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.

Embracing the Joy of New Discovery

Did you see the previous post? Westar Institute – a new video about its work. Westar is a lighthouse for exploration of Christianity for modern thinkers – but we can all take part in the exploration….

John Smith takes us into a reflection on the notion of looking at, and enjoying, what is new in our learning about Christianity – (as always your comments are welcome – at “Leave a reply”)

I am always fascinated by the verse in the second chapter of the gospel of Matthew where the writer is referring to the response of the wise men. He says that on seeing the star of Bethlehem they were, “Beside themselves with joy.” How often do we become so excited by a revelation or discovery that we are beside ourselves with joy? What is it that excites the blood and sends the pulse racing for us?

Finding new ways of exploring traditional Christianity has become for many an exciting and fulfilling journey. Particularly, for people who have become disenchanted with a dogmatic, fundamentalist Christianity that claims to be the only true pathway to God. Many of these explorers have left the traditional Churches, but are still searching for a spiritual meaning to their lives; these are the people Bishop Spong refers to as the ‘believers in exile.’ They are people who are seeking an answer to their spiritual thirst that is not quenched by the tradition of the earlier Christian church.

There are others who have stayed with the Christian Church, but who have made compromises between what they believe, how they worship and how they act in everyday life. Some will tell you that they are caught in the moral dilemma of mouthing the words of prayers, doctrines and creeds that their intelligence tells them cannot be right. They have become moral pretzels twisted in on themselves, so that there is no longer a beginning and an end. People caught in this web are trying to justify Christianity as the only pathway to God and boxing themselves into a corner, which cannot be defended. Some Clergy have even spoken about living in a schizophrenic state because they are being asked to perform duties that conflict with their personal integrity.

In 2005 I read a book by Jim Burklo called “Open Christianity – Home by Another Road”. Jim was a Presbyterian Minister from Sausalito in California and I met with him in October 2005 after attending a Conference in Santa Rosa. Jim’s book is about the dilemmas being experienced by many congregations in the United States. These dilemmas we have been facing for some years in Australia, dilemmas about how to be true to our faith whilst being constructively critical about our theology and our public and private worship.

Jim suggests in his book that, outdated theological concepts only tend to serve the separate identities of the various faiths and the only way forward is to accept that the Christian church’s organisational structures of the future will need to be different. He says, “… the church needs to break free from its triumphal mission of dominating the planet, putting magnificent sanctuaries in every neighborhood, enlisting lots of members and raising lots of money.” He argues for a church with greater flexibility, more of a movement without walls than an organisation with a more responsive and inclusive theology. Further, we need to accept that Jesus of Nazareth may be for us a gateway to God; but others will find other pathways.

There is no one form for the future church, no one size fits all, in fact there needs to be as many responses as there are needs. Jim particularly challenges the language of the church as in need of reform; he claims that we need to use the language of the day if we are to communicate with people outside the church. When Matthew claims that the tax collectors and the prostitutes will enter the kingdom of heaven before, and instead of the church elders, it is quite possible he is insinuating that we can learn more about God’s love and compassion from those outside the church. We can learn more from those considered to be the dregs of society, than the leaders of our faith community. Matthew also is alluding to the belief that the Jewish leaders of the day are hypocrites. Can these same accusations be leveled at us today?

Perhaps we need to ask ourselves the question, “If the church as we know it ceased to exist would God’s work continue?” What is it that the church adds to our understanding of the society that makes for a better world?

These are the questions that we must honestly face and wrestle with if we are to be followers of Jesus of Nazareth rather than Jesus the Christ. Is it possible that by looking outside the square of traditional Christianity that has in many ways restricted us; we just may find the true soul of God? How compelling to contemplate such a proposition, but also how challenging. Does the proposition of such an exploration quicken your pulse and speed your blood? Are you beside yourself with joy?

Are you afraid of taking away something, which is comfortable and secure, even if it is intellectually untenable?

John W H Smith. December 2018

Note: Jim Burklo’s “Open Christianity” is an invitation to keep the faith but drop the dogma. Many Christian-heritage seekers struggle with conflicted yearning. They value much that the tradition offers. But the church door feels closed unless they accept beliefs at odds with logic and the truth of their hearts. “Open Christianity” maintains that yes, you can leave behind that which has ceased to make sense, and still be very Christian. Burklo’s discussion of complex topics such as “a theology of ‘enough’,” “soulful sexuality” and “the gospel truth” will be controversial–but enlightening. A product of the author’s work as a Stanford chaplain, a Protestant pastor, and an urban/street minister, this book encourages spiritual growth that won’t founder on efforts to believe the unbelievable. (Available from Amazon Australia).


