Category Archives: Opinion

Reflection: Progressing Spirit

A SEARCH FOR ULTIMATE MEANING — I present here my own edited version of an essay by Rev. Fran Pratt, Pastor of Worship and Liturgy at Peace of Christ Church in Round Rock, Texas in “Progessing Spirit”.:  

            In recent millennia our main western religious history started in east mediterranean Asia as a clan, a tribe, a community, sought a way to relate to the divine … in all the ways that complex and fallible humans do … getting some ideas right and misunderstanding others. 

            It created traditions, assumptions and rituals surrounding its understanding of higher power, some of which were timeless and others hopelessly limited. The clan grows into a tribe, then into a nation, gradually spreading its understandings across places and cultures … all the while struggling to connect with and understand the divine, and never quite realising that the divine is within them all along.

            Then a Person [ Rabbi Yeshuah of Nazareth (c.5 BCE-c. 30 CE) ] emerged from the Asian community who was able to sum up the story and speak divine truth with humanity’s own voice. In this Person the divine became immanent, wholly at hand; the best was humanised, fully embodied. 

          This Person is so compelling that his brief physical presence on the earth changed the course of history in innumerable ways. He embodied divine love and light, and believed that ordinary folks can do the same. He’s the catalyst for a whole new branch of the world’s Wisdom Tradition and inspired many other saints and sages in history to inspire much of today’s compassionate work.

            There’s a grand search for moral truth threading through the whole story, humans asking how best to be in the world and how best for humans to live wisely?       We believe we can see the divine pointing the way and remaining compassionately present when its guidance is rejected or scorned. …

            A TRIBUTE — Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt )1906-1975) called Rabbi Yeshuah of Nazareth “the only completely valid and completely convincing experience (that the western world had ever had) of goodness as the inspiring principle of all human action”.

Kevin G Smith January 2019

oOo

Why is church attendance declining – even among committed Christians?

In 2016 Patheos produced this summary of the reasons for this in USA:

  1. Social expectation and pressures have lightened. People used to live their lives according to social convention. Those who strayed from accepted norms were ostracized and shamed. Churches used this power to “guilt” people into a variety of behaviors, including weekly church attendance. Obviously this doesn’t work any more.
  2. Church is no longer the best show in town. For centuries, Sunday morning was an entertainment desert. Shops were closed. Sports commenced at noon. There was no cable TV or video games. Church was literally the only thing happening on Sunday morning – so people went. Sunday now presents lots of attractive options and everyone – including Christians – is taking advantage.
  3. Increased mobility. People travel as never before, so more and more churchgoers find themselves out of town on Sunday. Relatively few see the need to visit a nearby church.
  4. Weekend work. Blue laws used to keep businesses shuttered on Sunday. Now many people work on the Sabbath, which makes attendance difficult or impossible.
  5. People need a day of rest. For stressed-out couples Sunday may be the only pajama morning of the week. Can we blame families for wanting a little downtime with each other? After all, aren’t we supposed to take a sabbath?
  6. The rise of do-it-yourself Christianity. The Internet and various media offerings allow believers to tailor a spiritual life to their own liking. They get Christianity without the challenge of having to interact with other Christians.
  7. The expectation of choice. Modern Americans are used to getting exactly what they want. Amazon.com offers more than 200 million items. Petco sells more than 100 varieties of dog food. Christians shop for pastors they connect with. Megachurch attenders often have favorite teaching pastors – and will skip a Sunday if “the other guy” is preaching.
  8. The most faithful saints are burning out. I know a number of very committed Christians who no longer attend – or do so sporadically – because their churches worked them so hard in the past.
  9. Video streaming. In the past five years many churches have begun live-streaming their weekly worship services. It’s a heck of a lot easer to watch church on your iPad than it is to drag everyone to a building. And here’s the best part: no singing!
  10. Churches increasingly model individuality in weekly worship and teaching. We’ve trained people to pursue Christ on their own – so that’s what they’re doing.

