Category Archives: Reflections

Reflection and Event: Caloundra Q PCN Explorers

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

Last Tuesday we discussed Chap 3 The way of the historical Jesus in John Smith’s thought provoking book. Here are a few key points:

P 55  John says ‘I don’t want to hear so much what they think the parable means, but more importantly how it makes them feel.’ However, we thought that head and heart were just as important here.

P 57  We need to stop looking for the intervention of a Messianic figure and realise that the power to change the world lies within us.

P 59-60  If the kingdom of God is within you, then God comes to visibility in your relationships with others.

P 60  Jesus did not practise ‘passive resistance’ but ‘active non-violent resistance’. I mentioned the Jason Porterfield book Fight like Jesus: How Jesus waged peace throughout Holy Week which develops the theme of active non-violent resistance.

P 61  ‘Jesus states six times that a person’s healing comes from the sacred energy that resides within . . .’ Wendy commented that in her chiropractor’s rooms is this statement ’The power that made the body heals the body.’

P 63  . . . the spirit of the sacred energy we call God will be revealed in the way we care for each other.

P 65  . . . compassion is the most outstanding unifying force among the world’s religions.

P 69  John says ‘We have a wonderful ability to block out those portions of scripture that challenge our prejudices and would prompt us to action outside our comfort zone.’ For example Matthew 5:40 ‘And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.’

Nancy related the story of how her husband Rob came home one day with a strange very dirty shirt on. He had met a down-and-out person in the park who was going for a job interview and didn’t have a clean shirt, so Rob offered to swap shirts. Good on you, Rob!

P 69  John says ‘The Uniting Church in Australia . . . raises social justice issues but the dilemma has always been how we can get this message across to congregations.’ Margaret, the convenor of our Social Justice Group, says she could certainly identify with that comment.

P 79-80  . . . when Jesus says to this woman (who anointed Jesus with expensive perfume Matthew 26:6-13) ‘Your faith has saved you’, he is saying ‘by your contrition and humble act of loving kindness, you have revealed that the spirit of God is with you.’

P 83  We need to explore the God Jesus knew before Christianity clothed him in religious language.

P 85  . . . we find Jesus in everyone we meet. I noted the wonderful Namaste greeting ‘The divine in me sees the divine in you.’

P 90  Wendy shared something she read: ‘Love is like the sun. We cannot look directly at it, but we see our world because of it and experience its many life-sustaining functions.’

P  92  John continues his theme of social justice: Our current response to asylum seekers and refugees should give us great cause for concern as people of faith.

P 101  Jesus . . . never encouraged people to let God take over their lives and their decisions, as do many modern right wing Evangelists.

P 103  Jesus himself denies the ‘Atonement’ in the parable of the ‘prodigal Son’ which illustrates God as a forgiving and loving Father when he welcomes back his erring son. Jesus thus condemns christian orthodoxy (the idea that a loving God should sacrifice his son).

P 103  John finishes the chapter by quoting Bishop Spong: ‘Go into the world and become involved, reach out to other people in love and seek out evidence of the spiritual energy we know as God in every circumstance, in every person.’

Because we missed a week, we will meet next Tuesday 25 April to discuss Chapters 4, 5 and 6. All are welcome.

Ken Williamson 


Reflection: Group Response to Geering Sermon and event reminder

Thanks to one of the groups at last month’s gathering of the Merthyr Road Explorers for this summary of their conversation:

Do we need a creator?                                                               

 (Group Reflections on a sermon by Sir Lloyd Geering)

‘Do we need a creator?’ asked Lloyd Geering and that set our small discussion group off on a merry trail. No-one had an immediate opinion. We were all from a traditional Christian background and immured in the idea there was one,  so what was there to say.

Geering in his sermon made the point that evolution has caused us to face the reality of ever- changing growth and development, new world views needing new responses… so what we once thought of as God making/creating, are now thought of as natural, scientific processes–evolving over time.

Then Kevin said: ‘We are part of a new Ecological Civilisation—where connectivity is fundamental. It’s an ecological civilization based on the all-encompassing symbiosis between human society and the natural world. Human activity would be organized, not merely to avoid harm to the living earth, but to actively regenerate and sustain its health.’

Bev: ‘Whoo!  Say that again, please… in English!’

‘World views have changed significantly over the past thousand or so years. Science has helped us realise that humanity and the environment are deeply interconnected. We rely on nature and in turn must nurture the earth.’

Kevin further explained that an ecological civilisation assumes we live within beliefs and practices that hold that everything is interrelated. We must challenge a culture of selfish individualism and confront the consequences of living in ways driven by competitive impulses.

Bev: ‘According to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (a Jesuit and paleontologist who wrote about evolution) humanity is evolving and evolution has a goal.’

Rodney wondered:  ‘Are we going to live long enough to evolve?’

Bev:  ‘Good point!  We’ve made quite a mess of the world. Our greed and selfishness has almost finished it off. It wouldn’t be at all surprising if humanity (like the dinosaurs) was wiped out and possibly even by an ecological disaster we ourselves had created.’

Since the middle 1800’s, with the invention of the powered machine and the knowledge from science growing exponentially, humanity has become the key factor in change throughout the world. There are a lot of positive outcomes of this, but on the negative side, bull-dozers have ripped through forests. Rockets have soared into space leaving rubbish behind. Nature has been exploited shamelessly. Moreover, we—humanity, now has the responsibility of repairing the damage and very little time to do it.

