Category Archives: Events

Meetings coming up at the St Lucia Group (Brisbane)

St Lucia Spirituality Group
Newsletter July 2022

Greetings

Our recent meeting in June on the subject of meditation was well attended and provoked much discussion. Consequently, at our July meeting we shall turn our attention to Praying with Scripture.

Each of us has had a personal experience of Scripture that can vary from passive listening to deep contemplation. The common Catholic experience was to hear Scripture at Mass and to have it unpacked for its meaning by a priest. Many did not discuss the sermon after church, so were effectively “taught” to be passive listeners. Vatican II encouraged Catholics to adopt an active and contemplative approach to Scripture by reading the Bible on a regular basis at home and reflecting upon it. Anecdotally, it seems that only a small percentage took up that challenge.

In our next meeting we will examine three aspects of praying with Scripture.

  1. Rules for reading Scripture for accurate meaning
  2. Reading Scripture with Commentary
  3. The traditional practice of Lectio Divina

Our focus will be on Lectio Divina. We will briefly outline the practice and then provide a recommended scriptural passage to help you experience this practice before our meeting. Our meeting will focus mainly on member’s experience of using this process.

At our following meeting in August, we will focus on the Ignatian practice of imagining oneself inside the Gospel scene.

There is no single best way to pray with Scripture. Through the next two meetings, we hope to give you some well-established methods for improving your understanding of Scripture and deepening your experience of it and therefore of God.

Plenary Council of Australia – Second General Assembly

Many of you will be aware that the Second General Assembly took place in Sydney on 3-9 July. This is a significant event in the life of the Catholic Church in Australia and, just like the Anglican Synod that we reported on in May, it had its moments of controversy. You can find the final motions and voting at https://plenarycouncil.catholic.org.au/. Significantly, the Council passed landmark motions to elevate the status of women in the Church. See https://catholicleader.com.au/news/australias-plenary-council-passes-landmark-motions-to-elevate-women-in-the-church/

Butterfly Series – Next Meeting – Praying with Scripture Part 1

Our Episode 10 meeting will be held on Zoom at 6:00pm AEST on Tuesday 26 July. To register your attendance, please email John at jscoble@hradvantage.com.au.

If you would like a copy of our pre-reading material, simply email us. It is also available on our Facebook page. There is no obligation to join our meeting.

Butterfly Series – What’s Next?

Our practice has been to introduce the content of our meetings through our newsletters and then provide pre-reading material to those who register for our meetings on Zoom. However, we are aware that there is interest in our activities amongst some who observe from a distance or who do not wish to participate in Zoom meetings. Consequently, we are examining some options whereby we can access relatively short videos through links to the internet so that anyone receiving our newsletter can watch them if they wish. In this way, we can disseminate the material we are considering more widely. Those who wish to examine these ideas further can then meet for discussion online via our Zoom meetings. Or over coffee.

If you are aware of any videos or podcasts we could use for this purpose please let us know.

 Our Facebook Page

The St Lucia Spirituality Group is a community seeking to develop a more mature understanding of what lies at the core of spiritual beliefs, embracing explanations for the nature, meaning and purpose of life. We currently have 35 members, of whom about half are active. Interaction is the lifeblood of a community. Therefore, we wish to encourage you to make posts on Facebook about questions you are considering, books you have read or interesting podcasts you have listened to. Furthermore, we would ask you to invite friends who you believe may be interested in spiritual enquiry and development to join us. You could share this newsletter and invite others to our next meeting.

We invite you to find our FB group by clicking on this link, it will take you to our page where you will be able to apply to join.

If you are not a Facebook user, we can help you set up your account with maximum privacy, you can be anonymous and even use a nick name or an alias if you wish. Consult Robert or John if you want help.

You can also contact us by email slsg4067@gmail.com.

Go well…
John Scoble & Robert van Mourik

oOo

The Progressive Christian Network of Victoria
invites you to join
Dr Val Webb
in
“The view from where I stand today”
Reflections on life, context, and theology
Sunday 24th July 2022, 4:00pm to 6.00pm.
(A ‘Zoom only’ Meeting)


Dr Val Webb is an Australian theologian who has worked in the USA and
Australia and written ten books. Val has a long association with PCNV,
having attended its inaugural meeting and spoken here many times.
In this video made last year during COVID for Perth Progressives, Val
reflects on issues on her mind. What made each of us “us”, the good
and the bad? How have our minds changed over the years and why?
She reflects on ageing, agreeing and disagreeing with books written
about it. She talks about losses with retirement and wonders about our
“spirituality” if our minds diminish.

