Category Archives: Thoughts

CHRISTMAS… AN EXTREMELY DIFFICULT GIG TO CHRISTIANISE!

From Rev Rex Hunt

Christmas and Popular Culture.
I preached/gave this at a Unitarian Fellowship in Sydney last Sunday.

[Comments welcome at ‘Leave a reply’, above]

I’ll call him Merv. A young Sydney Anglican minister fighting Christmas crowds.
Looking for a special gift at one shop,
a toy another place, a card at still another.

Eventually he finds something he likes, or more importantly,
that he thinks someone else will like.

The salesperson wishes him a ‘Merry Christmas’ as she hands back his purchase and change.
Merv responds with a smile and a cheerful, “Have a materialistic Christmas.”

Apparently the saleswoman misses the sarcasm,
for she returns the smile before moving on to her next customer.

Pleased with his protest, Merv moves on, too.
Not only is he determined to avoid the frantic shopping crowds
that seem to grab everyone else in December,
he will make a statement as well.

oo0oo

The Christmas that Australians celebrate today seems like a timeless weaving of
custom and feeling beyond the reach of ordinary history.
Yet the familiar mix of cards, carols, parties, presents, tree, and Santa
that have come to define December 25 is little more than 135 years old.

In 1788 when the First Fleet arrived from England, Governor Arthur Phillip not only established a penal colony he also won the land for ‘protestant’ Christianity. (Breward 1988:2)

According to some historians Phillip saw religion as a “useful package of warnings and admonitions that supplemented the cell, chains, the lash, the gallows, or the rewards and remissions for good conduct.” (Blainey 1987:429)

Hence christianity was in the main rejected by the convicts and only slightly embraced by the free settlers in latter years. Which has led others to conclude that in Australia, Christianity has always been rather a casual affair. And at best, the nation was only ever superficially christianised.

As an event in Australian society, Christmas in the early days of the colony held little importance. Unless Christmas Day fell on a Sunday a holiday was not declared. And the day was usually celebrated with a compulsory Anglican church parade or, if punishment had to be administered to a convict, perhaps a reduction in the sentence was ordered.

It would appear that on Christmas Day in 1788 a convict was arrested for stealing and,
because it was Christmas Day, had his sentence of 200 lashes reduced to 150.
At other times, a double share of rum and rations was offered.

It wasn’t until the mid- to late- 1800s that much of what we in Australia identify as ‘Christmas’ was really celebrated.

And this came about as the result of the influence of several events, primarily in England and America, including changes in technology, the development of the ‘penny post’ system, and
at least three samplings from within popular culture:
(i) an imaginative poem written by a protestant American minister of religion for his three daughters, called ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’;
(ii) some art sketches inspired by that poem, along with a series of commercial advertisements for an American soft drink manufacturer, and
(iii) a Christmas morality story published in England by Charles Dickens
originally called A Christmas Carol, in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas.

Much later, when Christmas did begin to influence the social and religious life of the colony,
it was mostly through secular ‘nostalgia’ rather than religious leanings.

Old customs and symbols such as the tree and presents were yearned for, and the arrival of food stuffs and other items were eagerly awaited as ships from England docked in December.
These old traditions were never totally abandoned, but aspects of the festival were ‘Australianised’ and became increasingly nationalistic. Australian Christmas Card art competitions were held, with cash prizes. The small tree, aptly named ‘Christmas Bush’,
which was growing in great abundance around Sydney, became a popular substitute for the fir (Christmas) tree.

And while American artist Thomas Nast introduced a ‘winter’ Santa Claus to the world in the 1860s, some enterprising Australian artists a few years later, gave him a cooler ‘summer’ outfit,
complete with kangaroo driven sleigh.

It was a big transition to form a southern Christmas in peoples imaginations when for so long the Christmas imagery focused on the north with mid-winter snow on a fir tree and a log fire in the grate!

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Homily: The Older Christmas Story

THE OLDER CHRISTMAS STORY
Homily given by Terry Fitzpatrick on the first Sunday of Advent

at St Marys In Exile South Brisbane 02.12.18

Today I would like to examine the theological origins at the heart of our Christmas celebrations. And I wonder if it is time to be telling the older Christmas Story. Starting at the beginning I reflect on our Gospel today from the opening lines of John’s Gospel.
“In the beginning was wisdom…”
I deliberately used the feminine noun wisdom (Sophia) instead of masculine noun, word (Logos) in an attempt to return to the original text from which the writer of John’s gospel borrowed. It is widely understood by many biblical scholars that author of John’s gospel borrowed heavily from the wisdom literature to write the gospel. According to biblical scholar James Rendel Harris, “The origins of the prologue to John’s Gospel was probably a re-casting of a hymn in honour of Sophia, divine wisdom, echoed in the eighth chapter of Proverbs and the seventh chapter of Wisdom of Solomon.”

In understanding the older Christmas story we must get beyond even our Judaeo-Christian roots to a much bigger story.

Speaking of things in the beginning allow me to share a little story about a Steel company looking for a new beginning and a bit of a shakeup hired a new CEO. The first thing the new boss was determined to do, was to get rid of all the company slackers. On a tour of the facilities, the CEO noticed a guy leaning against a wall. The room was full of workers and he wanted to let them know that he meant business. He asked the guy, “How much money do you make a week?” A little surprised, the young man looked at him and said, “I make $400 a week. Why?”
The CEO said, Wait right here.” He walked back to his office, came back in two minutes, and handed the guy $1,600 in cash and said, “Here’s four weeks ‘pay. Now GET OUT and don’t come back.”