Science arose in opposition to religion and has assumed primacy. Traditional religion has been in decline as many of its ideas have been challenged. Key among the challenges is the idea of evolution. But it is no longer reasonable for religion to ignore evolution and many religiously-aligned people have accepted that the world has changed and their views on life and theology must also change.

‘Religion’ and ‘religious’ ideas must be properly aligned to the way we now see the world, and our human experience of it, at our point in time. Religious ideas must be related to the context/culture in which we are living. It is important that new ways of seeing the world are vigorously expressed. Theologians have been doing this for some time now and new views are better understood… but it’s a slow process. Sometimes we only understand in hind-sight where our journey has taken us.

That’s the point of the Lloyd Geering message. We are on a journey of discovery, and we can enjoy being part of the process… everything we do, each action, each commitment makes a difference.

Kevin: ‘What we think is that CHANGE  happens at the edges… we must look for it in the ‘margins’. Slowly, slowly, society changes. We are part of that process. Everything we do… large or small… contributes to it.’

Bev: ‘What fun!   It is at the point where two edges meet that change happens… like the shore and the sea or two people with different insights.’

Joy: It may not be an ecological disaster that wipes us out… but what about world events like the Ukraine War… and Putin… there is a lot of pain and injustice in the world—life is far from enjoyable for so many. Do we just WAIT for something to change, for Putin to have a change of heart or to use nuclear weapons??? I am a person of hope… but I cannot make sense of aggression, suffering and injustices. I can’t even PRAY for them to stop because “God“ does not control that!!

Bev: ‘Pain and hurt are part of the nature of things.’

Evolution… from atom to algae, plants to people… is full of struggle. It’s focussed on ‘growth’ and the strongest (?),  smartest(?) get a ticket to the future. The evolutionary method is based on cause and effect. Mathematics even. It doesn’t seem to have the slightest care that plants or animals or people are hurt or may be destroyed. Its simple, singular motive is ‘progress’.’

And yet:

Bryan: ‘There is a life force in the world, encouraging us to LOVE. It is a goal for humanity to strive for, a motive for hopefulness. For me, love is the glue of our new society. This deepest ‘agape’ love (the highest and purest form of love) will be the bridge that unifies humanity; it will be the essence of our total giving, total forgiving, benevolent sacrifice and the means of total transformation and renewal of our new society, bridging the possible barriers of race, religion and nationality. It will build community that is lasting, forgiving and all encompassing. We already have models of this new world lifestyle through former years in people like Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Martin Luther King and St Francis.

Bev: ‘I like listening to Songs of Praise on Sunday mornings. You wouldn’t catch me inside a church these days, but I can’t help thinking that the hopefulness, joy and meaning I see as people in the congregation are singing, is what we need in the world. Perhaps it’s my memory of pleasant days in the past when I believed the words whole-heartedly, even though now a lot of the words/ theology need changing… perhaps it’s the music that touches my heart. Perhaps it’s something else.’

All: ‘We like listening to Songs of Praise too!’

Afterthought by Joy:  Even Songs of Praise is changing– years ago it was a program recorded in Australia in a local church (I remember one at Coorparoo Methodist when I was much younger) … in recent times it now has a few hymns/songs but also interviews with people to show how a focus church reaches out to connect with its community/or take on ecological projects etc…

 Kevin: ‘We are part of a MORPHOGENIC  system… a system that allows for growth, creativity and change… In all fields of energy, values and attitudes change and move… compassion, hope, love may be responses to changing circumstances/new forms of life…’

Bev: ‘Oops… What does ‘Morphogenic’ mean?’

‘Morphogenesis is a biological process that causes a tissue or organ to develop its shape by controlling the spatial distribution of cells during embryonic development.’

Bev: ‘Nope. That doesn’t do anything for me.’

‘In psychology, morphogenesis is the development of the form and structure of an organism.’

Bev: ‘Getting closer. So… “it’s a system that allows for growth, creativity and change… in all fields of energy, values and attitudes change and move… compassion, hope, love.” Aha! That’s what you said. Now I understand. Times are changing, and the world is built (created?) in such a way that we can grow our understanding and change as well.’

In fact, that’s exactly how nature operates. It’s a dialectic… something happens; there’s a response. That’s how plants and insects have developed a multiplicity of defences against predators.

In some ways, humanity has been stuck in habits and traditions and fixed ways of responding. In future, we will be less constrained to follow belief systems that do not suit us or the world we live in. We will respond to experience more readily and live in a more authentic way.


Bryan: ‘Let’s all write a one page version of “How my thinking has changed”… briefly outlining our journeys, life experiences, growth… so we can know one another (connect) better and feed each other (grow and change)’.

Note: This month’s discussion at Merthyr Road (Wednesday 26th April) will pick up on this suggestions.


Reflection: A Survey of Scholarly Doubts on the Empty Tomb

Scholarly Doubts on the Empty Tomb

From the Jesus Tweezers blog authored by Scott Bignell Studying Judeo-Christian Origins has been a passionate hobby of his for the better part of a decade. The Jesus Tweezers blog is designed to give Scott an online space to publish his thoughts on anything and everything related to Judeo-Christian Origins.

“We are regularly told by Christian Apologists that the scholarly consensus on the historicity of the empty tomb is strong enough that it can be counted as a “fact”. Is that so? In this thread, I intend to create a list of modern scholars and their comments that would beg to differ. I’ll edit the post as I find more. So stay tuned.”