And what of churches – institution, congregations, ordination – as
numbers decline? Given institutional emphasis on attracting the young,
what of the elderly holding these churches together while waiting for the
young – their financial and physical struggles while also caring for partners?
Val will join via zoom for discussion after the presentation.

The Zoom link for this meeting is:

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85307260734?pwd=Zy9JN0NuaHFzVWVYMDRseDgwcFBkdz09

Open by copying above link and paste into your browser.
(If needed, the Meeting ID is 853 0726 0734, and the Passcode is 699541)

This is a free PCNV event

Everyone Welcome

oOo

Event: Redcliffe (Q) Explorers – Why did the Church reject Jesus own people?

At our next gathering – on Monday 4th July – Rev. Dr Lorraine Parkinson will consider the question Why did the Church reject Jesus’ own people? and provide an answer via an exploration of the relationships between Christians and Jews over two millennia.

Lorraine is a retired ordained Minister of the Uniting Church, with a Doctorate in Biblical Studies and Early Judaism.  She worked for 30 years in the area of interfaith relations, particularly those between Christians and Jews.  She was Chair of the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania’s Working Group on Christian-Jewish Relations for 12 years, and a member of the National Dialogue between the Uniting Church Assembly and the Executive Council of Australian Jewry for 10 years. Lorraine majored in Jewish Studies in an Arts Degree at Melbourne University, which included two years of studying antisemitism and the Holocaust.

Her presentation will be illustrated by slide images and there will certainly be opportunities for small group discussion of questions.  All participants will receive a summary of the Uniting Church Assembly’s official policy statement regarding its relationship with Jews and Judaism.

This is not an old issue that is no longer relevant to the life of the church in the 21st century – the central issues between Jews and Christians still exist in 2022.

 All are welcome – we’ll gather in the Activities Room at the Azure Blue Retirement complex (91 Anzac Ave., Redcliffe) at 6 p.m. for a cuppa and chat prior to the start of proceedings at 6:30. The Centre management requires that we’re all fully Covid-vaccinated, and if you have any Covid or flu-like symptoms you’re encouraged to stay at home. If you’d like to come along but aren’t a regular at our gatherings it would be advisable to give me a call on 0401 513 723 about access and parking arrangements at the Centre.

Shalom, Ian

oOo

Event: Gathering at Merthyr Road UC: Evolution is Ongoing

Everyone is invited to join in at Merthyr Explorers on 29th June
Merthyr Road Uniting Church, 52 Merthyr Rd, New Farm.
10 am for morning tea (a few contributions to this will be welcome)
10:30 we begin our exploring of the topic.

Bev Floyd will lead our exploring around themes in her recently published book  ‘A world without religion …or?”

Here’s a teaser of the content:

  • The drift of believers from the Christian Church in Australia and why it is happening.
  • It canvasses the role of evolution and the concept that the underlying principles of material evolution are still working to bring humanity to a higher level of consciousness.
  • That, in fact, evolution is ongoing!

A donation of $5 towards costs is appreciated as we do pay for the cleaning and give a donation to Merthyr Road Uniting Church each year for the use of the facilities.

I hope you can join in this discussion following morning tea. Perhaps you would like to continue the conversation at lunch at Moray Cafe.

Looking forward to our time together.

Desley Garnett

oOo

Event + Zoom PCNV Invitation

“After the Vote” – Justice issues for Australians in the light of a Federal Election with 

Dr Mark Zirnsak

Sunday 26th June 2022 from 3:00pm to 5.00pm at
Ewing Memorial Centre of Stonnington Uniting Church
Cnr of Burke Road & Coppin Street, Malvern East

The new Labor Government offers improvements in areas of social justice, response to climate change, justice for First Nations people, people seeking asylum in Australia and aged care. However, we face challenges of a government that has promised to make our tax system more regressive and spend up big on the military, limiting its ability to respond to many areas of important need in our community.

It remains to be seen how a Labor Government will tackle some less prominent justice issues, such as corporate crime and online child sexual abuse, which had been a focus for the previous Coalition government.
Download the flyer HERE

The meeting will also be live streamed via zoom for those unable to attend physically.  See Link below.

Click here for the Zoom Link at 3.00pm

For further information email info@pcnvictoria.org.au

Rod Peppiatt  – PCNV Secretary

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Events: Stage 2 – What is God? Caloundra Explorers

We will soon be moving into stage 2 of our exploration of the question What is God?

