Category Archives: Thoughts

The Message “OF” Jesus: According to the Gospel of Mark

Six sermons by Smith, Rev John W H, author of “Honest To GOod”, Morning Star Publishing 2016.

Written in December 2018

“Always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.  Silence encourages the tormentor never the tormented.”

                                Eli Wiesel, Jewish writer, Professor and political activist.

Suggestions – scroll down to the Conclusion to get an overview of John’s theme and background to this set of articles. Taste one….then come back for more!

Introduction

I have been requested by a number of parishioners from Stonnington Community Uniting Church to provide written copies of sermons that I presented while providing short term supply when their minister Rev Greg Crowe was on study leave.  I have taken the opportunity to add a further sermon from Mark’s Gospel set aside for Pentecost 19B, because it supports the theme set out by Mark in the other sermons.

The following is a written documentation of these sermons with an additional introductory explanatory essay and a short conclusive statement of the background to these sermons. I have also included, by request, two articles written for “Inspire” –  the Stonnington Community Uniting Church Newsletter.

I record here my sincere appreciation for the support I have received from my colleague and close friend Greg Crowe to respond to the requests of his parishioners. In particular I wish to thank my friend Faye Pattinson for her friendship and support to produce this booklet and especially for her keen proof-reading talent.

Foreword

“The Empowering Nature of Relationality.”

For a number of years now I have been writing and talking about my concern that Christian orthodoxy continues to emphasise a message about a divine Jesus rather than to proclaim the message of the human Jesus.

Firstly to understand the importance of this concern we need to read the sayings of Jesus in the context of their time.  The object of drawing these essays together is an attempt to understand in 21st century language the message of the human Jesus.  In the discourses Jesus shares with his disciples he does not imply that his person is the answer to the problems of the world.

Jesus does have a vision of what the world should accept as vital if people are to live positive and fulfilled lives.  Jesus refers to this vision as God’s domain or realm, which he affirms is present within and between the lives of his disciples and all people.  This is a realm that Jesus did not create or control, it was present before he was born. We find that in the ‘healing narratives’ Jesus states six times that a person’s healing comes from the sacred energy that resides within and is not because of his person or influence.  Nor does healing have to wait until Jesus is crucified.

This is the vision that Jesus is asking his disciples to affirm and this includes all who value their friendship with Jesus today.  His original disciples like us today, unfortunately continued to stare at his finger and not at where that finger was pointing.  Jesus vision was of a world where peace, justice and compassion expressed in our relationships with others would bring about ‘God’s Realm’ as defined by the gospel writers.  Perhaps the translation of the Greek ‘Basileia tou Theou’ does not truly reflect what Jesus means by the ‘Kingdom of God’.  Most scholars agree that Jesus’ native tongue was Aramaic not Greek and the most likely word used by Jesus would have been the Aramaic ‘Malkuta’. This is important because unlike the Greek and English notion of Kingdom with all its imperial connotation of top down authority and obedience, the word ‘Malkuta’ denotes a concept of mutual empowerment, where power is equally shared and dispensed for the benefit of the receiver rather than the giver.

This definition of the ‘Kingdom’ fits well with Dominic Crossan’s concept that the ‘Kingdom’ is in reality a ‘Companionship of Empowerment’. So the call to “Seek first the Kingdom of God” is Jesus calling us to share in the ‘companionship of empowerment’ because in this companionship we will find that the ‘relational’ activity is what liberates, nurtures and leads us to a life of wholeness.  This is the Jesus vision.

Perhaps we might even suggest that Jesus is saying, “Don’t concentrate on looking at me, but reflect and contemplate on the relational nature that is unfolding within and around me.  If you contemplate this phenomenon you will discover what defines and constitutes the kind of person I am, because I am at all times the sum total of my personal relationships.”  (Diarmuid O’Murchu p115 2017)

This concept has been most engagingly affirmed by John Shelby Spong (2016 p140.)  “When we pray, Thy Kingdom come, it means that our eyes must be trained to see the sacred source of energy in each other.  It means that the ‘Kingdom’ is visible when we are empowered to live fully, love wastefully and be all that we are capable of being.  Clearly the work of the ‘Kingdom’ is the work of enhancing human wholeness.”

The attached essays were delivered as sermons to the Stonnington Community Uniting Church during the period of Pentecost in 2018.  These essays were based on the texts in the Gospel According to Mark.

These texts record the words of Jesus that provide us with some insight into the type of human being he was, but more importantly, they emphasise the importance of bringing to visibility through our relationships that we are companions in the empowerment of each other.

Continue reading

Reflection: Oh my God! Meeting ‘God’ in the ‘thin places’

John W H Smith

 We all embark on tasks then wish that we hadn’t, because it becomes all too hard.    You try to walk away from the whole thing, but you find that it continues to nag at you until you go back and take up the cudgels again.  When I first began to explore the historical Jesus and tried to define what I believed God was it all seemed so exciting and straightforward, however I quickly discovered that this wasn’t the case.  Whilst I was able to question the traditional interpretation given of Jesus birth, the miracles and some of the sayings that were attributed to him; the logical consequence of what I did believe when these concerns were removed told much more about what I didn’t believe.   Would it have been better if I had continued to hold the faith of my teenage years and not be too critical about matters of reason and intellect?

The questioning began simply, I argued that if the God I believed in was not someone whose wrath brought Tsunamis as a punishment for a wicked world, and this phenomenon could be explained by the science of massive earth movements under the sea, then could I call upon God to make other changes in our world.  Could I ask God to heal my friend who has a massive brain tumour or heal a child involved in a car accident?  It was so much easier as a teenager to talk about God as a personal being, a loving parent, rather than as ‘essence’ or a ‘sea of love’ or as Tillich says the ‘ground of our being.’  It was easier to talk about “prayers of intercession” and handing over the responsibility of doing something to God; than to meditate on how I could respond to the plight of my friends, the poor or disadvantaged and actually do something about it.

Could I continue to be blissfully ignorant and disregard these nagging doubts and their accompanying quests for openness and truth, or having once been challenged would this change my way of functioning forever?  To face the reality that I do not know what God looks like and that the person of Jesus is a much more complex and confronting figure than we were taught at Sunday school was a daunting prospect.

I remember being in a study group with a group of people who had just studied Albert Nolan’s Book “Christ before Christianity” and I posed the question, “Could we change Jesus’ mind on a particular issue?”  “Could he accept advice from us?”  All of the group participants were considerably younger and all stated that Jesus’ thinking was far above ours and that he would not have accepted our advice because he had the ability to foresee the outcomes we were postulating.   If this is the case then is it possible that Jesus was just game playing with his disciples when he asked them questions and he already knew the answers?  It would mean, that when he invited us into discussions and debate, he wasn’t interested in what we had to say, because he already knew the outcome, he already knew what we would say.

