Category Archives: Reflections

Jesus and the Sacrificial System

Dr Peter E. Lewis

The religious culture in which Jesus lived was the sacrificial culture centred on the temple in Jerusalem. It provided the background to his thinking and that of most other Jews including Paul, and the idea of sacrifice continued to influence the thinking of the first Christians. Paul spells this out in his first letter to the Corinthians: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” (1 Cor 15:3)

In the “Scriptures” the prophet Isaiah had written that an individual would be an offering for sin and bear the sin of many. (53:10-12). Jesus took on the role of this individual who became known as the Suffering Servant. In the gospels Jesus says that the son of man (meaning himself) must suffer and be killed. (Mark 8:31). He says he came to serve and give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:44) Accordingly Jesus and the first Christians thought of the Christ event in terms of sacrifice.

In the time of Jesus, animals of various kinds were sacrificed in the temple, which must have been more like an abattoir than a place of worship. Today the whole idea of making sacrifices to appease a wrathful god is abhorrent to modern Christians because it is not in keeping with the loving God that they encounter in Jesus Christ. Even the emphasis on sin seems out of keeping with their experience.

Sin is not all the naughty things that we do from time to time. It is everything that separates us from God. Paul said something similar in his letter to the Romans: “Everything that does not come from faith is sin.” (Rom 14:23b) So if sin is removed, we are with God. As Paul said, “Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 6:11)

Being alive to God is what is meant by the Kingdom of God. It is not something that happens to good people when they die. By taking on the role of the Suffering Servant Jesus believed that he would bring in the Kingdom of God. According to Isaiah, the Suffering Servant “will justify many”. (Isaiah 53:11b) They will be acceptable to God: they will be with God.

It is important to understand that the sacrificial system was just the background to what needed to be revealed. It was a stepping stone that enabled a further important step to be made. It was the stage on which a drama of revelation could be performed.

In the Kingdom of God everyone is loved by God. With this love there is acceptance, forgiveness, and healing. The key idea is ‘love’ (Greek: agape), which in the New Testament means a self-giving concern for others. Jesus does more than talk about the Kingdom of God: he demonstrates what it is like by caring for others, and he does this in a self-giving way. Actually, he gives himself completely: as Isaiah says, “He poured out his life unto death.” (Isaiah 53:12)

As modern Christians we do not have to sacrifice animals or anything. We can abhor the old system because it is irrelevant today. What is essential is that we follow Jesus’s example and behave in a way that overcomes selfishness. We must not be self-centred but open to the world, and love as Jesus loved. The key idea in Buddhism is overcoming self, and this is also what Christianity is about. The Buddha was not interested in gods, but Jesus used the prevailing Jewish system to reveal the loving God that he believed in and which Christians believe was with him and in him.

oOo

Roger Wolsey on Progressive Christianity

Some people confuse progressive christianity with all kinds of other progressive notions… but it is a unique use of the word ‘progressive’.

Progressive Christianity is the evolution of liberal Christianity. Liberal Christianity was a modern-era movement that was a fruit of the Enlightenment, which embraced academic biblical scholarship, and deferred to the authority of contemporary science. While open-minded in many ways, it was patriarchal, elitist, and ceded too much clout to the tentative insights of science.

Progressive Christianity is a post-liberal movement that seeks to reform the faith via the insights of post-modernism and a reclaiming of the truth beyond the verifiable historicity and factuality of the passages in the Bible by affirming the truths within the stories that may not have actually happened. Progressive Christians are open to the reality that God is vitally at work in other world religions; that Christianity doesn’t have a monopoly on the truth; and that it’s best to take the Bible seriously, but not always literally. Progressive Christians also tend to be pro-gay and view salvation more as a here and now phenomenon and not merely “where we go after we die.”

Progressive Christianity represents a post-modern theological approach, and is not necessarily synonymous with progressive politics.[1] It developed out of the Liberal Christianity of the modern era, which was rooted in enlightenment thinking.[1] As such, Progressive Christianity is a “post-liberal movement” within Christianity “that seeks to reform the faith via the insights of post-modernism and a reclaiming of the truth beyond the verifiable historicity and factuality of the passages in the Bible by affirming the truths within the stories that may not have actually happened.” (Roger Wolsey – Author, ‘Kissing Fish: Christianity For People Who Don’t Like Christianity’)

Who is Rev Roger Wolsey? 