Our first book study starts on Tuesday 19 July at 2.30–4 pm in the Weyer Room of the Caloundra Uniting Church, when be will be discussing George Stuart’s wonderful book Starting all over again? Yes or No? I have included a plan for this study over 6 weeks. Rev John Smith, a leader in the progressive Christianity movement in Australia, had this to say about George’s book:

Starting all over again? is a timely book from a man of faith, because it provides encouragement and wisdom for all who are struggling to find a faith grounded in honesty, integrity and most of all in compassion. George is well known by progressive Christians for his composing of modern lyrics expressing the theology that has developed as a result of his search for his unique spiritual voice. Christians seeking to express their spiritual beliefs have been blessed by George’s compositions (Singing a New Song), because they can now sing with integrity as well as passion. For all who are searching for a faith with integrity George’s book is a must read.”

Starting all over again? Yes or No? by George Stuart
July-August 2022
Tuesdays 2.30–4 pm in the Weyer Room
Week 1 19 July
Introduction and Area of questioning 1—Biblical God (p 16–64)
Week 2 26 July
Areas of questioning 2, 3 & 4—Sin & redemption (p 65–96)
Week 3 2 August
Area of questioning 7—The Bible (p 161–234)
Week 4 9 August
Area of questioning 8—Creator God (p 235–286)
Week 5 16 August
Area of questioning 10—Prayer (p 303–331)
Week 6 23 August – Area of questioning 11—Life after death & What comes next for me? (p 332–

   

 

I know it is early, but I would appreciate it if you could let me know whether you plan to attend this book study.

Ten people already have copies of George Stuart’s book (389 pages) and there are two more on order. So I have another eight that you can order from me for the bargain price of $25.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Ken Williamson

Coordinator

oOo

From our Explorer Friends at St Lucia Q.

 

St Lucia Spirituality Group
Newsletter June 2022GreetingsThomas Merton (1915-1968) was a Roman Catholic Trappist monk, poet, and prolific writer on spiritual and social themes, and one of the most important American Roman Catholic writers of the 20th century. James Finley, who we know as one of the leaders at Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation, was a student of Merton at Gethsemani, Merton’s monastery in Kentucky for several years. He subsequently wrote Merton’s Palace of Nowhere, featuring and interpreting Merton’s writings.

In this book, Finley examines Merton’s interpretation of the true and false self, concepts proposed by the psychologist, Carl Jung, but further developed by Merton.

There is a great paradox in that each of us constructs our identity based on our own ego’s view of ourselves, our family and societal expectations of us, and our belief in our own independence, our autonomy. Yet this is not our true self as expressed by Finley:

“The issue is not what my father thought of me, nor my mother, my wife and others thought of me, the issue isn’t really what I think of me. The issue is can I join God in knowing who God knows that I eternally am before the origins of the universe hidden in God forever.”

Initially, the difficulty is that for most of us we don’t even think that our concept of ourselves is ill founded; as Merton says, “is unknown to God”. Merton continues: “This is the man I want myself to be but cannot exist, because God does not know anything about him. And to be unknown of God is altogether too much privacy.”

When we studied Anthony de Mello’s book Awareness in our discussion groups in the church hall in 2019, we wrestled with de Mello’s question “Who Am I?” Until we could grasp that concept and recognise our true self, de Mello said we could not be free.  Or as Marianne Williamson wrote, so often quoted by Nelson Mandella, we could not let our own light shine. We continued to struggle with these concepts in our initial Butterfly series meeting on Waking Up.

How can we recognise our true self? One way is to meditate.

At our next meeting we will explore Finley’s writings further and examine these ideas, and learn about Christian Meditation –its history, how to meditate, its difficulties and benefits.

As we have reported previously, there is a trade off between holding physical meetings and Zoom meetings and we have decided, until we can resolve our location and technical issues, to continue with Zoom meetings for the time being.

Butterfly Series – Next Meeting – Introduction to Meditation

Our Episode 9 meeting on Meditation will be held on Zoom at 6:00pm AEST on Tuesday 21 June. To register your attendance, please email John at jscoble@hradvantage.com.au.

If you would like a copy of our pre-reading material, simply email us. It is also available on our Facebook page. There is no obligation to join our meeting.

Butterfly Series – What’s Next?

Our practice has been to introduce the content of our meetings through our newsletters and then provide pre-reading material to those who register for our meetings on Zoom. However, we are aware that there is interest in our activities amongst some who observe from a distance or who do not wish to participate in Zoom meetings. Consequently, we are examining some options whereby we can access relatively short videos through links to the internet so that anyone receiving our newsletter can watch them if they wish. In this way, we can disseminate the material we are considering more widely. Those who wish to examine these ideas further can then meet for discussion online via our Zoom meetings. Or over coffee.

If you are aware of any videos or podcasts we could use for this purpose please let us know.