For the article go to:

Scholarly Doubts on the Empty Tomb – Jesus Tweezers (



Post Easter Reflection: The Resurrection – a focus on the present rather than the hereafter

The Resurrection calls us to pay attention to this life.

Thanks to Rev Dr John Squires (UCA-Canberra) for this considered reflection on the significance of the weekend we have just experienced.

John has made available to us his recent script from Easter Sunday. It appears in his very interesting and informative blog:

“On Easter Sunday, all attention is rightly on Jesus, risen from the dead. “Christ is risen”, we greet each other, with the expected reply, “He is risen indeed”. Risen, to new life; risen, as a sign of the future life we are promised; risen, soon to ascend, to be “seated at the right hand of the Father” in heaven. Alleluias are rightly sung on this Easter day, and in this Easter season!

“So our attention is, in effect, directed away from here, on earth, towards the heavenly realm. Indeed, the Gospel for Easter Sunday this year appears to point us in that direction, as Jesus speaks to Mary Magdalene in the garden: “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’”(John 20:17).

“The same orientation is found in the story of the walk to Emmaus, where Jesus says to those walking on the road with him, “was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:26). “Going to glory”, of course, is a popular euphemism for dying—going to heaven; even in biblical usage, entering into glory is to be in the direct presence of God (Exod 40:35; 2 Chron 7:2; Isa 2:10, 19–21; 1 Cor 15:42–43; 2 Cor 3:7–18). And that is where Jesus goes.

“A popular (mis)understanding of Christianity is that it is about using this life as preparation for the life to come in the future. Faith, in this view, is about repentance now and obedience in all we do on this earth, so that when we die, our souls will rise to heaven, we will be commended as a “good and faithful servant”, and invited to “enter the kingdom of God”—or, in the common popular perception, step through the pearly gates into a heaven filled with angels, playing their harps and singing their songs of eternal praise and adoration.”

To read the rest of the reflection go to:

The resurrection calls us to pay attention to this life (Easter Sunday)



Reflection for Good Friday: This is My Body; It Is All I Have.

Thanks to Rev Glenn Loughrey for this thoughtful piece.


Exile – A Self Portrait of an Aboriginal Man – Glenn Loughrey 2017

When you have been completely dispossessed of all that has meaning you have no-thing left but your body. You have no voice, no language, no country, no hope – all has been taken from you by those who possess you and you are left with only what you have on – your body.

You wear your body as both a form of defence and of attack against those who continue to commit genocide through policies designed to embed our hopelessness and voicelessness. We are all people of place and context and once the connection to these has been severed without any hope of reconnection, a deep sense of powerlessness sets in. You are powerless to be who you are when you are taken from the place that defines your language, tradition, lore, and spirituality.

This is not just the experience of first-generation exiles but is handed on in the DNA of those who follow. Cross-generational trauma or powerlessness continues and is experienced both consciously and subconsciously by those who come later. Some know why they are the way they are; others are never sure. They just know the shame of being wrong, not grounded, not belonging, and don’t know where it comes from.

Your body carries the memory of a past home and desires to return. It carries the memory of the hurt and grief involved in losing such a precious possession and strives to be heard as you wish to be heard. Yet you have no voice, it has been stolen and given to another to speak on your behalf, to decide if you are worthy to be heard, and when and on what matters you will be heard.

You are in exile, not heard, not seen and invisible to the rest of society which only sees you as an issue to be resolved and not as a person to be respected, not as a person with a voice. What do you do with the trauma, all the grief and loss, all the anger and anxiety if there is no one who recognises you as a real human, not an object to be used to fund the Aboriginal industry – welfare, medical, prison, police and more? The statistics on prison numbers and children in out-of-home care remind us that our bodies fund an entire industry for non-Aboriginal institutions to profit from.

It is our bodies and our children’s bodies that society values, not because we are human but because they can be used to fund the ‘helpers’ it has been decided we need. It is our bodies that universities and private schools seek to black-clad their profit-making exercises when they can point to a black body now acting like a white body. It is our bodies’ people cheer when our young men and women, run fast, kick goals, score tries or achieve a feat that makes us proud.

These are the same bodies heckled loudly and without fear with racial abuse, or whitesplained to when you think they need white knowledge to put them straight, or question the colour of their skin, or how they got their degree or house, or challenge their lived experience with your considered opinion. And more.

For the complete article go to: This is my body: it is all I have 


Reflection: A Voice and the Sacredness of Nature

As a further response to the recent article from Rev Dr Lorraine Parkinson, A (much) Wider View of a Voice to Parliament, we asked Dr Richard Smith to share some of his most recent sermon on Being Born Again.


Pondering a sermon on being Born Again from John 3:1-17. I concluded that this idea must have entered Aboriginal consciousness from nature itself, which is being continuously Born Again as part of the evolutionary process. In this process our trees are forever shedding leaves and bark to grow new ones and to produce flowers, nectar and seeds. This process over millions of years by storing Carbon as fossil fuels and increasing atmospheric O2 to 21% made it possible for us big brain mammals to emerge into this wonderful world. In this process nutrients from deep in the soil are continuously being brought to the surface enabling other shrubs and plants to prosper – transforming the barren coastal sand dunes of SW Australia over the last 7000 years into a cherished place to live.