Author, Spiritual Director, Soul Coach

“I’m a certified Spiritual Director through the Spiritual Direction Program of Benet Hill Monastery, an ordained pastor in the United Methodist Church, and an advocate for progressive Christianity. I earned a Masters of Divinity degree from the Iliff School of Theology and am the author “Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity.” I’m currently working on a new book – stay tuned!

I don’t pretend to be fully whole, saintly, perfect, or enlightened. I’m a work in progress who’s learned some things, often the hard way, that I am called to pass on. As I continue to evolve through life, I identify as a Christian mystic—or as a mystic who happens to be Christian. I hold an inclusive, inter-faith perspective, and don’t think that any one religion has a monopoly on Spirit, truth, love, grace, or God.

“I embrace all human beings as fellow children of God who are fully loved by the Creator just as they are. I’m here to support the Divine in us all. I foster Wholeness — in Body. Mind. Soul.

“My work can be summed up as helping you to:

Know Yourself.

Love Yourself.

Love Others & The World.

 Let’s work together Soul 2 Soul.”

Kissing Fish can be followed on Face Book at Kissing Fish Book | Facebook

oOo

 

 

Being Loving People: Jesus and the Midrashic Method

Jesus and the Midrashic Method

Peter E. Lewis                                                                                                                1st May 2022

In his important book, Liberating the Gospels: Reading the Bible with Jewish Eyes, John Shelby Spong pointed out that the followers of Jesus who wrote about his life were all Jews. Even Luke, according to Spong, was a convert who was steeped in Jewish thoughts. In trying to understand the Christ Event they searched the Hebrew scriptures for “the symbols and the stories of their sacred past.” (page 309) They were searching for some frame of reference and they found it particularly in the figure of the Suffering Servant as described in Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12. “This figure was clearly used again and again in the developing Christian story.” (page 224) Explaining events with reference to people from the sacred past was the midrashic method that the gospel writers used. The Jewish midrashic technique was “opening the scriptures so that Jesus could be seen as the fulfillment of the law and the prophets.” (page 215)

Spong emphasized that everyone writing about Jesus was steeped in this midrashic way of making sense of it all. Actually every Jew who thought about Jesus would have been caught up in this method of interpretation. What Spong did not realize was that Jesus himself must have thought in this way. It is inconceivable that Jesus was not also steeped in the midrashic way of thinking, and once this is realized a whole new understanding is opened up.

Jesus was not a passive character in the story. He was in control all the way, and he saw his path forward in terms of “the symbols and the stories of their sacred past.” In the article that I wrote last year for Progressive Christianity entitled ‘Jesus was different’ I argued that Jesus identified with the Suffering Servant even before he began his mission at age 30. Jesus believed that by taking on the role of the Suffering Servant he would bring in the Kingdom of God. He would be an offering for sin and bear the sin of many. Through him the will of the Lord would prosper.

Jesus being the Suffering Servant was not a late development in the gospel story. In referring to the symbol of the Suffering Servant, Spong wrote, “This individualized portrait of a nation that was victimized, but nonetheless affirmed by God, was quickly incorporated by the early Christians into the story of Jesus.” (page 251) In his First Letter to the Corinthians written only about 24 years after the crucifixion Paul wrote, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” (1 Cor 15:3) In his mission Jesus stressed that the son of man, meaning himself, must suffer, and in Mark 10:45 he said that he came to serve and give his life.

If Jesus willingly took on the role of the Suffering Servant, what motivated him to do it? I believe it was love. He did it out of love for each and every one of us. It was a self-giving sacrificial love. As Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians, “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal 2:20) Spong believed that “Jesus lived the love of God. . . That love of God which Christians believe they meet in Jesus has one purpose: It is to invite us to be and to love us into being loving people.” (page 332) This was what Jesus meant by the Kingdom of God.

 

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A Poem: A Different Response To The Biblical GOD

Thank you Peter Marshall for this contribution. An explanation is provided after the poem.

Legend has it that many generations past there was a man named Abraham.

He had a son named Isaac

Now Abraham was understood to be a godly man in those times.

In present times, many, still see him the same.

Was Abraham a good man?

Well it would seem in these times it’s not a question to ask.

So let’s break with tradition and ask that question now.

In light of the story of his God and his son.

As a test of his loyalty, Abraham was tasked by his God

To take a sharp knife

And end Isaac’s life.

