Category Archives: Messages

Our faith journeys – a guide

From the feedback after the publication of Kevin Treston’s Telling Our Faith Stories, it seems that readers generally are being stimulated to reflect on the winding paths of their own faith journeys, discoveries, new insights and reframing of perspective. Kevin has kindly offered the following guide to the process for doing this:

TELLING OUR FAITH STORIES: MY STORY AND YOUR STORIES

WITHIN THE GREAT STORY OF THE UNIVERSE

 A READING GUIDE

You have a copy of the book. From your experiences of reading such a book, you have your own approach to how best to appreciate the book. The book is less about information but more about faith and life enhancement. The following suggestions from the author may help you in better accessing the focus of the book.

  1. The author encourages you to reflect on your own faith journey using the personal story genre style where the author tells some significant features of his own faith journey while inviting you to invite memories and questions about your own faith journey eg. When he speaks about journeys which influenced his faith journey, you will be invited to recall memories of significant journeys and people who shaped your own faith journey.
  2. You will notice recurring questions such as, ‘What changes have emerged in your faith journey throughout the previous thirty years? (p 90). Suggestion: pause and reflect on the questions. That process is the point of the book – to help readers to recall, name and celebrate the mysterious occasions of grace and enlightenment in one’s life. 
  1. The book does not intend in any way to summarise in any depth key contemporary trends in church life today. Useful resources are listed if readers so choose to follow up on topics of interest. However, several of these movements are named to alert readers of significant developments of the Spirit in church life within an unfolding universe eg. How church teachings are being reviewed (eg the doctrine of original sin), how the Christ Story is celebrated within God’s evolving revelation throughout all time, full inclusion of women, the centrality of the reign of God in the teachings of Jesus, synodality, renewal or refounding? the universalism of Christ within the whole of creation, responses to critical justice questions, clergy/laity dualism etc. 
  1. Our First Peoples have so much to teach us how to live within a bounteous creation. 
  1. A fundamental premise in the book is that the church is entering a Third Great Epoch in its 2000 – year- old history and the new paradigm of evolutionary consciousness, especially emanating from quantum physics, cosmology, modern science, information technology, connectivity with the whole world, all these movements invite, even demand, the reframing of the Christ Story within this Great Story of the Universe. Readers are asked, ‘Where does that leave you in living your Christian faith now?’ ‘How is your faith story evolving? ‘What is happening?’ 
  1. A core question which permeates the book is ‘What is a spirituality now that energises you on your faith journey?’ At the conclusion of the book, the author shares his two loadstars for spirituality: the quest for ‘life in abundance’ and the ‘oneing’ (Julian of Norwich). 
  1. The book would be a useful resource for a small faith sharing group.

Contact: kevintreston@gmail.com

oOo

 

Fiction as message: The Conversation

Something different! Grab a coffee and enjoy this story written by one of our subscribers.

The Conversation

by Paul Mavromatis

 Chapter 1 – The Restaurant

He woke, blinked at the sunlight streaming through the half opened blind louvres and pulled the covers over his head. I must make sure I close them completely tonight. Eventually he emerged stretching and reached for his watch, 6:50: A.M. The day ahead was full of promise, he knew what he had to do. It was going to be the most important conversation that he would ever have with another human being. He could not however contemplate any understanding at this time that his conversation experience, would be altogether different and beyond the reality of his frail existence.

Lucas stumbled into the kitchen and fiddled with the espresso machine. He took a slurp and grimaced. Ahh forgot the sugar again. After slipping in half a teaspoon, he sat at the television sipping his coffee and watching the early morning ABC News program. His head full of the conversation he wanted, no needed to conduct.

He called the number. No response just her voicemail. “Eleonore can you please call me when you get a moment. I want to make some time to catch up when I get back from my trip. And yeah I know we haven’t spoken in months.”

After showering and drowning his body in ‘Basil Number Four,’ he slipped into his work clothes. He shot a peek out the window. Smoky, looks like another bush fire somewhere. The days seemed an endless repetition of each other. Surely there was more to dragging your butt around doing the same thing with the same outcome.

Another Tuesday at the restaurant. The cooks and waiters were already working when he arrived. Scrambled eggs, sunny side up, omelettes, poached eggs and eggs practically hatched on the spot were flying out of the kitchen and onto customer tables. No one appreciated that an excellent restaurant like this could only perform at a high level with good organization. Highly competent management like his.

He approached the head waitress. “Hi Brianna, how’s the morning looking?”

“O hi Lucas. All good from this end but chef’s in a bad mood again,” Brianna said.

“Don’t worry I’ll check with him,” Lucas walked over to the Romano Espresso machine and hissed out another coffee. This time a short black with half a sugar, just as the barista brought back a new bag of coffee beans from the storeroom.

“Hi boss, I would’ve made that for you.” Roger poured the coffee beans into the roaring grinder.

“That’s ok Rog you’ve taught me well,” Lucas yelled above the din.

Roger smiled without lifting his eyes off the disintegrating coffee beans.

Lucas with coffee cup in hand steeled himself and entered the kitchen. “Hi chef how’s it going this morning?”

Chef a slim muscular man in his forties, with neatly trimmed ginger beard looked more like a personal trainer than someone who imbibed more food than was necessary. He fixed his gaze across clanging dishes that his kitchen staff were preparing for customers. “Those fuckwit overnight cleaners have helped themselves to another three-course meal and messed up the freezer and the kitchen area. I’ve had it with cleaning up after them each morning. Last night they used up quite a bit of my cheddar cheese and I think our supplies won’t last the whole day. You said you were goanna talk to them.”

“They arrive after we’ve all gone and I haven’t had the chance. I’ll make sure I’ll get onto it pronto,” Lucas said.

Chef frowned and turned his attention once more to a simmering pot. He grabbed a handful of cinnamon from a jar and threw it into the porridge, simultaneously stirring with a large wooden spoon in the other hand.

Lucas sauntered back out into the customer area. Some days simply didn’t have the pleasant start one would like but hey it wasn’t a bad job and besides there was always food to take home too.

He motioned to Brianna to come over and they sat in a quiet corner. “I just wanted to run through a few final things before I go on leave and make sure you’ve got all the info you need to manage while I’m away.”

“Yeah I’ll be fine. The only thing that worries me is that Chef’s likely to blow up about something. Gees he’s a miserable bastard,” Brianna said.

“He’s been going on about the overnight cleaners. I’ll talk to them before I go. Anything else he gets unhappy about, tell him you’re only filling in and I said it’ll have to wait til I get back,” Lucas said. “Anything else you need?”

“No all good. My wait staff are great and Chef’s kitchen staff are pretty good too. Nothing we won’t be able to handle,” Brianna smiled.

After the busy lunchtime period had finished, Lucas said goodbye to his staff and headed out for his 10-day holiday. It’d been a long year and he could really smell that fresh mountain air and feel the brisk nip of coolness against his face. He headed home to finish packing before heading to the airport for the evening flight.

He always made sure he had plenty of time. Sydney traffic wasn’t something you could ignore if you wanted to be anywhere on time. Better to overestimate than to be sorry. He arrived with time to spare and put through his luggage to the airline. He grabbed the umpteenth coffee of the day and sat at a table thumbing through his mobile contacts. He stopped at a photo of Eleonore. It’d been six months since they broke up but everything still felt raw. His finger hovered over her number. If he could just hear her voice again, not her recorded voice but to have a proper conversation that would’ve been really nice. A dark shadow of grief gripped his being. He shivered and washed down some more coffee as if to ward off the evil spirits.

Lucas was 38 years of age. Slinky black hair, deep brown eyes and high cheek bones had endowed him with a pleasing appearance. But he felt rootless and lost. Most of his friends were having families or at least had families and were now separated. They were connected to and meant something to someone. His life largely consisted of his work at the restaurant. He was still renting and never seemed to have much in the way of savings. It was desired but there was no one to love and be loved by.

Eleonore pushed him aside in a manner that he could never understand. She said that it wasn’t about him but that she felt restless and didn’t know what she wanted anymore. He tried reasoning. He asked if there was anything he could do to change her mind. He could be a different person for her if she told him what she needed. But Eleonore was determined to leave and during a sundrenched smokeless Saturday, the last of her things were squashed into the vehicle. She wrapped her arms around him briefly, tousled his hair and swung into the car. He stood motionless and stared as the back of the green hatchback spluttered down the street.

Lucas never noticed the beauty of that exquisite clear Saturday. His mind was a desolate shipwreck, dashed upon the rocks of despair.

 Chapter 2- Vacation

Soon he was on board the 747 winging to the Swiss Alps. He pushed his seat into recliner position and settled down to enjoy a movie. This was his holiday and he was dam well going to relax.

