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.
“As a community of faith we are more interested in:
exploring life than having the answers to life.
being fully human and celebrating the beauty, wonder and mystery of life.
valuing life, and every creature as a unique expression of the Divine Energy of life.
being companions on the way, listening, learning and helping each other in the journey of life.
Stonnington Community is:
A listening Church
A helping Church
A learning Church
We are a Christian Community committed to following the way of Jesus rather than following religious dogma.”
“Currently our community meets regularly on Sunday morning at 10.15 am. Our gathering is traditional in style but contemporary in content. Our public services are a celebration of our experiences of God’s love and goodness to us.
We all come from different backgrounds and experiences of God. Each of us will interpret the foundations of our faith through different lenses. Some interpretations will be helpful while other interpretations may be a stumbling block to us living in the experience of the Divine loving presence. Each generation and community needs to interpret the heart and truths of the Christian life in its contemporary context. To this end we commit ourselves to an evolving liturgy and worship celebration that reflects our contemporary insights and discoveries.”
We all embark on tasks then wish that we
hadn’t, because it becomes all too hard.
You try to walk away from the whole thing, but you find that it
continues to nag at you until you go back and take up the cudgels again. When I first began to explore the historical
Jesus and tried to define what I believed God was it all seemed so exciting and
straightforward, however I quickly discovered that this wasn’t the case. Whilst I was able to question the traditional
interpretation given of Jesus birth, the miracles and some of the sayings that
were attributed to him; the logical consequence of what I did believe when
these concerns were removed told much more about what I didn’t believe. Would it have been better if I had continued
to hold the faith of my teenage years and not be too critical about matters of
reason and intellect?
The questioning began simply, I argued that if the God I believed in was not someone whose wrath brought Tsunamis as a punishment for a wicked world, and this phenomenon could be explained by the science of massive earth movements under the sea, then could I call upon God to make other changes in our world. Could I ask God to heal my friend who has a massive brain tumour or heal a child involved in a car accident? It was so much easier as a teenager to talk about God as a personal being, a loving parent, rather than as ‘essence’ or a ‘sea of love’ or as Tillich says the ‘ground of our being.’ It was easier to talk about “prayers of intercession” and handing over the responsibility of doing something to God; than to meditate on how I could respond to the plight of my friends, the poor or disadvantaged and actually do something about it.
I continue to be blissfully ignorant and disregard these nagging doubts and their
accompanying quests for openness and truth, or having once been challenged
would this change my way of functioning forever? To face the reality that I do not know what
God looks like and that the person of Jesus is a much more complex and
confronting figure than we were taught at Sunday school was a daunting
remember being in a study group with a group of people who had just studied
Albert Nolan’s Book “Christ before Christianity” and I posed the question,
“Could we change Jesus’ mind on a particular issue?” “Could he accept advice from us?” All of the group participants were
considerably younger and all stated that Jesus’ thinking was far above ours and
that he would not have accepted our advice because he had the ability to
foresee the outcomes we were postulating.
If this is the case then is it possible that Jesus was just game playing
with his disciples when he asked them questions and he already knew the
answers? It would mean, that when he
invited us into discussions and debate, he wasn’t interested in what we had to
say, because he already knew the outcome, he already knew what we would say.
you now see something of the dilemma, if Jesus is really human then when he
asks us for advice he is really seeking help.
Jesus is seeking help from us because he is searching for an answer,
which is beyond his human ability. Is it
possible that he could be seeking from us the wisdom of the word of God within
us as a response to his questions?
we hold to this image of Jesus then understanding his words and actions as
portrayed in the gospels requires a lot more explanation than a literal
interpretation. How wonderful to begin
to understand that Jesus was able to convey a wisdom and spiritual understanding
of God and people, whilst being authentically human. It really means that it is possible for us
who are wonderfully human to reach a similar understanding.
taken a step along this path it is impossible now for me to turn back and
accept the teaching of the past, even though the journey is not smooth, it is
exciting. There have been times when I
have experienced the God activity in my life and where there is no other
explanation than to recognise the Spiritual influence of a loving God. These
are the times that Marcus Borg calls the ‘Thin places”; these are the places
where we recognise the activity and presence of God. Not an ‘elsewhere God’, but a God who is
present ‘here and now’. Borg tells us
that if we want to recognise the thin places we must keep our ‘hearts open’. A closed heart is insensitive to wonder, it
affects the mind and the reasoning process.