The complete paper can be found at: Declining attendances

Is this the same story in Australia? More to come on this issue and your opinion is valued.

oOo

Poem: No insurance – Poem for Australia

Rex Hunt

These crazy flames that lick and lap at all that ranges round us,  the trappings of our wealth,
experience and existence.
At birth we can’t anticipate our existential ending,
the length of life not ours to count or measure.
But then we face eternity,
or nothingness,
depending on belief.
Like night’s thief, flames hotter than hell’s painting are not some distant image,
but sharpened fronds dissembling each dwelling.
And if we leave reality says,
‘there is no return’.
Can faith uphold us through this conflagration?
Survival walks naked of all that we have known,
valued or possessed.
That is the option open to us.
Our Hobson has no choice.
So if we die we will know what rests beyond this life.
Remaining so much is loss or lost.
Whichever path we walk pray this,
pray only this,
that now and on beyond this moment
the love a letter writer once described
will hold,
enfold
and keep us still through all that is to come.
And no insurance…just the faith…

oOo

Is the Queen progressive?

After hearing and watching this year’s Christmas message from the Queen, Tim O’Dwyer has asked that question. What do you think?

“Of course, at the heart of the Christmas story lies the birth of a child: a seemingly small and insignificant step overlooked by many in Bethlehem.

“But in time, through his teaching and by his example, Jesus Christ would show the world how small steps taken in faith and in hope can overcome long-held differences and deep-seated divisions to bring harmony and understanding.

“Many of us already try to follow in his footsteps. The path, of course, is not always smooth, and may at times this year have felt quite bumpy, but small steps can make a world of difference.

“As Christmas dawned, church congregations around the world joined in singing It Came Upon The Midnight Clear. Like many timeless carols, it speaks not just of the coming of Jesus Christ into a divided world, many years ago, but also of the relevance, even today, of the angel’s message of peace and goodwill.

“It’s a timely reminder of what positive things can be achieved when people set aside past differences and come together in the spirit of friendship and reconciliation. And, as we all look forward to the start of a new decade, it’s worth remembering that it is often the small steps, not the giant leaps, that bring about the most lasting change.”

(From the Queen’s Christmas Speech 2019)

oOo

Some timely thoughts from Kevin Smith and a question….

[About Kevin: As a free-thinking progressive-christian messianic god-seeker. Kévin Aryé Hatikvah Smith, aged 98, deaf, in a wheel-chair in Sydney, Supreme Cross of Honour in 2005 (from Benedict XVI) for 50 years of ecumenism (Christian, Jewish, Muslim) in France and Australia. His mother, Esther Myers, was culturally Jewish although non-observant and became Catholic before wedding my Catholic father in 1921. She was a splendid model of Hebrew neighbourly-love and wrote poetry about the blessed virgin Mary and Jesus. He made friends with a messianic rabbi and he invited him to be a reader in his synagogue, which he loved doing. With his wife they were foundation members of the NSW Council of Christians & Jews.

Kevin’s Jewish Cockney ancestor Emmanuel Solomon arrived in Sydney in 1818 and in about 1835  he became a patriarch founder of Adelaide. As a leading Jew he became a close friend of Saint Mary MacKillop and helped her during her excommunication… more than once supplying free accommodation on his properties to the nuns expelled from their convents by a bishop.]1. THE 9 BEATITUDES …

— There are nine beatitudes in Matthew’s Eight Beatitudes! Here is what I understand.

-1. It’s OK to be destitute (ptochoi).

-2. It’s Ok to  mourn. 

-3. It’s OK to be humble and gentle. 

-4. You must hunger for goodness and integrity. 

-5. Be merciful and generous. 

-6. Be unpretentious and sincere. 

-7. Champion peace.  

-8. Suffer fools gladly and thugs too.