After a 25-hour flight via Abu Dhabi, he staggered out at Geneva airport. Lucas hated these long flights. Armpits smelling like rancid camembert and a mouth tasting like a Yorkshire bog. A bed beckoned. However, the train to Le Chable where he would meet his mountain trek group the following day, was leaving from Geneve-Aeroport via Martigny in 90 minutes. He had to steel himself for some further travel before he could rest. He passed through customs, pulled his luggage off the carousal and dragged himself into the train station café to wait for the train. There he observed the other travellers laughing and talking while the drank their coffees. They didn’t seem as washed out as himself. Perhaps they hadn’t travelled so far.

When he arrived at Le Chable, he set his google maps for Hotel Neige. Great only 350 metres. I’d kill for a beer and a bed. He threw his luggage into his room and fell on the bed. Two hours later he regained consciousness, staggered to the bathroom, stripped and had a shower. As he emerged from the shower his eye caught the view of Mont Fort from the bathroom window and he stopped almost breathless. The snow tipped mountain top appeared, postcard pretty. This really was Alps country.

The next morning packed, he assembled in the foyer to meet the rest of the trekking group and their French guide who would take them over the historic route from Verbier to Zermatt. Most of the trekkers had not yet had the opportunity to meet and relax, so the atmosphere was quiet. Each would be trekker surveyed the others. Lucas glanced about while wondering who might hold them up, who would be the group troublemaker, the pace setter and the know it all.

The twelve trekkers, a mixed bag of ages and sexes from France, Australia, Britain and Germany, led by their bi-lingual French and English-speaking guide, caught the cable car to Les Ruinettes where their trek would begin. As the group members began to unwind, the crescendo of excited chatter increased. They questioned each other about their backgrounds, careers, and interests in mountains. Combinations of French and English peppered the conversations.

They carried their full packs and straining up their first incline, the Alp du Val de Bagnes, Lucas wished he’d done a little more serious training around Sydney Park and its hills. This was going to be tough.

Everyone surfaced early the next day from their overnight bunks in their Gite at Louvie where they had stopped for their first overnighter. Lucas groaned as he sat up stretching his back and rubbing his legs. Ohhh those legs. After breakfast they set off. Today they would cross a glacier at 3000 metres and the excited laughter by the group members indicated they were looking forward to this experience.

Pierre the guide, a fit and experienced trekker and mountain climber stopped the group and addressed them as they approached the glacier. “Please use your poles and secure them into the ground for each step, as it is tres slippery on the glacier. I don’t want to lose any of you.” He smiled.

They filed one by one onto the edge of the glacier. A 500-metre drop fell below them as the track was only a metre wide. Lucas gingerly secured his pole tips and dug them into the ice as much as he could. He stepped onto the glacier and as he did, he slipped instantly knocking the poles from their precarious positions and he slid helplessly over the edge. One of his fellow trekkers screamed as she stood behind him. The guide moved carefully over to the edge and could see he had fallen onto a ledge some 30 metres below their position. He lay still with one leg balanced precariously over the edge.

The guide called out. “Lucas, Lucas can you hear me. Don’t move, don’t move.” He took out his phone and let out a deep breathe. There was reception and he immediately phoned the helicopter rescue service. Luckily, they were at the top of the glacier and a helicopter could land on stony ground some 100 metres away.

Lucas continued to lay still as the guide peered again over the edge.

   

Chapter 3 – Who Could Have Imagined

Now Lucas joined the guide and looked down at his own body. Really what am I doing here? This is really weird I must be hallucinating. He looked around and could see the speechless horror on the faces of his fellow trekkers, but they were not gazing at him. They were observing his body on the ledge below.

Soon he felt as if he was moving at incredible speed as he left that scene. The journey seemed to be sucking him along what appeared to be a tunnel. Except it didn’t have any walls. It just seemed like a tunnel. He wasn’t frightened but felt confused about what he was experiencing. Maybe it was a dream but he sensed somehow that it was real.

After some time, his movement slowed and he came to a gradual stop. There in front of him stood Eleonore. He tried to speak to her but didn’t have that ability.

“No, no-one is really dead here. You don’t need your body with all its imperfections. You’re here right now for a reason and that will be made clear to you.” Eleonore communicated with him but via his thoughts.

There were no verbal words and she had answered the question he had been thinking.

He tried to speak again but made no sound.

“You’re asking why I’m here! We can’t speak just think what you want to say. I can read you and you can read me. This is where I need to be. I know I hurt you and I’m sorry for that but here you will not experience any hurt,” Eleonore communicated.

“But I don’t understand why are we meeting in this place? Where is this?” Lucas craned his neck to look around but only a void existed. There was no landmark of any description. Just himself and Eleonore.

“You and I have met so that I can apologise to you for the pain I caused you and to let you know there are no ill feelings here. But you must go now. You’re going to meet someone who will be able to answer the questions you had on your mind before you even came here. Goodbye Lucas,” Eleonore disappeared into the distance.

“Wait a minute!” Lucas had so many questions he wanted to ask Eleonore.

However, he seemed to be moving again and in the distance he saw a bright light approaching him. The light was so bright he shielded his eyes although he was not sure how he did that. Then the light faded. In front of him stood a Being. The Being exuded tranquility that touched Lucas deeply. He wore clothes so white they were luminous and he communicated with Lucas also via thoughts.

“I am here to answer some of your questions,” The Being communicated. “The first question you have been asking is:”

“Why do bad things happen to good people?” 

Lucas floated or stood he wasn’t sure in a transfixed state.

The Being continued: “Your question seems to pre-suppose that God if he existed would step in and stop those bad things. God gave people free will along with an enormous ability to do good to others. If everyone did that, there would be no wars, no hunger, no suffering. People would not do bad things to each other. He/She left us with guidance and directions about how that might happen and gifted us free will so we would not be enslaved. Unfortunately, some people choose to treat others badly including kill them. He/She also chooses not to intervene necessarily. Although having said that, people do attest to miraculous experiences in their lives. So, some people may attribute certain actions to God’s intervention and others may attribute certain miraculous happenings as chance or good luck. Why for some and not others? You’d have to ask God about that. But that is not for you to know at this time.”

“I guess I think about all those people in the world who experience wars and abject poverty in third world countries who never have a chance at any good life. Little children who die of starvation and war. It just doesn’t seem fair,” Lucas said.

“No, it isn’t and God has given all people the power to stop all that, but that is not the choice of many,” the Being said.

“Your next question,” the Being said.

“Why does everything seem to go against me?”

“Your question pre-supposes that you are having a bad life. Are you really? One of your own community, Tim Costello summed it up beautifully calling it the ‘lottery of life.’ For example, why might one person be born into a family of wealth and privilege as opposed to a starving person somewhere in Africa or a woman in Afghanistan whose options in life in some instances may best equate to slavery. Again, God has given humanity a guide to love and if love was followed, everyone would win this lottery of life.”

“I know I shouldn’t be saying this but it sounds like God couldn’t be bothered with us again once he created the world. Sounds like he said. There you go, now look after yourselves. But we didn’t quite have the resources to do it.” Lucas winced at his own criticism of God.

“On the contrary God loves each and every person and gave all people the ability to choose love for others or greed for one’s own needs which excludes the pain of others. That is the root of the problem,” the Being said. “I’ll get on with the next one, shall I?”

 “I feel like I’ve been a good person (or tried to be) but haven’t felt rewarded for it and life has felt like a slog?”

It seems to me this one is less about God and more about your own life’s frustrations. First of all, how we want to live our life and how God has given us a guide about how to live our life may be two different journeys. This is bound to cause us unhappiness. It’s like a child who at a moment close to mealtime seeks a sweet from its parent. The parent has prepared a meal and knows that what the child needs is not the sweet but the meal to grow healthy and strong. The parent does not give the child what the child seeks and so the child is miserable.

The Being was suddenly quiet as if ‘listening’ and then continued “I have a question for you. What sort of reward would you like? A pat on the back, more money, more satisfaction with what you want to achieve? A useful book to read is called ‘Feel the Fear and Do It.’ The author identifies that life’s frustrations are simply a part of life. She suggests the best option instead of continuing to hit one’s head against the brick wall because a particular outcome is desired but not happening, is to consider other less palatable options and see where that journey leads. Perhaps it is one of those other journeys where you might feel ‘rewarded,” The Being said.

“You seem to be saying that we need to take more responsibility for the decisions we make in life and that God isn’t necessarily going to be supportive because we think He should be,” Lucas said.

The Being responded no further but continued: “Your next question was”:

“I want to communicate with God but I feel that no-one is listening and I’m screaming into the void.”