Can you now see something of the dilemma, if Jesus is really human then when he asks us for advice he is really seeking help.  Jesus is seeking help from us because he is searching for an answer, which is beyond his human ability.  Is it possible that he could be seeking from us the wisdom of the word of God within us as a response to his questions?

If we hold to this image of Jesus then understanding his words and actions as portrayed in the gospels requires a lot more explanation than a literal interpretation.   How wonderful to begin to understand that Jesus was able to convey a wisdom and spiritual understanding of God and people, whilst being authentically human.  It really means that it is possible for us who are wonderfully human to reach a similar understanding.

Having taken a step along this path it is impossible now for me to turn back and accept the teaching of the past, even though the journey is not smooth, it is exciting.  There have been times when I have experienced the God activity in my life and where there is no other explanation than to recognise the Spiritual influence of a loving God. These are the times that Marcus Borg calls the ‘Thin places”; these are the places where we recognise the activity and presence of God.   Not an ‘elsewhere God’, but a God who is present ‘here and now’.  Borg tells us that if we want to recognise the thin places we must keep our ‘hearts open’.  A closed heart is insensitive to wonder, it affects the mind and the reasoning process.  As Borg says ‘blindness and limited vision go with a ‘closed heart’, but most of all a closed heart forgets God; it does not allow for the ‘magic’ around us to become reality.”  Borg quotes Thomas Merton the Trappist Monk in expressing his understanding of God:

“We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent, and God is shining through it all the time.  This is not just a fable or a nice story.  It is          true.  If we abandon ourselves to God and forget ourselves, we see it sometimes, and we see it maybe frequently. God shows himself       everywhere in everything – in people and in things and in nature and         events.  It becomes very obvious that God is everywhere and in everything and we cannot be without him “

Every now and then we experience this God Spirit shining through.  According to Borg these are the ‘Thin places’ where the veil momentarily lifts and we experience God. A thin place is anywhere where our hearts are open.  It is the boundary between our world and the world of the Spirit.  A thin place is a mediator of the sacred and this can appear to us in the shape of a stranger or friend, so keep your hearts and minds open, for even though the path may be bumpy the experience of meeting God is mind blowing.

John W H Smith

oOo

EXPLORING ECO-THEOLOGY, ECO-SPIRITUALITY and ECO-JUSTICE

The world is slowly coming to grips with the reality of climate change, human influence on the biosphere and impending dramatic changes which will force social and political activity that is unprecedented.

What has this to do with human spirituality and the teachings of Jesus?

Together with the Progressive Christianity Network (Qld) we are planning a seminar in March around the theme of Eco-Spirituality. This paper presented to the Common Dreams Conference in 2007 by Rev Dr Noel Preston makes excellent background reading and should be of interest. If you are busy, try, at least, to read the paragraphs in bold type.

Noel’s book Ethics with or without God (2014) is also recommended reading. It is available from Morning Star Publishing.

***

Dr Noel Preston – workshop address at the Common Dreams Conference, Sydney, August 2007 

I. Introductory Background

Let us turn to an ancient scriptural text to begin (Psalm 139 – You know me, I thank you for the wonder of myself, for the wonder of your works.

Perhaps the lyricist of Louis Armstrong’s song “What a wonderful world!” says the same thing:

I see trees of green, red roses too, I see them bloom for me and for you, And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.

I see skies of blue, and clouds of white, The brightness of day and darkness of night, And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.

On my study wall there hangs a beautiful photograph taken by the crew of Apollo 17 during their space journey to the moon. It shows Earth our home, the blue planet set against the inky blackness of space. Earth appears as a ball-like, single organism. We are a privileged generation to have this image and, associated with it, an understanding of the cosmos in its magnificence. But we are also the generation that is responsible for unprecedented damage to Earth’s life systems – a system that has been almost five billion years in the making. In our time, the collision between our human story and the Universe story demands some accounting and reconciliation, as well as a revision of the narratives by which we live.

I expect that for many of you, as for me, progressively, across a lifetime, you have been awakened from a false consciousness which dulled your sensitivity to the whole planetary community of life. The Christianity I grew up with didn’t have much to say about the themes we are looking at in this workshop, though there was a date in the Church calendar we called “Harvest Festival”. In fact my early Methodist formation was not only human centred but rarely discouraged our misuse of natural resources or questioned what we called progress. A 1950s understanding of God had little to do with the natural world, indeed it was something of a heresy to imagine you were nearer to god in nature than you were in church on a Sunday, while, of course, many of my colleagues regarded the Biblical account of creation as literal fact. Things have changed. Pope John Paul II called for “an ecological conversion” and certain American evangelical Christians have become converts. Check out the website:

http://www.WhatwouldJesusDrive.org.

Here in Australia there are initiatives described as “eco-ministry”. Great stories can be told about individual churches trying to make a difference. Theologically, liturgically and practically, religion in the new millennium is greener. The question is how much new wine can old wineskins hold? My assumption is that, by and large, even the greener churches have not substantially embraced the worldview, the new paradigm and the new theology behind this presentation.


Personally, I now speak from the vantage of a multi-layered identity, no longer content with being identified simply as a Christian or an Australian or even as a human being, though I am all that. I take seriously what science teaches about the nature of life. As I see it, I am primarily a member of the community of Earth’s beings and my moral universe of responsibility extends to non-human beings and future generations. Therefore what I call eco-spirituality and eco-justice are lenses through which I must now see politics, economics, theology and indeed all relationships. That said, I don’t stand here as an expert on the topic of this workshop. Nor do I profess to practise all I preach. What I want to offer is a work in progress which hopefully will intersect with your own quest to find a framework of belief and commitment as a responsible member of the community of life.

I don’t intend to say much about the crisis that confronts earth’s community of life. My assumption is that you have a broad awareness of the gravity of the situation. The Genesis mandate that we, homo sapiens, are to have dominion over the Earth now haunts us in the guise of global warming, the threat to eco-systems and loss of biodiversity, depleting energy sources, a deepening water crisis, international security flashpoints, crimes against humanity, gross inequalities between and within nations, and absolute poverty and destitution facing 1.2 billion of a human population rushing toward 9 billion (i). The situation is unsustainable. Collectively our global consumption of resources is 1.23 of our ecological footprint, that is we humans are already using one and a quarter planet Earths, 23% more than the ecosystems can sustain. And for those interested in the global social justice gap the situation is even more dire. The affluent 20percent of the world’s population, of which most Australians are a part, controls and uses approximately 80 percent of the Earth’s resources. So we have this double-edged urgent challenge: to achieve environmental sustainability on the one hand and a fairer and more equitable distribution of resources and life opportunities in the human community, on the other. This double-edged challenge is what I mean by eco-justice.