 

We know what’s reported in the book some call good

But let’s now consider a different track.

What if it was Abraham…… whose motive was good?

And he clearly, resolutely, just said the word No.

Well in this alternate story the next acts are quite sweet

For Isaac and Abraham, their love bond increased

And the Biblical hero…. The God of might

Well legend has it, just faded from sight.

 

Hey that’s not bad

In fact it’s rather quite bright

But its only two people who were exposed to that light.

 

So let’s put on sneakers and go for a hike

A pretty long hike, and let’s have a look for some

Pesky Canaanites.

 

Now these people… well they had a few problems.

Seems they often didn’t act in the most charitable way

And sometimes their behaviours were harsh and quite cruel.

But it would seem, worst of all, from one point at least,

They had not yet met the God who should rule.

Aah not to worry, for the hero had plans,

Yes that’s the God of the Bible, who by his very nature

Could do nothing but good.

And so he enlisted some special people to drive his point home.

So special they were, God said they were chosen

to do great feats and to teach the whole world

that if people worshipped one God and that God was he,

Why then all things forever would be loving and free.

So to ensure his special people would not doubt him at all

God promised them land, good land,

Where they might prosper and grow

Become wealthy and fat

While teaching all nations they too

Could share in all that.

 

To set this in motion God gave them some orders

And gave also assurances they could not fail in their quest

For he would be with them each step of the way

Guiding and strengthening, until victory was won.

 

All you need do is exactly what I say

So go now and slay them…leave nothing alive

Then possess the land in my name, to my glory

So that all peoples may know there is but one God

Who always without exception is unfailingly right.

 

It fell to Moses, the man in charge,

To either lead the army and do as was ordered

Or to speak with his people and thereby determine

if blindly trusting and obeying was the best course to take.

 

In another version of this story so often told

It was the alternate action that Moses thought right.

So the people all talked and considered their past.

 

The legend of Abraham was brought to the table

And consensus was strong, that of their own essence

They might determine what was right.

 

But there was also a great fear they may all be wiped out

when from times long past another story was told.

That be the one when the God of this people was again displeased

With most things in general.

It was said, this God of power lost control of his temper

And like a small child threw a most enormous tantrum.

So great was his rage that even the weather was changed

and for days and days rain fell in torrents to earth.

Eventually all human life save one small family was lost.

 

And so it was Moses presented to God. He told of their fears

And of great respect for Abraham who taught them that as people they also had power.

Power to think and to know right from wrong and so determine how life may proceed.

Moses also explained, in fact confessed, that often his own people acted out of greed,

Lust, rage or ignorance. Basically all the crimes God levelled at the Canaanites.

So to kill them and steal their home would make us most probably far worse than them.

Our answer is No. We shall not kill, steal or plunder, simply because it is the whim of someone who may if he chooses, destroy us as well.

To you God of power, we say No. Furthermore, if we survive your wrath we will seek to overturn and resist any evils you unleash on the world.

Of course we are open to another way. We put it to you we can be co-creators.

This is our plan:

We will not judge the Canaanites

We will seek to be good neighbours to them

To converse with them and to love them as we love our own.

If romantic love arises we will break your rule and commit what tradition deems

A cardinal sin. We will intermarry.

And by these pledges we will proceed…. To either prosper both peoples

Or end our lives with honour by whatever punishment you submit us to.

 

Now God, who was known to boast about being a jealous God

Was predictably overcome with rage at being rejected.

But he didn’t strike Moses….He simply vanished.

 

Some prophets of those times recorded that the Biblical God simply retreated within himself.

And on this occasion God ruminated on some key principles of life.

 

God remembered how he was the source of Love

And how he created material beings, known now as Humans, in his very likeness.

So humans understood, right from the start, what Love was

They also knew hatred and evil, for as God had foreseen

Only by knowing Evil could one know love.

God reflected on the fact that Love can overcome evil, but that if evil is encouraged

And permitted to prosper then it will appear that evil is, simply put, the best way to go.

This he remembered was not the original plan, was not the plan now, and never would be the plan.

And God’s rage subsided. He became overjoyed that Moses and his people had accessed

The power of choice that was part of their makeup, and had decided to cast aside fear and make a choice for good.

God’s rage toward Moses was completely transformed into respect and gratitude for the choice he had made with his peoples consent.

And the whole Universe celebrated.

