Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book review: on the global impact of Jesus teaching.

Book Review
All Things in Common: The Economic Practices of the Early Christians.
Roman A. Montero, 2017
By their economic practises the Early Christians discovered in Jesus’ life and teachings the corrective to the gross inequalities of the Roman Empire. Global Warming, a product of current economic policies poses a much greater moral challenge of gross inequality.

Is the answer to be found in “All Things in Common” with its striking parallels to the “communism of the apostles” passages in Acts 2:42-47 and 4:32-37, which tells of how early Christians built “social relationships” to solve their problems of discrimination, poverty and dispossession in the violent multi-ethnic world of the first century Roman Empire?

Citing sources ranging from the Qumran scrolls to the North African apologist Tertullian to the Roman satirist Lucian, “All Things in Common” reconstructs the economic practices of the early Christians to reveal that Acts 2:42-47 and 4:32-37 describes a long-term, widespread set of practices that were taken seriously. Practises that significantly differentiated the early Christians from the pagan world of the Roman Empire. Even taking into account Judean and Hellenistic parallels, the origins of the practises for promoting the common good are traced back to the very life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and their brilliant exposition by Paul, revealed in his six authentic and seven pseudo letters.

This book will be of value to anyone interested in Christian history, and the insights it offers to the human construct of capitalism based on self-interest, which now threatens the very basis of the civilisation it has built. Is the climax to the apocalyptic eschatology of the Gospels to be found in “All things in Common”?

Richard Smith

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Spong, Borg and Wright

The previous post has provoked comment to me which highlights the breadth of thinking and some caution when defining ‘progressive’ thinking. Readers may like to look at this text when it becomes available again through Amazon or chase a second hand copy. Paul Inglis

Book review: Simply Jesus

A new vision of who he was, what he did, and why he matters

By N T Wright (Harper Collins, 2011)

NT WRIGHT is the former Bishop of Durham in the Church of England and one of the world’s leading Bible scholars. He serves as the chair of New Testament and Early Christianity at the School of Divinity at the University of St Andrews. He has featured on ABC NEWS, Dateline, The Colbert Report,, and Fresh Air. He is the award winning author of ‘The Day the Revolution Began’, ‘Surprised by Hope’, ‘Simply Christian’, and more.

Jesus is under-utilized in the Christian discourse. Anglican bishop NT Wright espouses a compelling thesis of tapping into the potential of Jesus more effectively in contemporary life. There has for too long been a pre-occupation with a biblical faith where Jesus is absent and the full significance of his teaching supplanted by negative pre-Jesus thinking. A focus on ‘the second coming’ also has meant that the work he gave to his followers to complete has been neglected. Postponing the development of the ‘kingdom’ ignores the Pauline precept (1 Cor) of the reign of Jesus in the present age. The God-givenness of authority needs to be constantly acknowledged as Jesus did with Pilate (John 19:11).

He points out how relevant this is when it comes to ‘winning an election’. We have come to think of political legitimacy in terms of the method of gaining it – eg winning an election . The ancient Jews and early Christians were more interested than today’s Christians in holding rulers to account in the name of appropriate values.

He says there are millions of things that the Church should be getting into that the ruling elites don’t bother about or don’t have the resources to support. No one would have thought of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission if Desmond Tutu hadn’t pushed to make it happen.

(In Australia, we could add no one would have listened hard to isolated rural communities as John Flynn did – a situation I have been looking at on a trip through the Outback.)

He rebuts the argument that most of the reforms are small with a reflection on Jesus explaining his own actions in terms of the smallest seeds that eventually grow into the largest shrubs. He describes this as ‘cascading grace’. His idea of the ‘good news’ is that all people can participate in the many small things that make for the kingdom that Jesus foreshadowed.

I am not sure if Wright realized it, but he was also demonstrating how ‘good things and good thinking’ are even now changing the Church.

The central part of the present day meaning of Jesus’s universal kingship is the many varied ways in which each generation or each local church can ‘figure out wise and appropriate ways of speaking the truth to power’ in ways that can’t be ignored by the powerful.