(i) There are many performance indicators that mark this crisis but let us just note two at this stage: Fact 1. more than half of the world's original forest area has been lost and a third of what is left will be gone in 20 years at current rates of deforestation, to say nothing of the loss of species and biodiversity this represents; Fact 2. in the next hour more than 1000 children under the age of 5 will die from illnesses linked to poverty, half of them in Africa.(Porritt)

I now want to introduce you to The Earth Charter (if you do not already know of it) – its 61 principles are a comprehensive global ethics vision, comprehensive because it is more than a green document. It covers the double edged challenge which is why I call it a manifesto for eco-justice. The opening words of the Charter set the scene:

We stand at a critical moment in earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise. We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society, founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice and a culture of peace. (www.earthcharter.org)

Continue reading

Faith, a piece of cake?

Rodney Eivers

31st January 2019

            For some 20 years I have been providing morning tea at our Acacia Ridge Uniting Church between 10 and 11 a.m. every Thursday. In all this time it has been disappointing.  I had hoped that, during these get-togethers, members of our congregation would take the opportunity to discuss “theological” questions in a warm, friendly and safe non-judgemental atmosphere.

            That has not happened. The morning teas have been convivial enough but there has been no discussion beyond the mundane day to day events and perhaps an occasional diversion into the current congregational politics.

            I recognised why this might be when one officer of the congregation put it this way.

“Rodney likes to ask questions but I prefer not to do that.  If I asked questions relevant to my Christian faith, I might start to think I was wrong about some things and then my whole faith would collapse”

            I love my colleagues and do not wish to make them uncomfortable over their orthodoxy, so do not press such issues.

            Perhaps the best I can do is just be a “witness”.  We had a visit from a Presbytery officer last Sunday,  I assumed he did not know me very well, So what I usually do when I get into conversation, with others known to  me to be Christian, is usually state, to be clear on where I stand, “You need to know that I am a “progressive”  Christian.”

            I was a bit taken aback when he responded. “Oh yes, we in the Presbytery know all about you and your “progressive” Christianity.”   In the end I was very pleased about this. It means there is no need for me to be preachy and, so far as I am aware, I remain on friendly terms with all those with whom I interact (including my congregation)

            But to get back to morning tea. It so happens that lately we have been joined regularly by a man who “dropped in” one day.  He is a Baptist and very secure in his orthodoxy. What has attracted him to the morning teas, however, is that we can have these “theological” differences, talk about them and still remain on friendly terms.

            Then this morning we were joined by a member of my own congregation, she is one who is prepared to explore a little but only goes so far.

            The subject of faith came up.

            Karen explained it thus.  It is like someone offering you a cake to eat. It tastes good. You’ve eaten many cakes before and no harm has befallen you. Thus you take it on faith that accepting that cake will be a good thing to do. You don’t question it.

            I responded, and Karen saw the point. “Yes, but I may have been offered cakes like this before and they have turned out to be not at all what I was expecting.” Therefore I want to question

 What’s in the cake? Who made it? How old is it?  Can we freshen it up a bit?

            So that is the difference between blind faith and questioning faith. It does not mean that in the end eating the cake or having the faith is not worthwhile. But, in being confident in “what works” for us rather than in supernatural expectations which we struggle to demonstrate we can have a secure foundation in how we see and operate as Christians in this wonderful, complex world of ours.

oOo
           

Who is Jesus for us today?

Sermon preached by Rev Dr Noel Preston last Sunday.

Psalm 23. and Luke 4. v. 16- 21; 9 v.18 – 21

We are here today because of Jesus of Nazareth – that is the simple fact. So who is this Jesus, the one who traditional Christianity has named “the Christ”, and the “second person of the Trinity”.

I want to preach about brother Jesus today because, more than any other, his life has influenced mine and the lives of others who have most influenced me. In fact I have a memory that when I was a seven year old I went to my father and said, “I want to give my life to Jesus.” That commitment remains. (though my understanding of it has evolved over a further 70 years)

I have another reason: I made a deal at Christmas time with my teenage grandson, who rarely goes to church, that I would try to preach a sermon for him which conveys who Jesus of Nazareth is and what he is to us today.

If we are to understand Jesus, we must situate him in his time. He lived in a period when the Roman Empire controlled his home country. Actually, he was probably known as “Joshua” in his time. The name we give him is the result of Graeco-Roman influence. He was a Galilean. And Galileans were simple folk. He was not a Christian. He never read the Christian Scriptures. He read the Hebrew Scriptures, and developed his faith from them.

Apart from the Christian scriptures the only historical record of him is found in the work of a Roman Jew historian named Josephus. Nevertheless, his impact on history has been profound and his message has been a saving grace to millions.

As far as the detail of his life, our knowledge comes initially from the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The account attributed to Mark, was the first written, some decades after Jesus’ death. Inspired as Mark’s Gospel is, this and the other versions of the Gospel, rely much on fallible human memory and oral story telling.

Nonetheless, as our Gospel readings today reveal, Jesus himself went through a gradual process of self-discovery. Our second Gospel reading describes Jesus sounding out who his disciples thought he was. In the other reading from Luke we heard how : At the outset of his ministry in the Synagogue of Nazareth he chose a significant passage from Isaiah – his mission statement if you like – I am here to give sight to the blind, free the oppressed and bring good news to the poor. As that mission unfolded, apparently titles like “son of man” and “son of God” were used of him.

In my lifetime, there have been many commentaries on who Jesus is for us today. Scholars have done much detailed analysis on questions like –
who did Jesus himself think he was?
Or, how are we to interpret the miracles recorded in the Gospels?
Or, what do we really know about his birth and the stories we recall at Christmas time?
Or what is the meaning of his cruel death?
Or, how are we to understand the Easter faith of the disciples who declare his Resurrection?

It wasn’t until the late nineteenth century that biblical scholars began applying the blow torch of historical criticism to the Gospels. A German biblical scholar by the name of Albert Schweitzer (who, incidentally, was one of Europe’s finest organists) published a book titled The Quest for the Historical Jesus and that scholarly quest continues today.

And the Jesus story keeps being told by endless and various story tellers. When I began my ministry there were the musicals, Jesus Christ Superstar which made Jesus a rock star and Godspell popularizing him as a clown. Then there was Monty Python’s irreverent Life of Brian which had a measure of truth in it, and would’ve had the real Jesus laughing in his grave I’m sure. In a way these pop culture presentations have humanised Jesus by correcting what I call the dehumanising of Jesus. This “dehumanising” happens through idolatrous beliefs and practices which make him half-human and half divine, a process which was underlined by the Nicene Creed adopted in the 4th century AD. The writers of the Creeds may have lost touch with Jesus of Nazareth and his early followers who were known as “followers of the Way”. Jesus never said, “Worship me” but he did say, “ Follow me.” Of course, it is much easier to worship him than follow him daily.