I learn much by daily cycling through a small piece of Native Bushland between Karrakatta Cemetery and neighbouring housed. The dedicated neighbours and others have erected a notice board advertising their Mission of protecting the sacredness of nature to passers-by. A year ago the bushland during a day of 42?C temperatures was devastated by fire, leading to a former politician suggesting the time had come to cover the area with concrete, bitumen and houses. But the locals instead began a process of active restoration and 12 months later this small piece of Nature is being Born Again. Compared with most of our own Church signs, visitors passing by, might well conclude that we are all but dead unlike the carers of this Bushland who are very much alive in their care for Mother nature and advertising on their notice board, their mission, their next meeting date, a pray by a tree in a Portuguese forest, a Greek proverb and the 10 blessings we receive from trees, plus much other sundry information on endemic plant species birds and animals.

From this daily experience of nature I crafted the following sermon for Wembley Downs Uniting Church on John 3: 1-17.

Nicodemus a learned Pharisee came by night to see Jesus. He was struggling to experience the coming Kingdom of God under the oppression of the Roman Empire and their collaborators. This spiritual dimension of life and the need to be Born Again was eluding him.   The early Christian community, created John’s Gospel about 65 years after Jesus died, and put these words into his mouth as they were facing incredible pressures to abandon Jesus’ Way.

From time to time through history we face such seemingly insurmountable spiritual roadblocks. After the carnage of two world wars Aldous Huxley viewing the stressed state of the world in the mid-20th Century wrote to a friend: “That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history, is the most important of all the lessons of history.” Yet each Sunday we read our scriptures seeking guidance for our own faith journey and that of our world. History is not about facts, but the interpretation of those facts. That is why we have inherited the 66 books of our Bible which we continue to struggle to interpret.

Melvyn Bragg in his The Book of Books; The Radical Impact of the King James Bible 1611-2011, writes of the importance of our scriptures in helping us address the momentous changes over the last 400 years. He claims: “You may be a Christian. You may be anti-Christian or of another religion, or none. You may be an atheist fundamentalist and think the Bible monstrous, a book to be dismissed or derided. But whoever you are in the English-speaking world, I hope to persuade you to consider that the King James Bible has driven the making of that world over the last 400 years, often in the most unanticipated ways”.

I take as an example the lectionary OT reading last week of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, which St Augustine interpreted as the Origin of Sin for which Women and other marginalised groups have subsequently been blamed, supressed and persecuted over the last 1,000 years.

These persecuted people particularly women but also others have used scripture to fight back, resulting in the story of the Garden of Eden being interpreted as a story of Original Blessing in which God warns Adam and Eve to not to strip all the fruit from the tree of life, but to leave enough for other forms of life and future generations.

Such reading from the book of Nature was foundational to the religion of Aboriginal people that sustained them in this land for over 50,000 years, while we after only 200 years of settlement are facing an ecological crisis. Therefor giving Aboriginal and Islander people a VOICE in our Constitution would provide a pathway for their belief in the sacredness of Nature to have a way into Government policy.

For us, the Church, and the whole of humanity this switch from a Doctrine of Original Sin to one of Original Blessing requires that we be Born Again into a  Creation Spirituality. A spirituality expounded by Matthew Fox, Thomas Berry, Teilhard de Chardin and Lloyd Geering among others.

Being Born Again poses an immense challenge for the rich and privileged, with our sense of entitlement – as it did in Jesus’ time. It is a challenge more easily accepted by the poor and dispossessed where the Church remains strong as a cohesive and guiding force. We experience this in our work with the Papuans of eastern Indonesia.

Like Nicodemus, for many these facts are hard to stomach and are actively resisted, but within them I believe lies the future of the Church and the world we serve – whose relevance depends on us being collectively Born Again.

Dr Richard Smith, Progressive Christianity Network, Western Australia.



Reflection: On a life path – chasing fairness

We asked Michael Furtado to tell us about his own experience after his reply to the recent post from Rev Dr Lorraine Parkinson. Here is his summary:


In my early career I was invited to apply for a tutorship at a minor college at Oxford. I had no idea why but my background as a clerical student may have appealed to someone on the panel, seeking amusement in an otherwise tedious selection process the result of which was probably pre-ordained.

Since the degree program I would be teaching was PPE (Politics, Philosophy & Economics) and my college Roman Catholic I was asked how I might approach the question of wealth creation and distribution. The Master of the College offered me a whiteboard on which to illustrate my response.

I drew an undulating line: up and down it meandered in the manner favoured by political economists to illustrate the upswings and downturns of the economic cycle and then, invoking Isaiah, I proposed: ‘Every Valley Shall be Exalted and All the Mountains & Hills Laid Low’.

I then naively proceeded to lop the tops off every mountain and fill the valleys with the ‘detritus’ of wealth that I had sliced from each summit. The result, needless to say, was an almost horizontal line.

Before I could finish, I was pounced upon by a don famous for his support for the ‘invisible hand of the market’ and who later became a prominent advisor to Margaret Thatcher. ‘Whose hand was this?’ I was sternly interrogated, followed by ‘The state?’, all of it orchestrated by a derisory snort asserting ‘Hardly invisible, I would think!’

It being a Catholic enclave I’d hoped to enter, I protested: ‘It’s the Hand of God and not necessarily that of the state’, to which his scathing riposte was ‘My kind of God would call that socialism.’

Still wet behind the ears and fresh from an upbringing in an impoverished former colony (India) it finally dawned that ‘caught I was, foully’.