Recommended.

Dr Paul Inglis July 2019

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Book review: English translations of the OT have been inadequate …..

Until now

The Art of Bible Translation, Princeton University Press (2019) by Robert Alter, Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Religion at University of California, Berkeley, where he has taught since 1967. He published a new translation of the Hebrew Bible in 2018.

Alter has been awarded: National Jewish Book Award for Modern Jewish Thought and Experience; Guggenheim Fellowship for Humanities (US and Canada.) He is currently President of the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics. He was born in 1935.

“The practice of translation, as I have learned from experience, entails an endless series of compromises, some of them happy, some painful and not quite right because the translator has been unable to find an adequate English equivalent of what is happening – often brilliantly – in the original language. “(Alter)

Alter is impelled in his years of work on translating the OT by ‘a deep conviction that the literary style of the Bible in both prose narratives and the poetry is not some sort of a aesthetic embellishment of the message of Scripture but the vital medium through which the biblical vision of God, human nature, history, politics, society and moral values is conveyed.’

He shows how word play, diction, rhythm, syntax and strategic choice of words are crucial to the shape of the literary authority and moral and religious outlook of the Hebrew Bible. No one else has done this! In the context of his overview in this book, he provides copious examples that give entirely different meaning to the text.

Reflecting on the history of English translations of the Bible, Alter claims all have been woefully inadequate.

The inspired literalism of the King James version has employed the original Hebrew parataxis (ordering of phrases and clauses), much of which has been discarded in modern English versions. He uses an example of the way ‘the flood’ in Genesis has been dealt with and the loss of authenticity and meaning. He demonstrates how ‘the rage to explain the biblical text’ has had unintended consequences in translation.

But the KJV shows how a limited knowledge of Hebrew by 17th Century translators has led to confused syntax, missed nuances and meanings. There is also a stylistic issue with the KJV. It’s treatment of Hebrew poetry is less successful than its treatment of prose. The Jacobean rhetoric has failed to capture the compactness of the Hebrew and introduced great amounts of extra information to the passages

Later translations have done worse.

“…The Hebrew writers reveled in the proliferation of meanings, the cultivation of ambiguities, the playing of one sense against another and the richness is erased in the deceptive antiseptic clarity of the modern versions.”

Many of the contemporary translations compromise the literary integrity of the biblical texts and Alter contends this is the fault of the university training of contemporary translators and he identifies their training institutions. Also, the absence of an understanding of the Sociology of Knowledge is a major culprit.

You cannot determine the meanings of biblical words without taking account of their narrative and poetic contexts. This has for centuries been a problem with literal translations. There are livelier and more surprising details in the biblical stories than we first realize but those are often erased by translators who have an inadequate grasp of how the narratives work.

Whether the reader of this work is a philological or OT translation scholar, or simply, like myself a seeker after truth in biblical literature and scripture, Alter’s work is seductive, interesting and rewarding.

My copy was purchased though Kindle Amazon Australia. Recommended.

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Start reading it for free: http://amzn.asia/h9NeXdv

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Book Review: A New Spiritual Tapestry

Woven from the frayed threads of traditional Christianity

by Glennis Johnston

A great read by a very capable and experienced practitioner of progressive ministry. It deserves to be included in the pantheon of great progressive texts.

God is experienced within our mortal, messy lives, which is the heart of spiritual living. The new spiritual tapestry that we are weaving affirms this truth, while calling into question the basic doctrines of traditional Christianity….

Christianity is losing credibility because observers notice that it is built on a foundation of guilt and fear, both promoted by religious doctrines. It is time we recognised that these doctrines can be traced all the way back to a misleading interpretation of myths, such as the Garden of Eden. We need to develop a spirituality on a different view of humanity and on gratitude that, within our imperfect lives, the divine impulse is always, faithfully present.