Feeling pretty good about himself the CEO looked around the room and asked, “Does anyone want to tell me what that goof-ball did here?” From across the room a voice said- he’s the Pizza delivery guy from Domino’s. Probably not the fresh beginning the new CEO was looking for.
Origins of Christmas.

Before I introduce you to the older story of Christmas allow me to examine our present origins of Christmas. As we approach Christmas I wonder increasingly how to make sense of it. I think I have found a way which I will share with you. I would like to acknowledge the work of Michael Morwood, theologian and educationalist, who has assisted me in my reflections. Some of you may be wondering what I am speaking about. Give me a moment to explain myself.

Christmas has come to mean the celebrations of the birth of Jesus, the incarnate one, the one from heaven, the God who becomes flesh, who comes to rescue us from our sins and for those who believe, provide a doorway/gateway back to God and for those who don’t find the doorway, an eternal life awaits in a not very pleasant place called hell.
Wow! What sort of God is that?

Do we really want to still promote that God in any shape or form? Where and when did this understanding of God arrive, and who or what does it serve?

From my wide reading I have come to see that it was a gradual emerging phenomena that came with the move from hunter-gatherer life-styles with deep connections to creation, to the rhythm and cycles of life and where the sacred resided. In order to survive and for heathy connection and understanding and preservation of the environment meant better chances of survival.

The move to agrarian, settler lifestyles, to the bigger gatherings of small villages to towns and cities meant the need for proper crowd control and the promotion of moral codes and standards for living together in close proximity. Here we witness the rise of the priestly class, middle management, between God and humankind. The sacred and divine which was once found in nature, in the rocks, rivers, and the movement of the tides and breezes, now resides in another place beyond this world which became known in the Judaeo- Christian tradition as ‘Heaven’. Over time we were told by the priests that it becomes increasingly difficult to get to this place unless certain beliefs and actions were performed and lo and behold for those who did not fulfil the prescribed requirements an eternal life of punishment and hell.

The priests developed elaborate rituals and actions which could placate this increasingly ANGRY GOD. We were informed that we were fortunate to have these go-betweens who knew how to please God and how to get people into heaven and how to avoid hell. How to bless things to make them holy and sacred. Life of this earth was only a trial to get to the ultimate prize of heaven. For in the famous Hail Queen of heaven prayer which many Catholics would have said reciting the rosary about life on this earth. We were, “poor banished children of Eve mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.” Life on earth was an exile and a trial and was not sacred in any shape or form, unless a priest made it so.

In the famous carol, ‘O Holy Night’ we hear in the opening lines, “long lay the world in sin and error pinning, till he appeared and the spirit felt its worth. A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices…”
Jesus breaks open the doors of heaven by dying on the cross for our sins. It is only now thru this action we can gain access to the sacred, and the priest accesses Jesus and pleads with him now because Jesus sits on the right hand of the Father and has special access. When the priest prays all his prayers it is, “through Christ our Lord. Amen.” And only through Christ because we are still not worthy.

Let’s examine some of the words in our popular carols if you have any doubt that this is at the theological core of our Christmas celebration.

FIRST NOEL In the last stanza of this carol
“Then let us all with one accord,
sing praises to our Heavenly Lord
that hath made heaven and Earth of nought
with his blood mankind has brought
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel”
HARK THE HERALD ANGLES
“Hark the herald angles sing
Glory to the newborn King
God and sinners reconciled…”
Later on
“Born to raise the sons of earth
(not the daughters)
Born to give them second birth
Hark the herald angles sing
Glory to the new born king”
AWAY IN A MANGER
Last stanza “Bless all the dear children In thy tender care
And take us to heaven (that is where we encounter the divine not in this valley of tears, this place of exile) To live with thee there.
WE THREE KINGS (second last stanza)
“Glorious now behold him arise
King and God and Sacrifice (Jesus will pay the price, make the sacrifice so we can get into heaven) Alleluia, Alleluia Earth to heav’n replies”
THE OLDER CHRISTMAS STORY
All through our carols these small minded sentiments about the divine are central. But these narrow minded sentiments were not always central in Christianity. Throughout the ages the mystics, poets and deep thinkers have seen through this pantomime. Meister Eckhart writing in the 12th century,
” we find God in everything alike, and find God always alike in everything.”
Gregory of Nyssa writing in the 4th Century,
“When one considers the universe, can anyone be so simple- minded as not to believe that the divine is present in everything, pervading, embracing and penetrating it”

This thinking expressed by Gregory of Nyssa was more prevalent in pre-Constantinian times, but with the rise of the Constantinian church with its symbiotic relationship with State power, and becoming the moral guardian and sustainer of law and order in the empire through its reward and punishment theology, crowd control was assured.