As Borg says ‘blindness and limited vision go with a ‘closed heart’, but
most of all a closed heart forgets God; it does not allow for the ‘magic’
around us to become reality.” Borg
quotes Thomas Merton the Trappist Monk in expressing his understanding of God:
are living in a world that is absolutely transparent, and God is shining
through it all the time. This is not
just a fable or a nice story. It is true.
If we abandon ourselves to God and forget ourselves, we see it
sometimes, and we see it maybe
frequently. God shows himself everywhere
in everything – in people and in things and in nature and events.
It becomes very obvious that God is everywhere and in everything and we
cannot be without him “
now and then we experience this God Spirit shining through. According to Borg these are the ‘Thin places’
where the veil momentarily lifts and we experience God. A thin place is
anywhere where our hearts are open. It
is the boundary between our world and the world of the Spirit. A thin place is a mediator of the sacred and
this can appear to us in the shape of a stranger or friend, so keep your hearts
and minds open, for even though the path may be bumpy the experience of meeting
God is mind blowing.
FIRELIGHT Forging Identity Relationships and Empowerment through Listening Interconnection Gratitude Hope and Transformation
EASTER GATHERING 2019 Friday 19th April – Monday 22nd April Easter – a time for lamenting loss and nurturing life, *storytelling*, exploring the spiritual challenges of a divided world.
TIMING The formal gathering begins 11am Friday and concludes 10am Monday. Participants are welcome to arrive earlier or stay a day or two afterwards in order to explore the beautiful Dorrigo plateau with its waterfalls and rainforest before returning home. Please phone Glennis to arrange longer stays. PARTICIPATION An invitation is extended to all those interested in a ‘progressive’ perspective on all things spiritual – social cohesion, diversity, compassionate communities, sustainability, connecting the personal with the global, forming and strengthening friendships of support. Children are welcome to participate. Glennis Johnston will facilitate the gathering and guest speakers will open discussion on these important topics. LOCATION Dorrigo is a small country town on the highland plateau just one hour from the airport in Coffs Harbour. Fernbrook Lodge is a B&B and retreat centre a short drive outside of Dorrigo on 5 acres at 4705 Waterfall Way. The retreat centre boasts glorious views across the plateau. ACCOMMODATION & COST The B&B has a limited number of queen rooms as well as spots to park a campervan or tent near an amenities block. Dorrigo also offers a variety of accommodation from motel and B&B to caravan park. $50 per participant or $100 per family will contribute to the cost of hosting this event plus a suggested donation of $10 per meal. All meals from Friday morning until Monday lunch will be available. There is no charge for camping or breakfasts. ENQUIRIES & REGISTRATION NSW – Glennis Johnston 0427 338008 firstname.lastname@example.org QLD – Lesley Bryant 0408 777197 email@example.com
Theme for the year: The Teachings of Jesus and Society
at Caloundra Uniting Church 56c Queen St Caloundra, Sunshine Coast, Qld.
First for year is on Sunday 24th February 5.30pm. Theme “Called Home: Heaven, Hell and Eternal Life – An Afterlife?”. Leader is John Everall with a support team. Please note the change in regular date to allow for the first church service for our new minister the previous week. Summer starting time applies 5.30pm to 7.30pm approx.
Second Gathering is also slightly date
adjusted. To avoid a clash with Easter, the Explorers Gathering is
Sunday 14th April. 5pm. Theme is offered as “A
Liturgy for the Celebration of Life”. This model Liturgy has been
prepared in full detail by Rev. Rex Hunt for use by progressive groups and
churches. A Leader and Team to develop this specifically for our
Explorers’ use is open for offers. Contact John Everall mob.0408624570.
And then we have our third Gathering : Sunday June 16th at 5pm. This is “Heretics Sunday” which opens up some fascinating thought patterns and discussion. Who should we dwell upon? Geering, Vosper, Spong, Joan of Arc, many more!