Another story told how a man named Jesus, destined to live in the same geographical area as our heroes, smiled a huge smile.

For Jesus now saw a different future.

His time on Earth would not now be so painful, nor appear so tragic.

People would not feel the need to make up stories about Jesus to explain

Their experience of him.

People would not allow greed, the lust for power, control and desire for judgement

To dominate their life.

Instead Jesus saw a future where humans undertook only one battle

That be the battle that is ongoing within every human being

The battle for Good.          

How different may things have been if GOD was shown

The people were ready.

Ready, to make the world Good.

 

Peter Marshall, February 2022

Background

In early 2022 I had watched a number of debates between Dan Barker and various Christian apologists. Dan had been a Christian preacher for 19 years and now identifies as an atheist.

The debates were interesting, conducted in a surprisingly courteous manner and basically concerned the possible existence of GOD, the biblical God. I was most pleased to become aware that such debates were now, if not commonplace, at least not uncommon.

The debates had quite an effect upon me and this poem is the outcome. I will attempt to share this poem with Dan Barker, as he was the key figure in the debates I watched.

A very surprising thing happened within me while writing. I had originally intended to use a little bit of strong, offensive language, because this seemed the best way to convey the enormity of the emotion a consideration of the subject matter produces. At no stage while writing did I make a conscious decision to not use the offensive words. They were somehow transformed into words and ideas that did not totally condemn the Christian portrayal of the Biblical God. It’s difficult to explain and the best I can do is to say that:

I wrote this poem / story

But I do not claim to be the original and sole author.

Peter Marshall

oOo

A Reflection: A little late but too good to pass over.

Project Plenty is a five year developmental plan by the Queensland Synod of the UCA to produce more efficient, sustainable, and effective processes and outcomes and closer, healthier, and more positive relationships. They have been offered up as potential next right steps to foster discipleship, transform communities, make the governance and processes more fit for purpose and create for all a real sense of partnership and trust, community and communion, a life together. 

A full progress report can be found on the Project Plenty site.

Paul Wetzig is the Queensland Synod’s Project Officer – Discipleship, coordinating the evolving project. Among the many reflections given by planning participants, Paul offered this:

“As we come into the season of Advent, we don’t often come in preparation for revolution; for the overthrow of tyranny and oppression, the pursuit of justice for the hungry and the have-nots. As we celebrate Christmas, we generally don’t come seeking the overthrow of unjust leaders and rulers and the establishment of a new order in the world!

“We don’t come to surrender ourselves to the revolutionary mandate to fulfill God’s plan and purposes in the world by establishing an upside down, countercultural community.

“But this is context of the first Christmas as told by Luke, through the story of a teenage girl at threat of being stoned to death for being unwed and pregnant.

“In Mary’s story in Luke 1:39-56 we see a young woman surrender herself to the greatness and mercy of God’s plan to transform the world through the most unexpected of ways. Despite what is happening to her and around her, Mary places her trust and submits her life to a God who has consistently created change and brought blessing and hope into the world through the poor, excluded, broken, and deeply flawed. The God of Abraham who blesses those who step into the unknown to be a blessing to the world.

“But Mary not only sees herself in this radical plan, she prophetically sees and outlines what God is about to do in the world—that the God of radical justice will usher in a hope-filled new, upside down Kingdom where the humble will be raised up and the proud scattered, the hungry will be fed while the rich are sent away empty handed and unjust rulers are brought down from their thrones.

“What Mary speaks of here foreshadows Jesus’ proclamation later in Luke 4 of the coming of the Kingdom where good news is preached to the poor, captives are released, the blind have their sight and the oppressed are freed.

“This sits at the heart of Luke’s Christmas story. An understanding that through an unwed pregnant teen the highly political and dangerously revolutionary new presence of God will begin in the world.

“As we move into this time of celebration of the birth of Christ, I believe that we are invited back into this story. To consider our own humility and surrender before God. To reflect on what it means for us to trust God amid our struggles and challenges and to believe that there is hope in the midst of suffering. But it is also an invitation to a commitment to the revolutionary way of Jesus. To be those who strive for justice and to give voice to the humble, the hungry and the have-nots. To be those who continue to trust and follow God into the unknown, that we may be a blessing to the world and make real the dangerously hope-filled revolutionary presence of God in the world.

“I hope that you and your family have a revolutionmerry Christmas.”