Reading the traditional Creeds today, you may conclude that they lose sight of the life Jesus lived and what he taught. The language they use attempts to make him someone to worship rather than a brother who is “Saviour and Lord” – He is my Saviour and Lord because he exemplifies and calls us and empowers, to be the best that humanity can be, by living a life of unconditional compassion.

Thus far, I have tried to give some background as to how I answer my grandson’s question : “Who is Jesus for us today?” But there is more to tell.

FIRST A STORY. I have a fellow retired minister friend with whom I was talking recently about this topic. I mused with him. “Some of the supernatural elements which do not fit 21st century knowledge, like the Virgin birth and the Ascension into heaven, have kept the Jesus story alive over the centuries. If we strip the story of these parts, how do we keep the Jesus story alive today?” Instantly Bob, whose mind is burdened by Parkinson’s disease, said: “We keep it alive by living it.” (Repeat)

I have a book by a South African Catholic priest, Albert Nolan, which I have found very helpful. Called “Jesus today”, it explores Jesus’ spirituality, how his mind and spirit were nurtured in the intimate relationship he had with the One he called, in his language, “abba”, a word which means “father”.

Nolan’s opening sentence is challenging: On the whole we don’t take Jesus seriously – whether we call ourselves Christians or not.

I have to confess that’s true for me – the demands of discipleship can be overwhelming – remember the story of the Rich Young Ruler ‘Go and sell all you have and give it to the poor and then come and follow me’! What of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5) where Jesus teaches us to love even our enemies. Or, if we took seriously the parable of the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son, what a conversion that might involve!

Nolan interprets Jesus as a deeply mystical prophet, one who had a special relationship with his abba, his God experience, the intimate father, whose love was boundless. That relationship is the secret of his extraordinary life – and death: A Love that has no limits. So intimate was the relationship between Jesus and his abba that about 100 years after his death, the writer of John’s Gospel has him saying “I and the Father are one.” Jesus’ abba relationship was expressed in his friendship with the downtrodden. He practiced inclusion not exclusion in relationships. He lived by a sense of oneness with all. He empowered others to see through religious hypocrisy and stand up to the abuse of power in the Temple or by Roman overlords. Though he was radically critical of his society, Jesus never blamed, accused or condemned any individual person but his attitude to people labeled ‘sinners or outcasts’ was strikingly different from that of other religious leaders.

Jesus of Nazareth is a breakthrough in human history calling us to be truly human.

Of course no account or interpretation of Jesus the Christ is complete without engaging with the fact and the meaning of the end of his life. The Crucifixion of Jesus is the climax of a life lived so close to abba that the dereliction and abandonment of those cruel hours demands explanation.

But the explanation consistent with the Jesus I have tried to describe is not one about a sacrifice for our sins to placate a god who doesn’t sound one bit like Jesus’ abba. No, the meaning of the Cross is that it is the culmination of a life which challenged the powers that oppress the downtrodden through the costly way of compassionate Love. This demonstration of LOVE to the bitter end means that the cross cannot be the end. So it is that his followers, then and now, claim the realization by faith that Jesus’ life is not extinguished by a burial. But, his followers must learn that the significance of the Cross is that it must become OUR CROSS.

Jesus becomes the one who never goes away, who meets us today, who invites ongoing interpretation of the relationship of our life to his, whose challenges to us may change, but who persists through history as a challenge in all times and cultures. He does not go away; he keeps invading our lives, our society – so, it is not atrivial question to ask, “What would Jesus do ?” “What is the Jesus way of handling this matter in our time?”

I mentioned Albert Schweitzer earlier, the author of a ground-breaking theological treatise, “The Quest for the Historical Jesus”. I also said he had fame throughout Europe as a musician. The real story about Schweitzer’s quest is that in his thirties, his life changed direction. He came to the conviction that Jesus is to be known and followed in deeds not just words, costly deeds for the needy . So he took up medical studies and became a Doctor and spent the rest of his long life as a missionary Doctor in Africa.

In the final paragraph of The Quest he prefaced this change in discipleship:
He comes to us as one unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, he came to those who knew him not. He speaks to us the same word, “Follow thou me” and sets us to the tasks he has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey, whether they be wise or simple, he will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings that they shall pass through in his fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their experience, WHO HE IS.

SILENCE – your response

Noel Preston 13th January 2019

oOo

Confessions of a Saboteur and Subversive Agent of the Jesus Liberation Movement.

Today I have decided to confess that for the last sixty years I have been a covert subversive revolutionary for the outlawed organisation the Jesus Liberation Movement, (JLM). I was recruited to this organisation in 1956 at the tender age of 16 years with the promise that I would become a vital agent of change for this revolutionary body. The liberation movement was aimed not only at liberating people controlled by internal and external forces, but to insure that the Spirit of Jesus our founder was also liberated to be a continuing influence in the world and not controlled by any one person or body. So often we hear Christian church leaders and state and national politicians falsely claiming allegiance to the Spirit of Jesus by calling themselves Christian, but they are proclaiming their own message about Jesus rather than his message about living graciously with a commitment to social justice for all people. These leaders, by their actions and words have demonstrated that they are morally incoherent, because they are more concerned with gaining personal power than empowering others. It is their actions that belie their words. The true spirit of the Jesus message must be once again established in the community.

Prior to this decision, I had been oblivious that for many years, my mother, who persistently encouraged me to believe that the world in which I lived could be a better place, had subjected me to an initial grooming for this role. She had encouraged me to believe that all people should be afforded the opportunity to develop their full potential and that it was possible to establish a more socially just and financially equitable society. Further, she insisted that we could not leave these tasks to others, that we all had a responsibility to ensure these were not simply hollow words, but through our own endeavours we could make this a living reality.

I am now aware that even as a small child my thoughts and actions were being formed and even manipulated by my mother who encouraged me to look for the best in people and to do whatever I could to help them to achieve their full potential. She also encouraged me to read the subversive literature of Hugo, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. However, the impact of this indoctrination only became significant when at the age of sixteen, I came in contact with the JLM it was here that my mother’s grooming in my early years began to blossom.