In dismantling many of the myths and shibboleths of church taught traditional doctrine and biblical interpretation, the author manages to demonstrate the inconsistency of the teaching and the way in which ‘God’ is portrayed. Is God wrathful and encouraging violence (apparent in both Testaments) at the same time as offering unconditional love? How does this inconsistent teaching work for contemporary society and a humanity challenged to address violence, racial hatred and inequalities?

Students of the biblical text searching for the real Jesus can be forgiven for any confusion. As Glennis Johnston points out they need to separate out the material that can be attributed to writers who paint a picture of Jesus as the son of a vengeful God and those who portray him as unconditionally loving. It is not possible to accept these two opposing images as co-existing.

So which stream of thought in the New Testament should inform our spirituality? The “one focussed on sacrifice, judgement, religious identity and supportive of organisation and hierarchy; the other committed to non-violence, social justice and supportive of non-hierarchical community”? Both exist in tension in current Christian thought and practice.

The ‘new spiritual tapestry’ that Glennis Johnston seeks to weave is an intelligently crafted non-coercive, morally persuasive ethic that is always looking for opportunities to improve ‘global social justice’. All of this draws together ‘threads of wisdom’ from the best of the Christian tradition and a God of ‘goodness, hope and beauty’.

All the time that the author takes us through a discussion about the inevitability of our need for a new spiritual narrative, she is holding fast to key principles of honesty, equity and mercy. There is no need for any one to miss out with fair distributive justice as a guiding principle. Life values and parameters can still be sourced from a careful reading of Hebrew teaching as well as the teachings of Jesus which, unfortunately, have often become distorted, obsessively negative elements rather than followed with a spirit of a loving and forgiving God.

It is made clear that if the Church is to have a role in the evolving new spiritual paradigm, it will have to heed the groundswell of theologians, biblical scholars, economists, historians, scientists, educators, philosophers and cultural critics who are in consensus that an alternative story about our collective social responsibilities is imperative.

This is a book that has multiple uses. It informs as well as teaches. Groups committed to church reform will find it invaluable for ideas, values and mission focus when shaping a progressive profile. For students of theology and ministry education it provides an essential instrument for helping them to recognise the reality of many of the mistakes that have been made in the past and opens up possibilities for making Jesus relevant and without boundaries or barriers. For those who no longer can tolerate the Church, it offers ways to bridge from the secular to the sacred without artificial barriers that have for so long made this appear impossible.

 A strong thread running through the stories that are used to explain the vision of a transforming spirituality is the emphasis on how the new spirituality will be a liberating experience. The sense of entitlement and power of some over others disappears. Inspired by the life and teaching of Jesus as reported in the gospels our everyday lives in community will come ever closer to the kingdom of God.

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The author: Glennis Johnston BSocWk BTh BA(Hons) is an ordained Uniting Church minister with a research degree in New Testament Studies. She has worked in counselling and parish ministry for 22 years as well as voluntary work in Australia, India and Europe for 5 years. Glennis now operates Fernbrook Lodge, a Retreat Centre and B&B in Dorrigo, NSW where she facilitates individual and group retreats.

To order a copy ($30) email to Firelight Publishers

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Now published – The Ending of Mark’s Gospel: the Key

By Peter Lewis

The Key to Understanding the Gospels and Christianity

Zeus have just published Peter’s new book and it is available from Amazon Australia

In an earlier posting, we gave details of this work when it was in draft format.

Scholarship and determined exploration of ancient sources for the canonical gospel of Mark has brought great rewards for the writer and readers of The Ending of Mark’s Gospel. Peter Lewis’s work has indeed provided new ‘understanding of the gospels’. The reasons for and impact of variations in the form of the ending of Mark has been speculated on for a long time. Dr Lewis puts a credible case for a reconstructed original ending while providing multiple peripheral insights. His work challenges some long held assumptions and makes worthy corrections to previous scholarship. This is a theological adventure in forensic classical philology and reads like an unfolding mystery novel with the evidence building for his ‘case’. An enjoyable read that takes theology and contemporary Jesus studies into a new era of thinking.

