Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: Final of looking at Friendship

Dear Explorers

This week we finished our study of John Smith’s book. It has certainly made us more aware of the need to address the many issues of social justice around us.

The future structure of inclusive faith communities

P  221  I am very enthusiastic about the joy of life and want to share my understanding of the presence of the divine with others. Not with the aim of convincing them, but to encourage them to express their own understanding.

P 222-224. John discusses the priestly, prophetic and wisdom traditions. He says ‘Wisdom religion is one that emphasises the seeking of the spirit of sacredness within and between us, and not some external sacred power that we need to invoke to intervene on our behalf.’ He favours the wisdom tradition but, while acknowledging we overemphasise the priestly tradition, we felt there was definitely a place for the prophetic tradition, following Jesus’ example.

P 225  We were amazed at John Wesley’s manifesto (modernised) from the 18th century, so much so that our next Gathering its entitled ‘John Wesley writes today’s headlines!’

1              Reduce the gap between rich people and poor people.

2              Help everyone to have a job.

3              Help the poorest, including introducing a living wage.

4              Offer the best possible education.

5              Help everyone to feel they can make a difference.

6              Promote tolerance.

7              Promote equal treatment of women.

8              Create a society based on values and not on profits and consumerism.

9              End all forms of slavery.

10           Avoid getting into wars.

11           Share the love of God with everyone.

12           Care for the environment.


P 227  The movement that Jesus initiated was never intended to be a formalised religion, but a way of life. Jesus’ legacy was a social and ethical example of how life should be lived.

P 229  John correctly say that progressive Christianity groups are ‘seeking a community that is hospitable and not only tolerant, but accepting of doubts and complex questions which many participants have been wrestling with for years’.

P 230 John says ‘. . . without the death of churchianity, it will be difficult if not impossible to regenerate and reclaim the message of Jesus.’

P 234  John says ‘The new faith communities could be small groups that gather together in homes, coffee shops and in nature. . . we need to build the movement from scratch . . .’ John Gunson in his book God, Ethics and the secular society makes the same point. However, we felt that the idea of home churching had been tried and found to be largely unsuccessful. We were therefore reluctant to abandon the existing church infrastructure.

Concluding comments

P 238. To be humane is to live the abundant life that Jesus envisaged and this requires us to live by the values Jesus espoused.

P 239-242  John Smith’s comments throughout his book are clearly political and we felt that, despite the dangers, the church does need to be involved in politics.

P 246  . . . the world of today is in desperate need of repair and transformation through acts of kindness (Tikkun Olam).

We round out our discussion of John’s book at our Gathering on 28 May. See you then.

Ken Williamson


Book Review: Further exploration of Friendship

From our Caloundra Explorers:

Continue a reading of John Smith’s Jesus and the Empowering Influence of Friendship

Chapters 7 and 8 we found very challenging and relevant.

Social commentaries on the current circumstances

P 151  Julian Burnside argued that Australians ‘ought to be angry—with an unrelenting anger—that our Aborigines have the world’s highest infant mortality rate’.

P 151 We thought that Paul Kelly’s song From little things big things grow should be an encouragement to those involved in the fight for social justice.

P154  We agreed with Mike Carlton (The land of the fair gone, Saturday Paper 31 March 2018) that ‘the financial theory of Trickle Down promulgated by the federal government is simply not working’.

P 155  ‘. . . more than half the juveniles in Australian jails are indigenous and are products of a third-world squalor.’ Let’s hope the Voice can do something about this.

P 158. A snippet from Richard Flanagan’s Our politics is a dreadful black comedy (The Guardian 2018): Our screens are filled with a preening peloton of potential leaders, but nowhere is there to be found leadership.

P 160  We have not honoured the ’65 000 indigenous Australians who tragically lost their lives defending their country in the frontier wars of the 1880s’.

We noted that John Smith’s book has a copy of the Uluru Statement from the heart p 253.

P 161  Regarding Australia’s first people, we agreed with John that ‘we need to tell their story and honour their contribution for the nurture of this land. We need to value their dreamings, sayings, languages, and their methods to renew the cosmos’.

P 165  We discussed Andrew Hamilton’s idea (Whatever happened to ‘kindness to strangers’? Eureka Street Vol 28 No 13) that we need refugee policies that emphasise ‘inclusion within society, rather than assimilation’.

P 166  For a change to happen, we will require morally coherent and ethically aware political and social leaders, who know that a generous and compassionate society is founded on just, compassionate and hospitable personal relationships.