Paul Wetzig

Paul Wetzig is the Queensland Synod’s Project Officer – Discipleship.

oOo

TRENDS IN RELIGION

[Thanks to Peter Robinson for gathering the data  and thoughts on this topic]

TRENDS IN RELIGION

Two sources have provided the following information:

The first is an article titled ‘Fewer Americans than ever are Christian as more say they have no religion’ by Mike Stunson,15 December 2021, which appeared in Flipboard 10 today, it is based on a poll by the Pew Research Centre.

Key conclusions of the Poll are that:

– 30% of the American population see themselves as atheist, agnostic or nothing, nearly double from 16% in 2007.

– 63% identify as Christian, compared to 78% in 2007.

– 41% see religion as ‘very important’ to them, down from 56% in 2007

– 45% say they pray daily, down from 58% in 2007

– The decline is most noted in Protestantism. 40% of adults down from 52% in 2007. Catholics 21% adults down from 24 % in 2007.

– Other US Polls demonstrate results similar to the Pew Research Centre Poll

– For the first time, fewer than 50% of adult Americans belong to a house of worship.

Ryan Burge, a political scientist at Eastern Illinois University and a Baptist minister, is quoted as saying “Church attendance is the first thing that goes, then belonging, and finally belief – in that order, Belief goes last”. (I’ll come back to this).

(On the American situation, I think the noted trends tie in with other evidence that there is growing interest in progressive theologies, among younger generations in particular.)

The second comes from Australia, the most recent National Church Life Survey (NCLS) results from their November 2021 Australian Community Survey (ACS). Australia has always been seen as a less ‘religious’ society than America, and Australians generally consider themselves to be more spiritual than religious – around half say they are both, but of these just half again are practicing.

Some key conclusions from the Australian ACS survey are:

–  Just 40% of Australians have contact with churchgoers, 60% have no contact

– 30% of Australians might attend a Christian church service if invited, if the invitee is a close friend

– The cruncher coming into Christmas is that around 51% of adult Australians do not see Jesus as a living historical figure (23% see Jesus as a mythical or fictional creation, and 29 % simply do not know). The survey suggests younger people are more likely to hold this view.

– 16% of Australians are willing to use on-line platforms to discuss matters of religion and faith.

(Around 20% of Australians might attend fairly regularly).

Reflecting on these findings

One has to ask why 51% of Australians do not see Jesus as having been a living person? It’s not because they have been reading the theories of authors like Volney, Dupois, or Bauer or more recently Doherty or Price. Neither because of a conscious choice to reject evidence in wide sources of non-canonical texts, apologists Clement, Ignatius and Justyn Martyr, or factual accounts of prolific historian Josephus, Seutonius or Pliny the Younger, independent sources who freely acknowledged Jesus as a living historical figure. Yet the survey results are not surprising, as the church has cloaked Jesus with an aura of classical mythology and supernatural elements, culminating in divine titles, that makes it difficult for many to understand Jesus as someone truly human who gave to the world a unifying social gospel message. In its preoccupation with symbol, the church at large faces a crisis of language and representation. Images and symbols that engaged early century minds have little place in the imagination of a majority of people today, whose worldview is shaped by contemporary rational knowledge and understanding. The church must ask itself, has the humanity of Jesus been lost? The evidence is in the data of polls conducted by NCLS and others.

So, attendance is first to go, then belonging, then belief, and finally ground of reality!

oOo

Jim Wallis – A Foundation for the Common Good

 

Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation for 1st November 2021


Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners ministry and a longtime friend of Fr. Richard’s, connects the idea of the common good with Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God.

I believe the moral prerequisite for solving the deepest problems this country and the world now face is a commitment to an ancient idea whose time has urgently come: the common good. . . .

Our life together can be better. Ours is a shallow and selfish age, and we are in need of conversion—from looking out just for ourselves to also looking out for one another. It’s time to hear and heed a call to a different way of life, to reclaim a very old idea called the common good. Jesus issued that call and announced the kingdom of God—a new order of living in sharp contrast to all the political and religious kingdoms of the world. That better way of life was meant to benefit not only his followers but everybody else too.

Christianity is not a religion that gives some people a ticket to heaven and makes them judgmental of all others. Rather, it’s a call to a relationship that changes all our other relationships. Jesus told us a new relationship with God also brings us into a new relationship with our neighbor, especially with the most vulnerable of this world, and even with our enemies. But we don’t always hear that from the churches. This call to love our neighbor is the foundation for reestablishing and reclaiming the common good, which has fallen into cultural and political—and even religious—neglect.

