2.The underlying emphasis of humanity being sinful and unworthy, both in the Bible and as presented in the liturgies used currently and in the past church services I have attended;

This is my second major belief which I have been taught by the church.

This second fundamental which I seriously question could lead to depression if taken too personally.   I believe the dark side of humanity is tragic and so real.   Human sinfulness and unworthiness cannot be ignored because it is all too evident everywhere we look. Many good human initiatives fall well short of expectations because of greed, lust for power, unbridled hatred, the dominance of our super-ego or so many other human failings.   Fear, greed, our super-ego and lust for power prompt us to do horrendous things to our Earth home and to each other. Without wishing to absolve personal responsibility, I think these human emotions/attitudes are very often initiated and exacerbated by ignorance or peer pressure or the pressure of institutions and exclusive, elite communities to which we belong. Unfortunately I am sometimes sucked into this way of thinking and acting. When we think about it, we know we could do far better as a human race and we could also improve our own personal behaviour.

 

The Christian environment in which I have be brought up, has as part of its tradition, the Hebrew biblical pre-history stories in chapters 1-11 of Genesis. In these chapters humans are portrayed as disobedient and self-indulgent in the Garden of Eden story and then as murderous in the next story about Cain and Abel.   In this Hebrew pre-history, the beginnings of the biblical story, there is no story of human love and compassion.   There is not even a hint that humans have the ability or inclination to be concerned about one-another’s well-being. I find this a tragic omission.   It does not ring true to my experience of life.

 

Do I need to start all over again in my attitude to these Hebrew pre-history stories? I think so.   Much of their theological emphasis is too negative and gives me a lopsided view of human-beings.  Most meanings within the stories point in a direction, different to the direction I think Jesus points and that is very serious for me.   There is a positive side to the Genesis stories and I wish to retain this, however these positive comments have to do with the image of God presented and not human-beings. With the continued importance in Christian teachings given to the story of the Fall (Garden of Eden story), it is no wonder to me that Augustine, followed by Luther and Calvin, taught that humans were utterly depraved from conception.   I think this doctrine is utterly depraved! I don’t need this unbalanced Hebrew tradition to be a follower of Jesus.   I faithfully reject it.

 

Human sin and unworthiness seem to be the driving force behind God’s biblical activity. From the biblical story, much of God’s activity is motivated by his love but this loving activity seems to be made necessary because of human sin and unworthiness. Using biblical imagery, one could ask the question; “Without sin, would God have sent his Son to Earth? Could it have been pointless, unnecessary?” Jesus, I have been told, was central in God’s Plan of Salvation.

 

In church services I have attended over 80 or more years, I have never been asked to participate in a prayer which gives thanks for my virtue or good behaviour.   Do I/we exhibit none of this?   I am told to be careful lest I slip into pride. I/we are led in liturgies very Sunday to plead many times for the mercy of God for my/our wrong doing, my/our lack of love and care for others, etc., etc. I don’t really think I/we are likely to slip into pride and remain there, especially during these liturgies.

 

In traditional church thought and language, I am told indirectly that the first emotion I should have when coming into the presence of God, should be a feeling of guilt and unworthiness.   This, it seems to me, is why the prayer of confession in the traditional church service, comes immediately after the liturgies of praise and adoration.  I am in the presence of perfect holiness and have no right to be there, so I should recognise this and be contrite/penitent.   I acknowledge that these emotions are appropriate and necessary but I wish there could be some balance in church services, in how humanity is regarded; how I am led to regard myself and others.     Again, using traditional church images and language; Should not the first emotion we have when coming into God’s presence, be joy?  Sometimes I feel little inviting warmth from the God I have been taught about.

 

I would like to be reminded of any hymn, just one, in our traditional hymnbooks that refers to human beings as being good, putting effort into and sometimes successfully living lives of virtue. Not one hymn comes to mind. So many refer to human-beings as members of Adam’s fallen race, unworthy and needing God’s forgiveness and mercy.   One I remember well from my past church experience, which was sung very often, has the words in each verse,

 

Before thy throne we sinners bend….

 

with a following request for God’s mercy and grace. God was away, on his throne, separate and distant and this God was pleaded with for forgiveness and mercy, neither being deserved.

 

I am reminded repeatedly in church services that the grace of God is a saving grace.   Why is it a saving grace? Apparently because I need to be saved continuously. What do I have to be saved from? I can only surmise that I need to be saved from punishment, rejection, the wrath of God or certainly from something that is not good or positive. I need to be saved from myself, my sin and unworthiness and its consequences. Again these emotions are not inappropriate but I still ask for some balance. God’s Plan of Salvation is necessary because of my/our unworthiness/sin. All this is driven by sin and the need to deal with it. I would like the driving force in my church experience to be love. Love is certainly very present in services I attend today, but sin, and dealing with it, seems to be dominant. Do I have to return home from church services feeling badly about myself even though I am forgiven and loved by God? Can I forgive myself?   One hymn I have reasonably recently learned and means a lot to me, is, Come as you are, No. 693 in Together in Song. I sometimes become emotional when singing it.   The middle verses are,

 

No need to fear; Love sets no limits;

No need to fear; love never ends.

Don’t run away shamed and disheartened;

Rest in my love; trust me again.

 

I came to call sinners, not just the righteous;

I came to bring peace; not to condemn;

Each time you fail to live by my promise,

Why do you think I’d love you the less.

 

I find the sentiments expressed poignant and personal, powerful and persuasive. I am pleased this hymn is in the hymnbook we use and I am pleased to sing it each time it is chosen. However, it is all about my unworthiness and in spite of this, God’s constant love. This affirmation about God in it is positive and powerful. The Bad News about me is countered by the Good News about God. Is there no Good News at all about me? I believe that numerous ordinary church-goers put tremendous and continuing effort into living virtuous lives as Jesus’ disciples. Do we always fail miserably or could this effort and the success of sometimes living a virtuous life be affirmed and praised, at least occasionally? It is my experience that it hardly ever is.   I believe it should be.

 

So what now for me?

Having done a lot of clearing out again, I wish to change my emphasis and remind myself of the injunction in Philippians 4:8 as being an appropriate and wholesome attitude to 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.

     

My belief is that humans are basically good but of course capable of evil in the extreme.  As I have previously asserted, God Within gives us all a positive divine dimension.   God Within is lived out 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 these encounters of love and compassion however, also happen 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 demonstrated to me an example of 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 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 and effort of ordinary people?

 

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 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 it is there.   Recently I heard of a neighbour breaking a window of a house which was on fire, to rescue two elderly people trapped inside. This sort of thing often happens and this story is by no means an isolated occurrence. 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 this.

 

From my lyrics:- 8

Humans Do Amazing Things

 

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.   We will call her name Sue. She said she was putting a lot of her time into helping refugees; Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar who have been fortunate enough to come to Australia and settle here.   She said she helped with English language learning classes on a weekly basis and recently has bought and made available sewing machines to some of the women who wish to learn how to make their own clothes, etc.   She said it 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.   Even though she sometimes got worn out with their 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 question.   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.”

 

And again from my lyrics:- 9

The beauty within us

 

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, and if we decide to let it, it shines so brightly.

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So what now?

Having cleared out what I perceive to be the anthropomorphic, person-ised, separate and away as well as the violent image of God, I have moved away from some of the major beliefs about God which I have been taught and held for many years. For me now, God is also no longer all-powerful and in control of everything. All these categories of thinking are no longer relevant to me when speaking of God. All this is a huge move for me and there is a tremendous amount of filling in of empty spaces that needs to be done.

 

I begin by saying that my present beliefs as panentheistic.   I understand panentheism as the belief that God is in everything and everything is in God.

 

This sets a completely new path for me, from which to view reality, the cosmos, humanity and the meaning of everything, including Jesus and his cross. This supersedes any anthropomorphic image of God. It replaces what I understand to be, the misleading idea about the separation of God from humanity – God being away and distinct. It also precludes any violence in God. God being in control becomes irrelevant. This is so, so different to what I have believed previously, however, I still have connections with the Bible and some of what I experience in the current church services I attend.

 

I replace the anthropomorphic images of God with more complicated, mystical images of spirit and energy. These are somewhat abstract, and thus maybe a little more difficult to understand.   I am reminded of John 4:24 teaching that Jesus said,

 

God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.

 

Certainly not the easiest to comprehend. In this quotation, God is not a spirit, but spirit. For me, the two are different and the quote points beyond the dominant, person-ised, biblical images of God.

 

I do not find the word energy in my biblical concordance, so I’m not sure that this concept is present in the biblical way of thinking at all. Energy is not a first century concept but it is central to modern thinking, particularly with the explosion of scientific information and the current way of understanding the cosmos.

 

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

 

Referring to some of my past church teachings, I think the writer of Psalm 139:7-9 may have been at least moving slightly towards the idea of panentheism when stating a conviction about the omni-presence of God; God being everywhere.

 

Wither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or wither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there!   If I make my bed is Sheol, Thou art there!   If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there thy hand shall hold me.

 

The psalmist speaks of God as present everywhere in the world in which we live.   God is present absolutely everywhere. With this, God is being de-localised and thus de-person-ised to a small extent. The sayings Gospel of Thomas, an early written gospel not found in the Canon of Scripture – the Bible as we now have it, has in Saying 77, Jesus said,

 

‘… Split a piece of wood; I am there. Lift up a stone, and you will find me there.’

 

This saying goes a bit further and in a slightly different direction than the Psalm, but I suggest it is along much the same lines.

 

I faithfully affirm all this but wish to go a lot further. I do not believe that God is present everywhere in the world as a separate Being, as the above quotes suggests, in a side-by-side association. I believe God is in the world/universe, inherent, united to it; in it as its divine dimension.   Ephesians 4:6 points to this.

 

One God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all…

 

This is God, more than omni-present. God is omni-inherent. The first suggests a side-by-side association whereas the second points towards a unity.

 

But even more please. For me, it is not only that God is in the universe, but also that the universe is in God. So I go further with panentheism, believing that I am in God. You are in God. Everybody and everything is in God. Quoting again the book of Acts17:28,

 

In him we live and move and have our being …

 

This quotation is stated by some commentators as being a quotation from Greek poetry, probably from a stoic philosopher, but the writer of the book of Acts uses it to affirm the theological emphasis that human life and experience is in God.

 

From my lyrics:- 1

In God we live and move and be

 

In God we live and move and be,

In God we have our place;

If we accept this for ourselves

Then love shines from our face.

 

In God we live and move and be,

In God have harmony;

We praise and celebrate with joy

This mystic unity.

 

The author of John’s Gospel in 14:9-10 has Jesus saying to Phillip,

 

Have I been so long with you and yet you do not know me, Phillip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, “Show us the Father?” Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me?

 

‘I am in the Father and the Father in me’ is for me, a statement of unity, not a side-by side relationship. The Father is not with Jesus but in Jesus.

 

In the 1st Epistle of John 4:16b, the author goes even further, stating,

 

God is love; and he who abides in love abides in God and God abides in him.

 

For me, this quote is saying much the same thing about humanity, whereas the previous quote from the gospel speaks only of Jesus. I suggest that the two above quotations are by no means unique in the New Testament but are examples of an emerging theme. They address my problem of the God/Humanity separation.   Many times this in-ness is mentioned by the writers of the New Testament.

 

Luke in 17:21, when discussing matters with the Pharisees, Jesus says, The kingdom of God is within you. There are many times when the New Testament writers speak of God being in all, us being in Christ and Christ being in us; etc.