P 169  ‘Hospitality, then, is away of living life and living it more abundantly, by sharing not only what we have but also, who we are.’  We agreed, but several in our group shared experiences where people had taken advantage of their hospitality.

P 174  John quotes Eva Cox: We live in a society not an economy. . . If the Government doesn’t look after the people, people can’t look after the economy.

P 176  As friends of Jesus of Nazareth, we can disagree on many issues but it should be hard to argue against the belief that there is an overriding call in the Bible to demonstrate a particular concern for the poor and prioritise the welfare of the vulnerable.

The role of faith communities

P 178  It is easier to talk about ‘prayers of intercession’ and handing over the responsibility of doing something to God than to meditate on how I could respond to the plight of my friends, the poor or disadvantaged and actually do something about it.

P 180  John talks about Marcus Borg’s ‘thin places’—where we recognise the activity and presence of God. Not an ‘elsewhere God’ but a God who is present ‘here and now’.

P 182  John raises this important 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?

P 185. This sums up John’s book pretty well: ‘. . . people are attracted to Jesus because he made them feel worthwhile, included and valued. He conveyed a passion about life that was empowering.’

Chapters 9 and 10 of John Smith’s book certainly challenged us.

Spirituality without borders

P 189  To live a ‘good life’ for me means to experience the sacred energy force I call God in the lives of those I meet.

P 192  ‘God’s spirit is present now within, between and around you.’ This reminded us of George Stuart’s God beyond, within and between us.

P 192  ‘I see my role now as a committed subversive saboteur, with the aim of rescuing the message of the human Jesus from the distorted view of both orthodox Christianity and mainstream Western society.’ We though this was similar to Gretta Vosper’s mission of ‘irritating the church into the 21st century’.

P 194  John reminded us that God works through us.

Our role in community as subversives

P 198  John reminded us of Martin Luther King’s principle that ‘the right time to do the right thing is now’.

P 206  . . . while Jesus’ actions were non-violent, they were not passive resistance either, but active non-violent resistance.

P 210  One of our group recalled the days when the ‘Wanted’ posters of Jesus were promoted by the Methodist Church.

P 212  I wish to continue the task I believe I have been given, which is to smuggle the true Jesus back into the Christian Community and into everyday living, against all opposition.

P 214  . . . the sacred energy source we call God is within each person and it comes to visibility primarily in the way we relate personally to each other.

P 216  We discussed the ‘irrational fear that continues to pervade modern society toward those who dare to be different and who are willing to speak the truth as they understand it.

Next week we discuss the vital Chapter 11 ‘The future structure of inclusive faith communities’.

Ken Williamson






Ken Williamson








Book Review: Further exploration of Friendship

From our Caloundra Explorers:

Continue a reading of John Smith’s Jesus and the Empowering Influence of Friendship

Chapter 4–6 of John Smith’s book are all about social justice.

The values of friendship

P 106  A progressive Christian can be defined as a person introducing or promoting change gradually or in stages.

P 106-107  We liked this quote from Marcus Borg: One of God’s central qualities is compassion, a word that in Hebrew is related to the word for ‘womb’. Not only is compassion a female image suggesting source of life and nourishment but it also has a feeling dimension: God as compassionate Spirit feels for us as a mother feels for the children of her womb. Spirit feels the suffering of the world and participates in it . . .

P 109  . . . if we truly open ourselves to the feelings of another human being, we risk the possibility of needing to make changes in the way we behave as a friend.

P 112  John Smith’s dream: . . . I strongly believe that if the world were governed by the values that good friends share, then there would be world peace and a significant decrease in the social evils we face in our society.

Where do our values originate?

P 123  We briefly discussed cyber bullying.

Ken Williamson


Book Review: The Godless Gospel

The Godless Gospel: Was Jesus a Great Moral Teacher? by Julian Baggini

Thanks to Tim O’Dwyer for referring this book to me. It is a great read and I would recommend it.

In The Godless Gospel, Julian Baggini challenges our assumptions about Jesus – and the Christian values he promotes – by focusing on his teachings in the Gospels. Stripping away the religious elements, Baggini asks how we should understand Jesus’s attitude to the renunciation of the self, to politics or to sexuality, as expressed in Jesus’s often-elusive words.

An atheist from a Catholic background, Baggini grapples with Jesus’s sometimes contradictory messages, and against his own scepticism, finds that Jesus’s words amount to a purposeful and powerful philosophy, which has much to teach us today.