It was explained to me at the time of my recruitment that the revolution to which I was being called, as mentioned earlier, had in fact been operating for nearly 2000 years and that many organisations such as national Governments and the Christian Church had attempted to destroy it. They had subtly pretended to adopt its principles whilst all the time undermining its authority by watering down its principles, beliefs and practice. The major task of the true revolutionary was to smuggle the influence of the JLM not only into the Christian Church and the administration of civil government activities but in fact into all aspects of living. I was given strict instructions to operate covertly, for fear that as soon as people realised what my true mission was they would pretend to support it with the prime purpose of emasculating its power.

It was made abundantly clear to me by my mentors at the time of my recruitment that my role was to be a covert one. I was to at all times remain under cover so that the real purpose of my orders could be carried out without detection. It was suggested that I should belong to the organised church as my cover and even to accept a full time working arrangement. It was also made abundantly clear that I should not allow myself to be seduced by the orthodox approach of the Christian Church, but that I should remain true to my commitment to the revolutionary arm of the JLM and all that it stands for. To maintain my true mission goals I needed to continue to remain in a covert operation so as to prevent these from being undermined.

My reason for coming in from the cold at this time is to reveal, in the life I have left to me, what my allegiance to the JLM has meant personally and why I have given my life to the task of smuggling Jesus into the Christian Church and into everyday living against all opposition. In the person of Jesus I have discovered a human being who has a faith and belief in the inherent goodness of common humanity, and who seeks to offer the opportunity for all people to be liberated from the fears and restrictions placed upon them by the structures of society and their own feelings of insecurity. Our founder, the sage, Jesus of Nazareth, had been quick to point out the dangers to civil liberties of a hierarchal religion and a power obsessed, brutal government.

My role over the years has undergone a process of refinement but the revolutionary zeal still remains. My mother’s encouragement to be an agent of change is I believe stronger today than at any other time in my life. I have tried to assist the people I meet to personally discern that they have the ability to reach a sense of wholeness of being, by recognising the power that resides within them, in much the same as did the founder of our revolutionary movement.
I was carefully taught that the best modus operandi was to alert people to the fact that the power to change was within them, in much the same way that the founder of our revolutionary movement had been able to effect change: this indwelling power he claims is connected by a spiritual force to the great energy of the universe. This energy becomes visible not only through the words and actions of people operating in normal everyday situations but often in a subversive way such as through humour, wit, sarcasm, or exaggeration. Many people who became influential in this movement are unaware that they had become instruments of the revolution. Some of the greatest exponents of liberation would not be able to raise to consciousness the reasons for their behaviour, which in no way demeans their efforts.

My coming out will not deter me from continuing my mission, as it has now become a vital part of who I am and what I have become.

Viva la Revolution.

John W H Smith
February 2018

oOo

The Future Spiritual Community

The Future Spiritual Community – John Wessel

22nd September 1932 – 29th December 2018

[Presented to the Gold Coast SoFia Conference, 2012]

Yesterday, Karen Armstrong spoke about the urgent world wide need to establish a Charter of Compassion. Today I intend to present a practical way that Future Spiritual Communities can become agents to make this Charter a reality. I want you to be courageous enough to-

IMAGINE – WE CAN CHANGE THE WORLD

Gretta Vosper in her book With or Without God says

“When we allow the progressive scholarship of the past century to challenge us to reconsider the foundations of our faith, we find ourselves left with an enormous task: constructing something viable to replace what we find to be no longer working”

We who have gathered have entered a process of walking with a group of people, however slowly, toward the future.

What I intend saying has a Christian perspective about it simply because Christianity is my spiritual home, I know no other. We each inherit our particular faith, along with our language and our culture so then that particular faith becomes ‘right’ for each of us. However, I believe what I have to say is also applicable to all religions because all future spiritual communities will have to take into account the modern social and cultural context in which they must work.

I believe that the church has not come to grips with, or has understood the effects that post-modern cultural change is having of the thinking of modern people. By clinging to the past we not only lose sight of the present but we fail to allow the future to be born.

Hugh Mackay – a well know social annalist has said – “the cultural shift is so radical that it amounts to the discovery of a new way of thinking…. a new kind of change is taking place in our society… we are at a turning point… these recent changes have affected Australia’s’ view of life and religious faith in a very profound and irreversible manner”

A whole new way of presenting the Christian story will have to be developed if it is to make sense to our modern world.

The traditional package we offer to this new world came out of a completely different culture and world view and is no longer adequate to deal with the challenge of this age. Religions have always been based on the human search for meaning. The central question for all religions is, “What do humans want?” In Christianity the traditional answer has been salvation from sin.

When we reply today to the question “What do humans want?” with the above answer, we find it is an answer that only a few are seeking and for the majority it has little meaning. Modern culture wants to find harmony and liberation; wants to find some wisdom for living in the here-and-now, in an otherwise religion- less world.

We are living through what may be the greatest time of change in Christian history. All institutions, political, secular and religious, are being questioned.

Bp. John Spong says: – I believe Christianity is in deep decline because it cannot bring itself to face the fact that the presuppositions on which our faith story was erected in the past are today no longer self-evidently true or even believable. We are living through a cataclysmic transition from the presuppositions by which we once lived – and have no idea how to tell our faith story in terms of the emerging world view for which our religion of yesterday has no relevance. So churches are dying. Church’ business as usual’ is a prescription not only for disaster, but for extinction”.

What have all the above statements been saying? They have clearly said that because of globalisation which had its birth following the Second World War and in the light of our now pluralistic world, along with many other issues, there is an urgent need for all religions to implement some radical change from within.

The spiritual community of the future must not be based upon what we believe so much as on how we live. It must be a pathway we walk, a journey we take, into the Divine Presence; a journey of connection with people, not just about ideas and dogma which too often divide. It must therefore proclaim a new concept and understanding of “Incarnation”…..What do I mean?

In his book “Eternal Life” John Spong says “ if we read John’s Gospel through a mystical lens we see that his story is not of a divine life invading the world, as we have been accustomed to reading it, but a portrayal of Jesus as a human being having a relationship with the holy – an inseparable unity. “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” What this means is that the time has come when we need to define humanity –®
as that in which the life of the Divine lives,– define
human love as that through which the Divine loves- and how in humanity
the being of the Divine is made manifest in the world.”

This means that the Divine is not met beyond life but at the very heart of life. Therefore the task of any future spiritual community becomes no longer that of clinging to creeds and doctrines that are based on a dated world-view that is bound by the idea of an external theistic deity: the task of such a community is to seek a humanity in which the divine is part of, and indeed, at the very heart of what it means to be fully human.

To walk in Jesus’ footstep is to be conscious of the indwelling of the Divine Presence in all people. This then will direct and influence the way we live,… how we relate to others,.. and to the world at large. Thus our presentation must teach and live the Way of Jesus – as follows.