 Our Facebook Page

The St Lucia Spirituality Group is a community seeking to develop a more mature understanding of what lies at the core of spiritual beliefs, embracing explanations for the nature, meaning and purpose of life. We currently have 35 members, of whom about half are active. Interaction is the lifeblood of a community. Therefore, we wish to encourage you to make posts on Facebook about questions you are considering, books you have read or interesting podcasts you have listened to. Furthermore, we would ask you to invite friends who you believe may be interested in spiritual enquiry and development to join us. You could share this newsletter and invite others to our next meeting.

We invite you to find our FB group by clicking on this link, it will take you to our page where you will be able to apply to join.

If you are not a Facebook user, we can help you set up your account with maximum privacy, you can be anonymous and even use a nick name or an alias if you wish. Consult Robert or John if you want help.
You can also contact us by email slsg4067@gmail.com.

Go well…
John Scoble & Robert van Mourik

oOo

PCNV Seminar and Zoom session

REMINDER

The Church Triumphant as Salt
“Becoming the Community Jesus Speaks About”
with Rev Dr Sally Douglas
Sunday 29th May 2022 from 3:00pm to 5.00pm at
Ewing Memorial Centre of Stonnington Uniting Church
Cnr of Burke Road & Coppin Street, Malvern East

The Jesus community is called to be the salt of the earth, a metaphor that contains rich and disruptive challenge. Salt is little. We weep salty tears and grow up in dark salty wombs. Salt preserves. Salt draws out taste and too much salt spoils everything.

With scholarly insight into the biblical text, early church writers and theology, as well as her pastoral experience in ministry, Sally Douglas invites us to wrestle afresh with the metaphor of being salt. Here we discover a call into discipleship that is free from the success criteria of consumerist culture and free from nostalgia

Download the flyer HERE
The meeting will also be live streamed via zoom for those unable to attend physically.  See Link below.

Click here for the Zoom Link at 3.00pm

For further information email info@pcnvictoria.org.au

Rod Peppiatt  – PCNV Secretary
For past events click on links to PCNV website or YouTube channel.

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Merthyr Road, New Farm (Q) Explorers next session

Everyone is invited to join in at Merthyr Explorers on 25th May.
Merthyr Road Uniting Church, 52 Merthyr Rd, New Farm.
10 am for morning tea (a few contributions to this will be welcome)
10:30 we begin our exploring of the topic.
A donation of $5 towards costs is appreciated as we do pay for the cleaning and give a donation to Merthyr Road Uniting Church each year for the use of the facilities.

We are moving into workshop/discussion groups this time and the following from Rev Dr Cliff Hospital is the background to the discussion. The focus is on Part B of this material, so a pre-reading of that is essential. Part A is for those who have the time and want to explore the way we interpret scripture.

Desley

Resurrection: Further Thoughts

Part A: Interpreting Scripture

 It might be helpful to set a wider context for the discussion I initiated last month.   Initially I think it is worthwhile to consider somewhat systematically the understanding of interpreting scripture that is the basis of my presentation; I didn’t want to make it the foreground, since that would have undercut the flow of my discussion of the issue, so I just mentioned some of the points in passing.  But if one of the major issues for contemporary Christian thinking is about how to understand the role of the Bible in developing an authentically Christian life, then laying out some principles appears to be in order.

The first point to make is that not all Christians give primacy to the Bible as authoritative in Christian life.  This is a peculiarly Protestant emphasis, developed initially by Luther due to his distress at what he saw happening in the church of Rome.  In his training of Augustinian priests, he was assigned the task of teaching the Bible, and it was his reading of Paul’s letter to the Romans that set him off.  The position of Rome was that the church was the central authority.  It alone, through its recognized scholars, was able to develop the basic intellectual underpinnings of the church’s life.  This did not mean that the Bible had no place in the Catholic scenario.  It rather meant that the Bible had to be interpreted and supplemented by appropriate experts.  To just allow anyone to read the Bible and try their own interpretation—a heretic is, literally, one which chooses (to make his or her own interpretation)–would lead to the dangerous loss of unity in the church.  This position also has the effect of implying that one’s salvation depends on believing the right thing, and this tended to be taken up by the Protestants.  And if on the Catholic side, to believe the wrong thing could mean that one would be subject to the Inquisition and its barbarism, on the Protestant side, it could mean being subject to a heresy trial and defrocked.  But what was crucial for Luther was that he saw the evident corruption in the church as due to loss of the central vision of the gospel, which was in turn a loss of the prime authority of the Scriptures.