Westar Institute: searching for the truth fearlessly

Westar Institute — home of the Jesus Seminar — is dedicated to fostering and communicating the results of cutting-edge scholarship on the history and evolution of the Christian tradition, thereby raising the level of public discourse about questions that matter in society and culture.

What is Westar? What does it stand for? Its new video gives an overview of the history, scholarship, and future of Westar.

Go to: Westar Institute


For the New Year – a positive view from George Stuart

With another new year approaching, we have looked for something encouraging, hopeful and good in humanity to launch our thinking about the future. From George Stuart‘s yet to be published book: Starting all over again…Yes? or No?

So what for me now?
I was very pleased the other day to receive an email which commenced with,

There is nothing in nature like the daily acts of kindness that characterise humanity. We are by far and away the most altruistic of all known species.

There was no identifying sender and no attribution of the quote given. However I thought, “I’m pleased that at least someone can say something good about humanity.”

Having done a lot of ‘faithful questioning’ with this fundamental, I wish to change the emphasis and remind myself of the following injunction as being an appropriate and wholesome attitude to life, even my life.

Finally brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8.)

I find it very sad that the mantra for the mass media seems to be,

Finally publishers, whatever is false, whatever is criminal, whatever is unjust, whatever is profane, whatever is vile, whatever is corrupt, if there is any scandal, if there is anything worthy of punishment, publish these things. They sell!

My belief is that humans are basically good but, of course, capable of wrong doing in the extreme. As I have previously asserted, God Within gives us all a positive divine dimension. God Within is exposed in a million places by millions of people in millions of unreported human encounters. These loving encounters are sometimes prompted in rebellion to the behaviour of the powerful, when they behave badly, irresponsibly or corruptly.

Many of the expressions of love and compassion occur quite spontaneously, especially in response to some particular and present human need. Recently my wife had a serious fall in a public carpark. When she fell, she chipped a front tooth and hurt one of her knees badly. She was crying and calling out for help. I have never seen her so distressed. Thankfully no bones were broken. Within a few seconds, literally, there were four strangers with us, all wanting to lend assistance. They were able to help and for that, we were very thankful. This example demonstrated to me what just about always happens when someone is in trouble like that. It is ordinary and probably that is why it never gets into the TV news. It’s not sensational. Thank goodness it’s ordinary. It happens all the time. Little people keep love alive.

Why do I think that humans are basically good? It is because I believe that God is inherent in all life, within in a way that human-beings can experience, appreciate and respond to. This God dimension, I suggest is not dependent on adherence to any particular set of creeds or beliefs, not especially evident in religious people, not the prior possession of any particular human group or culture, but universally inherent. Human goodness, the God dimension of humanity is exposed, expressed and seen whenever love and compassion are lived. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that humans are spontaneously good and concerned for one another. I believe it is the millions of little people who produce this evidence. Why are there so many voluntary organisations which depend totally on the good will, support and effort of ordinary people?

In his last essay, Steve Jobs, before he died, wrote,

There is a big difference between a human being and being human.(1)

He is using the word ‘human’ in a positive sense and I think he was affirming that goodness is at the basis of humanity. I agree. He is implying that to be ‘human’ is to be good.
I am certainly not saying that humans are in no need of forgiveness and reconciliation, but I am saying that this is not the whole story, as is suggested to me by the early Genesis stories and the hymns I am constantly requested to sing in church services. In my lyrics below, I suggest there is a praiseworthy side of humanity. So much spontaneous love and concern as well as premeditated love and concern is shown by human beings to other human beings with no thought of reward or even recognition. Many may not call their behaviour actions of love and concern, but that’s what they are. Recently I heard of a neighbour breaking a window of a house which was on fire, to rescue two elderly people trapped inside. After the fire was put out and the two elderly people were safe and well, someone said to the neighbour who had risked his own life, that he was a hero. His reply was, “Well that’s a bit ridiculous. Anyone else would have done the same.” This sort of comment is made so often by ordinary people. Little people keep love alive. This is my experience in life and my beliefs need to reflect it.

