Category Archives: Thoughts

Street Talk about Faith

Street Talk

Rodney Eivers – January 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At that Jenny turned again and went on her way.

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

***

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

Is Prayer acceptable to progressives?

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

Practice: Praying Always

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

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

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

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

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Love wins over guilt any day

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

When Things Fall Apart
Friday, December 29, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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Thanks and a Reflection from Hal Taussig

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

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

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

The Voice of Australian Christianity

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Testament by Harry T. Cook

10/11/17

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, I leave you with these somewhat random thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are not now that strength which in old days

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

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

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

 

 

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

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Reflection from Noel Preston: 50 year evolution of his perspective

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

NOEL PRESTON REFLECTS

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

 2017  marks many anniversaries.

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

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

Continue reading

Progressives tell of their re-think on faith

An unsolicited viewpoint:

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

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

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

Any way would be interested to join your group.

Cheers

Albert Gentleman

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

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Its time for a free vote in parliament

Media Release from A Progressive Christian Voice (Australia)

1st August 2017

Progressive Christians Welcome Move Towards Free Vote on Marriage Equality

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

For a link to APCV news:

Progressive Christians Welcome Move Towards Free Vote on Marriage Equality

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