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 call for contributing authors

THE ONCE AND FUTURE JESUS Exploring the afterlife of Jesus in world cultures.

Editor: Gregory C. Jenks Publisher: Cambridge Scholars Publishing

ABSTRACT
This set of essays explores the impact of Jesus within and beyond Christianity, including his many ‘afterlives’ in literature and the arts, social justice and world religion. It traces both the impact of Jesus on his devotees as well as his legacy among people who claim no religion.

INDICATIVE TABLE OF CONTENTS

Proposals for contributions around other topics which are clearly relevant to the collection are also most welcome.

Foreword Introduction

SECTION ONE: JESUS BEFORE EASTER

  1. Galilee in the first century 2. First-century Nazareth 3. Historical Jesus research 4. Jesus as a historical figure 5. Jesus the sage 6. Jesus the healer 7. Jesus the prophet 8. Jesus the rebel 9. The crucifixion of Jesus

SECTION TWO: THE CHRIST CULT

  1. The Easter tradition 11. Jesus and the Q community 12. Jesus and the Pauline mission 13. Jesus in the Johannine community 14. Jesus and Judaism after Bar Kochba 15. Jesus and the Byzantine Empire 16. Jesus outside the Chalcedonian matrix

SECTION THREE: JESUS AS A GLOBAL CHARACTER

  1. Jesus in Judaism 18. Jesus in the Quran 19. Jesus in medieval coins, 500–1500 CE 20. Jesus in other major religions 21. Jesus in alternative Christianities 22. Jesus in art 23. Jesus in literature 24. Jesus in film 25. Jesus in popular culture 26. Jesus and human rights 27. Jesus in the Antipodes 28. Jesus through Indigenous Australian eyes 29. Jesus in Pacific culture 30. The Judaic humanism of Jesus

PUBLISHER’S GUIDELINES
• Chapters will normally be no longer than 6000 words • Chapters will be checked for suitability, language and grammar by our Desk Editors before being sent to the Guest Editor, and may be returned to the author for amendment and resubmission • Chapter authors will be asked to sign a short publishing contract on provisional acceptance. Chapters should be free of rights restrictions. Authors should have the authority to submit the chapter for publication. • Royalties will not be paid to chapter authors

To see the Call on the Publisher’s website, please visit: http://cambridgescholars.com/edited_collections/once-and-future-jesus-chaptersubmission.docx where you can download and complete a submission form.

For further information about this project, please contact me directly:
Dr Gregory C. Jenks gjenks@csu.edu.au (+61) 426067344

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Book Review: Damascus

Reviewed by Rodney Eivers, Chairperson – UCFORUM

Note: As with most of my “book reviews” this is not an attempt to give the potential readers a good summary of what they might expect from cover to cover of the book. It is a few of my impressions which may or may not lead others to read what this author has to say.

Some impressions by Rodney Eivers, 7th May 2020

          I really wanted to enjoy this book.

          Following the author’s renown with previous titles, leading to television series, Barracuda and The Slap, neither of which I had actually viewed, I looked to sharing in the laudatory attention given to the writing of Christos Tsiolkas. I had no reason to think that Damascus was other than “inspirational”. I had read reviews of the book from such disparate sources as the ABC Ethics and Religion Report and Eternity magazine.

          So confident was I of its being a good read that my wife had bought a copy of the book to give to my 17-year-old grandson. Among other things, he had done some religious studies at his high school.  He had just graduated last year. Furthermore, it seemed to me that it might be just the sort of book (giving a bit of flesh and blood atmosphere to the early Jesus movement) that would be an entertaining supplement to the more academic titles which I give each month to a theological college. For this purpose, I rushed out in the final days of the Christmas shopping rush to bag the last three copies of Damascus available at my local Kmart.

          This was to be the first book of fiction I had read for about two years (for the previous light reading I had been revisiting a number of the writings of Charles Dickens).