First, Unconditional love is an important aspect for any New Community. Unconditional Love. Think about what ‘Unconditional’ means.

Then, if love matters in our personal lives, we must also find ways to give love expression in the public and political arena. That is, in the justice of political systems; systemic justice. Such love is grounded in the interconnectedness of all life

Secondly the New Story must break down all barriers that divide. Read the Gospels and you will clearly see that Jesus broke down so many of the religious and cultural barriers of his time- this was important for him, it must be important also for us. However, from the time the Creeds were formulated they have created division and barriers, both within the church itself and beyond.

Coupled with this, and part of the breaking down of barriers, any future spiritual community must eradicate prejudice in all its forms by the way all of its people think, speak and act.

And Inclusiveness is a keystone that needs to be central in any New Story. (e.g. The stories of the Good Samaritan, of Jesus eating with the tax collectors, his touching lepers, and his conversation with the woman at the well.) All are about inclusiveness.
If you think about it, for some to be “Chosen” means that there are others who are ‘unchosen’ (excluded). This can have no place in any future Spiritual Community.

Jesus early followers were known as followers of The Way. This Way was a way of life…. Jesus called his followers to interact with their world with peace, compassion, respect, tenderness, grace and justice.

Any New Story needs to stop concentrating on the after-life, on judgement and the rescue role of Jesus and face the spiritual and practical needs of this life. It needs to help all people find LIFE, life in all its fullness in the here-and-now. It will need to teach people “how” to live and NOT dwell on ‘what” to believe. It must encourage people to walk, every day, within the divine Presence.

Jesus followers felt that the Divine Presence was part of who Jesus was and now that same Spirit was calling them to give expression of its presence in their lives. Humanity was seen as the vessel in which the divine lives and loves. That is what has been lost and it is that which must be experienced anew in any future community.
The challenge that confronts all religions today is a practical one. It calls me, as a Christian, to actually live my understanding of what it means for me to follow the Way of Jesus. But, I cannot do this alone.

This brings me to my final point.

This Way of life that I have described was what Jesus meant when he spoke of The Kingdom of God. This phrase appears 140 times in the four Gospels. Thus, for Jesus, and the gospel writers, this phrase embodied a concept of primary and foundational importance and perhaps was the very core of his message to the world.
He had lived his whole life in bondage to an occupying, dominate power. Israel knew many dominate powers during its history. His followers would have clearly understood the difference between dominate kingdoms and that of Jesus’ “Kingdom of God.”

It involves giving who you are and all you have completely, wholly away to something greater than yourself. The Divine Presence is at work in each of us, in you and me and yet, there is also a cosmic reality about it that no longer rests on the narrow association with any one religion.

At a gathering in Brisbane where Lloyd Geering was the guest speaker I had the opportunity to ask him what his vision was for the future church. His reply was “The Kingdom of God”. I did not immediately understand what he meant until I read his book, “Christian Faith at the Crossroads”. In it he explained that the Old Testament and the Jewish faith did not look for salvation in another place called “heaven” which was beyond earth; it looked for the Kingdom of God to be established on Earth (when the Messiah would come.) Jesus would have known this, he was a Jew, a man of his time, so when he spoke about the Kingdom of God he was teaching and living an example of what the Kingdom will look like when we humans live in such a way as to make the Kingdom come, here on earth.

For 2000 years, because of the Gentile influence, we in the church have got it wrong. We have placed the emphasis in the wrong place. We have allowed the dualistic concept of natural and supernatural – of earth and heaven – to blur us from hearing what Jesus was saying to us.

He was pleading with us to actually live in such a way as to enable the Kingdom of God to be experienced here on earth. He saw that the Kingdom can be a present reality. It is not a future hope to be found elsewhere as was developed by later Gentiles.

The concept of the Kingdom of God is not clearly understood in modern Australia. We do not live under, nor have ever lived under, a dominate king, so to use words that capture Jesus concept and place them in a modern context, I want to alter Jesus’ wording, as suggested by John Dominic Crossan, and use in its place the phrase The Companionship of Empowerment.(R)
This means that together we are to empower each other to live Jesus dream for the human race.(R) .
As a companion, as a mate, we empower, we encourage each other to:-

Love unconditionally
To rid ourselves of prejudice
To dismantle all barriers that divide
To seek justice for all – both personal and systemic
To respect other people… and our planet Earth
And to live with compassion

Any future spiritual community needs to create an atmosphere, an expectation, a Companionship of Empowerment to ensure that ALL people whoever they are and wherever they live experience abundant life.

We stand today on the edge of a new, exciting journey;
a journey of unknown opportunities and perils;
a journey of yet unfulfilled hopes and dreams

The question is… have we the nerve and the will?

Our choice lies between continuing the spiritual decline that we see today, which is clothed in private comfort and security… and a spiritual greatness where the inner spirit breathes new life and new hope into the world.

You may ask, “Can I do this, can we do this?”
My answer is YES –YES – Why? – Because,

“The K of G is within you”®

All human life is part of who the Divine Mystery is and what it is, and this Mystery is part of who we are and what we are.

As a human being Jesus modelled this generosity; modelled, this new Way of living, which became the experience in others that gave birth to Christianity.(R)

This birth took place when his followers “saw” (realised), after the shock of the crucifixion had passed, that they too could model this Way of Jesus’, by giving who they were and all they had completely, wholly away to something greater than themselves.

Tim Costello recently said,

The Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed involved the transformation of our hearts and minds, our society, our politics and our economics.

If only, that insight into what Jesus meant by the Kingdom of God, became today the motivating force and the Way of life within the modern Spiritual community, as it did with his disciples, Jesus’ dream for humanity would be fulfilled and that Future Spiritual Community would breath NEW LIFE into the world.

Such a community would be the place where we freely and openly reflect and process our life experiences with others, in such a way, that it encourages us all,
empowers us all, to become more compassionate, more loving human beings whose life’s goal is to seek justice for all and thus through whom the love of the Divine Presence becomes known.

I conclude by saying that any future Spiritual Community must seek a global ethic through which salvation is not found in… or confined to… any one set of theological doctrines, rather;

Salvation is to be found in people’s hearts; a salvation that is experienced daily and which governs the way we live and how we relate to all people by showing them respect, compassion and seeking justice.

I may be too idealistic but such a Community, I believe:-

Would indeed be “Good News” for our modern, confused and angry world.

So I invite you to go from this place and simply

ENJOY THE JOURNEY.

oOo

 

 

Genuine Hospitality

Hospitality as a Way of Life

When we say it is our responsibility to offer hospitality to the alien and stranger what exactly do we mean and in particular where does this impetus come from?

Firstly, as Australians our government has committed us to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights; which defines a refugee as:

“A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”?