It was not only Christianity who used this method of control through its religious class, it is found in other empires such as the rise of the Muslim empires for example the Ottoman Empire. But the mystics always broke through, we are most familiar with Rumi and Hafiz ,
“Stop acting so small, you are the universe in ecstatic motion” Rumi

We hear from Abdallah ibn Tumart writing in the 12th Century,
“Time does not enfold God
Space cannot hold God
Intelligence cannot conceive God
Imagination cannot conceive God
Absolutely nothing is like God”

These embracers of the silent world could intuit and know something beyond the world of the mind, the small critical judging mind, obsessed with whose in, whose out etc. I have spoken of in the past, where Jesus invites us beyond. To repent, to metanoia, to meta from the greek, to move above. The noia, the mind, the small judging critical mind to the bigger mind, the mind which can be truly present, Aware and Awake to this world, this amazing earth on which we live and move, this amazing body which we inhabit.

A body made up of 60 trillion cells with each cell made up of one thousand million, million, million, million atoms. Every night we replace 10 trillion cells no wonder we wake up tired in the morning. This body we inherit from a story which goes back to the beginning of the universe 13.8 billion years ago, and in particular our earth and solar system 4.5 Billion years ago when the great Super Nova imploded on itself generating the right amount of heat to create the elements we needed to produce an earth, Carbon, magnesium, potassium, Zinc, Sodium, iron…etc…

In this, Consciousness came into form, God, the word, wisdom, became flesh,,,as we heard in John’s Gospel. But much than flesh, not limited to the human, but all of life infused with the divine. Every common bush as we find in the words of Elizabeth Barret Browning,
“Earth is crammed with heaven (the sacred)
And every common bush afire with God (Consciousness)
But only they who see take off their shoes”
Or in the words of Gerard Manly Hopkins
“The universe is charged with the grandeur of God”

This is the incarnation story that the mystics, the poets and deep thinkers could see.
This is the older Christmas story we must celebrate. For Christmas is about celebrating the divine in our midst. A presence which has never left us.

A world infused with the presence of God, consciousness, the sacred, the divine. Not trapped in some heaven, where we may or may not encounter after death. Who is controlled by middle men who say what is holy and what is profane.

The universe story is our Common Story it belongs to everyone, not one culture or religion possesses it, its story we are learning about day by day, it’s unfolding, it invites wonder and awe.
In the words of the famous eco-theologian Thomas Berry” it’s the first time in human history that we have a common story”

And what a story this is. An older Christmas story which belongs to everybody.
Far more wonderful than we could ever have imagined.
I believe the mystics saw this, Jesus saw this, and hopefully many more. It’s a story that can unite us, it invites us to care for this earth which is infused with the divine.

This is EMMANUEL!
The beloved is truly with us and has never left us.

oOo

An Explanation for the Abrupt Ending of Mark’s Gospel

One for the scholars and scripture explorers!

An Explanation for the Abrupt Ending of Mark’s Gospel
by Peter E. Lewis

(See author bio at the end of this article. Comments are welcome. Click on “Leave a reply” above.)

The gospel attributed to Mark is the shortest of the canonical gospels and there are features which suggest that part of it is missing. Although it is generally considered to be the earliest gospel the date of its writing is disputed by scholars. For the purposes of the argument presented here it will be assumed that it was the first gospel and that it was written at an early date in Rome. Rome is the most likely provenance given the strength of the early tradition and the fact that in the pericope about the widow’s offering (Mark 12.41–44) the author explains to the readers that her two small coins were worth a quadrans, which was a coin that circulated only in Italy. Moreover, the fact that Jewish customs are explained in Mark 7.3 indicates that the author expected that at least some of the readers would be gentiles.
The literature concerning the ending of Mark’s gospel is vast, and to engage in conversation with modern scholars in all aspects of the problem would inordinately expand the scope of this article, the purpose of which is to concisely present a new explanation for the abrupt ending of Mark’s gospel. It will be argued that Mark had written about the parentage and birth of Jesus but this information was on the first page which was removed when someone pulled off the outer leaf of the codex, thus removing the first and last pages of the gospel. Moreover it will be explained how the original ending of the gospel seamlessly followed on from Mark 16.8. The original ending is reconstructed and shown to be an appropriate ending to the gospel.