Dr Paul Inglis, CEO UCFORUM www.ucforum.unitingchurch.org.au

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Book Review: Seasons and Self – Rex Hunt

Seasons and Self: Discourses on Being ‘at home’ in Nature

                                                                                        Bayswater. Coventry Press, 2018. P/back. $34.95 + post and packaging – 264 Pages
Author: Rex A E Hunt

Available from the author at a discount price of $30 + $8.95 p and p. Email Rex

Reviewed by Rev John Churcher, Former Chair, Progressive Christianity Network Britain,
Author, Retired Methodist Church Minister.

For those of us who have thrived in our preaching and worship leading on the back of Rex Hunt’s on line sermons and liturgies, this is another splendid resource looking closely at ecological theology and religious naturalism. The problem of the on-line material has been, at least for me, a resource overload that often has taken many hours of seeking among the huge range of material to find just the right phrase or the liturgical insight that will take the congregation into a deeper understanding and experience of that which Hunt refers to as ‘G-o-d’. And for those seeking to explore the links between progressive Christianity or progressive spirituality and such as science, ecology, cosmology and environmental justice here is the resource at our finger tips. No longer needing to explore the on line resources, it is here in a book of sermons, insights, poetry and good clear references to some 200 publication in his combined bibliography – an amazing resource in itself.

This book will doubtless be criticised by those of the old killing paradigm of conventional institutional theology for yet again going beyond the creeds and established doctrines of the Church. Others will probably be equally as critical on the grounds that Hunt is not jettisoning the primitive spiritual quest and going whole heartedly into rational scientific developments. However, in line with many other passionate progressive writers [e.g. Matthew Fox, Lloyd Geering, Bruce Sanguin, Gretta Vosper, et al] Hunt is clear that progressives need to explore and to extend the work beyond conventional theology into an exploration of natural theology that is relevant for our time.

The sub-title of the Prologue signposts the way in which his argument is going to develop: “To Walk on Green Earth! Religious Naturalism and Ritual in Progressive Spirituality.” The book has 23 addresses / sermons all usefully arranged in Themes: Seasons; Earth / Early Spring; Humour; Environment Day / Climate Change; Learning to Be More Genuinely Human; Autumn: the Season of Leaves and Harvest; G-o-d / Jesus; Blessing of Animals; Evolution / Darwin; Desert / Wilderness; Advent / Ordinary; Apocalyptic / End Times; Ocean; After Christmas / Year’s End; Cosmos; Family; Land / Power; Creation / Universe; Children / Education; Meaning; Celebration / Life; Evolution; Food / Eating.

A number of the themes are accompanied by John Cranmer’s thought provoking poetry.

Throughout the book there are gems of quotes and insights. Among those that stood out for me are the following:
• “The miracle of each moment awaits our sensual wonder. Hosannah! Not in the highest, but right here. Right now. This Horizontal transcendence. Nature embedded in humanity. Humanity embedded in nature. Of, in and as nature.” [page 32];
• “Each of us is a collection of unfinished stories. We are fully linked with our surroundings in time, space, matter/energy, and causality. We do not live in straight lines.” [page 55];
• “…religious naturalism says religion is human. It is about us. … As a religious naturalist I, along with others, claim that the sacred is fully present., hidden in the ordinary details of a life, any life. Expressed in ‘creativity’, and ‘mystery’, ‘awe’ and ‘wonder’.” [page 79];
• “… people who have the courage to be different, and more especially those who carry a hint of danger, are always the source of excitement and interest.” [page 119];
• “If we are only against something, we are doomed to negativity. So too if our actions are only attempts at domesticating dissident voices, making religion and politics safe for one another.” [page 153];
• Writing about the opening verses of the Gospel attributed to John, “… the Hebrew for ‘word’ is ‘dabhar’ which means divine creative energy. The word that gave birth. Event. Those of you who are right brain thinkers will probably have already resonated with this and made a connection. For the Hebrew ‘dabhar’ is about the creative, the imaginative, the heart, the feeling. And this divine energy is more than just a concept.” [page 167];
• “Nature and naturalism are for us today ‘the main game’ for any progressive spirituality. … Whether or not we believe that there is something more, nature is so significant that all our beliefs must be reformulated so as to take nature into account.” [page 207];
• “We are made of the rarest material in the universe: stardust.” [page 247]

The book concludes with a comment on the bread and wine of communion, “… may our celebration be a ritual reminder that, as we share the bread and share the wine, civilisation depends on sharing resources in a just and humane fashion.”