The Being beamed and an indescribable warmth and a sense of serenity firstly enveloped Lucas and then almost as if he were a human sponge seeped into all the nooks of his inner self. The power and unexpected nature of his experience rocked him and he wished with all his essence that he could stay in this wonderful state.

The Being stood in silence for a period observing Lucas and then appeared closer. “You have just been given a great gift. He/She is always listening. This is a difficult question to answer in a few words. There are certainly books you can read and groups you can join who can teach you how to talk to God, but more importantly how to listen. You are not going to necessarily hear a voice. But if you learn to ‘listen’ with all your senses and intuition, it is possible to ‘hear’ from God. However, God chooses how and when He/She might communicate. So, it may require lots of patience but also an openness to recognize when God is communicating with you. It could be through an event that brings the answer for example. Or through a friend or work colleague who speaks to you with the answer, even though that friend is having a normal conversation with you and is not aware that they have given you valuable direction.  Having said all that, the answer may not be the one you would like to hear. So, in fact you might end up not ‘hearing’ the answer as it is not the one you expect or desire.”

Lucas now noticed that the Being continued to exude the serenity that had previously overwhelmed Lucas and the wisdom of his words permeated Lucas’s mind in the same way that tranquility had soaked into him previously.

The Being continued “This connection with God will not generally be served to you on a platter while you do no preparation in seeking God. It may seem like a very long time before you understand that you have connected. This is a great gift from God and has to be earned.”

Lucas still tingling with indescribable joy had no follow up question this time as he processed what he was hearing.

The Being smiled once more and gazed into the distance of the void “For your next questions I have to pass you on to someone more senior than myself.”

The Being moved away as if floating and disappeared into the distance. Lucas sensed that he was somehow on the move again and almost instantly appeared in front of another light. This time the light was so bright he could not discern anything else. Lucas sought cover from the light but there was none. The light faded but did not entirely extinguish, so that he could not clearly observe the source of the light.

A new voice entered his thoughts so welcoming that Lucas felt instantly at ease and drawn towards the Being who exuded perfect wisdom.

“You say that you’ve never had proof that God exists (even though you’ve been asking).”

This sounds like you would like God to play under the rules you set. For example, you say to God. “I’ll believe in you if you prove that you exist.” Your faith therefore depends on whether God is going to meet your demand. Sounds like blackmail. Don’t you think? Perhaps God chooses to ignore such approaches. There is a relevant story about Jesus in the bible. He was addressing a crowd and he is quoted: “I perform great wonders and miracles in the name of God in front of your eyes but still you do not believe.” Perhaps if you were given proof you too might respond like that crowd.”

Lucas was filled with awe and a longing to stay and listen and learn. He had never heard words with so much power and meaning.

“You have four more questions and I shall proceed to answer them,” the Being said. “Your next question is:”

What’s my purpose in life? I feel rudderless.

“Ahhh this is the question that plays on the mind and efforts of so many humans. There are many and varied proposals by people themselves about the purpose but it is simple.

When you live your life without connection to God, then your existence is indeed rudderless. This sense of purposelessness is all pervasive. There is ‘something missing.’ You yearn for a completeness that only a relationship with God brings. Of course, there are aspects of life that bring great satisfaction. A family, children, good friends, enough money, an interesting career, hobbies, being creative, all offer much joy. But ultimately in our quiet moments we know something is missing.

So, God’s plan for all humanity is to connect with Him/Her and in that way your purpose becomes clear. You learn to understand and cease to feel rudderless as you put it. A real sense of inner peace and contentedness becomes the dominant antidote to the sense of purposelessness.

You must make the effort to build your knowledge through reading and talking to others who are exploring their relationship with God. In short if you are waiting for a lightning bolt to hit you so that you may learn your purpose then it’s possible, but highly unlikely. You must make that effort and if patient you may be surprised at the result.

The simple answer to the purpose of life is LOVE. Make love and care for others, the centre of life and decision making and you will be expressing the essence of who God is. Take this love connection also to your relationship with God. This is the core purpose of your life and although it does not guarantee your life will be smooth sailing, your will feel less discombobulated and clearer eyed about the meaning of your existence.

All this new knowledge seemed to be pouring into Lucas almost simultaneously. It was as if time was standing still and he knew this was where he wanted to stay.

“You are giving me this information for what purpose? It doesn’t seem to me that I have earned the right to know these things,” Lucas said.

“All will make sense to you in time.” The Being nodded to Lucas. “Let’s go to your next question:”

“You ask if you have a predestined path in life and if so, does it matter what you do in terms of your actions. If your fate is already laid out, are you in fact even answerable to a higher being and do you have to take responsibility for your actions. Or is life simply a series of random events and we’re all thrown into the mix together?”

“My first response here to your question regarding a predetermined path is that you should remember as we discussed earlier that you have free will. If that’s the case then your path is not predetermined. You have a lot of control over how you live your life. In situations in life where that control is more limited, say where someone does not have enough to eat, the individual still has some control over how she/he lives and copes or even takes their last breath on Earth in that difficult situation. So, for those like yourself who have more than you need, then you should be sharing it with those who have less and this improves their control over their life.

So, if your path was predetermined you may as well fold your arms, sit down and not bother about anything. You always have options and can decide which one. Of course, each option has consequences, some positive and others not so.

“You ask if you have responsibility for your actions?” The Being said.

Of course, you do. You can choose of your free will to drive on the wrong side of the road at 100 kph if you want, but ultimately whatever the outcome of that is, it will be your responsibility.”

“You also ask if you are answerable to a higher being?”

“As a part of the free will you have been granted, you have also been given a conscious to help you be answerable first and foremost to yourself. Are you doing what you know deep down is right? Or is it bothering and unsettling you that you haven’t acted correctly regarding some issue or in some situation? So, you are answerable to yourself and God has gifted you a conscious voice so that you can act appropriately and live a peaceful and loving life, that then impacts positively on others around you.

“The final part of this multi part question is around whether you have a higher purpose?” The Being said.

“Again, here there is some overlap with what we have discussed earlier. Our higher purpose is to love as much as we can not only those friends or relatives but all people round us. Ultimately our purpose is to also connect with and love God who loves us and gives us life. God will help with this aim should we seek that help. But we must be open to the fact that help may not necessarily come in the form we would like or expect. If I am a farmer praying for rain because it has not rained and my crops are thirsty, I may ask for God’s help. But my farmer neighbor who lives next to the river is praying it does not rain because if it does the river will rise and flood his house and crops. Our needs are complex, and God acts in a manner to connect with us in His/Her way, not necessarily our way.

Lucas sensed that they were coming to the end of their conversation. He felt no impatience and although he didn’t quite understand why he was granted such wonderful wisdom, he felt like the parameters of the universe had stretched way beyond his imagination.

“Your final question is about why people believe in the ‘fairy’ in the sky and are willing to go to war over disagreements about a mythical being,” the Being said.

 “First of all, I’m not sure God perceives a role as a ‘fairy’. Let’s say people are going to war on behalf of God to defend the beliefs that they possess about God. Well, that is a choice they make that is not rooted in any perspective that is God. These warring sides have missed the main message about God. God is God of love not war. The warring factions in such a situation are using God as an excuse to go to war. They may even believe that God is on their side. This loving God does not support war. It goes against everything my father believes in. So, if war is conducted in His/Her name, it is something that humans are using to give credibility to their violent actions.

The ideas that Lucas had been hearing in his thoughts were more than words, they were existence itself. He felt at one with the world. The constant accompanying feeling of stillness and love and joy was beyond description. He did not want to lose this indescribable sense of singularity with the being who had addressed him and with what he could sense were many others around him.

“You have another question,” the Being said.

Yes, I refer to my Father as He/She. Gender differentiation is a human construct and God is not confined by human concepts.

I have answered your questions and the reason for your experience here will come in time. When that time arrives, your life will be very different from the one that you have known. You must return for now to your earthly existence. You have been given a great gift,” the Being said.

Before he could respond, Lucas felt himself drawn once more along what he could only describe later as the same tunnel he had previously travelled to arrive at his destination. He found himself emerge at the mountain scene. His body had been rescued and now lay at the top of the mountain. Paramedics were counting and pumping furiously on his chest. The members of his trekking group stood around in various states of distress. He did not have long to witness this scene before he zoomed back into his body. This final awkward and painful conversion drew the boundary between the joy of a perfect existence and the turmoil of earthly life.