 

  • Acts 17:28, For in him we live and move and have our being.
  • Romans 12:5, So we, though many, are one body in Christ…
  • 2 Corinthians 5:17, Therefore if anyone is in Christ…
  • Galatians 2:20, I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me:…
  • Galatians 3:28, There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
  • Ephesians 3:17, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts…
  • Ephesians 4:6, One God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.
  • Colossians 1:17, He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

 

These texts invite me into a different approach when asking the question, “How can I understand my experience of God?”   I quote the above texts as examples of what I think is an emerging theme in the New Testament. It is interesting to me that the concept of God’s in-ness in us and our in-ness in God does not surface in the Old Testament, not remotely. Early in the Bible story, even to say the name of God could incur the death penalty.   This does not indicate a unity of God with humanity.

 

As always, analogies are deficient in some aspect of their use, but I go there to hopefully add a bit of meaning.   When I swim in the ocean I am totally surrounded by it, I am buoyed up by it, it is beneath me and above me. My movement is in the ocean.   The ocean is far bigger than that which is close to me. My experience of the ocean is very limited but that doesn’t mean the ocean is limited to my experience of it. Most of the ocean is distant from me but that does not mean the ocean is distant. It is totally present.   While I am in the ocean, many other things are also in the ocean; ships, other people, fish, etc., etc.   Their in-ness doesn’t alter nor lessen my in-ness and mine doesn’t diminish theirs. So I am in God but God is not limited to that experience.

 

Quoting again from Matthew Fox’s book, Original Blessing, in his chapter entitled Panentheism,

 

What is the solution to the killing of God and the losing of human soul? It is our moving from theism to panentheism. Now panentheism is not pantheism. Pantheism, which is a declared heresy because it robs God of transcendence, states that everything is God and God is everything.

  

 Fox continues,

 

Panentheism, on the other hand, is altogether orthodox and very fit for orthopraxis as well, for it slips in the little Greek word ‘en’ and thus means, ‘God is in everything and everything is in God.’   This experience of the presence of God in our depth and Dabhar (the creative energy ‘Word’ of God) in all the blessings and suffering of life is a mystical understanding of God.

 

God Beyond, God Within and God Between.

 

God, for me, is the spirit dimension, inherent in everything and everyone, including me and you and is a path of understanding which goes in the opposite direction to the away God who is separate and distinct.   To try to unpack this belief, I speak of God Beyond, God Within, and God Between. When I speak of God Beyond, God Within and God Between I am not talking about the nature, the substance or the essence of a Being I might call God.   I am trying to indicate how I experience and how I respond to the Mystery, the Divine, the Sacred, the More – God.  The experiences I include, are experiences of the world beyond me, the internal experiences of personal decision making, self-examination and self-talk as well as the experiences I have with other people. So the phrases God beyond me, God within me and God between me and others make sense to me.

 

I need to emphasise that, for me, these are not three Gods. I have little connection with the orthodox Trinity because, for me, God Beyond is not God the Father; God Within in not the Holy Spirit and God Between is not Jesus. God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I have been taught, are all persons in the orthodox Trinity whereas God Beyond, God Within and God Between are phrases by which I point to the different ways I experience God.

 

If what follows makes me an atheist or heretic, so be it.   Strictly speaking I would class myself as an a-theist, i.e. one who is not a theist. However, I believe in God; the ultimate Mystery. I am a panentheist so in one sense of that word, I suppose I am a theist.   What follows include statements of my beliefs, as clear as I can make them, but which may not be easily understood.   My beliefs are all so filled with Mystery that I am not sure I understand them myself!

 

I don’t think I am very different from some other ordinary church-goers when I say that my beliefs begin and end in Mystery, with a capital M.   Mystery is everywhere; in the minute micro universe to the gigantic limitless universe, in my very complex personal life and life beyond me.   What wonders have we yet to discover about the atom and molecules on which all our physical universe is partly built?   What secrets are hidden in the millions of out there galaxies which may never be understood? How can I understand myself and my behaviour? What is time? What prompts me to forgive? Why do I relish eating a banana every morning but my eldest daughter hates them? Why is there gravity? Why am I here?   Who or what is God?   Mystery everywhere. I am bewildered.   Is there no certainty to which I can cling?

 

I have to try to respond to this all-pervading Mystery as best I can with beliefs that help me to make some sense of it all and help me to live life abundantly.

 

From my lyrics:- 2

God is mystery

 

God in all galaxies beyond,

Yet in our hearts and we respond;

God of mystery shares our history;

God in the gentle breeze that blows;

In every creature as it grows;

God gives glory to our story;

God of mystery shares our history;

Alleluia.

 

In God we live and move and be;

In God we find our destiny;

God of mystery shares our history;

God is the love that fills our soul:

God is the love that makes us whole;

God gives glory to our story;

God of mystery shares our history;

Alleluia.

 

So I try to limit my comments to my personal experience of life. Where and how does God fit into my life, or as importantly with my present beliefs, Where and how do I fit into God?

 

If I build my beliefs on my experience of life, I realise my experiences are extremely limited. It is our brain and mind that interprets all of our experiences and it does so in the context of our personal history, our prejudices, our environment, our reading and thinking, our knowledge and intellect, our world view as well as our specific predispositions at the time of our experience.   All this is subjective but that is the only way I think we can approach this subject.   To speak of a revelation or some objective knowledge we may think we have been given, is still to understand this in the way our brain and mind filters, appraises and interprets it.   It can be no other way.

 

If I take living and moving and having my being in God very seriously, then I am never separate from God. If I take God being over all and through all and in all very seriously, then God is never separate from me.    All my human experience is in God and God is in it all. I am never separate from God and God is never separate from me.

 

When standing in awe of nature and looking at the stars of the universe, I experience God’s awesomeness. When receiving forgiveness and love from others, I experience God’s loving. When feeling I need to visit someone, in knowing that I need to apologise, in setting the priorities of my life, I experience God in the challenging. When visiting people in nursing homes I am confronted with the God’s vulnerability. In my fearful reactions to the stormy fury of nature and the speed of comets and meteorites, I experience God in nature’s power. In my peaceful reactions to the growth of trees and the twinkling of the sun on the surface of rippling water, I experience God’s quietness. In passively accepting the never ceasing movement of unnumbered electrons around an immeasurable number of nuclei of atoms, I am present to God’s energy. When I am with people who are sick or dying, I am confronted with God’s pain.   When trying to lift heavy weights, when walking slowly up a steep hill and when trying to swim against the tide, I am present to God’s force in the universe. In the evil deeds humans do to each other, I become aware of God’s sadness. When I act in a hurtful, irresponsible way, my experience is that I am the cause of God’s sadness; sadness not anger. In contemplation of the magic of my computer, I experience God’s minuteness and intricacy. When looking at a sunset, I am bewildered by God’s beauty.   When enjoying other people’s company I experience the joy of God’s company.

 

Most of this is very anthropomorphic talk but I am not speaking of God as a human or super-human but I am trying to express how I accept the experiences I have in life, as experiences of God. My experiences are anthropomorphic. They must be because I am human.

 

For me, God is known, identified in all these experiences and more, and they are all my experiences. These experiences and the recognition of them are my involvement in the Mystery, so when I have these and all other experiences I am experiencing God. This announces panentheism for me.

 

Because of the immense amount of baggage that comes with the word God, I am somewhat reluctant to use it at all, however with the prepositions Beyond, Within and Between following it, I think it is nearly permissible.

 

God beyond.

 

To unpack my beliefs in more detail, I begin with God Beyond. For me, God is in all. God Beyond is in all that exists. God Beyond is the divine dimension of all that is, including all that which is beyond me.   God Beyond is that which is not restricted to me but not distant from me.   Most of the universe is distant from me and in so far as that is the case, God Beyond is beyond, but in all of it.

 

So the phrase God Beyond is appropriate for me because nearly everything is beyond me. Other people, trees, ants, rocks, moon, stars, galaxies and most atoms, molecules, microbes and bacteria are outside, beyond me. Life is not limited to my life. There is much more.   Existence is not limited to my existence. There is much, much more.   Together with all that is, I too have God in my life, my moving and my being, but that does not limit God.   There is much more. God Beyond is my experience of God in everything that is beyond me.

 

My experience of God Beyond includes my observations of and encounters with all that which is beyond me. God being in all, is the divine dimension of all I observe and encounter in that which is beyond me. Whenever and whatever I observe, I am observing God Beyond. Whenever and whatever I encounter, I am encountering God Beyond.

 

God Beyond is my experience of the all-pervading creative energy sustaining all that is, whether there be only one or multiple universes. God Beyond is not limited to me, others and everything else that exists.   I, others, and everything else have limitations but, for me, God Beyond has none. God is the divine inherent dimension of all that is and more. I experience God Beyond as that life force, that inherent everlasting life-spirit-force of everything that happens, has happened and will happen. In my observations I experience God Beyond as life/energy force beyond me and it is evident everywhere in nature on Earth here and the cosmos out there. When I walk around my suburb I see numerous examples of it. One of the very small but common ones is weeds and grass pushing up into light and air from beneath concrete footpaths. They are probably looking for cracks through which they can emerge.   That’s just what they do!   My experience of God Beyond, is that this life force/energy is inherent. Bees swarming, rocks enduring, stars exploding, atoms in continuous internal energetic motion, animals, bugs and insects surviving and multiplying, clouds coming and going, the universe expanding at an ever increasing rate, all happening, all enduring, all living, all evolving, all moving, all in God and God is in it all.   Not necessarily good or bad.   Moral categories are irrelevant for a great deal of what I experience in God Beyond.     It’s just how things are! Everything has evolved the way it has. It is all in God and God is in all; God Beyond.

 

As I have intimated, much of what I experience in God Beyond has nothing to do with morality.   It is rather senseless for me to say, “The Moon loves the Earth.”   That is a nonsensical statement. Love has nothing to do with it. The moon and the Earth are what they are and that’s it. They have evolved that way. Apparently they are both essential for each other’s existence and continued survival. They have a gravitational relationship, not a love relationship.   It is like saying, “Orange likes going quickly.”   That also is an absurd sentence.   It is combining separate and different categories of thinking/speaking.   Orange has nothing to do with likes or dislikes.   It also doesn’t move.   We just don’t talk that way.   So it is, for me, with a lot of God Beyond.   Much of what is beyond me, just is, and has nothing to do with morality, what is good or bad, loving or not.   Morality, for me, has to do with God Within and God Between.   Morality comes into play when humanity is involved. More of that a little later.

 

Numerous processes needed to have happened in sequence and now be in place, for human life to come into existence.   It took thousands of millions of years for little me to emerge from the combination of atoms and molecules all of which are thousands of millions of years old and products of the Big Bang and/or exploding stars. They form me. What an evolutionary marvel! If all these thousands of processes did not happen in the sequence they did and how they did, I would not be here!   For me, this is a benevolent Mystery par excellence! Not that it all happened because I was the end result being sought or the purpose for it all happening. I think that might be a bit arrogant.   Rather it is that I happen to be part of the end result, maybe the inevitable result of evolutionary processes.

 

I experience God Beyond is that Mystery which keeps everything together. I experience being connected to everything, to everything which is other than me, beyond me. Amongst other things, evolution teaches me that.   When referring to His dear Son, the writer of Colossians in 1:17 states,

 

And he exists before all things, and all things are held together in him.