          By sheer coincidence when I mentioned this to a good friend and colleague of mine, he said that he had started reading Damascus and recommended that I continue to look at it myself. When I mentioned, however, that we were planning to give the book to our 17-year-old he cautioned.

“Perhaps you should read the first few chapters yourself first.  It may take a rather special teenager to be mature enough to cope with this text.”

          Now that I have read Damascus from cover to cover, I think he may have been right. Remember, I was anticipating something inspirational. It seems to me that positive inspiration is something our world needs whether we are 17 or 70.

          So, what do we find with Damascus?  Christos Tsiolkas seem to have sought to set the impact of biblical Paul realistically into the setting of society as envisaged in the Mediterranean region governed and influenced by the Roman imperialism. Perhaps reasonably accurately he paints a picture of anger and violence being the norm for just about everybody.

          Was life in that era always like that?  I notice on the back blurb to the book someone notes there are “sudden jags of tenderness”.  That would be right. There is not much tenderness displayed by anybody.

          Roman rule lasted for more than 400 to 500 years so it must have had something going for it. There must have been people reasonably happy with it as long as you stuck to the rules. I am reminded of the situation in China today, where despite the protests of the people of Hong Kong, mainland Chinese seem happy to accept their lot with a very autocratic regime grateful for the stability it provides. I suppose you could argue that because they did not stick to the rules, Paul and his lot including the whole Jewish nation got into trouble with the Romans.

          There was certainly violence in Roman times. Nevertheless, one thing that I have long puzzled over in relation to the Roman justice system, was that a fair-minded legal system existed at all. It seems remarkable to me that someone presumably as insignificant as Paul in relation to whole wide Roman empire, could go before Governor Felix in Cyprus  and be packed off to Rome, with expensive guards and travel expenses to face further court hearings at the far side of the empire.  To claim that this is because he was a Roman citizen does not sound very convincing to me. Why not impale him, crucify him or feed him to the lions on the spot when defying such a powerful entity? Would the Saudis, the Russians or the Chinese provide such latitude for their citizens today?

          Anyway, back to the violence. In this story, sexual intimacy, whether homosexual or heterosexual does not get much tenderness either. Nothing comparable to the joyous sensuality of the Song of Solomon from an earlier ancient period. Homosexuality is treated as something of shame or disgust (I am bit surprised by this as the author is openly gay). Heterosexual relationships even within marriage are characterised by rape. An ideal marital relationship is painted as no sexual relations at all. We are told of men sleeping in each other’s arms, but it is not clear whether this an emotional closeness or is a further euphemism for what in the Old Testament is described as “knowing” one’s bed companion.

          I found the crudity of the language, grating. Nowadays this sort of interchange is called “coarse” language.  This together with the angry tone may well be the popular style of writing today. I came across this when reviewing some essays composed in a writing course at Griffith University- so much anger!

          Was “fucking” (or its Greek or Syrian counterpart) the general adjective of emphasis with people at that time? Or is that an extension of a 21st century norm when other general adjectives of emphasis in literary and film media have gone by the board.  What happened to “damn!”  and “bloody” of earlier centuries? While writing these notes I read a review of another book about Roman times. This claimed that insults were part of everyday life in ancient Rome so perhaps Tsiolkas has got it right!

          A major theme of Damascus is the author’s design to set up a tension between the people at that time who came to be called Christians regarding the nature of Jesus. In order to do this, he introduces apostle Thomas as a twin of Jesus. Thomas is made to represent those who saw Jesus as simply a charismatic human being who brought a basically non-supernatural message of how to nurture a better secular world here and now – The Kingdom of God. At least in the early years under the sponsorship of Jesus’s brother James, this approach was directed at the people of Israel and sought to retain Jewish culture including notably such practices as male circumcision.

          Paul, however, is the one who took the message far beyond Galilee and Jerusalem along the Mediterranean coast and sought to make it universal. His message, though, was heavily into the supernatural especially in the expectation that Jesus was returning to earth someday soon. This aspect gets hammered quite a bit by Tsiolkas. It is interesting of course – Tsiolkas acknowledges this although not very clearly to my mind – that although Paul insists that he has “seen” the resurrected Jesus, his own writings make it clear that it was not a face to face encounter in the flesh but rather something of an intense vision.