9. It’s OK to be reviled or persecuted.  

and The Intercession of Yeshuah

Learning not from church christology but from bible christology I note that a main message concerning Yeshuah is that he is shown as subject, submissive, in a servant role to Yahweh-Elohim/Adonai … “Not my will but thine be done.”
-Thus NT scripture reveals that divinity has levels, at least 2, since the divine Yeshuah’s is not equal to that of Adonai.
— This is rammed home in 1 Cor 15: “After the last judgement, at the final act of salvation history, Yeshuah hands over humanity and the Church to Adonai and then … Wait for it! … he submits.
1 Cor. 24+ “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.
For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.
The last enemy to be destroyed is death for he ‘has put everything under his feet.’
Now when it says that ‘everything’ has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ.
When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all. …”
— … THE SON WILL BE MADE SUBJECT … so that GOD MAY BE ALL IN ALL
— The eternal job of Jesus Christ from then on will be to intercede, a servant role.    

The question:

                             Can anyone tell who or what Yeshuah will be interceding for?

oOo

 

A reflection on the meaning of Christmas.

IT’S HARD TO KNOW HOW TO OBJECT.
MEMO to Management (of my nursing hostel): A lady nurse is wearing a festive ‘top’ bearing the greeting “Merry Stitchmas”.
I think that it is an unfunny ugly go at demonising the commercial take-over of the annual birthday celebration of a revolutionary Jewish prophet, Rabbi Yeshuah (Jesus-Christ) of Nazareth (05 BCE-30 CE).
The Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt judged him “… the most completely valid and completely convincing experience of goodness (that our world has ever known) as the inspiring principle of all action”.
Kevin Smith room 55

oOo

A Christmas Meditation

Rev Dr Walter Stratford. [see details about his book at: Why are you here Elijah, now available as a kindle publication]

Following the discussion about the meaning of Christmas at the PCNQ gathering at New Farm last Wednesday, Wally has been inspired to write this….

The gospel account of Jesus of Nazareth was written as an assertion that Jesus was the Son of God. The claim comes from the experiences of followers of the way and was expanded into a declaration on which the church was built. The gospel according to Luke provides the story that claims Jesus’ birth as an eternal truth.

The angel said to her, ‘the Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, therefore the child to be born will be Holy; he will be called Son of God’ (Lk1:35).

At the appropriate time Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem. ‘While they were there the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her first-born son…’ (Lk.2:6-7).

These few verses from Luke’s account continue to be a focal point for the church’s declaration that Jesus is the Son of God, the birth narrative recognized as definitive of his divine relationship. This literal understanding of Jesus’ birth was linked by early theologians to a claim that the scriptures of the Jews contained words of promise that found their outcome in Jesus. His sacrificial death and the claims of his resurrection sealed the promises of redemption and became the rock on which, it may be said, the church stands or falls.

It is generally agreed that Luke was a Gentile God worshipper before converting to Christianity. The consensus is that he was writing to fellow Gentiles, some of whom may have also been God worshippers.

The Gentiles of that middle eastern area contained among their numbers the strong influence of many Greeks and Romans. Within this mix were many religious stories which included visitations of the gods with human women. Children born of such liaisons were referred to as sons of the gods. Some of these went on to become gods. Hercules is one so named. Alexander a warrior of considerable renown was named as a god. Augustus, Roman emperor, on his demise was proclaimed a god.

So, the first point is that the story of Jesus’ birth is located readily in this Gentile environment. It has more to do with myth than with demonstrable truth.

It is also important as a second point to realize that Luke’s viewpoint was ‘written’ around 80 years after Jesus’s birth. It is written from within a group of followers of the way – apparently Gentile in their origins. It seems unlikely that after 80 years the detailed description of the happenings surrounding Jesus’ birth could still be contained in memory.

Thirdly, to present the gospel theme as literally true does not take account of the mythology of the time, nor the many years of argument and discussion prior to the eventual determination of the essentials of the faith to which all were called to accede.