Judaism, of course, agrees that our relationship with God is supposed to change all our other relationships, and Jesus’s recitation of the law’s great commandments to love God and your neighbor flows right out of the books of Deuteronomy [see 6:5] and Leviticus [see 19:18]. . . . In fact, virtually all the world’s major religions say that you cannot separate your love for God from your love for your neighbor, your brothers and sisters. Even the nonreligious will affirm the idea of “the Golden Rule”: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). . . .

While some form of the Golden Rule has been around for thousands of years, we seem to have lost a sense of its importance and its transformative power. Wallis urges:

It is time to reclaim the neglected common good and to learn how faith might help, instead of hurt, in that important task. Our public life could be made better, even transformed or healed, if our religious traditions practiced what they preached in our personal lives; in our families’ decisions; in our work and vocations; in the ministry of our churches, synagogues, and mosques; and in our collective witness. In all these ways we can put the faith community’s influence at the service of this radical neighbor-love ethic that is both faithful to God and the common good.

Jim Wallis, The (Un)Common Good: How the Gospel Brings Hope to a World Divided (Brazos Press: 2014), xi, 3?4, 5.

 

oOo

Freedom and Control – a personal reflection

Our UCFORUM chairperson, Rodney Eivers has been greatly challenged by a hearing deficit and has had to compensate for this in conversations and seminars. He has started on the long process of cochlear implant and the experience at the Mater Hospital in Brisbane has invoked serious reflection on the way in which ‘control’ and ‘freedom’ played out through the process. Much of what he says carries over into life generally for those of us who are aging but not only for the aged! The reflection takes us beyond the hospital experience to our interaction with government and society and poses a challenge to all of us.

A Day in Hospital – Freedom and Control

This week I experienced a rare overnight stay in a large public hospital.

With age comes deteriorating performance of many of the body’s organs. While taking advantages of health advances, backed by empirical research including attention to diet and exercise, I have generally lived a philosophy of letting nature take its course.

In the matter of my hearing, however, this has become a less and less viable philosophy. With a step-by-step resort to hearing aids and pleading for family and friends project their voices more clearly it became increasingly clear that I was losing the struggle.

So much so that in going out with a group I would place myself at the end of the table to avoid having to talk with companions and risk giving or receiving errors in conversation.

It only takes one word or even one consonant or vowel to lead to misunderstandings.

I once was told. so, I thought, to “put the cats out”.  I had interpreted the request as “put the car out”.  On another occasion, in a telephone conversation recording a bank account number I wrote down “two” instead of “three”.  You can see that such mistakes in communication can lead potentially to drastic outcomes.

I came to the conclusion that it was time to go for the ultimate in aural technology – a cochlear implant. This a process by which a microphone transmitter is planted into the cochlear of the ear sending electronic message directly to the brain.

And so began the process. It took longer than it might have, began. Partly this may have been because I slipped into the public rather than the private hospital system. My family charged me with being stingy and potentially displacing someone financially poorer and with a greater need. They had a point but the truth was that I got started with the public hospital financing because their service was the most appropriate one I found on the internet. When we got going, I found they were doing such a good job that I continued on with them. But, what with this being “elective “surgery and the added disruptions of Covid-19, it has taken nearly two years since we got to this week’s point.

A week before the scheduled visit to the hospital my family had asked, “Are you worried about the coming surgery? “They knew I had experienced some anxiety earlier in the year about the potential for fatal anaphylactic shock from the contrast dyes used in some scans. I responded that I had felt some nervousness at the beginning of the week but now, without going as far as saying I was looking forward to it, I replied that I had become curious about the coming experience.

The opportunity to satisfy that curiosity came when I entered the front door of the designated hospital. I learned straight away that hospitals are institutions of control. Covid-19 has not helped in this respect. After the required QR Code check in, adjustment of mask and the washing of hands, I was then instructed to separate from my accompanying “responsible” person and make my way to the fifth floor for further instructions. From thence forward I was shuffled along from one staff member to another and from one sheet of questions to another and from one room to another.  There are so many staff employed in a major public hospital that one comes to understand how government health services lead to so many battles on health funding between the federal and state authorities.  It is a very live issue between Anastacia Palaszczuk and Scott Morrison and Co as I write. Care of our health truly is labour intensive and I do not decry that amount of person power that it requires. I merely make the observation.

