Author Archives: Paul Inglis

About Paul Inglis

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 reflection on the meaning of Christmas.

IT’S HARD TO KNOW HOW TO OBJECT.
MEMO to Management (of my nursing hostel): A lady nurse is wearing a festive ‘top’ bearing the greeting “Merry Stitchmas”.
I think that it is an unfunny ugly go at demonising the commercial take-over of the annual birthday celebration of a revolutionary Jewish prophet, Rabbi Yeshuah (Jesus-Christ) of Nazareth (05 BCE-30 CE).
The Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt judged him “… the most completely valid and completely convincing experience of goodness (that our world has ever known) as the inspiring principle of all action”.
Kevin Smith room 55

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Religious Discrimination Bill

From our friends at Equality Australia

This week we celebrate two years since marriage equality became law in this country. A moment of triumph for our community that was made possible by decades of work and millions of Australians standing up for fairness.   But the Prime Minister and Attorney General chose this week, on Human Rights Day, to announce the second draft of their Religious Discrimination Bill. And it’s bad. We’ve only had it on our desk for a few days but wanted to share our first thoughts. Over the coming weeks we will be preparing our analysis, briefing campaign partners, and making sure these changes (and the dangers they bring) are accessible to other people like me who don’t have law degrees.    This Bill impacts on everyone, from sporting heroes to everyday Australians who should be able to live, study, work and go to the doctor without facing hurtful religious views. That’s why we’ve teamed up with notable Aussies Ian Thorpe, basketballer Lauren Jackson and author Benjamin Law, to make a video explaining just how bad this Bill really is. You can watch it here .

There’s a little bit of good news– The government has realised that its healthcare clauses went too far. The new Bill has reduced the types of health practitioners that can take advantage of the conscientious objection in health care provisions. They still apply to workers most likely to be the first line of response for people needing care – doctors, nurses, psychologists, midwives, and pharmacists. It no longer allows these healthcare professionals to refuse treat to specific people. But they can still object to certain procedures. 

Unfortunately, there’s quite a bit of bad news. The Bill: 

  • Privileges religious expression over discrimination protections. The Bill removes discrimination protections for LGBTIQ+ people, women, people with disability, and others when people make certain statements which are discriminatory based in religion.
  • Entrenches double standards in law. Religious organisations will be allowed to discriminate against others with different beliefs or no belief, even when providing publicly funded services.  People will be provided protections when they engage in religious activity that breaches local by-laws which we all have to follow. Corporations associated with religious people will be given discrimination protections, while religious schools will continue to be able to discriminate on the basis of sexuality, gender identity, marital or relationship status, or pregnancy.
  • Privileges religious views over patient health needs. Even with the changes, Australians will find it harder to access non-judgmental healthcare, such as sexual health, family planning, fertility, mental health and transgender health services, where ever they live.  Professional standards, such as those that require objecting health professionals to refer patients to alternative health professionals who will treat them, may come under challenge. oOo

Real Estate Parables

Real Estate Escapes – SPECIAL PRICE for Christmas 2019

Another inexpensive Christmas gift idea that informs, protects and warns….

$15.00 from For Pity Sake Publishers

For the real estate enthusiast – Real Estate Escapes by nationally recognised ‘real estate watchdog’ and consumer advocate , Tim O’Dwyer , is just the ticket at only $15.00.

[Tim is a member of our New Farm Explorers group.]

When ‘sold’ isn’t sold and ‘Off-the-Plan’ is just ‘off’

Real Estate Escapes is a collection of timeless property parables where not all agents, solicitors and conveyancers are created equal, and where not all escapes are successful. Drawing from over four decades experience, Tim O’Dwyer combines his deep knowledge of the subject with an uncanny ability to explain, in a simple and entertaining way, these true tales of getting out of contracts, leases, prosecutions and legal liability.