 

Giving this verse a free and expansive interpretation, God Beyond is my experience of this; connecting and holding together. Everything in the universe is interdependent.   Everything is connected and holds together because God is in all and all is in God; God Beyond.   I am and you are in the thick of it all and my understanding of evolution points to all this connectedness and interdependence.

 

Why do I feel guilty when there is so much inequality in the world?   Why do I feel happy, even tearful, when I hear of someone, a complete stranger, being revived and has come back to life after an accident? Because I am connected to all.   Why do I shrink from pictures on the TV of millions of refugees trying to survive, none of whom I know? Why am I delighted when I see dogs happily playing together? Because I am connected to all.   Why do I feel angry when I know some rich companies rip the system off by paying no tax?   Why do I sit in awe of a sunset? Why do I get motivated when I know I can do something to make the world a better place? Because I am connected; because I am part of the whole; because I am in the thick of it all!   God is in me and God is in all, holding everything together, me included.

 

The other day I had read to me a newspaper story of how some people smugglers, in order to escape being prosecuted, pushed people, even babies, off their boat into the Mediterranean Sea, to drown.   As the story continued the person reading to me was in tears. Why? Because she was connected. We all are in God Beyond.

My wife and I enjoy watching Australian Rules football on TV.   We are both somewhat addicted!   When the team we support wins a match we happily say, “We won!”   Strictly speaking we probably had nothing to do with it.   But we say “We”. Why?   Because we are connected.

 

For me, it can be no other way.   Being human is being connected in God; God Beyond.

 

These may be regarded as trivial examples and maybe they are but I think they point to something far deeper; that we really are connected to all the universe. I am in the universe and the universe is in me.   Psychological explanations can and are given for the feelings we have and I don’t wish to ignore these but I am still comfortable with bringing God Beyond into the picture. I/We can escape and not care about that which is beyond me/us, but I believe that is to deny my/our human-ness.   My belief is that God Beyond is the Mystery in which all things hold together. God Beyond is in all and I am there, experiencing it.   I encounter God Beyond as Source of the glue, the energy that keeps neutrons, electrons, positrons, protons, etc. together in the atom; is Source of the glue that keeps atoms together in molecules, molecules in compounds, compounds in materials, materials in structures in planetary, solar and galaxy systems, etc., etc. All together. This is my experience of the world, the universe; God Beyond.

 

For me, God Beyond can never be thought of as a person.   That is far too limiting, far too parochial, far too anthropomorphic.

 

A major statement of my belief now is, “My experience of God Beyond is of a totally limitless inherent Mystery in all”.

 

From my lyrics:- 3

God Beyond

 

Time and space are both a mystery;

God is beyond.

Limitless yet with a history;

God is beyond.

When we think of human millions,

Study galaxies in billions,

When we ponder stars in trillions,

God is beyond.

 

In nonillions*, yet are living;

God is beyond;

Tiny cells are unforgiving;

God is beyond;

Genes bequeath to us our hist’ry,

Germs attack and give no mercy,

Microscopic – all is mystery;

God is beyond.

 

*A nonillion is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.

There are at least 5 nonillion bacteria on the earth’s crust!

 

 

God Within

 

I have the human experience of God Within, the experience of God within me.   This is where I experience that God is love, all-encompassing and all-challenging, costly, surrounding love.

 

As soon as I think of God Within I am into the realms of ethics, behaviour and human relationships. God Within is an expression of my personal relationship, involvement, participation in God Beyond.   If I live and move and have my being in God and God lives and moves and has being in me, this announces God Within. There is a divine dimension to all humanity, my and your humanity included. This is universal and not the possession of just a few.

 

In a way, God Within is a paradox to what has gone before, about God Beyond, yet for me, it is not inconsistent with it. This paradox, even maybe a contradiction exists, in that while I have no control whatsoever over God Beyond, I certainly do have some control over God Within or at least my response to God Within.   I have little control/influence over my immediate environment, less over the environment further away from me and minuscule, if any control over the larger environment. I liken this to the life of a house fly and the control/influence it has on the whole Earth. Not a great deal, I suspect!   The same can be said of my life and the control/influence I have beyond my immediate environment even though I am connected to all of it.   Such is my lack of control/influence regarding my experience of God Beyond.

 

However, because of my ability to participate in decision making and thus have some control over my behaviour, I do have at least some control over my response to God Within. My experience of God Within does not obliterate my free will. I can, through my behaviour return to the universe the benevolence the universe has shown me or I can refuse to do so. In other words, if I decide to, I can do or not do unto others what is good and appropriate.   I can nurture life just as my life has been nurtured or refuse to do so.   I can, as part of an interdependent system, contribute or refuse to contribute. I can act responsibly with regard to all else or I can manipulate, abuse and destroy because it suits me or amuses me.   I can regard all else as being there for me without any thought that I also have a responsibility to be there for all else.

 

Even though God Within is within (supported by the comment in John’s Gospel: All that came to be was alive with his life. John 1:3.), God Beyond intrudes in my life as God Within. I don’t mean that the intrusion is from outside. I mean intrusion in terms of making a presence, which is already present, felt. Because I can involve myself in decision making, I can co-operate with this intrusion/influence or work against it. I can uncover it, let it be exposed or I can keep it suppressed, hidden and even inoperative.   This is my experience.

 

God Within is expressed in different ways in my living experiences.

 

When I pray, I am involved and God Within is my experience of God in me praying.

When I am thankful, I am involved and God Within is my experience of God in me being thankful.

When I love others, I am involved and God Within is my experience of God in me loving.

When I ask, seek, knock, I am involved and God Within is my experience of God in me doing these things.

When I do bad things, hurting others, I take responsibility for these and God Within is my experience of God in me being sad and wanting me to change, wanting me to listen to God Within and take heed.

 

With some faithful reappraisal, the Jesus Christ phenomenon gives me a picture of continuous human cooperation with God Within.   Jesus is the story of what God Within is all about, what God Within looks like when continuously exposed, uncovered from within humanity, by human decision.

 

From my lyrics:- 4

My God is in Jesus

 

My God is in Jesus; the gospel is telling

The story of one who was servant of all;

Whose love and compassion, so rich and so compelling,

Restores the broken-hearted, supports those who fall.

 

My God is in Jesus, who shares all our living;

From inside our being we know he is kind.

Compassion displayed in the power of his giving;

My God is in Jesus. Real love is defined.

 

God Within has free reign in Jesus. This is why Jesus is still so central to my beliefs.   When I think of God Within I immediately think of what Jesus said and did, of how he lived, loved and died; how he continues to live.

 

I think this might be what some of the passages in John’s gospel are about. In John 14:11a, the gospel writer relates Jesus having a conversation with his disciples. As I have said previously, the writer has Jesus saying,

 

Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father in me….

 

This, I think, is the gospel writer saying for Jesus what I am trying to say for me and all humanity. The Father is in us or God is in us; God Within.

 

Jesus is the historical person around whom many faith statements have been uttered and thankfully many have been preserved in the four biblical gospels; there for all of us to read.   Some of these memories were embellished and some were eventually set in concrete, in church dogma and doctrine. This complex of the historical person together with the faith statements about him has evolved into what many ordinary church-goers understand as Jesus Christ.   The Jesus of History and the Christ of Faith are so entwined now that it is nearly impossible to separate the two. As Greg Jenks, in his book Jesus Then and Jesus Now says,

 

No critical research will ever succeed in capturing the historical Jesus…

 

That no longer concerns me. Together they form the complex that calls me to follow.   I try to. I have more to say about this in a later section about Jesus.

 

When the gospel writer in John 14:9b has Jesus saying,

 

He who has seen me has seen the Father.

 

I believe he is saying that Jesus’ life is to be seen as the picture of a continuous and total co-operation with God Within. Jesus totally exposes, uncovers God Within, so we are able to see the Father when looking at him.

 

This belief about Jesus makes him very available.   As the Second Person of the Trinity, who is seated at God’s right hand making intercession for humanity, even metaphorically, is quite unhelpful to me now. It emphasizes separation, the away-ness of God. This is why I dislike the lyrics of traditional Christmas carols so much. They speak of this separated God making a fleeting visit to Earth from who knows where, in the human form of Jesus. I wish to speak of the welling up from within humanity of God Within.   In Melbourne, Australia, at one of the meetings at which I led a discussion on my hymn lyrics, someone said that it was sad that I could not enjoy the poetry and imagery of the meeting of the realms, a coming together of God and humanity, which they said is championed by the Christmas carols. I replied that I couldn’t enjoy the traditional lyrics because, for me, most of them tell of a fundamentally non-existent movement. The movement for me is not a meeting but an exposure: not a coming together but a coming out.

 

God Within is lived out in a million places by millions of people in millions of unreported human encounters.   These encounters are sometimes prompted in rebellion to, or in compensation for the behaviour of the powerful, when they behave badly, irresponsibly or corruptly. Many of these encounters of love and compassion however, also happen 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 demonstrated to me an example of 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.   It’s ordinary. Thank goodness it’s ordinary. It happens all the time. Little people keep love alive. The strangers were uncovering God Within.

 

Why do I think that humans are basically good? It is because I believe that God Within is inherent in all life, within in a way that human-beings can experience, appreciate and respond to. God Within, I suggest is not dependent on 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. God Within 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.   Little people keep love alive. God within is everywhere uncovered and operative/influential.

 

Obviously the potential for both good and bad is present in all of us.   The extent to which we allow God Within to have influence, our potential for good is enhanced. Greed, fear and lust for power, I believe are significant aspects of human life which can corrupt us and so we keep God Within covered up and inoperative.

 

For me, there is another aspect of God Within that has little to do with ethics or behaviour but has to do with connectedness, as I have mentioned. God Within is the personal, individual aspect of God Beyond. I experience God Within as the Source of the glue that keeps me together. God Beyond is God Within keeping me connected within and connected to all else.   Scientists may call this glue gravity, magnetism, forces of attraction, etc.   For me, it is God Beyond, active and inherent in everything and as regards me, this is God Within.   In this connectedness, I experience God Within.

 

A major statement of my belief now is, “My experience of God Within is of a totally personally present and continuously inherent Mystery in me.”

 

Gretta Vosper in her book With or Without God says, (page 230) :-

 

Sit for just a moment.  When you think about it, you may find that you haven’t been thinking about god theistically – as a distinct, other being separate and definable – for a while.  You may think of god as a remote being for some of the time, but you also may have often thought of god as a feeling that makes you want to be the best person you can be. 

You get that feeling when you plunk a quarter into a stranger’s parking meter. You get that feeling when you talk to your kids about trying to make this world a better place, and they tell you some pretty good ideas they’ve come up with, all on their own. You get that feeling when you stop and talk to that other person who has been sitting all alone the whole time you have been visiting your mum in rehab.  All he does is smile at you and nod but that feeling is almost tangible.  You get that feeling when you pick up the package you were expecting, and in it you find that perfect gift you ordered for your child, your lover or yourself.  I invite you to think of that feeling as god.

 

From my lyrics:- 5                         

Love and…..                      

 

When we strive to be much better

Do not think that it is odd

To believe this urgent feeling

And its forcefulness is God.

Love ….. ….. ….. and challenge

Can be life reforming;

Love ….. ….. ….. and challenge

Are so life transforming.

 

When we share a tragic moment

Do not think that it is odd

To believe this tender feeling

And its sentiment is God.

Love ….. ….. ….. and kindness

Are, in life, enfolding;

Love ….. ….. ….. and kindness

Are, for us, upholding.

 

God Between

 

I have the human experience of God Between, the experience of God Between me and others.