The next control, “Take off your clothes”. (I had assumed that as it was my head that was to be doctored my scalp would be the only part of my body required to be accessible.

After clocking in and confirming that I was indeed to be a guest of the hospital for that night I was led by a female nurse round to a small cubicle. She dropped a bundle of folded clothing on to the low bench inside the cubicle.  “Now take off your clothes and put these on”, she said.

I said, “What everything?”

She responded. “Yes everything.  I’ll be standing just outside when you’re ready.” She drew the curtain and departed.

Well, such was my confusion and not wanting to keep her waiting that I struggled to make head or tail of how make the dressing change-over including the intricacy of fastening the belt of a dressing under-gown which opened at the back rather than the front.

In due course I cautiously opened the curtain to emerge and called the nurse who had actually moved away little. I can imagine she had to stifle a great laugh when she pointed out that I had placed the rather flimsy see-through hospital underpants on top of my head as a shower cap. Back to the cubicle to get that sorted out and later another different nurse withdrew, from a hidden crevice in the very comfortable hospital dressing over-gown, a shower cap for my use.

Another feature of hospitals, as probably most of you, my readers, well know, is that there can be a lot of waiting around. Another stop was the day surgery lounge. This was comfortably fully occupied by other patients, mostly in armchairs, As with the clothing, we had also been divested of all reading material so in this waiting room the only entertainment was a very large television screen attached high up on the wall and dominating the room.

Another “control” was that I had no authority to change the channel nor could I know what my fellow occupants of the room would consider good entertainment. The result I was that I found my sitting through an hour or so watching one of the commercial channels. This displayed the activities of a bunch of hedonistic Australians enjoying the facilities of some resort in Thailand at the cost of nearly $1,000 per night per person. The crudity of their behaviour left me cringing as a fellow Australian and feeling for the gentle Thai staff who were “forced” to pander to such antics in order perhaps to support their families bordering on poverty. I am happy to say of my countrymen  and women that there are other Australians who do live and work in these South East Asian countries under more austere environments to bring better living conditions to the inhabitants.

Although I may give the impression that these “controls” in the hospital were repressive this is not really the case. I actually found it in some ways a blessing. I did not have to make all the decisions myself. Moreover, once I entered that hospital door and willingly committed myself to being a patient there, I could not change it.  I might was well just relax and enjoy this period of helplessness. I have a personality foible. That is, that I have to be always “doing something”. This becomes more urgent with advancing years into the 80s when there is not that much time left to “do something” It is also a fact that in my day-to-day life with family and business commitments I find it hard to find excuses to allow me to not “do something”.

There is another element of this acceptable control. In today’s state-of-the art hospitals  you get carted everywhere. Once the process starts you don’t have to walk. You get wheeled from room to room. You are not allowed to get up and walk away from the bed. The bed goes with you.

And there are some sensual pleasures in this environment. Although, happily it was not an issue for me, one can imagine the surge of relief which comes to people in serious pain having access to powerful analgesics. The overwhelming majority of staff are women. In this era of “#metoo” perhaps one may be forgiven the mild erotic tingle which comes from ministrations of female staff sliding pressure stockings up one’s legs or dabbing the sensors of monitoring devices on to strategic patches of bare skin. There is also a pleasant sensuousness from the pulsating of the pressure stockings, on the calves, when they are electrically activated.

But in addition to the inherent kindness and compassion of the female staff there is a place for the male staff as well. There comes some assurance that they are available for the heavy lifting, and security if agitated patients seek to break away from the overriding “control” – not that such an event was my experience this time. One tiny Vietnamese nurse struggled to get my heavy cabin bag onto my lap in the bed so I could pick out a few items. After an attempt at lifting, it she laid it on the floor, I leaned over the guard rail, and with her bending from the waist down we managed cooperatively to successfully extract the goods.

I liken this hospital situation to something I wrote some years ago about “being on the right train”.  One can suppose that one misses the right connection      for a railway journey and discovers that the train is going in the wrong direction from that intended. You can’t change trains until you get to the next station. The result is that in the meantime you can have optional attitudes. You can stew and fret with anxiety that you will miss an appointment or be late home.  Or you can sit back relax, enjoy the passing view or perhaps have a short nap. For those few extra minutes, you can then indeed consider yourself to be “on the right train”.