Real Estate Escapes is more than an informative consumer guide. It’s also a really good read – riveting stories of the traps, rorts and misunderstandings that abound in the real estate industry. I highly recommend you read it BEFORE venturing into the minefield.”

– Helen Wellings – Channel Seven Consumer Affairs Reporter

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Christmas Gift Ideas

We are very fortunate to have many productive authors in the Progressive Christian movement. Some have made a major focus on Christmas.

Here are three that you might like to consider when looking for gifts for thinking friends or even for yourself:

Available from Barnes and Noble with free delivery.

  • Rex’s Book has been a great reference for many seminars.

Available directly from Rex Hunt.

  • Borg and Crossan are leading scholars of the historical Jesus.

Available from Amazon.

Enjoy the season!

Paul

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Living the Change

Background 

Living the Change: faithful choices for a flourishing world” is a globally-connected community of religious and spiritual institutions working together with sustainable consumption experts to champion sustainable ways of life. The website is: https://livingthechange.net/

Living the Change was initiated at the UN Climate Conference in 2017 by the US-based multi-faith organization, GreenFaith, an interfaith organization whose mission is to educate, organize and mobilise people of diverse faiths to become environmental leaders. Serving to coordinate Living the Change, GreenFaith now has Implementing Partners who collaborate to shape a vision for a worldwide community of practice which drives lifestyle-related emission reductions.

They are:

Can lifestyle change make a difference?

The campaign emerged, in part, from a study which showed that “if the world’s top 10 percent of carbon dioxide emitters were to cut their emissions to the level of the average European Union citizen, global emissions would decline by 33 percent. If the top 20 percent were to do so, the reduction would be about 40 percent.”[1]  In other words, while structural change is legitimately pursued as being potentially most effective in creating change, individual behaviour change within a targeted demographic can indeed make a meaningful contribution to stabilizing the climate. 

Given that close to six billion people identify with a religion (Pew Research Center, 2017), the opportunity for these groups to create meaningful change through collective action cannot be ignored. In Australia, the 2016 census showed 60% of the population identified with a faith tradition.

There’s also the difference it creates in me, the individual. The more we act in ways congruent with science which tells us that climate disruption is a major threat, the more our determination to make climate action a priority can grow. By acting in line with my values, my integrity grows and, hey, fewer greenhouse gases actually go into the atmosphere! The various faith traditions value individual responsibility, and each person is intrinsically important.

What are people being asked to do?

Living the Change invites individuals to fortify healthy, balanced relationships that help sustain the earth. The three areas where religious leaders and people of faith will be asked to take steps are:

  1. reduced use of transportation based on fossil fuels, ie, air and road transport
  2. shifting towards plant-based diets, away from meat-based protein
  3. energy efficiency and sourcing energy from renewables

Leaders in faith communities are encouraged to make their pledges to lifestyle changes publicly and promote these changes in their communities. We are seeking faith leaders who will help us promote the campaign.

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Book Review: Climate Church, Climate World

How people of faith must work for change, by Rev Jim Antal, 2018.

The national synod of the United Church of Christ, USA passed a motion in 2017 that: The climate crisis is the opportunity for which the Church was born.

Jim Antal’s book opens with historian Lynn White’s words in 1967.. More science and technology are not going to get us out of the present ecological crisis until we find a new religion or rethink our old one. Antal argues that climate change is the greatest moral challenge humanity has ever faced because it multiplies all forms of global injustice: hunger, refugees, poverty, inequality, deadly viruses and war.

A compelling case is presented that it’s time for the church to meet this moral challenge, just as the church addressed previous moral challenges. He calls for the church to embrace a new vocation so that future generations might live in harmony with God’s creation and each other. After describing how we have created the dangers our planet now faces, Antal urges the church to embrace a new vocation, one focused on collective not individual salvation and an expanded understanding of the Golden Rule. He suggests ways people of faith can reorient what they prize through new approaches to worship, preaching, witnessing, and other spiritual practices that honours creation, cultivates hope and motivates love for others into action.