 

God Between is very much a spirit concept for me.   I go straight to such concepts as the spirit of Christmas; abstract but very real, understood and experienced.

 

We speak quite easily about the spirit of Christmas or the spirit of generosity, etc.   I believe we can think in this way about the spirit of God.   What can be more holy than the spirit of reconciliation, the spirit of generosity, the spirit of forgiveness, the spirit of inclusiveness?

 

God Between also has something to do with the statement, A group is more than the sum of the individuals who comprise it. Something more is present than just the sum of all the individuals.

 

When God Within is uncovered, expressed by one person and interacts with another person, then a relationship of love, concern, compassion is created.   Love is given and received.   There is more at play than just the existence of the two separate individuals. There is a connection, an interplay, a movement back and forth. There is an action, a reaction, a re-reaction, a re-re-reaction and so on.   Something is going on between these two people.   When this occurs, it is what I mean by God Between.   God is inherent, is in this movement back and forth, and this movement is in God.   So in the wider community, when justice is done, when reconciliation is achieved, when good laws are passed, when diplomacy triumphs over hostility, when the hungry are fed, when the handicapped are noticed, when corruption is replaced with honesty, etc., I believe God Between is evident and experienced. When joy is shared, when affirmation is voiced and heard, when forgiveness is given and accepted, when encouragement is volunteered and received, when a smile is seen and returned, when lovers are both fulfilled, then something significant happens between people.   When this happens between people, it is for me an expression of God Between.

 

Whenever I visit anyone who is sick and in hospital, I just about always become extremely frustrated at not being able to find a convenient parking spot. So many cars! However, on some patient reflection I realise this situation is brought about by so many people who must be visiting sick friends or relatives.   This is evidence of God Within uncovered by those who are doing the visiting and I hope that both patients and visitors are experiencing God Between as the visit continues, when a love is given and received.

 

In some ways the relationship between God Within and God Between is for me, akin to the traditional relationship between the Second and Third persons of the orthodox Trinity.   John’s Gospel tells us that the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of this Trinity, would bring to mind all that Jesus, the Second Person of this Trinity, said. See John 14:26.   In somewhat like manner, God Between is that which is experienced when God Within is remembered and expressed between people and this, for me, is what Jesus points to.

 

A major statement of my belief now is, “My experience of God Between is of a totally and continuously involved inherent Mystery between people.”

 

Jesus, as I have said, is the prime example of God Within being uncovered, exposed and lived out.   God Between, on the other hand, has to do with God being inherent in what happens between humans as they relate to each other in a loving way.

 

From my lyrics:- 6

God Between

 

In community with others

God is between.

Prizing them like sisters, brothers,

God is between.

God involved in human action,

Spark of life in each reaction,

Core of every interaction

God is between.

 

When we learn to live together

God is between;

Harmonizing with each other,

God is between.

When corruption is deemed loathsome,

When our diff’rences are welcome,

When community is wholesome

God is between.

 

My beliefs in or about God have to do with a God-dynamic. By that I mean God Beyond, God Within and God Between is my experience of continuous movement in my life. God Beyond, inherent in all being, gluing together, encompassing; God Within, inherent in me prompting, influencing, guiding, sustaining; God Between, inherent in relationships, initiating, responding, connecting.   All are dynamic, on the move.   This is the way I experience God.   Experience is always on the move.   My experience of God is always on the move.

 

This is very anthropomorphic talk and maybe all of what has gone before also is. As such, it demonstrates the inadequacy of language and maybe my inadequacy in using it. I suppose this could suggest that I am excusing my anthropomorphic talk but still criticising the anthropomorphic image of God presented in the Bible.

 

I defend what I am saying because I submit that I am talking about my experiences of God and they must be anthropomorphic because I am human.   I am not trying to define God; God’s nature or essence. Like Dr Val Webb’s book title Catching water in a net or like trying to be noisy by clapping with one hand, whenever we talk of God, we may be talking nonsense.   But we continue to talk.

 

With beliefs that I now have, God is so much in everything, every time and every place that intervention is something that just doesn’t fit in the picture. Intervention presupposes separateness, as in the Genesis stories and in, what is for me, the strong emphasis of the whole biblical story. Involvement and inherent are words that make more sense to me. God is totally involved and inherent so to talk of intervention makes no sense to me at all.

 

If all this makes me to be not a Christian, so be it.   It certainly does not put me outside the group who would call themselves the followers of Jesus. Not for me anyway! Not that it worries me much what other people or I call myself. The quality of my life is what is important. Gretta Vosper’s book With or without God has a subtitle that encapsulates it beautifully;

 

the way we live is more important than what we believe.

 

These beliefs engender in me a reverence for all life, a wonderment at the cosmos, a positive attitude to my fellow humans, a challenge to love and live life the way it was meant to be loved and lived (like Jesus) and importantly, it compels a faithful replacement of the away, distinct, separate, outside God, with the ever present, surrounding, inherent, indwelling and involved God.

 

This means I have made a faithful rejection of many of my previous belief emphases and a joyful acceptance of new belief emphases. I wish in no way to suggest that, in order to have a reverence for all life, a wonderment at the cosmos, a positive attitude to one’s fellow humans and a challenge to love and live life the way it was meant to be loved and lived, one needs to have the same beliefs about God. All I am saying is, “This works for me at present.”

 

So my present Trinitarian faith statement goes something like this:-

 

I experience God Beyond as a totally limitless inherent Mystery in all.

I experience God Within as a totally personally present and continuously inherent Mystery in me.

I experience God Between as a totally and continuously involved inherent Mystery between people.

 

If these comments/ideas/beliefs are more acceptable to you when you omit the word God, that’s fine. I would still want to hold onto the three ideas of Mystery as being what I experience and what I think permeates all our existence. We might substitute the words goodness, love or creativity for God.   You may wish to substitute other words.

 

From my lyrics:- 7

God Beyond, Between, Within

 

God is beyond, within, between – not absent;

Not far away, not on some lofty throne;

God is beyond, within, between so constant;

No gulf to bridge to some angelic zone.

This is Good News; we know that we belong;

For God is love; for God is love.

This is Good News, the everlasting song;

For God is love. Yes! God is love.

 

In this part of my journey, in “Rekindling Christianity by Journeying with Jesus”, I think I have had to “start all over again”. Sad in a way, but for me, necessary.

 

The away, anthropomorphic theistic Creator/God has been replaced with an awesome inherent presence, a divine dimension to and in everything; God Beyond. The godly spirit within every person, that which prompts love and compassion in humanity, is the God dimension of every human being; God Within.    Jesus is the total expression of the uncovering of God Within.   The godly spirit being active in human relationships gives my relationships with others an added sacredness because God is inherent in all of them; God Between. And love is my experience of this fabulous Mystery.   I now have a set of beliefs that I can joyfully embrace, that make sense to me and challenge me to live abundantly.

 

The last two aspects of the clearing out, faithful rejection of what I have been taught about God have to do with God being violent and in total control. For me, the former is immoral, abhorrent, and the second is illogical and lacking common sense.

 

As I have said, the violent image of God is absent from my present experience of church but unfortunately not for all ordinary church-goers.   In church services I attend each Sunday, I am always pronounced Forgiven after the prayer of confession. This is stated as the Good News from God who loves me and others.   The hymn I quoted earlier, Come as you are, as well as many other hymns I sing in church services also proclaim this love.   The lines already quoted,

 

Each time you fail to live by my promise,

Why do you think I’d love you the less.

 

affirm this beautifully.

 

The Church services I attend do not contain any teachings of punishment from God, and there is no hint that God is violent.   Bible passages read, seldom, if ever, make reference to the violence of this God. Even though most of the hymns I am requested to sing reflect on my unworthiness, they never continue with God’s harsh judgement and punishment. God is love, is the controlling, significant part of my past church Christian education. It is constantly reiterated and emphasised. This, for me, more than counter-balances what much of the Bible teaches.   I can quite confidently say, “God is love and Love is God.”

 

The last rejection I make concerns God being in control of everything at all times. This raises theological contradictions and unsolvable moral dilemmas for me. The process of Cause and effect, makes a lot of sense to me and is consistent with my experience of life, but to talk of God’s control tries to make the incredibly complexity of life into something simple.   I believe this cannot be done.   But what then, for me, are the causes of things happening?

 

At least 3 things come into play for me. There may be others for you. My 3 are chance – good or bad fortune, the amoral forces of evolution and the cosmos and the actions of human beings.   Synergy, – the effect, greater than the sum of the parts that comes from the combined operation of a number of forces, persons or mechanisms – is just about always present.

 

Apparently one of the reasons why the Book of Ecclesiastes was nearly left out of the Old Testament was because of its perceived negative view of life.   Another reason may have been that the book gives voice to the possibility of chance having influence.   Ecclesiastes 9:11 states,

 

Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favour to the men of skill; but time and chance happen to them all.

   

My Bible concordance records the word chance only 5 times in the whole Bible. 3 are inconsequential like in the story of the Good Samaritan.   In Luke 10:31 it states, Now by chance a priest was going down by that road…. A 4th speaks of the Ark of the Covenant going in a certain direction but that reference is somewhat nonsensical for me.

 

The inclusion of chance in biblical themes/emphases is not welcome. It calls into question the concept of God being in control of everything at all times. In my experience, chance is also not welcome in much theological discussion in the church today. It undermines the almighty power of God.

 

For me, chance, luck, good or bad fortune are sensible components of how to think about life. Chance/luck is operative. Lotteries is an obvious example that comes to mind. There are millions of others. Sometimes on the TV news, we hear of accidents involving a miraculous escape from injury.   Usually luck plays a part. So often we hear of a person’s house being burnt in a bushfire or utterly destroyed by a cyclone or tornado and the house next door was left undamaged. Nine times out of ten, I believe this is a matter of good or bad fortune. One could go on. Random events occur. For me, this is abundantly obvious. To attribute a miraculous escape or a devastating tragedy in an event, to God, is not only absurd for me, it is also postulating an immoral God.

 

Sometimes we can create our own luck to some extent. Not smoking might affect our chances of getting cancer.   By driving within the law, not being under the influence of drugs or alcohol when driving, may affect the possibility of having a car accident. Good diet may affect our health.   Our behaviour may affect our luck sometimes.

 

Secondly, the amoral forces of evolution and the cosmos are obviously operative.   I do not believe I earned the good and/or bad genes I inherited from my parents. I had nothing to do with it. They are the result of an amoral evolutionary process. It just happened. The happenings in nature caused by gravitational forces, shifts of the Earth’s tectonic plates, changing seasons, etc, are obvious parts of our human experience and the result of cosmic amoral processes.   Forces of evolution and of the cosmos are in place and for me, that’s just it. We are learning more about the synergetic effects of human behaviour on climate and vice-versa but we still have a long way to go. Evolution in the universe occurs without influence from us.

 

The third cause of things happening mentioned, is the most important for me.   I believe that human beings cause many things to happen or prevent them happening, both good and bad. I am speaking of things that happen to us on our planet home. When we talk of, making the world a better place, I believe we can actually do this.   Wars are human initiatives and undertaken by humans. Peace comes about because humans make it happen.   Killings and loving deeds of compassion are done by humans.   With investigations of mishaps we often hear the phrase, human error.   Sometimes a malfunction or misuse of a machine could play a part in what happens.

 

There are probably many other causes which affect the way reality works but I believe those mentioned above are operative. Synergy occurs continuously. Different causes, when working together or against each other, make things happen. Sometimes luck and the forces of nature can bring about happy or tragic results for human beings.   Much human activity is spent trying to unearth what causes things to happen.