          My own theological position is, of course, closer to that of Thomas (except for the link to Hebrew culture) than of Paul. Tsiolkas has consulted a number of what I regard as reputable literary sources, including, I was glad to see, the gospel of Thomas. He has what I see as a curious, and to me somewhat regrettable attitude to institutional Christianity. He acknowledges the powerful cause for good which arose from Paul’s efforts but is not prepared to call himself Christian because he does not “believe” in the resurrection. Is “belief” in the physical resurrection a vital part of Christianity? If one sees merit in the ethos of the pre-Easter Jesus rather than the post-Easter Jesus which Paul promoted and proclaimed there may still be room to make the following of the Jesus Way a worthy calling.

          If Christos Tsiolkas is trying to show there was merit in what eventuated from the persuasiveness of Paul, the book fails to be convincing for me because of his depiction of the personal characteristics of the main protagonists. None of them even our hero, Paul, come across as lovely people. They are temperamental, speak harshly, and are sometimes violent. In other words, somewhat hypocritical.

          So, can I share this book with my teenager and trust that he will be inspired by it?  Or provide it to theological students as they engage in their studies to make the world a better place?  I don’t know. Maybe you, my readers, will have some view on this.

          Perhaps what Christos Tsiolkas seeks to remind us is of the ultimate outcome.  Through the persistence, and demonstration of love by relatively weak and flawed personalities such as Paul, Thomas, Lydia, Timothy and others, the message survived and thrived. The Jesus presence with its  ethic of the equal worthiness of all human beings,  of loving one’s  enemies,  of stewardship rather than ownership of one’s assets, and of turning the other cheek (this gets a fair bit of mention in the book) in due course overcame the controlling influence of the Roman empire and left a legacy which remains with us to this day. That, indeed, is remarkable.

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“The Trail” – A song for difficult times

The Trail is a song of comfort for difficult times.
It gives new words to a familiar hymn and provides a modern, progressive interpretation of the 23rd psalm.

Words and musical arrangement by Keith Sanford. Performance includes Keith Sanford on drums, percussion, keyboard synthesizers, and vocals.

The tune is Resignation (the tune for, My Shepherd Will Supply My Need), an anonymous melody found in Freeman Lewis’ Beauties of Harmony, 1828.

My feet they tamp the earth and stones that lay upon this trail
And in wide meadows there I find a hope that will not fail
I feel a touch upon my hand that pulls me to proceed
To see the splendor, oh, so vast, there’s nothing more I need

To mountain streams, this trail does lead, with water splashing clear
And there I rest upon the rocks and feel the goodness here
I feel a touch upon my hand that pulls me to engage
To seek the mysteries of the world, long pondered age to age

At times this trail may lead me down to valleys dark and low
Where shades of death may chill the skin and nothing there will grow
But then that touch upon my hand it causes me to rise
And still I hope for goodness here, as stars light up dark skies

For more information and music lead sheet go to The Trail

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How Do We Pray In This Crisis?

Rev Dawn Hutchings

Clay Nelson, a colleague in New Zealand, tells a story about a journalist who was stationed in Jerusalem. The journalist’s apartment overlooks the Western Wall which is the holiest site in Judaism. Every day when the journalist looks out towards the Wall, she sees an old Jewish man praying vigorously. One day the journalist goes down and introduces herself to the old man. As a journalist, she cannot resist interviewing the old man. “You come every day to the wall. How long have you done this and what are you praying for?”

The old man replies, “I have come here to pray every day for 25 years. In the morning, I pray for world peace and then for the wellbeing of humanity. I go home, and I have a cup of tea, and I come back and I pray for the eradication of illness and disease from all the earth.”