Richard Smith

6 December 2019

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A Christmas Meditation

Rev Dr Walter Stratford. [see details about his book at: Why are you here Elijah, now available as a kindle publication]

Following the discussion about the meaning of Christmas at the PCNQ gathering at New Farm last Wednesday, Wally has been inspired to write this….

The gospel account of Jesus of Nazareth was written as an assertion that Jesus was the Son of God. The claim comes from the experiences of followers of the way and was expanded into a declaration on which the church was built. The gospel according to Luke provides the story that claims Jesus’ birth as an eternal truth.

The angel said to her, ‘the Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, therefore the child to be born will be Holy; he will be called Son of God’ (Lk1:35).

At the appropriate time Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem. ‘While they were there the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her first-born son…’ (Lk.2:6-7).

These few verses from Luke’s account continue to be a focal point for the church’s declaration that Jesus is the Son of God, the birth narrative recognized as definitive of his divine relationship. This literal understanding of Jesus’ birth was linked by early theologians to a claim that the scriptures of the Jews contained words of promise that found their outcome in Jesus. His sacrificial death and the claims of his resurrection sealed the promises of redemption and became the rock on which, it may be said, the church stands or falls.

It is generally agreed that Luke was a Gentile God worshipper before converting to Christianity. The consensus is that he was writing to fellow Gentiles, some of whom may have also been God worshippers.

The Gentiles of that middle eastern area contained among their numbers the strong influence of many Greeks and Romans. Within this mix were many religious stories which included visitations of the gods with human women. Children born of such liaisons were referred to as sons of the gods. Some of these went on to become gods. Hercules is one so named. Alexander a warrior of considerable renown was named as a god. Augustus, Roman emperor, on his demise was proclaimed a god.

So, the first point is that the story of Jesus’ birth is located readily in this Gentile environment. It has more to do with myth than with demonstrable truth.

It is also important as a second point to realize that Luke’s viewpoint was ‘written’ around 80 years after Jesus’s birth. It is written from within a group of followers of the way – apparently Gentile in their origins. It seems unlikely that after 80 years the detailed description of the happenings surrounding Jesus’ birth could still be contained in memory.

Thirdly, to present the gospel theme as literally true does not take account of the mythology of the time, nor the many years of argument and discussion prior to the eventual determination of the essentials of the faith to which all were called to accede.

This sweeping background on which the church was grafted, gave rise to many practices that are questionable in this 21st century. In our time where many bemoan a steady demise of the Christmas story as more and more it is overlaid by the world, I think what is needed is a different story.

The story that I like to tell has its beginnings in Genesis. You will know the story. It begins with the wind or spirit of God blowing over the water. A lot happens until we reach the intimate moment of people’s beginnings. The action of this moment requires of each of us, an element of imagination. “Then the Lord God formed mansic from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the mansic became a living being” (Gen 2:7). Imagination will hear God say with the breath: “The life of God for the life of humankind” In my reading of these first two chapters, I am prepared to say that breath and Spirit go together. We may claim therefore that as we breathe, so also the Spirit is present. This presence is life giving.

Our different story does not begin with a baby Jesus – it begins at the beginning of everything. It says that always and constantly the Spirit is present in every life. All of this is part of the different story. This presence does not need the continual presence of a baby. The Spirit is robust, paradoxical, mysterious. It rides the wind that we breathe, and consistently enables life. The baby born again every year may thus become symbolic of new life constantly growing and developing and becoming adult.

I think that this story is essential, even in Christmas celebrations that have become a once a year event – to which all are invited, and large numbers attend. The glitter expands year by year in dazzling arrays of gifts to satisfy every desire. It seems at times that life has been put aside in favour of the satisfaction of immediacy. There is however, much in Christmas that is good, there is much that is important in its celebration. The glamour is seductive, but also deceptive.