 

Second, it is important to emphasize that most of the major religious groups that we call world religions developed what Christians have called a canon of Scripture, a people’s body of shared texts accepted as authoritative for the community. And this development was a long process.  In the case of the Christian Bible it was complicated by the fact that it involved assuming the Hebrew Bible, which was a compilation texts accepted as authoritative by the Jews (and a selection of its own documents was then added by the church).  But it wasn’t mainly the Hebrew Bible that was used; it had been translated into Greek, in a text known as the Septuagint, in which form it was used by many Greek-speaking Jews living outside of the land of Judea, scattered across the eastern Mediterranean and beyond.  But these two texts were not identical in their arrangement.  The Septuagint followed the order of books found in the Christian Bible: beginning with the Pentateuch, followed by a set of historical books, then a set of poetic and wisdom books, and finally a long series of proclamations by a class of religious specialists called prophets.  In the Hebrew version, known by the acronym Tanakh, there are three sections: Torah (identical with the Pentateuch), Neviim (the books of the prophets), and Ketuvim (“writings,” a kind of grab bag of all the rest: historical books, psalms, proverbs, etc.).  That the Septuagint followed a roughly historical trajectory from the creation, to the formation of the covenant with Abraham, and through the history of the people of Israel from the Exodus to the events to which the prophets were responding, meant that the expectations of the prophets could be seen by Christians as leading directly into the event of the coming of Jesus as the Messiah, as recorded in the New Testament (better: “new covenant”).  This could also be given an interpretation of a progressive revelation, with the laws of Moses seen as being refined and improved by the ideas of the prophets (some early modern critical scholars saw the prophets as inaugurating a stage of “ethical monotheism”), and then leading into the full revelation in Jesus Christ.

The order in the Tanakh leads to a different scenario:  the foundation is the Torah (and this is reflected in the fact that today in Jewish synagogue services, these five books are read through every year; the other books of the Tanakh are not part of the synagogue ritual); and this is followed by the Prophets, who are understood as God’s messengers conveying God’s judgment on the people for their lack of faithfulness to the laws of the Torah.  The other writings are rather in the background, providing context to Torah and Ketuvim.

I present this sketch just to make the point that how the scriptures are read can be affected by what appear to be rather small matters.  But add this point: that the compilation of the specifically Christian texts which resulted in an agreement on what comprised the New Testament took several centuries.  And there were always people around who objected to certain books: Luther famously called the letter of James “an epistle of straw;” and many scholars over the centuries thought that Revelation was too bizarrely crazy to be of help.  (And, of course, the obsession among fundamentalists over the last couple of centuries with using the symbolism to explain current events, to the extent that Revelation is arguably their most important book, gives some support to scholarly caution.)   But as well, the investigation of other early Christian texts that were not accepted in the canon has led scholars to the conclusion that there was originally a much wider range of interpretations in the church of the significance of the life of Jesus.  Feminists have noted the extent to which the materials we have reflect a patriarchal culture; other texts make greater use of female symbolism.

Beyond these two points—the extent to which the Scriptures are the primary authority in a religious community’s life, and the complexity of the socio-political background to the formation of an agreed upon text—it is worthwhile to think a bit about how the texts have been used.   At a popular level, one can reasonably assume, people did not discriminate; they just accepted what they heard or read.   Fundamentalists reflect a more articulated stage, beyond mere acceptance, in which people say something like:  the Bible is the word of God.  God is truth, God cannot tell a lie, so the Bible must be true—literally accurate.  How can I then decide that some bits—the story of the creation of the world, Noah’s ark, the tower of Babel—are not historically accurate?

At the level of sophisticated thinkers it has long been accepted that not every verse is equally true, equally authoritative.  The way in which some texts are accorded greater weight than others is perhaps demonstrated most clearly by the traditional position of the Jewish rabbis, the descendants of the Pharisees in the period following the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., and the major leaders of the Jewish communities across the world for the last two thousand years.   They distinguished between two different kinds of material: halakhah, “walking” and aggadah, “narration.”    The former was the term used to refer to the 613 laws included in the Torah whereby the people were to guide their life.  This was clearly central to, normative in, the life of the community.  The other material is very wide ranging—psalms, used in the worship of God; traditional history—including a fair batch of stories of community heroes, such as the patriarchs, military leaders, kings (in many ways these are like Norse sagas, or the epics of Greeks, Romans and Hindus, or the indigenous Australians’ stories of the Dreaming); the utterances made by prophets to the community in judgment and encouragement; wisdom literature such as Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes–more general thinking about the nature of human life.   Although this material was often very interesting and provided illustrations of how the community understood the nature of the good life, it was not central.  What was central for the rabbis was the community’s faithfulness to their covenant with God in adhering to the injunctions and prohibitions of halakhah.