“Il est revenue….il est revenue.” He heard the paramedics shout as he regained consciousness. The pain in his body whacked him. What had previously been a calm and painless existence as he communicated with the bright light Beings, had disintegrated into disturbing noise and suffering. To top it off an unimaginable sorrow gripped his heart. Why did I have to come back? As he sucked in air, his lungs burned and his ribs sent throbbing spasms shooting into his thorax. He tried to move his legs and the paramedics caught his right leg and began to fasten a splint to it. His head throbbed. But worst of all was the misery of being back in his body. How could he ever regain the beauty of what he had experienced.

Chapter 4 – Back to Earth

A week later he was discharged from the closest hospital and after two more days he flew back to Sydney and was admitted to Westmead hospital for observation and further MRI’s. He was nursing five broken ribs, a broken leg, and more seriously a fractured skull. In more ways than one this had not been the trip he had imagined.

He called his work. Hi Brianna. “I’m back but they’re keeping me in hospital for a few days so I’m going to need some more sick leave. Are you able to handle things there for another week or so?”

“Sure, but how you going? It sounded like quite some accident when your mother called me?” Brianna asked.

“I’m getting there but tours that include mountain falls shouldn’t be popular really.” Lucas said.

“Sounded nasty. Ok keep in touch and look after yourself. Chef’s been the usual pain here but he’s gotten used to me telling he’ll have to wait and moan to you when you get back,” Brianna said.

“Great can’t wait. Anyway, hopefully catch up with you guys’ next week. See ya.” Lucas clicked off the phone.

He sat quietly remembering his contact with Eleonore. She had been on his mind constantly while recuperating in France and he needed to chat with her. He hadn’t spoken to her since they had broken up six months previously but he craved to share his experience with her. After all, it was out of the ordinary and she had been a part of it. He called her number but there was no answer. He tried calling several times over the next two days but still no response. Finally, his need had built to such a degree that he put aside all reticence he had about calling Eleonore’s mother.

‘Hi Katherine, its Lucas I’m sorry to disturb you. I’ve been trying to contact Eleonore but she’s not answering.

There was silence at Katherine’s end.

“Katherine, Katherine are you still there?” Lucas’s tone increased an octave.

“Is this a joke. It’s really not funny,” Katherine said.

No seriously I need to speak to her. I know we haven’t spoken for months but I really need to touch base with her.

“Lucas don’t you know, Eleonore passed away in a car accident about a couple of months after you two broke up,” Katherine said.

Now it was Lucas’s turn to be speechless. “What…….are you serious? Where did this happen? No doesn’t matter. O my God……. I’m so sorry Katherine I didn’t mean to stir things up for you.”

“You know she never really stopped loving you. She just needed time to work a whole lot of things out but time………I’ve got to go…….. Goodbye Lucas.” Katherine’s voice began to crack as she hung up.

Lucas sat with the phone in his lap desperately trying to process the news. This was all too much.

The experience I had on the mountain….and Eleonore, dead. There was a message in this experience but what is it? I have more to do in life. I’ve been given another chance. My questions about the meaning of life were answered but I feel more confused than ever. It’s as if I should have died up there on the mountain but I was sent back to do something. If only I knew what. O hell I miss Eleonore. I wish I hadn’t come back.

 Chapter 5 – Two Years Later

Lucas held the bottle in his lap and shot a glance in the direction of the front door as the key turning heralded the opening. Ava entered and tossed her bag onto the lounge. “Don’t tell me you’ve lost another one,” Ava said.

A mildly slurring Lucas focused on the kitchen bench across the room from Ava’s position. “Don’t start again, just don’t.”

“What do you mean don’t start again. Every time we start to get back on our feet again, you lose another job,” Ava said.

“I’ll get another one. Those bastards don’t deserve a good manager like me,” Lucas said.

“Yeah but they deserve a sober one. This is the fourth job you’ve had in two years. I’m surprised they put up with you this long,” Ava said.

Lucas rubbed his nose. “I’m a bloody good restaurant manager and I’ve never…. ever let a little tipple interfere with my good management. Any staff meber…. meber…. member that needed me I was there for them. I sorted the customers too.”

“Well, I can’t go on like this. You’ve got to get some support for your drinking or I’m getting out of here. I can’t take this anymore Lucas. I’ve just managed to recover financially from your last sacking. Now I’m going to have to cover the fucking rent and all those bills by myself again.”

“I’ll get another job you’ll see. I always do,” Lucas said.

“That’s not the point anymore I want you to stop drinking. Its two years since your horrible accident but that doesn’t mean you need to keep feeling sorry for yourself. For fuck’s sake you were given another chance on that mountain and you’re determined not to take it.” Ava said. “When I first met you just after you recovered from your accident, I didn’t realise you drank like a fish. My old man drank himself to death early in life and you look like you’re going to do the same.”

“Ohh leave me alone will you,” Lucas said.

“Yep that thought is crossing my mind more and more. I’m going to leave it for now because It’s no use talking to you while you’re pissed,” Ava said.

***

Ava marched into the bedroom and closed the door behind her. She sat on the edge of the bed and stared at the mauve hydrangea outside the bedroom window. It had been a tough couple of years since she first nursed Lucas in hospital. Fresh from his mountain accident, he didn’t display then the sense of hopelessness that pervaded his waking moments since. He had confided in Ava and in hushed tones of awe told her about his miraculous meeting with his dead ex-girlfriend and the beings of light.

In her professional capacity she had nursed many physically and emotionally damaged individuals but none like this gentle soul as he struggled to understand his supernatural experience. Her feelings towards him intensified in the weeks following his hospital release. This was the one for her. They moved in together but as the months passed, she began to understand that although she could help heal his physical wounds, his emotional injuries lay outside of her powers.

***

Lucas slunk into an inebriated unconscious sleep and the following rolled out across his deeply disturbed hippocampus.  In the pub he met a man who told him he had been tortured in his home country because of his minority religious beliefs. He had fled to Australia leaving behind his wife and two daughters. He cried as he asked Lucas to help him get them to Australia. Lucas downed his last drop, apologised that he couldn’t help the man and exited the pub. Sitting on the footpath outside the door he almost tripped over a woman with her dirty handkerchief laid out in front of her next to a sign that read: “I have no one and nothing, if you could spare a little change I would very much appreciate your help.” Lucas read the sign and walked on. He staggered on into the night past the late-night open shops and a man in a wheelchair outside the IGA stuck out a hand with a bunch of pens. “Sir would you buy a pen to help people with a disability.”

Lucas rolled over on the sofa, still sozzled but now half conscious, stewing in the disturbance of his dreams. He tried to close out his thoughts and emotions as he tossed restlessly. His pores infused the sheets with the sweaty stench of beer and gin.

As dawn shot the first rays of light through the open blind widows of Lucas’s neighbourhood, he wobbled off the lounge where he had sat before unconsciousness claimed him. First to the bathroom where the contents of his bladder could have replenished the dam. Then off into the kitchen. He collapsed on a stool balancing precariously and rested his hands against his cheeks. What a shit life. A coffee, strong black no sugar beckoned but standing up at the kitchen was a journey too hard.

Ava entered the kitchen rubbing her eyes.  You didn’t come to bed and you look just great. A coffee might help I suppose?”

Lucas rounded up a sheepish smile and nodded. He pulled himself off the stool and collapsed at a kitchen chair. He watched as Ava plopped the coffee capsule into the coffee maker and winced at the sound of the noisy machine.

Ava pressed the hot cup into his hand and proceeded to fix herself a coffee also. She sat at an adjoining kitchen chair and observed Lucas as he sipped his coffee. Neither spoke for some time until Lucas breached the silence.

“You know I can’t exactly think straight right now, but I had this dream last night that keeps playing over and over in my mind and it’s really important. I just don’t know what it means exactly,” Lucas said.

Ava downed the last drop of her coffee. “I hope you figure it out. I’m off to a shower and some breakfast. Although you and your Niagara Falls have woken me pretty early so I can get ready for work in a relaxed state of exhaustion for a change.”

Lucas lay down and drifted off once more, only to rouse around midday. Shit I’ve been asleep all day. Instantly that dream insisted itself into his being. He fried some eggs, added toast and sat contemplating the dreams once more. I know that was a message. But what is it? Instinctively he walked over to the fridge and reached for an inviting beer. His arm froze in the fridge before he could touch the beer can. I need to think. He pulled out the water bottle instead and poured a cool glass of water. Another coffee sounded good, this time not the horrible black stuff but with milk. Ahhhh no milk. He headed off to the local IGA and as he approached a man sitting outside in a wheelchair thrust a handful of pens at him. “Please buy a pen to support people with disabilities.”

Lucas froze to the spot. This was surreal. Am I dreaming again? The man withdrew his pens.

“Do you know me,” Lucas felt his saliva seemingly the size of a golf ball stick in his throat.

