn his back on ‘signs and wonders’ when speaking to an official whose son was ill. He seems to rebuke him.
“Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” (John 4:48.)
Then there was the enquiry from John. If Jesus was interested in ‘signs and wonders’ they were totally different to those used by the God of the Exodus.
Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him (Jesus), “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. (Matthew 11:2-5.)
On leadership and the exercise of authority, Jesus taught his disciples the opposite, to the way in which the God of the Exodus acted. The God of the Exodus, as I perceive that Lord, fits perfectly into the mold of the Gentiles.
But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28.)
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and girded himself with a towel. Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded. (John 13:3-4.)
All the killing and the violence displayed by the God of the Exodus, goes in the opposite direction to the teachings of Jesus.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’. But I say to you, ‘Do not resist one who is evil. But if one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:38-42.)
“You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (Matthew 5:43-44.)
I could go on and on but the Lord of the Exodus is on the side of the slaves, the same as Jesus is on the side of the oppressed. This is extremely significant but there seems to be hardly anything else about the God of the Exodus that reminds me of Jesus. It is nearly all the exact opposite. When I look at the behavior and not the intention of the God of the Exodus, I think the opposite and then say, “Yes. That’s Jesus!”
I know these above New Testament texts are quoted hopelessly out of their context, but I still think they all point to the different way by which Jesus worked to achieve his goals. For me, they are symptomatic of his whole message.
However, and it is a big HOWEVER!
Jesus seems to act only on an individual basis. There seems to be no activity on his part to initiate or organize on a group basis, any resistance to systemic oppression and abuse of power. He speaks out repeatedly about the systemic oppression of the poor and the hypocritical abuse of power, particularly by the religious leaders of his day, but these are all individual disagreements he has with his adversaries. He also does teach a great deal about what our individual response as disciples should be to violence against our own person, but for me, it all seems to concentrate on individual action.
But the Exodus story is about systemic oppression against a nation! I ask the question, “What would Jesus have said to all the Hebrew slaves?” I wonder. I wonder what his attitude to Pharaoh would have been. I wonder what he would have said to him. I wonder how or if he could have persuaded Pharaoh to let the people go. If Pharaoh still would not let the people go, I wonder what would have Jesus’ reaction been. I wonder if he would have lead or at least encouraged some sort of revolt against Pharaoh.
Jesus did warn his disciples to expect that both individual and systemic violence would be used against them when they went out to preach his message; see Matthew 10:16-23, 28-31. BUT, he didn’t seem to have any strategy, non-violent or otherwise, for protesting against systemic oppression that might bring about regime change. Some may suggest that he didn’t pay much attention to this way of protesting. In the Matthew text referred to, there is no comment about how to correct, or even counter the unjust treatment that the disciples would most likely receive. There is only an encouragement for the disciples not to be fearful, to endure and then in Heaven all will be made right.
So have no fear of them…..Do not fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul…Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:26,28,31.)
… he who endures to the end will be saved. (Matthew 10:22.)
When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next… (Matthew 10:23.)
So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven,… (Matthew 10:32.)
All this is an individual response.
There is no mention of organized resistance to systemic oppression. Jesus advocates non-resistance to evil, but this is very different to non-violent resistance to evil.
With Jesus, we do get a public action of protest against systemic power; the incident in the temple when he overturned the tables of the money changers and herded the cattle and the sellers of pigeons out of the temple; see Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-17, Luke 19:45-46, John 2:13-17. Different commentators mention different things that Jesus was actually protesting against and they also give different meanings to the Old Testament quotes that are used by the gospel writers in the passage. However none question the protest itself. Some commentators suggest this act of Jesus was violent and indeed, the ‘trigger’ that quickly precipitated his crucifixion.
There is no mention of any of his disciples being actively involved and no organization of a group protest.
This line of questioning leads me to ask, “Why did Jesus teach nothing about slavery.” It was part of society’s system and had been so for millennia. I have little doubt that the exercise of masters over slaves in Jesus’ day would have been, in some cases, similar to that of Pharaoh in the Exodus story. Slavery, as always, would have been an example of systemic oppression in Jesus’ day but he says nothing about it. Why?
The Exodus story teaches me that systemic violence must be dealt with by stronger violence. It teaches me that, ‘Although violence loses, it also finally wins.’ About how to deal with evil, the story seems to me to give the opposite instruction to that which I am given by Jesus and most of the New Testament.
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21.)
Back to the story.
Death at the center.
The Exodus story has death as the principle feature in most of its content. It is saturated with the stench of death; see Ex.7:21, 8:14. A death-dealing God is one of the main characters. Fish in the Nile die; see Ex. 7:21. All cattle of the Egyptians die; see Ex. 9:6. All green plants, tress, fruit, man and beasts are all struck down; see Ex. 9:25. The locusts complete the task; see Ex. 10:15. Even frogs died; see Ex. 8:13, and locusts are driven into the Red Sea; see Ex. 10:19, both, after they have done their destructive work for God. Flies seem to escape death because they are just ‘removed’; see Ex. 8:31. All first-born humans of Egyptian families die; see Ex. 12:29. All Pharaoh’s warriors die; see Ex. 14:28. This is what the text says. Right through the story, it is death that is result of the Lord’s ‘signs and wonders’.
On four occasions God makes a ‘distinction’ between Egypt and the Land of Goshen, where the Hebrews live, as well as between the Egyptians and the Hebrews, regarding what they owned; see Ex. 8:22, 9:4,26, 10:23. Using this ‘distinction’, God inflicts death only on the Egyptians and what they own, but protects the Hebrew slaves and what they own.
In the story, we are not told that Pharaoh tried to retaliate by destroying the Land of Goshen, like the ruin brought on by the flies on the Land of Egypt; nor killing the Hebrew owned cattle; nor striking down all the Hebrew men, beasts, plants and trees, as inflicted on the Egyptians and Egypt life, by the hail. In the story, destruction, death and killing is only initiated by the Lord. In the story Pharaoh does not retaliate to the plagues with any increased harsh edicts on the slaves nor striking out at what the slaves owned or where they lived.
I am not trying to say anything good or bad about Pharaoh. I am just relaying what the story, the text, does and doesn’t tell us. Make of it what you will.
Pharaoh does continue to not let the Hebrew slaves go. There is also Pharaoh’s probable intention to kill the escaping Hebrews or at least recapture them to make them all slaves again, see Ex. 14:5-10, but the story tells us that this was unsuccessful because of God’s protection, see Ex. 14:19-20.
If this is ‘Truth-Telling’ about the story, I read little to none of this detail in what I have read in most modern commentaries and I hear nothing of this in what I am taught by the present church. In the avoidance of all this violence, is there avoidance of ‘Truth-Telling’ here or am I on the wrong track?
At a recent meeting of a SOFiA (Sea of Faith in Australia) small group the topic was raised of the relationship between China and Australia. The subject was presented by an Australian citizen of Chinese ethnic origin. She outlined the cultural and historical background to explain why the Chinese government responds and acts in the way it does.
I found much to agree with in what she had described. I penned a response to her. One of the readers of the response suggested that my notes deserved a wider readership.
Hence, my UC Forum companions I offer you my comments in response to J’s exploration of what makes China do and say what its government does.
Thank you, such a lot, for your detailed and informative details on the background to Chinese policies. I very much agree with the position you have taken in getting to understand (in your personal case, probably more of a recall) why China acts the way it does.
For me, it is a case of applying a wider principle in both personal and international relationships. That of loving one’s enemies. In loving them, of course, they no longer become our enemies. And, it follows that a good way to start making friends is to be aware of where they are coming from; what makes them tick. You have done us the service of providing some reasons for the behaviour of the Chinese government through the Chinese Communist Party. It is a topic that I would enjoy talking about with others whenever the occasion arises.
But I want to bring in here also the wider principle. I will include the other “axis” power in that – Russia.
It distresses me that, with this world we are leaving to our grandchildren, there is so much war talk and aggressive posturing. It does not have to be.
If we are worried about war in Europe, let us encourage Russia to join NATO. If we are worried about keeping the international shipping lanes open in the South China sea, invite the Chinese navy to join the USA, Australia etc. in jointly patrolling the oceans. We already have the structure of the United Nations to facilitate international cooperation
Is it really that hard?
Think about what is already happening. I find it amazing and incongruous that we have the United States and Russia shaping up against each other with piles of atom bombs ready for MAD. At the same time the United States is using a Russian rocket to send Americans to the international space station!
What about China and Australia? Believe it or not, as recently as 2019, China and Australia shared in joint military exercises on Chinese soil – Hainan Province. Once again, it can be done.
For now, the Western democracies, if they could hang together, rather than squabbling with one another a la Brexit and “Make America Great (in isolation), have far the upper hand in overall economic and military power. Strategically no country can come anywhere near matching the international naval power and influence of the United States. So now, while we have that advantage, is the time to work at bringing the authoritarian regimes in with us to maintain a peaceful world.
Perhaps we could learn from what happened after the second world war and the battle with Germany and Japan. With Germany there was the Marshall Plan. With Japan the conquering allies allowed the nation to maintain its cultural traditions. And now, of course, Germany and Japan are prime examples of the working of national democracy and international harmony. Internationally they are friends of the very people they warred against so intensively those years ago.
We read this week of North Korea and President Kim Jong Un acknowledging that his country is in dire economic straits. Perhaps there is an opportunity for some sort of international “Marshall Plan” in North Korea rather than having both sides threaten each other with ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons.” Once again, the “West” has by far the superior power in the relationship.
So, yes, let’s get to understand our “enemies” better. Who knows? By doing this we may leave our world in a much better condition for those who come after us.
THE PCNV IS RESUMING FACE TO FACE MONTHLY MEETINGS! You are invited to JESUS & THE EMPOWERING INFLUENCE OF FRIENDSHIP Why Gracious Living is More Important than Right Belief with Rev John Smith Sunday April 25, 2021 3:00pm – 5:00 pm @ Ewing Memorial Centre of Stonnington Uniting Church Corner of Burke Road & Coppin Street, Malvern East Online access to PCNV meetings will continue Click on blue button below to join meeting Feel free to invite other interested friends There is no charge for this meeting either by zoom or in person.
Rev John Smith will share themes of his recently published his book, Jesus and the Empowering Influence of Friendship.
This book explores the values of the historical sage Jesus of Nazareth, considering not only the words and actions of the historical Jesus, but examining the values of compassion and acceptance shown in the relationships with the people he meets.
Reflecting on contemporary biblical scholarship, including the discovery of ancient texts from the Dead Sea Scrolls and Nag Hammadi, John Smith also critiques traditional ‘orthodox’ Christianity and asks if the practical application of Jesus’ values have been reflected in the creeds, councils and historic documents of the Churches.
In addition, he shows how traditional ‘orthodox’ teaching can be challenged and changed through the transforming influence of friendship, discovered in the life and teaching of the historical Jesus.
John’s book will be available for sale for $25 on the day or via the PCNV office.
John Smith is a trained social worker and ordained minister of the Uniting Church of Australia. With a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Melbourne and a Master of Social Administration from Flinders University, his ministries have included welfare management, chaplaincy and parish ministry. He is a founding member of the Progressive Christian Network of Victoria Inc. and Common Dreams conferences where he continues to serve as a committee member.
Dr Lewis has continued his valuable forensic and philological work on the ending of Mark’s Gospel with a focus on the ending of Luke’s Gospel:
Following the publication of the second edition of my book The Ending ofMark’s Gospel in 2020 I have been thinking about the ending of Luke’s gospel. Luke’s ending (24:1-53) is based on Mark’s ending (16:1-20) and is a modified and magnified version of it. When this is realized one can work out how Luke’s ending developed into its final form. Also one needs to understand that during this period of development a pro-Peter group had become powerful in Rome.
Consider Mark 16:12,13. Two disciples were walking in the country when Jesus appeared to them in a different form. They returned to Jerusalem and reported it to the rest, but they did not believe them. In Luke 24:33-35 we read: They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread. (NIV) Notice how incongruous are the words, and has appeared to Simon. Nowhere in the gospels is this appearance to Peter mentioned. The words have obviously been inserted here so that the first appearance of the risen Christ was to Peter, not to Mary Magdalene as in Mark 16:9 or to the two returned disciples.
Next consider the word “saying” in Luke 24:34. In the Greek text it is in the accusative case and therefore refers to the Eleven, but think of the enormous difference it makes to the meaning of the passage if it is in the nominative case. Then it refers to the two disciples who had recognized Jesus when he broke the bread. In Codex Bezae, a 5th century uncial manuscript, “saying” is in the nominative case.
Next consider the word “assembled” in Luke 24:33. The Greek word occurs only here in the New Testament, but it does occur in the Septuagint and in Classical Greek where it has the connotation of mustering troops. The word seems out of place here, and raises the question why the disciples were together in Jerusalem at this time. In Mark’s gospel the situation is plainly stated: the Eleven had come together to eat food (Mark 16:14). It was their first post-crucifixion meal. If Luke 24:33-35 is read with Mark’s account in mind, the text becomes: They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them as they were eating. The two disciples said, “The Lord has risen indeed!” Then they told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread. Then Jesus appeared and the Eleven were startled and frightened.
Realizing that Luke’s version was based on Mark’s account makes a tremendous difference. It means that although at first the Eleven did not believe the two disciples, they had the same experience when the bread was broken. It enables modern Christians to realize that they are those disciples on the way to Emmaus. When the bread was broken, then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. (Luke 24:31)
The group who inserted the appearance to Peter wanted to squash the meal idea because they believed in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. The story of the two disciples on the way to Emmaus described a spiritual resurrection. They recognized Jesus when they ate the bread because he had said that it was his body. Jesus meant that he would live in his disciples. The pro-Peter group confirmed their belief in the bodily resurrection in Luke 24:39 when Jesus said to touch him, and in 24:42 when he ate fish.
In 1 Cor. 15:5 Paul said that Christ appeared first to Peter. Women, of course, were excluded because their testimony was worthless. Probably it was at the Council of Jerusalem in 49 AD when Peter, James (Jesus’ brother) and others claimed that they had seen the risen Christ.
Following the positive feedback directly to us, Greg Jenks has kindly given us access to his message for Good Friday at Grafton Cathedral. We would prefer to see comments posted at ‘Leave a reply’ on the post page rather than by return email. That way everyone can share your thoughts.
Support Hand in Hand by pre-ordering your copy for $30 (plus P&P) at thecubapress.nz/shop/hand-in-hand Free postage for orders of $100 or more, 15% discount for orders of five or more copies. Orders will be posted or available for pickup in May.
Scrape away the barnacles, re-examine the origins of Christian faith, take full account of modern knowledge and experience, open your mind to new possibilities, rethink what faith can mean in this new millennium – that’s the plea Ian Harris makes in this challenge to reset faith within today’s secular frame.
Ian Harris’s New World New God showed how this reset can bring to light new interpretations for God, Jesus, the Bible and the great Christian festivals. Hand in Hand goes back a step to show why such a reset is necessary. Harris sees the secular not as hostile to faith, but as the neutral setting for religion in the modern world. He debunks the view that science is its polar opposite, and urges the churches to embrace the new reality as a positive for Christian understanding and for life.
About the author
Ian Harris’s career straddles the worlds of journalism and the church. Born in Christchurch, he grew up in a Methodist parsonage, and gained an honours degree in English at Auckland University.
Since then he has headed the English Department at Satya Wacana Christian University in Salatiga, Central Java, Indonesia, edited The New Zealand Methodist, been assistant editor of The Auckland Star, served as Director of Com-munication for the Presbyterian Church in New Zealand, and was for twelve years editorial writer on The Dominion.
In 1990 Ian Harris was instrumental in founding the Ephesus Group in Wellington, whose purpose is to explore new ways of understanding and expressing Christian faith in this millennium. In 1993 he became the first chairperson of the New Zealand Sea of Faith Network’s steering committee.
Harris’s prime interest is in re-imagining the Christian way in a secular society, as reflected in his newspaper columns, his book Creating God, Recreating Christ, and The Ephesus Liturgies series written with his late wife, Jill. He lives in Days Bay, Wellington.
The award-winning author of Grateful goes beyond the culture wars to offer a refreshing take on the comprehensive, multi-faceted nature of Jesus, keeping his teachings relevant and alive in our daily lives.
“How can you still be a Christian?”
This is the most common question Diana Butler Bass is asked today. It is a question that many believers ponder as they wrestle with disappointment and disillusionment in their church and its leadership But while many Christians have left their churches, they cannot leave their faith behind.
In Freeing Jesus, Bass challenges the idea that Jesus can only be understood in static, one-dimensional ways and asks us to instead consider a life where Jesus grows with us and helps us through life’s challenges in several capacities: as Friend, Teacher, Savior, Lord, Way, and Presence.
Freeing Jesus is an invitation to leave the religious wars behind and rediscover Jesus in all his many manifestations, to experience Jesus beyond the narrow confines we have built around him. It renews our hope in faith and worship at a time when we need it most.
Available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Harper and Collins, and other booksellers.
As we celebrate Palm Sunday today, our Jewish friends are observing Passover.
To our Jewish neighbours here in Grafton, to our Jewish citizens around the nation, and to all Jews everywhere—whether in Palestine or in the Diaspora—we say Chag Pesach sameach (happy Passover festival) and we wish them ziessen Pesach, a sweet Passover.
Passover and Holy Week are for ever entwined, even if some years our different calendars mean that we observe them a few weeks apart.
For many centuries, Jews have ended the Passover seder with these words:
L’Shana Haba’ah B’Yerushalayim
Next year in Jerusalem
Jerusalem draws people of faith—not just Jews, but also Christians and Muslims.
We want to be there.
For sure I do, just as soon we are allowed to fly once more!
That was also true in ancient times.
At Passover time the population of the city would swell from 20,000 (some say up to 100,000) to 2,000,000 people.
Any Jew who could be there would be there.
And so would the Roman army!
The stage was also set for conflict.
The Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate, came to Jerusalem for the Passover, but not for religious reasons. He was there to keep an eye on the crowd and ensure direct control of his bolstered garrison during the week-long festival of liberation from enslavement.
This week, together with our Jewish friends, we celebrate the crazy idea that the compassionate power at the very heart of the universe is on the side of the powerless, and opposed to every form of empire.
This week drips with intense religious meaning, but also with powerful politics.
Every empire, no matter its religion, is held to account by the sacred truths we affirm this week.
We have a choice in the way we understand our religion, whatever our faith happens to be.
We can choose to see God as endorsing the emperor, or the ways our society arranges power, wealth and opportunity. That has always worked well for religion as we get a cut of the action: tax-free lands, freedom from military service, governments funds for church buildings and programs. Sometimes even a seat in the House of Lords.
That kind of god rides into Jerusalem on a white horse surrounded by the banners of imperial privilege and with the power to arrest, imprison and kill their opponents.
There is a different kind of god who rides into Jerusalem on a donkey.
Such a god enjoys no imperial privileges and commands no army. His kingdom is not of this world. Or more correctly, his kingdom in this world reflects the way that the divine will is enacted in heaven. Far from getting access to government funds or a place at the table when big decisions are being made, this donkey-riding-god is murdered by the people who enjoy imperial privileges.
The god who rides a white horse thinks he has defeated the god who rides a donkey.
But it is not so.
The slaves are set free, the crucified one is raised to life and exalted to glory.
That disruptive truth is central to the Passover story as well as to Holy Week.
Today I invite you to pause and think about which kind of god you imagine yourself to be serving.
In a matter of but a few weeks, Christian churches around the globe will retell the story of how on the morning of what we call Easter, the tomb of the crucified Jesus was found empty because he had risen from the dead. That imagery, combined with appearances to the disciples, powerful and positive as it is, has been immortalized through 2000 years of music and art, and has influenced anyone attending Sunday School. The imminent arrival of Good Friday and Easter is a good time to both recall some facts easily overlooked and then reflect upon what they might mean. The facts fall into four categories.
1. The economic, social and political situation in Galilee was one in which the rich and powerful, be they Romans, priests of the temple, or landowners, oppressed the poor, constantly demanding more in taxes and in crop share. Into this situation came Jesus with his disciples, living and teaching an egalitarian community for all. His followers included women and men, slaves were non-existent, and the group shared whatever resources they possessed, quite the opposite of and challenge to current social norms. However seemingly insignificant the movement may have been, it posed a threat to the establishment, and so Jesus was crucified and the disciples were persecuted.
2. The Romans practiced crucifixion for about 500 years, often with thousands of victims at a time. The total number over that long a period is unimaginable, but huge as it must be, there is only one instance of an intact buried, crucified skeleton. The inescapable conclusion is that the tormented bodies were left to scavenging animals or thrown into mass graves. Denial of proper burial was part of the punishment, and Pontius Pilate was not the type of person to have pity and do things any differently.
3. The New Testament writings called Matthew and Luke share a great deal of material. They both use the earlier writing Mark to provide the structure of their gospels, and additionally they both contain verses so similar, if not identical, that the consensus is that they had before them another source common in the early church. Scholars call this source Q, from the German word Quelle. The fact that Matthew and Luke include Q in their story about Jesus means that it was a reputable source and that the community that produced it was a reputable and acceptable group of disciples. Remarkably, the Q source has no reference to the death and resurrection of Jesus. So what we have is an early community of disciples of Jesus who either knew nothing of the last days of their leader and teacher or for whom those days did not matter. Furthermore, their testimony was willingly accepted, integrated with, and placed equally alongside the gospel of Mark.
4. As the 1st century progressed and thoughts about Jesus proliferated and spread, at least two lines of thought can be found in the Writings. One continues the egalitarianism of Jesus and is found in two places. First, the book named after James, who was leader of the Jerusalem church and likely the brother of Jesus. Second, Paul, who wrote that “in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.” In other words, all are equal. The other line of thought represents a return to the normative oppressive social structure that Jesus had tried to overcome and replace. It’s starkest expression is the book of Timothy, but is also found in many other late writings of the developing church. This line of thinking subordinated women, required slaves to be obedient, and commanded everyone to obey the authorities who, of course, represented the financial interests of the dominant rich and powerful.
So much for the facts, but how do we put them together? There are many different perspectives, and what follows is one possible scenario.
It was during his life that Jesus impacted many who then became his followers, some of whom stayed with him while others moved on. How and why he had such a profound influence are questions for another day, but the short answer is that he presented to them both an image of what human, loving life was, and also an image of a God separate from and independent of the constrictions of temple religiosity. These concepts of loving humanity and loving divinity inspired and infused both groups of disciples. For those who stayed with Jesus, even though he had suffered the most horrible death imaginable, those disciples felt him to be alive in their midst as they continued the community he had created. It was a mystery beyond understanding and comprehension, but for them a certainty nonetheless. Jesus had lived, died, and now lives again. They were convinced that the evil and death manifest on the cross was not the final word, that cosmic Love overcomes evil and death, and that ultimately everything returns to God who makes all things right. For those who moved on, such as the Q community, knowing nothing of the death of Jesus, they also were certain that he was still with them even as they traveled, a spiritual presence that continued to convince them that Love is the underlying essence of the cosmos.
In the attempt to illuminate this certainty and this mystery, there evolved from the group who stayed with Jesus images of an empty tomb and stories of appearances to the disciples, neither intended to be taken literally, but intended rather as tools to help others understand the mystery. Unfortunately, as time passed and new generations joined the nascent church, the images became identified with the thing itself, and resurrection came to mean resuscitation rather than renewal on a cosmic scale. And the revolution called for in Jesus’ proclamation that the equitable Kingdom of God was at hand, succumbed to the old way of patronage and patriarchy, the shift in thinking no doubt encouraged by the vested interests of the wealthy. Resuscitation and the power structure we find in Timothy go hand in hand as they push aside and replace the initial gospel story.
ven as we consider all the facts, the basic story that emerges is quite simple. The disciples were re-born while they lived with Jesus, and his death neither deterred nor discouraged them. Instead, they turned to one another and embraced, fully aware in their hearts that he was not only still with them, but also that the newness he embodied embraced the universe. This was the bedrock of their faith and forms the foundation for the day we call Easter.
Dr. Carl Krieg received his BA from Dartmouth College, MDiv from Union Theological Seminary in NYC and PhD from the University of Chicago Divinity School. He is the author of What to Believe? the Questions of Christian Faith and The Void and the Vision. As professor and pastor, Dr. Krieg has taught innumerable classes and led many discussion groups. He lives with his wife Margaret in Norwich, VT.
Have you noticed that March has 5 Wednesdays? Because we meet on the last Wednesday of each month, the next Explorers meeting will be
Wednesday 31st March
Merthyr Road Uniting Church Warner Hall, 52 Merthyr Road, New Farm.
10 am for Eat, Meet and Greet.
10:30 am we start our exploring.
You may remember that Dr Cliff Hospital was to lead us in exploring the conversation around resurrection, but unfortunately Cliff has had unexpected surgery and will not be able to join us this month. Don’t worry! We will explore that later in the year.
It has taken me a while to get to sending this reminder as I have been pondering what we should delve into. Given that Sunday 28th will be celebrated as “Palm Sunday” in our churches, I thought it might be worthwhile fo think a little more about the significance of that day originally and what does it mean to us today. I am happy to facilitate our discussion, but I am not an expert, so I will be looking for your contribution to broaden our understanding.
Together let’s think about:
What are your memories of Palm Sunday in your childhood?
Are there some particularly creative experiences embedded in your memory?
How have these experiences shaped your understanding of the significance of the Palm Sunday narrative?
What new ideas do Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan introduce us to in their book “The Last Week”
Hopefully we will be able to listen to Dom speaking about their thoughts about Palm Sunday
Let’s explore any new understanding we might be able to discover that might have significance for us in 2021
Can you do some preparation by reading Matthew 21: 1 – 11, Mark 11: 1 – 11, Luke 19: 28 – 40, John 12: 12 – 19 and ponder the questions above? Listening to Dom Crossan will be dependent on me working out technology to get it from my iPhone out so everyone can hear it. I will be grateful if there is someone with some expertise who can contact me about that!
Do note: we are not meeting on Wednesday this week (24th), but I hope to see you next week (31st). If a few people could assist with the “eat” part of out gathering by bringing a small plate of food to share, that would be helpful. Tea and coffee will be available. As usual, you are invited to join a number of us for lunch at Moray Cafe if you are able to and as an extension of our time of fellowship.
Please note that we will meet next on Monday April 12th instead of 5th (which is Easter Monday). We will examine the origins of the Easter celebration, how it has evolved over the decades, and how it has become embedded in the Christian tradition as arguably the most important festival in the church calendar. The discussion, led by Ian Brown, may reveal some challenging ideas, but anyone who’s up for a challenge is most welcome to participate.
As usual, we gather in the ground-floor meeting room at Azure Blue, 91 Anzac Ave. Redcliffe at 6 p.m. for a cuppa and chat, followed at 6:30 by the presentation and discussion. We are still observing Covid19-safety protocols, and normally finish by 8 p.m. For more information, particularly if you haven’t attended our meetings before, please contact Ian on 0401 513 723 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
In just over a year, the #MeToo movement has toppled powerful men around the world. Yet in most of the world’s major religions, women are still relegated to second-tier status.
Cardinals, top with red caps, and bishops attend a Mass celebrated by Pope Francis for the closing of the monthlong synod of bishops, inside St. Peter’s Basilica, at the Vatican, on Oct. 28, 2018. (Claudio Peri/Pool Photo via AP) January 15, 2019 By David CraryShareTweetShare
(AP) — Women have been elected heads of national governments on six continents. They have flown into space, served in elite combat units and won every category of Nobel Prize. The global #MeToo movement, in 15 months, has toppled a multitude of powerful men linked to sexual misconduct.
Yet in most of the world’s major religions, women remain relegated to a second-tier status. Women in several faiths are still barred from ordination. Some are banned from praying alongside men and forbidden from stepping foot in some houses of worship altogether. Their attire, from headwear down to the length of their skirts in church, is often restricted.
But women around the world in recent months have been finding new ways to chip away at centuries of male-dominated traditions and barriers, with many of them emboldened by the surge of social media activism that’s spread globally in the #MeToo era.
Millions of women in India this month formed a human wall nearly 400 miles long in support of women who defied conservative Hindu leaders and entered an important temple that has long been off-limits to women and girls between the ages of 10 and 50.
In Israel, where Orthodox Judaism has long restricted women’s roles, one Jerusalem congregation has allowed women to lead Friday evening prayers. Roman Catholic bishops, under pressure from women’s-rights activists, concluded a recent Vatican meeting by declaring that women, as an urgent “duty of justice,” should have a greater role in church decision-making.
Many feminist scholars are challenging the rightfulness of long-standing patriarchal traditions in Christianity, Judaism and Islam, calling into question time-honored translations of verses in the Bible, Torah and Quran that have been used to justify a male-dominated hierarchy.
Social media is seen as a big catalyst in boosting activism and forging solidarity among women of faith who seek more equality. The #MeToo movement has been evoked — even in the ranks of conservative U.S. denominations — as a reason why women should expect more respectful treatment from male clergy, and a greater share of leadership roles.
“Women are looking for opportunities to have their voices heard and be more effective in their religious traditions,” said Gina Messina, a religion professor at Ursuline College in Ohio who describes herself as both a feminist and a Catholic theologian. “Using social media is an opportunity to say what they think.”
She co-founded a blog called Feminism and Religion that has scores of contributors around the world and followers in more than 180 countries. She also co-edited a collection of essays by Christian, Jewish and Muslim women explaining why they haven’t abandoned their patriarchal-leaning faiths.
“The perception seems to be that it is a feminist act only to leave such a religion. We contend that it is also a feminist act to stay,” the three editors write in their foreword.
Here’s a brief look at the status of gender equality in several of the world’s religions:
ROMAN CATHOLICISM Catholic doctrine mandates an all-male priesthood, on the grounds that Jesus’ apostles were men. A decades-long campaign for women’s ordination has made little headway and some advocates of that change have been excommunicated. Women do play major roles in Catholic education, health care and parish administration
While the recent meeting of bishops at the Vatican produced a call to expand women’s presence in church affairs, no details were proposed. The seven nuns who participated along with 267 male clergy were not allowed to vote on the final document.
Earlier this year, a Vatican magazine published an expose detailing how nuns are often treated like indentured servants by cardinals and bishops, for whom they cook and clean with little recompense.
At the University of Dayton, a Catholic school in Ohio, religion professor Sandra Yocum says some of the young women she teaches “are having a hard time seeing where they fit in” as they assess the church’s doctrine on gender roles and its pervasive clergy sex-abuse scandals.
“They have a deep concern for the church,” she said. “They want to respond in some way and take a leadership role.”
Messina sometimes engages in “small acts of dissent” to show displeasure with patriarchal Catholic traditions. At the recent funeral for her grandmother, she changed a Bible reading to make the passage gender-neutral.
“We have to continue to push — regardless of whether it’s in our generation or five generations from now.”
Rose Dyar, a senior at the University of Dayton, says she’s determined to team with other young Catholics to help the church overcome its challenges. The ban on female priests isn’t enough to drive her from Catholicism, but it dismays her.
“I absolutely support women’s ordination,” she said. “Unfortunately I don’t foresee it happening anytime soon, and that breaks my heart.”
ISLAM Some of the most important traditions and practices of the Prophet Muhammad were preserved and carried forth by the women closest to him — his wives and daughters. But as with many other major faiths, women in Islamic tradition have largely been relegated to supporting roles throughout recent history.
Women in Islam do not lead prayer or give traditional Friday sermons. In larger mosques where women are welcome, they are almost always segregated from men in the back or allocated spaces on other floors with separate entrances and exits.
In Saudi Arabia, a male-dominated interpretation of Islam bars women from traveling or obtaining a passport without the consent of a male guardian. Only this year did the kingdom allow women to drive.
Changes are happening elsewhere. In Tunisia, President Beji Caid Essebsi has proposed giving women equal inheritance rights with men — a much-debated topic around the Muslim world. In the Palestinian territories, Kholoud al-Faqih became the first female Shariah court judge in 2009, in part to help women beset by domestic violence.
Some women are challenging interpretations that state only men must attend traditional Friday prayers. A few have chosen to create their own prayer spaces, like the Women’s Mosque of America in California where women lead the services and female scholars share their knowledge.
The bylaws for that mosque were drafted by Atiya Aftab, who teaches Islamic Law at Rutgers University and is chair of the board at her mosque — a first for a woman in New Jersey. She says moves in the U.S. to expand women’s roles in the Islamic community have sometimes been met with conservative backlash, but the momentum for change seems strong.
In Texas, Muslim women recently formed a group that has investigated and publicized instances of sexual, physical and spiritual abuse committed against women by Muslim community leaders.
JUDAISM The gender situation within Judaism is markedly different in Israel and the United States, which together account for more than 80 percent of the world’s Jewish population.
The largest U.S. branches, Reform and Conservative, allow women to be rabbis, while the Orthodox branch does not. In Israel, the Conservative and Reform movements are small, and Orthodox authorities hold a near monopoly on all matters regarding Judaism.
One major source of contention: the Orthodox-enforced policy of prohibiting women from praying alongside men at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the holiest site where Jews can pray. Numerous women protesting the policy have been arrested, and several American Jewish groups were angered last year when Israel’s government backtracked on plans to expand a space where both men and women could pray.
However, there have been moves to expand Orthodox women’s roles in religious life. A Jerusalem congregation, Shira Hadasha, has adopted a liberal interpretation of Jewish religious law that incorporates women’s involvement in services, such as leading Friday evening prayers and reciting from the Torah on the Sabbath.
An Orthodox organization called Tzohar is trying to advance women in roles where social custom, not religious law, has excluded them — such as teaching Jewish law or certifying restaurants’ compliance with kosher standards.
“If Jewish law does not say that something is prohibited, but just because of social or cultural reasons women were not involved, we see no reason that they should not be involved, said Tzohar’s chairman, Rabbi David Stav.
MORMONISM Women in the Mormon church are barred from being priests, leading local congregations or holding the top leadership posts in a faith that counts 16 million members worldwide.
The highest-ranking women in the church oversee three organizations that run programs for women and girls. These councils sit below several layers of leadership groups reserved for men.
The role of women in the conservative religion, officially named The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has been a subject of debate for many years, with some members pushing for more equality and increased visibility for women.
The church has made some changes in recent years; women’s groups say they mark small progress. In 2013, a woman for the first time led the opening prayer at the faith’s semiannual general conference in Salt Lake City. Later that year, a conference session previously limited to men was broadcast live for all to watch.
Mormon women are still expected to wear skirts or dresses to worship services and inside temples, but the religion has loosened its rules in recent years to allow women who work at church headquarters to wear pantsuits or dress slacks and to let women serving proselytizing missions to wear dress slacks.