[Endnotes: 1,2,3]
Mark’s gospel ends at 16.8 in two ancient manuscripts, Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus (both from the 4th century), and Eusebius (4) and Jerome (5) both state that there was nothing more in most of the manuscripts available to them. The 4th-century Sinaitic Syriac version also ends at 16.8 as does the 12th century manuscript 304. In the other extant manuscripts, however, there is either an additional short ending (6) or long ending (7) or both (8). In those manuscripts with both endings the shorter ending always precedes the longer ending.
Some modern scholars believe that the longer ending is what Mark originally wrote (9). They point to the patristic citations of the longer ending as early as the second century (10). Scholars who find an ending at 16.8 incredible have suggested that the last page of the gospel is missing. Bruce Metzger considered it most probable that ‘the Gospel accidentally lost its last leaf before it was multiplied by transcription’ (11). James A Kelhoffer argued that the longer ending was added in the second century (12). Nicholas Lunn points to sectarians who were opposed to physical resurrection and considers that ‘their deliberate removal of the resurrection narratives from copies of Mark circulating in Egypt would seem to be the most probable cause of the textual problem’ (13). N. Clayton Croy considered that the beginning and end of the gospel were lost because of accidental mutilation (14). J. Keith Elliott considered that Mark’s original gospel was accidentally shortened within the first fifty years of its composition and the later additions to the end and the beginning could have been made in the second century. He speculated that Mark’s original composition was ‘a genealogy or a birth narrative of Jesus and even of John’ (15). In a more recent article he is convinced by Kelhoffer’s argument that the longer ending is a second-century apocryphal text, and states, ‘[W]e must make it clear that it was inappropriately cobbled on as a conclusion that can scarcely be said to develop or belong to vv. 1-8’ (16).
Although Mark might have originally written his gospel on a roll or scroll it would soon have been produced as a book (codex). Graham M. Stanton states that ‘use of the codex in the middle of the first century is perfectly possible’ (17). L. D. Reynolds and N. G. Wilson state that parchment notebooks (membranae) were in use in the first century BCE (18), but the notebooks would also have been of papyrus. Although no surviving manuscript of the New Testament is earlier than the second century, they are almost all in codex form (19). According to Harry Y. Gamble, ‘Most early papyrus codices are constructed on the single quire method’ (20). An example he mentions is P75 from the third century which had the gospels of John and Luke in a single quire of 144 pages. As Mark’s gospel is the shortest gospel it could have been written on only one quire. Therefore, if the last page is missing, the first page would be missing too.

[Endnote 21]
The beginning of Mark’s gospel as it is preserved in the most ancient manuscripts has several problems associated with it, which indicates that it might not be the original beginning. These problems include the following:
1. The first sentence is ‘The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God’, and (as Moule explained) if the first page of the gospel was missing then a statement like this would be necessary at the top of the new first page. If the outer leaf of the codex had been deliberately removed for some reason, this sentence would mean ‘This is the beginning of the gospel, and not any other text.’
[Endnote 22]
3. In Mark 1.1 the word ‘Christ’ as part of the name ‘Jesus Christ’ does not occur elsewhere in Mark’s gospel. The word does occur but it is not used in this way. Because the name ‘Jesus Christ’ is common in later writings it suggests a later hand in this instance.
4. The title ‘Son of God’ is absent from Codex Sinaiticus and some other manuscripts (23) but it was probably originally in Mark 1.1, which was written after the removal of the outer leaf of the codex. If the leaf was removed because Mark had described Jesus’ birth as natural, which the gentile Christians in Rome could not accept, ‘Son of God’ in 1.1 indicates the purpose of their action. Unlike the unclean spirits in 1.24 who acknowledged Jesus in a spiritual sense, the gentile Christians in Rome were referring to impregnation by a god, as was the Roman centurion in 15.39, because of the absence of the article.

6. Mark 1.2 is a mistake. The prophet Isaiah did not write the prophecy in this verse. It was written by Malachi, and is Malachi 3.1. It is unlikely that a writer would begin an account with such a blatant error. It can, however, be explained if the first page had been removed by someone and Malachi 3.1 had been at the end of the page and connected grammatically by ‘just as’ to the following quotation from Isaiah. That person then added Malachi 3.1 to the beginning of the new first page. This suggests that the person was not knowledgeable about the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) and was probably a gentile. Copyists of this mutilated and roughly corrected gospel began to realize that this was an unacceptable error and a number of ancient manuscripts such as Codex Alexandrinus, as well as all the Byzantine manuscripts, have ‘in the prophets’ instead of ‘in the prophet Isaiah’. Various other explanations have been proposed by modern scholars for the insertion of Malachi 3.1 at the beginning of Mark’s gospel. For example, William Lane states that ‘it is commonly regarded as a very ancient gloss, interpolated into the text at so early a stage that it has left its mark on the entire manuscript tradition’. (24)
7. Who is this ‘Jesus’ who is suddenly introduced in Mark 1.9? Such an abrupt introduction might have been because Mark assumed that his readers knew who Jesus was, but ‘Jesus’ was a common Jewish name at the time. Although the later gospels of Matthew and Luke, which were largely copied from Mark, have long passages (often conflicting) about the parentage and birth of Jesus, there is nothing of that in Mark. Where someone was born and who his parents were would have been of considerable interest to ancient readers. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is mentioned by name only once in Mark’s gospel (Mark 6.3) and Joseph is not mentioned at all. It is the thesis of this paper that Mark had written about the parentage and birth of Jesus but this information was on the first page of his gospel, and when the outer leaf of the codex was pulled off the first and last pages were removed. It is unlikely that the outer leaf just fell off accidentally or was lost through wear and tear, as some scholars have suggested.

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Reflection: The Wind, Jesus and Me

 

Jesus and his Disciples stand in a fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee.

There is a bible story that tells of Jesus in a small boat at sea with a few friends. The sea became extremely rough due to strong winds whipping up large powerful waves that threatened to swamp the boat. All on board, except Jesus, were very concerned for their life. The story narrates that Jesus was in fact enjoying a nap in the stern of the boat where he was apparently very comfortable. The friends on board were actually disciples and they thought they knew Jesus very well and were generally of the opinion that he had supernatural powers not possessed by human beings. They thought Jesus may be able to do something to prevent them all drowning at sea, so they woke him up, chiding him about sleeping while they were scared out of their wits and needed his intervention.