Thus, by simply being an Australian we have a responsibility to ‘refugees’ regardless of our religious beliefs, because our country is a signatory to the “Convention relating to the status of Refugees”. If you like it is our civil responsibility.
When we say that it is our responsibility to offer “hospitality” what does this mean? A simple definition of the term hospitality is;

“The quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm and friendly way.”

However, as we are people from a Judea/Christian heritage does this mean that more is being asked of us? In response to this question let us briefly turn to both the Old Testament and the New for assistance in understanding our responsibilities.

The Jewish instructions respecting strangers/aliens pervade all the writings of the OT from the history through to the Torah and the prophets. For example in Leviticus 19:34 we read:
“The stranger/alien who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you and you shall love him (them) as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.”

And in Deuteronomy 14:29 we read:
“The Levites, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you, as well as the resident aliens, the orphans and the widows in your towns, may come and eat their fill so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work that you undertake.”

In Job 31:32
“The Stranger/Alien has not lodged in the street. I have opened my doors to the traveler.”
The New Testament adds an even greater demand on us regarding the stranger/alien or person in need. The most appropriate translation of the English word ‘hospitality’ from the Greek word Philoxenia means a ‘love’ of the guest or stranger. Emphasising that it not just what we do, but how we personally regard the one in need. Our hospitality should be a way of life and an embrace of the other, rather than a simple response to someone in need.

Our response to people in need is perhaps best brought to our attention by the words of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel according to Matthew 25:31ff.

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me” v35

And when his disciples asked him, “when was this?”, he responded by saying:
“Truly I tell you as you did it to the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” v 40

The charge then is this; we must treat all we meet as if they are a loved one and by responding with love we are responding to the Spirit of Jesus.

It is not only in the words of Jesus, it is also in his actions that we understand the importance of a personal response to others. For example Jesus practices “Open Commensality” or more simply open table; where everyone is invited to share the meal with equal status. The stranger is not simply tolerated, but respected and is welcome at the table.

If we follow the actions of Jesus then that we become in Dom Crossans’ terms, ‘companions in empowerment’ because as the story of Ruth illustrates it is through her steadfast loyalty that the offer of love and acceptance from Naomi is returned in even greater measure, when Ruth proclaims:
“Where you go I will go; where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people and your God my God” v16

Ruth was an outsider she was a Moabite, or in today’s terms she was one of ‘them’, but Naomi needed her for the completeness of her character as much as Ruth needed Naomi for the fulfillment of hers.

Is it possible that we need the stranger more than they need us? As Henry Nouen in his book “Reaching Out” suggests, hospitality is about offering a safe space where the stranger can enter and become a friend. Hospitality is not designed to change people, but to offer a space where a relationship can take place.

So the challenge to us as people of faith is clear; genuine hospitality is a deeply personal commitment to love the stranger. It is not some act we perform, but something that defines the people we are by the way we share our lives.

Hospitality then is a way of living life and living it more abundantly by sharing not only what we have but, who we are.

John W H Smith
December 2018

oOo

Embracing the Joy of New Discovery

Did you see the previous post? Westar Institute – a new video about its work. Westar is a lighthouse for exploration of Christianity for modern thinkers – but we can all take part in the exploration….

John Smith takes us into a reflection on the notion of looking at, and enjoying, what is new in our learning about Christianity – (as always your comments are welcome – at “Leave a reply”)

I am always fascinated by the verse in the second chapter of the gospel of Matthew where the writer is referring to the response of the wise men. He says that on seeing the star of Bethlehem they were, “Beside themselves with joy.” How often do we become so excited by a revelation or discovery that we are beside ourselves with joy? What is it that excites the blood and sends the pulse racing for us?

Finding new ways of exploring traditional Christianity has become for many an exciting and fulfilling journey. Particularly, for people who have become disenchanted with a dogmatic, fundamentalist Christianity that claims to be the only true pathway to God. Many of these explorers have left the traditional Churches, but are still searching for a spiritual meaning to their lives; these are the people Bishop Spong refers to as the ‘believers in exile.’ They are people who are seeking an answer to their spiritual thirst that is not quenched by the tradition of the earlier Christian church.

There are others who have stayed with the Christian Church, but who have made compromises between what they believe, how they worship and how they act in everyday life. Some will tell you that they are caught in the moral dilemma of mouthing the words of prayers, doctrines and creeds that their intelligence tells them cannot be right. They have become moral pretzels twisted in on themselves, so that there is no longer a beginning and an end. People caught in this web are trying to justify Christianity as the only pathway to God and boxing themselves into a corner, which cannot be defended. Some Clergy have even spoken about living in a schizophrenic state because they are being asked to perform duties that conflict with their personal integrity.

In 2005 I read a book by Jim Burklo called “Open Christianity – Home by Another Road”. Jim was a Presbyterian Minister from Sausalito in California and I met with him in October 2005 after attending a Conference in Santa Rosa. Jim’s book is about the dilemmas being experienced by many congregations in the United States. These dilemmas we have been facing for some years in Australia, dilemmas about how to be true to our faith whilst being constructively critical about our theology and our public and private worship.

Jim suggests in his book that, outdated theological concepts only tend to serve the separate identities of the various faiths and the only way forward is to accept that the Christian church’s organisational structures of the future will need to be different. He says, “… the church needs to break free from its triumphal mission of dominating the planet, putting magnificent sanctuaries in every neighborhood, enlisting lots of members and raising lots of money.” He argues for a church with greater flexibility, more of a movement without walls than an organisation with a more responsive and inclusive theology. Further, we need to accept that Jesus of Nazareth may be for us a gateway to God; but others will find other pathways.

There is no one form for the future church, no one size fits all, in fact there needs to be as many responses as there are needs. Jim particularly challenges the language of the church as in need of reform; he claims that we need to use the language of the day if we are to communicate with people outside the church. When Matthew claims that the tax collectors and the prostitutes will enter the kingdom of heaven before, and instead of the church elders, it is quite possible he is insinuating that we can learn more about God’s love and compassion from those outside the church. We can learn more from those considered to be the dregs of society, than the leaders of our faith community. Matthew also is alluding to the belief that the Jewish leaders of the day are hypocrites. Can these same accusations be leveled at us today?

Perhaps we need to ask ourselves the question, “If the church as we know it ceased to exist would God’s work continue?” What is it that the church adds to our understanding of the society that makes for a better world?

These are the questions that we must honestly face and wrestle with if we are to be followers of Jesus of Nazareth rather than Jesus the Christ. Is it possible that by looking outside the square of traditional Christianity that has in many ways restricted us; we just may find the true soul of God? How compelling to contemplate such a proposition, but also how challenging. Does the proposition of such an exploration quicken your pulse and speed your blood? Are you beside yourself with joy?