The only additional note is that the seasons are those of the southern hemisphere so those in the northern hemisphere will need to make some adjustments to the preaching cycle.

“Seasons and Self” is a wonderful resource, and not just for the preachers and worship leaders. It is a challenging, thought provoking book for all spiritually progressive thinkers. It could be excellent group study material. Above all it is an exciting, warmly reassuring exploration of a spirituality that is not new but one that is becoming better known among the open, progressive thinkers within and beyond the Church. It is highly recommended.

John Churcher January 2019

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Book Review: Honest to GOoD

Honest to GOoD: Discerning the Sacred in the Secular

Author: John W H Smith                First Published 2016,  Morning Star Publishing  $26.95

We have not given sufficient attention to the action of a spiritual energy present in the world being exhibited by many people, some of whom would not confess a religious faith in much the same way that Jesus didn’t… There is a need to change the way we interpret the events of life in the light of the wisdom of Jesus of Nazareth. (John Smith)

John Smith has been on a life-long search for what he calls a sense of ‘wholeness’ or ‘completeness’…an attempt to make sense of his world and his life. Many people will find common ground with this search and relate to his experiences. This book is the result of this search and how Jesus has influenced and stimulated his journey.

Each chapter examines a major influence and together point the way to various understandings of the sacred spirit he calls God.

  • the influence of family and in particular his relationship with an encouraging mother who saw good in the world
  • how reading and later formal education shaped his life and helped him to understand practical Christianity. A study of the classics was the major force in his refining of knowledge about the sacred
  • the part played by the church, in particular the youth club where he learnt to manage adolescent anger and see the narratives of Jesus as lessons for life
  • through a painful period, the guidance of several Methodist ministers
  • Wesleyan theology and John Wesley’s Quadrilateral motivate him to search for personal authenticity and accept an inner suburban ministry
  • developing philosophically and practically through secular social work
  • discovery of a need to re-interpret the orthodox Christian explanation of the gospels as they impact on people with disabilities
  • making sense of the New Testament by close examination of Jesus and his words where he grew as a progressive or evolving Christian greatly affected by scholars in the Westar Institute and Jesus seminar school
  • his thinking about the atonement, concluding that there is no biblical evidence to suggest that Jesus’ death is in any way ‘substitutionary’ sacrifice for human misdemeanours
  • what Jesus meant by the Kingdom of God
  • learning how the historical Jesus and the way in which the organisation church falls short of appropriate modelling of this Jesus
  • doubt about an ‘interventionist’ God
  • the growing movement of groups leaving the church to form spiritual groups that are relevant to their 21st century needs
  • realisation that Progressive Christianity offers the world a faith that makes sense and encourages each of us to seek evidence of the spirit of love we call God, at work in the lives of ordinary human beings.
  • and ultimately the impact of new scholarship (something the Basis of Union of the UCA encourages) on himself and many others.

Although he claims this is not an academic text, it is well referenced and a great way to get an overview of the field of progressive thinking.

This book is written in the fervent hope that it will encourage others to continue to explore their own unique spiritual journey. (John Smith)

Paul Inglis, January 2019

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“Philomena” – A film with many powerful messages.

A review of the 2013 film. Also now a book.