The church shows no signs of budging on women’s ordination. Kate Kelly, the founder of a group called Ordain Women that led protests outside church conferences, was expelled from the faith in 2014.
“We’re in it for the long haul,” said Lorie Winder Stromberg, 66, a member of Ordain Women’s executive board. “I think women’s ordination is inevitable — but I have no sense of the timing.”
HINDUISM AND BUDDHISM The gender-equality situation in these two Asian-based faiths is difficult to summarize briefly.
Neither has a single supreme entity that enforces doctrine, and each has multiple branches with different philosophies and practices.
In Buddhism, women’s status varies from country to country. In Thailand, a Buddhist stronghold, women can become nuns — often acting as glorified temple housekeepers — but only in 2003 won the right to serve as the saffron-robed full equivalents of male monks, and still represent just a tiny fraction of the country’s clergy.
India’s Sabarimala temple had long banned women and girls of menstruating age from entering the centuries-old house of worship. Some Hindus consider menstruating women to be impure.
The Supreme Court in September lifted the ban, and violent protests broke out after women entered the temple. Earlier this month, women formed a human chain spanning than 600 kilometers (375 miles) to support gender equality.
“The Hindu temples at present have almost 99 percent male priests,” said women’s rights activist Ranjana Kumari, director of New Delhi-based Center for Social Research. “Things have to improve.”
SOUTHERN BAPTISTS While many Protestant denominations now ordain women, the largest in the U.S. — the Southern Baptist Convention — is among those that don’t. It advocates that women submit to male leadership in their church and to a husband’s leadership at home.
Southern Baptist leaders say this doctrine aligns with New Testament teaching. One passage they cite quotes the Apostle Paul as writing, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man.”
A recent statement from SBC leadership insisted that Southern Baptists “are not anti-woman.”
“However, because Scripture speaks specifically to the role of pastor, churches are under a moral imperative to be guided by that teaching, rather than the shifting opinions of human cultures.”
Cheryl Summers, a former Southern Baptist who has challenged the church to improve its treatment of women, describes this gender doctrine as “tortured logic” — especially given the accomplishments of SBC women in the secular world.
“There’s tremendous cognitive dissonance for a woman of faith who is leading professionally or through volunteer efforts when she experiences the glass ceiling and walls in her place of worship,” Summers said via email.
For the past year, the SBC has been roiled by a series of sexual misconduct cases involving churches and seminaries, prompting some activist women to demand new anti-abuse policies.
(Associated Press writers Aya Batrawy in Dubai, Brady McCombs in Salt Lake City, Ashok Sharma in New Delhi, Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem and Grant Peck in Bangkok contributed to this report.)
ScoMo’s assertion that ‘there was no slavery in Australia’ (2 June 2020, 2GB radio) is plainly wrong. In the 19th and 20th centuries, abduction, coercion, violence, extreme exploitation and wage theft were constant features of the labour relations imposed on Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and South Sea Islander people in Queensland and elsewhere in Australia.
Why do politicians and conservative commentators continue to deny or downplay this history? Why does this history matter? How can we overturn the legacies of inequality and racism?
Join us for a day of talks and discussion about colonised labour in Queensland, the rich history of industrial, political and legal resistance by First Nations workers, and the significance of this history today. Speakers • Dr Jonathan Richards • Dr Valerie Cooms • Uncle John McCabe • Paul Richards • And more to be announced! Saturday 27 March 2021 10:00am (for 10:30) to 3.00pm AHEPA Hall, 126A Boundary Street, West End Free event! Gold coin donations welcomed.
Presented by the Brisbane Labour History Association and The Cloudland Collective
Much media attention has been given in recent weeks to issues of criminal detention, highlighting some major problems to be addressed in Queensland and elsewhere in the country. At our next meeting, on Monday 1st March, the Redcliffe Explorers are privileged to have as guest speaker a Prison Chaplain who will give us some insights into her work with incarcerated adult criminals, and problems associated with ensuring they have adequate support when released from detention. Some members of our group also have experience in this area of ministry, so this is likely to be a very informed discussion. It may also be of interest to those who heard Wayne Sanderson’s recent most informative talk to the Merthyr Rd PCN Explorers group about juvenile justice issues.
We’ll be gathering as usual in the ground-floor Function Room at the Azure Blue Retirement Centre (91 Anzac Ave., Redcliffe 4020) at 6:00 pm. If you’re planning to come but are not a regular attender, it would be advisable for you to contact Ian Brown (mob 0401 513 723 or email email@example.com) for advice on accessing the complex.
Our first Gathering for 2021 will be on Sunday 7 March at 5.30 pm in the Caloundra Uniting Church hall. Our topic will be Discussion, direction and devotion and we will be looking forward and looking back. We will follow COVID safe guidelines and we will be able to enjoy fellowship over a meal. We will need to bring our own meal with no sharing, but we can have tea or coffee.
Our first book study of the year will be Donald Schmidt’s The beatitudes for progressive Christians (cost $25).
“It addresses the current situations of violence, unrest, and uncertainty with the challenges of Jesus’ teaching. The stories and illustrations alone make this book valuable” Reviewer
We are planning six weekly studies from 13 April until 18 May on Tuesday afternoon at the church. If there are sufficient numbers we will have a second group on Thursday afternoon at Margaret Landbeck’s home. We need to know numbers so we can order the books, so please let me know ASAP if you would like to join this book study.
The UC Forum website continues to draw subscribers from far and wide and it is refreshing to see that some of them recently are of a younger generation.
One would expect to find doctrinal progressivism being the choice of young people having, as they do, lives of several decades ahead of them. The sad observation, though, is that it is the more mature folk who are drawn to this more open way of fitting religious faith to the 21st century environment. Indeed, to the extent that they are drawn to Christian faith, fundamentalism seems to win in the appeal to the young. An explanation of this contrast may be that thinking, older people, after a lifetime of seeking and expressing a Christian faith, are finding that the suppositions behind orthodoxy do not fit their experience and realities of the current intellectual age.
But where do young seekers go to find and share experiences of their faith in something beyond orthodoxy?
In Australia there are actually very few Uniting Churches (or other mainline denominations) which avowedly declare themselves as doctrinally wholly “progressive”. There may be only several in each Australian state or territory. Last week we featured one of them, the Woden Valley Uniting Church in the Australian Capital Territory. There are of course now many congregations that would describe themselves as liberal/inclusive/open and welcoming people who think critically about all they are told. These congregations have many progressive thinkers in them.
What we do find, however, is that most congregations, perhaps the majority, have one or two individuals with a progressive orientation. Likewise, with the ministers of many congregations, Paul I and I have been surprised, when having a quiet private chat with many church leaders, at how many of them, in confidence, are receptive to progressive interpretations of Christian traditions and of, for instance, the UCA Basis of Union.
On the right-hand panel of this website, you will find a long list of congregations being attended by our subscribers and these are only the ones we know about. Those congregations and their ministers would value your moral support. They do need to be wary of the guardians of orthodoxy in being too public but in many cases I expect you will find they will be helpful in finding you a niche.
Perhaps if more young people come along and show their interest in promoting and following the Jesus way in a non-supernaturalist, non-theistic view of the world, they will come to find warm companionship in many more of our churches.
St James has been one of the original and continuing flag bearers for Progressive Christianity in Australia.
The 10 am service on Sunday 7 February was the last service in that building under the name of St James. It was a time of joy and remembering, and a tribute to 57 years of faith and action. The reflection offered by Simon Clarke as part of that service can be found here.
On 14 February 2021, St James Uniting Church and South Woden Uniting Church merged to form Woden Valley Uniting Church.
The vision and mission statement for the new church is printed below and sets a standard for other congregations aspiring to be progressive.
The formal commissioning of Woden Valley Uniting Church took place on Sunday 14 February, in the hall at the Pearce Community Centre.
The first morning worship service of the newly merged congregation will be at Curtin at 10 am on Sunday 21 February – in person and on Zoom.
The location of morning worship services from March onwards will alternate monthly between Pearce and Curtin.
The range of activities, classes and small small group meetings that have been operating at Curtin up until now will continue – this includes Meditation and Gathering@6.
PROPOSED WODEN VALLEY UNITING CHURCH VALUES, VISION AND MISSION As followers of the Way of Jesus, within a Uniting Church congregation, we strive for a church community which is: • Welcoming and hospitable to all regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender, age, circumstance or cultural background. • Loving, compassionate and steadfast in our relationships with each other, supportive in pastoral care and offering encouragement for active participation and lay leadership. • Honest and accountable to each other and to the communities we serve. • Inclusive and creative in worship which nurtures faith and strengthens connections with each other, the sacred and the world. • Serious and honest in our exploration of the Christian faith, respectful of the Bible and informed by contemporary Biblical scholarship, while allowing room for questioning and doubt. • Open to learning from other faith traditions, scientific revelation and contemporary thought. • Active in our support of our local communities. • Fearless in advocacy and energetic in action in support of social justice, reconciliation, peace and wise environmental stewardship, locally, nationally and globally. • Acting ecumenically with other churches and other faith groups. VISION • A vibrant community of faith living out God’s love and acting for the common good to build a just and compassionate community. MISSION • To be a welcoming, inclusive, progressive and outward looking Christian community that nurtures spirituality and faith and encourages service. July 2020
Greeting friends in the Progressive Christian Network and other interested people.
It was good to gather with around 30 of us in November. I am not going to re-iterate all the adjectives that have been applied to the past 12 months. However, I do want to say:
May 2021 mark the beginning of a Tidal Wave of Love, Happinessand Bright Futures.
PCN Explorers meets again on Wednesday 24th February at 10 am at Merthyr Road Uniting Church.
Sorry this is late notice, but I am hoping that you have the last Wednesday of each month as a recurring date in your electronic diary so that you will always have that date free for PCN Explorers.
I have been wondering how we should start the year. Maybe since we last met together you have had some significant experiences around Christmas, New Year, Epiphany. The world is waiting to see how USA will respond to a new President. We are all waiting for a vaccine against Corona Virus to be available and wondering if it will be shared equally across the globe. The one thing that has been prominent in the news over the past few weeks in Queensland is the Youth Justice System, so I thought we might take some time to be better informed and to think through our response to calls for change. We are fortunate to have amongst our number Rev Wayne Sanderson who has been passionately involved in this area for a long time so I have asked him to share some insights with us on Feb 24th. Here is a little teaser for the topic and Wayne will give us more background information for us to peruse prior to our session together.
YOUTH JUSTICE SYSTEM REFORM IN QUEENSLAND
What are we dealing with here? Start with late colonial baggage which has privileged punishment of offenders until the early 1990s. Then consider the various circumstances in which 10-18 year old offenders live their lives: deeply dysfunctional and dangerous families; Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder; out-of-home-care burden; record expulsions from state schools; rural-regional disadvantage; historic substance addiction levels; Aboriginal dispossession and disadvantage; historic fragmentation of government services and interventions; substantial reforms since 2010. Still want to lock them up and throw away the key? How about Christian Social Values? The Common Good? Let’s discuss on 24 February?
Looking forward to getting together again. Some folk have been extending the fellowship time by having lunch together at Moray Cafe. You may want to consider making this part of your morning out.
Ross is not able to set up tables and chairs now so if a couple of people could come about 9:50 to help with that it would be appreciated. I am also looking for a few people whop could bring a plate of food to share. When you reply to let me know you intend to attend, could you let me know if you are able to help with morning tea.
Note:Progressive Christianity is inherently always evolving and progressing. Please take these lightly but seriously. They are not dogma, they are simply a starting point to establish conversations and a foundation of values and beliefs that we have observed Progressive Christians generally share. It’s ok if you don’t agree with all the words or all the parts. We support your authentic path. You can use these in your faith communities and with family and friends to talk about what it means to you to be a Progressive Christian in today’s world. Here is to always progressing!
[from ProgressiveChristianity.com 2020, co-created with Progressive Christian pastors, theologians, scholars and visionaries]
By calling ourselves progressive Christians, we mean we are Christians who…
1. Believe that following the path of the teacher Jesus can lead to healing and wholeness, a mystical connection to “God,” as well as an awareness and experience of not only the Sacred, but the Oneness and Unity of all life;
2. Affirm that the teachings of Jesus provide but one of many ways to experience “God,” the Sacredness, Oneness and Unity of life, and that we can draw from diverse sources of wisdom, including Earth, in our spiritual journey;
3. Seek and create community that is inclusive of ALL people, including but not limited to:
Conventional Christians and questioning skeptics, Believers and agnostics, Those of all races, cultures, and nationalities Those of all sexual orientations and all gender identities, Those of all classes and abilities, Those historically marginalized, All creatures and plant life;
4. Know that the way we behave towards one another and Earth is the fullest expression of what we believe, therefore we vow to walk as Jesus might have walked in this world with radical compassion, inclusion, and bravery to confront and positively change the injustices we experience as well as those we see others experiencing;
5. Find grace in the search for understanding and believe there is more value in questioning with an open mind and open heart, than in absolutes or dogma;
6. Work toward peace and justice among all people and all life on Earth;
7. Protect and restore the integrity of our Earth and all of Creation;
8. Commit to a path of life-long learning, compassion, and selfless love on this journey toward a personally authentic and meaningful faith.
Because the topic of creeds generates so much conversation among progressives I have included here my own notes on the development of the Nicene Creed. Other contributions and critical comments are welcome.
Notes on the Nicene Creed – Paul Inglis 2/02/2021
The Creed of Nicaea was crafted by Eusebius of Caesarea (AD260-340 ). When Bishop of Caesarea he wrote the first history of the (Christian) Church and is consequently recognised as a church historian. His credal document was presented to the Council of Nicaea which had been called by the Roman Emperor Constantine in AD325. Eusebius described Constantine as ‘God’s chosen instrument’ attributing the safe future of the Church to Constantine’s conversion. One can assume the emperor’s influence over the shape and doctrine of the church to have been dominant at that council. Was there a quid pro quo arrangement for church and empire? Both needed each other. Today we can witness the influence of the empire on the structure and culture of the church – designations, organisation, and costume.
Constantine may or may not have been a genuine convert to Christianity, but he certainly had no biblical basis for officiating a theological debate among Church elders. Nevertheless, Constantine brought such theological debate to the most prestigious stage known to mankind – the emperor’s court. Christianity would be marked indefinitely by the political shift and, more importantly, the theological convictions of those men who gathered at the Council of Nicaea.
The Council of Nicaea was called because Arius, a presbyter from Libya, was gaining followers around the empire, teaching, “There was a time when the Son was not.” Egyptian bishop Alexander and his chief deacon, Athanasius, fumed at the teaching. The argument spread throughout the empire, promising to rip the church in two. This council was to close the doctrinal fissure.
Eusebius was enthralled with the teachings of Origen, who, incidentally, has been criticized for 1,800 years for his belief that the Trinity was a hierarchy, not an equality. So, Eusebius was less concerned with Arius’s heresy than the threat of disunity in the church.
When the council was over, Eusebius was reluctant to agree with its decision even though he had been the architect of the approved creed. He eventually signed the document the council produced, saying, “Peace is the object which we set before us.” But a few years later, when the tables flipped and Arianism became popular, Eusebius criticized Athanasius, hero of the council. He even sat on the council that deposed him. Eusebius was not himself an Arian—he rejected the idea that “there was a time when the Son was not” and that Christ was created out of nothing. He simply opposed anti-Arianism. Perhaps he was upholding free speech and thinking?
The original Nicene Creed of A.D. 325 was much shorter than the one used in churches today. The creed needed to be expanded as time went by and new challenges and theological questions arose from both outside and within the Church.
The original creed read, I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of things visible and invisible, and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made, who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man; He suffered, and on the third day He rose again, ascended into heaven; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. And in the Holy Ghost.
The original A.D. 325 version was greatly expanded at the Second Ecumenical Council, also called the First Council of Constantinople, in A.D. 381. This second version is nearly identical to the one still used today.
First Council of Constantinople, (381), the second ecumenical of the Christian church, was summoned by the emperor Theodosius I and met in Constantinople. Doctrinally, it adopted what became known to the church as the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, effectively affirmed and developed the creed earlier promulgated at the Council of Nicaea in 325 (Creed of Nicaea). The Nicene Creed was, however, probably not an intentional enlargement of the Creed of Nicaea but rather an independent document based on a baptismal creed already in existence. The Council of Constantinople also declared finally the Trinitarian doctrine of the equality of the Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son. Among the council’s canons was one giving the bishop of Constantinople precedence of honour over all other bishops except the bishop of Rome, “because Constantinople is the New Rome.”
Nicaea did not put an end to the controversies but only gave the parties a new rallying point. Doctrinal debate was complicated by the rivalry among bishops and theologians as well as by the intrusion of imperial politics that had begun at Nicaea. Out of the post-Nicene controversies came that fuller statement of the doctrine of the Trinity which was needed to protect the Nicene formula against the charge of failing to distinguish adequately between the Father and the Son. Ratified at the Council of Constantinople in 381 but since lost, that statement apparently made official the terminology developed by the supporters of Nicene orthodoxy in the middle of the 4th century: one divine substance, three divine persons (mia ousia, treis hypostaseis). The three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—were distinct from one another but were equal in their eternity and power. Now it was possible to teach, as Nicaea had, that Christ was “of the same substance as the Father”. Although the doctrine seemed to make problematical the unity of God, it did provide an answer to the first of the two issues confronted by the church in its doctrine of the person of Christ—the issue of Christ’s relation to the Father. It then became necessary to clarify the second issue—the relation of the divine and the human within Christ.
The debate about the nature of Christ ensued at the 5th Century councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon. The Council of Chalcedon in AD451 under Pope Leo 1 of Rome produced a settling agreement:
We all unanimously teach…one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, perfect in deity and perfect in humanity…in two natures, without being mixed, transmuted, divided, or separated. The distinction between the natures is by no means done away with through the union, but rather the identity of each nature is preserved and concurs into one person and being.
We believe in God, the creative force that sustains and nurtures humanity in ways beyond our understanding.
We believe that Jesus of Nazareth embodied the power of this force; extraordinarily able to grasp its meaning, he revealed this face of reality to us in his life and teaching.
Because he was human, like us, through grace and mercy he offers us access to this incomprehensible power.
There are forces in our lives that assault humanity, that bring suffering, degradation and death. Because of the strength of such forces, Jesus was rejected and killed. But death did not silence his voice.
Evil will not eradicate the good that he showed us, a good that lives in us and through us.
The power of this creative force is at work in our lives today. Our forefathers and mothers gave witness to this source of life and goodness in their words and deeds. We, as members of this community of faith, will likewise give witness in our words and deeds.
Secure in our faith, we will fear no evil. When we falter, goodness and mercy will rescue us. Beyond our lives, grace will abound. Amen.
by Carl Krieg 29th January 2021 for ProgressiveChristianity.org
In 1841 the German philosopher of religion, Ludwig Feuerbach, wrote that “if birds had a god, it would be the perfect winged creature”. Human beings, like birds, create god after their own image, and the god they create assumes the characteristics of those doing the creating. The modern white Christian church has presented to the world a Savior who is tall, blue-eyed with long brown hair, clean, sporting a long off-white robe, and gazing into the distance. That was certainly the Jesus I grew up with in my childhood church, with the added touch that he was carrying the lost sheep in his arms.
The facts are quite different. Granted that we are speaking in terms of probability, and that Jesus could have been a handsome six-footer with blue eyes, a neat beard and long brown hair, more likely he looked like a typical Jew of his time. This put him at about 110 pounds, 5’1” in height, with a life span of about 40 years. His hair, cut short and reasonably messy, matched a beard of similar description. Forensic experts in 2002, working in conjunction with Popular Mechanics, created what seemed to them to be a likely image of Jesus. He was swarthy, dark-skinned, with hints of Neanderthal lineage and not at all the lithe, fair-skinned, and curly-locked Jesus so prominent in church sanctuaries. Of course, the re-created image was not accepted by all, and continues to create controversy.
Since it is impossible to say with 100% accuracy what the man from Nazareth looked like, we all need to seriously question our own perception. Who is the Jesus we accept, or reject? Are we open to thinking new thoughts, or are we captivated by the past? With the resurgence of white supremacy in the west, it is mandatory that we tear down the false images that command loyalty and instead search for truth. We may not know exactly what Jesus looked like, but we can be reasonably certain what he did not look like.
Your thought-provoking ‘Reply’ posting of January 2021 is timely. It is relevant to some discussion I have been in with my colleagues In (SOFiA) about the faith we live by.
Your resolution presumably comes from a life time of experience and it is interesting that it contrasts so differently with mine over perhaps a comparable lifetime. What each of us ends up with depends on our world views and the way from this that we develop the faith which drives us to do what we do – or don’t do.
One of the major divisions of people in this world, I find, is between the optimists and pessimists. To soften the edge of negativity from any grouping into “pessimismistic” people with that inclination have been described to me as “realists”. Your statement, it appears to me would see you putting yourself squarely in the pessimist/realist camp.
Do these orientations come from our inherent nature or do they build up over a lifetime? A favourite aphorism of mine is that “good judgement comes from experience and we gain experience from bad judgement”.
Anyway, I am an optimist. That leads to my strong focus on being a peacemaker. This is expressed as a philosophy of loving my enemies. For many people this stance is highly impracticable. From what you are saying, it doesn’t get the desired result.
This then raises the question, “What is the desired result?” For you, reconciliation is one desired result. The weakness of this for me is that it takes two to reconcile and those two may or may not agree on what needs to be reconciled. It may also require an underlying assumption of reciprocation and compromise.
To be loving, however, requires only one party, ourselves. It, of course, incorporates forgiveness. One has a different attitude to one’s adversary if one sees that person as a friend and not an enemy. It means seeking to understand what the other party needs. To identify and meet those needs can very satisfying.
You have linked your conclusion to what Jesus would have done. Of course, we can all quote from the Bible record to support our own view. I am as guilty of that as anybody. If we read the New Testament one way, we see Jesus coming across as a rather cranky fellow. On the other hand, he is also recorded as proclaiming “love your enemies” and also as forgiving his murderers. What we do is take our pick.
One way to examine the validity and relevance of the ethics of Jesus. Is to make a list of virtues which we see as making up a good person. Do they fit what we know of Jesus? If he seems to have possessed those characteristics which we see as making a good life and society, then we may find him worth following. If not, we can either go and follow someone else or just depend on our individual experiences and personalities to live day to day.
It would be good to have you outline some of the experiences which have led you to have a somewhat disheartened view of peacemaking. You could spell out the “great cost” of attempts at peacemaking.
I trust you will agree that being a peace-maker is not the soft option. Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Count Bernadotte provide some evidence of what a dangerous business it can be. At the personal level I have found that loving my enemies can result in the risk of losing my friends.
I wrote a little article many years ago of how I spent a couple of years pondering the virtues of love and forgiveness as against reciprocation. – give and take. That is “I’ll only do good things for you if you do good things for me”.
With the current kerfuffle over our relationship with China one might ask as a friend, “What Does China want?” Someone spoke with people from China recently. The answer given was that what China wanted from the West was “respect”.
I had a little experience this week just after I had written the above notes. The anecdote may illustrate the point I am making.
I have a friend who over the past year or so has kept asking me for money – pretty much on a weekly basis. I give him the money with no expectation that it will be paid back in full. But there is a moral issue in this for me. The money does not matter too much. I can afford to make the gifts. He is adequately catered for financially by his Government benefits. The trouble is that by these gestures of mine he is not learning how to manage his money effectively. I won’t be around for ever to help him out. So last week, despite his pleading I said, “No! No more money until you have paid me back what you owe me.”
Then, a day or two later we were to meet at the church for a routine morning tea. I was a bit anxious, that he would want more money from me or be upset with me for refusing him. I was strongly tempted to avoid him so as not to have the discomfort of his badgering.
But, “No,” I concluded. “This was not the sort of person I wanted to be; nor the way I wanted to operate.” I approached the veranda, noticed him sitting there and “forced” myself to wave a warm welcome. We greeted each other (no handshake with Covid 19 being around) moved into the kitchen and organised a cup of tea. There followed a pleasant full hour of conversation with him as satisfying as it has ever been. There was not one mention of money. I felt buoyed up by this experience of choosing to nurture a friendship and not run away from a potentially difficult situation.
To me this typifies a moral of approaching “enemies” as “friends” which can apply to all relationships right up to international dealings of the major world powers.
Dear Brigid, Lesley, Margaret and Wayne, and others who have responded to or thought about my recent post.
Thank you for going to the trouble with your detailed and well thought out response to my reflections on the impact of Corona virus and its relation to our decision making in times of national and individual stress. That you have bothered to make a comment I count as a blessing.
I have the impression that some of my commentary may not have been clear, particularly as to where I stand personally. Perhaps I was being a bit too subtle and seeking to be balanced as to how other people might react. One reader – not a UC Forum viewer – took the article as implying my support of the anti-vaxxers approach. That, I hope you will have recognised, is far from being the case.
So, in further explanation and at the risk of seeming defensive, let me expand a little on some of the content of the article.
Brigid: Certainly, if we are caring people as I assume all people subscribing to this website would be, concern for others matches, perhaps sometimes exceeds our concern for ourselves. One of the points I was making is that unless we care for ourselves in choosing how much risk of infection, we allow we are not going to be of any use to others if we go down with the disease. One is reminded of the safety measures broadcast on any aeroplane flight. “If there is an emergency and you have children you are responsible for, make sure you supply yourself with oxygen before you attempt to meet the child’s needs.” Similarly as we are finding with the catastrophic corona virus situation overseas, if the doctors and nurses are not kept alive with their PPE gear, they are not going to be available to their patients.
Lesley: Good points there about different courses of action for different situations. One has a greater obligation perhaps to take less risks if one is a middle-aged person with elderly parents in a nursing home as against a man or woman in their early twenties with young children who can drive them barmy when constraints are applied severely to what they may or may not do. And then to your final sentence, how much can we trust the particular authorities we come to be saddled with – more on that below.
Margaret: Following on from my final comment to Lesley, “How much can we trust our governments?” We could have had a Boris Johnson who branded it (initially) I think as a bad case of the ‘flu. Or Donald Trump, “Corona virus goes away with the heat”. It is noteworthy that our relative success in Australia has been because we trusted the technical experts who gained their knowledge through empirical research; not the politicians or the social media postings. The Government medical officers have become such a familiar sight on our screens over the past year that we can recall many of their names, Jeanette Young, Paul Kelly, Brett Murphy, Sutton, Cheng, Chant and so on. This still leaves us as individuals to “do our own research” and be choosy about the persons or sources we use for our information.
Wayne: To some degree I agree with you. Although this is a matter of opinion (in line with my representation of Maslow) that ultimately (despite the example of risking life in wartime, for instance) survival remains the base need for people in normal circumstances. We have had examples of this in Australia this year when a number of commentators have claimed that the unexpected electoral success of people like Anastacia Palaszczuk and Mark McGowan – perhaps even Joe Biden – occurred because a significant part of the electorate cared more about their physical health than about the health of the economy. From the news reports over the past 24 hours, it seems that this fear has been evidenced in Queensland. Observations of the streets of Brisbane, including my own at Sunnybank Hills, have shown a remarkably willing uptake of mask-wearing in Greater Brisbane.
General: I hope I have made myself a bit clearer above. I had originally intended to extend the theme of what I was writing but the posting seemed long enough so I left it at that.
So, I’ll go back to the initial conversations which prompted this reflection. That is, with the attendance at a crowd gathering or the decision whether or not to hold a church service, I observed a contrast in attitude. One was that “the Government has been constraining us but now that they have made it legal to take more risks then we might as well take those risks.” The opposite, as touched on by correspondents above is, that “there is still a risk and dependent on circumstances such as age of close relatives, perhaps worry about mental stress of confinement, the need for employment etc, etc. we still have some choice in the matter, whether it is legal or not”.
Then to make the more general point, this applies to other areas of life. Some people wait for the government to say what is right or wrong. Others of us make our own decisions in terms of our own values and may be “ahead” of the government. Acknowledgement of climate change and environmental pollution are two very live current examples. Many of us in Australia may consider that our governments are too slow to act on alleviating these. We, especially in a liberal democracy such as Australia, still have the opportunity to make up our own minds and do something about it rather than waiting for Governments to give us the green light.
Another application , in the matter, very relevant to this UC Forum is in regard to religion. Orthodoxy (right opinion) lays down the “correct” answer. Liberal/progressive religion leaves it more open and seeks to live with the questions and fit answers to changing circumstances.
Again, thank you for your correspondence. I value it highly.
A PS (Sunday 17th) Having just returned from a holiday on the Sunshine Coast (no mask required) to our suburban Hot spot, Sunnybank Hills, (mask required) and experienced the contrasting environments I would firmly acknowledge with gratitude the strong steps our Australian governments have taken to protect their constituents. To face the daily risk of infection and death that our fellows in other countries have to do must be very demoralizing indeed.
A retired senior citizen was asked what sort of changes he was feeling in himself? This was his sage response:
1 After loving my parents, my siblings, my spouse, my children and my friends, I have now started loving myself.
2 I have realized that I am not “Atlas”. The world does not rest on my shoulders.
3 I have stopped bargaining with vegetable & fruit vendors. A few pennies more is not going to break me, but it might help the poor fellow save for his daughter’s school fees.
4 I leave my waiter a big tip. The extra money might bring a smile to her face. She is toiling much harder for a living than I am.
5 I stopped telling the elderly that they’ve already narrated that story many times. The story makes them walk down memory lane & relive their past.
6 I have learned not to correct people even when I know they are wrong. The onus of making everyone perfect is not on me. Peace is more precious than perfection.
7 I give compliments freely & generously. Compliments are a mood enhancer not only for the recipient, but also for me. And a small tip for the recipient of a compliment, never, NEVER turn it down, just say “Thank You.”
8 I have learned not to bother about a crease or a spot on my shirt. Personality speaks louder than appearances.
9 I walk away from people who don’t value me. They might not know my worth, but I do.
10 I remain cool when someone plays dirty to outrun me in the rat race. I am not a rat & neither am I in any race.
11 I am learning not to be embarrassed by my emotions. It’s my emotions that make me human.
As the hours and minutes drew near to 6 p.m. on Friday 8th January 2021, for Brisbane’s short sharp lockdown in response to the corona virus I found myself strangely at odds with some of my family and associates. Given the advertised restrictions, some intended to carry on with a family meal with attendance to the limit imposed by the Government. In discussions with fellow officers of my local church congregation and pondering whether to go ahead with a church service normally attended by people in their 80s and 90s, the question put was not as to whether it was healthy or not but whether the Government would allow it!
Just as we have the contrast between the optimists and pessimists (some would say “realists”) in our society, I am finding a binary in our reactions to the virus.
One group wants clear limitations. You can’t do this or you can’t do that (perhaps grammatically better expressed as “you may do or may not do that”) seems to be the major hinging point.
From my perspective, with some surprise, I found myself wondering “Hey, what is this all about?” I am not too concerned about what the Government thinks. I am more concerned about the impact of the virus on me. This being the case it is up to me to decide how I respond in countering its potentially deadly effects.
Of course, in some respects this puts me at the level of the anti-vaxxers. They are not going to be told what is good for them. But it can work in the other direction, too. That is that, rather than wait for the authorities to make the decisions as to what is safest for me as an individual, I may have the option of doing my own research and using my own experience in deciding what more promising action I might take.
A specific example of this might be. The Government makes a ruling that it is “all right” to attend a crowded football or cricket match. Do I then say, “Good, it is now my duty to attend the football match even though there remains some potential for becoming infected. Some Governments, indeed, have actually urged, or paid, for people to go to a restaurant or tourist resort during the pandemic.
“It will help the economy and it is the loving thing to do because it will keep people in jobs” they say.
Or do I say, “It may be a loving thing to put myself at risk but I can’t be helpful to anybody if I am dead or permanently disabled from the ravages of the disease.
It all comes down to priorities doesn’t it? What needs come first?
I am a keen follower of the analysis of needs provided by psychologist Abraham Maslow, and I use this in day-to-day decision-making. Maslow sees the base need to be survival. I touched on this in my earlier article, “Better dead than Red?”
When survival is assured we go for security. Beyond survival and security we give attention to the more esoteric longer-term aims such as socialising, success and self-actualisation.
Mind you, we don’t always follow this pattern. Clearly, attending a football match or dancing at an intimate night club may meet needs having priority over survival. Millions die in wartime through putting perceived security and socialising ahead of survival.
So in coping with Covid-19, do we just do what we are told, more or less, or do we use our own informed judgement and experience to favour our individual survival and thus remain available to play our part in making this world a better place?
The Politics of Prayer Monday, December 28, 2020 I’ve often said that we founded the Center for Action and Contemplation to be a place of integration between action and contemplation. I envisioned a place where we could teach activists in social movements to pray—and encourage people who pray to live lives of solidarity and justice. As we explained in our Center’s Radical Grace publication in 1999: We believed that action and contemplation, once thought of as mutually exclusive, must be brought together or neither one would make sense. We wanted to be radical in both senses of the word, simultaneously rooted in Tradition and boldly experimental. We believed . . . that the power to be truly radical comes from trusting entirely in God’s grace and that such trust is the most radical action possible.  To pray is to practice that posture of radical trust in God’s grace—and to participate in perhaps the most radical movement of all, which is the movement of God’s Love. Contemplative prayer allows us to build our own house. To pray is to discover that Someone else is within our house and to recognize that it is not our house at all. To keeping praying is to have no house to protect because there is only One House. And that One House is Everybody’s Home. In other words, those who pray from the heart actually live in a very different world. I like to say it’s a Christ-soaked world, a world where matter is inspirited and spirit is embodied. In this world, everything is sacred; and the word “Real” takes on a new meaning. The world is wary of such house builders, for our loyalties will lie in very different directions. We will be very different kinds of citizens, and the state will not so easily depend on our salute. That is the politics of prayer. And that is probably why truly spiritual people are always a threat to politicians of any sort. They want our allegiance, and we can no longer give it. Our house is too big. If religion and religious people are to have any moral credibility in the face of the massive death-dealing and denial of this era, we need to move with great haste toward lives of political holiness. This is my theology and my politics: It appears that God loves life—the creating never stops. We will love and create and maintain life. It appears that God is love—an enduring, patient kind. We will seek and trust love in all its humanizing (and therefore divinizing forms. It appears that God loves the variety of multiple features, faces, and forms. We will not be afraid of the other, the not-me, the stranger at the gate. It appears that God loves—is—beauty: Look at this world! Those who pray already know this. Their passion will be for beauty.