 

This, to me, is common sense. I have skimmed over this issue very superficially. It is incredibly complex. Yes; but I think reality is just the way things are. Humans can sometimes make a difference but sometimes we can’t.

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A fourth issue about God.

An almighty God always in control of everything.

 

The God of the biblical witness, and as presented in current church liturgies, is almighty. This God either initiates all that happens, or at least allows all that happens, to happen. This is what I have been taught. Again, Genesis is very definite in announcing the God created all things and this is reinforced by John 1:3,

 

All things were made through him and without him was not anything made that was made.

 

Early in the biblical stories, it is God who wins wars to reward Israel’s faithfulness or this God punishes Israel with military defeat if it has been unfaithful.   This God is determinative in personal relationships even to the extent of preventing or activating pregnancies, see the story in Genesis 20.   This particular power of God is most notably present in the Virgin Mary story.   This is all present insurmountable difficulties for me.

 

This concept of God, I believe, is the real problem for the book of Job.   The real problem is not the question of the cause of Job’s ill fortune and suffering but the unquestioning belief that God causes everything.   For me, this concept of God leads to unsolvable theological contradictions.

 

If ordinary church-goers think very much about these issues, I believe their situation would be the same as mine. And I do not think putting these biblical concepts in their historical context erases the problem.   It will help us understand why the authors of the material wrote such things but that does not make what they wrote right or even helpful.   It is all still there and we are encouraged to read and study it all.   After all, it is in our sacred book.

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My Detailed Questioning

I am somewhat conflicted as to how to begin this venture. On the one hand I feel I need to affirm what I now believe and present it as a positive basis for my serious reappraisal of what I have been taught in my the past by the church and have accepted without question for many years. On the other hand I feel the force of Jack Spong’s injunction, in his autobiographical book, Here I stand, where he states on the last page of An Author’s note,

 

Before one can hear what Christianity is one must create room for that hearing by clearing out the misconceptions of what Christianity is not.

 

I have opted to follow Spong’s advice so this first section highlights the faithful questioning aspects of my endeavour.   Difficult for me but necessary if I am to be thorough and honest with you and myself.   So I begin by clearing out what are misconceptions, as I see them to be.

 

My questioning and clearing out, centres on eight different fundamentals of orthodox Christianity as I understand them.   They are:-

 

  1. The biblical presentation of God, similar in many ways to that which is presented in current church services I attend;
  2. The underlying emphasis of humanity being sinful and unworthy, both in the Bible and as presented in the liturgies used currently and in the past church services I have attended;
  3. The presumed impassable gulf between God and humanity caused by human sin;
  4. The Hebrew sacrificial system which is said to facilitate reconciliation between God and humans, and which helps found the basis on the church’s present Fall/Redemption theology;
  5. The reverence and authority given to the Bible, the Christian sacred book;
  6. The dualisms and supernatural dimension which underpin many of the biblical stories, much church dogma;
  7. The unbalanced emphasis on the church’s teaching about Jesus compared with the teachings of Jesus;
  8. The gender bias promoting male domination.

 

Questioning all these together forces me into a situation of questioning and clearing out what I perceive to be the major thrust of the present orthodox Christian message.  So maybe in many areas of my belief, I do have to start all over again.

 

Some of these fundamentals give rise to others and all of them fit together very neatly for ordinary church-goers, to present a unified framework for understanding the basic message of the Bible, the meaning and purpose of the life and cross of Jesus, the way we can view reality and the way we can find meaning for our discipleship of Jesus. Maybe most of these fundamentals still work for many ordinary church-goers but they work no longer for me.

 

 

  • The biblical presentation of God, similar in many ways to that which is presented in current church services I attend.

 

 

When I am speaking of theism in this endeavour, I am not referring to the idea of a grand old man sitting on his throne above the clouds in the sky. Most people I think, have dispensed with this centuries-old concept, however what theism I am speaking about, is born out of this ancient set of ideas.   This theism espouses the idea that God is a separate Being, not inherent in the universe but distinct from it and from all that is in it. This theism asserts that this Being created all things, has relationships with human beings and enters into and intervenes in the world of human affairs to execute his will. This God has been presented to me as having attributes of, and behaving like a super human being, sometimes violently. This is all consistent with the biblical presentation of God so I use the term biblical theism. All this is quite unhelpful for me now.

 

I have three main areas of questioning regarding the God I have been taught about by the church in my past.   They have to do with God being presented in an anthropomorphic way, this person-ised God being presented as separate from humanity and away and this God being presented as ultra-violent and punitive.   These are certainly not the only emphases in the teachings about God I have been given but, concentrating on what I have to clean out, they have all been significant in my past church instruction and have caused me much questioning.

 

I believe these teaching emphases has not been different to those experienced by many other ordinary church-goers.

 

An anthropomorphic God.

 

Even though God has been presented to me in some abstract ways, nearly all throughout the Bible, God is presented anthropomorphically as a super human being with human attributes. In both the Old Testament and the New, there is a continuous use of anthropomorphisms regarding God. Anthropos is the Greek word for man or human. An anthropomorphism, when speaking of God, is a statement that uses words and concepts, emotions and behaviours which are appropriately used when speaking of humans and their activities.

 

God has hands, 1 Peter 5:6; arms, Isaiah 40:10; ears, Nehemiah 1:6; eyes, Ezra 5:5; feet, Nahum 1:3; etc.

 

God sits, Psalm 47:8; shuts the door, Genesis 7:16; walks, 1 Kings 8:25; goes about, Deuteronomy 23:14; goes away, Genesis 18:33; calls, Exodus 24:16; pours out, Joel 2:29; fights, Joshua 10:42; destroys, Jeremiah 15:7‑8; kills, Genesis 38:7; strikes down, Exodus 12:29; speaks, Joshua 8:18; listens, 1 Kings 17:22; looks, Isaiah 18:4; sees, Matthew 6:6; smells, Genesis 8:21; laughs, Psalm 2:4; whistles, Isaiah 7:18; touches, Job 19:21; blesses, Joshua 17:14; forgives, Exodus 34:6-7; etc.

 

God is stated as experiencing the human feelings and emotions of jealousy, Numbers 25:3, Isaiah 5:25 and numerous other readings; hatred, Ezekiel 13:20 and other readings; love, Deuteronomy 10:18, Hosea 3:1 and numerous other readings; is weary, Jeremiah 15:6; takes delight in, Deuteronomy 28:63; pities, Jonah 4:11; etc. etc.

 

God is sorry about what God has done, Genesis 6:6-7; changes God’s mind, Exodus 32:14; wants to find out, Genesis 18:20; remembers, Genesis 9:15; etc.

 

Many of these texts are poetry or poetic and I believe should not to be taken literally. However, although it can be difficult to speak of God in ways other than with anthropomorphisms, these are used constantly in the Bible without much effort, it would seem, to move beyond them. In many cases I don’t believe it was thought necessary to try. God was a super-human.   I should not be too critical of this; after all, much of the Bible was written about 3000 years ago or more. Nevertheless it is all there, encouraged to be read and studied by ordinary church-goers.

 

God lives and acts. These are both anthropomorphisms. That’s what humans do. God is always referred to as the Living God and he is always doing things.   The Bible teaches that God is deeply involved in human history in his actions.   Indeed the whole of the story of the Bible is built on the idea that God acts in the human arena.

 

For the Bible, all of this begins in Genesis chapter 1.   Here, God is the only actor, the only doer.  God speaks and things happen. God even rests when, it is stated that, all his work is finished. The whole concept of creation and a God who creates is built on this anthropomorphic way of thinking. This approach to God is constantly presented in church services I attend, particularly regarding creation and God, the Creator. In church services God is asked to hear our prayers and answer us; anthropomorphisms.    This God is thanked for what he has done.

 

With anthropomorphic language everywhere in the Bible, one might reasonably ask, “Could there be another way of speaking about God?” I believe there can be and there actually is. However, this anthropomorphic way of speaking is no doubt helpful in our early religious learning but it is still Sunday School stuff for me.  For me, it is childish talk and a totally inadequate way of speaking about the ultimate mysteries of the ever-changing complexities of my life and the limitless age and size of the Universe, as well as the intricacy and interdependence of all the components both of the macro and micro universes. My concept of God is no longer linked to anthropomorphic pictures. This is why I cannot speak of God as a person. To person-ise God is for me, to think of God in categories which are totally inadequate, inappropriate and unhelpful. For me, when talking this way, all sense of the transcendent is lost.

 

A person-ised God is separate from humanity and ‘away’.

 

With this constant use of anthropomorphic language in the Bible when speaking of God, God is obviously person-ised, spoken of as a person.   Persons are separate from one another.   They can have relationships with one another but they are separate, individual and distinct. This person-ised God is presented as separate from all creation including human beings. This separate entity has been presented to me as almighty in creative power.   This God is certainly not in creation and the creation is not in God. The two are distinct.

 

The biblical narrative also localises God, living somewhere. Another anthropomorphism. Early in the biblical story there is the mountain of the Lord, Mt. Sinai/Mt Horeb, Exodus 4:27 and many other references, where Moses was given the Law, and where he, Aaron and sometimes others were summoned to go to meet with God. Later in the biblical story, the tabernacle/tent, Deuteronomy 31:13-14 and many other references, was where God had his earthy abode. Later again in the church teachings I received, I was introduced to the Holy of Holies, Hebrews 9:3, in the temple in Jerusalem where God could be approached once a year by the high priest. I think it is interesting that we still call churches, Houses of God. I believe that these ideas are not taken literally by many ordinary church-goers. However, I believe the concept of transcendence is still linked very closely to God being holy and localised out-there, separate from sinful human beings but having special local places on Earth where he could be approached. I think there are different ways of presenting the concept of transcendence that are far more helpful.

 

 

Referring to some of my past church teachings, I think the writer of Psalm 139:7-9 may have been moving away from the idea of localising God when stating,

 

Wither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or wither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there!   If I make my bed is Sheol, Thou art there!   If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there thy hand shall hold me.

 

The psalmist speaks of God as being present everywhere in the world in which we live and beyond.   God is present absolutely everywhere.   The sayings Gospel of Thomas, an early written gospel which is not found in the Canon of Scripture (the Bible as we now have it), has in Saying 77,

 

Jesus said, “Split a piece of wood; I am there. Lift up a stone, and you will find me there.”

 

This saying goes a bit further and in a slightly different direction than the Psalm, but I suggest it is along much the same lines.

 

Nevertheless, in the early creeds of the church, which were given to me to memorise, God is localised in Heaven, well away and separate.   Jesus descends from and later ascends back to Heaven.   We are reminded of this separation every time we say the Lord’s Prayer; Our Father which are in Heaven…. Thy will be done one Earth as it is in Heaven.   We are also confronted with this separation in many of the hymns we are requested to sing in present church services.

 

I reject this way of presenting transcendence.  The relationship, which this elsewhere God has with us, is emphasised in much of church liturgy with this separate, out-there God who has to come to us. The Holy Spirit, I am told, has to come and abide.   This language would not be used if there was no presumed pre-existing separation.   I no longer believe God is separate and distinct from humans or the universe.   I am a panentheist; one who believes that God is in everything and everything is in God.   For me, this turns much of the biblical emphasis and present church liturgy on its head!