From my lyrics No. 9.
Humans Do Amazing Things
Tune: Ebenezer

When surrounded with adversity
Humans do amazing things.
When struck down by grim calamity
Humans do amazing things.
Strangers risk their lives to rescue;
Danger ignored; the trapped must be freed;
People are of priceless value;
All to help each one in need.

I was speaking to one of my friends the other day and asked her about what she was doing. She said she was putting a lot of her time into helping refugees, Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar who had settled in Australia. She said she helped with English language learning classes on a weekly basis and recently had bought and made available sewing machines to some of the women who wished to learn how to make their own clothes, etc. She said this latest exercise took a lot of time and effort from her, because all sewing machines are different and she had to learn how to use them before she could teach anyone else how to use them. I was surprised because I though sewing machines were just sewing machines. Even though she sometimes got worn out with the refugees’ many and varied requests for help, she said she loved it all. “Sometimes the children call me Mother.” I do not believe she told me all this to get praise from me but she told me just in answer to my questions. She was telling me about her life and activities. However, I felt inspired. What a wonderful way to spend one’s life. Little people keep love alive. In different words and from my theological background, I wish to say, “The kingdom of God is alive and well.” Are we all ‘utterly depraved from conception’?

From my lyrics No. 10.
The Beauty Within Us
Tune: To God be the Glory

The beauty within us – the impulse to care
Is God’s image planted, of which we are heir;
For friend and for stranger when need is severe
Our heart gives attention; our help is sincere.
When we heed others’ need
And no matter how small,
When we heed others’ need
We respond to God’s call;
With God deep within us, our spirit is bold;
The Christ is then present; his love we unfold.
I believe there is an innate goodness in human-beings. God Within shines so brightly if we decide to let it.

I have to ‘faithfully reject’ what I understand to be this fundamental of the orthodox Christianity’s emphasis I have been taught, regarding the sinfulness and unworthiness of humanity. I don’t have to ‘Start all over again’ but I have to modify and reconstruct considerably, this emphasis that I have been taught in the past by the church.

  1. Steve Jobs – The world’s six best doctors



Celebrating the Banquet of Jesus

I remember vividly the most heated theological debate during my time in theological hall. It wasn’t about a doctrine or creed as such, it was whether a dying person had really received the ‘host’ at Holy Communion just before death. There were a number of student theologians present including Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists and Catholics.

The debate included a wide range of opinions such as if the person vomited immediately after taking the bread and wine can we honestly claim they had received the ‘last supper’. Or if they died within a few minutes of receiving Holy Communion had they actually participated in accepting the body and blood of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Many in the debate argued that if a person held the elements in their mouth for more than three minutes it was sufficient to claim that they had received the ‘host’. Others argued that they would have to digest the elements to the point that they had entered the blood stream before such a claim could be made.

During this animated discussion I was aware of an anger rising within me. I was mentally asking myself the question, “Have we lost our way? Here is a person dying and wanting to be comforted, the bread and wine are symbols only. Was it possible that our supportive presence at the bedside was really the Holy Communion, in that we were sharing the presence of the God we had found in Jesus whilst recognizing the divine spirit in the person seeking our offer of comfort and assurance? Is it in the sharing of intimate thoughts and feelings and particularly those, of a spiritual nature, that is in reality Holy Communion? Why would we want to waste precious moments in being concerned about whether someone had ingested the elements or not when the suffering person is seeking assurance that they are worthwhile, and they are surrounded by a powerful source of love.

There is general agreement amongst biblical scholars that eating together and sharing are central elements in the life of Jesus and his followers. The emphasis on his eating habits is so pronounced that in Matthew (11:19) we read that Jesus is labeled a ‘glutton and a drunkard’. There does not appear to be any evidence that Jesus himself initiated the ‘Eucharist’ or ‘Holy Communion’ and it is more likely that it was a practice established some time after his death.
There are four significant accounts of the tradition of the ‘Lord’s Supper’ in the New Testament, these being; Paul in 1st Corinthians 11: 23-26, Mark 14:22-25, Matthew 26: 26-29 and Luke 22: 15-20. We have an account also in John’s gospel (John 13: 1-15) of Jesus at supper with the disciples and it is interesting to note there are no special words or actions used. Hence, rather than one single format there is a multiplicity of supper styles.