Beneath the glamour is a mostly forgotten world of a young man who demonstrated in his life and death the vitality and possibility of life with the Spirit of God. He is seen in our day among those who fight fires, as a companion to the frail, as one who vindicates the less fortunate, as one condemning violence. This young man, Jesus is quoted as saying something akin to: “The reign of God is within you” (Lk 17:21).  

Listening to the people, we discover that Christmas is a time for family and sharing, for gathering and companionship, a time for holidaying and enjoyment. Christmas has the power to distract us from disturbing influences. Perhaps here is some merit however, in remembering that the time of Jesus birth was a disturbing time of considerable violence. Disturbing times are still with us.

Nevertheless, there is a thread of strength in the Christmas message, in which, if we have ears to hear, we will discover its potential as a catalyst for change in ordinary everyday life, a time for imagining possibility. Christmas spilling over into the New Year every year, may become every year a reminder of the connections humankind has with a mysterious, ambiguous and paradoxical Spirit.

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Feedback from PCNQ and plans for 2020

Hello PCN friends

Last Wednesday, 31 of our group gathered to do some exploring of the meaning of Christmas. Now, 90 minutes of discussion cannot be summarised in a few sentences – you have to be part of the group to pick up on all of the threads. A couple of things stood out for me:

  • when we literalise the Christmas story, we lose much of the intense meaning of how the life of Jesus was a message to society
  • From the community perspective, does the church have only 2 ways of communicating Christianity – Christmas and Easter? Does that mean the essence of the Jesus story of his life and teachings is not understood? How can we do that better?
  • Many of the activities that churches put their effort into – decorated Christmas trees, Walk through Bethlehem, Christmas lights, Carols evenings do little to help people understand the meanings that the Gospel writers had in mind – the meaning behind the crafted stories.
  • How do we help children and young people to think about the meaning behind the story? 

Someone else may like to share their perspectives after the discussion. That is probably best done through the UC Forum website or through the PCN Facebook page. (Sorry I do not have the link for that, but if you search for Progressive Christian Network on Facebook I think you will find it)

We are already planning for 2020, so do mark 10 am on the last Wednesday of each month in your new diary. We will start the year with Steven and Adele Nisbet introducing “Sing a new Song”. I am sure there will be time for singing some of those new songs – many to familiar tunes. 
Enjoy your Christmas!

Desley Garnett
drgarn@bigpond.net.au
0409 498 403

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Book Review: Activist Theology

from our friends at A Progressive Christian Voice Australia

Activist Theology

Sometimes books come along at just the right time. One such book has been Activist Theology by Robyn Henderson-Espinoza which my wife and I have been listening to on audible as we have been driving round Tasmania. I can’t recall anything quite like it.

Twenty-five years ago, the theologian Dorothee Soelle commented,

When I first came to this country (USA) and started to teach at Union Theological Seminary, the faculty and students asked me again and again: What has your theology to do with your being a woman? I did not know how to respond. Of course I knew of some things I intensely disliked in male theological circles – namely, the springing from one quotation to the next in their writing without the courage to use personal discourse; the almost anal obsession with footnotes, called ‘scientific style’; the conscious – but much worse, the unconscious – craving for orthodoxy and shelter it offers to the professional theologian; the neglect of historical reflection in favour of glib talk about ‘historicity’; the failure to evaluate and reflect on praxis.

I also felt a certain lack of candour and honesty, and I sensed no need to be personally exposed to the truth of Scripture and tradition.”[i] (p.xvi)

None of these criticisms can be levelled at Robyn Henderson-Espinoza. Her life transparently informs her work. Robyn describes herself a transqueer activist and Latinx scholar with white-passing privilege because of the colour of her melanin who has had to rely on food stamps to survive.