 Richard Rohr, from Radical Grace, anniversary edition (December 1999).
Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Prayer as Political Activity,” Radical Grace, vol. 2, no. 2 (March–April 1989).
Franciscan Richard Rohr founded the Center for Action and Contemplation in 1987 because he saw a deep need for the integration of both action and contemplation. If we pray but don’t act justly, our faith won’t bear fruit. And without contemplation, activists burn out and even well-intended actions can cause more harm than good. In today’s religious, environmental, and political climate our compassionate engagement is urgent and vital.
370,000 people now subscribe to Richard Rohr’s daily meditations.
I was invited to write a story for Christmas for Sea of Faith. Perhaps a liturgy for Christmas religious celebrations with a non-supernatural theme.
I thought about this. No doubt there are many writers who have sought to do this and been relatively successful.
But how redeemable is this supernatural rationale for festivities which remain just as popular and more and more secular as time goes on. There is a lot that is good about Christmas, particularly in its promotion of a spirit of goodwill in our community and indeed world-wide, whether people are nominally Christian or not.
Some might suggest that the tale as told basically in the Bible books of Matthew and Luke could be classed as a fairy story. If that is so, while being aware of its mythological foundations, we can still get a lot of fun and pleasure from the goodwill that it generates. We can enjoy our Christmas festivities.
Christmas is not a fairy story for the real person whose birth we celebrate; whose life made such an impact on his followers, including the gospel writers, that they turned him into a god. Part of that process was to build up around Jesus of Nazareth the supernatural tales of his conception and birth which are so familiar to us.
But what about the human being behind this? He turned out to be far from the “Gentle, Jesus, meek and mild”; rather a person who took on the Roman Empire and of course got killed for his pains.
And yet in a way he overcame that empire. His legacy lives on in the world-wide Christian community.
How did he do this? He proclaimed a new way of dealing with domination and power. Although it has been corrupted by his later followers and the institutional church his proclamation was “Love your enemies”. I have not had the opportunity to check this but I understand that the quotations from the relevant passages in Mathew and Luke are given red-letter status by the Jesus Seminar as being probably close to the actual words of Jesus.
Moving ahead in time, in the Courier-Mail of 15th December 2020 we read this extract, quoting federal Australian politician, Barnaby Joyce.
“Australia needed to figure out what its biggest challenge was. I don’t think it is climate abatement. The biggest issue facing my children’s lifetime and my grandchildren’s lifetime is how they live in a world where China is a superpower and it is not a liberal democracy.”
Now I am not a fan of Barnaby Joyce’s when it comes to attitudes to the environment nor when he has made taken some probably unwise steps in personal relationships, but I am inclined to agree that on this issue he has a point.
All this warlike rhetoric over trade and armed build up makes me nervous as we slide towards a MAD (mutually assured destruction) climax. It is so reminiscent of the events leading up to World War 2. With MAD, climate change won’t be the prime issue when a good proportion of the human population has been wiped out or severely irradiated.
Hopefully the West and the Communist nations will pause before we get to that point. It bothers me, though, that there seems to be very little public comment about a worst case scenario. The exchange continues, “You can’t beat me. Mine is bigger than yours”
For hundreds of years despite the major world war conflicts, the world has basked more or less in the pax Britannica or pax Americana*. For Australia, “They have been on our side”.
With China becoming the dominant world power that is no longer going to hold. How are we going to respond to the challenges of that power? I fear from the current rhetoric that it is war or nothing.
The trade-off for solving our problems by going to war, from the experience of World War 2 is a cost of 60 million human lives. With nuclear weapons the deaths will exceed more than 100 million in a very short time.
Despite the loss of those lives we all cheer the outcome of the second war. After all, “We won, didn’t we?”
Like so many Australians I cheered the stirring words of Churchill to stick to it and fight on. Despite the deaths of husbands, sons, fathers, daughters it all came out all right in the end! Until I saw the film about Churchill “The Darkest Hour” I had assumed that his way was the only way to go. From that film, though, and later research I discovered that there had, at the time of near invasion of Britain, been rational arguments for negotiating with Hitler. It was very close. Britain nearly lost that war. We can speculate what the outcome might have been – once again remembering that negotiating a compromise might have saved a good proportion of those 60 million lives.
Whenever I have suggested that there might have been alternatives to war people throw their hands up in horror. Emotional nationalism takes over “Oh you could never do that. Look what happened to Neville Chamberlain”.
I write this piece because I would encourage readers to enter into some rational discussion of some these dreadful possibilities. I could say more but this is enough for now. If there is any response, I would be keen to continue the conversation. There are very many more implications coming from this point of view than I have touched on here.
So that you can get a grip on the subject let me put it to you this way.
Xi Ji Ping leader of China, the dominant world power, sends a message to the President of a weakened United States
“We are planning to take over Taiwan. If you try to stop us we shall drop an atom bomb on New York City” in one month’s time”.
My question to you, my reader is, “How would you react and how would you like our Prime Minister and Government to react to such news”.
“What’s this got to do with Christmas?” you may ask.
What I am saying is that perhaps the world has got to the stage when instead of battling enemies we would do better to learn to love them, the heart of the message of the baby born in Bethlehem.
*Despite the hiccups of Vietnam, and the middle east, Afghanistan and so on, America still holds overwhelming naval power.
Sadly we have to report the death of our good friend and active subscriber to the UCFORUM Rev Don Whebell. I enjoyed our discussions with this former moderator and minister and particularly his strong defence of the Basis of Union of the UCA which he told me was a most progressive mission statement and future focussed document. In his own words:
I never cease to be amazed, inspired, guided by and awe-struck by the Basis of Union each time I read it – or even read bits of it! Its vision for Christian unity is always timely and necessarily provocative. The centre of what inspires me in the Basis of Union is its Christological focus, its timely call to respond to the missional imperative, the Gospel and the call of Christ to mission that is ecumenical.
With the help of Andrew Dutney he used his latter years to produce a wonderful resource that makes the BOU a living set of guidelines for the Church. It is well worth perusing at: Listening to the Basis of Union.
Don’s life journey has been published in Journey online. He wrote his own story too. This is a poignant tale. It includes illustrations and a footnote from his wife Pam.
Descriptions of Jesus as ‘the man’ and/or ‘the Son of God’ are at the core of where many progressives find themselves at odds with sections of institutional Christianity. Indeed views differ significantly around the nature of ‘God’ as well. Where did we get our understandings from? How much of what we think is the product of our experiences from within and without church teaching, our interpretations of scripture, our gut feelings, our education and willingness to think critically, our exposure to science, philosophy, history and theology?
Recently Brian Reep posted a brief statement of his thinking, inviting others to post their thoughts. This conversation starter can be found at Reflection on “God”. Wally Stratford (A Long Time to Wait) responded with God’s Reality. Brian came back with:
Jesus was a man (MATH 19:17 )(The Gnostic Gospels ), a peripatetic Wisdom Teacher ( The Gospel of Thomas p 111 ) in the tradition of His time. He has achieved a stature greater than any other human being in the known history of the world. There are , of course , other contenders and a mention of the Buddha (“work out your own salvation with diligence “) is not inappropriate.
The child Jesus escaped the wrath of Herod when He was taken to Egypt (MATH 2:14 ) and His mission was anticipated by John the Baptist (MATH 3: 1 and 2). From the age of twelve He discussed profound religious issues with the doctors of the temple (LUKE 2:46 ) and they were “ astonished at His understanding and answers”. We do not read much more about Him until He was 30 years old when His ministry began in earnest. By this time He was preaching with “power” (LUKE 4:32) and “ authority” (MATH 7:29) and making the people of the synagogue so angry that they threw Him out of the city (LUKE 4:28 and 29). He became obedient unto God even unto death.
Something utterly amazing had transformed His teaching and actions. He was no longer an Orthodox Jew but a religious revolutionary with a message, initially for the Jews, but ultimately for the world. This transformation is entirely consistent with having a major mystical experience, probably just before His Ministry began.
So what changed?
The priests , who were once astonished at His understanding, are accused of making His house a den of thieves (MARK 11:17) and they sought to destroy Him (MARK 11:18). More emphasis is placed on love instead of dictating the way people should behave— two commandments instead of ten (MATH 22:37 to MATH 22:40). The people were told to choose forgiveness not judgement (LUKE 6:37) and not to depend on tradition (MARK 7:13). They also ,and this is crucial , were told to choose Truth (JOHN 8:32 ).
Jesus had become inclusive rather than exclusive, He now emphasized the importance of experience over teaching and the universal rather than the particular. We are encouraged to seek the mystical because through that we can know exactly what we are supposed to do. All that remains is to discover what is the best way for you ,I and other people to do it!!!
In the spirit of all that we do at the UCFORUM, Wally has offered a further response not intended to generate conflict in opinion but to add to the conversation and stimulate thinking:
A difficult problem when reflecting on Jesus, lies in the variety of references to him that appear in the gospels. Some of this difficulty is in choosing which of the references might be genuinely from Jesus, and which can be claimed as reflecting the life of the young church in what we deem to be four contexts. As we are aware, the gospel, in its differing accounts, appears some 40-80 years after his death.
I think they often confuse the matter and become less helpful the more we associate Jesus with the church’s declaration of him as Son of God.
This is particularly difficult at Christmas time with the presentation once again of the birth stories in Luke. and Matthew. There is some considerable agreement that in Luke. and Matthew, the first two chapters are a prologue rather than the main event. When they become the main event, as they seem to do at Christmas time, much is lost.
I think Jesus’ answer to John (Luke 7:18-23), allows us to find the focus in which the character of Jesus emerges, allowing the reader to see the divine nature of his life.
Brueggemann paraphrases this response – “Go tell John new life swirls around me. Go tell John that where I am present, impossible things happen. Go tell John that people are switching over to my narrative because they are worn out by blindness and want to see, they are tired with deadness and want to live. Go tell John a new world is being birthed among those who no longer accept dominant notions of the possible.”
“The underlying storyline in the New testament contains an unstated assertion of Jesus as an enabler of presence – a presence shrouded in mystery that continues. … In his time blindness was widespread but Jesus responds, and the blind man discovers a new way for recognizing life (John 9). The Sabbath was enshrined in rules and regulations, but Jesus cut across these, and in doing so placed himself in opposition as he interacted with the man who was unable to help himself (Mk 3:1-5). He was compassionate towards the harassed and helpless, and was also capable of intense feelings of loss, withdrawing from the crowds when hearing of John’s murder (Mt.13:14)”.
Much of this has been lost or sidelined as believers look heavenward for a glimpse of the Son of God.
Geza Vermes, The Authentic Gospel of Jesus, in response to a question asking, how can we improve our understanding of Jesus, writes: “Look for what Jesus himself taught instead of being satisfied with what has been taught about him”.
 Brueggemann. Deep Memory, Exuberant Hope. 13-26.
The four descriptions of God listed by Brian Reeps present interesting possibilities for further reflection. I have chosen to reflect on the first – God is Real. Here it is. Like all reflections it is open to further examination. The He and His are acknowledged as needing change.
“God is Real. He can make his presence known to human beings. All other gods are figments of people’s imagination. That is not to say they have no value.” (Brian Reep)
What does it mean to say something is real and something else is not?
To claim something as real is to say I can see, touch, hear that something, and therefore can visualize it – gather it as a mind picture.
But real comes with more than one expression of something’s actuality. To say that something is real even though not physically presentable, gives voice to a feeling or experience that is personal, and abides within one’s understanding of the something.
Claiming God to be real is an expression associated with belief. The next question asks where this belief comes from, and with regards to God it must be said that “his” being comes to mind as a proclamation from the church.
Belief in God – the claim of God’s reality – is a learned belief, in the first place through the church’s retelling of Christmas stories with their emphasis on ‘baby Jesus’. Indirectly, parents reinforce the story, children being reminded to be good, particularly around Christmas time, if they want Santa Clause to come with gifts.
This has a continuing effect on children, and we may claim, on parents also, who reinforce the child stories with references to Jesus’ goodness and attachment to God as father.
Belief is packaged in many ways, but its foundation is in a learned experience of a ‘real’ God.
The church’s claims, systematized in creeds, is the result of discussions, arguments, debates, and claims that God comes to Christians as the original God of the Jews.
He can make his presence known.
The Genesis story speaks of chaos and order. The chaotic sea is quietened as the wind of God blows over it (Gen 1:1). There is however an alternative reading which says, while the spirit of god… The creator God in this first verse is revealed as a mighty wind and also as spirit. The story continues and when finally, all is prepared, humankind begins to emerge.
The first glimpse of presence emerges in these Genesis stories of beginnings. The brief word in the story that introduces the notion of presence is found in the one verse that describes the beginnings of humankind. (Gen 2:7). The story tells us that firstly God formed the man out of the dust of the ground. The dusty shape has no life, only a form, so God leans down and breathes into his nostrils and the man lives. This story, as with all stories, requires imagination to hear God say in the breathing “the life of God for the life of humankind.”
From this story we may glean a number of things. Dust as dust is shapeless. It cannot be formed into any shape. It flows but may also be blown away. But humankind emerges from the dust and is given a form. We might even want to claim that it is the energy of God that holds the dust particles together. People’s connection with land is absolute.
There is one essential element for all life presented in this story and that is in the necessity to breathe. Arising from the story, the first breath for humankind, coming from God creator of all, contains an element of the universe – life itself. It is as if, in the action of breathing, a necessity in living, humankind inhales something of the marvel of the universe.
The key is in imagination and specifically in the words “life of God for the life of humankind”. The language of those ancient biblical times makes room for a link between breath and spirit. Can it be said that breath and spirit are of each other and thus constantly present in the life of humankind?
Neither breath, wind nor spirit are controllable, but together they are life. Perhaps it can be said that life itself is a demonstration of presence.
The gift of life is for all, but it does not come with everything in place. It requires unwrapping as do all gifts, and not all gifts are exactly what people want.
Presence contained in the gift of life becomes real when shared between people. Whether ill or well, among people presence is always a possibility.
Figment – a fantastic notion or fabrication.
It is quite false to claim that people’s responses to the spiritual experiences they have recognized in their life are merely figments of imagination.
It can be claimed that all gods, all considered divine, have an imaginative quality. They all belong in stories and along with every human being the stories that are portrayed of life are all of value.
Spirit, earth, people, belong to each other. The differences are religious ones assembled from among the desires to have a God.
Gods and people have lived together on the earth for aeons. Smart takes us back thousands of years far beyond biblical times. Archeologists have unearthed evidence of ancient links between people and gods. Mythology tells of gods as separate beings – in our day god like responses might be discerned among the many activities that awaken passion in lives.
Among many religions, and for my purposes within the church, Gods are named and set apart; separated from those who would seek to worship them. I think it is reasonable to claim that the God of Christians has a beginning in the desert meeting with Moses, and YHWH’s call to free the Israelites (Ex. 3). YHWH showed no face (Ex.33:20-23) and gave no name (Ex.3:14). The people knew presence in smoke by day and fire by night (Ex.13:22). Throughout the biblical story, God is recognized only as spirit presence.
The Israelite experience of God is not the same as the Christian experience of God. Both experiences are imaginative connections through which believers find life. One cannot claim that the Christian God is real any more than one can claim all others as figments.
WBS. Dec. 2020
 Smart, Ninian. The Religious Experience of Mankind. Collins/Fount Paperbacks. 1969.
I am deeply humbled and thrilled to announce that I am again being called to ministry in Sydney – as the next Minister of Pitt Street Uniting Church. This is a wonderful high profile progressive faith community which gathers on Gadigal land in the heart of Sydney’s CBD. After much reflection and careful discernment with the Uniting Church, Penny and I believe that this is the very best way in which I can serve with others in nurturing faith, love and hope in the next few years (from 1 March 2021) – as well as, very happily, being again close to family in Australia. I extend my thanks and blessings to all with whom I have journeyed in the past and to those I look forward to joining soon… I have long been grateful to Pitt St Uniting Church for its prominent prophetic commitments to the core Uniting Church values of seeking God’s justice and compassion, celebrating diversity, and being actively open to dynamic fresh expression of God’s love and truth. To become a part of its vibrant life is a great joy, particularly in our challenging times. For as part of the Sydney Presbytery and wider Uniting Church, its members continue to look to the future with a renewing vision for themselves and others. This involves developing as a metropolitan city centre for spirituality and the arts, as well as strengthening Pitt Street’s key role as a fully affirming beacon of hope for the common good. I am therefore hugely looking forward to life together with all involved. It is also personally very inspiring to follow the ministries at Pitt St of such liberating leaders as Dorothy McRae-McMahon and Margaret Mayman.
Penny and I are immensely thankful for the rich and diverse Anglican and other ministries in which we have been blessed to serve. Such love and joy will assuredly continue to flourish in many parts of the Church here and overseas. However, in our particular Australian context, the time has come for us to move into more creative and truly affirming new life. We therefore give thanks in this for the generous hospitality of the Uniting Church, for its continuing courageous Christian leadership in society, its distinctive collaborative style of ministry, and its vital part in God’s grace and love. We rejoice, as pilgrim people, to step out afresh together. oOo
The Faith of a Radical Christian – theologian, Reverend Don Cupittis interviewed by Neville Glasgow.
Reverend Don Cupitt speaks about the concept of salvation, the comparison of his view of Christianity to Buddhism, how people view God as perceived through cultural values, and the concept of sin. He then speaks about Jesus as a revolutionary, and “Christian Platonism” – Christianity intertwined with Greek philosophy.
He then discusses the role of the Church in society, and his own personal role within it as a priest. He speaks about the idea of evil, and addresses the question of why God allows suffering – he says human beings are responsible for the world, and that is where change needs to come from. He also talks about miracles, belief, and the need for Christianity to transform from tradition to a ‘new’ Christianity.
The interview concludes with further discussion about his radical views on Christianity which compromised his position in the Church, with some labelling him as a heretic.
Thanks to Ruth Eldridge for reminding the PCN gathering this week about the wonderful online progressive service each week from St Michael’s in Melbourne. Previous services are also available to view. Also available is the order of service. Enjoy the beautiful music the singer and the worship and message led by Rev Dr Margaret Mayman.
Another reflection on the notion of “God” demonstrating the diversity of ideas within this large group. Reminds me of when I surveyed 40 people and asked them to describe God. I received 40 different descriptions:
GOD IS REAL. He can make His Presence known to human beings. All other gods are figments of people’s imagination. That is not to say they have no value.
GOD IS LOVE. He loves all that he has made and we are required to do likewise. Hell is incompatible with a God of love and there will be people of all faiths (and none) in what we call heaven.
GOD IS GOOD. He has provided a way out of all the world’s problems but we have to implement the practical solutions.
GOD IS TRUTH. The Prophets reveal truth but they are not THE TRUTH. They point the way to God.
In short we have to focus on God , with the help of a prophet if necessary, and interpret what the mystical experience reveals wisely.
Olga has kindly shared these thoughts prepared by Noel.
My CREDO is also a poem of GRATITUDE. Gratitude for LIFE and the JOY of being part of it all….. Gratitude for the influences that have shaped me and for the love of those who have nurtured me….. Gratitude for those epiphanies (some mystical, some public encounters, and some serious illnesses) which have been watershed points in my life’s journeys…..
The CREED I believe…. Together with all life forms and the ONE who is the ground of all being, I am part of a GREATER SELF. (“The everywhere God” to some, “the Ground of all Being” to others). As a human being I am one piece in this evolving WHOLE. The family of humanity is the primary community to which I belong, a Community that only flourishes in a culture that is eco-centric (not anthropo-centric). I acknowledge that other human beings may find the way toward union with the Greater Self on pathways different from mine. I am content to be known as a Christian if that signifies one who has been formed, and continues to be inspired, in the tradition which owes its origin to the life, teachings and death of Jesus. In the evolution of the Greater Self, Jesus of Nazareth is an extraordinary expression of humanity’s vocation to LOVE-AS-ACTION (grounded as he was in his relationship with the ONE he knew as “father”= abba.) When I contemplate life, the beauty of Earth and the glory of the COSMOS, I am aware of suffering, death and arbitrary destruction, but I am also conscious of mystery, compassion and redemptive purpose which are at the heart of the Greater Self. When I die, Love lives on and my self will merge into the heart of the Greater Self as do rivers into the sea. Therefore……. My life’s purpose is best expressed by contributing beneficially to the evolving Greater Self. This purpose is directed toward the sustenance of life in all its abundance. In this quest, Love-as-action in its diverse forms (compassion, tenderness, grace, fairness, justice, care of kin and ecological responsibility) is the supreme expression of my life’s vocation.
EPI-LOGUE: living the Creed I also believe that how we live is more important than what we believe. Living this way is pursuing the pathway to eco-justice which requires caring for Planet Earth and all its life-forms; and promoting social justice in the human community. As human beings we are the cosmic custodians of compassion. (First drafted 15/3/2010; Revised 3/2/2020)
How to support our progressive friends at the Indooroopilly Uniting Church, Brisbane with their Refugee Clinic and Food Bank which is now battling to meet the needs of 653 adults and 137 children:
Many people have become aware of the active role of the Indooroopilly Uniting Church in supporting innocent victims of cruel federal asylum seeker policies.
Some have volunteered, others have brought donations of goods and deposited funds.
No one dreamt it would take more than seven years, yet over 100 men are today incarcerated in a suburban hotel, without freedom, or the right to work, or to reunion with close family – and into their eighth year of indefinite immigration detention.
Others, including families are living in limbo, uncertain of their future. There are standing offers from citizens to accommodate in our community and help the Kangaroo Point men, but all we see and hear is political recalcitrancy
Denied income support, and access to Jobkeeper and Jobseeker because of their immigration status, law abiding people are now in dire straits. It is poverty and despair like I have never seen.
They come to the Food Pantry at our church for basic food – rice , cooking oil, bread, milk and whatever fruit and vegetables are collected from FoodBank in Morningside. With donations, we provide when we can, food vouchers which grant some dignity to people who have no income .
Do it now!
A DIRECT DONATIONby bank transfer is greatly appreciated!
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. —1 John 4:7–8 This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. . . . This I command you: love one another. —John 15:12–14, 17
Love is perhaps the last thing anyone wants to be reminded of in these days following the election in the United States. Yet our resistance to love is precisely why we need to talk about it! We have strayed so far from love; and yet, love is the essence of who we are, and how we are called to treat one another.
“Whoever loves is born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7). Unfortunately, many Christians think, “If I read the Bible, I’m born of God; or if I go to church, I know God; or if I obey the commandments, I know God.” Yet the writer of 1 John says it’s simply about loving. Note that the converse is true also: “Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8). In the Gospel of John, Jesus takes this to its logical conclusion. He does not say, “There is no greater love than to love God.” Instead he says, “There is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends” (John 15:13). As biblical scholar Allen Dwight Callahan writes of this passage, “Jesus has loved his followers so that they may love each other. Love calls for love in turn. Love makes love imperative.” 
The beginning and end of everything is love. Only inside of this mystery of the exchange of love can we know God. If we stay outside of that mystery, we cannot know God.
When most of us hear the word “commandment,” we likely think of the Ten Commandments; that is not what Jesus is referring to here. He speaks of a “new” commandment surpassing and summing up the “ten” of the Hebrew Bible (Exodus 20:1–17; Deuteronomy 5:6–21): “This is my commandment: Love one another” (John 15:17). He also says that the entire law and the prophets are summed up in the two great commandments: to love God and to love one another (see Matthew 22:36–40). Perhaps we don’t want to hear these commandments because we can never live up to them through our own efforts. We’d like to whittle this down to a little commandment, like “Come to church on Sunday,” so that we could feel we have obeyed the commandment and accomplished love. But who of us can say that we have fully loved yet? We are all beginners. We are all starting anew every day, in utter reliance on the mercy, grace, and compassion of God. This is a good example of “the tragic gap” that faith always allows and fills.
 Allen, Dwight Callahan Love Supreme: a history of the Johannine Tradition (Augsburg, Fortress, 2005, 78-79.
We are gathering again after a long spell because of Covid. It will just be a general conversation to catch up with each other. Please RSVP to Desley at: firstname.lastname@example.org so we can monitor numbers and safe seating.
When: 25th November
Venue: Merthyr Road Uniting Church, New Farm, Brisbane.
Morning Tea with donation to cover cleaning costs.
A service of remembrance and thanksgiving for the life of Rev Dr Noel Preston will be held this Friday, October 30, at 1:30 pm at West End Uniting Church (Sussex St). The family regrets that, due to COVID restrictions, attendance is by invitation only.
Two venues will offer a public livestream but seats need to be reserved: West End UC hall (book here) and Trinity UC, Marlborough Rd, Wellington Point (book here). Or view the livestream at home on YouTube.
Thanks for the many condolences and comments posted at Replies on the previous post. These will eventually be forwarded to Olga.
Rev Dr Noel Preston AM – retired UCA minister, friend and activist in the progressive movement, ethicist, author, educator, academic, eco-theologian and social justice advocate – passed away peacefully at home early this morning with family around him, after a long illness, aged 78.
Our thoughts are with his wife Olga Harris, sisters Adele, Pam and Elizabeth, and children Lisa, Kim and Christopher and the extended family as well as his many friends.
We hope the members of our growing network of progressive thinkers and explorers are all safe and well. Rex Hunt has taken the initiative of inquiring of several of the scholars and practitioners we follow just how they are managing in the Covid crisis.
Here are their responses:
Brandon Scott (USA)
Hi to everyone in Aussie Land, Margaret and I are here in Taos NM in the wonderful house we stayed in last fall. We are halfway through our 5 week stay. We travelled in our quarantine bubble. Things are pretty shut down here, but we get out for walks and short car trips; always something new to explore.
From the news, some parts of Australia, esp Melbourne have had a hard time. Hope everyone is doing well.
If Tyche favors us, it looks like our four year nightmare may be coming to an end. Take care and be safe.
Joe Bessler (USA)
Thanks so much for thinking of us! We’re doing pretty well even as cases in Oklahoma are at their highest levels yet and continue to, pressuring hospital staffs. At school we’re doing all online. I’m transitioning from the Dean’s office where I’ve been for the last two years.
How’s the economy there? Are you all on edge as you move into summer—concerns of fires? Has drought eased?
We’re all on edge with the election coming up—that Trump is not being utterly rejected,
And with still a fair chance of winning (and anything can happen in the next couple of weeks), is beyond my comprehension.
Jack Spong (USA)
How nice to hear from you. The stroke slowed me down considerably so I live in the past today. I am not depressed. I had a wonderful life and I look forward to what comes next. Australia was very kind to me and formed many of my happiest memories. I remember meeting you for the first time in Canberra and being very pleased with your leadership. That was never diminished by a long association. Thank you for that.
Please give my best regards to my friends. I recall them well and with gratitude.
Keep the fight up. We have much to be proud of.
Jeff Proctor-Murphy (USA)
Thanks Rex! Appreciate the warm thoughts. We’re hunkered down and so far have avoided the virus. Church has been virtual since mid-March and likely ’til Christmas Eve.
We’re all getting along fine. Love to you and yours!
John Churcher (Britain)
Thanks for the email and for your concern. It is good to hear from you in these challenging times.
I cannot remember whether or not I told you that although the prostate cancer treatment appears to have been successful there was a very unpleasant side effect in that the radiation damaged the blood vessels in the bowel and I have been bleeding daily for the past year. Things came to a head 3 weeks ago when the GP wanted me to have a blood transfusion but the hospital decided otherwise. Then, almost immediately, having waited 5 months for the second argon beam coagulation treatment [having been told that I would be waiting only 2 -5 weeks….] The consultant who carried out the treatment thinks that he has done the trick… Fortunately I am feeling much better…
Obviously regular preaching ended abruptly in March and so far shows no sign of restarting but lockdown has given me precious time to catch up on all those books waiting to be opened…
I have just finished re-reading Geering’s “Christianity Without God”, brilliant book!
Best wishes to you and hope that you continue to enjoy retirement and stay well away from those Covid bugs – we need you fit and well for a long time yet!
Gretta Vosper (Canada)
Has it not been almost the worst year E.V.E.R? I hope you and Dylis have been staying well.
Scott continues to work in the long term care facility he’s been at for the past many years. It is a publicly funded one which receives from the local government an additional 2/3 of what the province provides. So they have been able to keep COVID out of the home excepting one staff person whose partner brought it home from a private home that had a staggering number of deaths. Money truly is the root of all evil. The company that owned several of the private homes in which dozens died paid out huge profits to its shareholders in the same quarter. Time to dismantle some of the more egregious corporate laws, like limited liability, for instance.
Imagine me heading off on a rant straight out of the box!!
West Hill, too, has been spared any COVID losses. We did not return to regular meetings when we were permitted to simply because we felt our members were too vulnerable.
The result has been that we have extended our community reach to the UK, Africa, the US and all across Canada.
It has been a good thing in that, but we have many seniors who are not able to connect at all. It is like solitary confinement for them. So so so difficult.
Thank you so much for reaching out… As it begins to warm up there, I hope you are able to avoid the kind of destructive fires that were so devastating last year.
Wesley Wildman (Aussie in USA)
I’m running along just fine here. Weird times in the USA with weirder to come given the strange election.
My routines haven’t changed much aside from not traveling. Not sure how much I need to travel anymore, in fact.
But I miss not connecting with people in person.
Jerome Stone (USA)
So nice of you to be concerned, Sue and I are both OK. But I do have trouble getting a wi-fi connection. (Long story.)
We have both voted. We mailed our ballots. We think they will get through. Our daughter’s mailed-in ballot was received.
Been reading Spinoza to stay calm. He’s half right.
[Dr Suter was the author of a scenario planning project for the UCA in recent times.]
We are in an unusual recession. Never before have governments closed down economies for any reason; let alone for a virus that no one had heard of less than a year ago.
Even in the 20th century’s two World Wars, Australia’s economy continued to flourish. One can look at a graph of Australian economic activity throughout the 20th century, and not be able to identify easily where the two world wars occurred on the graph. Factories were kept even busier than usual building tanks and warships rather than (say) cars; there were more workers in the paid workforce because many men had gone off to fight in the war, and women had been recruited from home to work in the factories.
Now virtually every national economy has declined and the world is in an economic recession. There is even speculation of a depression dragging on for some years.
Australia’s unique record as the economic “wonder downunder” has vanished. It had the world’s longest consecutive period of economic growth (29 years, when most economic cycles only run for about 7-10 years). Even if prompt action has spared Australia the tragedy we see in the US and parts of Europe, Australia is being dragged down by the rest of the global economic decline. Our major trading partner – China – for the first time in many decades has not published any prediction on its annual economic growth target; it wants to avoid the embarrassment of being wrong. Thinking about the Unthinkable Scenario planning is about encouraging clients to think about the unthinkable – to encourage them to think outside their usual comfort zones. The future is rarely simply an extension of the present. There are always twists and turns as we lurch forward in time. A common factor in much of the COVID debate has been an unwillingness to think about the unthinkable. For example, an early response was that it was simply a form of ‘flu, or that it was going to kill off people – usually the elderly – who were destined to die in winter anyway. Similarly there were expectations of a vaccine coming quickly to market and so we could get back to “normal” by early 2021. There has been a consistent under-estimation of COVID’s impact throughout this year. Many Australians will look back to February 2020 as the lifetime highpoint of their wealth. Retirees in particular will find that COVID has cost people the chance to recover assets. There will eventually be improvements in the economy but they may come too late for many older Australians. What is the Shape of the Recession? Economists talk of LUV when discussing economic downturns. An “L” shaped downturn sees a sharp collapse and a very long period of low economic activity. The Great Depression which ran for much of the 1930s is the standard example. A “U” shaped downturn is a sharp downturn, a few years of low economic activity, and then a return to a healthy economy. A “V” shaped recession is a sharp decline, little time spent at the bottom, and then a strong bounce back. Most politicians are expecting that shape. For example, government relief programmes were set about six months – just enough to tide people over until the economy bounced back. I don’t share that “V” shaped optimism, I think the current crisis is going to be longer and deeper than the politicians would like to assume. I therefore expect a “U” shaped recession (while not excluding an “L” shaped one). LUV have now been joined by “K”. This is a sharp downturn and then two separate subsequent developments. On the one hand, some people will emerge from this recession richer than ever because they can make money in the recession (such as food delivery company CEOs), while others can buy distressed assets (like vacant, repossessed homes) at reduced prices. On the other hand, many people will find it even harder to survive in the future. Many young people come into that category. They are now missing out on their initial employment opportunities and may be overlooked when the economy recovers because employers will pick the even younger set of employees entering the jobs market. A person who has been unemployed for several months risks becoming unemployable. A “K” shaped recession will further erode social cohesion and could lead to social unrest.
Nothing Lasts Forever Recessions end. That is a fact of life. We may not know when, and economists differ as to how. But we know that eventually economic activity will pick up again. The previous great pandemic – the “Spanish” ‘flu of 1918-9 – killed as many people (if not more) than World War I (1914-8). This was followed by the Roaring Twenties – immortalized in the movie The Great Gatsby. But the world of the 1920s was different from that of the previous era. The post-COVID world (or at least a world in which we have learned to live with COVID) will be different. The economy will have changed, such as increased working from home and greater use of “gig” employees. COVID has reminded us that there will always be unpredicted events and so we need to have the capacity to deal with uncertainty. Hence my interest in scenario planning. There is a need to think like an entrepreneur and to look for opportunities, and these can emerge from scenario planning. Therefore, we need to be ready to think about the unthinkable, be resilient, and to look for opportunities. Keith Suter
ENCYCLICAL LETTER FRATELLI TUTTI of Pope Francis ON FRATERNITY AND SOCIAL FRIENDSHIP
3rd October 2020
Let us dream, then, as a single human family, as fellow travelers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all.
1. “FRATELLI TUTTI”. With these words, Saint Francis of Assisi addressed his brothers and sisters and proposed to them a way of life marked by the flavour of the Gospel. Of the counsels Francis offered, I would like to select the one in which he calls for a love that transcends the barriers of geography and distance, and declares blessed all those who love their brother “as much when he is far away from him as when he is with him”. In his simple and direct way, Saint Francis expressed the essence of a fraternal openness that allows us to acknowledge, appreciate and love each person, regardless of physical proximity, regardless of where he or she was born or lives.
2. This saint of fraternal love, simplicity and joy, who inspired me to write the Encyclical Laudato Si’, prompts me once more to devote this new Encyclical to fraternity and social friendship. Francis felt himself a brother to the sun, the sea and the wind, yet he knew that he was even closer to those of his own flesh. Wherever he went, he sowed seeds of peace and walked alongside the poor, the abandoned, the infirm and the outcast, the least of his brothers and sisters.