What was Jesus attempting to convey in his emphasis on table etiquette? John Dominic Crossan writes that meals for Jesus were a practice of ‘Open Commensality’, or simply ‘Open Table’ (the term ‘mensa’ coming from the Latin meaning ‘table’). They are egalitarian in style and format in that all are welcome as pronounced in his Parable on the Great Dinner (Luke 14: 15-24).
Does our current practice of Holy Communion convey the message of Jesus or has it become some secret little ritual where the terms we use, such as ‘body’ and ‘blood’, are an anathema to many of our members and total confusion to outsiders. Like the theological student debate are we more concerned with ritual than conveying the message of Jesus, which is to accept all people and welcome them to share the table with us?

Table fellowship is not just eating and drinking together it is a sharing of ourselves, the giving of ourselves to each other in the spirit of love. In our current practice are we sharing the spirit of God in Jesus with each other in a concrete practical way?

In his excellent book “The God of Jesus” Stephen Patterson states that many Christians discover the spirit of Jesus more in the sharing of meals than in contemplating the execution of Jesus at the hands of the Roman Empire. The open table fellowship means being accepted for who you are and being forgiven for your human frailties which is a profound spiritual experience.

Therefore, is it time to give our current practice of Holy Communion the ‘Heave Ho’ and replace it with the ‘Celebratory all-inclusive banquet of Jesus’ where all are welcome?

In our Church liturgy is it time to give all of our rituals a contemporary overhaul instead of preserving traditional forms developed by an early church, but with little relevance to 21st century language and practice. The language we use in our liturgy is more suitable to the first century of Imperial Rome and the life of Caesar Augustus who was referred to as: Lord, Almighty, Saviour of the World, and Son of God than to the historical Jesus.

We should welcome people with a real sense of hospitality to the banqueting table, where all human beings are considered equal and all life forms are respected. It is here that we can enjoy the hospitality of the God that we have experienced in the life of Jesus. It is here that we can witness to the transforming influence of God’s spirit.
John W H Smith
December 2018


Book Review: Outspoken

Fr. Rod Bower, 2018,

Outspoken: The Life and Work of the Man behind the Signs.

Penguin Books

Born to a young unmarried mother through to his adoption, Rod Bower shares his struggles to establish his identity in the midst of bullying and his step-father’s early death. He finds acceptance within Anglo-Catholicism, eventually going to seminary, ordination and appointment to the Gosford Parish with a deep passion for social justice. Promoted to Archdeacon, he resigns when prohibited from providing pastoral care to a parishioner because of their being on a criminal charge. He steps down from the high calling of celibacy, to marry a divorcee. Now a step-father to two teenagers, he loves into adulthood. His marriage energises his public ministry of billboard signs and social media posts from which they endure a conservative backlash.

His theology of billboard signs reveals a deep empathy for Jesus’ mission to the marginalised which in the modern context involves challenging attitudes towards “illegal” asylum seekers, Islam, LGBTQ and climate change. Fr Rod Bower demonstrates how billboards gives the Church a platform for sharing the Gospel in the public square, exposing the ethical failings of Parliament.

Fr Rod Bower’s “Stages of Spirituality” gives valuable insight into institutional Christianity, from Stage One “ego driven” Pentecostalism, to Stage Two “ego within safe boundaries” of Church rules and regulations, to Stage Three where Church people move out engaging in secular projects for the “Common Good”. The fourth and final stage is that of the Mystics who move seamlessly between all stages. Fr Rod Bower positions his ministry at Stage Three with a future goal of being an Independent Senator who maintains separation between Church and State, by resigning his priesthood if so elected.

A prophetic book by a deeply spiritual person engaged with the suffering of the world.
Richard Smith  22 December 2018

Richard C.G. Smith, PhD – From Farm Economist to Earth Systems Scientist measuring human impacts from satellite to help manage a global warming future. Lay Preacher and Chairperson of WA Progressive Christian Network. Chair of Creative Living Centre, Floreat Uniting Church, walking along side Indigenous peoples of Mowanjum in the West Kimberley and West Papua, Eastern Indonesia.





More clericalism or a new doctrinal and organisation paradigm for the church

Is new life ahead in the (Catholic) church? An article by Sr. Ilia Delio

[Ilia Delio, a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Washington, D.C., is the Josephine C. Connelly Endowed Chair in Theology at Villanova University. She is the author of 16 books, including Making All Things New: Catholicity, Cosmology and Consciousness (Orbis Books 2015), and the general editor of the series Catholicity in an Evolving Universe.]