Another set of contrasts then comes into play with respect to following these laws: Mishnah and Midrash.  The laws as presented in the Pentateuch are scattered unsystematically throughout these five books.   Mishnahs were books that were developed to organize materials into various general topics.  The most famous of these, by Rabbi Judah, c. 200 CE, contained six large sections, which included: agriculture; the Sabbath and the festivals; women–marriage and divorce; damages–property, inheritance; sacred things–the temple, etc.; and ritual purity.   Midrash, meaning “inquiry, investigation” is the kind of thinking that Christians have called “exegesis” or more broadly, “interpretation.”  One of my Jewish teachers at Harvard said that the source of midrash is an irritant—e.g., lack of clarity, an apparent disagreement between two different laws, or a situation in which the commentator finds the ethical principles expressed no longer acceptable (a classic example is story of the binding of Isaac, in which God asks Abraham to build a sacrificial altar and then kill his son).  But more extensively midrashes are commentaries in which it is acknowledged that the written torah needs to be reinterpreted to deal with new and different circumstances.

This leads us to another pair: written torah and oral torah.   There is a nice little story that makes the point.  Moses is taken in a kind of time-warp to the academy of the great rabbi, Akiba, in the second century CE.   He is quite mystified.  The rabbinic students argue vociferously with one another, and Moses has no idea what they are talking about: all these new words, all these situations that he doesn’t understand at all.  Then at the end of the session, he is somewhat gratified, but still quite mystified, to hear Rabbi Akiba say: “This law was given to Moses at Mount Sinai.”

The point that is being made, somewhat paradoxically, is that the laws stay the same, and at the same time are continually changing.  Or to put it slightly differently: there is no written torah without oral torah.   Halakha, walking, is a short-cut for acting in the way God has mandated for the community (“walk in the way of the Lord”).  At any point in the life of the community, the commandment to action comes via the judgment of the great rabbis who are committed to a rigorous process of determining what a particular law involves at that specific time.

What this process clearly involves is a determination of what is central to the life of the Jewish community, and a process of contemporization in which the implications of a particular law are for the individual and community.

This clearly articulated process provides a good way of looking at how Christians look at the Scriptures.  Against the background of the Jewish community, Christians are focussed on the gospel, the good news of God’s reign—a vision of the world as God intends it for us in the realization of our full humanity–as mediated via the life and teaching and death of Jesus.   As Luther said, the central principle of interpretation for Christians is that it is Christo-centric.   He appears to have read this mainly via Paul.  I would argue that it is best to understand it via three major presentations: that of the Pauline letters, that of the synoptic gospels, and that of the gospel of John.   From the interplay of these, one can discern a core vision, but it is fairly complicated for these presentations involve different approaches.  Paul uses a rhetorical style of argument which presents his understanding of the life and death of Jesus–sometimes rather simply, but often in a highly complex intellectual tour de force; sometimes in response to questions and problems that are evident in particular communities, but at other times, a more general discussion for the church as a whole.   In the synoptic gospels—Mark, Matthew and Luke– the basic mode is the telling of the story of the life of Jesus with the central values mediated via Jesus’ teaching, in short aphoristic statements and via parables—both types of which have the effect of tossing the hearer beyond conventional thinking, providing another perspective best described as living in the context of God’s grace; and via his healings which are implicitly understood as mediated by, and signs of, God’s grace.   In John, usually accepted as rather later than the synoptics, the same mode of a combination of teaching and healing is in place, but the wider theological frame is different in that Jesus is understood via a kind of “high” theology, as the incarnation of the divine logos or word and hence as none other than God–his miracles, or signs, and his death, as a manifestation of the divine doxa, glory.  (The different theological frame is also reflected in the fact that Jesus speaks in a vocabulary that has little in common with the discourse of the Synoptics’ Jesus.)

These three basic corpuses are supplemented by other books, mainly letters from, or attributed to, other apostles—and, of course, the book of Revelation (apocalupsis), part of a series of texts referred to as apocalyptic literature (the gospels of Mark and Matthew each have a mini-apocalypse, in the form of statements by Jesus during the last week of his life indicating future devastations, but also giving assurance of the ultimate triumph of good over evil).   Revelation presents a similar picture but in an extensive exercise of the imagination, in which the history of the times is presented via vivid coded imagery, along with the assurance of the final triumphant consummation of all in God.   In the context of the New Testament, most scholars would emphasize that this speculative piece needs to be understood within the framework of the dominant vision of God’s grace.

One might say that in both the Jewish and the Christian communities the formation and interpretation of scripture involve an exploration of the central values of the community.  In the Jewish case, the exploration of the covenant relationship is focussed on the halakhic materials in the Torah and their application in the life of the community.  In the Christian case, the exploration is more of a new perspective on human life, Gentile as well as Jewish, and an extrapolation from that perspective–of the immense, unfathomed, unconfined grace of God–of the appropriate actions, centred on love for all people, commitment to the well-being of all, within the community and beyond. All mediated by the person of Jesus.