[Review by Rev John Smith]

Introduction:
Recently Robyn and I had the emotionally evocative experience of watching this film superbly acted by Judy Dench and ably supported by Steve Coogan. The film is enhanced greatly by a magnificent classical music score. Overall it is a film with a number of very powerful messages about the practice of the Catholic Church regarding young unmarried mothers and the adoption of their offspring. The self righteous attitude of the church authorities in their disregard for the rights of young unmarried mothers and their chiIdren is placed under the microscope as is the reactionary and equally self righteous attitudes of their critics. As a beautiful counter balance we have the reaction of Philomena who has experienced the indignity of being treated as a “sinner” who gave into ‘her carnal desires’ coupled with the forced removal of her three year old child by being coerced into signing away her parental rights. The intriguing response from Philomena is not the seeking of revenge. She does not want the perpetuators punished; she is simply seeking to find out what happened to Anthony her son fifty years after his birth. Regardless of the indignity inflicted on Philomena by the Catholic authorities she still continues to practice her faith in a devout and committed manner.

Philomena reveals her circumstances to her daughter from a subsequent marriage and declares her secret desire to find her son. Her daughter in turn through a chance meeting recruits an ex BBC journalist and Labour government advisor Martin Sixsmith, played by Steve Coogan. He is in need of work and an editor urges him to assist Philomena and to write a ‘human interest’ story rather than some dry Russian history research that he is planning to do.
Martin is not fully convinced that he wants to have any part of this until while drinking in a pub in the locality of the convent in which Philomena gave birth he is provided with information by a young bartender. It appears that the reason the convent has no records of the adoption activity is that the nuns deliberately destroyed all the records by burning them. The bartender further suggests that the convent received a thousand pounds for each child sold to American couples. If that was not enough Martin was also aware that the young unmarried mothers had been put to work in a laundry for virtually no pay while being treated like slaves.

Martin through his work at the BBC has many contacts in the United States and through these contacts he searches the passport records to discover that Anthony had been adopted by Dr and Marge Hess who renamed him Michael. Michael had studied law and had become a senior official in the Reagan administration and served the Republican Party with distinction. Martin also realises that he actually met Michael when he was a journalist with the BBC while covering the news in the US. Martin also discovers that Michael was a closet homosexual and his long-term partner is Peter Olson. Michael had unfortunately died of AIDS nine years previously.
Armed with this information Martin informs Philomena of his findings and her initial reaction to this news is one of sadness that Michael was not able to be open about his lifestyle, because of his position in a political party, which at that time condemned homosexuality. Philomena although upset at not being able to meet her son as an adult wishes to meet the people who did know him.

The first person they meet is a woman known as Mary who had been adopted with Anthony/Michael from the same convent in Roscrea Ireland. Mary is able to tell Philomena the whereabouts of Michael’s long-term partner, but cannot tell Philomena what she most wants to know which is, ‘did he ever seek to find his birth mother’?

The initial approach to Michael’s partner Peter by Martin Sixsmith, is met with resistance, but he finally he agrees to meet Philomena after she makes a personal plea for his help. Peter is able to tell her that Michael has always wondered about his birth mother and that he had actually visited the convent in Ireland in an attempt to make contact with her. Unfortunately the nuns had lied to him saying that they had no record of Philomena’s whereabouts and had no contact with her. Michael’s life is dreadfully cut short by his AIDS condition but his dying wish is to be buried at the convent with a headstone stating who he is in the hope that Philomena will find it.
Martin and Philomena return to the convent where the nuns continue to deny Philomena the information she seeks regarding Michael’s grave and his last days. In a final scene Michael confronts a senior nun, Sister Hildegarde and in a dramatic and poignant scene demands she explain why she had denied Philomena access to her son and further lied to her son regarding knowledge of his birthmother’s whereabouts. In this scene the aggrieved person is not Philomena as one would expect, but Martin the journalist who rounds on this elderly nun and demands she make an explanation of her behaviour. The nun testily answers that Martin is not her judge only Jesus will judge her and Philomena had relinquished her right to justice through her sin of fornication. The nun is clearly unrepentant and it is this that triggers an outburst from Martin when he tells the nun that if Jesus had been present he would have tipped her “out of her F—-g chair”. The dialogue and acting in this scene is transfixing, but it is Philomena who comes to the nun’s rescue when she tells Martin that his anger is really a waste of energy and she tells him to examine himself, because the anger is all consuming. Philomena doesn’t want to end up hating anyone and at this point she turns to Hildegarde and exclaims, “I forgive you”. The nun shows no recognition that she needs to be forgiven but it is important for Philomena to utter these words.