She works at the interface between the academy (university defined widely), the church and local activist movements. While at one level this is not new, (I think of Jurgen and Elizabeth Moltmann, and Jacques Ellul in Europe, James Cone in the USA, the South American Liberation theologians, and even Charles Birch and Veronica Brady here in Australia), her approach has a freshness, immediacy and a companionable solidarity. Her inclusion of the work of and discussion with activist poet Britt!ni “Ree Belle” Gray is one of the many highlights.

When she writes about the importance of “struggle” you know that this is not a remote theological concept, but something that is integral to her life as an activist theologian. Her work then becomes nourishing emotionally as well as intellectually. Her theology is literally written onto her body, tattooed on her hands in prayer as “divine doubter”.

For activist theology, God is in the change that is becoming. Activist theology is thus hope filled, not covered in despair. This is the message our time needs.

A month ago, this was brought home to me when I gave a workshop for social work academics on what they could do about student poverty. Though well intentioned, many of the academics felt overwhelmed and powerless to act. This may seem strange to the outsider, for after all, academics have resources in terms of knowledge, communication skills, status and in some cases money that are far greater than those most in need. Yet it was true that the neoliberal system was putting obstacles in the way of their acting, (lack of tenure, increased workload, greater administration). More importantly, the neoliberal system sent out the message that social problems were all too hard, there was nothing that one can do.

As it happens, a week later I was called to give evidence in person to the Senate Inquiry into the Adequacy of Newstart and Related Payments. This was unusual. I am not employed by any institution, nor am I particularly well known or influential, nor do I have much power or influence. What I and a colleague did was write a submission on student poverty, (no 76), based on our research but not limited to it, that caught the attention of the Senate Committee. There are probably 1,000s of academics in Australia who are better qualified than I to have made a submission on student poverty, but with a couple of rare exceptions they did not submit. Their attention was elsewhere. They missed a valuable opportunity.

The hour in which I was given the opportunity to discuss student poverty with the Committee was a special time of grace. As always, the chair of the Committee, Senator Rachel Siewert of the Greens, was deeply respectful and concerned about the plight of the poor. Senator Malarndirri McCarthy of the Labor Party came down to welcome me into the space before the proceedings began. This certainly helped me feel at ease and calmed my nerves. Senator McCarthy, through her mother, is descended from the Garrwa and Yanyuwa peoples, whose traditional lands straddle the McArthur River and the Gulf of Carpentaria. Both Senators had clearly read my submission closely, asking insightful questions that showed an understanding of the individual and the wider policy issues. Also present was the Liberal Senator, Hollie Hughes, who unfortunately had been given the remit to promote the Government line, that 1. the best type of welfare is a job and 2. increasing income support payments was unsustainable.

Also giving evidence in the same hour was Cat Nadel from Young Campaigns. Her evidence was outstanding. When challenged by Senator Hollis on the sustainability of increasing payments she gave the best off the cuff explanation of the true meaning of sustainability that I have heard. Below is the Hansard transcript.

I would agree that young people are concerned about the future and want to see the Australian economy remain sustainable. I can really only speak for myself and the young people I work with and interact with, not for all young people. We have seen Australia go through years of what we are told has been economic growth, but we’ve also seen inequality widen deeply in that time. In my mind, a budget that is sustainable into the future needs to look after all of society and especially the poorest and most vulnerable in society. We are currently not seeing that; we are seeing the gap widen. While we are talking about how young people look into the future: we are also looking down the barrel of huge challenges to come, like climate change, and it is not clear how governments are budgeting to prevent those problems, and what implications that is going to have for future budgets. I would say that young people do want to see Australia continue to be a sustainable economy that looks after everyone, and that means we have to think about how we allocate support to the poorest in society. 

This was a spine-tingling moment in the proceedings. Though the Hansard record can’t show it, there was a moment as Cat finished, when Senator Hollis was left speechless, … before she proceeded on with her next scripted question. With young advocates like this, there is still great hope in these dark political times.

Yet this hope does not come without a cost. Despite her young age, Cat must have spent years preparing for this moment. (Not just this moment of course, but any moment when her talents can be used.) Time spent studying, researching, going to meetings, organising, listening and feeling the pain of others and the environment.