3. There is an episode in the life of Saint Francis that shows his openness of heart, which knew no bounds and transcended differences of origin, nationality, colour or religion. It was his visit to Sultan Malik-el-Kamil, in Egypt, which entailed considerable hardship, given Francis’ poverty, his scarce resources, the great distances to be traveled and their differences of language, culture and religion. That journey, undertaken at the time of the Crusades, further demonstrated the breadth and grandeur of his love, which sought to embrace everyone. Francis’ fidelity to his Lord was commensurate with his love for his brothers and sisters. Unconcerned for the hardships and dangers involved, Francis went to meet the Sultan with the same attitude that he instilled in his disciples: if they found themselves “among the Saracens and other nonbelievers”, without renouncing their own identity they were not to “engage in arguments or disputes, but to be subject to every human creature for God’s sake”. In the context of the times, this was an extraordinary recommendation. We are impressed that some eight hundred years ago Saint Francis urged that all forms of hostility or conflict be avoided and that a humble and fraternal “subjection” be shown to those who did not share his faith.
4. Francis did not wage a war of words aimed at imposing doctrines; he simply spread the love of God. He understood that “God is love and those who abide in love abide in God” (1 Jn 4:16). In this way, he became a father to all and inspired the vision of a fraternal society. Indeed, “only the man who approaches others, not to draw them into his own life, but to help them become ever more fully themselves, can truly be called a father”. In the world of that time, bristling with watchtowers and defensive walls, cities were a theatre of brutal wars between powerful families, even as poverty was spreading through the countryside. Yet there Francis was able to welcome true peace into his heart and free himself of the desire to wield power over others. He became one of the poor and sought to live in harmony with all. Francis has inspired these pages.
5. Issues of human fraternity and social friendship have always been a concern of mine. In recent years, I have spoken of them repeatedly and in different settings. In this Encyclical, I have sought to bring together many of those statements and to situate them in a broader context of reflection. In the preparation of Laudato Si’, I had a source of inspiration in my brother Bartholomew, the Orthodox Patriarch, who has spoken forcefully of our need to care for creation. In this case, I have felt particularly encouraged by the Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, with whom I met in Abu Dhabi, where we declared that “God has created all human beings equal in rights, duties and dignity, and has called them to live together as brothers and sisters”. This was no mere diplomatic gesture, but a reflection born of dialogue and common commitment. The present Encyclical takes up and develops some of the great themes raised in the Document that we both signed. I have also incorporated, along with my own thoughts, a number of letters, documents and considerations that I have received from many individuals and groups throughout the world.
6. The following pages do not claim to offer a complete teaching on fraternal love, but rather to consider its universal scope, its openness to every man and woman. I offer this social Encyclical as a modest contribution to continued reflection, in the hope that in the face of present-day attempts to eliminate or ignore others, we may prove capable of responding with a new vision of fraternity and social friendship that will not remain at the level of words. Although I have written it from the Christian convictions that inspire and sustain me, I have sought to make this reflection an invitation to dialogue among all people of good will.
7. As I was writing this letter, the Covid-19 pandemic unexpectedly erupted, exposing our false securities. Aside from the different ways that various countries responded to the crisis, their inability to work together became quite evident. For all our hyper-connectivity, we witnessed a fragmentation that made it more difficult to resolve problems that affect us all. Anyone who thinks that the only lesson to be learned was the need to improve what we were already doing, or to refine existing systems and regulations, is denying reality.
8. It is my desire that, in this our time, by acknowledging the dignity of each human person, we can contribute to the rebirth of a universal aspiration to fraternity. Fraternity between all men and women. “Here we have a splendid secret that shows us how to dream and to turn our life into a wonderful adventure. No one can face life in isolation… We need a community that supports and helps us, in which we can help one another to keep looking ahead. How important it is to dream together… By ourselves, we risk seeing mirages, things that are not there. Dreams, on the other hand, are built together”. Let us dream, then, as a single human family, as fellow travelers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all.
9. Without claiming to carry out an exhaustive analysis or to study every aspect of our present-day experience, I intend simply to consider certain trends in our world that hinder the development of universal fraternity.
10. For decades, it seemed that the world had learned a lesson from its many wars and disasters, and was slowly moving towards various forms of integration. For example, there was the dream of a united Europe, capable of acknowledging its shared roots and rejoicing in its rich diversity. We think of “the firm conviction of the founders of the European Union, who envisioned a future based on the capacity to work together in bridging divisions and in fostering peace and fellowship between all the peoples of this continent”. There was also a growing desire for integration in Latin America, and several steps were taken in this direction. In some countries and regions, attempts at reconciliation and rapprochement proved fruitful, while others showed great promise.
Synopses of the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Thomas, Peter and other gospel fragments and the reconstructed Q Gospel.
Reviewed by Paul Inglis for the UCFORUM
The Complete Gospel Parallels features the new and expansive Scholars Version translation from the Jesus Seminar at Westar Institute, which has been thoroughly revised and fine-tuned to facilitate the precise comparison of parallel passages, using consistent English for the same Greek and different English where the originals vary. The Complete Gospel Parallels lucid translation, its easy-to-use format, and its broad range of gospel materials is for the serious reader who wants to be informed by material that has come to light with the discoveries of the many non-canonical writings and work of cutting-edge scholarship at Westar, the academy that has generated a great deal of material from well-known progressive thinkers like Borg, Crossan, Spong, Wink and many more.
As someone who has been frustrated with the conflicting and often poorly argued commentaries of translations from the original Greek and absence of speculation about redaction and interpretation of the scriptures over many years, this book fills a great chasm. It deals with the material that has parallels in eleven known gospels and in doing so presents a strong argument for treating a lot of the non-canonical material as reliable sources for confirming many of the sayings of Jesus. At the same time it gives credence to a moderate re-interpretation of some of them. It also give insights into early Christian literature styles. For instance, the Gospel of Peter is an early passion gospel with important differences from the other passion narratives. It may have been the forerunner of the canonical passion and resurrection stories.
I have been able to come to a better personal understanding of Jesus thinking because I can now distinguish the historical Jesus from the Christ of faith using the tools in this book. The addition of other gospel writings to the lexicon of the biblical gospels gives more insights into the views of Jesus time. For instance, the fragments of the Gospels of the Hebrews and the Nazoreans represent distinctive ways in which Jewish Christians interpreted the Jesus tradition while offering parallels to the familiar Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Poring over the ‘parallels’ is interesting!
Recommendation: One for the serious reader of scripture.
Available through Amazon Australia in paperback format.
A Handbook of Life Challenges from the Jesus Story: a personal growth and parenting guide.
Comment by Greg Jenks, Dean Christ Church Cathedral Grafton, NSW: Stecher gives us a helpful way to approach the life of Jesus. Paying attention to attitudes which Jesus advocated and practiced offers a fresh entry point for people seeking to draw on his legacy for their own lives today. A useful handbook for both religious and non-religious alike.
The author: Gene Stecher began his career in ministry as a United Methodist pastor; he also eventually assumed responsibility for training those who answered the phones of a community telephone Helpline. In time he entered the field of Clinical Counseling Psychology, specializing in family counseling and custody evaluations. He is currently retired from the practice of licensed psychology in Pennsylvania.
Review by Paul Inglis:
Gene recently sent this book to me and I enjoyed two days of intense reading what is a very interesting and practical guide for anyone wanting to learn about and/or adopt the life changing attitudes and teaching of Jesus as their raison d’être.
He uses the authentic historical teachings and events compiled by biblical scholars of the Jesus seminar looking at 1500 sayings. The primary sources are the canonical Gospels as well as the Gospel of Thomas discovered at Nag Hammadi in 1945. Stecher has assigned this material to an attitude complex according to the degree of reliability for clear interpretation. Some verses are assigned by ‘educated guess’ because of limited comparing evidence; others verses have reasonable contextual evidence to make the discernment of an attitude more reasonable; and other verses have copious length and consequently interpretations are more transparent.
Amateur scholars, like myself — as well as qualified and experienced practitioners will gain a lot from Stecher’s work. In the words of the author:
Rather than having information about the Jesus of history overwhelmed by the Christ etermal life story, maybe we would get more balance in the form of hearing more sermons and Christian education lessons on the esential Jesus and have more interest in adapting Jesus’ attitudes to our own lives.
This is a workbook for everyone – the general populace, laity and pastors including those who have committed their lives to following Jesus and want their lives to have the integrity of an authentic understanding of the attitudes of Jesus, the greatest teacher.
Available in paperback and Kindle from amazon.com.
Nathan Mladin writing for Theos (Theos Think Tank UK)
Nathan is Senior Researcher and Relationship Manager at Theos. He holds an MTh and PhD in Systematic Theology from Queen’s University Belfast and is the author of several Theos publications, including ‘Religious London: Faith in a Global City’ (with Paul Bickley), ‘Forgive Us Our Debts: lending and borrowing as if relationships matter’ (with Barbara Ridpath), and a chapter on Václav Havel in ‘The Mighty and the Almighty: How Political Leaders do God’ (Biteback, 2017).
Natan Mladin argues that Netflix docu–drama ‘The Social Dilemma’ reminds us that we are not autonomous as we think we are. 23/09/2020
The revelations from the FinCEN files, the debates over Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s replacement at the US Supreme Court, and the second wave of COVID–19 infections are the main stories at the time of writing. In this context, a review of a Netflix docu–drama, two weeks after its release, might seem ill–timed and somewhat frivolous. And it would be, were it any other documentary than The Social Dilemma, which highlights an issue that runs deeper, and is as pressing as any news story of the day: the damage that social networks and the tech companies that shepherd them are doing to us, individually and as a society.
It’s a familiar story – how the tech industry, and social media companies in particular, for all the good they have brought to our lives, have made us more distracted, more anxious, more isolated and depressed, more outraged and polarised. Addiction, fake news, election hacking, viral conspiracies are just a few of the many unsavoury phenomena linked to our culture’s social media dependence. While the broad outline of this story is known, it’s how the story is told that makes The Social Dilemma essential viewing – through the voices of industry insiders, former tech executives, engineers, and other experts, and, crucially, by lifting the bonnet on the business model as the root cause of what seem like disconnected problems.
An hour and a half of interviews, graphs, animation and drama add up to a bracing and sobering exploration of how social networks have wreaked havoc on our mental health, unravelled the social fabric, and undermined the premises of our democracy.
Tech companies, the film makes clear, are in an arms race for our attention. The digital environments in which we are immersed day in day out are meticulously designed, to the finest details, with this singular purpose in mind: to keep us ‘engaged’ for as long as possible – scrolling, sharing, liking, posting etc. And everything we do, online and increasingly offline, is tracked or surveilled; from the obvious to the creepy: the things we post and share, but also our typing speed and rhythm, our scrolling and clicking patterns, the time we spend looking at an image, and so on. All this ‘behavioural surplus’, as Harvard professor Shoshana Zuboff calls it, is aggregated and fed through powerful machine learning tools, which then churn out highly accurate models and predictions of our behaviour. It’s these models and fine–tuned predictions that are sold off to the highest bidders, mainly advertisers. It’s become a bit of a cliché to say it, but it’s still true: “If you’re not paying for it, you are the product”, or, as Zuboff puts it, the raw material.
The cycle is relentless and self–reinforcing. With every click and scroll we are unwittingly training the opaque algorithms behind the platforms to ‘know us better’, to predict and ultimately alter our behaviour – what we desire and fear, what we believe or distrust, and – most importantly for the advertisers – what we purchase.
The Social Dilemma, directed by Jeff Orlowski, compellingly shows the logical ramifications of this business model – the alarming increase in depression, self–harm and suicides, particularly among young girls, the increasing difficulty of civil democratic deliberation, conspiracy theories spreading like wildfires, election hacking and so on. It makes for a sobering watch that calls for swift action, chiefly tighter regulations for the tech sector if not a complete overhaul.
The case for the damage being inflicted by social platforms is overwhelming, but what intrigues me is how blasé or resigned most people I’ve spoken to about this topic are.
There are many reasons for this. Sheer ignorance of the facts – how it all works and what’s really at stake – is one. The Social Dilemma should help remedy this (there is also a whole raft of books published on the topic in the last ten years – see, for example this, this, and this). Our addiction to convenience and ‘free’ is another. Thirdly, one shouldn’t underestimate Google’s and Facebook’s sustained efforts to get us off the scent.
But I think there’s an even deeper reason: a particular picture of ourselves, as ‘brains on a stick’, fundamentally autonomous, fully rational, and firmly in control, is holding us captive. While this hubristic conception of human beings – what some refer to as the ‘modern subject’ or ‘sovereign individual’, with roots in Renaissance humanism and Enlightenment thought – may have succumbed in academic discourse some time ago, slayed by post–structuralist literary theory, neuroscience, cognitive and social psychology, alas, it endures, in zombie–form, in our collective consciousness. We simply don’t like to believe we can be manipulated into anything, be it clicking funny cat videos, checking our phone for the millionth time or purchasing yet another jumper.
This is increasing our vulnerability and making us even more susceptible to the dark magic of algorithmic manipulation and control. And the bitter irony is this: because of this false picture, while everyone worries about the Terminator–like AI coming down to overwhelm human strengths in the future, algorithms are already here, overwhelming our weaknesses.
Seen in this sombre light, The Social Dilemma is an important prompt to return to a more rounded and humble conception of ourselves; to recognise, amid mounting evidence, that we are not as strong, as free, as rational as we think we are. This, I suggest, is a crucial step, moving away from a technology that is shrinking our humanity, towards a technology that is truly humane.
 Shoshana Zuboff, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power (PublicAffairs, 2019).
 Nicholas Thomspon, ‘Tristan Harris: Tech is “Downgrading Humans.” It’s Time to Fight Back’, Wired, 23.04.2019, https://www.wired.com/story/tristan-harris-tech-is-downgrading-humans-time-to-fight-back/
A thought to start with… You have wings. You can fly. You can be utterly peaceful, happy and strong. Your existence can be Life Written Large. The principles of successful living are very simple. Read on and be blessed – enormously.
The journey of living for many of us is a time of grief and pain and dislocation. Extraordinary difficulties seem to be our natural state and we are pushed and pulled and pummelled from all directions. What follows is a small work of daily meditations to be used to find in that healing practice the solution to our burdens and the resuscitation and comfort which we may be seeking.
I am satisfied that our lives can be overwhelmingly happy and complete and that they can reflect order on scales that we may not dare imagine. I am convinced, however, that the price of such blessing is one that may be too high for some of us. We have been overwhelmed by the pressures of the world around us to “conform” and we may have become afraid of the pejorative descriptions of difference. Our due obedience to the temporal gods of rationalism and its allies of materialism and consumerism damages us greatly. The servants of Mammon find it hard to appreciate that the solutions to all confusions lie in seeking richer visions of our potential and experience. Now that I am what is called so patronisingly a “senior citizen” – I see only an admittedly rather late state of youth! – I find myself compelled to offer the wisdom of the years to those less blessed with grey (or little or no) hair or damaged skin. Those insights will provide us with the comfort we seek. What I have found as I enter my eighth decade is that in a very relaxed Buddhist vision of total living can be found a simple guidance to healing and re-construction second to none. That insight is one which seeks our restoration within ourselves by regular and disciplined meditation which will guide us to a gentle loss of egotism and an ever-growing trusting acceptance of the nearest other, whoever he or she may be. Those criteria will be found to offer the transformation we seek – drug-free, and sweetly fulfilling and yet of an easy timeliness.
What I am offering is the remedy offered so it seems by all who have found deeply satisfying solutions to the riddles of our existence. It is an easy and gentle understanding of man that is mystical and which sees the individual as a universe of potential awaiting its release and satisfaction. It is not a religious answer. It rejects, indeed, belief systems as otiose and likely to damage by stultifying and enslaving. Deep within ourselves and accessible to the timeless journey of meditation in solitude, silence, stillness and the emptying of the mind, is a very sweet and simple quality of serenity and enablement and invigoration that the Greater seems to offer as its own definition of itself in action. That others will not understand and may indeed perhaps criticise those making the spiritual journey will sadden but it must not be permitted to diminish the courage and conviction of the spiritual explorer. I am here however to say that a life-long experience of meditation will provide us with rewards of inestimable value. We shall be the ones described by St. Paul as “more than conquerors.” The world will see us for what we have done and some will even seek our advice and support – which we must give as unconditionally as endlessly.
I see such difficulties in so many lives. There are those for whom the day-to-day of life is a seemingly constant challenge of grief and dislocation. Pain and sadness, it has to be said, do enter our lives and so often from quarters from which we least expected such things. This small work presents solutions of great effectiveness and yet of surprising naivety.
We are, as individuals, of the vastness and immensity of the Greater or the Universe – and of its spaciousness of soul and heart. We find that we are as individuals important and that our destiny lies in all that is creative and constructive. Our potential is infinite and our duty is to lead lives that reflect not merely our capacity to be enhanced but the Infinite that conferred such qualities upon us. The tragedy of men and women of the early 21st century is that, in denying the religious traditions that are embedded within our Western culture, we are cutting ourselves off from our origins. We are in need of a spiritual re-birth. Our challenge is harder with our rationalism and our materialism and our failure to seek any inward life. We have lost our roots in our cleverness and our failure to take a larger view of ourselves and our suffering is substantial. Alcohol and drugs and riotous living only make our pain greater. Our simplest and most reliable remedies are too easily discarded.
It is necessary for us again to discover that the way home is within us and that the essence of the Greater and Infinite and its enormousness are to be found only by gentle and time-consuming enquiring. We are to find in the language of the Christian theologian that God, the Transcendent, is, also and equally, immanent. We are to discover not something new and different but what has lain inside us from the time of our conception – our very origins.
We are of that Transcendent and Immanent and its very completeness lies at our “core” or “centre.” Psychologists would use the terms “fully functioning” or “self-actualising” to denote the attainment of a rarely met wholeness. Quite a challenge but utterly worthwhile.
None of this is for the faint of heart. It is the spiritual equivalent of the experience of the athlete who has trained for years for a possible gold medal or an international championship or of the musical prodigy whose hours were filled with seemingly endless and at times unproductive practice or of the student whose doctorate came after years of “hard slog.” The virtuoso of the soul will find few who understand but his inner compass will be clear and unambiguous. That solitary patient explorer will find however such joys and satisfactions as will reward as little else can and an experience of very rich living will follow. He (or she) will have found the source of what is at the heart of good living. The Western mind for which this work was conceived will almost certainly be concerned with procedure – “How do I go ‘within’?” The answer is simple – “meditation.” It is however a process, for all the traditional pictures of those sitting in the so-called asana position, that is as personal and as varied as the individuals who will seek its blessings. A better point of practice will be solitude, silence, stillness and the emptying of the mind. Physical relaxation and a comfortable sitting position (probably in a chair with feet squarely placed in front of the sitter about 15 to 18 inches – 40 to 50 cm. – apart) with a straight back and open shoulders are imperative as will be the slowing of the breath to reduced inhalations and exhalations but these are only points of guidance. The fact that any individual is making the effort to slow down will be itself a start to the gentle, incremental process of healing and re-construction and the practice should be followed without any regard to time or reward. It is equally important to allow the wild fluctuations of the mind but to realise that all that turbulence will steadily quieten if only the sitter does not react to it. The meditation that follows for Day 19 makes the observation of the one sitting on the roadside undisturbed by all that passes. This is the perfect metaphor and the steady serenity of such a measure of non-involvement is the reward of the months for the singular effort of quietness and detachment. As time goes on, however, the searcher (and the responsibility of the search is his or hers alone) will find that he or she has come to a point where the celebration of meditation will be as necessary a part of the day as eating or bathing. A Zen guide has observed that “eating is Zen” or “walking is Zen” – the experience is all-consuming and equally generous.
I have nothing to sell and in a sense nothing to offer. The journey being recommended is of the individual in his or her own terms – and life-long and constant. All responsibility and all reward are thrown back on the individual. Modern nostrums about “communities” have nothing to offer here at all. It is of you and in your own personal terms. You will find that whatever the problems of living may be, their dominance and the painful consequences of their thrall will slowly lift – even if the external disturbances continue. The Buddha was emphatic that what he was offering by his wisdom (and it was a totally practical guidance on peace of mind and completeness of living) was not an easy life but a capacity to deal with oneself that made life easier. His was an entirely pragmatic guidance on a quality of calm and tranquillity that could cope with the oscillations of life, however substantial they may be, successfully – by remaining untouched by them. You can find a peaceful centre to the storm, however strong the gales and intense the downpours, and cope and have victories accordingly. This is the thrust of all that is set out in this little work. This is true “wakefulness” – some may want to call it “mindfulness.”
Wholeness, strength, imperturbability, and simple ease of living can be yours. Read on and be deeply blessed. But remember the journey is for you within yourself and for your commitment to the other in acceptance of all that other is or may be – simple compassion and benevolence.
By way of further guidance, I am presenting a borrowing for whose inclusion in this small opus I make no apology. What has gone before is an invitation to you to pursue the virtues of a Buddhist meditation regime at its most gentle and at its least formal. I am setting out below as a further introduction a section of a biography of the Buddha which I find so clear and comprehensive that I felt compelled to set out some pages of it virtually untouched. My thanks go to the Oxford scholar Karen Armstrong for her vividly free and straightforward statement. When wisdom is expressed so well, reproducing it is the sincerest form of praise, or, if you wish, the sincerest form of flattery.
The Redcliffe Explorers will re-commence monthly meetings on Monday 5th October, at the usual time and place – 6 p.m., Azure Blue Retirement Complex, 91 Anzac Ave, Redcliffe. As with our last ‘group’ meeting, we’ll be observing the necessary procedures to comply with Covid-safe requirements, including signing in and out, hand sanitising and appropriate physical isolation.
We will examine what’s probably a commonly-held view about the nature and purpose of prisons, and perhaps be receptive to changing this view as a result of the investigative work of Dutch author Rutger Bregman in his very recent (2020) book Human Kind: A Hopeful History. Bregman deals with this in Part Five – The Other Cheek, the turning of which was part of Jesus’ teaching and, to those of us raised in the Christian tradition, should be very familiar, but unfortunately extraordinarily difficult to put into practice.
We will understand completely should you prefer not to attend if you’re not yet entirely comfortable about being in a group situation, and of course IF YOU ARE FEELING AT ALL UNWELL, PLEASE STAY AT HOME! Although we’re allowed 30 people in the Azure Blue café/meeting room, I would appreciate a brief email (email@example.com) or phone call (0401 513 723) if you’re planning to come, in case it becomes necessary to limit attendance. Please be aware that entry will be via the main foyer door.
Sermon – All Saints Floreat UC, Perth, Sunday, 13th September 2020
Old Testament Reading Ecclesiastes – Epilogue (Trans. Lloyd Geering), New Testament Reading Matthew 19:16-24 Rich Young Ruler
The Moral Challenges of Climate Change
In 2007 the Prime Minister declared Climate Change to be ‘The Greatest Moral Challenge of our Generation’. At the time, I was working in Indonesia on the application of Satellites from Space to detect the illegal clearing of rainforests for our much-loved Palm Oil. It was part of an Australian plan to buy Carbon Credits under the Kyoto protocol to offset our nations emissions. We were part of a United Nation program called REDD for Reduction in Emissions by Deforestation and Degradation for which we developed the satellite technology. The Indonesians balked at its implementation and the REDD initiative collapsed into a seeming ‘Murder Mystery’. What had collapsed were the religious values of honesty and integrity – the vital social pillar of sustainability. Five years ago, Pope Francis’s Encyclical Laudato Si – ‘On Care for our Common Home’, called on all people of the world to take “swift and unified global action” to address the Climate Crisis. In 2017, the national Synod of the United Church of Christ in America (of the Congregational tradition) passed a motion naming the climate crisis as “an opportunity for which the church was born”. Our WA Synod employed environmentalist, Jessica Morthorpe to lead our young people into this brave new era with her five-leaf program of sustainability.
These were encouraging signs.
Our Jewish scriptures tell us of the moral crises faced by the Hebrew people; of escaping slavery in Egypt, building a United Kingdom under King David and rebuilding their nation after the Babylonian conquest and exile. These three historical streams, evolved into the great Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Separate, was the Wisdom stream of writings, recording not history, but human experience and knowledge from which we are still gaining insights into the human predicament. It is in this stream scholars place the authentic parables and sayings of Jesus. From this Wisdom stream, Science from the Latin scientia to Know, would emerge, leading to the discovery of the Earth as a unique self-creating entity, with life developing by Evolution through processes of chance and human purpose. This new way of seeing Earth, is called Nature (from the Latin – natura for birth). As I celebrate entering my 78th year, I reflect on my own origins, resulting from the romance of my parents and the act of good luck of being conceived in the middle of WW2.
The first lesson we learn from our Scriptures is the importance of Sustainability. In Leviticus 25:23 The Lord reminded the Hebrews ‘… the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants. For Aboriginal people: ‘The Land owns us, and not we the Land’, reflecting their sacred duty to care for the land and hand it back in the same condition in which it had been given.
A year ago, we were reminded of this truth of sustainability when some 6 million young people worldwide protested at the inter-generational inequity of global warming. These protestors were our grandchildren’s generation who will see the end of the 21st Century and the full fury of climate change, unless we act. Jesus reminds us that ‘the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these’ (Mark 10:13-16).
The second lesson we learn is from Ecclesiastes to ‘Stand in awe of Nature and do what it requires of you. For everything we do Nature will bring to judgement …whether it be good or evil’. Nature’s Laws exist to maintain the integrity of life on Earth and show no mercy – for example if we defy Nature’s law of gravity, we will come off the worse for wear. If Nature’s laws are disobeyed, we are warned we will suffer the consequences for 7×7 generations (Gen 4:13-15, 23). But, Nature as Jesus reassured his disciples also offers us unlimited generosity and mercy through the gift of life, means of sustaining it, and enriching it with unlimited beauty and love (eg. Matt. 6: 25-34). Such Wisdom of seeing God in Nature resulted in Dutchman Baruch Spinoza in the17th Century, being banished from the Jewish Community and declared a Heretic. Albert Einstein who believed in Spinoza’s God, recognised the mutual importance of Science and Religion saying: ‘Science without Religion is Lame and Religion without Science is blind’. He also said ‘God is a Mystery, but a Mystery that can be understood’.
A third lesson we learn from scripture is the Ten Commandments, or Decalogue of biblical principles relating to ethics and worship, fundamental to both Judaism and Christianity (Exodus 20:2–17 and Deut. 5:6–17) and the ethical cradle of Western Civilisation. On coming to Jesus, The Rich Young Ruler understood these commandments in their prescriptive form, but Jesus told him the principles they embodied, required him to share his wealth with the poor (Matt. 7:12). Climate Change is a similar dilemma. It is caused by the lifestyle of the Rich like us, without realising that the climate impact of our emissions falls disproportionally on the Poor on the other side of the world. Therefore, most of us probably have no sense of having a moral obligation to reduce our emissions.
A Gift of Encouragement – a work of individual possibility.
by Max Dodd
A sample of this work. If you would like to read the whole publication, send an email to Max to receive a free copy…..firstname.lastname@example.org
PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT….as we begin We are all masterpieces of the very highest order. We are all geniuses and heroes. We are all the possessors of qualities of brilliance. We are told we can be anything, do anything and have anything. All this is utterly true and yet we fail daily to meet any of these standards. Our lives are limited and shallow and our experience bleak and restricted. What to do?
Let me ask you a further question. Imagine that tomorrow is your birthday and that it is a neat 100 years since you first appeared as a screaming bundle of urine and faeces. No one can answer the question “Did you lead a totally complete life?” honestly and say “I did.” The honest answer that should be given is “I did not do everything but I have had a very rich varied and diverse life of great challenge and much accomplishment and I pass beyond satisfied that to the extent possible I have made the most of my time.” One of the definitions of “success” is that the individual met God’s inner compass. If you could say that, you can say probably as much as you can.
A Gift of Encouragement is an operation here to assist you on the very personal journey of living that may make possible your providing the answer set out in the last paragraph. It is concerned only with you as an individual. It is not interested in social solutions or business solutions or religious solutions. I simply want you to be able to say that you made the most of your time and that the world probably gained something by your being here.
This is a work of individual possibility. It is interested only in what individuals can do. It is recognised that human beings are social animals and that there is an underlying cosmic architecture of unity that is propounded so effectively by the Eastern spiritualities. This is not however a work seeking religious conversion or the adoption of an arcane system on which to build one’s life. It is interested in the dignity and worth and freedom of the individual and in that individual’s enormous, if often almost totally undiscovered, genius and brilliance. The only disappointment in life is that you did not try – or try hard enough. This is a work of guidance on action. There are people who are motivators who can offer individuals recognition of their power to find for themselves careers and all that falderal of the world of business and commerce. There are people who will assist as life coaches whose function will be to ensure that careers are more fully developed than might otherwise be the case. There are people who can offer support when the demands of life and the complexities of the workaday world become too much. Whole professions exist in aid of our growth and yet the general simple principle of growth and possibility is rarely offered as one united and simple approach. This work is intended to do just that. By doing so, it is offering the highest view of any individual to be and to do and to have – and perhaps, most importantly, to become.
A Gift of Encouragement is a thoroughgoing approach to the total development of the total being, physical, intellectual, emotional and, of course, and most importantly, spiritual. It is interested in your total journey to wholeness and full functioning. It is concerned to ensure that you recognise that the journey to wholeness is of you alone and that nothing really can be done for you. I can discuss with you as an impartial (and if you wish, highly partial) adviser all manner of the questions of your life but the fundamental will always be that you must lead your own life and that you must take a total responsibility for it in all its dimensions. You are you and that is a fact to be celebrated.
What is set out are many brief commentaries on the journey to wholeness which are based on a worldwide contact with people in all manner of places and activities. The questions that are dealt with are those that have been met in practice and relate to the concerns that are most commonly thrust at us. The guidance is therefore very broad and not remotely concerned with detail. The detail of your life is of you and for you and not for anyone else. That comes not from our lack of interest or concern but our determination to ensure that the advice we give can be given a suitable application to the dilemmas and challenges of life in such a way as will give maximum benefit to that most important of all individuals, you.
Maxwell Dodd has kindly gifted his writings to us and this is a sample – where Christianity meets Buddhism.
I felt as a youth as long ago as the 1950s that what I was hearing on Sunday night in a fashionable Anglican church on the North Shore of Sydney was less than sensible. I had little doubt that the God of the service was being very inadequately presented though I kept my questions to myself. In 1989 after a very successful career in Sydney in the law where I was a litigation solicitor and the senior partner of a three office city and suburban practice with surprising gifts as a “rainmaker,” I went to the (Presbyterian) San Francisco Theological Seminary and met my own guide and encourager the Revd. Professor Warren Lee (with whom I exchange even now emails almost daily). Warren’s advice was not to seek an Anglican ordination – he saw the institution to be far too conservative for one who had been so accustomed to high levels of accomplishment – but to wander as a “bodhisattva” – a term I understood with my Buddhist enquiries – and bring “hope” to a wider world.
Hope More Abundantly is a series of essays written over the last 15 months in Germany and Scotland. It reflects my concern that the triumphs of Evangelical Christianity have done great harm to the Church and to its message. I am sure that the widely trumpeted interest in the apparent certainties of “Bible believing” creedal positions is finally the road to a perdition of irrelevance. As Paul observes in the final verse to the 12th chapter of his first Epistle to the Christians in Corinth, there is a better way – agape – “love” or “charity” or “compassion” or even “fellow-feeling” – in short, the equal other. Difficult, yes, and calling for courage, yes, but it is the Way – and all spiritual traditions agree on it. The Other. Read on, and give and share and surrender yourself to the other – and be deeply blessed. Maxwell Dodd St. Goar (Rh), Germany Thursday 12 September 2013
A word to begin with…. We are blessed with endless potential to lead full and constructive lives. So few of us do. It is the duty of the Christian to lead a life worthy of his call; again, he or she fails signally to do so. Pursuing that vision is the source of this work. A few weeks short of my 70th birthday, I feel constrained to offer some thoughts to the man or the woman in the pew of any age on the wisdom that has led them to be sitting there. I do not see Jesus in the conventional Evangelical Anglican way. I am a child indeed of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney in far off Australia, a diocese well-known in the Anglican Communion for the rigorousness of its Evangelical opinions. I have to confess that even as an early teenager with a vision of what I shall be calling in this little work “the Eternal,” I was singularly uncomfortable with what was being offered. Energetic presentations based on man’s “sin” and his need of “salvation” and the substitutionary death of Jesus left me quite cold. I was sure that we were of an accessible Eternal of unimaginable immensity (in all necessary departments) to which we were (perhaps unexpectedly) personally important but that we had to seek forgiveness of these mysterious things called “sins” astonished me. I saw the Eternal at night in the scope of what lay above my head in those remarkable pin-points of light that we called “the Universe” and in the utter acceptance that I knew from an adored smooth-haired fox terrier bitch of impeccable pedigree who shared so much of my life and who listened so patiently to all my questions. She still wagged her tail and wanted to share my bed and have me throw a tennis ball. For that vision of simplicity in the order of the Creation I am deeply grateful. The journey of the years since has been one of a long and at times difficult confirmation of something of astonishing beauty and clarity. My awakening began in the southern winter of 1961 when I met the remarkable Wednesday mid-week ministry of St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church in Macquarie Street in Sydney. The Revd. Gordon Powell (and a string of major international clergy from both the United Kingdom and the United States – I recall hearing the famed Norman Vincent Peale) preached to an overflowing congregation of those working in the local surrounding banking and professional area of all that was positive and constructive. It was a Christianity that sent us (nearly 2,000 people we were told) back to the workplace revived and strengthened by the support of an involved God in the minutiae of committed daily commercial life. For nearly four years Wednesday by Wednesday I experienced a view of Jesus which inspired the searcher to seek growth and challenge with the utmost vigour. My eyes had been opened. By 1963, I was 21 and nearly through the professional course of the law conducted under the Legal Practitioners Act, 1898, (as amended) of the State of New South Wales in the Commonwealth of Australia. I was a capable examinee more than a good student and I was to finish the course and be admitted as a solicitor at 22 – even then very early, now impossible. I knew little of the law but I had convinced one or two barristers of my good memory of essential material and of my capacity for regurgitation. Such was to be my sole formal tertiary education. In 1963, too, I was becoming aware from what I was reading in The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney’s only broadsheet newspaper itself owned by a prominent Anglican family) of the work of an Anglican bishop in England, one John A.T. Robinson, who had written a highly controversial book called Honest to God. When later in that year I should have been studying for the then forthcoming Torts and Crimes examinations of the Board in October, I was retiring to my bedroom (accompanied by my fellow student) and instead of reading of negligence or homicide or larceny and the procedures of enquiry and enforcement, I was wrestling with the utterly new and unexpected notions of “the Ground of our Being” and “the Beyond in our Midst,” terms which were remarkable and slightly frightening to me. I found the work difficult – I had no familiarity with theological discourse – and the language at times virtually impenetrable. I did however realise that there was a revolution taking place abroad in the way highly intelligent people were daring to look at the questions of God and meaning and especially how the message of God and Jesus ought to find its way to the consciousness of the churchman or churchwoman. I found this so consoling and struggled on in the assurance that the light would come. It did – my explorations were themselves the wisdom of the Eternal.