Because the basic Christian vision is exploratory and speculative—as is evident from the different overall perspectives of the three basic corpuses—the ongoing rethinking of that vision in terms of new philosophical thinking in new intellectual environments is not a particular problem.

However, the new circumstances occasioned by the Renaissance and the Enlightenment do impinge on this process in three major contexts.   First the view of the world, and the way in which human values are projected symbolically into the universe; the person who is critically aware of this process may still use the naturally felt power of the symbolism, but is now inevitably aware that the symbols are symbols, the myths are myths.  Second, the socio-political setting has changed radically since the time of the Bible, and it is therefore necessary to rethink how the gospel values are to be applied in new socio-political contexts (this is particularly significant in relation to the treatment of women and slaves, different ethnic and/or racial identities, sexual orientation, perceived sexual identity, and such issues as abortion).   Third, there are situations where the modern scientific view of the universe makes it impossible to accept what has generally been accepted as fact—resurrection, ascension, heaven and hell as locations, angels and demons and their interactions with humanity.

The implications of these factors need to be ongoingly addressed, in detail.

Part B:  A Few additional Points to Consider

I did not explore as fully as I might have the place of the problem of death in Paul and Gerard Manley Hopkins.   I pointed to the way in which the argument in 1 Corinthians, that because Jesus died and was raised, we shall be raised, moves to one in Colossians that because in baptism we have with Christ died to the old life and risen to the new life, we must live as those who are dead to sin and alive to God.   But I did not consider that still behind both of these is the Genesis view that death is a product of human sinfulness, and the resurrection is the mark of the defeat of the last enemy, death.   Gerard Manley Hopkins gives an updated version of this.  In the last section of exploring the “Heraclitean fire,” nature’s bonfire burns on, and the marvel of humanity is quenched, “in an unfathomable, all is in an enormous dark/ Drowned.”  “O pity and indignation!”  That we, precious beings that we are, go in death into oblivion, is an assault on all our sensibilities.  As a result we need the (comfort of) the Resurrection.

It has often seemed to me rather strange that Genesis, and Paul, massively intelligent as he was, following suit, should be persuaded that death was a punishment for sin.  Surely it must be obvious that death is a universal throughout all living beings!  But, of course, there is this point, that as far as we can tell, although some other beings, as part of their success at survival, instinctively respond to the threat of death with fear, and fight or flight strategies, they do not have the highly articulated self-awareness that results in a unique sense of our mortality.  For us, uniquely, death is indeed the last enemy.

So any other ways in which we interpret the implications of the idea of the Resurrection must take this reality into consideration.  More than I have laid out, I think.

However, there is another take on death which is worth considering.

There is a magnificent little poem, “Yaksha,” written by the great Indian poet, Rabindranath Tagore, as a kind of poetic commentary on another poem, one of the most celebrated in Sanskrit literature, Kalidasa’s Meghaduta, “The Cloud Messenger.”   In Meghaduta, a Yaksha, a low-level divinity, is dispatched to earth, and here on earth he pines for his beloved back in the heavenly Yaksha city of Alaka.   He writes beautiful, touching poems, expressing his longing for her, and asks a cloud to carry them to her.  Tagore in his poem suggests that the Yaksha’s condition is preferable to that of his wife, of whom he says:

The poet has given her pining no language,

Her love no pilgrimage–

For her the unspeaking Yaksha city

Is a meaningless prison of riches.

Permanent flowers, eternal moonlight–

Mortal existence knows no grief as great as this:

Never to awake from dreams.

On the other hand:

God has granted that the Yaksha may pound her door

with yearning.

He longs to sweep the beloved

Away on the surging stream of his heart,

Away from the motionless mounts of heaven

Into the light of this many-coloured, shadow-dappled

mortal world.

In his commentary on the poem, the translator, William Radice, notes Tagore’s idea “that the Yaksha’s state of imperfect yearning for perfection is preferable to the perfection itself.”

And further,

[Joy and pain each] need the other.  Hence the paradox that the immortal Beloved/Alaka ideal, which ought to be unalloyed joy, would actually be more unbearable than mortality, since it lacks the power to express itself through pain and yearning.  And hence Tagore’s yearning….   And hence Tagore’s dualism; for perfection unable to enter into a relationship with imperfection would be torment indeed….  The Yaksha is advantaged by his very mortality: his freedom to yearn is a gift from God.