The journalist is intrigued and asks, “How does it make you feel to come here every day for 25 years and pray for these things?” The old man looks at the journalist with great sadness and replies, “It feels like I’m talking to a damn wall!”

For the rest of this talk go to: Is Prayer Transactional or Transformative?

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Between Faith and Doubt

Ps Karen Sloan, Wembley Downs UCA, Perth

Sermon – Earth Day Thomas Style – Karen Sloan 

Readings –  John 20:19-31                   

Luke 24:13-35 (last weeks)

The Progressive Christian book club, which has been meeting for over 2 years every month, has just finished reading Damascus, by Christos Tsiolkas.  A book that takes you on a wild ride through the time of the early Jesus followers, but particularly the time of Paul.  We hear the blood and guts and reality of living in the Roman Empire, and Pauls conversion from a Jewish condemner of those followers to one who himself followed, in vivid detail.  But we also hear the humanity in him, and the other leaders of the time.  Voices from the past include not only Paul, but Timothy, James, Thomas and Onesimus, the freed slave of Phiimon, who is called Able in the book.  We are presented with the variety of understandings of Jesus found even then, near the beginning of our faith tradition.

As Dennis Ryle wrote in his review, we see how leaders and followers negotiate the interactions of Jew and gentile, the Greek cults and Roman tyranny to be fourth generation Christ followers in a challenging world.  Particularly when the expectation of those who thought Jesus would return, bringing in a new heaven and a new earth,went unfulfilled.   

It is not for the faint hearted, and the descriptions of the bloody times, and the barbarity that some would go to, particularly the Romans to keep people in line are shocking.  But also, Pauls struggles with his own desires, and his own need to find faith that speaks to him is also written with energy and gusto.  Ultimately, Paul finds that faith in the Jesus story, but the journey is not easy. 

Many in the book club didn’t enjoy the book, it was difficult to read the full-on pace of the it, and the inevitable descriptions of death and destruction and grief and yes, even doubt, in the first century CE.

Yet others found it insightful, and courageous. I was one of those.

Continue reading

Inclusive Spiritual Christian Curriculum

Several progressive congregations are now using A Joyful Path which is a truly progressive children’s curriculum. Today, children are seriously undernourished when it comes to spirituality. They are either taught dogma or secularism. Children need to know that they are Divine beings and that following the path of Jesus in today’s world means being a spiritual warrior of radical inclusion and deep reverence. 

The program has been written by Deshna Shine for ProgressiveChristianity.org. You can help spread this curriculum to children all around the world by supporting a GOFUNDME project that Deshna has started.

For information go to: Joyful Path

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A new transformative narrative of Easter for Christianity

James Burklo

[Jim Burklo is an ordained United Church of Christ pastor who serves as the Associate Dean of Religious Life at the University of Southern California. He is the author of BIRDLIKE AND BARNLESS: Meditations, Prayers, and Songs for Progressive Christians (2008) and OPEN CHRISTIANITY: Home By Another Road (2000) – both available from the “store ” at www.tcpc.org. Jim served as pastor of Sausalito (CA) Presbyterian Church, and of College Heights UCC Church in San Mateo, CA, served as ecumenical Protestant campus minister at Stanford University, and was the founder and executive director of the interfaith Urban Ministry of Palo Alto. His Masters of Divinity degree is from San Francisco Theological Seminary.]

“Christianity needs a new narrative based on the elements of the Easter week myths. Here is an option: Rabbi Jesus practiced and taught radical compassion to the people of Israel. This threatened the authority of the Jewish elite and the Roman occupiers, so they killed him on a cross – from which he forgave them. This unconditional love prevailed beyond his death and lived on in his followers, who regrouped and formed a new, compassionate community of faith. In this narrative, Jesus and his followers are not victims. Jesus was an agent of positive action, and so are we who follow him. The transformative power of this narrative inspires us to forgive.