Jesus woke, commented on their lack of faith and immediately spoke with the wind, commanding it to calm down and return the sea to a more manageable state that posed no threat of sinking the boat. The boat and all on board made it safely to shore.
I have narrated this story from childhood memory so it may not be 100% correct on all facts, but it serves well as a prompt to consider just what powers Jesus may have displayed during his life and asks me to ponder my own potential, my relationship with nature and therefore with GOD. I don’t offer a strict definition of GOD or categorise the apparent supernatural powers accredited to Jesus. Rather, by relating a recent personal experience and setting this beside the story already presented, I hope to prompt you to consider your relations with nature and GOD.
Three weeks ago I was helping my son David trim a beautiful tall tree in his backyard. I, being the lightweight, had the job of scaling the tree and lopping the branches, while David gave instructions from the ground and acted as safety officer. Prior to climbing I explained our intentions to the tree, hugged the tree with genuine feeling and requested its cooperation in keeping me safe while the haircut took place.

Things went well for about one and a half hours during which time we sent a number of very large branches to the ground, suspended on ropes to hopefully ensure no damage was caused to house, shed, fence, clothesline and of course myself and David. At this point I was suspended on a branch about 6 metres from the main trunk and 7 to 8 metres above the ground. There was only air between me and the ground; no branches to slow me down if I fell. Dave later commented that branch and others would not have supported his weight and that if I did fall, it would mostly likely result in broken bones rather than death. I certainly agreed with the first point and qualified the latter by adding, as long as I didn’t fall on my head (and yes I was wearing a hard hat).

But now to the wonderful part of the story; I was by this time a bit fatigued, a little sore and probably in need of a good cup of tea. Then the wind blew. A wind that was not really strong, but neither could it be described as gentle, as it resulted in my body being moved to one side so that I had to grip more tightly on the branch, hug it closely, and pull myself back to a secure position atop the branch. Initially, I did feel fear, but that lasted probably one second. Then I said to the wind, “Yes I agree, I am tired and should go down and rest. Thank you so much wind for prompting me, I will climb down”. As I said the word down, the wind ceased and I climbed down in safety.

The rest of the day went well; no accidents or damage was caused. About a week later something prompted me to reflect more deeply on my exchange with the wind. Perhaps it was the spirit of Jesus himself nudging me; it is so difficult to determine exactly what goes on in this inner life. It was this period of reflection that led to the recollection of the bible story recounted at the start of this experience.

There seemed to be some parallels here. Jesus had spoken to wind and wave and these natural phenomena did as he asked with the implied understanding that it is all very natural for the forces of nature to cooperate with Jesus. My experience in the tree was not nearly so dramatic and certainly did not represent any power over nature. But in both cases communication between human and wind took place. In one respect it could be said that my experience was even more wonderful than Jesus in the boat, for in my case the wind actually came to my assistance with gentle advice that I had not even requested. Most people probably do not find this credible, but it is consistent with my view of GOD being present in all things. And if this is so, then talking with and expressing wonder and love to trees and wind is synonymous with talking to GOD.

Considering GOD’s assurance that no matter the ups and downs of life, his love and support is unending and unbroken, then why would one not expect the wind to provide assistance even before you know it is needed.
The handwritten draft of this story was produced under a gum tree in my own backyard on a clear and still Sunday. As the writing was coming to a close I went deeper within; the wind blew gently on my face and transported me back to my son’s tree where I had been perched, there to show me that I had not been alone.

Peter Marshall

1st December 2018

oOo

Opinion: Is the new ‘orthodox’ theology historical heresy?

In an age when ‘truth’ is increasingly difficult to identify, and ‘orthodox’ theology has become increasingly literal, it is more important than ever to develop skills of discernment and critical thinking.

When I began reading history at the University of Queensland in 1966, I was introduced to EH Carr’s What is History? It was compulsory pre-reading for history studies and I am so glad I was introduced to Carr before I went too far into any critical studies, especially when doing theology and doctoral research into adult learning.

In 1955, it was Professor G Barraclough (History in a Changing World) who said “The history we read, though based on facts, is, strictly speaking, not factual at all, but a series  of accepted judgments.” Barraclough was a trained medievalist.

Carr reminds me of the challenge we are faced with in the current retreat to conservative and fundamentalist use of the scriptures to address the world’s problems. This has really emerged in the nineteenth century and now strongly influences politics and legislation. It is also a major cause of a great division developing in all forms of religion. He describes the nineteenth century heresy that history consists of the compilation of a maximum number of irrefutable and objective facts …. “Anyone who succumbs to this heresy will either have to give up history as a bad job, and take to stamp-collecting or some other form of antiquarianism, or end in a madhouse.” Carr said this in 1961.

History and Theology both experienced the emergence of nationalism in the nineteenth century and reflected a society’s new interest in science and the social sciences. But they both continued to be sources of moral judgment on public actions and worked as conservers of political authority and power. It has taken a major opening up of the scriptures to critical analysis, contextual and historical criticism, to find deeper understandings beyond the literal and the fundamental to serve a world desperate for ways to address the imperatives of life on earth rather than irresponsibly “leave them to God.”