“No this isn’t my usual spot. My organization has decided to try some different locations to grow our exposure to the public,” the man said.

“Tell me about your organization,” Lucas said.

“The ‘Care Centre’ is run by a fabulous bunch of mainly volunteers who provide a range of services like temporary overnight accommodation. It has a kitchen with hot meals at least once a day although we mighten be able to continue the kitchen and also the centre provides clean new clothes. All sort of people come there, some are homeless, some have disabilities, some aren’t well for all sorts of reason. Sometimes we get single mums and their kids trying to get way from a particular bastard whose abusing them,” the man said.

“What’s wrong with your kitchen?” Lucas asked.

“Nothing really, it’s just that we lost our cook and the other volunteers don’t feel capable of running a kitchen for a couple hundred people each day,” the man said.

Lucas felt his knees wobbling and this time alcohol had nothing to do with his reaction. “So, are you saying they need help to keep the kitchen going?” Lucas said

“I guess so.”

“Can you give me the address. I might be able to help,” Lucas said.

“Sure.”

The next day Lucas showered early.

“What do I owe this enthusiastic company to,” Ava said.

“Don’t know I’ll tell you tonight if it all works out,” Lucas said.

Ava sighed and continued with her breakfast.

Lucas walked with purpose. The Care Centre was only two kilometres from his home. He arrived as the centre volunteers were rousing their activities. He could smell frying breakfast snags as he entered. Dozens of people some clean and neat, others disheveled and beyond any concern about their own appearance were cuing up for breakfast. Lucas headed towards the volunteers behind the counter.

A woman with a well-rounded figure adorned by a blue dress covered in an explosion of white carnations looked up. “I’m afraid you’ll need to get in the queue darling,” as she pointed in the desired direction.

“No, I’m not here for the meal. I’m wondering if I could help,” Lucas said.

“Ohhh.” The woman stopped banging plates onto the counter and observed Lucas closely. “In that case hop over this side. I’m sure we can find you something to do,” The woman handed Lucas a spatula. “Maybe you could shovel the scrambled eggs onto each person’s plate as they approach.”

As the last of the diners straggled away and the volunteers washed up, the woman buried in carnations asked. “How did you hear about us?”

Lucas explained and mentioned the trouble with the kitchen.

“Yes, unfortunately a cooked breakfast is the most we can handle alone. But not everyone makes it to breakfast so some of the people we used to offer a cooked meal at lunch or dinner time don’t get any hot meal,” the woman said.

Lucas mentioned that his experience had been around managing restaurants and offered to help.

“We can’t pay anything you know,” the woman said.

“I know,” Lucas said. “That’s not why I’m interested.”

That evening Lucas cooked dinner and set the table. Ava returned from work and stopped in her tracks as she entered their open plan living area. Lucas’s grin lit the space like beacon.

“I thought it about time I took some responsibility around here,” Lucas said.

“I promise I won’t try and talk you out of some responsibility.” Ava wide eyed dropped her things on the lounge.

Over dinner Lucas recounted his dream and the experience with the man in the wheelchair and finally the ‘Care Centre.’

“I think this community centre is what I’m supposed to be doing. Its why God gave me this second chance at life. I can’t waste any more time. I had other signs these last couple of years but I just never noticed them.”

“Yeah you were too busy drinking,” Ava said.

“I know I know,” Lucas bowed his head.

“So that’s all good and I’m really glad for you but you know we can’t afford the rent and all the bills just on my wage,” Ava said.

“I’ve thought about that. I’m going to get work as night relief manager for whichever restaurant needs a fill in when their manager is sick or on holidays or whatever. I’ve already put my name down at an agency that specialises in restaurant staff placements. They said people with my experience are rare so I should be able to get regular casual work and the night work pays better. That way I can manage the Care kitchen during the day and get those hot meals back on again for lunch. So many people rely on those meals,” Lucas said.

“Wow look at you, you’re flying. What about us? Where will there be time for us in all this?”

Lucas pushed his chair back and walked behind Ava. He threw his arms around her as she sat. “You have put up with all my shit for the last couple of years. You deserve my appreciation……I do love you, you know and I promise I’m going to make sure there is an us. It’s been all about me this last couple of years and I don’t ever want it to just be about me again.

“What about your drinking?” Ava asked.

“I’ve already joined AA. I know that’ll be hard but I expect I may have some help from above too.” Lucas smiled. “Already I feel…… even when I get the urge that I really don’t need that stuff anymore.”

Ava placed her hands tentatively over his arms as they had continued to envelop her. “I don’t want to put provisos on this but I need you to really understand I can’t live the way we have up to now. I so hope we can make this happen.”

“We can with the right support and I know we’ll get it.” Lucas stared at the far wall at the Ichthys symbol of the fish on the wall plate. “I know we will.”

oOo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The dream that should never die

From Dr Richard Smith – Progressive Christian Network Western Australia

Ukraine and the Hope of EasterMy letter published in the West Australian last Saturday the last of three in that week.

Easter holidays, hot cross buns and chocolate eggs are with us, but this year against the backdrop of the agony of Ukraine. It is a poignant reminder of the first Easter when a Galilean Jew entered Jerusalem (Palm Sunday) to speak truth to the Roman Empire and their religious cronies about their gross abuse of power. Power used with massive brutality, fake news and corruption to accumulate massive wealth through conquest, enslavement and oppressive taxation of the poor. Justified by a compliant Senate that gave Caesar titles of pontifex maximus and son of God whose response to the Galilean’s appeal was to nail him to a wooden cross to die a painful death (Good Friday). But the Galilean’s followers remembered the day as Good Friday because his dream did not die but was repeatedly resurrected resulting over the millennia in our own democratic freedoms, institutions and opportunities.
This Easter story comes to its climax the following Sunday when the Galilean’s dream of a world at peace through distributive justice will be celebrated against the backdrop of the continuing epic struggle of the Ukrainian people for freedom from Russia’s brutal imperial past. Belief is that the Ukrainians’ dream of freedom and peace though distributive justice will never die, but eventually will come to fruition. A dream embraced by freedom loving people around the world who have joined the struggle with their prayers, donations and hospitality this Easter. A time for sober reflection, struggle and gratitude for our own democratic freedoms already being tested by our own impending election.
oOo

Opinion: Responding to Evangelical Christians

by Jim Burklo

Senior Associate Dean, Office of Religious Life,
University of Southern California

All of us at some point will be approached by evangelical Christians attempting to convince us to become their kind of Christians.

What’s the most Christian way we can respond to them?  — whether we are Christians or not?

I’ll share here an outline of how I respond to the evangelical efforts to convert me, a Christian pastor for over 40 years, to Christianity.  I imagine myself and an evangelical Christian having a chat while taking a walk together.  Here I share my side of the conversation:

“I really sense the depth and significance of your faith in Jesus, and also the sincere concern you have for me.  I can at least begin to imagine how it must feel for you to believe that I am in danger of eternal damnation.  To think that I and so many other people you genuinely care about might experience such a horrible future – that must be deeply disturbing to you.  How do you cope with such a huge concern?  Tell me more about how that feels…

“Is it okay for me to respond?  I may say some things that could disturb you even more, though that is not my intention.  My goal is not to weaken your faith, but just to share what my faith is like.  I do hope that what I have to say might be helpful to you.  Should I continue?…

“It seems to me that our conversation about faith in Jesus involves some initial assumptions that we might best explore together before going much further.  Tell me, what do you mean by the word “God”?….

“My understanding about God resonates with 1 John 4 in the New Testament:  “God is love.”  It seems to me that this statement has very big implications.  Love is real, it is powerful, it is everywhere.  But the nature of love is that it does not force itself on the world:  it is attractive, not controlling.  It invites us to do good, but can’t prevent us from doing wrong.  If God is love, then God is natural – not supernatural or omnipotent.  If God is love, then God is a quality of personal relationships, so it is natural that we would use the language of personhood to talk about God, even though God is not a sort of “person” like you or I….

“You’ve quoted the Bible to me quite a bit as we’ve started our conversation.  What do you say the Bible is?…

“I read the Bible as a collection of ancient writings by people about their spiritual experiences.  I see it as a language of faith, rather than as a prescription of what we’re supposed to believe or do.  Its writings come from times and circumstances that in many cases are far removed from our own.  Its myths, stories, and poems have always been precious raw material for Christians to use in creative ways in expressing their journeys of faith.  That’s the way Jesus used the Hebrew scriptures, and that’s the way I read the Christian scriptures.  So for me it does not make sense to take the Bible literally, nor does it make sense for me to “believe” the Bible.  Instead I seek inspiration in it where it is to be found, seek to understand its historical contexts, and make creative use of it in expressing my faith and growing in it.  There is deep truth in many of the Bible’s myths, even if they are not based on facts.  So when you use passages from the Bible to “prove” your points, that approach does not fit my understanding of what the Bible is nor how we best can read it and use it….