Julian Baggini is a British philosopher and the author of several books about philosophy written for a general audience. He is the author of The Pig that Wants to be Eaten and 99 other thought experiments (2005) and is co-founder and editor of The Philosophers’ Magazine. He was awarded his Ph.D. in 1996 from University College London for a thesis on the philosophy of personal identity. In addition to his popular philosophy books, Baggini contributes to The Guardian, The Independent, The Observer, and the BBC. He has been a regular guest on BBC Radio 4’s In Our Time.

From the very beginning, Baggini identifies some realities:

  • Nearly a third of the global population identifies as Christian
  • In most advanced industrial countries the faith’s buildings are half empty
  • Fewer and fewer people accept the divinity of Jesus
  • Many clergy interpret his resuurection as ‘the son of God’ in metaphorical terms
  • One third of Church of England clergy doubt his physical resurrection
  • Belief in the moral teaching of Jesus seems to be as strong as ever
  • Some non-Christians think society needs the morality of the religion they reject
  • We can extract a secular moral philosophy from the religious teachings of the Gospels.

So Baggini goes on to extract a secular moral philosophy from the teachings of Jesus in the Gospel narratives. With all the obstacles and challenges of such a task his 304 page treatise is  very readible and interesting, practical, relevant and thought provoking from the manger to the crucifixion.

This book lends itself to a study group with its referencing and source links.

Paul Inglis 25th April 2023



Book Review: The Bible for Grown-Ups

Thanks to Warren Rose (Dayboro Explorers) for drawing our attention to this book which backgrounded his seminar on the historical Jesus last Sunday.

Author: (the late) Simon Loveday

His last project was The Bible for Grown-Ups (2016), a study of the history, text and context of the Bible, and he received the wonderful news of its publication shortly after his diagnosis with cancer. He faced his illness with exceptional determination, speaking on Radio 4, at the book launch and at literary festivals up until the week in which he died.

He studied social anthropology at King’s College, Cambridge, French and German at University College London and English at Merton College, Oxford. He discovered the work of the Canadian scholar Northrop Frye, a key intellectual influence, and a book, The Romances of John Fowles (1985), grew out of my father’s studies.

After teaching in Salisbury, Wiltshire, at the University of East Anglia and at Oxford, Simon joined the University of Oxford Delegacy of Local Examinations. He described the move as “a watershed”, providing a vision of how exams could be designed to promote good teaching, not the other way around.

He took this vision into the psychological sphere and joined Mosaic, a management consultancy company in Bristol, trained in Gestalt therapy and became a pioneering promoter of psychological profiling in business. Simon later joined K2 Management Development and trained as a family psychotherapist. Most recently he was involved in developing and delivering courses for the NHS at Keele University.

From the Prologue:

“The book is theologically neutral. It neither requires, nor rejects, belief. What it tries to do is to help intelligent adults to make sense of the Bible – a book that is too large to swallow whole, yet too important in our history and culture to spit out. How do we approach the Bible, not with the naivete of the child, but with the maturity of the adult? How can we read the Bible with our brains in gear? The purpose of this bool is to do just that…..

“There is a childish way of thinking about the Bible – but what is an adult way? What, in short, would be ‘the Bible for grown-ups?

“The intention of this book is not to break new ground, nor to be contentious. There is a huge amount of careful, thoughtful, and fascinating biblical research and scholarship from the past two centuries but all too often it does not get over the academic frontier. This book seeks to make that research more widely known, in terms that the general reader can understand.”

The book is divided into three parts –

The Old Testament – structure, authority, historical context, structure and purpose, as history (is it true?), as morality (is it right?), read scientifically, who wrote it, multiple messages.

The New Testament – the world of Jesus, structure and purpose, as history and morality, the historical context, who wrote it?, who did Jesus think he was?.

A Vision of Freedom – Is there a different way to read the Bible? A literary appreciation. The sum of the parts: reading the Bible as a unity.

This a great resource for average critical thinkers who enjoy the reduction of the complex to a much simpler discourse without losing credibilty. It would be useful in discussions about interpretation, contextualising, knowing the background to the characters especially Jesus.


Paul Inglis 28th March 2023.



Book Review: Is Nothing Sacred?