Rev Glynn Cardy is a noted poet whose work contains strong threads of spirituality and commentary on the human condition. He is well known for his provocative billboards, making statements on social justice issues, which he displays outside his churches.
Glynn will invite us to reflect on some of his poetry, which will be sent to all PCNV members and friends a week before the event.
Glynn says, ‘I love the sea, the sand and the surf. It has sculpted my soul. I like talking to groups of children because their responses are never predictable or boring. Their capacity for imagination has not been checked. They are therefore capable of seeing the expanse of god without being able to give it a name. I want to tell folks that they’re special, exhort them to be kind and generous, and encourage them to enjoy the great variety of people in this world. If we get those things right everything else tends to follow.’
Glynn is a minister of a progressive Presbyterian congregation (St Luke’s) in Auckland, New Zealand. For some 30 years he was an Anglican vicar, serving in a variety of Auckland parishes, the last being St Matthews-in-the-City. So denominationally he’s bi-religious. Theologically though he’s on the edge of both denominations.
Glynn has a strong commitment to social justice, and the parishes he has served in have been at the forefront of denominational change in regard to indigenous land rights, LGBTI ordination and marriage, and in seeking to address poverty.
Glynn is married to Stephanie (a paediatrician), and they have four adult children and two cats.
There will be Q & A after the presentation. Feel free to share this event with interested friends. This meeting is at no cost. Further information email: email@example.com
Scientific GOD Journal | July 2020 | Volume 10| Issue 4 | pp. 277-285 Valverde, R., A Spiritual Science Interpretation of the Gospel of Thomas
Spiritual science tries to merge science and religion. The humankind is always evolving and what was called before religion becomes science in modern times. The Gospel of Thomas, written in the second century teaches that salvation is through the words of Jesus and not through his death and resurrection which are never mentioned. The gospel does not contain cross, suffering, healing, miracle stories or exorcisms. The gospel teaches that salvation comes from the perfection of the individual. The article gives an interpretation to the Gospel of Thomas from the Spiritual Science perspective that empowers the individual as capable of understanding his true nature and relationship with the creation. The gospel reconciliates Christianity with Buddhism as it teaches that reaching enlightenment is the only way to escape the material world.
To read this article go to: Spiritual Science where a full text PDF can be downloaded.
The purpose and mission of Scientific GOD Journal (“SGJ”, ISSN: 2153-831X) are to conduct scientific inquiries on the nature and origins of life, mind, physical laws and mathematics and their possible connections to a scientifically approachable transcendental ground of existence – we call “Scientific GOD.” By “scientific inquiries”, we mean building concrete and testable models and/or hypotheses connected to hard sciences (e.g., physics, neuroscience, biochemistry and physiology) and doing the experimental testing. We believe that in this golden age of Science the GOD in whom we trust should be spiritual as well as scientific. Indeed, since we are all made out of the same subatomic, atomic and genetic alphabets, the scientific GOD each of us seeks should be one and the same whatever our race, religion and other differences. There is also a Scientific GOD Forum available.
From johnodonohue.com “John’s legacy directs our search for intimacy to crucial thresholds: tradition and modernity, past and future, life and death, the visible and the invisible world. At the heart of John’s awakened beliefs was the premise that ancient wisdom could offer desperately needed nourishment for the spiritual hunger experienced in our modern world. John is fondly remembered by an international readership as one who could blend critical analytic thought with imaginative evocation, enabling people to release themselves from the false shelter of the familiar and repetitive to become agents of transformation and change.”
Brandon Scott is the author and editor of many books, including The Real Paul: Recovering His Radical Challenge and The Trouble with Resurrection. A charter member of the Jesus Seminar, he is chair of Westar’s newly established Christianity Seminar. He served as chair of the Bible in Ancient and Modern Media Section of the Society of Biblical Literature, as well as a member of several SBL Seminars including the Parable Seminar and Historical Jesus Seminar. He holds an A.B. from St. Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology, an M.A. from Miami University, and a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University.
Violence is violence, but we are always trying to parse it some other way. We try to divide it into good violence and bad violence. Into good wars and bad wars. Medieval theologians even developed the notion of a just war versus an unjust war. The parsing has always been difficult because we want to see the violence we use as good and the violence of the other side as bad. The winners inevitably see their violence as good, even justified, and actually very heroic. That’s why statues are set up to honor conquering war heroes. The heroic statue makes the violence used good, legitimate, even necessary.
This parsing of violence is intriguing. Theoretically we all agree that violence is bad. But what about self-defense? Well, of course, one can defend oneself when one is being attacked. But how much? How much violence is a proportionable response? Can you shoot to kill the unarmed burglar who invades your house? Once you start splitting hairs, it will not be long until you end up counting angels on the head of pin. Where to stop, where is the line? This is always a much more difficult problem than it first appears.
One way to solve this problem is to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate violence. The government exercises legitimate violence; violence by non-government entities is a crime. When a government kills, the act is presumed to be legitimate. To challenge that legitimacy, the burden of proof is on the one making the claim of illegitimacy. We have seen in many instances how difficult it is to make that case. When a nation goes to war, even under the slimmest of pretenses, for example, the War in Iraq, the majority goes along with the leader. We have seen over and over how difficult it is for a jury to convict a policeman of charges of unnecessary force during an arrest.
When a civilian kills someone, it’s murder and then we sort out the degree, from self-defense to first degree murder. While the accused is presumed innocent from a legal point of view, juries often have a hard time making this assumption. The old canard that where there’s smoke, there’s fire often wins the day. Interestingly Roman law made a presumption of innocence. In the middle ages, in the West guilt was presumed.
Most people and all governments are comfortable with this division and for the most part do not question it. Except when we see a policeman murder a black man on video. Or when peaceful protesters are attacked or provoked by the policing force. Then the whole parsing of violence gets called into question and becomes very controversial.
Recently Rodney Eivers wrote to the National Church Life Survey people questioning the combining of “Mystical” and “Supernatural” as one category in their research:
Dear NCLS Research
Thank you for your Research News with its update on various matters including the planning for the survey in 2021.
In reading your Research News, I find I am disturbed that you should combine Mystical with Supernatural as one category. I would see them as being quite separate phenomena. Mystical may apply as far as I am aware to a number of mental states and expressions of consciousness. This can have a powerful effect on the human psyche but still remains something rational and developed during the evolutionary process. Supernatural, however, I presume, means occurrences beyond the laws of nature as we know them. Behaving in accord with supernatural suppositions would be regarded by thinking people, I imagine, especially in this 21st century, as being irrational. I am aware of many writers who would, while classing themselves as mystics, not consider they were operating irrationally.
I write this with deep concern about the implication from your surveys that religion and Christianity, in particular, comprises the supernatural belief as well as the mystical, to be valid. Rodney Eivers – UC Forum http://www.ucforum.unitingchurch.org.au/
He received the following courteous response:
Thank you for taking the time to express your views with us.
We have used this particular form of wording for many years as it has been used in other international surveys. This has given us benchmarks of changes over time. We will reflect on whether there are other options that can achieve this goal of being able to compare with other groups.
You may also be interested in our more detailed academic work on mysticism among church attenders. UK colleagues used data from church attenders to reflect on the links between mystical experiences and emotional wellbeing. In short, the study found no relationship between having mystical experiences and negative wellbeing.
Francis, L. Powell, R and Village, A. (2020). Mystical experience and emotional wellbeing: A study among Australian church leaders. Journal of Beliefs and Values.
I found this explanation of The Way of the historical Jesus as it contrasts with the evolved orthodoxy of the Church to be one of the best conversations I have found on the topic. Stratford brings the notion of Ascension into focus and places the literal and often confused thinking around it under scrutiny. The result is both interesting and remarkably informative.
“I think a Jesus way may be claimed in all actions that open ways to life, or enable healing, or challenge one to reconsider attitudes. It becomes visible amid compassion and justice. It becomes visible when people find safety in their habitat and live without fear. It becomes visible as one imagines a Jesus who continues to touch the lives of all – a feeling of spirit presence.
“The church’s focus on a mythic future has failed to catch up with the Jesus who continues in the world touching with compassion those who are hurt.” p41.
The focus on salvation religiosity has clearly failed humanity. It is not the way of Jesus.
There is a particularly interesting analysis of the evolution of the term/concept ‘Son of God’. The part played by the Roman Empire in the shaping of the Church is important to this development. A religion of the State was essential to the flourishing of the empire. The Emperors has become ‘gods’ because they shaped the prosperity, peace and security for their followers. Becoming deified was a natural outcome of empire building. With the support of the scriptures (OT), in particular the Psalmist and the David dynasty as a model it was not a big step to view God as father of the emperor. The widespread acceptance of God as father of the Jews contributed to the church’s adoption of the notion also and the evolution of ‘son of God’ to ‘Son of God’ eventually took precedence in accepted doctrine.
The gradual development of ‘orthodoxy’ shaping the Church and the establishment of the basis for the beliefs set out in the faith is essential reading for those wondering how we got to the current church informed way of Jesus. This book is full of standout analyses of how the Christ of faith “had become supreme for the church’s life with the Jesus of history receding into the background”. So the religion of the Emperor Constantine with all its governance, structure and appearance was ratified by the Church and still stands today across denominations very much in tune with the thinking of the 4th Century view of the will of God.
Three elements – claims of authority of the bishops, the authority of the OT and the memories of those who recalled the apostolic times now take precedence in shaping the Church.
I agree with the author when he says:
I wonder what might happen in the world if the words of Jesus the Sage were given serious attention, and what it would mean if the church began to live and teach a reality named as the reign of God. The reality might come to life in the present. Life on earth would not be a shadow of better things to come, but a recognition among humankind that the future is present now. p71.
Instead of waiting for Jesus to return on a cloud, responsible engagement with the present can call into action our own gifts directed to implementing the way of Jesus for all of humankind and the planet.
Paul Inglis 24th August 2020.
Currently the cheapest way to get a copy is directly from Wally Stratford. However Kindle copy can be purchased from Amazon.com
The Author: Rev Dr Walter Stratford is a retired Uniting Church Ministerwho served in such diverse places as the New Hebrides, Traralgon, Townsville and Dandenong. He also spent time as secretary to the Queensland Ecumenical Council, and as a chaplain at the Wesley Hospital, Brisbane. During his ministry Walter found time for study and completed a number of degrees, including a PhD in 2012. He is married with four adult children, a number of grand children and great-grandchildren.Wally has been a discussion leader for the PCNQ in Brisbane and hopefully will do that again when restrictions on gatherings are lifted.
The story of the only Australian captured by Japanese forces in Australia. A World War Two tragedy.
by RevDrNoel Kentish
Have just finished reading this amazing book written by my ‘colleague and friend’ Noel Kentish about his father Rev Len Kentish, the senior Methodist Missionary in the Northern Territory and in charge of the local coastwatchers during the Second World War. It is a great read from many angles – the significance of this piece of history, the passion and love demonstrated by the writer for his parents, the incredible research that has found information across cultures and boundaries, the short but incredibly influential life of a man who distinguished himself through a self-sacrificing commitment to taking God’s love into our northern indigenous communities and his execution at the hands of a desperate enemy. Noel is a writer who leaves the reader gasping and as the story unfolds he weaves the events of his own fascinating childhood into the narrative.
At noon on 22 January 1943, the Patricia Cam was attacked while sailing between Elcho Island and Marchinbar. A Japanese floatplane cut its engine and dove out of the sun releasing one of its bombs no more than 100 feet above Patricia Cam. The plane returned several times, dropping a second bomb and attempting to machine-gun the survivors in the water. It then appeared to fly off, only to return shortly after and land on the water. One of the airmen, brandishing a pistol, climbed down onto one of the aircraft’s floats, and Leonard was hauled from the water and taken to the Japanese base at Dobo Island. In all, four sailors and three Indigenous men died as a result of the sinking of Patricia Cam. The survivors made it to Guluwuru Island, but two men – Stoker Percy Cameron and Milirrma Marika – died of their injuries before the group could be rescued and repatriated. Leonard became a prisoner of war, the only Australian to be captured by Japanese forces in Australia.
This book can be purchased at the best price directly from the author at: Noel Kentish
Noel Jackson Kentish was born in Darwin to Leonard and Violet Kentish on November 10, 1935. When his father was appointed District Chairman in 1939 Noel moved with the family to Goulburn Island, living at Warruwi with an Aboriginal clan. Noel’s father became a coastwatcher, in regular contact with HMAS Coonawarra, the Royal Australian Navy’s long-range transmitter.
“I will never forget the sense of sad relief my mother experienced on knowing that my father’s remains had been recovered at Dobo. Even his work as a coastwatcher was a combined effort of his Maung Aboriginal lookouts and his dedicated work on the AWA radio transceiver that occupied a corner of his study area at Warruwi”.
An introduction to our First peoples for young Australians.
Intended for highschool students, I found this book a great response to the need to provide my generation (I am 75) with information they didn’t get or got wrongly at school.
Marcia includes a very useful glossary of terms that apply to Australian Indigenous people, events, laws and practices with more available online. The book is well referenced and offers useful resources, a comprehensive index and an appendix of maps and colour illustrations.
There is an excellent coverage of prehistory, ATSI cultures and colonial history, language, kinship, indigenous knowledge, art and story telling.
Marcia provides a full explanation of ‘Native Title’ and ‘The Stolen Generation’. She appeals for First Australians to be given their rightful place in the nation and greater cultural awareness by everyone else.
She makes some predictions and assessments about the future for Indigenous Australians and leaves in no doubt her ability to make authentic judgments about the responsibility of indigenous and non-indigenous peoples to work together to achieve a better standard of living for our First peoples.
Highly recommended reading and as a family reference book in all homes. Available at good bookstores. My copy was $29.99.
Professor Marcia Langton AM is one of Australia’s most import indigenous resource people. Her voice for Indigenous Australia is backed by wonderful credentials. She is a graduate of Anthropology at ANU. She has worked with the Central Land Council, the Cape York Land Council and the 1989 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Dr Langton holds the Foundation Chair of Australian Indigenous Studies at the University of Melbourne since February 2000.
Richard Rohr has this week delved into the work of Austin Channing Brown, I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness (Crown Publishing: 2018), 23, 117–118. to comment on something that is a problem evident all over the world.
The universal pattern of transformation I’m writing about these three weeks is not limited to religious or spiritual growth. Nor is it only individuals that are invited to make the journey. Whole churches and even cultures experience times of disorder and disruption. In the United States, many of us are discovering that a large number of things we believed to be true—about our nation and ourselves—are not entirely true. I believe this is a necessary step that we must take for the sake of healing and justice in our nation and our world—no matter how “disordering” and even disorienting it may be. Perhaps I can only say this because I believe so completely in the possibility of Reorder! Author Austin Channing Brown, who teaches on issues of racial justice, was raised in a devoutly Christian home and has worked in and with churches for most of her professional life. I hope you can read her words with the openness they deserve.
I learned about whiteness up close. In its classrooms and hallways, in its offices and sanctuaries. At the same time, I was also learning about Blackness, about myself and about my faith. My story is not about condemning white people but about rejecting the assumption—sometimes spoken, sometimes not—that white is right: closer to God, holy, chosen, the epitome of being. . . .
Our only chance at dismantling racial injustice is being more curious about its origins than we are worried about our comfort. It’s not a comfortable conversation for any of us. It is risky and messy. It is haunting work to recall the sins of our past. But is this not the work we have been called to anyway? Is this not the work of the Holy Spirit to illuminate truth and inspire transformation?
It’s haunting. But it’s also holy.
And when we talk about race today, with all the pain packed into that conversation, the Holy Spirit remains in the room. This doesn’t mean the conversations aren’t painful, aren’t personal, aren’t charged with emotion. But it does mean we can survive. We can survive honest discussions about slavery, about convict leasing, about stolen land, deportation, discrimination, and exclusion. We can identify the harmful politics of gerrymandering, voter suppression, criminal justice laws, and policies that disproportionately affect people of color negatively. And we can expose the actions of white institutions—the history of segregation and white flight, the real impact of all-white leadership, the racial disparity in wages, and opportunities for advancement. We can lament and mourn. We can be livid and enraged. We can be honest. We can tell the truth. We can trust that the Holy Spirit is here. We must.
For only by being truthful about how we got here can we begin to imagine another way.
Fr Richard Rohr and the Centre for Action and Contemplation have more than a quarter of a million followers. For more of his progressive thinking go to Richard Rohr.
Every Sunday, I pray the Lord’s Prayer and try to mean it. Lately, though, I’ve been pausing over the word power. What does it mean to celebrate power as a divine attribute?
The hymns I sang so eagerly as a young adult offered up a superhero God who holds unshakable sway over people, places, and events. Many of the miracle stories in the Bible literalize this muscled version of power: a God who curses snakes, parts the sea, rains down bread, slaughters firstborns.
As a child, I watched the adults in my life engage in all sorts of theological gymnastics to square this brand of omnipotence with God’s other most abiding and essential trait: goodness. “God allows it” is the explanation I heard most often: nothing happens without God’s permission. God is perfectly capable of conquering evil and suffering but exercises restraint to accomplish a higher purpose.
This higher purpose was most often a mystery, though we were free to speculate: maybe God allowed the hurricane in order to demonstrate divine power over nature. Maybe God allowed the neck injury in order to build character. Maybe God allowed the bomb to detonate in order to punish sin.
Sometimes it takes years to recognize faulty theology and even longer to admit that it does concrete harm in the world. Sometimes it takes a global pandemic, or a mass outcry against systemic racial injustice, or a planet on the brink of catastrophe. This is a complicated moment in our cultural history, one that calls the very nature and morality of power into question. We in the church are not exempt from this reckoning. If anything, we should be leading the charge.
In so many arenas of our common life, we are witnessing egregious abuses of power. They deny dignity to the poor and kill on the basis of skin color. They use sex to control others; they withhold medical care from people who need it. They use religion to excuse or perpetuate evil.
Kairos for Creation – Confessing Hope for the Earth The Wuppertal Call
“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land” – 2 Chron. 7:14. “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” – 2 Cor. 5:17-18 Preamble From 16 to 19 June 2019, 52 participants from 22 countries and from different confessional and faith traditions gathered in Wuppertal, Germany for a conference entitled “Together towards eco-theologies, ethics of sustainability and eco-friendly churches”.
In Wuppertal we were reminded of the courageous confession of faith articulated in the Barmen Declaration (1934) against the totalitarian, inhuman and racist ideology of the time. Barmen continues to encourage us today for “a joyful liberation from the godless ties of this world for free grateful service to his creatures” (Barmen 2). We shared stories from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, North America, and Oceania. We heard the cries of the earth, the cries of people vulnerable to the effects of climate change, especially children and the elderly, the cries of youth demanding intergenerational justice and the concerns of experts over current trends. We recognize the urgency of the years that lie ahead, nevertheless express the courage to hope and are compelled to call the global ecumenical movement towards a comprehensive ecological transformation of society.
Kairos: A decisive turn in the pilgrimage of justice and peace The ecumenical movement has long committed itself to a pilgrimage towards justice, peace and the integrity of creation. These goals will require urgent steps on the road ahead. The urgency of the crisis calls us to read the signs of the time, to hear God’s call, to follow the way of Christ, to discern the movement of the Spirit and, in response, to recognize the positive initiatives of churches all around the world. The symptoms of the crisis touch on all the building blocks of life and are there for all to see: • Fresh water is contaminated; glaciers are melting; oceans are polluted with plastics and are becoming acidic so that corals reefs are bleached (water). • Land is degraded through unsustainable agriculture and unhealthy eating habits, extractive economies ruled by global financial powers, deforestation, desertification and soil erosion; animals are groaning and creatures are being genetically modified; fish populations are depleted; habitat loss leads to the unprecedented loss of biodiversity (earth). Both the land and the health of people are being poisoned by industrial, agricultural, municipal and nuclear forms of waste and by pesticides and chemicals. An increasing number of people is forced to migrate and to become climate refugees. • Global carbon emissions are still increasing, greenhouse gases are accumulating in the atmosphere and climates are disrupted (air). • It is the still increasing use of energy from fossil fuels that is driving such changes (fire). The delicate systems of balances in creation has been disturbed to an unprecedented extent in the Anthropocene. We have transgressed planetary boundaries. The earth seems no longer able to heal itself. Creatures are groaning in travail (Rom. 8:22).
It is not coincidental that the destruction of the Juukan Gorge rock shelters and the paucity of cultural heritage protections thereby brought into public view have the feel of a colonial frontier. Resource companies, as necessary as they are in our contemporary economy, are key agents of the longstanding extractive and developmentalist expansion that have been at the forefront of dispossessing Aboriginal people across the Australian continent.
The bludgeoning of Indigenous people through the carceral institutions of the dominant society are similarly longstanding and bound with the same developmentalist expansion. The ancestors of those who die in custody today were forcibly removed from their homelands by agents of the state — including police and Aboriginal “protectors” — in processes that made way for pastoralism and other primary industries.
Nonetheless, the violence released in the explosions that destroyed the Juukan Gorge rock shelters and dispensed in police custody does not mean that the relationship between Indigenous people and miners, and the wider relationship between Indigenous people and Settler Australia, is mono-dimensional. Indigenous-Settler relations are complicated, characterised by intimate entanglement that mixes support with destruction, care with brutal violence, and appreciation with shocking disregard.
Our entanglements are confronting when they are brutalising, but they are also the basis for deeper understanding of the problems we face, and a source of possibility. We should thoroughly excoriate mining companies and the police, along with many others, for appalling practices in relation to Indigenous people, but the extensiveness of such practices also highlights the systemic and structural nature of the problem.
To begin to understand what is at stake and to develop the means to recast the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia requires interrogating the philosophical underpinnings of the dominant political order.
As commentator Stan Grant has observed, Australia is deeply attached to liberalism, and thus to commitments to personal liberty, equality before the law and moral neutrality of the state. Grant has spoken of liberalism as if it is a rock of Australian political order. But as the destruction of the Juukan Gorge shelters shows, how we relate to longstanding artefacts of human creation is in our hands.
From Dr Ian Brown, Convenor Redcliffe Explorers Group.
As with most other groups at the present time, gatherings of the Redcliffe Explorers are in abeyance until we‘re confident that our members, families and friends are shielded from corona virus infection. However, community compliance with physical distancing instructions seems to be having a very positive effect, and it may be possible for us to resume before the end of the year, possibly in September. Let’s hope!
I’m sure we’ve all found plenty to keep us occupied during the ‘lockdown’ period, including listening to some very informative podcasts and television programs. One fascinating (and slightly scary) talk last Saturday may be of interest – it was Geraldine Doogue’s interview with Benjamin Teitelbaum on Traditionalism. Broadcast on ABC Radio Saturday Extra (30/5/20), it can be accessed by clicking on the link below. Teitelbaum is assistant professor of Ethnomusicology and Affiliate Faculty in International Affairs at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and author of a recent book War For Eternity: The Return of Traditionalism and the Rise of the Populist Right. He points out that ‘Traditionalism‘ with a capital ‘T’ is not the same as ‘traditionalist’.
Authentic spirituality is always on some level or in some way about letting go. In a consumer society, however, we have little training in how to let go of anything. Rather, more is usually considered better. Jesus said, “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Once we truly see what traps us and keeps us from freedom, we should see the need to let it go. As Meister Eckhart said, “the spiritual life is more about subtraction than it is addition.” But capitalist societies make everything into addition.
The freedom Jesus promises involves letting go of our small self, our cultural biases, and even our fear of loss and death. Freedom is letting go of wanting more and better things; it is letting go of our need to control and manipulate God and others. It is even letting go of our need to know and our need to be right—which we only discover with maturity. We become ever more free as we let go of our three primary motivations: our need for power and control, our need for safety and security, and our need for affection and esteem. 
Healthy spirituality leads us to true liberation by naming what’s real, what’s true, and what works—now and in the long run. This Ultimate Reality, the way things really work, is quite simply described as love. The wise ones recognize that without a certain degree of inner freedom, we cannot and will not truly love. Spirituality is about finding that freedom. Jesus even commanded it (John 13:34)—though I’m not sure that we really can order or demand love—to show us how central it is.
Greg Jenks is an Australian religion scholar and Anglican priest serving in the Diocese of Grafton on the north coast of New South Wales. He is an adjunct a Senior Lecturer in the School of Theology at Charles Sturt University.
Jenks served as Dean of St George’s College, Jerusalem (2015–2017). He had previously served as Academic Dean at St Francis Theological College, Brisbane between 2008 and 2015. Jenks is a Fellow of the Westar Institute, and served as its Associate Director 1999-2001.
Jenks was awarded a PhD by the University of Queensland for his research into the origins and early development of the Antichrist myth. He has a long-standing interest in Christian origins, and is a co-director of the Bethsaida Archaeological Excavation in northern Israel.
Jenks had been Visiting Professor and Scholar-in-Residence at St George’s College, Jerusalem on several occasions prior to his appointment as Dean in mid-2015.
There is an age-old divide among religious people about just what God—however understood—wants of humans.
For the better part of 3,000 years in the Jewish and Christian spiritual traditions, there have been those stressing the need for purity (often expressed through codes about sex and food) and those who focus on justice for the victims of structural evil.
Recently, Martyn Iles, the Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby has stoked the kind of controversy that appeals to their base and drives their fund-raising efforts with a claim that the Black Lives Matter movement is “anti-Christ”.
This is theological ‘dog-whistling’, and especially in the deliberate evoking of the biblical term ‘Antichrist’.
In the current context of global protests and persistent systemic discrimination against people of colour, this claim is highly partisan. It is also ‘tone-deaf’ to the cries of the oppressed which ascend to the God who has promised to hear them.
The intention to provoke (opponents) and alarm (supporters) was clear when—rather than apologise or retract those comments—Martyn Iles doubled down on them by producing a special podcast session with a 20-minute tirade again BLW as another example of radical secular Marxism seeking to destroy Christianity.
Despite his self-description as a “lover of law, theology and politics” (Facebook – About), Martyn Iles has no formal theology qualifications. His only listed qualifications are in the law. That lack of formal training in theology is evident in his public statements.
Iles espouses a fundamentalist form of Evangelical Christianity, with a fascination on apocalyptic eschatology. He has recently announced a new YouTube channel dealing with questions about the ‘End Times’.
The problem is not his naïve use of the complex texts which constitute the Bible, nor his total disconnect from critical religion scholarship. Both those things are typical of Australian Evangelicals. Rather, what concerns me most is the way that he ‘verbals’ Jesus by imposing his own concept of Christ onto the biblical texts.
The domesticated Jesus promoted by Martyn Iles does not engage in political action, so I presume he would neither support nor join the ACL.
His Jesus only cares about ‘saving souls’ and did not care about feeding the hungry, healing the sick, or letting the oppressed go free (fact check that claim against Luke 4:18–19).
Such a Jesus would not have bothered himself or his disciples with a campaign against a religious discrimination bill; or indeed opposed legislation for same-sex marriage. He just came to save souls.
This kind of Jesus crosses to the other side of the road when he encounters a victim lying wounded in the ditch. Nothing can be allowed to distract from saving souls.
He would not have protected a woman from death by stoning at the hands of a self-righteous religious mob. He would have invited the lady to accept Jesus into her heart but done nothing to address the immediate danger of killing by the authorities.
It seems that Martyn Iles frets over a secular Marxism that he sees in the DNA of every social movement, but is blissfully unperturbed by the multiple structural injustices which have promoted white prosperity at the expense of black lives, not to mention indigenous Australian lives.
He notes the correlation of black deaths with crime rates in black neighbourhoods, but he does not question why we have black neighbourhoods nor why poverty is allowed to continue in the wealthiest societies we have ever seen on the planet.
That myopia must be convenient.
Secular Marxism is a special worry to Martyn Iles.
He recycles the nonsensical idea that a secret KGB operation created liberation theology (apparently an especially virulent form of secular Marxism) to subvert Catholicism in Latin America, while simultaneously infiltrating the World Council of Churches in Geneva.
Some people do love conspiracy theories.
It seems that Martyn Iles has no idea that liberation theology occurs spontaneously any time that an oppressed person reads Scripture (not just the Gospels) through the lens of their own experience.
They may be peasants in Latin America, blacks in South Africa or the USA, Palestinians languishing under decades of illegal military occupation by Israel or—an LGBTQI Christian in a Sydney Anglican congregation.
Such is the power of Scripture when the Spirit of God moves in the heart of a reader.
However, as already mentioned, the deeper problem with the analysis promoted by the ACL, is its self-serving blindness to systemic evil.
Possibly the ACL members need to spend some time reading the prophets of ancient Israel. They make up quite a large section of the Bible, actually. Anyone who reads these texts could hardly miss the prophetic denunciation of injustice, poverty and exploitation.
Never mind the prophets, even Deuteronomy is crystal clear about what is expected of those who might seek God’s blessing on them:
Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, so that you may live and occupy the land that the LORD your God is giving you. (Deut. 16:20)
If it is too much to ask dedicated Christians who support ACL to read the biblical prophets, perhaps they could find the time to reflect on the earliest version of the Lord’s Prayer and notice the raw edges of poverty in that prayer before we spiritualised it:
Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial. (Luke 11:2–4)
As a sequel, let me recommend Luke’s version of the Beatitudes:
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. (6:20–21,23–25)
If even these brief epitomes of the central message of Jesus are too much for the ACL supporters to absorb, perhaps it would suffice for them simply to take to heart the words of the prophet Micah:
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
Sayings for the Soul: Now I Have Put My Words in Your Mouth: Jeremiah 1:9: Themes for Personal and Communal Meditation offers a mini resource for those who wish to deepen their spiritual journeys through prayer using mantras and sacred sayings.
In a time of
cultural turmoil and declining religious affiliation, at least in the West,
Christians are called back to recover time-honoured approaches to prayer. Karl
Rahner, a leading Jesuit theologian in the twentieth century, once wrote: The Christian in the future will be a mystic
or nothing at all. Mantras and sacred sayings in prayer lead one into this
The first section of the book is a summary of
key ideas towards an appreciation of mantras and sacred sayings in religion
generally and Christianity in particular.
and third sections of the book offer a compilation of over 160 popular biblical
and sacred sayings which may be helpful in choosing mantras and sacred sayings
section presents some examples of music and song as expressions of prayer.
I’ve been surprised at the response with a third print already half sold after just three weeks. The little booklet (A5) is really a personal one for people to deepen their own prayer life. Something is at work here with the response. Dr Kevin Treston
In this book, acclaimed religious scholar Geza Vermes subjects all the sayings of Jesus to brilliantly informed scrutiny. Profoundly aware of the limits of our knowledge but immersed in what we do have—both the “official” gospels and associated Jewish and early Christian texts—Vermes sieves through every quote ascribed to Jesus to let the reader get as close as possible to the charismatic Jewish healer and moralist who changed the world. The result is a book that creates a revolutionary and unexpected picture of Jesus—scraping aside the accretions of centuries to approach as close as we can hope to his true teaching.
Géza Vermes, FBA was a British academic, Biblical scholar, and Judaist of Hungarian Jewish origin—one who also served as a Catholic priest in his youth—and writer on history of religion, particularly Judaism and early Christianity. He wrote about the Dead Sea Scrolls and ancient works in Aramaic such as the Targumim, and on the life and religion of Jesus. He was one of the most important voices in contemporary Jesus research, and he has been described as the greatest Jesus scholar of his time. Vermes’ written work on Jesus focuses principally on Jesus the Jew, as seen in the broader context of the narrative scope of Jewish history and theology, while questioning and challenging the basis of the Christian doctrine on Jesus.
Available from Amazon Australia in paperback for $31.99 free delivery, or in Kindle for $14.99
Thank you Tim O’Dwyer for this additional review of Vermes work. Go to Guardian Review
After a very detailed analysis of the book, Shortt concludes:
Two related conclusions spring from this. One is that small differences of gospel interpretation can lead to vastly differing verdicts on Jesus. The second is that no single map of the territory seems adequate. Geza Vermes is a respected guide. But don’t consult him in isolation.
· Rupert Shortt is author of Rowan Williams: An Introduction.
CRCOnline provides theological, liturgical and spiritual resources for anyone who wants to live with the questions rather than being told definitive answers; be rooted in the life, work and radical values of Jesus of Nazareth; celebrate the diversity of the Jesus community and engage with issues using the discourses of the contemporary world.
Explore the latest resources below and browse/search all resources using the menus. Find the resources that suit you: from prayers and spiritual reflections to in-depth theological articles, sermons to book reviews, media links to liturgies.
CRC was established in 2003 and based at St Mark’s Church Broomhill, Sheffield, UK. Its purpose was to explore the meaning of the Christian faith in the 21st century and to offer a fresh vision of an open and inclusive church, unafraid to ask the big questions.
St Mark’s CRC was committed to:
living with questions rather than finding answers
being rooted in Jesus of Nazareth
including and celebrating diversity in the community of Christ
engaging with issues using the discourses of the contemporary world.
CRCOnline promises to carry on exploring, commending and understanding the Christian faith and living in this spirit, engaging in critical yet creative dialogue between a living tradition reaching back to Jesus and the challenges and opportunities of our contemporary world, with the aim of helping people understand more what being followers of Jesus means today.
Go to: CRCOnline to examine the Resources around – Mysticism and Contemporary Spirituality, Embracing the Other (Jesus inclusivity), Eucharistic Prayers, Easter and Epidemics, Heaven is a Hologram, Prayers in time of Pandemic, etc.
John Marsh is a subscriber to the UCFORUM. He is in the early stages of doing doctoral research on Progressive Christianity. He is keen to get widespread responses from people who have an experience and opinion about Progressive Christianity as it is practiced in church communities.