Pieter Hoogendoorn has gone for Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a so-called ‘heretic’ whose writings have enthused Pieter for many years. Pieter will lead this Gathering themed as “Heretic?- Bonhoeffer and Christianity “ ( Dietrich Bonhoeffer was only thirty-nine years old when he was executed in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945, yet his courage, vision, and brilliance have greatly influenced the twentieth-century Church and theology.)
A theme for the second half of the year is ‘ Lives in Conflict”, a highly contemporary topic within our society. Leader Anne Hoogendoorn.
Should be some good discussions during this year if the above is anything to go by!
The world is slowly coming to grips with the reality of climate change, human influence on the biosphere and impending dramatic changes which will force social and political activity that is unprecedented.
What has this to do with human spirituality and the teachings of Jesus?
Together with the Progressive Christianity Network (Qld) we are planning a seminar in March around the theme of Eco-Spirituality. This paper presented to the Common Dreams Conference in 2007 by Rev Dr Noel Preston makes excellent background reading and should be of interest. If you are busy, try, at least, to read the paragraphs in bold type.
Noel’s book Ethics with or without God (2014) is also recommended reading. It is available from Morning Star Publishing.
Dr Noel Preston – workshop address at the Common Dreams Conference, Sydney, August 2007
I. Introductory Background
Let us turn to an ancient scriptural text to begin (Psalm 139 – You know me, I thank you for the wonder of myself, for the wonder of your works.
Perhaps the lyricist of Louis Armstrong’s song “What a wonderful world!” says the same thing:
I see trees of green, red roses too, I see them bloom for me and for you, And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.
I see skies of blue, and clouds of white, The brightness of day and darkness of night, And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.
On my study wall there hangs a beautiful photograph taken by the crew of Apollo 17 during their space journey to the moon. It shows Earth our home, the blue planet set against the inky blackness of space. Earth appears as a ball-like, single organism. We are a privileged generation to have this image and, associated with it, an understanding of the cosmos in its magnificence. But we are also the generation that is responsible for unprecedented damage to Earth’s life systems – a system that has been almost five billion years in the making. In our time, the collision between our human story and the Universe story demands some accounting and reconciliation, as well as a revision of the narratives by which we live.
I expect that for many of you, as for me, progressively, across a lifetime, you have been awakened from a false consciousness which dulled your sensitivity to the whole planetary community of life. The Christianity I grew up with didn’t have much to say about the themes we are looking at in this workshop, though there was a date in the Church calendar we called “Harvest Festival”. In fact my early Methodist formation was not only human centred but rarely discouraged our misuse of natural resources or questioned what we called progress. A 1950s understanding of God had little to do with the natural world, indeed it was something of a heresy to imagine you were nearer to god in nature than you were in church on a Sunday, while, of course, many of my colleagues regarded the Biblical account of creation as literal fact. Things have changed. Pope John Paul II called for “an ecological conversion” and certain American evangelical Christians have become converts. Check out the website:
Here in Australia there are initiatives described as “eco-ministry”. Great stories can be told about individual churches trying to make a difference. Theologically, liturgically and practically, religion in the new millennium is greener. The question is how much new wine can old wineskins hold? My assumption is that, by and large, even the greener churches have not substantially embraced the worldview, the new paradigm and the new theology behind this presentation.
Personally, I now speak from the vantage of a multi-layered identity, no longer content with being identified simply as a Christian or an Australian or even as a human being, though I am all that. I take seriously what science teaches about the nature of life. As I see it, I am primarily a member of the community of Earth’s beings and my moral universe of responsibility extends to non-human beings and future generations. Therefore what I call eco-spirituality and eco-justice are lenses through which I must now see politics, economics, theology and indeed all relationships. That said, I don’t stand here as an expert on the topic of this workshop. Nor do I profess to practise all I preach. What I want to offer is a work in progress which hopefully will intersect with your own quest to find a framework of belief and commitment as a responsible member of the community of life.
