Prayers for Progressives


Just published …and eagerly awaited…

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

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

246 pages
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Part One: Praying From What We Now Believe

Why Prayer Should Change
The Purpose of Life
The kingdom of God
General Principles For Composing Prayers

Part Two: Prayers

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




A critical conversation on “salvation”

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

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

What followed is a great expose of Pauline mythology.

Go to: Salvation discussion to find this conversation

The UC FORUM’s Foundational Perspective

Looking at the formation of the UC Forum 10 years ago

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

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

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

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

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

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


Musings on walking the streets

A reflection from Rodney Eivers

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

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

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


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

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




Converging of Science, Philosophy and Religion

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

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

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

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

Lloyd Geering turns 100

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

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

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

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

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

Geering is a patron of the Coalition for Open Government.


Response to the question

We had a wonderful response to the question:

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for the great response and thoughtful reflections.


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


John Gunson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Foundational Reform of Christianity


The Story that Defines Us
Sunday, February 11, 2018

Richard Rohr

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