“Some years ago Hal Taussig, a prominent American writer on Progressive Christianity, extensively surveyed Progressive Christian Communities in the USA , He wrote a book titled A New Spiritual Home in which he discussed his findings. He identified a number of characteristics of the ‘new spiritual vitality’ which he perceived in these communities, It is my intention, and hope, to conduct a survey exploring the extent to which these characteristics are mirrored in the Australian experience… I am hoping, as a self identified member of a ‘Progressive Christian’ community that you may be prepared to complete the Questionnaire attached to assist me in this project”.
He also states:
“I would want to confine my efforts to groups that had a shared sense of community – with a sense of being a worshipping community, therefore excluding groups that only gathered for discussion.”
So, if you have ever belonged to a congregation/group that practices or inclines towards progressive approaches to Christianity, your thoughts would be greatly appreciated.
Please contact John for a copy of his questionnaire at John Marsh and become a part of this worthwhile study.
THE ONCE AND FUTURE JESUS Exploring the afterlife of Jesus in world cultures.
Editor: Gregory C. Jenks Publisher: Cambridge Scholars Publishing
This set of essays explores the impact of Jesus within and beyond Christianity, including his many ‘afterlives’ in literature and the arts, social justice and world religion. It traces both the impact of Jesus on his devotees as well as his legacy among people who claim no religion.
INDICATIVE TABLE OF CONTENTS
Proposals for contributions around other topics which are clearly relevant to the collection are also most welcome.
SECTION ONE: JESUS BEFORE EASTER
Galilee in the first century 2. First-century Nazareth 3. Historical Jesus research 4. Jesus as a historical figure 5. Jesus the sage 6. Jesus the healer 7. Jesus the prophet 8. Jesus the rebel 9. The crucifixion of Jesus
SECTION TWO: THE CHRIST CULT
The Easter tradition 11. Jesus and the Q community 12. Jesus and the Pauline mission 13. Jesus in the Johannine community 14. Jesus and Judaism after Bar Kochba 15. Jesus and the Byzantine Empire 16. Jesus outside the Chalcedonian matrix
SECTION THREE: JESUS AS A GLOBAL CHARACTER
Jesus in Judaism 18. Jesus in the Quran 19. Jesus in medieval coins, 500–1500 CE 20. Jesus in other major religions 21. Jesus in alternative Christianities 22. Jesus in art 23. Jesus in literature 24. Jesus in film 25. Jesus in popular culture 26. Jesus and human rights 27. Jesus in the Antipodes 28. Jesus through Indigenous Australian eyes 29. Jesus in Pacific culture 30. The Judaic humanism of Jesus
• Chapters will normally be no longer than 6000 words • Chapters will be checked for suitability, language and grammar by our Desk Editors before being sent to the Guest Editor, and may be returned to the author for amendment and resubmission • Chapter authors will be asked to sign a short publishing contract on provisional acceptance. Chapters should be free of rights restrictions. Authors should have the authority to submit the chapter for publication. • Royalties will not be paid to chapter authors
Note: As with most of my “book reviews” this is not an attempt to give the potential readers a good summary of what they might expect from cover to cover of the book. It is a few of my impressions which may or may not lead others to read what this author has to say.
Some impressions by Rodney Eivers, 7th May 2020
really wanted to enjoy this book.
the author’s renown with previous titles, leading to television series,
Barracuda and The Slap, neither of which I had actually viewed, I looked to
sharing in the laudatory attention given to the writing of Christos Tsiolkas. I
had no reason to think that Damascus was other than “inspirational”. I
had read reviews of the book from such disparate sources as the ABC Ethics and
Religion Report and Eternity magazine.
confident was I of its being a good read that my wife had bought a copy of the
book to give to my 17-year-old grandson. Among other things, he had done some
religious studies at his high school. He
had just graduated last year. Furthermore, it seemed to me that it might be
just the sort of book (giving a bit of flesh and blood atmosphere to the early
Jesus movement) that would be an entertaining supplement to the more academic
titles which I give each month to a theological college. For this purpose, I
rushed out in the final days of the Christmas shopping rush to bag the last
three copies of Damascus available at my local Kmart.
was to be the first book of fiction I had read for about two years (for the
previous light reading I had been revisiting a number of the writings of
sheer coincidence when I mentioned this to a good friend and colleague of mine,
he said that he had started reading Damascus and recommended that I continue to
look at it myself. When I mentioned, however, that we were planning to give the
book to our 17-year-old he cautioned.
should read the first few chapters yourself first. It may take a rather special teenager to be
mature enough to cope with this text.”
that I have read Damascus from cover to cover, I think he may have been right.
Remember, I was anticipating something inspirational. It seems to me that
positive inspiration is something our world needs whether we are 17 or 70.
what do we find with Damascus? Christos
Tsiolkas seem to have sought to set the impact of biblical Paul realistically
into the setting of society as envisaged in the Mediterranean region governed
and influenced by the Roman imperialism. Perhaps reasonably accurately he
paints a picture of anger and violence being the norm for just about everybody.
life in that era always like that? I
notice on the back blurb to the book someone notes there are “sudden jags of tenderness”. That would be right. There is not much
tenderness displayed by anybody.
rule lasted for more than 400 to 500 years so it must have had something going
for it. There must have been people reasonably happy with it as long as you
stuck to the rules. I am reminded of the situation in China today, where
despite the protests of the people of Hong Kong, mainland Chinese seem happy to
accept their lot with a very autocratic regime grateful for the stability it
provides. I suppose you could argue that because they did not stick to the
rules, Paul and his lot including the whole Jewish nation got into trouble with
was certainly violence in Roman times. Nevertheless, one thing that I have long
puzzled over in relation to the Roman justice system, was that a fair-minded
legal system existed at all. It seems remarkable to me that someone presumably
as insignificant as Paul in relation to whole wide Roman empire, could go
before Governor Felix in Cyprus and be
packed off to Rome, with expensive guards and travel expenses to face further
court hearings at the far side of the empire.
To claim that this is because he was a Roman citizen does not sound very
convincing to me. Why not impale him, crucify him or feed him to the lions on
the spot when defying such a powerful entity? Would the Saudis, the Russians or
the Chinese provide such latitude for their citizens today?
back to the violence. In this story, sexual intimacy, whether homosexual or
heterosexual does not get much tenderness either. Nothing comparable to the
joyous sensuality of the Song of Solomon from an earlier ancient period. Homosexuality
is treated as something of shame or disgust (I am bit surprised by this as the
author is openly gay). Heterosexual relationships even within marriage are
characterised by rape. An ideal marital relationship is painted as no sexual
relations at all. We are told of men sleeping in each other’s arms, but it is
not clear whether this an emotional closeness or is a further euphemism for
what in the Old Testament is described as “knowing” one’s bed companion.
found the crudity of the language, grating. Nowadays this sort of interchange
is called “coarse” language. This
together with the angry tone may well be the popular style of writing today. I
came across this when reviewing some essays composed in a writing course at
Griffith University- so much anger!
“fucking” (or its Greek or Syrian counterpart) the general adjective of
emphasis with people at that time? Or is that an extension of a 21st
century norm when other general adjectives of emphasis in literary and film
media have gone by the board. What
happened to “damn!” and “bloody” of
earlier centuries? While writing these notes I read a review of another book about
Roman times. This claimed that insults were part of everyday life in ancient
Rome so perhaps Tsiolkas has got it right!
major theme of Damascus is the author’s design to set up a tension between the
people at that time who came to be called Christians regarding the nature of
Jesus. In order to do this, he introduces apostle Thomas as a twin of Jesus.
Thomas is made to represent those who saw Jesus as simply a charismatic human
being who brought a basically non-supernatural message of how to nurture a
better secular world here and now – The Kingdom of God. At least in the early
years under the sponsorship of Jesus’s brother James, this approach was
directed at the people of Israel and sought to retain Jewish culture including
notably such practices as male circumcision.
however, is the one who took the message far beyond Galilee and Jerusalem along
the Mediterranean coast and sought to make it universal. His message, though,
was heavily into the supernatural especially in the expectation that Jesus was
returning to earth someday soon. This aspect gets hammered quite a bit by
Tsiolkas. It is interesting of course – Tsiolkas acknowledges this although not
very clearly to my mind – that although Paul insists that he has “seen” the
resurrected Jesus, his own writings make it clear that it was not a face to
face encounter in the flesh but rather something of an intense vision.
own theological position is, of course, closer to that of Thomas (except for
the link to Hebrew culture) than of Paul. Tsiolkas has consulted a number of
what I regard as reputable literary sources, including, I was glad to see, the
gospel of Thomas. He has what I see as a curious, and to me somewhat
regrettable attitude to institutional Christianity. He acknowledges the
powerful cause for good which arose from Paul’s efforts but is not prepared to
call himself Christian because he does not “believe” in the resurrection. Is
“belief” in the physical resurrection a vital part of Christianity? If one sees
merit in the ethos of the pre-Easter Jesus rather than the post-Easter Jesus
which Paul promoted and proclaimed there may still be room to make the
following of the Jesus Way a worthy calling.
Christos Tsiolkas is trying to show there was merit in what eventuated from the
persuasiveness of Paul, the book fails to be convincing for me because of his depiction
of the personal characteristics of the main protagonists. None of them even our
hero, Paul, come across as lovely people. They are temperamental, speak
harshly, and are sometimes violent. In other words, somewhat hypocritical.
can I share this book with my teenager and trust that he will be inspired by
it? Or provide it to theological
students as they engage in their studies to make the world a better place? I don’t know. Maybe you, my readers, will
have some view on this.
Perhaps what Christos Tsiolkas seeks to remind us is of the ultimate outcome. Through the persistence, and demonstration of love by relatively weak and flawed personalities such as Paul, Thomas, Lydia, Timothy and others, the message survived and thrived. The Jesus presence with its ethic of the equal worthiness of all human beings, of loving one’s enemies, of stewardship rather than ownership of one’s assets, and of turning the other cheek (this gets a fair bit of mention in the book) in due course overcame the controlling influence of the Roman empire and left a legacy which remains with us to this day. That, indeed, is remarkable.
The Trail is a song of comfort for difficult times. It gives new words to a familiar hymn and provides a modern, progressive interpretation of the 23rd psalm.
Words and musical arrangement by Keith Sanford. Performance includes Keith Sanford on drums, percussion, keyboard synthesizers, and vocals.
The tune is Resignation (the tune for, My Shepherd Will Supply My Need), an anonymous melody found in Freeman Lewis’ Beauties of Harmony, 1828.
My feet they tamp the earth and stones that lay upon this trail And in wide meadows there I find a hope that will not fail I feel a touch upon my hand that pulls me to proceed To see the splendor, oh, so vast, there’s nothing more I need
To mountain streams, this trail does lead, with water splashing clear And there I rest upon the rocks and feel the goodness here I feel a touch upon my hand that pulls me to engage To seek the mysteries of the world, long pondered age to age
At times this trail may lead me down to valleys dark and low Where shades of death may chill the skin and nothing there will grow But then that touch upon my hand it causes me to rise And still I hope for goodness here, as stars light up dark skies
For more information and music lead sheet go to The Trail
Clay Nelson, a colleague in New Zealand, tells a story about a journalist who was stationed in Jerusalem. The journalist’s apartment overlooks the Western Wall which is the holiest site in Judaism. Every day when the journalist looks out towards the Wall, she sees an old Jewish man praying vigorously. One day the journalist goes down and introduces herself to the old man. As a journalist, she cannot resist interviewing the old man. “You come every day to the wall. How long have you done this and what are you praying for?”
The old man replies, “I have come here to pray every day for 25 years. In the morning, I pray for world peace and then for the wellbeing of humanity. I go home, and I have a cup of tea, and I come back and I pray for the eradication of illness and disease from all the earth.”
The journalist is intrigued and asks, “How does it make you feel to come here every day for 25 years and pray for these things?” The old man looks at the journalist with great sadness and replies, “It feels like I’m talking to a damn wall!”
The Progressive Christian book club, which has been meeting for over 2 years every month, has just finished reading Damascus, by Christos Tsiolkas. A book that takes you on a wild ride through the time of the early Jesus followers, but particularly the time of Paul. We hear the blood and guts and reality of living in the Roman Empire, and Pauls conversion from a Jewish condemner of those followers to one who himself followed, in vivid detail. But we also hear the humanity in him, and the other leaders of the time. Voices from the past include not only Paul, but Timothy, James, Thomas and Onesimus, the freed slave of Phiimon, who is called Able in the book. We are presented with the variety of understandings of Jesus found even then, near the beginning of our faith tradition.
As Dennis Ryle wrote in his review, we see how leaders and followers negotiate the interactions of Jew and gentile, the Greek cults and Roman tyranny to be fourth generation Christ followers in a challenging world. Particularly when the expectation of those who thought Jesus would return, bringing in a new heaven and a new earth,went unfulfilled.
It is not for the faint hearted, and the descriptions of the bloody times, and the barbarity that some would go to, particularly the Romans to keep people in line are shocking. But also, Pauls struggles with his own desires, and his own need to find faith that speaks to him is also written with energy and gusto. Ultimately, Paul finds that faith in the Jesus story, but the journey is not easy.
Many in the book club didn’t enjoy the book, it was difficult to read the full-on pace of the it, and the inevitable descriptions of death and destruction and grief and yes, even doubt, in the first century CE.
Yet others found it insightful, and courageous. I was one of those.
Several progressive congregations are now using A Joyful Path which is a truly progressive children’s curriculum. Today, children are seriously undernourished when it comes to spirituality. They are either taught dogma or secularism. Children need to know that they are Divine beings and that following the path of Jesus in today’s world means being a spiritual warrior of radical inclusion and deep reverence.
The program has been written byDeshna Shine for ProgressiveChristianity.org. You can help spread this curriculum to children all around the world by supporting a GOFUNDME project that Deshna has started.
[Jim Burklo is an ordained United Church of Christ pastor who serves as the Associate Dean of Religious Life at the University of Southern California. He is the author of BIRDLIKE AND BARNLESS: Meditations, Prayers, and Songs for Progressive Christians (2008) and OPEN CHRISTIANITY: Home By Another Road (2000) – both available from the “store ” at www.tcpc.org. Jim served as pastor of Sausalito (CA) Presbyterian Church, and of College Heights UCC Church in San Mateo, CA, served as ecumenical Protestant campus minister at Stanford University, and was the founder and executive director of the interfaith Urban Ministry of Palo Alto. His Masters of Divinity degree is from San Francisco Theological Seminary.]
“Christianity needs a new narrative based on the elements of the Easter week myths. Here is an option: Rabbi Jesus practiced and taught radical compassion to the people of Israel. This threatened the authority of the Jewish elite and the Roman occupiers, so they killed him on a cross – from which he forgave them. This unconditional love prevailed beyond his death and lived on in his followers, who regrouped and formed a new, compassionate community of faith. In this narrative, Jesus and his followers are not victims. Jesus was an agent of positive action, and so are we who follow him. The transformative power of this narrative inspires us to forgive.
For progressive Christians, forgiveness is not in the supernatural hands of a Guy-In-The-Sky God. Forgiveness is up to us. Just as it was up to Jesus whether or not to forgive the people who crucified him. The mythic narratives of Easter week speak for our souls as we recognize our pain, loss, and disappointment, and move from being victims to becoming active agents of positive personal and social transformation. Fred Luskin summarizes forgiveness as the release of our attachment to enforcing unenforceable rules we’ve constructed. We think that our HTOTB’s (How Things Ought to Be) really are the immutable laws of the universe. But other people in fact do get to make choices, even if they hurt us. And we get to make our own choices in the aftermath, as well.”
What Is Progressive Christianity—And Why Do We Need It? by Steve Kindle
In a nutshell, Progressive Christianity recognizes that the world has moved on in its understanding of how the world works—and that Christianity hasn’t. Most denominations and many Christians still live in the 4th century of the church. That is, they accept the creedal formulations of that age, as well as the prescientific worldview, as relevant to our own, even though they are based on understandings that our age no longer finds credible.
Since the Nicene Creed (325 CE), we have learned our planet is round (spherical), and the sun is the center of our solar system; the earth is billions of years in the making; that humans, as all of life, emerged through a process of biological evolution; that germs cause disease, that the universe is expanding and there is nothing beyond it. All of which is not only unknown in the Bible, but it teaches the very opposite. Unfortunately, many Christians refuse to accept these realities. They deny evolution, teach that the earth is no more than 10,000 years old, and still live in a three-tiered universe with God “up there” and hell below us. (Yes, and some even refuse medical help and prefer “faith healing.”)
Progressive Christianity offers searchers who accept the modern scientific worldview a way of respecting it and how the Bible and Christianity can be relevant in this world. Many of our churches advertise themselves as a place where you don’t have to leave your brain at the door. In fact, Progressive Christians revel in the questions life presents and understand that whatever we think we know is always tentative and in need of further clarification. You may find principles among us but not creeds that define what you must believe. That’s that old way of doing Christianity that only leads to triumphalism, elitism, and division.
What are some of the principles that unite us? We need to be clear that Progressive Christianity is not monolithic, and represents many different points of view. But there are some things that most would find hospitable. Here are a few:
Just as people of the Bible lived according to their understanding of the world, we must live according to ours. This is not a repudiation of the biblical worldview, but a recognition that there is no other way life can be lived. To try to do otherwise is ultimately self-defeating. The differences between the biblical world and ours illuminate why we need to move on from it, yet offer us ways to make sense of our own. The fact that ancients believed that God created the world in six days may miss the evolutionary point, but it does point to God as the reality behind creation.
The Bible is the record of certain humans’ encounters with the divine, and as such is a rich source of spiritual wisdom that can transcend the ages. It discloses points of view about God and humanity that resonate today. The inspiration of the Bible comes from our relationship with the stories and the people, not from any supernatural input from God that directly resulted in its words. The sense that God dictated the Bible turns it into a legalistic text that functions more like law than grace. Rather than seek the presence of God in our lives, as is the case of the biblical characters, we then become those who must obey the text. Progressive Christians see these as mutually exclusive.
God is seen as transcendent and immanent. God is wholly other than any aspect of creation, yet resides wholly within it. Since the universe is a self-contained whole, God must be not only part of it but within all of it. God does not reside beyond it “looking down upon us.” Being in touch with every aspect of creation means that God relates to all things, and this certainly includes you and me. Prayer is as close as our breath.
Jesus lived as close to God as anyone can and, consequently, is able to model what a life fully devoted to God looks like. This includes his teachings and actions. As disciples of Jesus, we seek to model our lives after his. In particular, this means that we move away from a religion about Jesus and into the religion of Jesus: God-centered, love-driven, and inclusive of all. We measure the value of all actions by the Golden Rule.
Salvation is oriented to this life, not the hereafter. This is not to deny an afterlife, but we believe that God’s purpose is for the earth not only to prosper but thrive. The Kingdom of God is to be found “on earth as it is in heaven,”
God as Trinity is a useful metaphor but is based on ancient Greek ideas of substance that are no longer helpful. That God relates to all creation as Creator, Savior, and Sustainer
We at Faith on the Edge provide pastors and congregations with means to develop these progressive themes. We do so through a series of videos that lead viewers through the process of seeing the Bible in new ways. Ways that enlighten and transform.
The mission of Faith on the Edge is to revitalize the church for the 20th Century.
“A religion is as much a progressive unlearning of false ideas concerning God as it is the learning of true ideas concerning God.” ~Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan
Dominion: The making of the western mind, 2019, Little, Brown Book group, London.
Christianity is the most enduring and influential legacy of the ancient world, and its emergence the single most transformative development in Western history. Even the increasing number in the West today who have abandoned the faith of their forebears, and dismiss all religion as pointless superstition, remain recognisably its heirs. Seen close-up, the division between a sceptic and a believer may seem unbridgeable. Widen the focus, though, and Christianity’s enduring impact upon the West can be seen in the emergence of much that has traditionally been cast as its nemesis: in science, in secularism, and yes, even in atheism.
That is why Dominion will place the story of how we came to be what we are, and how we think the way that we do, in the broadest historical context.
ABC Radio National Podcast interview between Tom Holland and Geraldine Dougue:
PCN EXPLORERS: Wednesday 25th March, 10 am
(for 10:30 start),
Merthyr Road Uniting Church, 52 Merthyr Rd,
A Progressive Take on Resurrection:
Dr Cliff Hospital will facilitate the morning’s exploration on this subject – relevant to us all as we approach the Easter Season. His argument will be that in order to arrive at a critical take on the resurrection event and its implications for Christian faith and life in the contemporary world, we need to begin with an honest awareness that traditional orthodox Christian thinking reflects a composite of disparate strands of tradition available to us in the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, the Quran, etc.
So, to explain the question “Which
Resurrection?”: Is it the collective resurrection of the people
Israel (Ezekiel 37)? Is it the raising of dead individuals on the last
day–the day of judgment–shared by the Pharisees, but not the Saducees, by Christians
following Paul in 1 Corinthians 15: 51-52, by Muslims following many passage in
the Quran such as sura 78: 17-40? Is it the thinking reflected in Jesus
words to the good thief crucufied with him: “…today you will be
with me in Paradise” (Luke 23: 43)? Is it the earliest accounts of
resurrection appearances of Jesus found in Paul’s letters, and most fully in 1
Corinthians 15: 3-8, which includes the appearance to Paul himself? Is it
the apparently related distinction made by Paul later in 1 Corinthians 15
between a physical body and a spiritual body (the latter being the body of the
raised dead)? Is it the resurrection as depicted in the gospels and Acts
1, with forty days of appearances (little in common among the accounts)
culminating in the Lukan narrative of Jesus’ ascension into heaven from Bethany
(Luke 24:50) or the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:12)?
Cliff will attempt to develop a plausible account of this
diversity; thus Part A.
Part B of the talk will look at a variety of modern
expressions of resurrection faith and hope that he finds persuasive in the
light of our conclusions of Part A.
Come at 10 for ‘eat, meet and greet’ and we will get started at 10:30. Finished by 12. Some venture to Moray Cafe for lunch – all welcome to that for more opportunity for friendship and further exploration.
‘The Easter story culminating in the
resurrection of Jesus stands at the heart of Christian faith and celebration.
But in the modern world is the story still believable? And does it still have
transformative power for modern living? The scriptures contain a mix of
attitudes to life after death, and the resurrection stories themselves contain
a mysterious mix of the physical and mystical. John Queripel argues that we can
no longer hold to a literal understanding of these accounts, but neither can we
see the resurrection as merely delusion and wish-fulfilment.’
75th anniversary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s death will be 8th April.
‘In the final days of World War II, early one frosty morning, a young German pastor was taken from his cell by his Nazi captors and led to his place of execution. Coming from one of Berlin’s leading families, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s already brilliant academic and church career was thus brutally terminated. Bonhoeffer found himself in such a strange place for a theologian, being one of the very few in the German Church who stood resolutely opposed to the Nazis to the point where he, as a one-time pacifist, became deeply involved in the conspiratorial plot to kill Hitler and bring down the regime. This course of action saw him enter the murky sphere of secrecy and duplicity as a member of the conspiracy, while two-timing the Nazis as a member of military intelligence. Using that official role, Bonhoeffer was able to travel and communicate with his international ecumenical contacts as part of the conspiracy’s attempt to strike a deal with the Allies to end the war. From a dark period, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, brave and resolute, stands as a bright and shining light.’ Information on my books is available on my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/JohnHenryQueripel/
Last year, the Queensland Parliament voted to authorise its Health Committee to hold public hearings throughout Queensland to assess public attitudes to Voluntary Assisted Dying and Palliative Care. They did an extraordinary job of holding hearings far and wide across the State and encouraging all opinions to be expressed.
I spoke at one of the hearings and it was evident that there was huge support for Queenslanders to have the right to choose to end their lives peacefully and in comfort when faced with an incurable illness. It was also clear that people felt that palliative care services were not adequate and were not an alternate to Voluntary Assisted Dying as many people will choose both. People who attended other hearings gained the same impression as I did.
At the same time as the public hearings were being held, The Clem Jones Foundation conducted a professional survey of community attitudes on the matter and found that at least three out of every four Queenslanders believed that they should have the right to elect to end their lives via Voluntary Assisted Dying.
So, we now await the report of the Health Committee which is due to present it to Parliament no later than 31 March this year. I have no inside information on the matter but my gut feeling is that the Committee will recommend that Legislation to legalise Voluntary Assisted Dying be placed before the Parliament for a conscience vote as soon as possible.
The key issue is whether or not the Premier will decide to hold the vote before or after the election which is due in October, 2020. If she delays the vote it will become a huge election issue with every candidate being forced to state their position on it.
In my role as Campaign Leader of Dying With Dignity Queensland, I am pushing hard for an immediate vote and I have no doubt that it will passed by the Parliament.
To press the case for a vote before the election, Dying With Dignity is holding a Rally on THURSDAY, 19 MARCH AT 1.00PM AT SPEAKERS CORNER, which is in George Street just over the road from Parliament. We have a police permit and have invited every member of Parliament to attend. Some have already accepted our invitation.
This event is not a protest gathering and will neither march nor block the traffic nor abuse MP’s. We are simply asking the Parliament to vote urgently to authorise Voluntary Assisted Dying in Queensland for those who so choose, similarly to the right that Victorians and Western Australians now have.
I am one of the speakers and my task is to state why, as a Church Elder, I am publicly supporting Voluntary Assisted Dying when the Churches of Queensland have joined together to make a submission to the Inquiry opposing it.
The key factor is that they believe that God decides who lives or dies. I have never ever believed that. God gives you and me the spiritual power to handle whatever life and death throw up at us. With death being an inevitable and unavoidable part of life, why let many people suffer agony to get there.
I will be a definite candidate for Voluntary Assisted Dying if ever I face a terminal illness and I have advised my family in writing that this is my wish.
Indeed, if I become geriatric and am to be committed to a nursing home I will find a way to end my life. I have had a wonderful life and I am not going to end it as a vegetable. And I am not going to waste money on pointlessly and selfishly staying alive when I want my grandkids to have as much of my estate as possible.
Churches, by opposing Voluntary Assisted Dying, are actually encouraging suicide and this is utterly irresponsible. There is clear and irrefutable evidence that people crash their cars in single car accidents because they want out and the laws of the land are denying them the basic democratic right to determine how they will live and die.
So, please come along to Speakers Corner on Thursday, 19 March at 1.00pm and help to convince Parliament that VAD legislation must pass the Parliament before the Election.
There are many Twitter and Facebook friends whom I have not ever met so I hope you will come along and say hello. And if you have any doubts about either the morals or ethics or legality of VAD, lets have a respectful chat about it.
SOFiA is a network of Australians interested in openly exploring issues of life and meaning through reason, philosophy, ethics, religion, science and the arts. We want to explore for ourselves what we can believe and how we can find meaning in our lives.
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Dr Peter Lewis has produced a second edition of his very interesting book The Ending of Mark’s Gospel.
This is essentially the same content, just expanded a little. A few changes have been made and two chapters added If you have the first edition, no need to rush out and buy the second but new readers should look out for the second edition.
Peter’s hope is that this rational investigation of the abrupt ending to Mark’s Gospel will be a key to understanding how the gospels came to be the way they are. He sees this as integral to revitalising the faith.
“Given the clericalism, abuse, discrimination and lack of proper governance within the Catholic Church, in 2011 Fr Greg Reynolds, a priest of the Melbourne Archdiocese for 31 years, set up a new community, called Inclusive Catholics to embrace those disillusioned with institutional churches. In this community all are welcome without question, especially lapsed Catholics as well as survivors of clerical abuse, divorcees, those who support women’s ordination and LGBTIQA+ people.
This community strives to let all voices be heard and equally considered when planning and celebrating worship and other events. It is now a democratic organisation led by an elected Stewardship Team with Greg Reynolds as pastor. Inclusive Catholics holds fortnightly Eucharistic celebrations at Glen Iris Road Uniting Church Community Centre, monthly lecture-discussions in member’s homes, social dinners, silent retreats and luncheon gatherings where personal stories can be shared.”
“We are all deeply committed to Gospel values and caring for the needs of the poor and vulnerable in our society and the world. We each respond to the call in our own personal way, as we accept and support each other’s approach, gifts and priorities. Above all, our hearts and prayers go out to those who suffer abuse, injustice and oppression. We are a diverse range of personalities, with a wide range of social justice priorities. Early on we decided not to set up our own separate social justice group, but rather to support individual members in the various organisations and activities that they are involved in. For example members are involved in or connected with groups such as IPAN (the Independent & Peaceful Australia Network), Pax Christi, WATAC (Women and The Australian Church), St Mary’s in Exile, Aboriginal Catholic Ministry, Acceptance, BASP (Brigidine Asylum Seeker Project), Love Makes a Way, ARRCC (Australian Religious Response to Climate Change), Catholics for Renewal, ACCCR (Australian Catholic Coalition for Church Reform), Quakers, and various Christian Churches especially Glen Iris Road Uniting Church and St Oswald’s Anglican Church. “
This is an open table and any believer who wishes to receive Holy Communion is welcome. Eucharist is celebrated on the first and third Sundays of each month at Glen Iris Road Uniting Church, 200 Glen Iris Road, Glen Iris at 5.00 pm, preceded by optional quiet meditation at 4.40pm
1ST & 3RD SUNDAYS OF EACH MONTH, 5PM
GLEN IRIS UNITING CHURCH
THE ARCHBISHOP of Canterbury has admitted the Church of England is still “deeply institutionally racist” as he speaks out about its treatment of black and minority ethnic people. Justin Welby has spoken of his personal shame at the Church of England’s institutional racism and has promised to replace a “hostile environment” with a hospitable welcome. Speaking at a meeting of the Church’s ruling body, the General Synod, the Archbishop said he was “ashamed” of its history of racism. Mr Welby said he was “almost beyond words” after hearing about the racism faced by minority parishioners, priests and officials within the church.
The Archbishop added: “There is no doubt when we look at our own church that we are still deeply institutionally racist.”
Mr Welby’s comments come as Synod members voted unanimously for a motion to apologise for racism in the Church of England since the Windrush generation arrived in the UK.
The body also voted to “stamp out conscious or unconscious” racism.
The General Synod also voted to request research on how racism had influenced the fall in member numbers and the increase in church closures over the years.
The church will also now appoint an independent person to assess racism within its ranks and seek to increase the number of BAME Anglicans seeking ordination.
Mr Welby, who decided to “ditch” a prepared speech and make off-the-cuff remarks, said church appointment panels – including the crown nominations commission, which recommends new bishops – needed to have better minority ethnic representation, along with longlists and shortlists for senior clergy posts.
He said: “We did not do justice in the past. We do not do justice now.
“And unless we are radical and decisive in this area in the future, we will still be having this conversation in 20 years’ time and still doing injustice, the few of us that remain.”
The leader of the Church of England added the Church’s “hostile environment” must become a “hospitable, welcoming one” and called for “radical and decisive” progress to put an end to institutional racism.
RONA2020 – “Rights of Nature Australia 2020” – is a national arts celebration, organised by the Australian Earth Laws Alliance (AELA). The National Exhibition will run from 12-17 October 2020 in Brisbane, in conjunction with AELA’s week of exploring and celebrating the Rights of Nature.
In 2020, the Australian Earth Laws Alliance (AELA) will be co-hosting a range of arts activities and events under the theme of “Voices of Nature”. This theme will encourage the exploration of the concepts of ‘voice’, ‘standing’, ‘representation’, and ‘agency’ of the natural world within human governance systems. The theme also promotes AELA’s desire to focus on sound art and acoustic ecology as key mediums for communicating and exploring nature’s voice(s).
AELA is excited to be partnering with the Australian Forum for Acoustic Ecology (AFAE) to generate dynamic, cross-disciplinary interactions and projects for RONA2020. And we look forward to engaging with the science, technology, art, wonder, and acoustic expertise of the AFAE members.
The Australian Earth Laws Alliance (AELA) is a national not-for-profit organisation whose mission is to increase the understanding and practical implementation of Earth centred governance in Australia, with a focus on law, economics, education, ethics and the arts. AELA’s work is inspired by the theory and practice of Earth jurisprudence, which is a governance philosophy and growing social movement. Earth jurisprudence proposes that we rethink our legal, political, economic and governance systems so that they support, rather than undermine, the integrity and health of the Earth.
The need for new governance systems has never been greater: as we face a climate changed world and transition away from our destructive reliance of fossil fuels, human societies need to create new ways of working together and nurturing the wider Earth community.
AELA works to build long term systemic change, so that human societies can shift from human centred to Earth centred governance. Our vision is to create human societies that live within their ecological limits, respect the rights of nature and enjoy productive, sustainable economies that nurture the health of the wider Earth community.
AELA carries out its work by supporting multi-disciplinary teams of professionals engaged in research, education, publications, community capacity building and creating new models of Earth friendly governance. Our team includes Indigenous community leaders, lawyers, economists, scientists, deep ecologists, artists and community development practitioners. AELA works on a membership-participation model and is powered by committed volunteers, who work together as individuals and organisations across Australia. All our work is driven by our members’ interests and commitment – so become a member and get involved!
The Unexpected Light is a book which seeks to inspire through the experience of science, history, and art, rather than theological rhetoric – reaching out to people not necessarily committed to the Christian faith but perhaps interested in it.
The aim is to show how mercy is not just a doctrine, not just a teaching – although these are important things – but rather, a force integral to the future of human life on earth. Peter Fleming examines science, history, art – unified in faith. In a world which is imperfect by its very nature, mercy is a logical response to its people and to human behaviour.
Reflections from a Year of Mercy
By: Peter Fleming
Pages: 160 Publisher:Morning Star Publishing Dimensions:148mm x 210mm ISBN: 9780648118664
WHAT HAPPENED? … studying the Rabbi Yeshuah story … 15 THESES
In concluding a session of my limited observations and drawing on life-long learning, I arrive at some opinions (an opinion, it is said, being midway between fact and belief). There is no weakness in me admitting that I may be wrong:
I am a citizen of Planet Tellus where all human observations, conclusions and
opinions are tentative and challengeable; I make it clear that philosophy invites us to challenge our
most cherished assumptions on a regular basis, even when those assumptions are
as life-defining as religious assumptions often are. “There are no sacred cows
in philosophy; everything is up for scrutiny, fair game to be
challenged.” For Kant & Descartes
‘doubt’ is the key to wisdom.-(ii) A human who has totally died does not come back to everyday
life again and so there was no resurrection;
Virgin-Mary type pregnancies don’t occur. It’d mean that her infant
would have had no male DNA;
All miracles are scientifically suspect; consider Apostle Simon-Peter
walking on water.
-(v) The existence of
divinity or divine-nature is theologically suspect; I see a human Rabbi Yeshuah
as more impressive than a divine rabbi.