 

Matthew Fox in his book, Original Blessing, at the beginning of his chapter entitled Panentheism, discusses the subject, stating,

 

Experiencing the diaphanous and transcendent God: – ‘C.G.Jung has written that there are two ways to lose your soul. One of these is to worship a god outside you.’ If he is correct, then a lot of churchgoers in the West have been losing their souls for generations to the extent that they have attended religious events where prayer is addressed to a god outside.   The idea that God is ‘out there’ is probably the ultimate dualism, divorcing as it does God and humanity and reducing religion to a childish state of pleasing or pleading with a God ‘out there’. All theism sets up a model paradigm of people here and God out there. All theisms are about subject/object relationships to God.

 

An ultra-violent and punitive God.

 

This separate, distinct and anthropomorphic God is presented to me in the Bible as extremely violent in many of its stories. This is very evident in stories in Genesis and Exodus.   The well-known and remembered stories of Noah and the Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah and the Exodus, all portray God as powerful in an unforgiving ultra-violent and punitive manner.

 

It takes the Bible only about 100 verses (not counting verses that just list names in genealogies) for this God to impose and carry out the death penalty on all humanity except one family and a few animals. This God burns to death all the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah except Lot and his family, and this God systematically and, according to the story, makes sport of the Egyptians when inflicting death and destruction on the whole land, picking out innocent animals and children for special attention. None of these stories are to be taken literally but the image of God presented is gross, wicked, hideous and horrific, not awkward and embarrassing, as some might suggest. I think it is good that ordinary church-goers probably do not think too deeply about these stories but again, they are there to be read and studied by us all. This violent image of God continues through the early books of the Old Testament and there are numerous references to this God of wrath punishing wrong-doers and idolaters in many of the later books of the prophets, including Amos, Hosea and Micah, books which are often quoted with God demanding justice and mercy from humans. This violent image of God is certainly not absent in the New Testament, as the Book of Revelation readily demonstrates.   This is, by no means, the only image of God presented in the Bible but it is certainly there on a vast number of its pages. Sometimes I wonder why the Christian Church has retained all of the Hebrew Scriptures in our sacred book.

 

Along with most ordinary church-goers, I do not believe in a violent or punitive God. This image of God plays no part in the message of Jesus, as I understand it. I find it significant that Jesus never refers to the Exodus in his preaching and teaching.   I expand on this later when speaking of Jesus’ own use of the Bible.

 

The way I understand Fall/Redemption theology is also linked closely with this violent image of a punitive God.   God punishes human sin by means of the violent death of his Son. A blood sacrifice seems essential.

 

Thankfully this image of God is not presented to me in church services I attend, however the fear of punishment in hell by God, is, I believe, not totally absent today for many ordinary church-goers. In a very recent TV program, highlighting the message of Christmas, I heard an 8 to 10 year old boy (Anglican or Catholic) say that we should be joyful at Christmas because Jesus has saved us from God’s punishment and saved us all from going to hell.   The church continues to tell this story! Shame.

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Re-start

I have decided to re-start my blog with a paper on my ‘Journey with Jesus’.   I use this phrase rather than ‘spiritual’ or ‘faith journey’ because I think it describes what I have written about.   It has a subtitle of ‘Starting all over again’ because there is very much in my past church teaching which I have now rejected or re-appraised.   As I continue to write it I will continue to post it on the Blog.   Any comments your have to make along the way will be gratefully received.

 

Introduction

 

This is a very personal journey. It is about my own individual expeditions into the world of beliefs, biblical interpretations, church teachings and the influences each has had on me through my 82 years of life. I relate my experience and my present convictions.   This is all done in the environment of uncertainty and a feeling of “The process is one which is always on-going”.   I’m sure this will continue while my brain continues to function reasonably well.

 

Why have I chosen the title, Rekindling Christianity by Journeying with Jesus, Starting all over again? With honest questioning, I am trying to rekindle Christianity for myself because I have many questions and misgivings about the orthodox (so-called sound or correct) theological teachings of the church, its currently espoused doctrines and practices as well as the current liturgies used in the church services I attend. It is my experience that many ordinary church-goers are in a similar situation with many of their own questionings and misgivings.   For me, questions and misgivings have lasted for years and I am trying to rekindle the interest I have in Christian theological matters.   Are things so hard for me that I have to Start all over again regarding my beliefs and religious practices? I use the theme of Starting all over again in each area of my questioning because, where necessary for me, I wish to break free from past beliefs, starting from scratch.   Going completely back to scratch of course cannot happen because my past is always with me and, to an extent, conditions who I am now.   So what is my past in the church?

 

I was born into the church.   I cannot remember a time in my life when I was not associated with it as a member. I was taught many prayers and a couple of creeds. I still have imbedded in my subconscious, numerous lyrics and melodies of traditional hymns I have sung over and over for many years.   I can even remember the numbers of many of them from the 1927 edition of the Presbyterian Hymnary, the hymnbook the Presbyterian church used during my childhood and youth years – Onward Christian Soldiers No. 535, The Church’s One Foundation No. 205, There is a Green Hill far away No. 105, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty No. 1, and so on and on. I can remember as a young person, adjourning along with other young people after an evening church service, to the private home of different congregational members to sing with great gusto, many of our favourites.   Positive memories.

 

In my youth I spent much of my time in church associated activities, playing in church sporting teams and participating in church social events, as well as attending the weekly church youth group meeting and monthly church dance. I went to two church services every week for 20 or more years. (I do not use the term worship when referring to the regular weekly gathering of the local Christian community. I use the term church service because of reasons which become obvious throughout what follows. Michael Morwood states in an internet post by David Felton on A New Template for Religion, “I too would stop using the word worship. The notion of worship belongs to an old paradigm, an outdated template for religion.”) I did much studying of the Bible both in classes and in private reading. I can also remember long discussions with friends about such things as whether we should go to a milk-bar on Sundays to buy a drink, because it required someone to work on that day to serve us. We also had long debates as to whether we should play cards.     How times change.

 

I can remember as a child that I was permitted to play games on Sundays at home, as long as they were not games of chance. Cards and dice games were a No-No, but chess was permitted. I had no idea why.

 

As a young man I trained and graduated as an analytical chemist but after a number of years in that profession, I changed tracks and became a youth worker for a few years in the Presbyterian Church in Victoria, Australia. Subsequently I decided to submit myself to the Presbyterian Church as a student for the Christian ministry.   At a preliminary interview prior to being accepted as a candidate, I can remember being asked what my sense of God’s call to the ministry was.   I can remember replying that I thought I had some skills with people and I was eager to help others in whatever way I could.   That answer was accepted but with frowns from some of the interviewing panel of clergy.     I can imagine they may have been thinking, “Well; that isn’t very God-centred.”

 

During my theological education at Ormond Theological College in Melbourne in the early 1960’s, I was introduced to the theologians Paul Tillich, Karl Barth, Ludwig Feuerbach, Friedrich Schleiermacher, Rudolph Bultmann, to name but a few.   I began to think far more deeply about my beliefs which I presume was one of the aims of the theological education.

 

After being a full-time minister for a few years at Whyalla, South Australia, and after long conversations with church leaders, local, district and state, I was granted permission by the church to seek secular employment while retaining my leadership role in the church. I applied for and succeeded in gaining employment at the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Ltd. (BHP). In this BHP employment, I gained some promotions in the Administration Department, Human Resources section, being in charge of apprentices and trainees and eventually having responsibility in Occupational Health and Safety for the whole steel production plant at Whyalla. During this time I retained my position as minister of the local Presbyterian congregation in the west of Whyalla. I conducted church services each weekend and attended to pastoral care matters, doing funerals during my lunch hour and then continuing with pastoral visits during the following evenings. My situation was a sort of worker-priest position.

 

For family reasons I asked the church for a transfer and I was granted a position as the assistant minister at St. Andrews/St. Phillips, the city Presbyterian churches in Newcastle, New South Wales. Fortunately I also gained a transfer to the BHP plant in Newcastle.

 

In 1977, Church Union was achieved between the Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian denominations. I was then asked to leave St. Andrews/St. Phillips. That combined parish wished to remain outside the union whereas I wished to join. I was fortunate to be able to join a nearby Uniting congregation as a supply minister.   After a couple of years at this new congregation, the Presbytery of the Uniting Church requested me to resign my position at BHP and become a full-time minister again or resign from the ministry. I wrote reports for the Presbytery about my ministry within BHP, not as a chaplain but as a senior employee, stating that I believed my work at BHP was a legitimate expression of ministry. I refused to resign from BHP so I was required to submit a resignation regarding my church position. I left my fate to the Presbytery.   I find it rather ironic that, the Presbytery meeting at which my resignation from the ministry was accepted, I might say by a very slim majority, a communication came from the New South Wales Synod of the Uniting Church, that Presbyteries should consider seriously, different ways of doing ministry.

 

I concluded my career with BHP after 19 years there and eventually completed my paid employment as a Rehabilitation Councillor with the NSW Government Insurance Office. I retired about 15 years ago.

 

During my retired life, after reading a reasonable amount of theology and biblical studies, much but not all of which had a bias towards Progressive Christianity, I began to realise that much of what I had been taught in my early church life and had accepted without question for many years after, was no longer what I believed and was no longer helpful in my journey with Jesus. (I use this phrase rather than my faith journey or my spiritual journey, because journeying with Jesus captures better what I think I have and am still experiencing.)

 

Because of my journey with Jesus, I have made a contribution to encourage change in the church by writing over 500 new sets of lyrics to well-loved, well-known traditional hymn tunes, self-publishing them in 7 different volumes. I have done this to enable people like me, to sing hymns in church services without compromising their theological integrity. I believe these new lyrics have been of some benefit to people like myself.   Some of us just can’t sing many hymns used in church services because of their 1st to 18th Century theological emphases.   Many of the traditional hymn lyrics no longer speak to me.   I think I am not alone in that regard.

 

I am fortunate to live in a time when there is the religious freedom to do what I have done.   I have little fear of being burnt at the stake!   I find it a great pity that there are still things like heresy trials, and I despair that Gretta Vosper has been subjected to what seems to be a similar process. I am pleased to hear that has been postponed indefinitely. We always need prophets to stand against what is officially embraced to try to reform the institution, its practices and beliefs. I suppose this might be one of the unfortunate but necessary aspects of the evolutionary process.

 

Being over 80 and retired, I face little financial or employment consequence from this endeavour. I may upset some of my friends and also strangers if they read what I am writing, but I think they might be able to cope or just stop reading and ignore it all. I hope that readers might find some positive alternative ideas that give food for thought and also different perspectives which may facilitate some spiritual growth.

 

From my lyrics:-

In Praise of Doubt

 

Tune Forest Green   AHB 240   TiS 316

(AHB – the official Australian Hymnbook and TiS – AHB’s second edition, Together in Song)

Volume 4 of Singing a New Song No. 50.

 

Some people say, “To doubt is wrong”

We should not doubt at all;

To question our beliefs, they say

Could bring about our fall;

But doubt permits an honest stance

In those who are devout;

For those who think about beliefs

Can sing in praise of doubt.

 

The Thomas’ story has been used

To judge, condemn, deplore;

But Thomas shows he is sincere;

He wanted to be sure.

For doubt can help and not deter

A vital turnabout;

Yes! Those who care about beliefs

Can sing in praise of doubt.

 

If our beliefs prevent our search

For new and different creeds;

Let us beware of narrow views

Where dogma often breeds;

With new, exciting facts we learn

Much love can come about;

Yes! Those who grow in their beliefs

Can sing in praise of doubt.