For progressive Christians, forgiveness is not in the supernatural hands of a Guy-In-The-Sky God. Forgiveness is up to us. Just as it was up to Jesus whether or not to forgive the people who crucified him. The mythic narratives of Easter week speak for our souls as we recognize our pain, loss, and disappointment, and move from being victims to becoming active agents of positive personal and social transformation. Fred Luskin summarizes forgiveness as the release of our attachment to enforcing unenforceable rules we’ve constructed. We think that our HTOTB’s (How Things Ought to Be) really are the immutable laws of the universe. But other people in fact do get to make choices, even if they hurt us. And we get to make our own choices in the aftermath, as well.”


For the complete article go to: A New Narrative

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Why do we need Progressive Christianity?

What Is Progressive Christianity—And Why Do We Need It?
by Steve Kindle

In a nutshell, Progressive Christianity recognizes that the world has moved on in its understanding of how the world works—and that Christianity hasn’t. Most denominations and many Christians still live in the 4th century of the church. That is, they accept the creedal formulations of that age, as well as the prescientific worldview, as relevant to our own, even though they are based on understandings that our age no longer finds credible.

Since the Nicene Creed (325 CE), we have learned our planet is round (spherical), and the sun is the center of our solar system; the earth is billions of years in the making; that humans, as all of life, emerged through a process of biological evolution; that germs cause disease, that the universe is expanding and there is nothing beyond it. All of which is not only unknown in the Bible, but it teaches the very opposite. Unfortunately, many Christians refuse to accept these realities. They deny evolution, teach that the earth is no more than 10,000 years old, and still live in a three-tiered universe with God “up there” and hell below us. (Yes, and some even refuse medical help and prefer “faith healing.”)

Progressive Christianity offers searchers who accept the modern scientific worldview a way of respecting it and how the Bible and Christianity can be relevant in this world. Many of our churches advertise themselves as a place where you don’t have to leave your brain at the door. In fact, Progressive Christians revel in the questions life presents and understand that whatever we think we know is always tentative and in need of further clarification. You may find principles among us but not creeds that define what you must believe. That’s that old way of doing Christianity that only leads to triumphalism,  elitism, and division.

What are some of the principles that unite us? We need to be clear that Progressive Christianity is not monolithic, and represents many different points of view. But there are some things that most would find hospitable. Here are a few:

Just as people of the Bible lived according to their understanding of the world, we must live according to ours. This is not a repudiation of the biblical worldview, but a recognition that there is no other way life can be lived. To try to do otherwise is ultimately self-defeating. The differences between the biblical world and ours illuminate why we need to move on from it, yet offer us ways to make sense of our own. The fact that ancients believed that God created the world in six days may miss the evolutionary point, but it does point to God as the reality behind creation.

The Bible is the record of certain humans’ encounters with the divine, and as such is a rich source of spiritual wisdom that can transcend the ages. It discloses points of view about God and humanity that resonate today. The inspiration of the Bible comes from our relationship with the stories and the people, not from any supernatural input from God that directly resulted in its words. The sense that God dictated the Bible turns it into a legalistic text that functions more like law than grace. Rather than seek the presence of God in our lives, as is the case of the biblical characters, we then become those who must obey the text. Progressive Christians see these as mutually exclusive.

God is seen as transcendent and immanent. God is wholly other than any aspect of creation, yet resides wholly within it. Since the universe is a self-contained whole, God must be not only part of it but within all of it. God does not reside beyond it “looking down upon us.” Being in touch with every aspect of creation means that God relates to all things, and this certainly includes you and me. Prayer is as close as our breath.

Jesus lived as close to God as anyone can and, consequently, is able to model what a life fully devoted to God looks like. This includes his teachings and actions. As disciples of Jesus, we seek to model our lives after his. In particular, this means that we move away from a religion about Jesus and into the religion of Jesus: God-centered, love-driven, and inclusive of all. We measure the value of all actions by the Golden Rule.