Is Nothing Sacred? The Non-Realist Philosophy of Religion by Don Cupuitt

Fordham University Press, NY, 2002

reviewed by Nicholas Rundle

An edited review by Nicholas Rundle, an Anglican Priest and Quaker fellow-traveller who lives in the Adelaide hills. From the Sea of Faith in Australia “Bulletin” Feb 2003.
Don Cupitt is one of the world’s most controversial theologian-philosophers.
In his popular and, some would say, subversive BBC TV series of the 1980s, ‘The Sea of Faith’, Cupitt asserted that religion, in order to survive, must free itself from supernatural beliefs and be seen instead as a form of human cultural expression.
Cupitt has been described by some as a Christian atheist and he has not been afraid to attack the church and theologians. In his 1980 book Taking Leave of God Cupitt accused the church of exercising ‘psychological terrorism’, [see note 1] and defined his own role as that of a rescuer. Jesus is to be rescued from dogmatic captivity and God from metaphysical captivity. Jesus, the ‘ugly little man’, has in his more recent books, such as Reforming Christianity returned to centre stage where Kingdom religion — the religion of immediacy preached by Jesus — must emerge from the ‘rusty and oppressive’ machinery of the mediated religion of the Church [see nore 2]. Cupitt exhorts his readers to a beliefless religion where worship and belief in a supernatural realm are replaced by a definition of religion as a way people relate themselves to life and celebrate life.
Cupitt’s latest book, Is Nothing Sacred needs to be read against the background of the radical Sea of Faith movement as well as the controversy and vituperation that has followed him as he has sought to promote his non-realist Christianity from within the Church.
In the introduction to Is Nothing Sacred? (p XI ) Cupitt defines non-realism in this way:

Suppose we become acutely aware of our own human limits: we realise that we are always inside human language, and only ever see the world through our human eyes. All that is ever accessible to us is the relative god, my god. As I see this, metaphysics dies and I am left knowing only my god, my guiding religious ideal. And this is the non-realist philosophy of religion in a nutshell.