The way in which theology is often used as a set of historical documents and facts that claim to be accurate without bias, and flawlessly presented as a set of truths, is of great concern. It does not allow for establishing relevance with an educated world that is sceptical of knowledge that it is not permitted to challenge. But all history is the history of thought….it is dependent on the empirical evidence available at the time and the writer’s world view. One needs to study the writer before studying the facts! History means interpretation and theology needs to be examined in that light also. So for Carr, (and myself!), history (and theology) is a continuous process of interaction between the writer and his or her facts, an unending dialogue between the present and the past.

But not only is the material under examination influenced by the viewpoint of the writer, it is also rooted in a social and historical background. This is now the growing focus for the writers of alternative histories who, often, tongue in cheek, paint a picture of a world that would result from certain events occurring differently. For example, what if the Roman Empire had not fallen … would it have been the model of a well-governed, prosperous, cosmopolitan society, moved beyond the economic problems that dogged it? Perhaps the world would have been more technologically advanced sooner as the stagnation of scientific enquiry achieved by the Church would have been avoided,  Instead of the intelligentsia putting so much effort into Christian religious doctrine and hoarding knowledge in closed monasteries there would be a freer circulation of information that allowed engineering to innovate much faster (Jerry Glover, historical researcher, UK). Reading for enjoyment some of this material (example pictured above), I can’t help but think that attempts to grow a following for ‘orthodox’ theology has employed similar techniques….imagine an alternative future and make the narrative build a consciousness of it.

The study of history has been liberated by making it more scientific – with demands on those who pursue it to be more rigorous and seek to explain and respond to the incessant question Why?. It has become relevant to a bigger audience. Theology needs to eschew the tendency to move inside the fortress walls and open itself to critical examination. Instead of being a field of study for ‘insiders’ it could, as some are already doing, shed doctrinal and institutional constraints and be a science of enquiry and critical thought that relates to everyperson. This would cast a new optimism on the Church where change is not to be feared, where reason is no longer subordinate to the existing order and progress in human affairs once again is on the agenda.

Paul Inglis 17th November 2018.

Feedback/comments welcome at “Reply” at the beginning of this article. Good to share thoughts with everyone rather than just to me as many have done.

oOo

 

Opinion: A Progressive/Radical Church for Today – Getting Started

by John Gunson (see some bio details at the foot of this article)

[Comments are welcome using the “Reply” option above.]

John is the author of God, ethics and secular society (2014) which will be reviewed on the UCFORUM soon. This piece is a timely challenge to progressive thinkers about the need to demonstrate change beyond just conducting a discourse. We hope Explorer groups and individuals will use this paper in some practical way.

oOo

Progressive Christianity has lost its way. And it seems to have ground to a halt. Why? While it has been a wonderfully enlightening and liberating movement for Christians within the churches, and some who have left, it has failed to recognize its two fundamental blind spots.

Progressive Christianity has focussed on reforming and restating the church’s mythological, supernatural theology, and recovering the original Jesus Way before Jewish, Greek and Roman influences reshaped it into what became formalized and forever fixed at Nicea.

It has done this because it now has to exist in a secular world, especially in Europe, the USA, and above all in Australia.

Its first blind spot is that it doesn’t really understand the secular world’s attitude to the church and to religion itself. The average Australian isn’t simply put off by either the church’s theology or its boring Sunday worship, but by the church itself, and by religion generally (except for recent migrants), regardless of theology.

Reforming theology can be liberating for existing church members, but is irrelevant to secular Australians. They will not be attracted to the existing churches, no matter what we do. To them, the church as institution or God-worship centre in the main street is a discredited and irrelevant anachronism from the past.

The second blind spot is Progressive Christianity’s failure to understand that the existing historic church itself is part of the “Constantinian” theology that must be left behind. Under the Constantinian settlement churches were defined by large buildings (worship-of -God centres), clergy, hierarchy and theology, and as part of the establishment rather than the counter culture. This church has to be left to die, not modernised or reformed.
The future church has to look nothing like the existing church, and because the membership of the existing church is largely over 70 years of age the new and future church must be started from scratch from “young” secular Australians currently not only outside the church, but from among those either hostile or indifferent to it in its present and historic form.

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God, the Trinity and Panentheism

by George Stuart (see bio details at the end of this article.) 

Note: Following posting of Rodney Eiver’s article Our Father Who Art Up There, George has kindly given us this chapter from a book he is currently drafting. George Stuart has crafted the popular series of songs and music entitled Singing a New Song .

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I am in the process of writing my theological autobiography entitled, ‘Rekindling Christianity by Journeying with Jesus, Starting all over again’. One of the sections has to do with my concept of God, my version of the Trinity. It is rather long but you may be interested.

I begin by saying that my present beliefs are panentheistic. I understand panentheism as the belief that God is ‘in’ everything and everything is ‘in’ God. This sets a completely new path for me, from which to view reality, the cosmos, humanity and the meaning of everything, including Jesus and his cross. This supersedes any anthropomorphic (human like) image of God. It replaces what I understand to be, the misleading idea about the separation of God from humanity – God, a separate entity, being away and distinct. It also precludes any violence in God. God being in control also becomes irrelevant. These are all built on anthropomorphic images and ideas.

This is so, so different to what I have believed previously, however, I still have connections with the Bible, with church teachings and some of what I experience in the current church services I attend.