Thus. in desperation I answered: ‘My kind of God encourages his people to rise and overthrow unfairness. There comes a time when things get so bad that people don’t wait for elections to do that. My kind of God is a Prophet who warns those who wait for the invisible hand of the market to work may sometimes be too late to see that happen.’

A hushed silence descended, the Master thanked me for my presentation and a scout (or servant) ushered me from the room. Thus was my career in tertiary education almost dashed by my lippy remark and I ended up becoming a teacher at several lower-grade Catholic schools and both second and third-rate universities.

It was just as well because my heroes were all, in a sense, failures and generally regarded as anti-heroes and sometimes villains by the People of God.

Among these were three particularly egregiously disagreeable characters, Amos, Hosea and Micah, most of whose imprecations and advice was offered to a recalcitrant lot, who invariably sneered at it.

Might it surprise then that we are that mob, that our God too is the God of Prophets and that God’s Son, Jesus, far from courting suffering in silence, is a Prophet?

Thus, the portrait of Jesus painted in Luke’s Gospel appears in stark contrast to other promises that Jesus would bring peace. However, if we read Luke in the context of the prophetic tradition — which Luke draws on throughout his gospel — we realize that Jesus is challenging his listeners just like the prophets of old did before him.

He denounces all manners of injustice and wrongdoing, calling for repentance and conversion. By calling his listeners to consciously and explicitly choose to walk in God’s ways and turn from injustice, he points out the human reality that the peace must be disturbed if others will not repent of their wrongdoing.

I remember my mother, a daily Mass-goer and very agreeable woman, once saying she had problems with Luke’s Gospel. Bored and in an attempt to change the discourse, I asked why. And Mum said: ‘Because I have no enemies.’ More out of devilment than irritation I provoked: ‘How can you love your enemies unless you have some?’ ‘You silly boy’, she chided and changed the topic ever so sweetly.

When prophets issue challenges, they always disturb the peace. The division is not created by the prophets or by Jesus, it is a natural outcome of listeners making different decisions about whether to follow Jesus or not. Accordingly, Jesus declares ‘Whoever is not with me is against me’ (Luke 11:23).

It follows, hence, that the Prophets have a Voice and that such a Voice is hardly intended to mollify but to arrest. Other prophets have throughout history used their prophetic voice to break into the smug dominant hypocrisies of the public narrative.

One of these was the French polemicist, Emile Zola. Zola it was who broke through the airy persiflage of French journalistic respectability to proclaim his famous ‘J’accuse’ in support of the unjustly punished and exiled Jewish military officer, Alfred Dreyfus.

Needless to say, Zola caused a sensation because he chose to challenge the dominant anti-semitic prejudices of the French establishment of the time. That he did so through the publication of a broadsheet is a huge compliment to his stamina, genius, courage and persistence.

Just imagine if you were to pick up a copy of the Courier-Mail or its more ‘perfumed’ broadsheet, the Australian and see a headline like that! It would certainly put you off your fourth stubby and the racing results at Flemington; now, wouldn’t it?

There have, of course, been other voices. Just think of Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and other voices – of women and gender minorities – that have been crushed and stifled. And then try to imagine what an Australian Voice would sound like.

I think – unless you subscribe to the kind of voice that pours out of a vinegar cruet or blasts from a foghorn – that you already know the answer.

Dr Michael Furtado is a ‘back-pew’ parishioner at St Ignatius’ Toowong, Q.


Reflection: Powerless in the midst of horror

My real name should be Sisyphus. I’m the one who must try to lift this rock to top of the hill, but just when I am almost there the rock slips down to the bottom again, so I must start over, and over, and over. Dear reader, I am devastated inside myself. All that ‘intelligent’ stuff in response to the perennial challenge What’s it all about? – words, words, words. Each word is a rock, and I am doomed to pile one on another, to pile word upon word, to make sense of the terrible thing that has just happened in Turkey and Syria, and is still going on. I just can’t do it. I am Sisyphus.

What do I mean? Maybe I should advise you to stop reading right here, if you haven’t done so already. I have been in 2019 bathed in a pond, a pool, of cosmic love, having till then (81 years) lived a pretty loveless life. Until this very moment I am awash in that new awareness of love. Until this very moment. Right now, none of it makes sense at all. I am devastated.

But I am Sisyphus, and I am compelled to start over, to pile word upon word, in an attempt to make sense, to myself as well as to you, of this dreadful calamity.

I have a vivid imagination, and I can personalise the horror that the cameras in those places have beamed to us. I have experienced earthquakes in north India many times. We grew blasé, casual, about them – they were merely tremors. Now and then a cracked wall, a sliding cupboard, fear, crowds in the street – but that was it. Today’s -? Ah, ye gods, what have you been up to?

You are asleep beside whoever – spouse, children – and suddenly one of you shakes the other, the place is shuddering, alarm, someone among you screams “Get out! Get out!” Sounds of buildings falling outside – you grab whoever you are with – and somehow get yourselves to the door. And then I stop.