The value of the Introduction lies not only in the succinct way in which Cupitt summarises his thought but the chronological account of the way his ideas have developed; a kind of chronological apologia. Until now only Scott Cowdell’s 1988 book, Atheist Priest (SCM) provided any kind of guide to the themes which have emerged from Cupitt’s earlier books as he journeyed from Christian orthodoxy to a radical empty humanism and a love of transience. Cupitt quotes with a touch of humour the English establishment figure, Baroness Warnock who bracketed together the philosophers, Derrida, Rorty, and Cupitt as enemies of objective truth and public morals (ix). However the reader also gets a sense of how difficult Cupitt’s journey has been for him and how hurtful he has found the accusations that his philosophy is, “simply a euphemism for sheer and shameless unbelief.” (xv). Perhaps Cupitt has received more opprobrium than other equally radical thinkers because he has drawn attention to the stultifying insularity of the British academic and ecclesiastical establishments. It is perhaps appropriate that his latest book of essays has appeared in a series on continental theologians because Cupitt has been a pioneer in the exploration of continental European thought and its implications for the way in which life is lived.
Is Nothing Sacred is comprised of a series of essays from the period 1980 –2000. They explore themes from Kant and Nietzsche, and sketch Cupitt’s vision for radical religion. I appreciated the essay in which he explores the history of religious art. Cupitt is particularly knowledgeable about art. He traces the dissolution of any kind of division between sacred and secular art in the modern and post modern eras. He notes the move towards the abstract and to postmodern art which seeks to disturb and confront, rather than to console or uplift the observer who can no longer remain only a contemplating observer but is drawn into the emerging flux of being.
Cupitt, much I suspect to the annoyance of the retiring Archbishop of Canterbury, remains a priest. As an Anglican priest myself I note in this book and in others, Cupitt’s real pastoral concern for his readers and hearers to find their own way to liberation. The old style religion of mediated salvation is replaced by religion as therapy which serves to divest people of an addiction to be what Bishop Richard Holloway has called in public, ‘meaning junkies’. In chapter six Cupitt explores therapy as a way of freeing people to accept life as it is, rather than turning life into a weapon to make ourselves unhappy. He focuses on the Buddha as the best exponent of the therapeutic approach. Cupitt has at times been content to call himself a Christian Buddhist. In this chapter he encourages his readers to see religion as reconciling us to what is and might be in this world, rather than providing us with information about illusory worlds or Platonic ideals. It is no wonder that Cupitt’s style of theologising has profoundly influenced novelists like Philip Pullman and Iris Murdoch.
The turn to life, a theme that emerges in Cupitt’s more recent books, is summarised in an article entitled, ‘The Value of Life’ in which he explores the requirement to develop an appropriate environmental ethic. He draws attention to the nostalgic utopian tendency in conservation movements and traces this to western assumptions about an unchanging morality ‘out there’ needing only to be grasped and applied rather than an “ever-renewed creative activity though which we give our life worth and keep the human enterprise going.” (p 124) In the final two chapters of the book Cupitt reprints two essays in which he responds to criticisms by two British Anglican theologians, the establishment liberal David Edwards and Rowan Williams, soon to become the leader of the Anglican Communion. In his disputation with Edwards Cupitt attacks theological liberalism at its weakest point. Cupitt sees the liberal project as one of cleaning up the language and presentation of the faith in the hope that the result will more than satisfy a post Christian world, hungry for spirituality as well as restore passion and commitment to the mainstream Church. Cupitt rejects these liberal aspirations and calls for root and branch reform by appealing to the feminist critique of Christianity and to Jesus’ radical this-world ethic. Here the reader gets a sense of Cupitt’s determination to staying within a Church in which many regard him as an ecclesiastical cuckoo. The last words of this book have him reiterating a promise to change the Church from within and claiming his own place within the Church. His vision of the future Church, reiterated in many of his books is of democratic undogmatic Quaker style non-realist communities fired by a solar ethic. Individuals and communities live like the sun pouring themselves out for others without hope for spiritual reward. Can we see the shadow of Kant’s ethics in Cupitt’s solar ethic?
In his reply to Rowan Williams, Cupitt employs the metaphor of the dance to describe the ambiguity of religious claims to truth, which must at the same time be negated. He quotes Derrida in defence of a playful use of language that is ultimately incapable of definition. Cupitt finds much in common with Williams, both writers seeking to employ language as play, an arena for meaning making in this world although Cupitt believes that nothing can lie beyond language. Cupitt defends himself by a discussion of the void, or Nihil, a common theme in his writings. Cupitt is taking the path of many mystics by saying that faith is not information gathering or belief but a radical death into unknowing, a kenotic embrace of the void rather than a retreat into a closed circle of certainty. Cupitt accuses Williams of taking the side of a nostalgic easygoing Christendom-type religion rather than seeking to make connections and learn the language of the world which only comes by entering the place of dark unknowing. He urges Williams to come out of the religious closet and declare himself a non-realist.
I hope that Williams and Cupitt will continue the dance of debate and that voice of radicals like Cupitt and the Sea of Faith will be as much valued and respected as the voices of powerful lobby groups. In every area of contemporary life, the Church included, conservatives and liberals continually squabble about the moral high ground. They usually make common cause only to suppress the unpopular radical who points out the real state of the Emperor’s robe-less condition.
Perhaps it’s worth recalling that in the Gospel the sworn enemies Pontius Pilate and Herod made friends in order to crucify Jesus. One hopes that the prophetic Cupitt will keep the radical nature of faith alive in the Church of the Kingdom which may yet emerge from the wreckage of institutional Churchianity.
I found Is Nothing Sacred? a valuable and important addition to my knowledge and appreciation of Cupitt. I have found Cupitt’s writings enormously influential in the development and maturation of my own faith. Unlike Cupitt I am prepared to be open (most days) to a faith in a transcendent God beyond the god of human imagination and creativity to which humans can relate as I/Thou. I certainly believe that Cupitt deserves to be more widely read in an Australia. More and more people are struggling to find a way through a post modern world where the old nostalgia often peddled by political and religious leaders seems less and less convincing and where the void of loss leads many to nihilist despair. Cupitt also speaks powerfully to the condition of many post Christians and post theists who still want to value the transformative potential of religion without God. He challenges those who want to escape into Harry Potter fantasies where the truth is out there somewhere waiting to be decoded, delivered by Santa or downloaded from the Internet.
This book is a good introduction to most of the major themes that Cupitt has wrestled with since his turn to non-realism in 1980. If you have not before read Cupitt and engage with
Is Nothing Sacred?
you may well discover why the Adelaide-based scientist and author Paul Davies calls Cupitt as one of the most exciting theologians of our era.[see note 3] You may not agree with Cupitt but I think you might discover in the questions he is asking a powerful antidote to the religious pulp fiction that so often passes for theology, spirituality, personal group and other meaning-making genres in our era.


