Category Archives: Thoughts

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.

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Progressives tell of their re-think on faith

An unsolicited viewpoint:

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

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

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

Any way would be interested to join your group.

Cheers

Albert Gentleman

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

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Its time for a free vote in parliament

Media Release from A Progressive Christian Voice (Australia)

1st August 2017

Progressive Christians Welcome Move Towards Free Vote on Marriage Equality

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

For a link to APCV news:

Progressive Christians Welcome Move Towards Free Vote on Marriage Equality

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Small is good

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Inglis, 6th August 2017.

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Opinion: ‘Grantchester’ and moral choices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rodney Eivers

 

 

 

Letter – Freedom to think progressively

The “Progressive”Christianity Option

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

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

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

Dear Rodney,

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

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

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

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

           

            With best wishes…

                    G……..

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

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

 

Posted by Rodney Eivers   

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Opinion: Was Jesus really a humble carpenter?

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

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

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

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

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

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Harnessing our Passions

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

Richard Rohr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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