-(vi) That great literary work, the Bible, is a wholly
human construct, written by human hands. It has therefore very questionable
verisimilitude on account of its many discrepancies, contradictions and
mistakes (fake news and false facts). It also contains lots of sublime wisdom;
-(vii) You must distrust churchianity, i.e., traditional
institutional christianity, because of the christology that it created which
was presented to followers as divinely revealed deposit-of-faith dogma ;
-(viii) Faith is often the enemy of evidential fact. Assertions
without evidence may merit denial without evidence;
-(ix) History shows for me no evidence of what I
taught as a catechist (scripture-teacher) for 20 years, “Adonai-God the
Father is a loving, caring God”. Prayer may be beneficial but no one is
-(x) It has been difficult for me to arrive at
these theses; it has taken me 8 decades of devoted application trying to find
-(xi) I declare that these observations are for me
joyful and liberating.
I perceive Rabbi Yeshuah as the most completely valid and most completely
convincing practitioner of goodness and integrity (as the inspiring principles
of all human action) that the world has ever known;
As one born saved I spiritually embrace Rabbi Yeshuah of Nazareth as my mentor.
He is Israel’s greatest prophet, an original thinker, inspiring preacher,
gifted healer & exorcist, convincing teacher of wisdom and integrity,
Jewish mystic, model of kingdom-oriented life-style and promulgator of the
ancient Hebrew ethics of open hospitality and neighbourly love with esteem for
Adonai-Yahweh-Elohim as our loving Father.
Yeshuah of Nazareth died two millenia ago, having emerged from the Hebrew
Israelite Jewish community;
he summed up the essential of its wisdom discoveries. He was able to speak
divine truth with humanity’s own voice. His brief physical presence on the
earth changed the course of history in innumerable ways. We rightly honour him
in titling him as ‘anointed son of God’.
-(xv) I walk through life hand-in-hand with this most admirable spiritual preceptor and I silently converse with him, and I greet his mother too.  [ Kevin Aryeh Hatikvah Smith in Sydney 01/11/2019 / re-edited 09-02-’20 ]
If you have seen the Oscar-nominated movie The Two Popes, you will know it ends with Francis and his predecessor, Benedict, cheering on their teams, as Argentina and Germany play each other in the soccer world cup.
This fictional account of their relationship is drawing millions of viewers. But in real life there’s widening gulf between the so-called Francis and Benedict factions of the church.
The cause of the latest tension is a new book about compulsory celibacy for priests. Are hard-line traditionalists in the church using the 93-year-old former Pope to undermine Francis and his reforms?
For a video clip from the ABC Religion and Ethics site on this topic, go to The Two Popes.
By Naomi Neilson|28 January 2020 , first published in the Lawyers Weekly
Edward Santow has been Human Rights Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission since August 2016.
Ed leads the Commission’s work on technology and human rights; refugees and migration; human rights issues affecting LGBTI people; counter-terrorism and national security; freedom of expression; freedom of religion; and implementing the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT).
Ed’s areas of expertise include human rights, public law and discrimination law. He is a Visiting Professorial Fellow at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Human Rights and the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and serves on a number of boards and committees.
In 2009, Ed was presented with an Australian Leadership Award, and in 2017, he was recognised as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.
From 2010-2016, Ed was chief executive of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, a leading non-profit organisation that promotes human rights through strategic litigation, policy development and education.
Ed was previously a Senior Lecturer at UNSW Law School, a research director at the Gilbert + Tobin Centre of Public Law and a solicitor in private practice.
Certain provisions to the proposed Religious Discrimination Bill have been rejected as being too “severe” and unduly restrict the rights of entire communities of people, said the Australian Human Rights commissioner.
Speaking at a Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) forum hosted at Gilbert + Tobin, commissioner Edward Santow said that while welcoming the government intention to fill in gaps in the law that leave people of faith unprotected, several provisions will only serve to “taint the bill as a whole” and set anti-discrimination laws back further.
“The majority of the bill is an appropriate and conventional law to prohibit any religious discrimination. The majority of the bill is similar to existing laws, here and overseas, in dealing with discrimination of religion, race, age and sex,” Mr Santow said at the forum. “But we have serious concerns about other aspects of the bill.
“We need to consider whether the bill’s problems are so severe they taint the bill as a whole. For me, the short answer is yes. In my view, certain elements of the bill are so problematic that the bill should not proceed unless those problems are addressed.”
Mr Santow pointed to several provisions in the bill the Human Rights Commission has taken issue with, which he added were “unique, even radical”. He noted that there was nothing like these provisions in Australian, or international, law.
For one, under the provisions, corporations can claim they were discriminated against based on associations. Mr Santow said that by claiming this, it is inconsistent with laws both national and international, but would also be inconsistent with logic and common sense “to suggest a corporation’s feelings have been hurt”.
“It’s axiomatic that human rights are for humans,” Mr Santow said. “If you need to be persuaded on this, just remember human rights exist to protect quintessentially human qualities, especially human qualities. And yet, the bill would allow some corporations to claim that they suffered from religious discrimination.”
The bill also allows religious bodies – including schools, charities and providers – to be exempt from religious discrimination law. As such, they are permitted [to] be discriminatory if it is in “good faith and in accordance with religious doctrines”. For example, a teacher of faith at a religious childcare centre can discriminate against a single mother.
“It undercuts protections against religious discrimination, particularly in sections such as employment and the provisions of goods and services. In other words, a significant portion of the bill isn’t about prohibiting religious discrimination, it does something that is the exact opposite of that,” Mr Santow said, adding that the bill would give “license” to certain parties to engage in discriminatory conduct based on their beliefs.
Mr Santow added that parts of the bill, if it proceeds, will override all anti-discrimination laws because it would favour one group’s rights over another.
“We believe that the bill would be easy to fix. The problematic provisions with this bill seem to have been tacked onto a much more conventional bill. If you were to remove the problematic elements, you would be left with a typical anti-discrimination law,” he said.
Dear Friends in the Progressive Christianity Network and other interested people,
The Progressive Christian Network meeting at Merthyr Rd Uniting Church New Farm, Brisbane is please to advise that notable organist and soprano/choir leader, DrSteven and Mrs Adele Nisbet from St Andrews, Creek Street Uniting Church, Brisbane will be the guest leaders at our next Seminar in February (see below). All welcome.
The first month of the year has almost passed so I guess any new year celebrations are forgotten and we are ready to start up regular activities and commitments. We have grieved along with all Australians the loss of life, property, wild life, farm animals and livelihoods in the devastating bushfires. Today we have both celebrated our Australian life and mourned the hurt caused to its First People.
Shirley Erena Murray died peacefully in Paraparaumu, NZ.
Probably most of us did not know Shirley personally, but many have found her words of songs to be helpful on their own progressive journey. In Shirley’s own words: “Go gently, go lightly, go safe in the spirit”
PCN EXPLORERS: Wednesday 26th Feb, 10 am (for 10:30
Merthyr Road Uniting Church, 52 Merthyr Rd, New Farm
All are welcome to join us as Steven and Adele Nisbet help us explore some new songs that express our faith. New words to old tunes, new words to new tunes. Come at 10 for ‘eat, meet and greet’ and we will get started at 10:30. Finished by 12. Some venture to Moray Cafe for lunch – all welcome to that for more opportunity for friendship and further exploration.
The love of God crosses all boundaries. Every. Single. One.
Every day, millions of people lament the loss of civility, respect, and hope, and they wonder if it’s possible to cultivate a love big enough to overthrow hate and heal our hurts. With courage, authenticity, and relevance, Jacqueline A. Bussie proclaims, “Yes! It’s possible!” and urges readers to widen love’s wingspan and to love as God loves–without limits or exceptions.
In Love Without Limits, Bussie imparts practical solutions for people of faith who yearn to love across division and difference in these troubled times. Through poignant personal memoir, engaging theological reflection, inspiring true stories of boundary-busting friendships, creative readings of scripture, and surprising shout-outs to some of love’s unsung heroes, Bussie challenges readers to answer God’s call to practice a love so deep, it subverts the social order; so radical, it scandalizes the powerful; so vast, it excludes no one.
“A must-read for all Christians interested in inclusivity for their communities.” –Publishers Weekly
A Joyful Path, Spiritual Curriculum for Young Hearts and Minds
Uniting Church Dayboro uses “A Joyful Path” for the children’s curriculum. It is a curriculum for children in today’s world. We use it to create Christian practice and teaching that builds in the children a greater concern for the way people treat each other than simply what, if, & how a person believes. The curriculum affirms the variety & depth of human experience. The Joyful Path is first and foremost about teaching and practicing Christian spirituality rather than any exclusive dogma. It seeks to create a foundation of fair, open, peaceful & loving treatment for all human beings. Its primary lesson is to help children discover and relate to the Divine in themselves and each other. Many of the lessons focus on ways that we can practice the same compassion with all as Jesus spoke and demonstrated so often. The Joyful path is just that, & not a mere retelling of the old Bible stories. In the words of Bishop John Shelby Spong “(it) does not equate faith with having a pre-modern mind”. The curriculum provides a Sunday space that you can invite the children of your unchurched friends & family without fear or embarrassment.
Now in our 3rd year of using this curriculum, we have been very pleased with the response of kids, parents, congregation and church council.
Some of the Authors and Teachers drawn upon in writing this curriculum: Eckhart Tolle Houston Smith Rumi Paul Knitter Thomas Berry Paul Tillich Jack Cornfield Meister Eckhart Robin Wall Kimmerer Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox Bishop Jack Spong Marcus Borg Rabbi Zalman Val Webb Sallie Mcfague AND MORE!
38 lessons each year focus on:
suggestions for personal and group reflection (the instructor, the students and the students in community with one another);
resources to expand awareness to other cultures, religions and ways of knowing;
practices to invite spiritual discovery, awareness and application;
embodied activities for direct encounters and experience;
brainstorms for further action and engagement with the community;
rituals for celebrating the gifts Earth provides in each of the 4 seasons; and
ceremonies to explore gratitude, engagement/being in the struggling, peace-making, and forgiveness
Explorers’ first 2020 meeting will take place next Monday
evening 3rd February in
the ground-floor meeting room at Azure Blue (91 Anzac Ave Redcliffe 4020),
starting at 6 p.m. As usual, the first half-hour will provide an
opportunity to enjoy fellowship, with tea/coffee and biccies provided. Entry is
free, but a gold-coin donation to defray costs would be appreciated.
We will be starting to review and discuss what we think is a
particularly important and timely book, titled God, Ethics and the
Secular Society. Written by Melbourne-based Uniting Church
member and former ordained Congregational minister John Gunson, the book deals
with the vexed question of the future of the Church, and what such a future
might look like. According to the author, it is the end-product of a lifelong
search for the answer to the questions: How can we help to make a better
world?, How ought we to live?, How can we find the motivation to do the truth
when we find it? And what do we mean by the word ‘God’? Gunson finds the
answers in what he calls ethical ecology, and in the life and teaching
of an ancient sage – Jesus of Nazareth – who confronts us with the simple yet
profound challenge: “Overcome evil with good”.
In addition, we’ll discuss a very recent sermon titled ‘In
This Life’ by Rev Dr Roger Ray, Pastor of the Emerging Church in
Springfield, Missouri. Rev Ray gives a refreshingly candid and matter-of-fact
account of the ‘soul’, our mortality (or immortality?), and eternity, and how
our understanding of these should affect the way we act.
Our Explorer meetings are open to anyone prepared to think
outside the square and engage in friendly, civilised discussion about the big
questions of life. If you’re not a regular attender of our gatherings you might
like to contact Ian Brown (0401 513 723 or email@example.com) for
From – Lawyers Weekly (Thanks to Tim O’Dwyer for referring us to this item)
[About Lawyers Weekly
Lawyers Weekly is the authoritative source of independent news, analysis and opinion about the practice of law in Australia.
Published daily, and reaching over 110,000 lawyers, www.lawyersweekly.com.au is the essential resource for news, business and market developments for legal businesses and practitioners — both corporate and in-house.
In addition to its digital platform and awards, including the 30 Under 30, Australian Law Awards and Women in Law Awards, the monthly Lawyers Weekly print magazine brings the best of in-depth reporting and feature writing to leaders in the profession.
Lawyers Weekly not only takes pride in its news-breaking reporting, but also in its active role in shaping and progressing the way legal business is conducted in Australia.]
If The Beatles are to be believed, “All You Need Is Love”. This isn’t quite true, says one ANU law lecturer – besides love, he says, there is law.
According to Dr Joshua Neoh, who is an associate professor at the ANU College of Law, a common life would be impossible without the common law. In short, the law unites us in this common life, he posits, and saves us from ourselves.
“Without the authority of law, we would be at the constant risk of collapsing back into the state of war, where no humane relationships could ever survive, let alone relationships of love. Law stabilises social relations and makes the condition of love possible,” Dr Neoh explains.
Dr Neoh is the author of a new book – Law, Love and Freedom – which argues that the law does not just enable love, it may itself be an expression of love.
“Submission to the authority of law is an expression of the love of neighbour. The authority of law unites individuals and binds them together in a community. In a complex society with its coordination problems, the only way of expressing the love of neighbour is through obedience to the authoritative plan for the common good, which we call law,” Dr Neoh told Lawyers Weekly.
“At times, I may disagree with the law, but in matters where a collective decision has to be made, my submission to the collective judgment as embodied in the law, in spite of my disagreement with it, is an expression of my desire to continue living with my fellow citizens in the one community.”
The nexus between law, love and freedom
Law is not just about a set of rules, he continued. It is a “value that is connected to a whole set of other values”, he submitted, which – when put together – makes up what we collectively understand to be a “good life”.
In drawing such a conclusion, Dr Neoh recalled that he explored three key values for his book: law, love and freedom.
A message from the Director of ProgressiveChristianity.org, Rev. Deshna Charron Shine
We’re Building a Bigger Table
The table is too small. These are crucial times for the planet we call home. The toxic and institutionalized systems of racism, tribalism, colonialism, culture appropriation, sexism, and the general oppression of marginalized people have been thrust to the surface of our society. While this is scary and disturbing, it is also a positive step toward the eradication of white privilege, white fragility, and an empiric worldview. I say this is positive because it is forcing those of us who are privileged to wake up to a systemic culture of greed and fear that has been part of daily life for people of color and marginalized people since the beginning of modern history. These are systems and beliefs Jesus faced and why he was crucified. So why is this necessary for us?
Because we need a bigger table.
We need a bigger table because people of privilege are looking for a way forward to experience repentance, reparation, healing and transformation.
As Progressive Christians, we are called to the work of transformation that we have witnessed in the incredible life of Jesus. We have been teaching these values from our pulpits, from stages, behind cameras and to our readership. We have been gathering around a table and breaking bread and pouring wine, but that table is too small. We have met a moment in history that demands more of us.
In 2020, ProgressiveChristianity.org will be hosting in-person conversations and virtual gatherings with leaders in race reparation and climate justice. I’m asking my team and our international community to come together to create three new Christian Reparations Resolutions that we hope will be adopted by progressive Christians and progressive churches all over the world.
We’re building a bigger table. And we need your help.
These Resolutions will focus on 3 main roots of disharmony and injustice plaguing our world and Christianity:
1. Repentance for harmful actions, attitudes, and lifestyles as well as reparations for Indigenous peoples.
2. Repentance for harmful actions, attitudes, and lifestyles as well as reparations for People of Color.
3. Repentance for harmful actions, attitudes, and lifestyles as well as reparations for harm to Creation.
Your year end gift will help us build a bigger table to have these discussions as we pursue the creation and adoption of these resolutions.
When you give it will also enable us to create and distribute digital trainings for faith communities who are ready to affect real change in their local communities.
Healing and positive transformation are our goals here. Closer to radical inclusion and unity. However, to move toward healing we must first acknowledge where our ancestors and where we have missed the mark or have caused harm. We begin by acknowledging, then we ask forgiveness, then we resolve to do better. We can then fully begin to envision a world that is better than the one we have been handed down. We can see into the future, where a rainbow tribe covers the earth, respectful and authentic, as Jesus would have envisioned.
Progressive Christianity as a movement has an opportunity in this moment in history — and we need your help.
“We were saddened to learn of the death today of New Zealand hymn writer Shirley Erena Murray, FHS. She was one of the most prolific and influential hymn text writers in the English speaking world, creating texts finely attuned to the issues facing people of faith today. They have appeared in more than 100 collections worldwide and have been translated into several other languages.
She was brought up Methodist, but spent many years as a Presbyterian, serving with her husband, the Very Reverend John Stewart Murray, a former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand, as he pastored St. Andrew’s on the Terrace, Wellington, where many of her hymns were first sung.
An article in The Hymn (Autumn 2009) announcing that she had been named a Fellow of the Hymn Society included this observation: “Despite her frustrations with the Church, this writer remains committed to working on its behalf, and her positive, ebullient nature dominates her work. Her hymns are ecumenical in their theology and inclusive in their expression. They embody themes of justice, peace, human rights, nurture, and the integrity of creation.”
Shirley Erena MurrayMNZM (born 31 March 1931 – died 25 January 2020) is a New Zealand hymn lyrics writer. Her hymns have been translated into numerous languages and are represented in more than 140 hymn collections.
After marrying Presbyterian minister John Murray in 1954, she eventually moved to Wellington where John was minister for the St Andrew’s on the Terrace from 1975 to 1993. Her hymn writing started in the 1970s and often used the congregation of St Andrew’s as a testing place for the hymns. Many different composers have put music to her hymn texts.
Her hymns have been translated into several European and Asian languages and are represented in more than 140 hymn books around the world. In addition to New Zealand, they are particularly used in North America.
Among her most known hymns are “Hymn for Anzac Day”, “Where Mountains Rise to Open Skies”, “Our life has its Seasons”, “Star Child” and “Upside Down Christmas”.
Professor and hymn writer Colin Gibson, who has set music to some of her songs, described Murray’s hymns in 2009 as “distinguished by their inclusive language and their innovative use of M?ori, their bold appropriation of secular terms and their original poetic imagery drawn from nature and domestic life, but equally by the directness with which they confront contemporary issues.”
Murray lived with her husband at Raumati Beach near Wellington. The couple had three children and several grandchildren.
Her hymns and carols address a wide spectrum of themes ranging from the seasons of the Church year to human rights, care of creation, women’s concerns and above all, peace. Methodist by upbringing, and ecumenical by persuasion, she has spent most of her life as a Presbyterian. She was married to a former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of NZ, the Very Rev. John Stewart Murray, who passed away just recently (2017). She had three sons and six grandchildren.
From Rev Fran Pratt – Peace of Christ Church in Round Rock, Texas , USA
The Rev Fran Pratt has been on a faith journey which may be familiar to many Christians. She has gone from the charismatic experience of certitude within the Vineyard Fellowship to a place of doubt and uncertainty, where prayer did not come easily to her …
Call and Response: Litanies for Congregational Prayer
A compilation of modern call and response litanies intended for congregational use. Whether your community is liturgical and looking for fresh language, or contemporary and looking to incorporate liturgical elements, this volume contains relevant, reflective prayers that call congregations deeper into the story of Divine Love.
Written with attention to beauty, theological resonance, and justice-mindedness, these prayers probe the depths of what it means to live out faith in today’s context. People of faith from various traditions can find helpful language for integrating spirituality and contemporary life in this rich trove of communal prayers.
I feel a great deal of urgency combined with hope. People, especially people who claim to follow the Christ – the Peacemaking, violence-ending, death-resurrecting Christ – need to wake up to the understanding that caring for creation = caring for the poor. This is my prayer that Spirit People will not wait to face this, that they will start now, make and push for change now. So that we can leave a legacy of a healthy planet to our children and grandchildren.
God, we ask for your help. Our planet, our mother, is suffering Due to human neglect, apathy, and greed; Due to overconsumption, mass production, and pollution.…
A SEARCH FOR ULTIMATE MEANING — I present here my own edited version of an essay by Rev. Fran Pratt, Pastor of Worship and Liturgy at Peace of Christ Church in Round Rock, Texas in “Progessing Spirit”.:
In recent millennia our main western religious history started in east mediterranean Asia as a clan, a tribe, a community, sought a way to relate to the divine … in all the ways that complex and fallible humans do … getting some ideas right and misunderstanding others.
traditions, assumptions and rituals surrounding its understanding of higher
power, some of which were timeless and others hopelessly limited. The clan
grows into a tribe, then into a nation, gradually spreading its understandings
across places and cultures … all the while struggling to connect with and
understand the divine, and never quite realising that the divine is within them
Person [ Rabbi Yeshuah of Nazareth (c.5 BCE-c. 30 CE) ] emerged from the Asian
community who was able to sum up the story and speak divine truth with
humanity’s own voice. In this Person the divine became immanent, wholly at
hand; the best was humanised, fully embodied.
is so compelling that his brief physical presence on the earth changed the
course of history in innumerable ways. He embodied divine love and light, and
believed that ordinary folks can do the same. He’s the catalyst for a whole new
branch of the world’s Wisdom Tradition and inspired many other saints and sages
in history to inspire much of today’s compassionate work.
There’s a grand search for moral truth threading through the whole story, humans asking how best to be in the world and how best for humans to live wisely? We believe we can see the divine pointing the way and remaining compassionately present when its guidance is rejected or scorned. …
A TRIBUTE — Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt )1906-1975) called Rabbi Yeshuah of Nazareth “the only completely valid and completely convincing experience (that the western world had ever had) of goodness as the inspiring principle of all human action”.
This review is by Paul Wildman, a member of the UCFORUM Executive.
This short book is well written and on topic from the point of view of an intellectual activist. However, the book has little at all to do with act-ual ground up, tr-act-ive, hands on, act-ivism. The book is not entitled the ‘Theology of Activism’ and actually reverses these words to Activist Theology. However, Activist qualifies Theology in the title and as such the latter is subordinate to the former in content, process and ‘enfleshment’ and this does not happen.
The book is really a
Theology of Activism or more correctly it is a Theology of Feminist
intellectual perspectives on theories and issues that are associated with
activism. The author is a self-described ‘intellectual activist’ and this is
indeed an appropriate term, as she doesn’t move from the intellectual, indeed
hyper academic intellectual for the whole book. This means she spends
nearly 20% at the start of the (short) book explaining her ‘perspective’ in the
preface and acknowledgement sections ………And then another 20% on poems….at the
end of the book, and approximately half of the short book on ‘stuff other than
hands on activism’.
This is, I argue, part
of a bigger picture that is the failure of academe in the West to grasp what
action and activism actually is. Indeed, when confronted with this
author’s simple reframe of action and critique to fit within the hyper academic
mind set of ‘my writing is my activism’ and all is at peace with the world, I
recall that I have had this literally said to me by a famous
futurist. So the critique is brushed aside by reframing. She
finishes with a ‘call to action’. Yet, of course, that is not the action that
she does and again is a form of hyper intellectualism on steroids, a hyper
activism that is totally oblivious to itself and, as such, a sort of
intellectual somnambulism. This is a flaw/issue many of us, including me,
struggle with. However, it needs to be surfaced and articulated and owned and
addressed. This book does little to address same.
There is not one actual activist action she has
done listed in the book, not one – bizarre and tragic in a sense as with many
academics. When discussing the futures field they have NO grasp of what
activism actually is and if they even smell a whiff of critique they reframe it
as above as ‘my writing is my activist’, or go for ‘I am very busy so I
outsource my activism to a social justice/religious organisation’, or ‘you
don’t grasp what activism is about. Here read these 5 books I have written…..’
(all are literal experiences I have had). This book is shades of the
first in my opinion. Action Learning, conscientisation and craft, Peer to
Peer, hacktivism, Wilding, Permaculture are for instance some ways of
addressing same. At least she has the honesty to call herself an
‘intellectual activist’. However, this allows the author and basically most
other so call activist academics to call themselves same without ever actually
There are, some most
excellent, indeed brilliant, paragraphs and phrases in the book, that as
snippets on how to live one’s life somewhat make up for the above. A few of
liberation does not materialize in a vacuum; liberation materializes as we
midwife more shalom into this world.
L815 The struggle to
humanize those who have been most affected by systems of oppression is so much
of our work in activism. To embody a theological imagination that holds the
complexities of our human experiences including our difference and diversity in
tandem with a divine source of becoming is part of our struggle today.
L776 Church was also the
place that could not hold my complexities. Yet though I have left, church
won’t, and I can’t, let go.
L1120 In this martyrdom
of Arnulfo Romero’s, we can see a third dimension of Christian martyrdom. It is a dimension that has received little attention up to now, but
today it is becoming more and more important. The first dimension is suffering for faith’s sake: Paul Schneider. The second dimension is suffering through resistance against unjust and lawless
power: Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The third dimension is participation in the sufferings of the
oppressed people: Arnulfo Romero.
In terms of the authors
analysis of Jesus’s role as an activist she readily identifies that it is Jesus’s
hands on pragmatics with the poor of the poor that come first in his work at
the margins of the margins. Yes, the background theology matters, and yet, it
is one’s personal practical hands on commitment and action that qualify the
theology not the other way around. So
maybe the kingdom/commonwealth of god is an activist theological one after
all??!! I certainly agree with her in this regard.
So, in conclusion 99% of
academics and purchasers would be most satisfied with the value for money they
have received in what Dr Henderson-Espinoza has written, and indeed I
congratulate her for same.
In 2016 Patheos produced this summary of the reasons for this in USA:
Social expectation and pressures have lightened. People used to live their lives according to social convention. Those who strayed from accepted norms were ostracized and shamed. Churches used this power to “guilt” people into a variety of behaviors, including weekly church attendance. Obviously this doesn’t work any more.
Church is no longer the best show in town. For centuries, Sunday morning was an entertainment desert. Shops were closed. Sports commenced at noon. There was no cable TV or video games. Church was literally the only thing happening on Sunday morning – so people went. Sunday now presents lots of attractive options and everyone – including Christians – is taking advantage.
Increased mobility. People travel as never before, so more and more churchgoers find themselves out of town on Sunday. Relatively few see the need to visit a nearby church.
Weekend work. Blue laws used to keep businesses shuttered on Sunday. Now many people work on the Sabbath, which makes attendance difficult or impossible.
People need a day of rest. For stressed-out couples Sunday may be the only pajama morning of the week. Can we blame families for wanting a little downtime with each other? After all, aren’t we supposed to take a sabbath?
The rise of do-it-yourself Christianity. The Internet and various media offerings allow believers to tailor a spiritual life to their own liking. They get Christianity without the challenge of having to interact with other Christians.
The expectation of choice. Modern Americans are used to getting exactly what they want. Amazon.com offers more than 200 million items. Petco sells more than 100 varieties of dog food. Christians shop for pastors they connect with. Megachurch attenders often have favorite teaching pastors – and will skip a Sunday if “the other guy” is preaching.
The most faithful saints are burning out. I know a number of very committed Christians who no longer attend – or do so sporadically – because their churches worked them so hard in the past.
Video streaming. In the past five years many churches have begun live-streaming their weekly worship services. It’s a heck of a lot easer to watch church on your iPad than it is to drag everyone to a building. And here’s the best part: no singing!
Churches increasingly model individuality in weekly worship and teaching. We’ve trained people to pursue Christ on their own – so that’s what they’re doing.
Rev Don Whebell. [Don is one of the few people still living that were actively involved in the process of coming into Union that formed the Uniting Church from three previous denominations. As well as a minister, he was a Queensland Synod Moderator and taught the subject ‘Basis of Union’ for many years at Trinity Theological College in the Queensland Synod].
“That question had been in front of me for some time for at least three reasons:
There was a time when, as a Christian Education and Youth Worker, I had responsibility for a program of education for the participating denominations in North Queensland. Having been involved in studies in the first Basis [and disappointed at its rejection by the Presbyterian Church] my task was to try to help people to understand it in ways that would make sense to them in their journeys.
“I was frequently disappointed at what I saw to be the superficial responses a lot of people were making to the whole issue and a general unwillingness to grapple with the theological basis of what it means to be the Church.
“Most seemed to be just wanting some ‘ecclesiastical carpentry’ to glue the three denominations’ organisations together – or wanting a Church under another name that was vey similar to what they already had….
“2. In my roles as a Presbytery Minister and as Moderator, I was frequently confronted by the same sort of thing in the 80s and 90s that I had encountered in the 70s.
“Many people were often just not willing – or motivated – or able – to do the theological work, wanting a simple way of being the Church that made few demands on their thinking, believing and acting….
“Concerned that the Basis of Union was not being given its intended role, status and authority in the Uniting Church, the Council of Synod asked Duncan Harrison and I to write some studies on the Basis for people in Congregations, to mark the 20th anniversary of the Inauguration of the Uniting Church. And to encourage people to re-engage in a search through the Basis and rediscover the sources of their faith. It’s called A Hitchhiker’s Trip through the Basis of Union.…
“3.The third area of my concern was aroused – say the least – when, at a Presbytery Ministers’ Conference a many years ago, The General Secretary of the Assembly announced that there was a growing problem with the place of the Basis in the UCA.
“He said something like:
“There is an emerging viewpoint among some that holds that The Basis of Union does not have the relevance for the Uniting Church that it had for the three denominations that were negotiating the Church Union proposals that led to the inauguration of the Uniting Church in 1977.”
“That is to say that The Basis of Union belongs to the pre-union denominations, and is no longer relevant to the Uniting Church. A historical archive, that served its purpose in the forming of the UCA, but of no real continuing significance.
“This is no new issue….”
Don’s work on re-appraising the Basis of Union is at last being made publicly available. He has kindly offered his work to the UCFORUM’s readers to reflect on.
You can follow this work at: The Basis of Union re-examined. This is a work in progress. The first six sessions are available and many more are to follow. So come back to this site when you can.
Don welcomes ideas and opinions and although he is battling some serious health issues you can email him at: Don Whebell.
Evangelical churches believe men should control women. It can lead to domestic violence – ABC Report 9th December 2019
An ABC investigation last year showed how conservative Christian churches both enable and conceal domestic violence.
Vicki Lowik’s and Annabel Taylor’s ongoing research shows this is exacerbated by what’s taught in evangelical church communities, creating fertile ground for domestic violence, its justification and its concealment.
Traditional understandings about male headship, both in the family and the Church, were promoted as being ordained by God. This meant the authority of men and the subordination of women were considered to be “permanently binding” principles.
Conservative evangelical Christians enthusiastically embraced this as a form of resistance against the feminist movement, and still support these “permanently binding” principles today.
Sadly, there are no statistics on the prevalence of domestic violence in the Australian Christian community, but it’s addressed in international research. More Australian research is needed urgently.
Summary: An Evolving Faith A School for Love Friday, January 3, 2020 Today, friend and CAC faculty member Brian McLaren continues describing the three shifts Christianity needs to make in order to be true to the vision and mission of Jesus the Christ. Yesterday Brian explained the importance of becoming (1) “decentralized and diverse.” Today, he describes the need to be (2) “radically collaborative” and to (3) “love as Jesus taught and embodied.” Rather than a top-heavy institution concerned about in-house salvation, the Christianity of the future will place love of God, neighbor, self, and all creation at the center. Brian writes: The diverse and decentralized movement we need will be radically collaborative, working with, across, and, when necessary, outside of and in spite of existing institutions to seek the common good. It will not be anti-institutional because institutions are necessary for human survival, but neither will it be institutional, in the sense that it is preoccupied with its own survival or bringing benefits only to its members. Rather, it will be trans-institutional, working across institutions, both religious and non-religious, seeking the common good of those inside and outside the movement and the institutions it involves. . . . The . . . most important aspect of this [new] form of Christianity in the future is simple, obvious, and yet radical: it is about love, as Jesus taught and embodied [emphasis mine—RR]. . . . The New Testament makes it abundantly clear that Jesus was about love first and foremost, in word and deed. Jesus began with love for God, but inseparably linked that love with love for neighbor , with the understanding that neighbor includes the other, the outsider, the outcast, the last, the least, the lost, the disgraced, the dispossessed, and the enemy. This love for neighbor was, in turn, inextricably related to an appropriate love for self. In fact, to love neighbor as oneself leads to the realization that oneself and one’s neighbor are actually distinct yet inseparable realities. In today’s world, we must add that, for Jesus, God’s love extends to the wildflower, the meadow grass, the sparrow, and the raven. He saw all of God’s creatures as part of one heavenly realm, as did dear St. Francis, and as do more and more of us. When I think of this [new] kind of Christianity of the future, then, I think of a movement of revolutionary love. I see it as distinctively Christian, but not in any exclusive way, because if we truly see love as Jesus’ point and passion, then the depth of our devotion to Christ will always lead us to love our Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Indigenous, nonreligious, agnostic, atheist, and other neighbors as ourselves. . . . In this desirable future, every willing Christian congregation makes every competing interest subsidiary to love, which is the fruit of all contemplation and the goal of all action. If we embody this [emergent] form of Christianity, . . . if we become the seeds of a movement of contemplative activism in the Spirit of Christ, I can imagine hundreds of thousands of congregations, . . . each a locally and globally engaged school of love, teaching future generations to discover, practice, and live in love: love for our neighbor, love for ourselves, love for all creatures and all creation—all comprising love for God, who is all in all in all.
These crazy flames that lick and lap at all that ranges round us, the trappings of our wealth, experience and existence. At birth we can’t anticipate our existential ending, the length of life not ours to count or measure. But then we face eternity, or nothingness, depending on belief. Like night’s thief, flames hotter than hell’s painting are not some distant image, but sharpened fronds dissembling each dwelling. And if we leave reality says, ‘there is no return’. Can faith uphold us through this conflagration? Survival walks naked of all that we have known, valued or possessed. That is the option open to us. Our Hobson has no choice. So if we die we will know what rests beyond this life. Remaining so much is loss or lost. Whichever path we walk pray this, pray only this, that now and on beyond this moment the love a letter writer once described will hold, enfold and keep us still through all that is to come. And no insurance…just the faith…
The Christian Right and Left in USA are driven by the same bible but argue for totally different interpretations.
“While conservative evangelicalism tends to focus on sin, repentance, and salvation, the Christian Left identify Christ’s radical love and inclusion for marginalized people as the locus of their faith. “
“Although some belong to historically conservative denominations, liberal Christians are helping to frame conversations around issues such as environmental action, LGBTQ+ rights, women’s reproductive health, immigration, racial equity, affordable housing, and wealth disparity. “
Is this same set of differences now clearly manifest in the Australian church?
After hearing and watching this year’s Christmas message from the Queen, Tim O’Dwyer has asked that question. What do you think?