September 6, 2018

The recent disclosure of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and the extent of depravity reported in the news are symptomatic of a church in crisis. It is no longer acceptable for the pope simply to issue a public apology nor is it sufficient for any group merely to reflect on what has happened by issuing position statements.

The church has a deep structural problem that is entirely bound to ancient metaphysical and philosophical principles, not to mention imperial politics, that at this point requires either a radical decision towards a new ecclesial structure or the acceptance of the possibility of a major schism.

The rock-solid church has crushed human souls and twisted authority into deceit. The male-dominated Christ center no longer holds and there is simply no solution or comforting words that can placate the extensive damage to fragile human lives that has taken place over the past decades. The evidence of abuse brought to light in the Catholic Church is simply unfathomable.

There is something profoundly intransigent about the structure of the church. It is not church structures that have caused the abuse, but they have masked predators hiding as priests in a closed caste system of clerical elitism.

The resurgence of abuse points to something deeply amiss, if not embedded, in church culture. “Culture” is a complex term that encompasses the set of operative meanings and values. Church culture is based on operative principles of hierarchy, patriarchy, careerism and the notorious notion of priestly consecration as becoming “ontologically changed.”

The hierarchical pecking order from priest to pope has entailed obeisance in the quest for a higher position on the ladder of ecclesiastical success. Clericalism is a type of corporate ladder climbing and no different from the quest for power in the world of major corporations. Corporate power, like ecclesial power, is marked by the dominant male, akin to the evolutionary hunter who is “red in tooth and claw;” the priest-hunter can be cunningly deceptive at achieving his desired goal.

How did we get here? If the church is founded on the Good News of Jesus Christ, how did it become so radically disconnected from the itinerant preacher from Nazareth?

Read the full article here: Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus


Conservatives frustrate the transition away from clericalism

Address to the Concerned Catholics of Canberra and Goulburn Forum

Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta

28 September 2018







“The Role of the Faithful in a post-Royal Commission Church in Australia”

Dear friends,

I would like to pay my respect and acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which this meeting takes place, and also pay respect to Elders both past and present.

Thank you for the invitation to speak at this forum and to have the opportunity to listen to the voices of the Concerned Catholics of Canberra and Goulburn in the spirit of genuine synodality.

The events in these last few weeks, including the sensational accusations against Pope Francis himself by the former nuncio to the U.S. has caused great turmoil in the Church. The sexual abuse crisis is inundating the whole Church like a tsunami and it has the potential to cause long-term damage, chaos and even schism. (Mind you, there is already a silent schism in that the majority of Australian Catholics have simply walked away from the practice of the faith.)

It is the biggest crisis since the Reformation and it exposes the ideological conflict that runs deeply through the length and breadth of the universal Church.

The anti-Pope Francis forces who have accelerated their frontal attacks against him in a coordinated and virulent manner. The gloves are clearly off and they have seized this moment of turmoil as an opportunity to undermine his papacy and derail his reform agenda. How time has changed in the Catholic Church!

Find the complete article at: Catholic Outlook


The Humanity of Jesus

John Smith has provided us this reflection. John (bio below) is the author of Honest to GOod (see below). Comments are welcome at ‘Leave a reply’ (above).

I recently had a conversation with a friend who had just been to a retirement party. It was with some amusement that he told his story. Apparently he was enjoying some nibbles and a few drinks with friends from the office. He was happily chatting about old times when the formal part of the evening began. There was an impressive array of speakers waxing lyrical about the retiree. As my friend listened, he could not connect what was being said with the real flesh and blood person that he knew in reality. They were well into the speeches when he realized that the ‘saintly’, ‘wise’, ‘can do’ person that they were talking about was himself. So good were the compliments that for a brief moment he thought he had died and gone to heaven.

He became aware for the first time that all of the character traits that he disliked about himself were, in the eyes of others, noble strengths. Suddenly his ‘nitpicking’ became a special eye for detail and his ‘in-your-face’ aggression was, in reality a gentle confronting of people to look at themselves and to judge their own actions. His often used ‘cruel sarcasm’ to put people down were actually witticisms embedded in an unconventional wisdom. He wasn’t taking the ‘Mickey out of people’ he was helping them to be reflective and to gain insight into their own actions. His outbursts with people who made mistakes now became an expectation that the person could do so much better. It was an indication of his belief in the others potential and his commitment to excellence that were in evidence here.