Dear reader, I am not writing a novel. I just can’t keep writing at all. I visualise – the doorstep tilts, and you, screaming, topple into the hole where yesterday there was a floor and a passage. The horror is indescribable. There is screaming, grabbing, chunks of concrete falling below you, with you, behind/above you, and you are utterly helpless. And suddenly you thud against a chunk of rubble. If you are still conscious, you hardly notice that your leg is smashed, you are looking for your daughter, your son, your spouse, and then more rocks crash into your space, and you are still conscious, but in total darkness. Now you notice that your leg is smashed, and the pain is terrible, but you are pinned among great chunks of masonry, and your screams are unheard. Well, maybe. That other woman who was beside you five seconds ago, she is screaming too, but where she is right now you have no idea. There is no longer any ”where”. A baby cries out “Mummy!” but it has no locale, it is just a noise. The noise of desperation, of utter meaninglessness. And I, who am stacking these terrible words one on another, am myself nothinged. All that stays with me is, this is true, even as I type, even as you read. It is going on.

Many years ago, in Kolkata I was standing at the foot of a hospital bed beside a man whose only son was dying in that bed. Suddenly he cried out, “People like you are supposed to be able to do something about this!” All I could do was cry.

Today’s situation is even worse. That was a single death. This is death on a vast scale, no one able to do anything. Not just death of course. Pain, bewildering pain, loss of everything related to life, horror, locked between boulders within that mountain of stone, people scrabbling helplessly to find a way out, and others finding corpses, or living mangled bodies, freezing helplessly in darkness.

I can’t go on. I am Sisyphus. Where does God come into this?


PS: I have just parcelled all my unlikely-to-be-needed clothes to be sent to Turkey-Syria tomorrow where, among other horrors, people are dying.

Brother Mac (Brendan MacCarthaigh)


Reflection: Alternative pathways

Thank you to Warren Rose for drawing our attention to this article.

Three Possible Paths for People Who Lose Traditional
by Martin Thielen on February 2, 2023

Several years ago, I read John Updike’s novel, In the Beauty of the Lilies. The story covers four generations of an American family during the twentieth century. Part 1 tells the story of Clarence Wilmot, a Presbyterian minister from New Jersey. In short, Reverend Wilmot loses his faith and quits the ministry, resulting in painful consequences for himself and his family. In one scene Reverend Wilmot confesses to his wife:

My faith, my dear, seems to have fled. I not only no longer believe with an ideal fervor, I
consciously disbelieve. My very voice rebelled, today, against my attempting to put some
sort of good face on a doctrine that I intellectually detest. Ingersoll, Hume, Darwin, Renan,
Nietzsche—it all rings true, when you’ve read enough to have it sink in; they have not just
reason on their side but simple humanity and decency as well. Jehovah and His pet
Israelites, that bloody tit-for-tat Atonement, the whole business of condemning poor fallible
men and women to eternal Hell for a few mistakes in their little lifetimes, the notion in any
case that our spirits can survive without eyes or brains or nerves. . . . [I]t’s been a fearful
struggle, I’ve twisted my mind in loops to hold on to some sense in which these things are
true enough to preach, but I’ve got to let go or go crazy.’

Stories of clergy losing faith don’t just exist in the realm of fiction. They also exist in real
life. I know, because I talk to such clergy all the time. Many have retired. Some have found
new careers. Others remain in ministry, struggling to navigate strained faith with
Christian vocation.

Of course, clergy don’t have a monopoly on losing faith. Millions of laypersons experience
similar faith struggles. For example, church membership in the United States is at its
lowest level ever recorded, while religious “nones” (those with no religious affiliation) are
the fastest growing “religious” group in America today. It’s no secret that large numbers of
people are rapidly losing faith in traditional Christianity. For those who do, what are their
options? Most of them land in one of the following three theological camps.

Progressive Faith

When people no longer resonate with traditional faith, especially conservative
evangelicalism, many shift to “progressive Christianity.” There’s no set definition of
progressive Christianity. However, the following characteristics are often found among
those who hold this view:

* They believe science and faith are completely compatible.
* They are more interested in right behavior than right beliefs.
* Although they take the Bible seriously, they don’t always take it literally.
* They affirm full inclusion of LGBTQ people into the church.
* They affirm women’s rights including female leaders in the church.
* They care deeply about social justice.
* They are comfortable with theological ambiguity.
* Many of them lean toward panentheism rather than supernatural theism.
* They reject numerous traditional doctrines including blood atonement and a literal
* They respect and value other religions.

If you want to learn more about Progressive Christianity, you can read Christianity for the
Rest of Us by Diana Butler Bass, After Evangelicalism: The Path to a New Christianity by
David Gushee, and my book, What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?
Although my faith has evolved since the writing of that book, it serves as a simple
introduction to progressive faith.

Progressive Christianity is a “big tent” group, leaving room for most believers in the
centrist to liberal tradition. However, some people in this this camp eventually find it
inadequate and leave. A good number of them shift to what I call “nontraditional” faith.

Nontraditional Faith

Nontraditional believers do not reject faith altogether. However, they no longer identify
with historic Christianity. Instead, they affirm nonorthodox, nontraditional tenets of faith.
Many would fit the category of “spiritual but not religious.”

People in this camp have abandoned faith in a personal, providential, supernatural,
interventionalist theistic God. Instead, they affirm an evolutionary life-force/energy-force
Spirit of the universe. Their understanding of God/Other/Divine/Higher Power includes a
large helping of mystery and intentional ambiguity. I often refer to nontraditional faith as
“Star Wars” religion, as in “May the Force be with you,” with no definitive explanation of
the nature of that “Force.”

Although people in the nontraditional camp do not affirm faith in a divine Christ, many of
them resonate with the human Jesus, especially his example and teachings. They admire
Jesus’s love, service, compassion, inclusion, and call to justice, just as they admire other
great religious leaders.