Salvation is oriented to this life, not the hereafter. This is not to deny an afterlife, but we believe that God’s purpose is for the earth not only to prosper but thrive. The Kingdom of God is to be found “on earth as it is in heaven,”

God as Trinity is a useful metaphor but is based on ancient Greek ideas of substance that are no longer helpful. That God relates to all creation as Creator, Savior, and Sustainer

We at Faith on the Edge provide pastors and congregations with means to develop these progressive themes. We do so through a series of videos that lead viewers through the process of seeing the Bible in new ways. Ways that enlighten and transform.

The mission of Faith on the Edge is to revitalize the church for the 20th Century.

A religion is as much a progressive unlearning of false ideas concerning God as it is the learning of true ideas concerning God.” ~Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan

For more information go to: Faith on the Edge.

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Christianity’s Modern Legacy – a Podcast Interview

Dominion: The making of the western mind, 2019, Little, Brown Book group, London.

Tom Holland
Tom Holland is an award-winning historian, author and broadcaster. He is the author of Rubicon: The Triumph and the Tragedy of the Roman Republic, which won the Hessell-Tiltman Prize for History and was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize; Persian Fire, his history of the Graeco-Persian wars, won the Anglo-Hellenic League’s Runciman Award in 2006;

Christianity is the most enduring and influential legacy of the ancient world, and its emergence the single most transformative development in Western history. Even the increasing number in the West today who have abandoned the faith of their forebears, and dismiss all religion as pointless superstition, remain recognisably its heirs. Seen close-up, the division between a sceptic and a believer may seem unbridgeable. Widen the focus, though, and Christianity’s enduring impact upon the West can be seen in the emergence of much that has traditionally been cast as its nemesis: in science, in secularism, and yes, even in atheism.

That is why Dominion will place the story of how we came to be what we are, and how we think the way that we do, in the broadest historical context.

ABC Radio National Podcast interview between Tom Holland and Geraldine Dougue:

https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/saturdayextra/christianitys-modern-legacy/12136230

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A Progressive Take on Resurrection: “Which Resurrection?”

PCN EXPLORERS: Wednesday 25th March, 10 am (for 10:30 start), 

Merthyr Road Uniting Church, 52 Merthyr Rd, New Farm

A Progressive Take on Resurrection: “Which Resurrection?”

Dr Cliff Hospital will facilitate the morning’s exploration on this subject – relevant to us all as we approach the Easter Season. His argument will be that in order to arrive at a critical take on the resurrection event and its implications for Christian faith and life in the contemporary world, we need to begin with an honest awareness that traditional orthodox Christian thinking reflects a composite of disparate strands of tradition available to us in the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, the Quran, etc.  

So, to explain the question “Which Resurrection?”:  Is it the collective resurrection of the people Israel (Ezekiel 37)?  Is it the raising of dead individuals on the last day–the day of judgment–shared by the Pharisees, but not the Saducees, by Christians following Paul in 1 Corinthians 15: 51-52, by Muslims following many passage in the Quran such as sura 78: 17-40?   Is it the thinking reflected in Jesus words to the good thief crucufied with him:  “…today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23: 43)?   Is it the earliest accounts of resurrection appearances of Jesus found in Paul’s letters, and most fully in 1 Corinthians 15: 3-8, which includes the appearance to Paul himself?  Is it the apparently related distinction made by Paul later in 1 Corinthians 15 between a physical body and a spiritual body (the latter being the body of the raised dead)?  Is it the resurrection as depicted in the gospels and Acts 1, with forty days of appearances (little in common among the accounts) culminating in the Lukan narrative of Jesus’ ascension into heaven from Bethany (Luke 24:50) or the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:12)?   

Cliff will attempt to develop a plausible account of this diversity; thus Part A.  

Part B of the talk will look at a variety of modern expressions of resurrection faith and hope that he finds persuasive in the light of our conclusions of Part A.

Come at 10 for ‘eat, meet and greet’ and we will get started at 10:30. Finished by 12. Some venture to Moray Cafe for lunch – all welcome to that for more opportunity for friendship and further exploration.

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