It is this cost that so few academics and church attendees are prepared to pay. Those with conservative views of course can maintain the illusion that they live in the best of all possible worlds, that they are safe and comfortable. However, those who profess progressive views present more of a problem. Why don’t more step up? In my own profession of social work, only a handful of social workers ever become involved in meaningful activism despite a commitment to social justice being written into their code of ethics. Academics, even those with tenure, rarely get their hands dirty with pressing social concerns. As for theologians, they may as well not exist in Australia. At best, the mainstream churches limit themselves to general statements that don’t offend too much.

What is the cost? The cost is a preparedness to share the pain. This is one of the meanings of incarnation, and without it, incarnation makes no sense. It means to regard status, career, security as nothing when compared to the call for justice and mercy for all: not just for humans but for the whole of creation. This seems to be the stumbling block. Progressives, like their conservative brothers and sisters can be too comfortable. They prepare their progressive thinking and their theology, use it to define themselves as not conservative, but then don’t use it often enough to address the growing injustice all round them.

The activist theology of Robyn Henderson-Espinoza does not let progressive Christians off the hook. Without activism there is no theology, progressive or otherwise, there is only a logy of empire, or of a nation, or of a cultic group. Robyn Henderson-Espinoza gives no easy answers. She is flailing about in what Dorothy Searle has called “the open horizon of Christ”.[ii] One sees at times those flashes of sparkling brilliance, but you know that to fully understand you must dive in. This is the challenge for these turbulent times. The need to dive in is more urgent than ever. Safe and steady will not do.

Len Baglow, Management Committee APCVA

[i] Dorothee Soelle, 1968, 1995 preface. Creative Disobedience. Wipf & Stock. p. xvi. (I realise the irony of an old white male footnoting a quote about the “almost anal obsession with footnotes” but this book is very good and I hope some of you will read it.)

[ii] Ibid, p.3.

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NCCA on Climate Change

The National Council of Churches in Australia has called for Climate Change Action now.

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Media Release

A Call for unified National Leadership regarding Climate Change

The National Council of Churches in Australia urges the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, and Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese, to convene a roundtable on climate change, shaping a bipartisan approach and drawing in civil society leaders. “Let us draw the line now under what is past,” says the council’s President, Bishop Philip Huggins. “Let us just get on with working together to prevent global temperatures rising further.” Bishop Huggins said it would be wonderful, if this could be done before the crucial next UN Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC COP25), next month, from December 2 to 13. “I came back yesterday from the Annual Pacific Church Leaders meeting in Suva to the discourse here about the awful bushfires. “In Suva, Church leaders from all over Pacific shared their current experiences of climate change: the trauma for communities displaced and forced to relocate inland and away from a swapped coast; the anguish then for traditional cultures of ‘leaving ancestors behind’; the dread of more frequent and more violent cyclones and even the monthly anxiety for places not far above sea-level at the time of a full and new moon’s impact on tides. Said folk from such places: ‘We don’t sleep so well those nights!’ “It is a global issue. Humankind must find a quite unprecedented and sustained level of cooperation.” Bishop Huggins said the human family could do with some places of hope where there was a unified national response. “We urge our PM and our Leader of the Opposition to meet together and shape a way forward, as soon as practicable. Let Australia be an island of hope! It is a matter now of intelligent and cooperative leadership.” Bishop Philip Huggins NCCA President

Anglican Church, Antiochian Orthodox Church, Armenian Apostolic Church, Assyrian Church of the East, Chinese Methodist Church, Churches of Christ Congregational Federation Coptic Orthodox Church, Greek Orthodox Church, Indian Orthodox Churc,h Lutheran Church, Mar Thoma Church, Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), Roman Catholic Church, Romanian Orthodox Church, Syrian Orthodox Church, The Salvation Army Uniting Church.

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