“Of course, at the heart of the Christmas story lies the birth
of a child: a seemingly small and insignificant step overlooked by many in
in time, through his teaching and by his example, Jesus Christ would show the
world how small steps taken in faith and in hope can overcome long-held
differences and deep-seated divisions to bring harmony and understanding.
of us already try to follow in his footsteps. The path, of course, is not
always smooth, and may at times this year have felt quite bumpy, but small
steps can make a world of difference.
“As Christmas dawned, church congregations around the world
joined in singing It Came Upon The Midnight Clear. Like many timeless carols,
it speaks not just of the coming of Jesus Christ into a divided world, many
years ago, but also of the relevance, even today, of the angel’s message of
peace and goodwill.
“It’s a timely reminder of what positive things can be achieved when people set aside past differences and come together in the spirit of friendship and reconciliation. And, as we all look forward to the start of a new decade, it’s worth remembering that it is often the small steps, not the giant leaps, that bring about the most lasting change.”
[About Kevin: As a free-thinking progressive-christian messianic god-seeker. Kévin Aryé Hatikvah Smith, aged 98, deaf, in a wheel-chair in Sydney, Supreme Cross of Honour in 2005 (from Benedict XVI) for 50 years of ecumenism (Christian, Jewish, Muslim) in France and Australia. His mother, Esther Myers, was culturally Jewish although non-observant and became Catholic before wedding my Catholic father in 1921. She was a splendid model of Hebrew neighbourly-love and wrote poetry about the blessed virgin Mary and Jesus. He made friends with a messianic rabbi and he invited him to be a reader in his synagogue, which he loved doing. With his wife they were foundation members of the NSW Council of Christians & Jews.
Kevin’s Jewish Cockney ancestor Emmanuel Solomon arrived in Sydney in 1818 and in about 1835 he became a patriarch founder of Adelaide. As a leading Jew he became a close friend of Saint Mary MacKillop and helped her during her excommunication… more than once supplying free accommodation on his properties to the nuns expelled from their convents by a bishop.]1. THE 9 BEATITUDES …
— There are nine beatitudes in Matthew’s Eight Beatitudes! Here is what I understand.
-1. It’s OK to be destitute (ptochoi).
-2. It’s Ok to mourn.
-3. It’s OK to be humble and gentle.
-4. You must hunger for goodness and integrity.
-5. Be merciful and generous.
-6. Be unpretentious and sincere.
-7. Champion peace.
-8. Suffer fools gladly and thugs too. –
9. It’s OK to be reviled or persecuted.
and The Intercession of Yeshuah
Learning not from church christology but from bible christology I note that a main message concerning Yeshuah is that he is shown as subject, submissive, in a servant role to Yahweh-Elohim/Adonai … “Not my will but thine be done.” -Thus NT scripture reveals that divinity has levels, at least 2, since the divine Yeshuah’s is not equal to that of Adonai. — This is rammed home in 1 Cor 15: “After the last judgement, at the final act of salvation history, Yeshuah hands over humanity and the Church to Adonai and then … Wait for it! … he submits. 1 Cor. 24+ “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death for he ‘has put everything under his feet.’ Now when it says that ‘everything’ has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all. …” — … THE SON WILL BE MADE SUBJECT … so that GOD MAY BE ALL IN ALL — The eternal job of Jesus Christ from then on will be to intercede, a servant role.
Can anyone tell who or what Yeshuah will be interceding for?
In the next few months the government will vote on a religious freedom bill. It’s been hugely controversial, and critics say instead of protecting vulnerable people, it could act as a licence for hate. David Marr and Paul Karp analyse how this bill could change Australia.
IT’S HARD TO KNOW HOW TO OBJECT. MEMO to Management (of my nursing hostel): A lady nurse is wearing a festive ‘top’ bearing the greeting “Merry Stitchmas”. I think that it is an unfunny ugly go at demonising the commercial take-over of the annual birthday celebration of a revolutionary Jewish prophet, Rabbi Yeshuah (Jesus-Christ) of Nazareth (05 BCE-30 CE). The Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt judged him “… the most completely valid and completely convincing experience of goodness (that our world has ever known) as the inspiring principle of all action”. Kevin Smith room 55
This week we celebrate two years since marriage equality became law in this country. A moment of triumph for our community that was made possible by decades of work and millions of Australians standing up for fairness. But the Prime Minister and Attorney General chose this week, on Human Rights Day, to announce the second draft of their Religious Discrimination Bill. And it’s bad. We’ve only had it on our desk for a few days but wanted to share our first thoughts. Over the coming weeks we will be preparing our analysis, briefing campaign partners, and making sure these changes (and the dangers they bring) are accessible to other people like me who don’t have law degrees. This Bill impacts on everyone, from sporting heroes to everyday Australians who should be able to live, study, work and go to the doctor without facing hurtful religious views. That’s why we’ve teamed up with notable Aussies Ian Thorpe, basketballer Lauren Jackson and author Benjamin Law, to make a video explaining just how bad this Bill really is. You can watch it here .
a little bit of good news– The government has realised that its healthcare
clauses went too far. The new Bill has reduced the types of health
practitioners that can take advantage of the conscientious objection in health
care provisions. They still apply to workers most likely to be the first line
of response for people needing care – doctors, nurses, psychologists, midwives,
and pharmacists. It no longer allows these healthcare professionals to refuse
treat to specific people.
But they can still object to certain procedures.
Unfortunately, there’s quite a bit of bad news. The Bill:
Privileges religious expression over discrimination protections. The Bill removes discrimination protections for LGBTIQ+ people, women, people with disability, and others when people make certain statements which are discriminatory based in religion.
Entrenches double standards in law. Religious organisations will be allowed to discriminate against others with different beliefs or no belief, even when providing publicly funded services. People will be provided protections when they engage in religious activity that breaches local by-laws which we all have to follow. Corporations associated with religious people will be given discrimination protections, while religious schools will continue to be able to discriminate on the basis of sexuality, gender identity, marital or relationship status, or pregnancy.
Privileges religious views over patient health needs. Even with the changes, Australians will find it harder to access non-judgmental healthcare, such as sexual health, family planning, fertility, mental health and transgender health services, where ever they live. Professional standards, such as those that require objecting health professionals to refer patients to alternative health professionals who will treat them, may come under challenge. oOo
Real Estate Escapes – SPECIAL PRICE for Christmas 2019
Another inexpensive Christmas gift idea that informs, protects and warns….
$15.00 from For Pity Sake Publishers
For the real estate enthusiast – Real Estate Escapes by nationally recognised ‘real estate watchdog’ and consumer advocate , Tim O’Dwyer , is just the ticket at only $15.00.
[Tim is a member of our New Farm Explorers group.]
When ‘sold’ isn’t sold and ‘Off-the-Plan’ is just ‘off’
Real Estate Escapes is a collection of timeless property parables where not all agents, solicitors and conveyancers are created equal, and where not all escapes are successful. Drawing from over four decades experience, Tim O’Dwyer combines his deep knowledge of the subject with an uncanny ability to explain, in a simple and entertaining way, these true tales of getting out of contracts, leases, prosecutions and legal liability.
“Real Estate Escapes is more than an informative consumer guide. It’s also a really good read – riveting stories of the traps, rorts and misunderstandings that abound in the real estate industry. I highly recommend you read it BEFORE venturing into the minefield.”
– Helen Wellings – Channel Seven Consumer Affairs Reporter
“Living the Change: faithful choices for a flourishing world” is a globally-connected community of religious and spiritual institutions working together with sustainable consumption experts to champion sustainable ways of life. The website is: https://livingthechange.net/
Living the Change was initiated at the UN Climate Conference in 2017 by the US-based multi-faith organization, GreenFaith, an interfaith organization whose mission is to educate, organize and mobilise people of diverse faiths to become environmental leaders. Serving to coordinate Living the Change, GreenFaith now has Implementing Partners who collaborate to shape a vision for a worldwide community of practice which drives lifestyle-related emission reductions.
Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (Multi-faith)
World Evangelical Alliance (Evangelical Christian) worldea.org
Can lifestyle change make a difference?
The campaign emerged, in part, from a study which showed that “if the world’s top 10 percent of carbon dioxide emitters were to cut their emissions to the level of the average European Union citizen, global emissions would decline by 33 percent. If the top 20 percent were to do so, the reduction would be about 40 percent.” In other words, while structural change is legitimately pursued as being potentially most effective in creating change, individual behaviour change within a targeted demographic can indeed make a meaningful contribution to stabilizing the climate.
Given that close to six billion people identify with a religion (Pew Research Center, 2017), the opportunity for these groups to create meaningful change through collective action cannot be ignored. In Australia, the 2016 census showed 60% of the population identified with a faith tradition.
There’s also the difference it creates in me, the individual. The more we act in ways congruent with science which tells us that climate disruption is a major threat, the more our determination to make climate action a priority can grow. By acting in line with my values, my integrity grows and, hey, fewer greenhouse gases actually go into the atmosphere! The various faith traditions value individual responsibility, and each person is intrinsically important.
What are people being asked to do?
Living the Change invites individuals to fortify healthy, balanced relationships that help sustain the earth. The three areas where religious leaders and people of faith will be asked to take steps are:
reduced use of transportation based on fossil fuels, ie, air and road transport
shifting towards plant-based diets, away from meat-based protein
energy efficiency and sourcing energy from renewables
Leaders in faith communities are encouraged to make their pledges to lifestyle changes publicly and promote these changes in their communities. We are seeking faith leaders who will help us promote the campaign.
people of faith must work for change, by Rev JimAntal, 2018.
The national synod of the United Church
of Christ, USA passed a motion in 2017 that: The climate crisis is the
opportunity for which the Church was born.
Jim Antal’s book
opens with historian Lynn White’s words in 1967.. More science and
technology are not going to get us out of the present ecological crisis until
we find a new religion or rethink our old one. Antal argues that climate change is the greatest
moral challenge humanity has ever faced because it multiplies all forms of
global injustice: hunger, refugees, poverty, inequality, deadly viruses and war.
A compelling case is
presented that it’s time for the church to meet this moral challenge, just as
the church addressed previous moral challenges. He calls for the church to
embrace a new vocation so that future generations might live in harmony with
God’s creation and each other. After describing how we have created the dangers
our planet now faces, Antal urges the church to embrace a new vocation, one
focused on collective not individual salvation and an expanded understanding of
the Golden Rule. He suggests ways people of faith can reorient what they prize
through new approaches to worship, preaching, witnessing, and other spiritual
practices that honours creation, cultivates hope and motivates love for others into
Rev Dr Walter Stratford. [see details about his book at: Why are you here Elijah, now available as a kindle publication]
Following the discussion about the meaning of Christmas at the PCNQ gathering at New Farm last Wednesday, Wally has been inspired to write this….
The gospel account
of Jesus of Nazareth was written as an assertion that Jesus was the Son of God.
The claim comes from the experiences of followers of the way and was
expanded into a declaration on which the church was built. The gospel according
to Luke provides the story that claims Jesus’ birth as an eternal truth.
The angel said to
her, ‘the Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will
overshadow you, therefore the child to be born will be Holy; he will be called
Son of God’ (Lk1:35).
At the appropriate
time Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem. ‘While they were there the time came
for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her first-born son…’ (Lk.2:6-7).
These few verses
from Luke’s account continue to be a focal point for the church’s declaration
that Jesus is the Son of God, the birth narrative recognized as definitive of his
divine relationship. This literal understanding of Jesus’ birth was linked by
early theologians to a claim that the scriptures of the Jews contained words of
promise that found their outcome in Jesus. His sacrificial death and the claims
of his resurrection sealed the promises of redemption and became the rock on
which, it may be said, the church stands or falls.
It is generally
agreed that Luke was a Gentile God worshipper before converting to
Christianity. The consensus is that he was writing to fellow Gentiles, some of
whom may have also been God worshippers.
The Gentiles of
that middle eastern area contained among their numbers the strong influence of many
Greeks and Romans. Within this mix were many religious stories which included
visitations of the gods with human women. Children born of such liaisons were
referred to as sons of the gods. Some of these went on to become gods. Hercules
is one so named. Alexander a warrior of considerable renown was named as a god.
Augustus, Roman emperor, on his demise was proclaimed a god.
So, the first
point is that the story of Jesus’ birth is located readily in this Gentile
environment. It has more to do with myth than with demonstrable truth.
It is also
important as a second point to realize that Luke’s viewpoint was
‘written’ around 80 years after Jesus’s birth. It is written from within a
group of followers of the way – apparently Gentile in their origins. It
seems unlikely that after 80 years the detailed description of the happenings
surrounding Jesus’ birth could still be contained in memory.
Thirdly, to present the gospel theme as literally true does
not take account of the mythology of the time, nor the many years of argument
and discussion prior to the eventual determination of the essentials of the
faith to which all were called to accede.
background on which the church was grafted, gave rise to many practices that are
questionable in this 21st century. In our time where many bemoan a
steady demise of the Christmas story as more and more it is overlaid by the
world, I think what is needed is a different story.
The story that I
like to tell has its beginnings in Genesis. You will know the story. It begins
with the wind or spirit of God blowing over the water. A lot happens until we
reach the intimate moment of people’s beginnings. The action of this moment requires
of each of us, an element of imagination. “Then the Lord God formed mansic
from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life;
and the mansic became a living being” (Gen 2:7). Imagination will
hear God say with the breath: “The life of God for the life of humankind” In my
reading of these first two chapters, I am prepared to say that breath and
Spirit go together. We may claim therefore that as we breathe, so also the
Spirit is present. This presence is life giving.
Our different story does not begin with a baby Jesus – it begins at the
beginning of everything. It says that always and constantly the Spirit is
present in every life. All of this is part of the different story. This
presence does not need the continual presence of a baby. The Spirit is robust,
paradoxical, mysterious. It rides the wind that we breathe, and consistently
enables life. The baby born again every year may thus become symbolic of new
life constantly growing and developing and becoming adult.
I think that this story is essential, even in Christmas celebrations
that have become a once a year event – to which all are invited, and large
numbers attend. The glitter expands year by year in dazzling arrays of gifts to
satisfy every desire. It seems at times that life has been put aside in favour
of the satisfaction of immediacy. There is however, much in Christmas that is
good, there is much that is important in its celebration. The glamour is
seductive, but also deceptive.
Beneath the glamour is a mostly forgotten world of a young man who demonstrated
in his life and death the vitality and possibility of life with the Spirit of
God. He is seen in our day among those who fight fires, as a companion to the
frail, as one who vindicates the less fortunate, as one condemning violence. This
young man, Jesus is quoted as saying something akin to: “The reign of God is
within you” (Lk 17:21).
Listening to the people, we discover that Christmas is a time for family
and sharing, for gathering and companionship, a time for holidaying and enjoyment.
Christmas has the power to distract us from disturbing influences. Perhaps here
is some merit however, in remembering that the time of Jesus birth was a disturbing
time of considerable violence. Disturbing times are still with us.
Nevertheless, there is a thread of strength in the Christmas message, in which, if we have ears to hear, we will discover its potential as a catalyst for change in ordinary everyday life, a time for imagining possibility. Christmas spilling over into the New Year every year, may become every year a reminder of the connections humankind has with a mysterious, ambiguous and paradoxical Spirit.
Wednesday, 31 of our group gathered to do some exploring of the meaning of
Christmas. Now, 90 minutes of discussion cannot be summarised in a few
sentences – you have to be part of the group to pick up on all of the threads.
A couple of things stood out for me:
when we literalise the Christmas story, we lose much of
the intense meaning of how the life of Jesus was a message to society
From the community perspective, does the church have
only 2 ways of communicating Christianity – Christmas and Easter? Does
that mean the essence of the Jesus story of his life and teachings is not
understood? How can we do that better?
Many of the activities that churches put their effort
into – decorated Christmas trees, Walk through Bethlehem, Christmas
lights, Carols evenings do little to help people understand the meanings
that the Gospel writers had in mind – the meaning behind the crafted
How do we help children and young people to think about
the meaning behind the story?
else may like to share their perspectives after the discussion. That is
probably best done through the UC Forum website or through the PCN
Facebook page. (Sorry I do not have the link for that, but if you search for
Progressive Christian Network on Facebook I think you will find it)
We are already planning for 2020, so do mark 10 am on the last Wednesday of each month in your new diary. We will start the year with Steven and Adele Nisbet introducing “Sing a new Song”. I am sure there will be time for singing some of those new songs – many to familiar tunes. Enjoy your Christmas!
Sometimes books come along at just the right time. One such book has been Activist Theology by Robyn Henderson-Espinoza which my wife and I have been listening to on audible as we have been driving round Tasmania. I can’t recall anything quite like it.
When I first came to this country (USA) and started to teach at Union Theological Seminary, the faculty and students asked me again and again: What has your theology to do with your being a woman? I did not know how to respond. Of course I knew of some things I intensely disliked in male theological circles – namely, the springing from one quotation to the next in their writing without the courage to use personal discourse; the almost anal obsession with footnotes, called ‘scientific style’; the conscious – but much worse, the unconscious – craving for orthodoxy and shelter it offers to the professional theologian; the neglect of historical reflection in favour of glib talk about ‘historicity’; the failure to evaluate and reflect on praxis.
I also felt a certain lack of candour and honesty, and I sensed no need to be personally exposed to the truth of Scripture and tradition.”[i] (p.xvi)
None of these criticisms can be levelled at Robyn Henderson-Espinoza. Her life transparently informs her work. Robyn describes herself a transqueer activist and Latinx scholar with white-passing privilege because of the colour of her melanin who has had to rely on food stamps to survive.
She works at the interface between the academy (university defined widely), the church and local activist movements. While at one level this is not new, (I think of Jurgen and Elizabeth Moltmann, and Jacques Ellul in Europe, James Cone in the USA, the South American Liberation theologians, and even Charles Birch and Veronica Brady here in Australia), her approach has a freshness, immediacy and a companionable solidarity. Her inclusion of the work of and discussion with activist poet Britt!ni “Ree Belle” Gray is one of the many highlights.
When she writes about the importance of “struggle” you know that this is not a remote theological concept, but something that is integral to her life as an activist theologian. Her work then becomes nourishing emotionally as well as intellectually. Her theology is literally written onto her body, tattooed on her hands in prayer as “divine doubter”.
For activist theology, God is in the change that is becoming. Activist theology is thus hope filled, not covered in despair. This is the message our time needs.
A month ago, this was brought home to me when I gave a workshop for social work academics on what they could do about student poverty. Though well intentioned, many of the academics felt overwhelmed and powerless to act. This may seem strange to the outsider, for after all, academics have resources in terms of knowledge, communication skills, status and in some cases money that are far greater than those most in need. Yet it was true that the neoliberal system was putting obstacles in the way of their acting, (lack of tenure, increased workload, greater administration). More importantly, the neoliberal system sent out the message that social problems were all too hard, there was nothing that one can do.
As it happens, a week later I was called to give evidence in person to the Senate Inquiry into the Adequacy of Newstart and Related Payments. This was unusual. I am not employed by any institution, nor am I particularly well known or influential, nor do I have much power or influence. What I and a colleague did was write a submission on student poverty, (no 76), based on our research but not limited to it, that caught the attention of the Senate Committee. There are probably 1,000s of academics in Australia who are better qualified than I to have made a submission on student poverty, but with a couple of rare exceptions they did not submit. Their attention was elsewhere. They missed a valuable opportunity.
The hour in which I was given the opportunity to discuss student poverty with the Committee was a special time of grace. As always, the chair of the Committee, Senator Rachel Siewert of the Greens, was deeply respectful and concerned about the plight of the poor. Senator Malarndirri McCarthy of the Labor Party came down to welcome me into the space before the proceedings began. This certainly helped me feel at ease and calmed my nerves. Senator McCarthy, through her mother, is descended from the Garrwa and Yanyuwa peoples, whose traditional lands straddle the McArthur River and the Gulf of Carpentaria. Both Senators had clearly read my submission closely, asking insightful questions that showed an understanding of the individual and the wider policy issues. Also present was the Liberal Senator, Hollie Hughes, who unfortunately had been given the remit to promote the Government line, that 1. the best type of welfare is a job and 2. increasing income support payments was unsustainable.
Also giving evidence in the same hour was Cat Nadel from Young Campaigns. Her evidence was outstanding. When challenged by Senator Hollis on the sustainability of increasing payments she gave the best off the cuff explanation of the true meaning of sustainability that I have heard. Below is the Hansard transcript.
I would agree that young people are concerned about the future and want to see the Australian economy remain sustainable. I can really only speak for myself and the young people I work with and interact with, not for all young people. We have seen Australia go through years of what we are told has been economic growth, but we’ve also seen inequality widen deeply in that time. In my mind, a budget that is sustainable into the future needs to look after all of society and especially the poorest and most vulnerable in society. We are currently not seeing that; we are seeing the gap widen. While we are talking about how young people look into the future: we are also looking down the barrel of huge challenges to come, like climate change, and it is not clear how governments are budgeting to prevent those problems, and what implications that is going to have for future budgets. I would say that young people do want to see Australia continue to be a sustainable economy that looks after everyone, and that means we have to think about how we allocate support to the poorest in society.
This was a spine-tingling moment in the proceedings. Though the Hansard record can’t show it, there was a moment as Cat finished, when Senator Hollis was left speechless, … before she proceeded on with her next scripted question. With young advocates like this, there is still great hope in these dark political times.
Yet this hope does not come without a cost. Despite her young age, Cat must have spent years preparing for this moment. (Not just this moment of course, but any moment when her talents can be used.) Time spent studying, researching, going to meetings, organising, listening and feeling the pain of others and the environment.
It is this cost that so few academics and church attendees are prepared to pay. Those with conservative views of course can maintain the illusion that they live in the best of all possible worlds, that they are safe and comfortable. However, those who profess progressive views present more of a problem. Why don’t more step up? In my own profession of social work, only a handful of social workers ever become involved in meaningful activism despite a commitment to social justice being written into their code of ethics. Academics, even those with tenure, rarely get their hands dirty with pressing social concerns. As for theologians, they may as well not exist in Australia. At best, the mainstream churches limit themselves to general statements that don’t offend too much.
What is the cost? The cost is a preparedness to share the pain. This is one of the meanings of incarnation, and without it, incarnation makes no sense. It means to regard status, career, security as nothing when compared to the call for justice and mercy for all: not just for humans but for the whole of creation. This seems to be the stumbling block. Progressives, like their conservative brothers and sisters can be too comfortable. They prepare their progressive thinking and their theology, use it to define themselves as not conservative, but then don’t use it often enough to address the growing injustice all round them.
The activist theology of Robyn Henderson-Espinoza does not let progressive Christians off the hook. Without activism there is no theology, progressive or otherwise, there is only a logy of empire, or of a nation, or of a cultic group. Robyn Henderson-Espinoza gives no easy answers. She is flailing about in what Dorothy Searle has called “the open horizon of Christ”.[ii] One sees at times those flashes of sparkling brilliance, but you know that to fully understand you must dive in. This is the challenge for these turbulent times. The need to dive in is more urgent than ever. Safe and steady will not do.
Len Baglow, Management Committee APCVA
[i] Dorothee Soelle, 1968, 1995 preface. Creative Disobedience. Wipf & Stock. p. xvi. (I realise the irony of an old white male footnoting a quote about the “almost anal obsession with footnotes” but this book is very good and I hope some of you will read it.)
The National Council of Churches in Australia has called for Climate Change Action now.
Tuesday, 12 November 2019
A Call for unified National Leadership regarding Climate Change
The National Council of Churches in Australia urges the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, and Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese, to convene a roundtable on climate change, shaping a bipartisan approach and drawing in civil society leaders. “Let us draw the line now under what is past,” says the council’s President, Bishop Philip Huggins. “Let us just get on with working together to prevent global temperatures rising further.” Bishop Huggins said it would be wonderful, if this could be done before the crucial next UN Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC COP25), next month, from December 2 to 13. “I came back yesterday from the Annual Pacific Church Leaders meeting in Suva to the discourse here about the awful bushfires. “In Suva, Church leaders from all over Pacific shared their current experiences of climate change: the trauma for communities displaced and forced to relocate inland and away from a swapped coast; the anguish then for traditional cultures of ‘leaving ancestors behind’; the dread of more frequent and more violent cyclones and even the monthly anxiety for places not far above sea-level at the time of a full and new moon’s impact on tides. Said folk from such places: ‘We don’t sleep so well those nights!’ “It is a global issue. Humankind must find a quite unprecedented and sustained level of cooperation.” Bishop Huggins said the human family could do with some places of hope where there was a unified national response. “We urge our PM and our Leader of the Opposition to meet together and shape a way forward, as soon as practicable. Let Australia be an island of hope! It is a matter now of intelligent and cooperative leadership.” Bishop Philip Huggins NCCA President
Anglican Church, Antiochian Orthodox Church, Armenian Apostolic Church, Assyrian Church of the East, Chinese Methodist Church, Churches of Christ Congregational Federation Coptic Orthodox Church, Greek Orthodox Church, Indian Orthodox Churc,h Lutheran Church, Mar Thoma Church, Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), Roman Catholic Church, Romanian Orthodox Church, Syrian Orthodox Church, The Salvation Army Uniting Church.
Thanks to Richard Smith from the Progressive Christianity NetworkWestern Australia for this review.
This book reveals how
scholars believe that Paul’s remarkable words in Galatians 3:28 of radical
equality among all people irrespective of race, gender, slave or free was
borrowed from an ancient baptismal creed. The original author long since
This ancient creed said nothing about God or Christ or
salvation. Its claims were about the whole human race. In a world of bigotry,
slavery and sexism the followers of Jesus proclaimed at baptism: “You are
all children of God. There is no Jew or Greek, no slave or free, no male and
female, for you are all one.” But Christianity
would within 300 years become a religion that despised Jews, condoned slavery
as the will of God, and championed patriarchy.
Freedom slowly emerged 1500 year later as Christianity gave
birth to secularism (this world) enabling the Church to rediscover its true
original nature, from the historical teachings of Jesus and from science (Latin
scio – to know and scientia – knowledge). Science gives birth to
Ecology revealing the fullness of God, the ultimate reality that sustains all
life on earth irrespective of race, gender, slave or free, human or non-human.
But can Christianity resist the temptation of falling prey to the powers and
privileges of wealth that science has bequeathed us. Again abandoning Jesus’
radical teachings and in Greta Thunberg’s words ignoring for the last 30 years,
the science of climate change.
Applications close for the Rodney Eivers Scholarship on Wednesday 18 December
This scholarship is awarded to students of Trinity College Queensland, to assist with their study. The aim of the scholarship is to provide financial support to enrolled students and to encourage the development of a greater awareness of the breadth and diversity in theology and scriptural scholarship [including Progressive Christianity] as it relates to contemporary Australian society.
The successful applicant will be informed of the scholarship award on or before Friday 6th March 2020. The presentation of the scholarship award will be on Tuesday 21st July 2020.
How to apply
In order to apply for the 2019 Rodney Eivers Scholarship, you must email or post a 2019 Rodney Eivers Scholarship application form and essay submission (see below) prior to December 18, 2019. Applications close – Wednesday 18th December 2019
Post Trinity College Queensland Scholarship, GPO Box 674, Brisbane 4001
Submit an essay of approx. 1,500 words on the following:
‘My Personal Theological Reflection’
Drawing on the two books listed below by Marcus Borg and Tom Wright, compare and evaluate the beliefs and claims of Progressive Christianity and Orthodox (historic) Christianity. The essay should draw on evidence and arguments in the books and include some reflection on our Australian context as well as your personal theological reflection. Please use footnotes for citations and references.
Borg, Marcus J – The Heart of Christianity; Rediscovering a Life of Faith (2004). [256 pages]
Wright, N.T. – Simply Christian (2011) [224 pages]
Both books are available in the Trinity College Queensland Library
A scholarship allowance of $13,000 within one calendar year is available.
This will be paid into the student’s nominated bank account in two instalments of $6,500 at the end of each successfully completed full-time semester (July 1 and December 1).
Australian citizens and/or permanent residents
Eligibility to apply
Be enrolled as a full-time (3 units or more) accredited student of Trinity College Queensland. Have completed one year of full-time study (a minimum of 6 degree-level units) at a Theological College with a recognised Higher Education Provider in the last 10 years. Have not been a previous recipient of the ‘Rodney Eivers Scholarship’
Demonstrate an understanding of the perspectives presented in each book Interaction with both books Theological reflection on the implications of differing viewpoints
Please note that the essay requires neither personal belief nor the defence of a particular viewpoint; rather, it is marked on the above criteria
The Queensland Synod Advisory Council will make a recommendation based on the advertised selection criteria.
The Scholarships Committee of the Queensland Synod Finance Investment and Property Board will review and determine the successful recipient and will also approve all disbursements from the Uniting Church in Australia, Queensland Synod Scholarship Fund.
Our friends at Progressive Christianity Network Qld will be discussing this at their final gathering for the year on 27th November at Merthyr Road Uniting Church, New Farm.
What is Christmas all About? And what are we celebrating?
It’s a wonderful time, but I wonder …….
started a song I learnt many years back! Back then I did not think any deeper
than a manger, shepherds, angels, wise men ….
I do wonder more about the meaning of Christmas and its celebrations each year.
Do you? Do you have a new understanding?
Let’s explore Christmas together at our next PCN Explorers meeting on 27th November, facilitated by Paul Inglis. There are many books that look at Christmas, drawing on new research and thinking. We have attached 2 one page documents that will introduce our thinking. I hope you have time to browse them in the next 10 days before we meet. Request these from Paul . Maybe you will have other resources in your own library. You might also like to look at Jo Holden’s blog on “I don’t believe in the virgin birth”.
for some starter questions for you to play around with and meld with your own:
what you have read about Christmas from a ‘progressive’ Christian viewpoint:
What was an aha moment for you?
What makes you say – “that is something I have not
when did you say – “that does not sit easily with
do you think of the statement that Christmas is a celebration “under
O’Dwyer wrote: I once had a letter published in The Courier-Mail recalling
how, many decades ago, there was a move to “put Christ back into Xmas” and
suggesting the churches should vacate 25th December, leave it to the secular
world and celebrate the birth of Christ sometime back in September. How do
you react to that suggestion?
PCN Explorers will meet for the last time this year on Wednesday 27th November, 10 am, Merthyr Road Uniting Church.
Come at 10 for eat, meet and greet and we will start our conversation. Some people like to continue the fellowship at Moray Cafe after the discussions so maybe you would like to plan for that also.
Predicting social trends is usually an inexact science, but England’s influential Spectator magazine has boldly put a precise date on the disappearance of Christianity from Britain: 2067.
“What does all this mean? …. First, that reports of Christianity’s demise in the West are greatly exaggerated; and second, that to the extent it does disappear, it will be greatly missed…
The churches will have fewer nominal attendees, so that members are more committed. As they continue their good works, but without much of the moralising of the recent past, the faith will become more attractive. It will be like the fourth century – before Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire and began its fateful courtship of power and authority….
Much of Australia’s social capital over the past two centuries was built by Christians, explicitly motivated by their faith to work not just for themselves but for the community at large. They believed they were called to love their neighbour – all their neighbours – and brought their (now-maligned) “Protestant work ethic” to bear on the problems and challenges of their time. The economy, and in particular the siren call of profit, is the only language that seems to move government or business now. Or at least, it is the most heard….”
Michael Morwood puts some rubber down on the bitumen exploring how the religious beliefs of many people in countries like ours are changing today. In his new book, “Prayers for Progressive Christians: a New Template”, which we introduce to you today he explores some of the ways in which our prayers and liturgies might have to change.
Go to: Catholica to view the great discussion that is ensuing amongst progressive Catholics.
Statement from the Rev Peter Catt, President of A Progressive Christian Voice Australia.
“There is no need for a Religious Freedom Bill. There are many people throughout the world who are persecuted for their faith. To align oneself with them in the current Australian climate is self-indulgent.
Freedom of religion has to do with the freedom to hold to a particular belief system, freedom to assemble for worship unhindered, and freedom to undertake religious observance and practice. It does not and should not include insulating church institutions or members from being challenged or criticised for poor behaviour.
There is a real danger that a Religious Freedom Bill will become a Freedom to be Sectarian Bill. Religion when it functions properly is about love and inclusion. No Religious Freedom Bill should ever sanction hate speech. Neither should such a Bill allow people who provide goods and services to withhold them from say, LGBTIQ+ people. To allow this would be a retrograde step, taking us back half-a-century to the days when goods and services were withheld from people based on perceived race.
I get attacked more often for my views and practices by fellow religious travellers than I do by people from outside the faith community. Will the Bill stop that from happening? Not that I think that it should. But the Bill is predicated on the idea that it is them (secular forces) and us (religious people). The reality is more complex. How will the Bill deal with religious people attacking one another?
Finally, the Government should reflect on its behaviour during the last Parliament when the greatest threat to religious freedom was the Government’s attempt to curtail religious charities from speaking out on policy matters that affected the poor and vulnerable.”
By Meredith Lake, ABC RN Soul Search presenter and academic.
Meredith Lake collected the Australian History prize for her book The Bible in Australia in the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards last month. Lake said when public debate about the national history curriculum was in full swing she decided to write the book as an antidote to the so-called culture wars. She said the phrase “Bible basher” had been coined in Australia and her research revealed Australians still held passionate and varied opinions about the Bible.
“[There exists] the idea of Australia as a somehow Christian nation adrift from its Judeo-Christian moorings, a nation whose freedoms may be somehow under threat. On the other hand, the idea of a Godless or secular nation in which religious belief has been at best weird and is best now put behind us [also prevails],” she said.
The ceremony at Parliament House was hosted by ABC presenter Annabel Crabb. The Prime Minister’s Literary Awards were launched in 2008 by then prime minister Kevin Rudd as the nation’s richest literary prize for fiction and non-fiction.
They no longer claim the “richest” title after the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award was raised to $150,000 but they do offer the largest prize pool, with $600,000 distributed in six categories. Winners receive $80,000 and finalists receive $5,000 each, all tax free.
Full list of awards
Australian History: Meredith Lake for The Bible in Australia: A Cultural History (NewSouth Books)
Fiction: Gail Jones for The Death of Noah Glass (Text Publishing)
Young Adult Fiction: Michael Gerard Bauer for The Things That Will Not Stand (Scholastic Australia)
Children’s Literature: Emily Rodda for His Name Was Walter (HarperCollins Australia)
Poetry: Judith Beveridge for Sun Music: New and Selected Poems (Giramondo Publishing)
Non-Fiction: Tanya Dalziell and Paul Genoni for Half the Perfect World: Writers, Dreamers and Drifters on Hydra, 1955-1964 (Monash University Publishing)
This is a big sweep of the history of Australia and the influence of the Bible on that history and the developing and changing culture experienced by European settle