This sweeping background on which the church was grafted, gave rise to many practices that are questionable in this 21st century. In our time where many bemoan a steady demise of the Christmas story as more and more it is overlaid by the world, I think what is needed is a different story.

The story that I like to tell has its beginnings in Genesis. You will know the story. It begins with the wind or spirit of God blowing over the water. A lot happens until we reach the intimate moment of people’s beginnings. The action of this moment requires of each of us, an element of imagination. “Then the Lord God formed mansic from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the mansic became a living being” (Gen 2:7). Imagination will hear God say with the breath: “The life of God for the life of humankind” In my reading of these first two chapters, I am prepared to say that breath and Spirit go together. We may claim therefore that as we breathe, so also the Spirit is present. This presence is life giving.

Our different story does not begin with a baby Jesus – it begins at the beginning of everything. It says that always and constantly the Spirit is present in every life. All of this is part of the different story. This presence does not need the continual presence of a baby. The Spirit is robust, paradoxical, mysterious. It rides the wind that we breathe, and consistently enables life. The baby born again every year may thus become symbolic of new life constantly growing and developing and becoming adult.

I think that this story is essential, even in Christmas celebrations that have become a once a year event – to which all are invited, and large numbers attend. The glitter expands year by year in dazzling arrays of gifts to satisfy every desire. It seems at times that life has been put aside in favour of the satisfaction of immediacy. There is however, much in Christmas that is good, there is much that is important in its celebration. The glamour is seductive, but also deceptive.

Beneath the glamour is a mostly forgotten world of a young man who demonstrated in his life and death the vitality and possibility of life with the Spirit of God. He is seen in our day among those who fight fires, as a companion to the frail, as one who vindicates the less fortunate, as one condemning violence. This young man, Jesus is quoted as saying something akin to: “The reign of God is within you” (Lk 17:21).  

Listening to the people, we discover that Christmas is a time for family and sharing, for gathering and companionship, a time for holidaying and enjoyment. Christmas has the power to distract us from disturbing influences. Perhaps here is some merit however, in remembering that the time of Jesus birth was a disturbing time of considerable violence. Disturbing times are still with us.

Nevertheless, there is a thread of strength in the Christmas message, in which, if we have ears to hear, we will discover its potential as a catalyst for change in ordinary everyday life, a time for imagining possibility. Christmas spilling over into the New Year every year, may become every year a reminder of the connections humankind has with a mysterious, ambiguous and paradoxical Spirit.

oOo

Rethinking what we believe – a discussion on ‘Catholica’

Michael Morwood puts some rubber down on the bitumen exploring how the religious beliefs of many people in countries like ours are changing today. In his new book, “Prayers for Progressive Christians: a New Template”, which we introduce to you today he explores some of the ways in which our prayers and liturgies might have to change.

Go to: Catholica to view the great discussion that is ensuing amongst progressive Catholics.

This debate was a response to Catholica’s lead comments on The Way Ahead for Catholics

oOo

No need for a Religious Freedom Bill

Statement from the Rev Peter Catt, President of A Progressive Christian Voice Australia.

“There is no need for a Religious Freedom Bill. There are many people throughout the world who are persecuted for their faith. To align oneself with them in the current Australian climate is self-indulgent.

Freedom of religion has to do with the freedom to hold to a particular belief system, freedom to assemble for worship unhindered, and freedom to undertake religious observance and practice. It does not and should not include insulating church institutions or members from being challenged or criticised for poor behaviour.

There is a real danger that a Religious Freedom Bill will become a Freedom to be Sectarian Bill. Religion when it functions properly is about love and inclusion. No Religious Freedom Bill should ever sanction hate speech. Neither should such a Bill allow people who provide goods and services to withhold them from say, LGBTIQ+ people. To allow this would be a retrograde step, taking us back half-a-century to the days when goods and services were withheld from people based on perceived race.