For further information about nontraditional faith, you can read books by Bishop John
Shelby Spong including Unbelievable: Why neither Ancient Creeds nor the Reformation
Can Produce a Living Faith Today and Why Christianity Must Change or Die. Another
good introduction to nontraditional faith is The God You Didn’t Know You Could Believe
In by Jeffrey Frantz.

No Faith

Although they represent a minority in America, a growing number of people no longer
identify with any faith tradition—traditional, progressive, or nontraditional. Some self-identify as agnostics or atheists. Others call themselves “humanists” or “secular humanists.”

Until recently, I’ve only known a limited number of people who hold no religious faith at
all. However, since launching Doubter’s Parish website two years ago, I’ve met many more
of them. Although conservative believers often disparage this group, I generally find them
to be fine human beings.

For example, most of them affirm the same “Christian” values I do, including love, mercy,
integrity, honesty, character, compassion, responsibility, authenticity, generosity,
tolerance, kindness, service, inclusion, and justice. However, they call them “human”
values rather than religious values. These highly ethical nonbelievers clearly prove that
people can be “good without God,” in spite of claims to the contrary by many religious
leaders. They also experience meaningful and joyful life, countering the myth that only
religious people can be happy and fulfilled.

This group of secularly minded people is rapidly growing in the Western world, including
the United States. According to a recent poll by Pew Research Center, people with no faith
could become the majority of the American public by the year 2070. Whatever you may
think of this cohort of unbelievers, they are gaining ground and cannot be ignored
anymore as a fringe group.

If you would like to learn more about people with no faith, you can read Farewell to God
by Charles Templeton. Although somewhat dated, the book makes a strong yet respectful
case for rejecting faith. Other examples include Divinity of Doubt: God and Atheism on
Trial by Vincent Bugliosi, The God Argument: The Case against Religion and for
Humanism by A. C. Grayling, and De-Converted: A Journey from Religion to Reason by
Seth Andrews.

Although these three faith options (progressive faith, nontraditional faith, and no faith)
exist in a broad-strokes kind of way, most people do not neatly fit into general generic
categories. For example, I know many people who regularly move back and forth between
progressive faith and nontraditional faith. I also know folks who relate to all three of these
theological camps, in spite of their apparent contradictions. Interestingly, you can find
people in each group (including the no faith camp) who attend church—and people in
each camp who don’t. It should also be noted that some people who leave traditional
Christianity connect with another faith tradition like Judaism, Islam, or Buddhism, but
only a few. These kinds of rapidly shifting religious dynamics make spirituality in twenty-first century America a most interesting journey indeed!

Martin Thielen, a retired United Methodist minister, is the creator and author of
Topics: Belief, Church History, Clergy/Ministry, Evolutionary Christianity, Faith,
Interfaith Issues & Dialogue, New Thought/New Age, Progressive Christianity 101, Social
& Environmental Ministry, and Spiritual Exploration & Practice. 8
Points: Point 4: Act As We Believe and Point 5: Non-Dogmatic


Reflection: On Advent – A New Year and a New Vision

 A New Year and a New Vision

 I am writing on this Advent Sunday, 2022, the first day of the new church year.  It is the beginning of the season which leads up to the celebrations of Christmas in a month’s time.   That makes it a perfect time for reflection on the Christian experience as it touches the lives of people.

I am reminded in this month of November 2022 that it is now exactly 60 years since what has become by far the largest selling theological book of all time was published in London.  Honest to God, the ponderings of an English Anglican bishop, one John A.T. Robinson, on what were then seen as the outpourings of the “modern theologians” became a best seller and the subject of almost endless vilification in the worlds both of the church and of the press.  Such was the criticism of the work that in an age when church-going was a much more normal part of the daily life of the citizen, as was retiring with a book, that it was read widely.   I recall with some interest that in September 1963 I came to buy a copy of the work (a paperback) and that I was finding my nights when I should have been pursuing my studies for the then forthcoming examinations in torts and crimes (I still passed) were being spent in the joys of theological discussion.  That much of it went over my head I do not deny (I found much of the language impenetrable) but I was aware that in this work I was meeting the boldness of mind that I had already found lacking in church circles.

As a mere boy of 16 in the Australian winter of 1958 I had started to find in what was being presented to me in the Anglican Diocese of Sydney on a Sunday night at Evensong in the local church much that was open to a range of questions.   Good sense required that I remain silent about such matters though I was blessed by an apparently willing companion for discussion of the issues in the fox terrier bitch who was sharing my bed.   Her silence did nothing to diminish the comfort of being free to articulate what had concerned me.   As the lad who went on to legal studies in January 1960 and kept finding questions of the Christianity that was being offered to him, I found matters being discussed by Bishop Robinson when they were not over my head a blast of fresh air.

As I have written elsewhere those questions have been with me for a lifetime and, as one now of 80, I look back on the journey of an expanding awareness and a deepening of understanding with a mixture of amusement and satisfaction.    That journey has taken me around the world to many institutions and places and has found me in the halls of what I gather is called “universalism.”   I have had no trouble finding in the seeking of broader wisdom from other traditions and experiences ever-widening personal enrichment and a greater capacity for pursuing a fulfilled life.   That pursuit has taken me on a journey to the Eastern spiritualities and to a sense of the active participation of “The Greater” that has a strong mystical flavour much as I am aware of the alarms that will follow the reading of that word.    I have learnt the virtues and they are substantial of daily times of meditation and contemplation which I have pursued rigorously since October 1984 to what I see as my richer comfort and blessing.   That I have found a sense of presence and guidance to which it is hard to put words means only that I have found answers to questions in so many ways the same as those found by others.  I am happy to report an experience of something larger at work in my fulfilled daily rounds though I am, for all the adequacy of my linguistic development, unable to put words comfortably to it and for that I do not apologise.