I replace the anthropomorphic images of God with more complicated, mystical images of spirit and energy. These are somewhat abstract, and thus maybe more difficult to embrace. I am reminded of teaching in a gospel conversation that Jesus has with the woman of Samaria.
God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth. (John 4:24.)
Certainly not the easiest to comprehend. In this quotation, God is not ‘a spirit’, but ‘spirit’. For me, the two are different and the quote points beyond the dominant biblical images of God.

The quote includes, ‘those who worship him…’ (John 4:24.)
This falls back into anthropomorphic talk which, for me, is a pity. God again, becomes a ‘him’
I do not find the word ‘energy’ in my biblical concordance, so I’m not sure that this concept is present in the biblical way of thinking. Energy is not a first century concept but it is central to modern thinking, particularly with the explosion of scientific information and the current way of understanding the cosmos.

I also find it significant that God is referred to as ‘love’, see 1 John 4:16a, and not ‘a loving person’. Again, the two are very different for me. The first is mystically abstract but the second sounds very anthropomorphic.

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Reflection – Our Father Who Art “Up there”.

Rodney Eivers
22nd September 2018

“God” had a big press in Australia in mid-September!

This came about from the headline news that Bill Hayden, former Governor-General and a proclaimed atheist, had returned to Roman Catholicism.

It has made many people very angry judging by the comments in the newspaper letter pages and social media. Some people, though, have been heartened that a prominent person would make such a declaration. One curious thread for me from the remarks of the angry people is that Bill Hayden should not have allowed, or promoted, his decision as a front-page item. He should have kept it to himself. Another thread was that he became baptised because he wants to be sure of a place in heaven with his likely death in the next few years.

Now I can’t speak for Bill Hayden as to what his real motives were. If you take him at what he has publicly said, it was because, through the example of human beings known to him. Their care and compassion, was linked to their professed Christianity so it became a club he wanted to join. We do not have any detail of the finer theological rationale for the decision nor of his concept of “God”

This brings me to what prompted this reflection. Some months ago I offered some comment to “Judith” who had responded to a website article on the UC FORUM .She was distressed that after 60 years as a faithful Christian she still had not found the answer to “Who or what is God?”

I threw in some thoughts on how other people had responded to this question. Some would see God as being the still inner voice in our minds when we talk with ourselves when pondering life or needing to make decisions. At the other end of the scale some would see God as the sum total of all the probabilities and chances which came together from the Big Bang. From this followed the formation of the stars and planets, the evolution of life and ultimately to the churning over of ideas and emotions going on in our human brains. Some are satisfied to say God is a symbol for what is. Symbols for Life and love, if you want to pin it down further. Perhaps the Hebrew scriptures were putting it something like that (Exodus 3:14) when Moses had the same problem as Judith.

Going on a bit further, though in my reply to Judith, I put the question, “Was the supernatural a reality for Jesus?” My answer to that rhetorical question was, “Most likely, because everyone of that era, including Greek philosopher, Socrates, accepted the supernatural as a reality.

I commented further that because Jesus is identified with the Lord’s prayer, starting with “Our Father which art in heaven” then we can assume that he had some supernatural place in mind, perhaps up in the sky, where God lives. (Isaiah 40: 22)

Just this week, however, I discovered a new slant on this perception, something I had not been aware of before.

The new information was a comment which I have summarised and extracted as follows:
The New Testament of the Bible was written in the Greek. Jesus is said to have spoken in Aramaic. Greek culture had a strong concept of “heaven” as the home of the gods – something separate and distant from us mere mortals on Earth. In Aramaic however, the equivalent word can mean something quite different. The Aramaic phrase “Our Father who art in heaven” elicits the image of creation, of giving birth to the universe. At another level it presents the image of the divine breath (spirit) flowing out of oneness, creating the whole diversity of forms. The equivalent word for “heaven” conjures the image of light, sound and vibration spreading out and pervading all. In essence then “heaven” is conceived not so much as a place outside this world but as a dimension of reality that is present everywhere. The above translation is in dispute by some professional linguists. They quite rightly argue that as the language of that period is no longer in use one cannot rely on current versions of a language to accurately describe past events. Can one apply the English spoken during the Roman occupation with what is spoken in the British Isles today? Chaucer from a much later period is difficult enough to follow
Nevertheless, the exercise does demonstrate that we are well justified in seeking alternative interpretations of Bible passages. It may be true that, I was on the wrong track in using the opening line of the Lord’s Prayer to certify that Jesus was a supernaturalist. Perhaps he did have a vision of an entity which was not tied to Greek assumptions about heaven as the home of the gods. If so, perhaps we can take some comfort in imagining God not as being away up there, far from us, but as an ever-present component of our humanity and of our daily life here on earth.

oOo

Note: We welcome further reflections on this reflection. Just go to the “Reply” spot at the beginning of this entry and post your thoughts.