An analysis of the message
Throughout the film Martin and Philomena present two quite contrasting views on the value of religious adherence. Even though Philomena has suffered rejection and condemnation from the Order of Catholic Nuns it does not deter her from her belief in the sacred presence of God found in the ordnances of the Catholic faith. Whereas Martin is angry at the self-righteous deceit that he has discovered in the brutal and guilt-laden treatment of young unmarried mothers, one who had died in childbirth aged fourteen years. Early in the film Martin declares that he is a lapsed Catholic who no longer believes in a God. The respective positions of Philomena and Martin add significantly to the message of the film.

Each of the major characters continues to question their particular religious viewpoints and these become vital scenes in the film. I was particularly taken by the scene when Philomena goes to make confession whilst in the United States. The painfulness of this scene is palpable, because she cannot say confession. The reason being she has nothing to confess. Earlier she has told Martin that having sex as a teenager had been a wonderful experience, quite unlike what she had been told and that she never regretted it. She explained it as a sense of ‘floating free.’

During the confessional scene the priest offers her forgiveness in response to her silence, but the telling moment is that as she is leaving the church she does not use the holy water just inside the door to bless herself. Martin who is witnessing her leave the church stands watching the bowl of water well after she has left the church as if to say, “Is she questioning her faith?”
The film raises for me the question, ‘how then should we approach our events of life?’ Should we be like Martin who wants to right a wrong and sees the injustice of the church going almost unchallenged? Or should we respond like Philomena who doesn’t want to end up consumed by anger as is Martin and in her offer of forgiveness is saying to the church through Sister Hildegarde you have not won there is a faith that is life enhancing and not a guilt ridden life–destroying existence.

However watching Hidergarde’s expression when Philomena offers forgiveness I did not see any recognition that she was feeling guilty and filled with remorse for her attitude and actions regarding Philomena and her son. It also reminded me that here in Australia we have witnessed the Catholic Church hierarchy showing self-righteous indignation when being called to account for it’s deliberate cover up of the many instances of Child Sexual Abuse. Will it take the anger of someone like Martin Sixsmith to confront the church with it’s errant behaviour before there is any admission of guilt for what has occurred? How many times have the authorities of the Church claimed that they are responsible only to God or Jesus for their behaviour, and not to the community in which they live. As if they have been ordained with some special wisdom that prevents them from being accountable to the wider community.

The argument given by Hildegarde that she is responsible only to Jesus for what she has done again raises the issue that the church has seen itself above the law and responsible only to some sacred presence. A number of my friends in the Catholic Church will tell me that they can experience a special relationship with the sacred in the Mass and that I as a ‘Progressive Christian’ cannot experience this relationship; because my rational thinking denies me an understanding of the awesomeness of God. In the words of Paul Keating many Catholics give the impression that they have a ‘divine guidance’ that is unavailable to those who are not of the Roman faith. I wonder if this is the very attitude that has allowed such abuses to occur, particularly when people place themselves above common law. Surely the compassionate God that has been revealed in the person of Jesus would claim that we have a responsibility to our fellow human beings, because when we cease to care for our fellow human beings we cease to care for the sacredness of a divine presence.

In the final scene Martin and Philomena find the headstone that Anthony/Michael was hopeful his mother would discover. While standing at the graveside Martin out of respect for Philomena and perhaps as a result of being chastened for his anger tells her he will not publish the story. Her response is a surprise when she tells him that she has changed her mind and that the story really does need to be told.

I am sure I am not the only person who is grateful to Philomena for changing her mind.

John W H Smith

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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.

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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.

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