1. As described by T. Beeson Rebels and Reformers (SCM 1999) p.171.
2. Cupitt, D Reforming Christianity Santa Rosa California 2001 Polebridge Press p 7
3. Davies, P ‘The Ingeniously Ordered Universe’ p 38 in Wallace, Fisher et al (eds) Time and Tide (John Hunt, 2001)

Caloundra Explorers Completion of a Study

Dear Explorers

For those who have been following:

We have had the final session of our book study of John Humphreys’ Our benevolent cosmos. We had a lively discussion around these key moments:

Subjugation of women in the Church

P 108  We watched the short video How Jesus’ female disciples were erased from history:…wiped-from-history/news-story/b398dbb1e22d44e9b20b2f82ebea9516

P 111 ‘Nature, like Scripture, remained a male preserve—the domain of Mathematical Man alone.’ (Wertheim in Pythagoras’ Trousers)

P 111  ‘In this 21st century, we need to progress towards a higher degree of authenticity which moves beyond adherence to traditional religious dogma and yet maintains the jewels from the best elements of Christianity.’ This is much the same as what George Stuart said in his book Starting all over again? Yes or No?

Answering the sceptics

P 113  To illustrate the fact that scientists don’t know how life originated on Earth we watched this New Scientist video:

P 115  ‘The followers of some religious organisations, imbued with collective biases and outdated dogmatic principles, do not always equate to the lives of soulful, conscious and deeply moral humans with a deep connection to Source (or God).’

Towards the intersection of science, spirituality, religion and history

P 117  ‘Today’s scientists have more in common with the mystics than do many religious people.’ (Rohr)

Reflections for Christian adherents

P 121  ‘The revised concept of God, the inspirational life of Jesus, and the inner essence in all humankind (divine spirit, soul or consciousness) can still be argued to represent a Trinity. . . If prayer is your ultimate comfort, pray to God as the Supreme Cosmic Intelligence, to Jesus Christ as the great Prophet of Love, and pray for the intuitive wisdom to discover your inner, pure essence.’

We wondered how these statement would be received in a traditional church service.

What is God?

P 123  John uses the term energy in at least four different ways—energy in a light bulb, dark energy, negative energy in a room and the negative energy in the theory of a zero-mass universe, explained in this YouTube video:

Final reflections

P 125  ‘This inner consciousness can be termed the God Essence, the Divine Spirit, the God Within, the Deep I, or more simply the Soul.’

P 126  ‘The concept of God being the underlying supreme intelligence, the benevolent and pervasive energy behind all things, earth and space, is arguably a more cogent view than the outdated image of God as a paternal, judgmental figure residing in a place called heaven.’

P 130-131  John explained the background of his prose/poem The cycle of life where water is used as a metaphor for birth, career, retirement and death.

We certainly got a lot out of John’s book and we hope you did too. See you on Sunday.

Ken Williamson



Book Review: Wherever You are, You are on a Journey

Wherever You are, You are on a Journey: Conversations in a Coffee Shop.

Book 1 of a trilogy by Susan Jones. Philip Garside Publishing Ltd.

It is easy to lose sight of our inner convictions as we stumble, fall, pick ourselves up and deal with critical fellow-travellers. It is not easy to seek directions through mists of disillusionment and disenchantment.(Susan Jones)

This is a novel with a powerful use of simple understatement and a generous discourse that touches on what it means to be fully human. It is about Hope (her friend’s) journey and her own journey of discovery and evolving relationship with other seekers. Susan Jones has imaginatively located the events in a coffee shop where she meets regularly with Hope to unpack ideas and help Hope, as her minister, through the struggle we all have with finding meaning in life and faith.

She examines Hope’s journey as a typical pathway through faith which, for her, ultimately led to wrestling with questions openly. This includes the shock of unpacking the shibboleths of fundamentalism and literalism, clearly the responses of many people to this awakening of values – from trying to stay within the old ‘acceptable’ outlook to comfortably challenging it.

The story demonstrates what happens when one is allowed to think critically and share doubts.

Using the vehicles of the novel and the coffee shop conversations, Susan interrogates the issues many of us are living through – truth, facts, faith, church history, historical criticism, post enlightenment thinking and even Schleimacker’s work on the ‘scientific discipline of religion’.

Drawing on many contemporary progressive theologians, Susan takes the reader on a journey of continuous unfolding of understandings and practices that have so often been thought of literally rather than as metaphor, making more sense when seen as the latter.

Reflections on the decline of Christianity and the rise of openness to discussing the alternatives raises the question as to what ideology fills the vacuum in an age of omnipotent (acting) world leaders?