“Yes, I understand that you believe the Bible to be the word of God, even though the Bible doesn’t refer to itself at all, since its writers didn’t know their writings would be gathered together later into what we now call the Bible.  The Bible does not say or even imply that the Bible is the word of God.  So clearly, much later than when the books in it were written, people decided what would be included in the Bible and what would be left out.  And then they came up with the idea that the Bible was the word of God.  I respect that idea as something important in the history of Christianity, but I don’t find it to be a useful idea today.  I treasure the Bible as a human record of human experiences of spirituality over thousands of years.  It is the language of myths and story and poetry that I use to express my faith.  What is the most meaningful part of the BIble for you?…

“I understand that you believe in the miracle stories in the Bible – that Jesus was literally born from a virgin, that Jesus literally walked on water and literally rose from the dead.  I take these stories seriously but see no point in taking them literally since they don’t fit with our modern understanding about how the world works.  There was nothing like science, nothing like history in the modern sense of the word, in the time of Jesus and the early church.  People believed that the Roman emperor was born from a virgin.  Lots of stories circulated of people rising from the dead and performing miraculous healings in the first century.  To me, it seems like a cruel threat to say that to avoid hellfire in an afterlife, we must accept stories as factual that were much, much easier to believe in the early days of Christianity than they are for us to believe today…

“I understand that you believe human beings are hopeless sinners who deserve eternal punishment for their sins, and that you believe that God sent Jesus to die on the cross as a sacrifice to pay for our sins, and that if we believe in him the way you do, then we’ll be saved from hell in the afterlife.  Is this what you think is the central “take-away” message of Christianity?….

“For me, Christian faith is the practice of compassion here on earth, while we’re alive.  So “heaven” is giving and receiving the unconditional love that is God  – and “hell” is a metaphor for what life is like when we fail to give or receive divine love.  When have you experienced that kind of heaven?  and that kind of hell?….

“I understand how important you believe the message of blood atonement for sin to be.  In the context of first-century Israel, that theology would have had a cultural context that made it deeply meaningful.  For instance, all meat that people consumed came from animals that had been ritually sacrificed to establish or maintain a relationship with various supernatural divinities.  So the idea of blood sacrifice was universal at the time.  Today, we buy meat in shrink-wrapped packages in grocery stores, with no rituals associated with the process.  So we are culturally very distant from the idea of blood atonement for sin.  I don’t find it to be the most compelling or meaningful message of Christianity.  I see the cross confronting us with human suffering, making us look at the ways we impose suffering on others, and pointing us toward reconciliation and forgiveness and compassion….

“The take-away message of my faith is this: Rabbi Jesus discovered that the center of his being was not his body or his ego, but God, who is unconditional love.  He taught people to discover this for themselves, and to practice the radical compassion that follows from this awareness.  He organized the church to cultivate this awareness and put it into action in the world.  He demonstrated unconditional love so profoundly that the Roman government considered him a threat to its authority and killed him on a cross.  Out of love he forgave the people who crucified him. Jesus’ followers turned the cross into the symbol of his unconditional compassion, and his church has strived to follow his way ever since.  How do you practice Jesus’ way of compassion?….

“I hope that our conversation leaves us both with deeper understanding of each other… and that we can keep on sharing love – who is God – with each other!”

(See more of my “musings” here…)

oOo

 

Message: Peace not war against nature

WEMBLEY DOWNS UNITING CHURCH, WA  – Feb 13th 2022

Sermon   Jeremiah 17:5-10       Luke 6:17-26

Peace not War against Nature.

“We need War to have Peace”. These words I heard recently on the ABC News as a Lebanese man reflected on the solution to the disintegration of his country “We need War to have Peace”. Not too different from the mantra of the Roman Empire 2000 years ago of “First Victory then Peace”.

This is not a novel idea, as it is embedded in our own culture, whose wars and heroes shall soon be remembering. In Genesis (4:7) our Bible gives an early warning to humanity of the seductive attraction of such violence – physical, verbal and spiritual. God referred to it as SIN which escalates as people, like animals instinctively retaliate. Such SIN was illustrated in the fatal clash between Able, the hunter-gatherer and his brother Cain the Farmer.

This same SIN characterised the English settlement of Australia, when our agricultural culture clashed with the hunter-gathering Aboriginal people, resulting in massacres, genocide and the penal settlement on Rottnest Island. The repercussions of this are still being felt today, with our recourse to retributive (Prison) instead of distributive justice, to solve the systemic problem of indigenous disadvantage. A challenge facing the Boab Network as we seek to help aboriginal people of the NW Kimberley.

Over 2,500 years ago Israel was suffering a similar fate. As a small vassal State, the people of Israel suffered the brutal domination systems that Empires (then and now) used to maintain their power and extract wealth from the land and sweat of others. In response, the people of Israel followed the gods of violence, but Jeremiah warns them to trust in the one God who brings peace though distributive justice. He likened such people who bring peace to:

  a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; Jeremiah 17:8a

In our Gospel reading today, which was written against the back drop of the brutality of the Roman Empire who had crucified Jesus. Luke develops this theme of trusting in the God who brings peace through distributive justice, in his telling of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain. He begins with four blessings that are directed at “YOU” (that is to us). Luke “materialises” Jesus’ Blessings – brings them down to earth, bluntly referring to physical hunger: “How blessed are you who now go hungry; your hunger shall be satisfied”. (6:21). His “poor” are the financially destitute, the powerless; those who are to receive the coming “Kingdom of God” that brings benefits to the common people through distributive justice – the equitable sharing of the blessings our world has to offer. This comes about when political power is shared with the people, which democracy aspires to achieve.

Democracy itself is constantly under the threat of violence from Authoritarian regimes, powerful multi-national corporations, or dominant racial or religious groups. This is well illustrated in the USA – the land of the free, as well as in our own Country, where the Fossil Fuel and Mining Industries exercise a dominant political influence. To protect our democracy, we are seeing the rise of independent candidates in the upcoming Federal election, to challenge the domination of these vested interests.

Luke identifies this abuse as he strikes at the heart of the matter by following the Blessings with a list of “woes” (“alas for you”) of which the “rich” and “well-fed” are cursed with future loss and hunger. Persons happy with the present social order and hold on political power are destined to regret their meanness (6:24-26). This harsh judgement on those who society generally considers fortunate, occurs only in Luke and represents one of Luke’s special convictions: God’s Kingdom will bring a radical reversal of presently accepted values and expectations. We witness such happenings and struggles in our present time – with the violent oppression by those wanting to hold onto their privileges and power. History is full of revolutions that have swept the rich and powerful aside. So, no wonder Autocratic regimes are as wary and oppressive as they were in ancient times. Now with more subtle means, using the tools of social media to propagate their distortions of the Truth.

Luke does not specify his objections to the wealthy as a class, but in material exclusive to his Gospel, he repeatedly attacks the rich, predicting that their present affluence and luxury will be exchanged for misery – which does not make for popular sermon material! (One exception is the fearless preaching of Fr Rod Bower of Gosford Anglican Church.)

Jeremiah used Nature to illustrate the many blessings we receive from God. We can also recognise many woes when we disobey God’s laws of nature. The consequences of which are being revealed to us by science – which many reject. This summer we are experiencing chaotic bursts of hot weather, catastrophic fires, cyclones and floods. For the ancients this was evidence of the Judgement of God, such as in NOAH and the flood. For us moderns it is the consequences of the rich and powerful ignoring Nature’s laws. However, the Bible and our Christian faith has not equipped us for the environmental crisis we are currently in and leaving the younger generations to face.

But let us not give up. There is hope, for Nature has much to teach us. For example, Nature survives and evolves through recycling everything – which Wembley Downs UC in your modest way are doing outside here with Containers for Change (Slide). Part of this recycling process are your magnificent collection of native trees. They shed their leaves and bark for you to clean up, but in exchange you receive the blessings of bees, honey, birds, oxygen, and on hot days shade and cooling.

Luke’s Woes for the rich are even more apparent when we consider all the other pollutants, we pour daily into the atmosphere that is causing an unprecedented warming of our planet. The catastrophic consequences of this are visited on the poor of the world who cannot escape.

The rich are being called to sacrifice their wealth to reduce emissions and help those being impacted – but we stumble when asked to put the welfare of our planet and people, ahead of our own material interests. After 15 years of political wrangling and five Prime Ministers, we have yet to effectively address the greatest moral challenge of our age and the relevance of our faith.