What Tagore is doing in this poem is picking up on a theme which is quite common in the polytheistic traditions of India, that one of the major differences between the gods and human beings is that the former do not know death, and live in perpetually pleasant, paradisal conditions.  We human beings long for such conditions, but they are really only paradisal to us in our imagination and our longing, against the background of the painfulness and mortality of our condition.  To live in such conditions perpetually, with no other possibility, would not be what we imagine it.  We long for a condition where “sorrow and sighing shall flee away,” and where there are no more tears, but to be unable to know sorrow and sighing and tears means that the unalloyed joy would, in fact, be terribly superficial.  So, says Tagore, the human condition is in fact preferable to that of the gods!  Love, joy, pain and mortality all go together, none is what it is without the others.  But further, pain and death are fully as much part of the wonder of who we are as human beings, as love and joy!

One final piece for consideration.

I have recently been writing a bit of poetry.  One poem, perhaps part of a series on various parts of our human bodies, is called “Skin.”   But I begin it with a piece on “brain”:

In the evolution of humankind

from humanoid to

full-blown homo sapiens

it is the massive brain,

together with its protective skull

and its mysterious product,

mind,

that has claimed distinctive dominance.

And justifiably so.

For via its almost infinite network

(Who can count?)

of electrical impulses

the human mind-brain

created the universe—

allowed the universe to blossom

in self-contemplation,

self-analysis,

self-understanding—

at least to some extent—

and to experience wonder

and mystery.

As succinctly as I could put it, this takes some unpacking, and I will not try to explicate it.   However, I have been taken with the fact that in our evolution, in the finding of a niche in the competitive and cooperative venture that is life on earth, we rather puny creatures developed brains that are able to comprehend the structures whereby the physical universe evolves, and eventually evolved us.   (At least, some of us have had the intellectual capacities to see these structures, basically mathematical, and to transmit their insights to others.)  And much of the way life has changed for us, for the better, over the last few centuries, has been a result of the extrapolation of these insights.

But one of the things that has intrigued me from when I was about six or seven, is that there are limits to our understanding.  I realized one afternoon, mind-wandering while I was trying to take a nap—which I could not do in those days of early childhood—that I could not comprehend that the world, spatially, could come to an end.  When I tried to think of that, there was always something beyond!–or that is does not come to an end.  Later, I would extrapolate to say that we both can and cannot contemplate infinity.  Similarly, eternity.  (I love the line from the hymn: “E’en eternity’s too short to extol thee.”)

All of which is to say, that while I cannot comprehend Paul’s spiritual bodies, or think of singing God’s praises or enjoying the bliss of heaven in some non-physical body—aesthetics is so tied up with our physicality—I cannot assert that there is nothing beyond death.  I said that on such matters we are inevitably agnostic.  But there is a further point: that being agnostic is not just a fact; acknowledging our agnosticism is an appropriate humility in the face of mystery.

oOo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Redcliffe (Q) Explorers next gathering

Greetings fellow Explorers:

Our next gathering will be on Monday, 6th June, when Beth and Bill Heraghty will tell us about their passion for supporting needy school-age children through Give a Child a Chance (GACAC). This is a Vinnies programme focused on providing educational needs for struggling families in difficult times. The group liaises with the 29 State and Independent schools in the Redcliffe Peninsula, Deception Bay and Mango Hill areas, as well as local St Vincent De Paul Community Centres, to identify and reach out to families with children in need of support. The response from children in the program is remarkably positive; the catch-phrase being ‘put a child in a new uniform and you cannot stop them attending school’.

We’ll continue with a discussion of what we mean by ‘doing God’s work’, with reference to Hal’s questioning whether God preceded or followed the Big Bang [the birth of the universe], and whether the spiritual world – and God – may possibly have developed as part of the evolution of life itself. This was circulated in a recent Progressing Spirit post (see link), together with a thoughtful response by Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox, a mystic and regular contributor to progressive Christianity/spirituality discussions:

Progressing Spirit : Be Opened: A Post-Easter Reflection

The issue of how we ‘imagine’ g-o-d is fundamentally critical not only to Christianity but to all religions and faiths, and of course there have been countless books written on the subject. We‘ll be introduced to the left-field but related idea of ‘imagined realities’ developed by Israeli author Yuval Noah Harari in his 2011 best-seller Sapiens, which will be a ‘taster’ for a future and no doubt very robust discussion.

As usual we’ll gather in the Activities Room at the Azure Blue Retirement Centre (91 Anzac Ave., Redcliffe) at 6 p.m. for a cuppa and chat prior to the start of proceedings at 6:30. The Centre management requests that we’re all fully Covid-vaccinated, and it goes without saying that if you have any Covid or flu-like symptoms you’re encouraged to stay at home. If you’d like to come along but aren’t a regular at our gatherings, please give me a call on 0401 513 723 about access and parking arrangements at the Centre.

Shalom, Ian

oOo