 

(I have included some of my new lyrics throughout what follows.   The full text of all of them, together with references to the different tunes I have chosen, are all listed at the back of the book, Please feel free to copy and use them.   All 500 or more are available on my website at http://sites.google.com/site/george007site. For more information refer to the later section of this book.)

 

As an ordinary church-goer.

 

Before embarking on this process of questioning and reappraisal, may I state quite emphatically, that even though some of my statements are made quite forcefully, I do not wish to convey the impression that I think people who espouse other or contrary beliefs to mine, are stupid or ignorant.   I might think such beliefs are ill-informed but that’s my judgement.   Take it or leave it. It’s up to you. I too am most likely under-informed or ill-informed on some matters which I discuss in this venture.

 

I write as an ordinary church-goer with all my personal history and the Bible text.   I have probably done more theological investigation, Bible study and Bible commentary reading than many other ordinary church-goers, but this does not qualify me as a biblical scholar nor do I make claim to be an authority in any of what follows. I speak out of my experience, my understanding and my interpretations of what I study and what I have been taught.   I know these create serious limitations and I acknowledge them as such.   I share where I am at present, knowing full well that I have much more journeying to do.   If I waited until I was totally confident in my opinions and beliefs, I would probably never write anything about them.   But as I journey, I believe it is important to share insights I have discerned and concerns I have confronted.   So I write now, believing that many of my questions and misgivings are not unique to me but are shared by many other ordinary church-goers.

 

The real worry I have is that some people seem to have a closed mind or are frightened to ask questions.   I don’t think that change must happen but what I think is important is having an attitude which leaves open the possibility for change.   I believe it is important to question, to question everything.   Some people can go through life without questioning the things I question, certainly not the things that have to do with God and religious beliefs in general. That’s fine.   I am writing to encourage readers to question the beliefs they do have, and for those who do, I try to present some constructive alternatives. It is not my intention to try to destroy anyone’s beliefs and certainly not for those whose beliefs help them live a loving life, trying to make the world a better place.   My aim is to encourage questioning, and maybe even disturb but not to destroy.

 

I encourage you to take note of not only the teachings I reject, but more importantly, to think about the different emphases I make and the alternative ways of believing that I present. I find the usual reaction of people is that they remember the negatives but often forget other material.   I ask you to guard against this tendency and take heed of the alternative ideas I present.

 

So, I’m not really sure that I have to Start all over again. That might be to ignore or reject all my past Christian teaching.   That would be unfortunate.   Surely I learn from my past.   However I think I learn best from it by way of a healthy questioning. So my position, at least at present, is not as stark as to Start all over again but certainly it is that which promotes a faithful questioning of everything, absolutely everything, even my own questioning.

 

Some time ago, I was introduced by Derek Flood in his book Disarming Scripture, to the phrases unquestioning obedience and faithful questioning regarding the different ways by which it is possible to approach the Bible.   His book is about violence in the Bible, particularly violence attributed to God and within God’s commands to Jewish leaders. On page 32, he states,

 

The Pharisees are representative of the way of unquestioning obedience and Jesus is representative of the way of faithful questioning.

 

Originally he uses these terms regarding how each attitude approaches rules and commands laid down in the Old Testament, particularly those commands which harm people.   He later uses the above phrases more broadly in his 10th chapter entitled Re-thinking Biblical Authority.

 

I have used his term faithful questioning throughout what follows and I have taken the liberty to add a few of my own – faithful affirmation, faithful revision, and faithful rejection. Although not actually using these phrases in his book, I believe Flood certainly encourages these activities. I will expound on this further. Suffice to say at this point, when talking about Jesus’ use of the Hebrew Bible, Flood suggests that the Jesus’ approach should be followed by us, when he says,

 

In other words, Jesus expects his disciples – expects you and me – to be making the same calls of knowing what to embrace in the Bible and what to reject.

 

Faithful questioning is the beginning of the work of seeking new insights; not final and complete answers but new insights and wisdom I may yet encounter.   When I do some faithful questioning, I hope I am not making a shift further into my own prejudices and pre-conceived ideas.   Not that pre-conceived ideas are necessarily valueless or counter-productive. They can be and maybe often are, but they are conceived; i.e. thought out and considered. They may be worth retaining as well as being an appropriate launching pad for further thinking. It is not essential that they be abandoned.   However, no matter how hard I try, I know that I am still bound at least to some extent, to my prejudices, presuppositions and thought-out attitudes.   So what’s new? Aren’t we all so bound?   I work hard at trying to loosen my mind from this bind so that I can think new thoughts and even go in different directions.

 

What then am I claiming to be faithful to in my faithful questioning? I am endeavouring to be faithful to logic, to some scientific and psychological insights I have learned over the years, to new insights I have gleaned from reading modern biblical scholars and theologians, to my diligent search for truth wherever I may find it, to my discipleship of Jesus, to my conscience, to my experience, to honesty, to thoroughness, to common decency and to common sense.

 

In what follows, I have inserted a series of questions to open up an issue. I hope you will think about the questions first, and not just react to what I write later. After listing these questions, I then try to address them, not trying to give definitive answers but analysing what answers I have been given in my past church teaching. Later, if I think it appropriate, I try to point to alternative possibilities of understanding. Many of the questions listed come from other ordinary church-goers like myself. After reading what I have to say, you may like to revisit the questions and give some further thought to them and even have discussions with others about them.

 

In all this endeavour, I suggest that eventually we are all confronted by Mystery with a capital M.   Some prefer the word inexplicable.   When confronted by road junctions on my journey, I take one road but I accept there are other roads that other people may take for quite legitimate and good reasons.   The road I take is not through complicated edifices of the academic world, even though there are a few buildings that modern biblical scholars and theologians have erected. And my road certainly does not have signs indicating, This is the correct road to truth, nor, Just around the corner you will arrive. My road twists and turns and sometimes backtracks, goes up very steep hills but seldom on the plain and simple, flat and easy.   My road hopefully leads to green pastures where there is plenty of good food for an open future with all its risks, challenges and surprises.

 

You will probably discern an underlying theme in what follows, trying to nullify theological separations of all sorts. I think Jesus was on about this.   He and the memories his followers had of him and his message as recorded in the New Testament, often pointed to unity and togetherness. Jesus spoke against the separations brought about by being rich or poor, Samaritans or Jews, clean or unclean, sinners or righteous, slave or free, even by being friends or enemies.   Jesus taught about the unity he had with God, about he and his disciples as being together, about the Kingdom of God being within you.

 

So I relate my Rekindling Christianity by Journeying with Jesus or Starting all over again endeavour.

 

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End of Pentecost 2016

Dear Friends, This will be the last posting on my Blog for the lyrics set to the gospel readings from the Revised Common Lectionary.  After the last set of  lyrics on this posting for  November 20th 2016.  Year C   Reign of Christ,  You can just go back to Year A and start all over again.     All the previous lyrics for the lectionary can be found on this Blog as well as on my  Website so you can go there to find all the material.

Some of the tunes are not in AHB or TiS but hopefully you may be able to find then with the references I have listed.

Please check all the material I suggest on my Blog before you use it!  After a great deal of checking, I sometimes, unfortunately, let mistakes get through.   Sorry!!

My Website has all my 650 sets of lyrics on it including all the lyrics based on the lectionary Gospel readings.  .   As you negotiate through the website you can, for each set of lyrics, listen to one verse of my chosen tune, use and project a Power Point  presentation of the words, print off the lyrics and, if not still under copyright limitations, print off the musical score.

Go straight to my Website.   All my lyrics can be found there for all the years A, B and C of the lectionary. .    There is also a set of  indexes which some find very helpful to identify where a particular set of lyrics is and listen to a verse of my chosen tune.   If you find it helpful, please tell your colleagues and friends.

End of Pentecost 2106.

November 6th 2016.  Year C   Pentecost 25       Luke  20:27-38     Particularly verses 27, 27&38.   Life and Death   Tune St Denio  AHB  80  TiS  143

The past was no different; the myst’ries remain;
We search for the answers; “Please, someone explain.”
Our life and our death are both riddles untold;
With science and knowledge few answers unfold.

Agreement is absent; beliefs can promote
An awesome hereafter, however remote;
But Sadducees said that they do not believe;
Of life after dying – they cannot conceive.

When Jesus replied from the scriptures he knew,
He took Hebrew teachings but said something new;
The God in their stories should always be read
As God of the living, not God of the dead.

We still have our questions; no certainty found;
We probe and we ponder but myst’ries abound;
If God is like Jesus, the one who is nigh,
In God we can live and then peacefully die.

November 13th 2016.  Year C   Pentecost 26       Luke  21:5-19                                                 Life and Death   Tune St Anne  AHB  46  TiS  47

The future is for us to live;
Not ours to oversee;
It does not tell us ‘What’ or ‘When’;
There is no certainty.

Disciples asked about the times;
“What would the future hold?”
The early church faced many woes
Of what was to unfold.

These woes included many wars,
Catastrophe and doom;
The future for them was distress,
Calamity and gloom.

Ev’n though the persecutions came
With such tremendous cost,
The promise was, ‘You will be saved;
Not one hair will be lost!’

*Like then, our future is not clear,
Uncertainties remain;
Yet, when we are enhancing life
This work is not in vain.

Like flowers op’ning with the dawn,
We turn towards the light:
The future we create with love
Breeds joy and great delight.

*As an alternative to the last two verses, if you wish to question the ‘promise’ given in the text, you may wish to venture with these last three verses.  You may wish to ‘mix and match’.  Your choice.

This puzz’ling promise could mislead;
Was lit’rally untrue;
We cannot let such empty hope
Condition what we do.

Integrity comes at a price;
But builds our self esteem;
This test of faithfulness we know,
For Jesus, was extreme.

Our future may bring heavy loads;
Draw trouble into view;
As we withstand the storms of wrong
Faith, hope and love shine through.

November 20th 2016.  Year C   Reign of Christ     Luke  23:33-43                                                 Amazing words  Tune Arnsberg  Wunderbarker   AHB  47  TiS  121

What a tragic story;
All disgrace; no glory!
Yet within is love, compassion;
Jesus shows his power
In his dying hour,
Gives forgiveness without ration;
Hating none!
Victory won!
Love and hate colliding;
Love keeps on abiding.

When the nails are driven
Jesus then has given
No response of hateful vi’lence;
Hear his cries for pardon
Even when he’s broken;
When he could have shouted ve’gence.
From this dread
We are fed
With a love so awesome
From a scene so gruesome.

Then when he is dying,
Foes are vilifying,
Jesus gives some consolation
To an unknown bandit,
For a guilty culprit
In his time of desolation.
Can we see
Victory
In this tragic story?
Yes; we see God’s glory.

I hope you may have found some useful material on this Blog.  I hope you can continue to find useful material in my website.   Grace and Peace   George Stuart

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September and October

As I find it difficult to post my lyrics early each month I  have decided to post two months this time to give me more time to do my next post for November.   Some of the tunes are not in AHB or TiS but hopefully you may be able to find then with the references I have listed.

Please check all the material I suggest on my Blog before you use it!  After a great deal of checking, I sometimes, unfortunately, let mistakes get through.   Sorry!!

My Website has all my 650 sets of lyrics on it.    As you negotiate through it you can, for each set of lyrics, listen to one verse of my chosen tune, use and project a Power Point  presentation of the words, print off the lyrics and, if not still under copyright limitations, print off the musical score.

Go straight to my Website.   All my lyrics can be found there.    There is also a set of  indexes which some find very helpful to identify where a particular set of lyrics is and listen to a verse of my chosen tune.   If you find it helpful, please tell your colleagues and friends.