So it was with my stay the hospital. Nevertheless, I appeared at one stage to have lost a couple of hours of my lifetime. At one point after another period of waiting and a brief conversation with the surgeon I was wheeled into an adjoining room. The surgeon disappeared – presumably to attend to another patient – and one of the staff was fiddling with the canula on my wrist.

“It’s about time we got started”, I mused.

I reached up to scratch an itchy point on my eyebrow. In some puzzlement my hand landed, not on a patch of hairy skin, but a bulky bunch of towelling about the size of a Sikh-like turban wound round my head.

I looked up at the clock on the wall.  Yes, it was all over! I had completely lost awareness of two hours of my life.

Not that this was necessarily a bad thing under the circumstances. With a cataract- removal operation under local anaesthetic some years earlier there was no pain. I had, though, the unsettling experience of sensing somebody scratching around on my eyeball with a scalpel. Then there are tales told of patients being inadvertently operated on while still fully awake.

There followed a night, restful although largely sleepless, as I mentally drafted these notes in relation to freedom and control.

“Freedom!” the anti-vaxxers shout. But such freedom, if granted can nullify the blessings derived from the control imposed by up-to-date health research and hospital care. This, of course, includes vaccination.

It is also observable that some people prefer control to freedom. A renowned classic book title by psychologist Erich Fromm was “Escape from Freedom”. It relates to the Nazi era in Germany. We continue to see acceptance of such control today in Communist countries such as China and Russia. It was noted the other day that the recidivism for some of our criminals approaches fifty per cent. Some behavioural scientists claim that part of this is because some people actually find life in gaol satisfying. They are well fed and looked after and don’t have to make decisions for themselves. I have long advocated a case for provision of institutions where people who are incapable of looking after themselves, with or without criminal inclination, may be permanently accommodated.

So let those of us, who do value the freedom to make our own decisions, use wisely the opportunities we have to do that. Let us also be sensitive to the desirability of yielding control where appropriate to our governing authorities and institutions such as our hospitals and government health advisors where it better meets the good of ourselves and our neighbours.

Rodney Eivers , 7th October 2021

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‘Perhaps’ by Garth Read

 It was the first day of the rest of eternity.

God had just received another guest from planet Earth.

‘God, how and why did the world begin?

 God replied:

‘Perhaps, it has always been here.’

‘Perhaps, I made it in seven days.’

‘Perhaps, it evolved over many eons.’

God thought about what was said and smiled at the mystery of it all.

 

On planet Earth there was sunset and sunrise.

 

 It was the first day of the rest of eternity.

God had just received another guest from planet Earth.

‘God, are humans most treasured?’

 God replied:

Perhaps, all creatures are treasured.’

‘Perhaps, humans are my only children.

‘Perhaps, I need to disown some.’

God thought about what was said and smiled at the mystery of it all.

 

On planet Earth there was sunset and sunrise.

 

 It was the first day of the rest of eternity.

God had just received another guest from planet Earth.

‘God, why is there so much suffering on Earth?’

 God replied:

“Perhaps, I ordained it that way.”

“Perhaps, a devil is at work.”

“Perhaps, it builds strong character.”

God thought about what was said and smiled at the mystery of it all.

 

 On planet Earth there was sunset and sunrise.

 

 It was the first day of the rest of eternity.

God had just received another guest from planet Earth.

‘God why are humans both good and evil?

 God replied:

‘Perhaps, they have too much freedom.”

“Perhaps, humans are my big mistake.”

“Perhaps, I have a divine competitor?’

God thought about what was said and smiled at the mystery of it all.

 

On planet Earth there was sunset and sunrise.

 

 It was the first day of the rest of eternity.

God had just received another guest from planet Earth.

‘God, why are the religions so different?

God replied:

‘Perhaps, many people created them.’

‘Perhaps, each one has some truth.’

‘Perhaps, only one is correct.’

God thought about what was said and smiled at the mystery of it all.

 

On planet Earth there was sunset and sunrise.

 

It was the first day of the rest of eternity.

God had just received another guest from planet Earth

 ‘God, is it time for us to know all the answers?’

 God replied:

  ‘Perhaps!’

 ‘Perhaps!’

  ‘Perhaps!’

 

 On planet Earth there was sunset and sunrise.

Rev Garth Read, coordinator, North Brisbane Interfaith Group and member Aspley Uniting Church

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