I get attacked more often for my views and practices by fellow religious travellers than I do by people from outside the faith community. Will the Bill stop that from happening? Not that I think that it should. But the Bill is predicated on the idea that it is them (secular forces) and us (religious people). The reality is more complex. How will the Bill deal with religious people attacking one another?

Finally, the Government should reflect on its behaviour during the last Parliament when the greatest threat to religious freedom was the Government’s attempt to curtail religious charities from speaking out on policy matters that affected the poor and vulnerable.”

The Rev Peter Catt is available for further comment  via advocate@progressivechristians.org.au

oOo

Opinion: What really happened?

From possibly our oldest subscriber.

About Kevin: As a free-thinking progressive-christian messianic god-seeker. Kévin Aryé Hatikvah Smith, aged 98, deaf in a wheel-chair in Sydney / Supreme Cross of Honour in 2005 (from Benedict XVI) for 50 years of ecumenism (Christian, Jewish, Muslim) in France and Australia. My mother, Esther Myers, was culturally Jewish although non-observant and became Catholic before wedding my Catholic father in 1921. She was a splendid model of Hebrew neighbourly-love and wrote poetry about the blessed virgin Mary and Jesus. I made friends with a messianic rabbi and he invited me to be a reader in his synagogue, which I loved doing. With my wife we were foundation members of the NSW Council of Christians & Jews. Happy Hanukkah to you and yours  from  Kevin  in Sydney NSW.  My Jewish Cockney ancestor Emmanuel Solomon arrived in Sydney in 1818 and in about 1835  he became a patriarch founder of Adelaide. As a leading Jew he became a close friend of Saint Mary MacKillop and helped her during her excommunication… more than once supplying free accommodation on his properties to the nuns expelled from thier convents by a bishop.  


WHAT REALLY HAPPENED? … studying the Rabbi Yeshuah story … Terentius (195-159 BCE): “As a human person, I consider that nothing human is unworthy of my concern”. (Homo sum. A me nihil humanum alienum puto.) -As a human person, I, Kevin/Gauvain, have cast my limited observation powers on the material world that has nurtured me and also beyond at the physical universe that gave me birth.

-I have had it pointed out to me that the universe is part of a greater realm, the cosmos, where there is Creator-God, heaven, angels, purgatory , hell, demons, etc.

— Concluding a session of my limited observations and drawing on life-long learning I conclude in this essay, or I arrive at the opinion …

(i) that I am a citizen of a planet where all human observations, conclusions and opinions are tentative and challengeable;

(ii) that nobody has totally died and then come back to everyday life again, no resurrection;

(iii) that virgin-mary type pregnancies do not occur [Yeshuah had no male DNA.];

(iv) that all miracles are scientifically suspect;

(v) that the existence of divinity / divine-nature is theologically suspect;

(vi) that a great literary work, the Bible, is a wholly human construct and therefore has very questionable verisimilitude on account of its many discrepancies, contradictions and mistakes;

(vii) that you must not trust Christianity because of the christology that it created which was presented to followers as unchangeable ‘deposit of faith’ dogma;

(viii) that faith is often the enemy of evidential fact;

(ix) that history shows for me no evidence of what I taught as a catechist for 20 years, “God the Father is a loving, caring God”.

(x) that it has been most difficult for me to advance this thesis since it has taken me 7 or 8 decades of devoted application trying to find out WHAT REALLY HAPPENED?

(xi) that these observations are for me joyful and liberating.

— As one born saved, I spiritually embrace Rabbi Yeshuah of Nazareth as my mentor; he is Israel’s greatest prophet,, an original thinker, an inspiring preacher, gifted healer & exorcist, convincing teacher of wisdom and integrity, Jewish mystic, model of kingdom-oriented life-style and promulgator of the ancient Hebrew ethics of neighbourly love with esteem for Adonai-Elohim as our loving Father. I walk daily hand-in-hand with this most admirable spiritual companion and silently converse with him and I greet his mother too. [] Kevin Aryeh Hatikvah Smith in Sydney []

oOo