The revelation of God in Nature is among the oldest of religious beliefs. It is the basis of Aboriginal spirituality – the land owns us and not we the land. A spirituality which brings with it the moral obligations on each individual to care for a specific plant or animal. In the historical origins of our own religion, such beliefs are found in Hinduism from the sixth century BC. and Greek Stoicism from the 3rd Century BC, with a belief that the cosmos is active, life-giving, rational and creative. …

They identified the universe with God. Such a belief is evident in the Wisdom stream of our own scriptures and Paul’s own words to the Athenians about their unknown God (Acts 17:28) in which Paul says: – “in him we live, move and have our being”. In 2009, the Uniting Church revised the preamble to their Constitution to reflect that before English settlement… the Spirit was already in the land revealing God to the people through law, custom and ceremony.

We are experiencing a decline in those following the Christian faith, which indicates the paradigms (to which we are heirs), have become intellectually and ethically exhausted. These paradigms are failing to provide a conceptual framework conducive to eliminating some of humanity’s worst scourges of perpetual war, environmental destruction, including the COVID pandemic – wars being waged on two fronts, one of which we barely recognise. This raises the issue of a successor, which necessitates a re-examination of first principles, starting with how we conceptualise God, the most ancient of symbolic words used for the Sacred.

As we live with these questions  – I believe, we are slowly discovering a new concept of God, which is offering us a new way of salvation, through a synthesis between science, the wisdom of other religions and our religion, found in the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

AMEN

References

Stephen L. Harris, 1998, The New Testament: A Student’s Introduction. Ps 170-71 Luke’s sermon on the plain.
Roger S. Gottlieb, 2019, Morality and the Environmental Crisis. Cambridge Studies in Religion, Philosophy, and Society. Pp. 248
John W. Grula, 2008, Pantheism reconstructed: Eco-theology as a successor to the Judeo-Christian, Enlightenment, and Post-Modernist Paradigms.  Zygon, Volume 43, Issue1 March 2008 Pages 159-180

Dr Richard Smith, 2022

The politics of identity – recorded presentation

Effective Living Centre Logo

Effective Living Centre

 

Hi everybody,

ELC Wilks Oration – Stan Grant – 25 February 2022

If you missed Stan Grant’s amazing address on Friday night – “The Politics of Identity” – or if you just want to view it again, here’s our video recording of the event. Beautiful music from Vonda Last as well.

We encourage you to get the word out to your friends and acquaintances – this is an important “message for our times”.

The video is available to you free of charge, but we invite you to make a donation to the ongoing work of the ELC in providing great programs to the community.

Kind regards,
Effective Living Centre

Fergus McGinley

“Stan’s address was as fine an oration as you’re ever likely to hear.” Cheers, Fergus

The Effective Living Centre (ELC) is an ongoing community engagement project of Christ Church – Wayville Uniting Church, founded in 1998.

Our primary purpose is to promote living effectively in our present time and creating partnerships with members of the wider community who identify with achieving the aims of the ELC.

We seek to enlighten and empower people to take responsibility for advancing our society towards the common good. We are open to all people regardless of any social, political or religious persuasion.

The ELC is a recognised mission centre of Mission Resourcing, Uniting Church SA.

Donate to the ELC

Watch the video

oOo

Understanding others – suspending the urge to be right

Understanding Others

Greg Spearritt considers the history of Christian theology in dealing with other religious traditions, and ponders the lessons that might offer for Anglo-Australians attempting to understand First Nations cultures.

A little less than a century ago the German Protestant theologian Ernst Troeltsch made a radical statement. Christianity, he said, was a “purely historical, individual, relative phenomenon”. 1.

He prefigured by some decades what was to become a problem for Christian thinkers of all stripes: how do we understand ourselves when other religious traditions are appearing “in power among us on our turf”? 2. It’s been argued that accounting theologically for religious pluralism has been as formative for Protestant – and I’d add Catholic – thought as an earlier generation’s struggle with Darwinism was. 3.

Suddenly, as the world began to emerge from the hegemony of colonialism after WW2, the Other was in our faces, and had become more than an easily-dismissed curiosity. It was among us, challenging our long-held belief in the superiority of our own faith. What to do?! There were three main responses.

Christian exclusivism was exemplified by the view of influential Calvinist theologian Karl Barth that Christianity “alone has the commission and the authority… to confront the world of religions as the one true religion”. 4. Needless to say, this approach didn’t result in a great deal of interfaith dialogue. It substantially remains the view, of course, of many conservative thinkers and groups to this day, though I suspect they fall short of the confidence in their views that was possible when the European empires were riding high.

Then there were the ‘inclusivists’. Karl Rahner was the poster boy here. A Catholic, Rahner proposed that sincere people of other faiths could conceivably access salvation, describing them as “anonymous Christians”. 5. He was probably surprised that his idea didn’t go down too well with the Buddhists and Muslims. Condescension is, after all, pretty hard to swallow.

It’s no surprise, however, that the theologians most inclined to actually engage with other traditions were the pluralists. Here we find John Hick, the process theologian John B. Cobb Jr, Wilfred Cantwell Smith, Ninian Smart and others. For them, though each of course had their own particular take, there was a ‘rough parity’ among the world religions.

Even with the best of intentions, however, it’s never easy coming to terms with Otherness. I have argued elsewhere, for example, that for Hick, Smith and the theologian Winston L. King an inability to appreciate the Other as truly Other mars their well-meaning attempts to understand and portray Buddhism. In spite of their best efforts, they frequently fall back into using western and Christian categories such as ‘salvation’, ‘Ultimate Reality’ and ‘faith’. They often assume too close a correspondence between Buddhist and Christians concepts and terms. And they fail to sufficiently acknowledge the diversity and complexity of Buddhist traditions: the Buddhist Other comes across as essentially the same, wherever she or he is found.

A haste in the work of these theologians to pursue common ground – to claim that Christians and Buddhists are actually on about the same Ultimate Reality – leaves those Buddhists who refuse to give up their particularity portrayed as not really knowing their own traditions. No matter what they say, Buddhism actually accesses Christian realities like grace, or it supports a global view that Reality or salvation is what matters and that all particular truth claims are merely mythological. Buddhist recourse to protest – where that is even possible – is futile, since it may simply be seen as further evidence that those protesting have not yet seen the ‘big picture’. As I have (again) noted elsewhere, Bishop John Shelby Spong is culpable here too: he says Buddhists “clearly believe in God” and describes a well-known Buddhist monk as living “inside a God consciousness”. 6.

This all makes me wonder about the extent to which those of us of European descent can truly understand Indigenous Australian cultures.

My default lens for understanding Others in the world is the Enlightenment one of rationality and science. As much as I’m a fan of this particular lens, however, I have to acknowledge that it is a lens. Science is a socially constructed enterprise, bringing with it, at least to some extent, an inescapably western-Christian perspective. It has certainly been a tool of colonial oppression throughout Australian history. The Cartesian dualism on which (in part) it’s based is not shared by many Indigenous peoples: nature and society, for example, do not constitute separate domains in Indigenous thinking, as noted by Fulvio Mazzocchi (p. 22). Mazzocchi has serious doubts about whether Indigenous knowledge and western science can be successfully integrated.

Just as with Christians and Buddhists, apparent correlations between western and Indigenous concepts must be viewed with some suspicion. Sorcha Tormey, in the third edition of the Treaty Matters newsletter, notes that even talk of sovereignty for First Nations people must be approached with care, since it’s a fundamentally western concept.

I’m hopeful that it is possible to apprehend Other cultures or peoples in a way that is respectful and allows those Others to speak for themselves. The pluralist theologians who do this best in relation to Buddhism – and there’ll be others from more recent times (including women!), and from non-Anglo-American countries – include Ninian Smart, John B. Cobb Jr, David Tracy, Don Cupitt and George Rupp. It is probably no accident that these thinkers, much more than those who focus on commonalities and underlying unity, are open to the ways that Buddhism might influence Christian thought and practice. Tracy, for instance, speaks of the other of the Buddhist who, precisely through the challenge of… radical otherness, can help Christians, especially those sensitive to our contemporary situation of possessive individualism and the terror of transience, to let go, to rethink, to suspect anew, and to retrieve the forgotten mystical resources of our own tradition. 7.

Suspending the urge to be right, and to persuade others to align with our views is no easy matter for westerners, including Christians. We will be all the richer, I suggest, if we do indeed begin to “suspect anew” our own motives and assumptions, and learn the art of truly listening.