If you are unaware, all my lyrics are free to use without copyright restrictions or limitations.  You do not need to have a copyright licence to use my material   God for it!!  I give full and unrestricted permission to use all my lyrics and any other material I post on this Blog.

September 4th 2016.  Year C   Pentecost 16       Luke  14:25-33
Cost of discipleship   Tune Credition  AHB 197(ii), 202, 288, 381  TiS 269, 274

He walked the hills in Galilee;
He had no fixed address;
To follow him meant leaving home;
For Jesus – nothing less.

He warned believers, “Count the cost!
Think twice before you come!
There is a cross for you to bear;
Forsake all things, not some!

A wisdom teacher of his day;
Crowds heard him with delight;
He learned from his traditional lore
But spoke with new insight.

“When building or when waging war
Be cautious.  Do take heed
To costs or strength of enemies –
Be sure you can succeed.”

To follow Jesus costs my life;
This price I have to pay;
But living life by what he taught
Gives purpose to each day.

September 11th 2016.  Year C   Pentecost 17      Two for this week                                      Luke  15:1-10 Particularly Vs 1-7
The Lost Sheep    Tune  Aurelia  AHB 385  TiS 457

The stories told by Jesus
Were told to simple folk.
He told them for their comfort,
As well as to provoke.
The leaders of the temple,
The ones who taught the Law,
They did not give approval
To what they heard and saw.

For Jesus ‘strays’ were welcome.
They were the ones he sought;
And so he told this story
To give them more support.
“Take sheep – You have a hundred;
You lose one.  You will leave
The ninety nine in pasture,
The lost one to retrieve.”

“And when you find the drifter,
The one alone and cold,
You take it to your shoulder;
Return it to the fold.
Your joy is overwhelming;
For what was lost is found.
You celebrate with neighbours.
Your happiness, profound.”

Just so. This is the message
Of hope and grace and peace
To those who feel ‘gone missing’,
For those who need release.
There’s joy in restoration
For when we feel alone,
In God we are accepted;
In God is peace unknown.

September 11th 2016.  Year C   Pentecost 17       Luke  15:1-10 Particularly Vs 8-10
The Lost Coin    Tune  Glasgow  AHB 366  TiS 441

When Jesus lived in Galilee
They followed where he went.
He taught through stories true to life;
Though many caused dissent.

This Rabbi, unlike all the rest,
He noticed household chores.
He used such work to teach God’s love;
He spoke of sweeping floors.

“A woman had ten coins she prized;
But lost one; Who knows where?!
She lit a lamp; she swept the house;
She panicked in despair.”

“Imagine this”, then Jesus said,
“Imagine her delight,
On finding it, she calls her friends;
We’ll party here tonight.”

This story told so long ago
Can still give hope today.
In love, we too can gently search
For those who lose their way.

September 18th 2016.  Year C   Pentecost 18       Luke  16:1-13 Particularly V 10a
A Smile    Tune  Gerontius  AHB 79(i)  TiS 141

This set of lyrics do not deal with the parable, however a quote from Fred Craddock
in the New Interpreter’s Bible Volume 9 page 311 prompted some new words – ‘Most of
us will not this week christen a ship, write a book, end a war, appoint a cabinet,
dine with a queen, convert a nation, or be burned at the stake.  More likely this
week will present no more than a chance to give a cup of water, visit a nursing home,
vote for a county commissioner, teach a Sunday School class, tell a child a story,
go to choir practice, and feed our neighbour’s cat.’  “Whoever is faithful in a very
little is faithful also in much.”  Luke 16, verse 10a.

We may not make the sun stand still
Nor cause the snow to fall,
But when we smile we change the world;
It’s grand, however small.

We may not close corruption down,
Prevent abuse and greed;
But when we smile we change the world,
We plant a justice seed.

We may not cause all wars to cease,
Restore those shattered lives;
But when we smile we change the world,
And show that kindness thrives.

We may not halt our body’s ills;
Disease will still remain;
But when we smile we change the world
And comfort those in pain.

We cannot build a perfect world
Change all that we abhor;
But when God’s smile is on our face
Then grace abounds much more.

September 25th 2016.  Year C   Pentecost 19      Two for this week   Luke  16:19-31
Jesus and Wealth   Tune  Illa Sphor  Not in AHB  or  TiS                                           Presbyterian Hymnary – Metrical Psalms section No.131                                         

With this one, you may wish to omit verses 2 and 3 as being a bit too confronting.
My chief critic would suggest getting rid of verse 2 but maybe leaving verse 3.
You may wish to omit both and leave the first line of the last verse as sufficient
comment on the three-tiered universe ideas.   It’s your choice, if you happen to use it.

A Jewish Rabbi long ago
Told stories to the crowd
To lift the poor and broken souls,
Provoke the rich and proud.

He used the concepts of his day
His hearers knew so well;
Their three-tiered universe affirmed
A heaven and a hell.

Our ancient text can guide us still
But let us leave behind
Out-dated teachings which corrode
And stultify the mind.

Poor Las’rus sat outside the door;
He begged that he might eat;
The rich man just ignored the cries;
His avarice complete.

This story Jesus told condemned
Gross inequality,
He boldly preached, “Wealth should be shared
With generosity.”

We need not dwell on punishments
Or praise for actions done;
Enough to know that ‘Good is good’;
No prizes to be won!

Without the trappings of a hell
This parable is true;
Wealth can be used for doing good;
Let God’s reign thrive anew.

September 25th 2016.  Year C   Pentecost 19      Luke  16:19-31
Economic Justice    Tune  Moscow   AHB 61   TiS  221, 447

These are momentous times;
Witnessing monstrous crimes
Against all life;
The war machine is king;
Earth warming scares the Spring;
Our human greed can bring
Enormous strife.

Our economic growth
Is not advancing both
The rich and poor;
Billions in poverty
While some boast luxury,
This is a travesty
We should abhor.

So where is justice found?
Can selflessness be crowned?
Can virtue reign?
While poor and hungry plead,
Can we define our need?
Does it slip into greed?
Who can explain?

Jesus was one who fought
Injustice; and he taught
A diff’rent way;
He sided with the poor;
Love was his inner core;
He never wanted more
To make his day.

We can be satisfied,
Our joy be multiplied
With simple things;
If we seek equity,
Trust in God’s charity,
We’ll find security
And peace it brings.

October 2nd. 2016.  Year C   Pentecost 20      Luke  17:5-10  Particularly Vs. 7-10
Duty    Tune  Aurelia   AHB 385   TiS  457

Although these lyrics are not on the specifics of the text, they are on the
same general theme. This set of lyrics is somewhat long so omit a verse
or two if you wish!

We have a common duty
To lift humanity
Above self-preservation
And breed community;
Yes. Service can be duty
To love and bring relief;
When we are truly human,
We act on this belief.

When duty calls so strongly
To walk that extra mile,
We have no obligation
To do it with a smile;
But, if this is our practice
We show that we believe –
The more we give to others
The more we shall receive.

If duty is dictated
We may have little choice;
Our status may be humble;
And thus we have no voice;
We can perform a service
With due humility;
Yet still retain our honour
And live with dignity.

When life is trapped in duty
With no escape in sight,
When darkness fills the future
We need consoling light;
With friends and those who love us
Who help us see it through,
We may resume our duty,
And feel our strength renew.

When sometimes choice seems absent
But duty is quite clear,
When ‘ought’ and ‘must’ keep pressing,
When many ‘shoulds’ appear,
If love and if compassion
Both play a major part,
We can engage with duty
And with a joyful heart.

When Jesus spoke of duty
It was to do God’s will;
To love and show compassion
To exercise goodwill;
If, now, we follow Jesus
Our duty is the same;
To keep this love still growing
Will be our constant aim.

October 9th. 2016.  Year C   Pentecost 21      Luke  17:11-19  Particularly Vs.11-14
The Ten Lepers    Tune  Hymn of Joy   AHB 92   TiS  152, 158

Can we get inside this story,
Try to think as lepers thought?
Totally despised, rejected;
Life for them was worse than naught.
Lepers were unclean, disfigured,
Outcasts, worthy of distain;
They were trash, not even human,
Their’s a life of constant pain.

So they shouted from a distance;
Too unclean to come too near;
“Jesus, Lord, You must have mercy;
Our whole life is full of fear!”
When he saw them he responded,
Not as one who did not care;
“Go and let the priests inspect you;
Throw away your deep despair.”

Jesus and his way of living
Dares us seek in everyway
To be gentle and be gracious
To the ‘lepers’ of today.
We can question in this story
All the lessons we can learn;
It has love and great compassion;
Jesus shows his great concern.

October 16th. 2016.  Year C   Pentecost 22      Luke  18:1-8                                                       Persistence    Tune Beechwood   AHB 82   TiS  146

Jesus, in this tale,
Said “Persevere; Don’t fail”;
He said we can prevail;
Stand firm! Be strong!

If a judge is mean;
His justice is not seen;
Do not forsake the scene;
Stand firm! Be strong!

Though he may not care,
Much calling to be fair
May lead him to despair;
Stand firm! Be strong!

When the world is wrong
And evil is so strong,
The conflict may be long;
Stand firm! Be strong!

When the work is tough
And when the road is rough,
When we have had enough,
Stand firm! Be strong!

Let us all proclaim
Compassion is our aim;
With courage yet no shame,
Stand firm! Be strong!

October 23rd. 2016.  Year C   Pentecost 23      Luke  18:9-14                                                         The Pharisee and the Tax Collector    Tune Belmont   AHB 435   TiS  514

To those who trusted in themselves,
Looked down on those who fail,
Who treated others with contempt,
The Rabbi told this tale.

A Pharisee and one who worked
Collecting tax for Rome,
When worshipping, one bowed his head,
And one felt quite at home.

“My God, I thank thee that I am
Not like the rest of men.
I keep the Law; I worship well;
I know to sing ‘Amen’.

Adulterers and thieves should be
Banned from this holy place,
And tax collectors, like that one,
Are all a deep disgrace.”

Thus said the Pharisee with pride;
Judged that tormented soul
Who’d bowed his head in penitence.
He wanted to be whole.

“It was this one, who”, Jesus said
“Went home renewed and blest.”
For those with pride shall surely fall,
But troubled souls find rest.

October 30th. 2016.  Year C   Pentecost 24      Luke  19:1-10                                                          Hospitality    Tune  Trust – Courage Brother  Not in AHB or TiS                                              The Psalter in Metre and Church Hymnary, Humphrey Milford                                         Oxford University Press 1924.

Jesus loved to dine with strangers
Even those we might despise;
So at Jericho he tarried
Though it could have been unwise.
There, Zacchaeus wished to see him;
Being short, he climbed a tree;
Jesus came and stood beneath him –
“Come on down!
Come on down!
Let me share your company.”

This chief tax-man was delighted;
But the crowd was not impressed;
People grumbled, quite disgusted;
“This is one man we detest!”
But Zacchaeus moved to penance,
Said that he would cheat no more;
“I have robbed so many people;
I was wrong!
I was wrong!
Half my wealth is for the poor.”

He continued to deliver
Promises to all he’d robbed.
“I’ll repay, but four times over”
Said, “I’m sorry.”, then he sobbed.
Jesus now began rejoicing;
Said, “Salvation has come here.”
“Abram’s son now stands before you!
He’s come home!
He’s come home!
Welcome him with love sincere.”

I hope you find some of use in this last post.  Grace and Peace   George.

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