The strangest thing about these comments was that the people making them were genuine and so he had to ask himself why is this. Were they afraid to tell him what a pain he had been and what they really thought of him? Were they so pleased to see him go from the firm that they didn’t mind lying about it?

Suddenly the penny began to drop, when the third speaker said through a flood of tears, that they loved him and wondered how they would cope at work without him and his support. Here was the answer; people somehow had come to love and care for him and truly only saw the best in him. Those who worked with him were able to honestly put a positive spin on all of his negative behaviours and to enlarge and make almost miraculous his many positive characteristics.

In a radio interview Professor Lloyd Geering comes to a similar conclusion about the gospel writer’s portrait of Jesus of Nazareth. He imagines that if Jesus had been listening to what they said about him he would not believe his ears. Jesus would probably have been like my friend and place his behaviour into a more human and realistic perspective. He most likely would have been appalled to hear that he considered himself the only avenue to God, when we know how inclusive his attitude to life was. Jesus being ‘the way, the truth and the life’ or the ‘light of the world’ or the ‘bread from heaven’ or the ‘Son of God’ was more a statement by the writer of John’s gospel than the actual words of Jesus. It is most likely that the interpretation of the so-called miracles would have been another source of irritation for Jesus; whether this was the miracles involving the control over nature or the feeding of the five thousand. The interpretation of the healing narratives and the formalizing of the Jesus movement into a church may not have met with Jesus earnest endorsement.

It is most likely that there were times when people did not understand Jesus’ humour, or his anger about injustice, or times when they misinterpreted his words and actions to justify their own behaviour.

We need to ask the question who is the real Jesus?

So why did people tell these stories about Jesus? Why did they embellish the stories about Jesus so as to make them almost impossible to believe? Was it to draw a connection between God and Jesus? Did the gospel writers want to establish evidence that Jesus was divine by attributing to him miraculous acts?

Or like my friend, did people tell stories of the larger-than-life Jesus because he meant so much to them. Did they embellish the stories because they loved him and wanted others to know how important he was? The stories of Jesus maybe possibly be a reflection of the regard that people had for him rather than factual details. However we interpret this it does indicate that this man from Nazareth had a profound impact on the people he met and developed relationships with.

We too can enter into a relationship with the authentic Jesus, but to do so it may require us to be more perceptive about human frailty than we currently are.

John W H Smith

Honest to GOoD is the story of a personal journey in search of spiritual wholeness with intellectual integrity. It is written in the hope that it will encourage others to explore the spiritual dimension of their lives and not be satisfied with easy answers or pronouncements by religious authorities, especially when they conflict with reason and personal experience. The writer asserts that we should recognise and affirm the presence of this spirit of the sacred energy, which he calls God, and which Jesus claims resides within and around all people in the ordinary events of life. Further, we should be prepared to follow its promptings, even if they confound conventional wisdom. Each spiritual journey is a unique experience in that each person must find his/her own religious voice – anything else is heretical. The God of Jesus is present and comes to visibility in our interpersonal relationships with others. The Jesus message that the reign of God is present is a most revolutionary one, because it challenges the Christian Church to reveal the presence of this sacred energy by affirming its visibility in every circumstance. This book is a message of hope because it affirms that the God Spirit is with us and is continually revealed in random acts of kindness and generosity.

The book retails at $25.00 plus postage and John has copies available should people wish to buy it.  Contact John Smith

John W H Smith. C.V.

Rev John Smith is a recently retired Uniting Church minister who was ordained in 1974 in the Methodist Connexion. John has had a varied ministry including, welfare management, chaplaincy and parish ministry. As a trained social worker with a Masters degree from Flinders University John is best known for his pioneering work with children, especially those in need of care and protection, including young offenders. His pioneering work in assisting adults who have intellectual disabilities to become accepted and recognised for their abilities, has received national recognition. John was a welfare service manager for 27 years.
He is a founding member of the Progressive Christian Network of Victoria and continues as a member on the state committee. He is also a founding member of Common Dreams Conferences and continues to serve on the national committee planning team.
He writes articles on the historical Jesus for faith communities and has co-edited with Rex Hunt on “Why Weren’t We Told? A handbook on progressive Christianity,” as well as “New Life Rediscovering Faith: Stories from progressive Christians”. His most recent book “Honest To GOoD Discerning the Sacred in the Secular” is the story of his personal journey in search of spiritual wholeness with intellectual integrity.