  1. Christian Thought (University of London Press, 1923), p.22
  2. Langdon Gilkey’s words: Through the Tempest: Theological Voyages in a Pluralistic Culture (ed. Jeff B. Pool, Fortress Press, 1991), p.24
  3. Leroy Rouner ‘Theology of Religions in Recent Protestant Theology’ in Hans Kung & Jurgen Moltmann (eds) Christianity Among World Religions (T & T Clark, 1986), p.14
  4. Church Dogmatics I/2 (§17 no.3, T&T Clark 1975) p. 357
  5. See Theological Investigations Vol.5 (Daton, Longman & Todd, 1966), Chapter 6
  6. Why Christianity Must Change or Die (HarperSanFrancisco 1998), pp. 57 and 185 respectively
  7. Dialogue With the Other: The Inter-Religious Dialogue (Peeters, 1990), p.83

Greg Spearritt is editor for SOFiA and author.

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The Trinity as Love

From: Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation, Thursday 22nd January 2022

Professor Heidi Russell describes a way of speaking about the Trinity as Love that might allow modern Christians to connect more intimately to God.

In the twenty-first century a new understanding of Trinity must be found that allows Christians to reconcile their image of God with a contemporary, scientific worldview. Theology needs to move away from concrete images of God in which God is pictured as an old man in the sky. The use of concepts such as being and person in our trinitarian theology have too often led to an understanding of God as a being or a person, or worse as three beings or three persons. Shifting from language of being and person to a concept of God as Love can help counteract this tendency to make God in our own image.

The primary analogy for God as Trinity offered [here] is Source of Love, Word of Love, and Spirit of Love. God the Father is the Unoriginate Source of Love, simply meaning the ultimate source, the source that has no origin itself because it is the origin of all love that exists. That Source of all love has been revealed in the Word of Love. The world was created in and through that Word of Love, and that Word of Love has been spoken into the world in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The Source of Love is also continually enacted in the Spirit of Love, which is present in the world and active in the heart of all believers forming the Christian community into the body of Christ. As the body of Christ, this community is then called to be the ongoing presence of God as Love in the world. . . .

To affirm God as Trinitarian Love means that our relationships with each other have the potential to mirror such divine, three-fold love. Russell quotes Pope Francis:

The human person grows more, matures more and is sanctified more to the extent that he or she enters into relationships, going out from themselves to live in communion with God, with others and with all creatures. In this way, they make their own that trinitarian dynamism which God imprinted in them when they were created. Everything is interconnected, and this invites us to develop a spirituality of that global solidarity which flows from the mystery of the Trinity. [1]

She continues:

We can choose to exercise the unfolding of love in our lives. I can meditate on a God who is Love, who has enfolded Godself as Love at the core of who I am and empowered me to participate in the unfolding of that Love in the world. Through that meditative prayer, we will come to better enact Love in the world. Our hearts can literally change our brains. Our altered brains will change our actions. That unfolding of love means I am empowered to live out my life in relationships that are loving, that engender mutuality and equality in the world.

 

[1] Pope Francis, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, 240.

Heidi Russell, The Source of All Love: Catholicity and the Trinity (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2017), xvii, 171, 174.

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Finding progressive friends

One of the great challenges for the UCFORUM has been how to respond effectively to the many people who request information about progressive congregations and individuals in their area. Some would like to join a church where diversity, inclusivity and exploration are practiced. Others are looking for intellectual challenge in the teaching and activities of a congregation. Many are just looking for other individuals like themselves who think outside the box, or cannot abide literal, non-critical interpretations of scripture. Often people in the latter group don’t want to associate with a church because of their experiences. They just want to join a small group of people that can encourage each other in their life journey. There is obviously a significant number of people looking for progressive friends. They get a lot out of the UCFORUM but personal contact with like-minded people would be wonderful.

We find it difficult to give a satisfactory response to all the inquiries from all over Australia because we just don’t have sufficient information about our many subscribers and our need to abide by privacy protocols. We are constantly on the look out for congregations where progressives would feel comfortable and make that information available.

We have links to the major progressive groups in each State and Explorers groups that we know about so sometimes we can pass the inquiry onto to them.

The most recent request came from someone in Toowoomba. If you come from that area and are willing to be a ‘friend’ to another progressive there please send me an email – psinglis@westnet.com.au.

If you have any suggestions about how we could improve our response to inquirers please also email me with your suggestions.

Thanks,

Paul

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Beginnings and Continuings – A Reflection by Wally Stratford

See the source imageOnce upon a time – in the time before time began, a large ball of energy – a seething mass of grumblings and groanings, of flashes and fire, of bumblings and bouncings, floated here and there. Then one day – in that time before time began – it exploded with a tremendous bang and bits and pieces of energy flew far and wide – continuing to this day. The Universe was born!

Many, many, many years later than that time before time began, a group of scholars – probably all men – probably all elderly men, gathered to reflect on the world they knew – their aim, to write about its beginnings. This a really impossible task so they decided to tell it as a story.

It began – “In the beginning …” and went on to tell of the way God went to work to create the world. It was a story of great acts by God out of which the world was assembled. They write “God said let there be this, and let that occur…” and they added, “and it was so” as each action was completed. The picture that may be imagined is of a powerful – remote – God sitting some distance away and creating by decree. It all happened, wrote the scholars, and the earth became a finished article. (Genesis 1&2).

But then the story changes and the God of decrees becomes a worker of dust. (Genesis 2:7) “The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground.” I wonder if you have ever tried to form anything from dust – it is an impossible task- the dust remains a pile of dust.

The story persists – and God persists, and the human form takes shape – but without life. And then God draws even closer and “breathes into the man’s nostrils.” Perhaps you have never breathed in anyone’s nostrils, but if you ever decided to do that – how close would you need to be? Very close!

One might imagine hearing God say as breath was breathed, “The life of God for the life of humankind.” And the man lived!

The man received a gift of life – a gift handed to him in the action of the God whose spirit had a major part in creation. The breath, we may claim, contained something of the breather, and imagination can show us that something, as the presence of God – not from a distance but in intimate contact.

We know and understand that our breathing is an absolute necessity for the preservation of life. If we stop breathing, we stop living. The breath contains the elements necessary to energize the activities of our body.

The imaginings in right brain thinking, remind us that with breath comes the presence, or spirit of God, in whom life is enriched. As we cannot survive without breathing, so also, we cannot not receive the Spirit. They are fundamentally linked as foundational for life, the gift that knows no boundaries. There is more!

If we now take something of a giant step forward in time, we will discover Moses talking to a bush. (Exodus Chap.3 But this was no ordinary bush. Moses was soon to discover that this bush and its surround were emblematic of sacred presence. Even the ground on which he stood was sacred.

From the bush a voice called Moses to return to Egypt, there to challenge Pharoah to let the Israelites go free. This was a daunting task and Moses was loath to take it on. The challenge continued, so Moses asked for some identification. It would be useful to know who or what it was that was speaking to him. “Give me your name…”

What he received was not a name but an enigmatic statement of being. I AM! Then for further affirmation a reminder of an ongoing presence from the God of their ancestors. Transliterated in English as YHWH the term is unpronounceable but most expressive as a doorway to understanding presence. Finding security in this presence Moses took on the task and confronted Pharoah. Pharoah had to learn to his considerable cost, that this presence was not going away, and finally set the people free.

My name for this presence is YHWH-Spirit. It makes sense for me when linked to the story of beginnings and humankind’s gift of life. YHWH-Spirit fed and led the Israelites away from slavery into a desert, there to wander for some time. Visible as smoke in the day and fire in the night YHWH-Spirit guarded and guided the Israelites as they continued their journey home – to the place originally promised to Abraham. As they travelled, they had to learn again the true nature of the covenant to which their ancestors had committed their lives in the gift of the life given.

The life that each has is what it is. The profile of life is the same for all and is not affected by shape or colour or creed or behaviour. So, how do we account for the range of difference among the many lives being lived?

If I decide to present you with a gift (for whatever reason), and carefully wrap it securely in attractive paper, you may be very pleased and even find the wrapping expressive of my feelings in giving it to you. But you will know nothing of its contents until you remove the covering.

If life is to take on meaning and find expression in your daily peregrinations, it must like any gift, be unwrapped. Unwrapping life does not, and indeed cannot occur in a moment. Life is always continuing and expanding. This changing condition of life requires a progressive unwrapping – always more is revealed.

There is, however, abundant evidence to suggest that the unwrapping is not proceeding well and, in many cases, not at all. I wonder if many are fearful of what they might find.

Failure to unwrap, it might be suggested, leaves the gift languishing on the table; we pass by daily.

Rev Walter Stratford  28th August 2021

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