OR
Are you afraid of taking away something, which is comfortable and secure, even if it is intellectually untenable?

John W H Smith. December 2018

Note: Jim Burklo’s “Open Christianity” is an invitation to keep the faith but drop the dogma. Many Christian-heritage seekers struggle with conflicted yearning. They value much that the tradition offers. But the church door feels closed unless they accept beliefs at odds with logic and the truth of their hearts. “Open Christianity” maintains that yes, you can leave behind that which has ceased to make sense, and still be very Christian. Burklo’s discussion of complex topics such as “a theology of ‘enough’,” “soulful sexuality” and “the gospel truth” will be controversial–but enlightening. A product of the author’s work as a Stanford chaplain, a Protestant pastor, and an urban/street minister, this book encourages spiritual growth that won’t founder on efforts to believe the unbelievable. (Available from Amazon Australia).

oOo

For the New Year – a positive view from George Stuart

With another new year approaching, we have looked for something encouraging, hopeful and good in humanity to launch our thinking about the future. From George Stuart‘s yet to be published book: Starting all over again…Yes? or No?

So what for me now?
I was very pleased the other day to receive an email which commenced with,

There is nothing in nature like the daily acts of kindness that characterise humanity. We are by far and away the most altruistic of all known species.

There was no identifying sender and no attribution of the quote given. However I thought, “I’m pleased that at least someone can say something good about humanity.”

Having done a lot of ‘faithful questioning’ with this fundamental, I wish to change the emphasis and remind myself of the following injunction as being an appropriate and wholesome attitude to life, even my life.

Finally brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8.)

I find it very sad that the mantra for the mass media seems to be,

Finally publishers, whatever is false, whatever is criminal, whatever is unjust, whatever is profane, whatever is vile, whatever is corrupt, if there is any scandal, if there is anything worthy of punishment, publish these things. They sell!

My belief is that humans are basically good but, of course, capable of wrong doing in the extreme. As I have previously asserted, God Within gives us all a positive divine dimension. God Within is exposed in a million places by millions of people in millions of unreported human encounters. These loving encounters are sometimes prompted in rebellion to the behaviour of the powerful, when they behave badly, irresponsibly or corruptly.

Many of the expressions of love and compassion occur quite spontaneously, especially in response to some particular and present human need. Recently my wife had a serious fall in a public carpark. When she fell, she chipped a front tooth and hurt one of her knees badly. She was crying and calling out for help. I have never seen her so distressed. Thankfully no bones were broken. Within a few seconds, literally, there were four strangers with us, all wanting to lend assistance. They were able to help and for that, we were very thankful. This example demonstrated to me what just about always happens when someone is in trouble like that. It is ordinary and probably that is why it never gets into the TV news. It’s not sensational. Thank goodness it’s ordinary. It happens all the time. Little people keep love alive.

Why do I think that humans are basically good? It is because I believe that God is inherent in all life, within in a way that human-beings can experience, appreciate and respond to. This God dimension, I suggest is not dependent on adherence to any particular set of creeds or beliefs, not especially evident in religious people, not the prior possession of any particular human group or culture, but universally inherent. Human goodness, the God dimension of humanity is exposed, expressed and seen whenever love and compassion are lived. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that humans are spontaneously good and concerned for one another. I believe it is the millions of little people who produce this evidence. Why are there so many voluntary organisations which depend totally on the good will, support and effort of ordinary people?

In his last essay, Steve Jobs, before he died, wrote,

There is a big difference between a human being and being human.(1)

He is using the word ‘human’ in a positive sense and I think he was affirming that goodness is at the basis of humanity. I agree. He is implying that to be ‘human’ is to be good.
I am certainly not saying that humans are in no need of forgiveness and reconciliation, but I am saying that this is not the whole story, as is suggested to me by the early Genesis stories and the hymns I am constantly requested to sing in church services. In my lyrics below, I suggest there is a praiseworthy side of humanity. So much spontaneous love and concern as well as premeditated love and concern is shown by human beings to other human beings with no thought of reward or even recognition. Many may not call their behaviour actions of love and concern, but that’s what they are. Recently I heard of a neighbour breaking a window of a house which was on fire, to rescue two elderly people trapped inside. After the fire was put out and the two elderly people were safe and well, someone said to the neighbour who had risked his own life, that he was a hero. His reply was, “Well that’s a bit ridiculous. Anyone else would have done the same.” This sort of comment is made so often by ordinary people. Little people keep love alive. This is my experience in life and my beliefs need to reflect it.

From my lyrics No. 9.
Humans Do Amazing Things
Tune: Ebenezer

When surrounded with adversity
Humans do amazing things.
When struck down by grim calamity
Humans do amazing things.
Strangers risk their lives to rescue;
Danger ignored; the trapped must be freed;
People are of priceless value;
All to help each one in need.

I was speaking to one of my friends the other day and asked her about what she was doing. She said she was putting a lot of her time into helping refugees, Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar who had settled in Australia. She said she helped with English language learning classes on a weekly basis and recently had bought and made available sewing machines to some of the women who wished to learn how to make their own clothes, etc. She said this latest exercise took a lot of time and effort from her, because all sewing machines are different and she had to learn how to use them before she could teach anyone else how to use them. I was surprised because I though sewing machines were just sewing machines. Even though she sometimes got worn out with the refugees’ many and varied requests for help, she said she loved it all. “Sometimes the children call me Mother.” I do not believe she told me all this to get praise from me but she told me just in answer to my questions. She was telling me about her life and activities. However, I felt inspired. What a wonderful way to spend one’s life. Little people keep love alive. In different words and from my theological background, I wish to say, “The kingdom of God is alive and well.” Are we all ‘utterly depraved from conception’?

From my lyrics No. 10.
The Beauty Within Us
Tune: To God be the Glory

The beauty within us – the impulse to care
Is God’s image planted, of which we are heir;
For friend and for stranger when need is severe
Our heart gives attention; our help is sincere.
When we heed others’ need
And no matter how small,
When we heed others’ need
We respond to God’s call;
With God deep within us, our spirit is bold;
The Christ is then present; his love we unfold.
I believe there is an innate goodness in human-beings. God Within shines so brightly if we decide to let it.

I have to ‘faithfully reject’ what I understand to be this fundamental of the orthodox Christianity’s emphasis I have been taught, regarding the sinfulness and unworthiness of humanity. I don’t have to ‘Start all over again’ but I have to modify and reconstruct considerably, this emphasis that I have been taught in the past by the church.

  1. Steve Jobs – The world’s six best doctors

oOo