Book: The Ending of Mark’s Gospel: the key to understanding the gospels and Christianity

Dr Peter Lewis has kindly made available his new publication at cost to interested readers. You can get this from Peter for $20 posted in Australia.  It has 56 A4 pages and contains three of his articles plus an Introduction and other material. To reduce the cost it has wire binding. Enquiries to

See our recent post – An Explanation for the Abrupt Ending of Mark’s Gospel for some background to Peter’s research.




From Rev Rex Hunt

Christmas and Popular Culture.
I preached/gave this at a Unitarian Fellowship in Sydney last Sunday.

[Comments welcome at ‘Leave a reply’, above]

I’ll call him Merv. A young Sydney Anglican minister fighting Christmas crowds.
Looking for a special gift at one shop,
a toy another place, a card at still another.

Eventually he finds something he likes, or more importantly,
that he thinks someone else will like.

The salesperson wishes him a ‘Merry Christmas’ as she hands back his purchase and change.
Merv responds with a smile and a cheerful, “Have a materialistic Christmas.”

Apparently the saleswoman misses the sarcasm,
for she returns the smile before moving on to her next customer.

Pleased with his protest, Merv moves on, too.
Not only is he determined to avoid the frantic shopping crowds
that seem to grab everyone else in December,
he will make a statement as well.


The Christmas that Australians celebrate today seems like a timeless weaving of
custom and feeling beyond the reach of ordinary history.
Yet the familiar mix of cards, carols, parties, presents, tree, and Santa
that have come to define December 25 is little more than 135 years old.

In 1788 when the First Fleet arrived from England, Governor Arthur Phillip not only established a penal colony he also won the land for ‘protestant’ Christianity. (Breward 1988:2)

According to some historians Phillip saw religion as a “useful package of warnings and admonitions that supplemented the cell, chains, the lash, the gallows, or the rewards and remissions for good conduct.” (Blainey 1987:429)

Hence christianity was in the main rejected by the convicts and only slightly embraced by the free settlers in latter years. Which has led others to conclude that in Australia, Christianity has always been rather a casual affair. And at best, the nation was only ever superficially christianised.

As an event in Australian society, Christmas in the early days of the colony held little importance. Unless Christmas Day fell on a Sunday a holiday was not declared. And the day was usually celebrated with a compulsory Anglican church parade or, if punishment had to be administered to a convict, perhaps a reduction in the sentence was ordered.

It would appear that on Christmas Day in 1788 a convict was arrested for stealing and,
because it was Christmas Day, had his sentence of 200 lashes reduced to 150.
At other times, a double share of rum and rations was offered.

It wasn’t until the mid- to late- 1800s that much of what we in Australia identify as ‘Christmas’ was really celebrated.

And this came about as the result of the influence of several events, primarily in England and America, including changes in technology, the development of the ‘penny post’ system, and
at least three samplings from within popular culture:
(i) an imaginative poem written by a protestant American minister of religion for his three daughters, called ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’;
(ii) some art sketches inspired by that poem, along with a series of commercial advertisements for an American soft drink manufacturer, and
(iii) a Christmas morality story published in England by Charles Dickens
originally called A Christmas Carol, in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas.

Much later, when Christmas did begin to influence the social and religious life of the colony,
it was mostly through secular ‘nostalgia’ rather than religious leanings.

Old customs and symbols such as the tree and presents were yearned for, and the arrival of food stuffs and other items were eagerly awaited as ships from England docked in December.
These old traditions were never totally abandoned, but aspects of the festival were ‘Australianised’ and became increasingly nationalistic. Australian Christmas Card art competitions were held, with cash prizes. The small tree, aptly named ‘Christmas Bush’,
which was growing in great abundance around Sydney, became a popular substitute for the fir (Christmas) tree.

And while American artist Thomas Nast introduced a ‘winter’ Santa Claus to the world in the 1860s, some enterprising Australian artists a few years later, gave him a cooler ‘summer’ outfit,
complete with kangaroo driven sleigh.

It was a big transition to form a southern Christmas in peoples imaginations when for so long the Christmas imagery focused on the north with mid-winter snow on a fir tree and a log fire in the grate!

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