I don’t intend to say much about the crisis that confronts earth’s community of life. My assumption is that you have a broad awareness of the gravity of the situation. The Genesis mandate that we, homo sapiens, are to have dominion over the Earth now haunts us in the guise of global warming, the threat to eco-systems and loss of biodiversity, depleting energy sources, a deepening water crisis, international security flashpoints, crimes against humanity, gross inequalities between and within nations, and absolute poverty and destitution facing 1.2 billion of a human population rushing toward 9 billion (i). The situation is unsustainable. Collectively our global consumption of resources is 1.23 of our ecological footprint, that is we humans are already using one and a quarter planet Earths, 23% more than the ecosystems can sustain. And for those interested in the global social justice gap the situation is even more dire. The affluent 20percent of the world’s population, of which most Australians are a part, controls and uses approximately 80 percent of the Earth’s resources. So we have this double-edged urgent challenge: to achieve environmental sustainability on the one hand and a fairer and more equitable distribution of resources and life opportunities in the human community, on the other. This double-edged challenge is what I mean by eco-justice.
(i) There are many performance indicators that mark this crisis but let us just note two at this stage: Fact 1. more than half of the world's original forest area has been lost and a third of what is left will be gone in 20 years at current rates of deforestation, to say nothing of the loss of species and biodiversity this represents; Fact 2. in the next hour more than 1000 children under the age of 5 will die from illnesses linked to poverty, half of them in Africa.(Porritt)
I now want to introduce you to The Earth Charter (if you do not already know of it) – its 61 principles are a comprehensive global ethics vision, comprehensive because it is more than a green document. It covers the double edged challenge which is why I call it a manifesto for eco-justice. The opening words of the Charter set the scene:
We stand at a critical moment in earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise. We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society, founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice and a culture of peace. (www.earthcharter.org)
Forget about the sermons you remember as a child. St James is a safe place to explore history, social context and questions in faith. This is the place where we share the musings, wonderings and questions presented in services by visiting worship leaders and members of the congregation’s preaching roster.
20 years I have been providing morning tea at our Acacia Ridge Uniting Church
between 10 and 11 a.m. every Thursday. In all this time it has been
disappointing. I had hoped that, during
these get-togethers, members of our congregation would take the opportunity to
discuss “theological” questions in a warm, friendly and safe non-judgemental
not happened. The morning teas have been convivial enough but there has been no
discussion beyond the mundane day to day events and perhaps an occasional
diversion into the current congregational politics.
recognised why this might be when one officer of the congregation put it this
“Rodney likes to ask questions
but I prefer not to do that. If I asked
questions relevant to my Christian faith, I might start to think I was wrong
about some things and then my whole faith would collapse”
my colleagues and do not wish to make them uncomfortable over their orthodoxy,
so do not press such issues.
the best I can do is just be a “witness”.
We had a visit from a Presbytery officer last Sunday, I assumed he did not know me very well, So
what I usually do when I get into conversation, with others known to me to be Christian, is usually state, to be
clear on where I stand, “You need to know that I am a “progressive” Christian.”
I was a
bit taken aback when he responded. “Oh yes, we in the Presbytery know all about
you and your “progressive” Christianity.”
In the end I was very pleased about this. It means there is no need for
me to be preachy and, so far as I am aware, I remain on friendly terms with all
those with whom I interact (including my congregation)
get back to morning tea. It so happens that lately we have been joined
regularly by a man who “dropped in” one day.
He is a Baptist and very secure in his orthodoxy. What has attracted him
to the morning teas, however, is that we can have these “theological”
differences, talk about them and still remain on friendly terms.
this morning we were joined by a member of my own congregation, she is one who
is prepared to explore a little but only goes so far.
subject of faith came up.
explained it thus. It is like someone
offering you a cake to eat. It tastes good. You’ve eaten many cakes before and
no harm has befallen you. Thus you take it on faith that accepting that cake
will be a good thing to do. You don’t question it.
responded, and Karen saw the point. “Yes, but I may have been offered cakes
like this before and they have turned out to be not at all what I was
expecting.” Therefore I want to question
What’s in the
cake? Who made it? How old is it? Can we
freshen it up a bit?
So that is the difference between blind faith and questioning faith. It does not mean that in the end eating the cake or having the faith is not worthwhile. But, in being confident in “what works” for us rather than in supernatural expectations which we struggle to demonstrate we can have a secure foundation in how we see and operate as Christians in this wonderful, complex world of ours.