Paul Inglis is a long time member of the Uniting and Anglican Churches in Australia. He recently retired as the Community Minister for Dayboro and Mt Mee Uniting Churches, just north of Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. He accepted an invitation to become the Queensland's first Uniting Church Community Minister and continued in that role for more than 10 years. Previously he had been a State primary school teacher, school principal for 11 years and then Lecturer in Education at the Queensland University of Technology for 25 years. He has served on UCA Assembly, Synod, Presbytery and Congregational Councils. In retirement he is actively involved in family, church, and community. His commitment to 'progressive' Christianity emerged from contact with the late Professor Rod Jensen who founded the Lay Forum in 2004 and from his experience in ministry with people seeking an authentic faith. Paul's PhD from the University of Queensland is in Adult Learning.
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.