But the impossible quest for answers bedded in old beliefs is a block to our journey if we don’t take a new direction. This is an invitation to ask ourselves if the old assumptions, beliefs and habits are the limit of our understanding. The author asserts that it is not, and our journey is about finding oneself – becoming fully human in a world where the church has failed to deliver this for us.

This subtle unpacking of myth makes good reading for anyone re-thinking their life and what has shaped their thinking. It is an imaginary set of conversations and not a heavy theological treatise, that draws on psychology and philosophy to aid the process of thinking about the big topics of sin, evil, baptism, communion and scripture.

Recommended reading for personal reflection on one’s own journey.

Paul Inglis 18.11.2022

The author: Susan Jones

Poet, writer, musician, minister and spiritual guide, Rev Dr Susan Jones is passionate that faith be sung and spoken authentically in her context of today’s Aotearoa New Zealand.

During her 25 years of ordained ministry, Susan developed skills in curating worship which blend theology, metaphor, and context with inclusive spirituality.

Her writing has been informed by her roles as a teacher, spiritual director, supervisor and minister. She’s completed a doctorate in theology too.

Susan engages respectfully with diverse beliefs and opinions; distilling complex ideas, making change accessible. She brings a gentle, quirky sense of humour to her writing.

Susan’s coffee shop conversations trilogy integrates years of church, study, scholarly observation, struggle and no small measure of pain, undergirded by authenticity, deep faith, and a sense of the numinous.

Meeting the spiritual and pastoral needs of people in LGBTQI community has been a particular focus. Through her contemporary lyrics and liturgy, Susan has encouraged her parish churches to progress in their inclusive journey.

Now retired to Dunedin, Susan is devoting her time to writing and has 4 books recently released and forthcoming in 2022.

Book purchase:  from Amazon Australia in Paperback and Kindle format.



Caloundra Explorers continuing to study Our Benevolent Cosmos

Dear Explorers

We struggled a bit with the first half of Chap 2 in John Humphreys’ Our benevolent universe, but we found the second half a very moving experience.


P 61  We had to think about Deepak Chopra’s idea of the soul as a ‘bundle of consciousness’ but it made more sense as we continued.

P 63  We enjoyed the Stephen Hawking quote: At some point during our 13.8 billion years of cosmic history, something beautiful happened. This information processing got so intelligent that life forms became conscious. Our universe has now awoken, becoming aware of itself.

P 64  ‘Something transcendental is involved with the mind, consciousness, and the path of awakening—call it God, Spirit, Buddha-nature, the Ground, or by no name at all.’ (Hanson & Mendius)

P 65   We struggled a bit with Tolle’s ‘the brain does not create consciousness but consciousness created the brain, the most complex physical form on earth’.

P 6   We applied Tolle’s ‘collective pain body’ to the intergenerational trauma experienced by our indigenous people.

P 67. Ilia Delio says ‘Evolution brings with it a rise of consciousness, and as consciousness arises, so too does awareness of God.’ We also watched this video:

Unveiling our divine light

P 68-69 ‘We reach our pure, divine essence through deep meditation which provides the portal for the inner stillness, the inner presence.’  John read the poem Meditation and eternity that he wrote after just such an experience.

Dissolving in a sacred sphere of stillness

Connecting with a creative consciousness

Merging with the mystical union of all living beings

With nature, and all things seen and unseen

Regenerating through an emanating Life Force

Deepening our relationship with the Infinite Source

Comprehending with curiosity that you are one

With the earth, the sky, and galaxies beyond

Soften your heart and seek your inner light

Illuminate your being in a transcendent love

That enfolds humanity in a peaceful embrace

We are children of the cosmos, travelling in stardust

Transforming our bodies and nurturing our souls

Merging with eddies of energy and luminous light

In brilliant colours radiating out from your core

Then returning anew to this material world

Refreshed and enlightened in our physical form

The interconnection of all

P 71  ‘A man is like forest, individual yet connected and dependent on others for growth.’ (Mogi)

P 71 Central to what John says in his book are the ideas of quantum physics, so I showed the video What can Schrodinger’s cat teach us about quantum mechanics?

P 72  Compassion is ‘the glue that holds the world together.’ (Tibetan master)

What happens before and after death?

P 74  Speaking of a near-death experience Moorjani says: ‘I was overwhelmed by the realisation that God is not a being, but a state of being, and I was now that state of being . . . I realised that the entire universe is alive and infused with consciousness, encompassing all life and nature.’