oOo

God is a Verb – Richard Rohr

A meditation or reflection

Trinity
Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Just as some Eastern fathers saw Christ’s human/divine nature as one dynamic unity, they also saw the Trinity as an Infinite Dynamic Flow. The Western Church tended to have a more static view of both Christ and the Trinity—more a mathematical conundrum than an invitation to new consciousness. In our attempts to explain the Trinitarian mystery, the Western Church overemphasized the individual names—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—but not so much the quality of the relationships between them, which is where all the power and meaning lies! So, let’s not spend too much time arguing about the gender of the Three. The real and essential point is how the three “persons” relate to one another: infinite outpouring and infinite receiving.
The Mystery of God as Trinity invites us into full participation with God—a flow, a relationship, a waterwheel of always outpouring love. God is a verb much more than a noun. Some Christian mystics taught that all of creation is being taken back into this flow of eternal life, almost as if we are a “Fourth Person” of the Trinity, or as Jesus put it, “so that where I am you also may be” (John 14:3).
The Cappadocian Fathers of the fourth century first developed this theology, though they readily admitted the Trinity is a wonderful mystery that can never fully be understood with the rational mind, but can only be known through love, prayer, and suffering. Contemplation of God as Trinity was made-to-order to undercut the dualistic mind. This view of Trinity invites us to interactively experience God as transpersonal (“Father”), personal (“Christ”), and even impersonal (“Holy Spirit”)—all at once.
The Cappadocian teaching moved to the West but was not broadly communicated. We find an active Trinitarianism in many Catholic mystics (e.g., Meister Eckhart, Julian of Norwich, John of the Cross, Teresa of Ávila). Scottish theologian Richard of St. Victor (1110–1173) reflected this early theology. He taught at great length that for God to be truth, God had to be one; for God to be love, God had to be two; and for God to be joy, God had to be three! [1]
True Trinitarian theology offers the soul endless creativity—an open horizon. Trinitarian thinkers do not seem to have much interest in things like hell, punishment, or any notion of earning or losing. They are only overwhelmed by infinite abundance and flow.
Our supposed logic has to break down before we can comprehend the nature of the universe and the bare beginnings of the nature of God. Paraphrasing physicist Niels Bohr, the doctrine of the Trinity is saying that God is not only stranger than we think, but stranger than we can think. Perhaps much of the weakness of many Christian doctrines and dogmas is that we’ve tried to understand them with a logical or rational mind instead of through love, prayer, and participation itself. In the end, only lovers seem to know what is going on inside of God. To all others, God remains an impossible and distant secret, just like the galaxies.

Gateway to Presence:
If you want to go deeper with today’s meditation, take note of what word or phrase stands out to you. Come back to that word or phrase throughout the day, being present to its impact and invitation.

[1] Richard of St. Victor, Book Three of the Trinity, trans. Grover A. Zinn (Paulist Press: 1979). My summary of his conclusions.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Shape of God: Deepening the Mystery of the Trinity (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2004), CD, DVD, MP3 download.
Image Credit: Deesis Mosaic (detail), 13th-century, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey.
Fr Richard Rohr – Centre for Action and Contemplation

oOo

Assisted Dying – an important conversation

Last Monday evening the Redcliffe Explorers, capably facilitated by Dr Ian Brown, bravely entered the debate on assisted dying. Part of the inspiration for this session was the loss of one of their members who had left a carefully worded statement. Part of this dictated statement included:
“…By now some of you may have heard that I have made a decision to hasten my own death and end my suffering. Unfortunately, the only way open to me was the way that I had to choose, which other Motor Neurone Disease sufferers before me have also had to choose……I discussed it at some length with the family – my wife and children, and their spouses. They are all sorry to see it come to this but are very supportive. It will help me try to weather the huge challenge of the next few days….”

He made the decision to stop eating and drinking to expedite the slow and painful death he was facing if he let MND take its course.

Support is growing for a Queensland parliamentary enquiry into euthanasia. Queensland could soon hold parliamentary hearings on voluntary euthanasia, as ministers and senior government MPs speak out in support of a grassroots campaign for assisted dying laws.

The chair of the state parliament’s health committee, Aaron Harper, told a forum in Brisbane on Monday that he had sought a meeting with the premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, about holding an inquiry. The Guardian Australia newspaper understands the committee has already held private preliminary discussions in anticipation it would be asked to conduct broad-ranging hearings similar to those in Victoria, which would ultimately make recommendations to shape new laws.

Queensland is the only state never to have formally debated the issue. Reforms that passed the Victorian parliament last year have helped to spark a new campaign in the state.
So the Redcliffe Explorers were venturing into something very relevant and current. They looked at three cases – the situation posed by their friend, the story in the film Last Cab to Darwin, and the recent journey of Dr David Goodall to Switzerland at 104 years of age to achieve his goal to terminate his life. Three very different cases addressing the many issues. Accompanying the resources Ian provided for this discussion was the data from an Election Study from ANU based on the attitudes of religiously affiliated people with those who are not. That, in itself was most interesting.

Euthanasia is illegal in all Australian States and Territories and may result in a person being charged with murder, manslaughter or assisting suicide.

Assisted suicide is currently illegal in all Australian States and Territories. However on 29 November 2017 the Victorian Legislative Assembly passed the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017, which will legalise voluntary assisted dying (physician-assisted suicide) in Victoria from 19 June 2019.

Thank you, Ian and your group, for a discussion that brought a great deal of participation and hopefully will be a stimulus to other church and Explorer groups to become part of this important discourse. With the inevitable debate becoming a serious part of the Queensland political scene it is good to know that Explorers are getting informed. It was a privilege to be a part of this discussion.

Paul Inglis 7th August 2018

oOo