That sense of presence and guidance however has been something that has kept me faithful to the Christian experience which so long ago touched me with its gentleness and sweetness for all my doubts about the formal structure being put to me.   And it is to that tradition I find myself returning this Advent season to offer to its adherents the benefits of more comprehensive enquiries.   And I must make clear that I do so not in a spirit of criticism but in the hope that those in the pews may find as I have a deeper sense of their beliefs and the experiences however indefinable to which those beliefs and experiences may lead.

I should wish to offer those in the pews for all their diminishing numbers a vision of a participating “Greater” which will add colour and vigour to their lives and to their willingness by the quality of their lives to be the living proof (a word I use with some caution) of the validity of the words that spring so easily from their mouths on Sunday morning.  Christianity makes much of the obligation upon its adherents to be the best evidence of their faith and to be those who can most easily bring to those outside their group an occasion for seeking its benefits.

In the journey of life, I have come more and more fully (and legal practice amongst those far from the top of the social order greatly aided my grasp) to understand that the whole offering of Christianity of the substitutionary death of Jesus on that first Good Friday has been significantly overdeveloped.   I find that I share the perception that what is called “atonement theology” is an error and likely to convert the message of Jesus, and I do not deny its universal wisdom, from something of personal enrichment to an exercise in the application of authority with all the horrors associated with it.   I am always saddened when I meet the unwillingness to accept that my experience of the Greater is the natural consequence of spiritual exercise over a very extended time and to be something worthy of instant rejection.   Men and women are not “sinners.”    They are individuals constantly enlarging and expanding to their last breath.   The word “evolving” comes easily to mind.    That the journeys of life will take us to error and behaviour unworthy of the wellspring of God goes without saying and that human conduct can be appalling is equally apparent.   But the travelling to those experiences of discovery will always mean that we are going to be in error and regularly so.  For all that, acknowledging the fact is no basis of seeking the involvement in our experience of the Ultimate and Greater.   What matters is not that we have failed but that we have sought improvement and growth and have continued to pursue them with all energy.

In short, what I am discussing is a vision of the Greater deeply committed to our lives and for us as the beneficiaries of that vision to be constantly expanding at whatever age we may be and in whatever situation.    And as the one guided by the wisdom of the East, I shall constantly be seeking to present to all who are willing to try the enrichment of a gently deepening experience of that presence of which I have already spoken in their own daily journey in all its manifestations.  But the starting point is not the declaration of one’s inadequacy but that one has dared to pursue spiritual development within one’s consciousness in the wonders of quietness.   I am sure that in the rigorously pursued (yes, the need of commitment is paramount) daily (and, if possible, and especially in the early stages, more than once a day) deeper consciousness lies an experience of such extraordinary enrichment that the seeker will never want to depart from it.   That is not merely my experience.   I find that it is the considered commentary of all those who have dared (and daring may be a good word for the measure of the courage required to start and keep going) so to continue with the interior journey that it is the sine qua non of their day.   And yet it is so simple and straightforward that it seems almost to defy logic.    This is the very point where I find the desire of the religious to find some form of forensically correct practice of mind so unhelpful to the travelling.    Finally it is the time of contemplation and meditation and the quietening of being to accompany that wonderful practice that will heal all wounds and confer the riches of deeper serenity.   And with that tranquillity will come an empowerment and invigoration of surprising qualities.    But it is of the individual and not of groups.   It is the man or the woman whose day involves the serious pursuit of an inner discovery of their nature as part of the Greater to whom will come the blessings of life in all their scope and variety.

The corollary to the journey within is the willing acceptance of the other.   To the writers of the New Testament all of whom wrote in Greek the word which defined that other side of the coin, so to speak, was the word agape, a word that has no easy translation into English.   The words we would use of “love,” “charity” or “ goodness” are inadequate just as the words used in the traditions of Buddhism and Confucianism of “compassion” and “benevolence” respectively do not do justice to the quality of “otherness.”   The German theologian whose name I met in Honest to God, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, spoke of “the nearest Du at hand.”   In German the use of the second person singular (in English the word thou now long lost to us) connoted the measure of its directness.    It was the simple recognition of that other, whoever he or she may be or whenever or wherever or however met.   We find our fulfilment in that other and in our recognition of the equality and significance of that other.

That of which I am speaking whose simplicity I would wish to bring to the man or woman in the pews is just this – spiritual exercise of meditation and contemplation daily and a commitment to the principle of the other as an equal.    We can experience in the fulfilment of the action to which that course of logic will take us something so rich so powerful and yet so difficult formally to express that is clearly the very “God” Whose name I have been so careful not to use.    All the rest is commentary and surplus to requirements.

On this first day of a new church year, let us rejoice in the simplicities of the Greater and the dazzling blessings that come to us as we meet that Greater and the other openly, trustingly and, in terms of our neighbour, without any form of expectation.

Happy new year. 

Maxwell Dodd,

Woollahra, New South Wales, 2025, Australia

Sunday 27 November 2022