P 75 To help explain quantum consciousness I showed the Stuart Hameroff video Secrets of theSoul – The Investigators – Quantum Activity (1.48 min)

P 76  Dyer says ‘Once you get past the fear of death as an end, you merge with the infinite and feel the comfort and relief this realisation brings.’ He says you can do this ‘by seeing yourself as an infinite spiritual being having a human experience, rather than the reverse . . .’

Acceptance of suffering and surrender to death

P 77 ‘ . . . rather than simply dying to save us from our sins, Jesus was also showing the world the path to surrendering (in his case to physical death on the cross) and total acceptance of what is, into which he was forced by his intense suffering.’—something to think about!

Next Tuesday we study the first half of Chap 3 The birth of the next reformation p 79–106.


Our final Gathering for the year will be held on Sunday 20 November from 5.30–7 pm in the Caloundra Uniting Church hall. Our guest speaker will be John Humphreys whose book Our Benevolent Cosmos: Embracing the Mystery of Life we are presently studying.


John’s life experiences have inexorably led him to the writing of this book, which blends together his career in science, technology and innovation, his personal spiritual journey, his interest in research and his love of art and literature. In the book he also reconciles his earlier religious upbringing with more contemporary understandings of What is God?

We have been very privileged that John has attended our book studies to share some of his life experiences and help us understand the concepts he has developed in his book. As a culmination of our study of Our Benevolent Cosmos and our year-long exploration of What is God, John has agreed to be our guest speaker for our final Gathering. So I hope many of you will be able to take advantage of this opportunity to embrace the mystery of life with John. As usual there will be a shared meal, so bring a plate.

Ken Williamson  




Report 3: Caloundra Explorers and the Benevolent Cosmos

Dear Explorers

I know some of you are following our book study using electronic copies, so the page numbers will be different from those below. To assist these people I will give section titles, and of course I have copies of the book if you want one.

Chap 2 Unveiling your pure essence—or ‘God within us’

P 36  ‘Love creates new forms, changes matter, and holds the cosmos together beyond time and space. It is in every one of us. It’s what God is.’(Dyer)

Philosophy and the meaning of life

P 40  We used this image to discuss the difference between theism, pantheism, panentheism (and atheism). George Stuart declared himself a panentheist, and we think John Humphreys is the same.

Art,creativity and creation

P 41  John reflected ‘In that moment of creativity, we become disembodied spiritual beings, releasing the pure essence within us all’, however we were’t at all sure how we could do this.


P 44  We were fascinated by the fact that neurons (brain cells) ‘are essentially the same from the most primitive animal to the most advanced’.


P 46  ‘The new physics is another way to express the fundamental truth underlying creation.’ (Cannato)


P 46  We liked the idea of God being the ‘lead flute player’. (Keller)

Spirit and soul

P 50  We discussed the difference between ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’—The soul is the animate life, or the seat of the senses, desires, affections, and appetites. The spirit is that part of us that connects, or refuses to connect, to God.’ However we thought you could argue that it was the other way round, with soul in the inner circle.

The divine light within

P 53  I read this translation of Acts 17:28 from The Voice: ‘We live in God; we move in God; we exist in God.’

P 53–54  ‘. . . a mental concept of, and belief in God is a poor substitute for the living reality of God manifesting every moment of your life.’ (Tolle)

P 54  ‘The Divine Presence shines equally upon everyone, yet it is our own personal choice whether or not we reflect that divine light into the world.’ (Khan)

P 56  ‘The world should feel hopeful because you are here. You are the hope because God is in you.’ (Williamson)

P 56  We viewed the Richard Rohr YouTube video Go deep in one place (3.27 min).

P 58  ‘We are not just made by God, we are made of God.’ (Julian of Norwich)

P 60  John’s summary: ‘The idea that God is present as the inner divine light in all humans on this earth is strongly supported by an immense number of spiritual and philosophical insights. . . We are all one. (This idea) also refutes the notion that God is an external being.’

P 60  We finished with the Namaste Prayer:

I honour the place in you

In which the entire universe dwells

I honour the place in you

Which is of love, of truth

Of light and of peace

When you are in that place in you

And I am in that place in me

We are one.

A couple of overall comments on the book so far:

1  There are so many quotes we have a bit of trouble distinguishing them from what John Humphreys himself is saying.

2  While we are discussing the ‘benevolent cosmos’ we have to acknowledge the presence of evil in the world.


Next week we finish Chapter 2 p 61–77.

Ken Williamson