Category Archives: Personal

I am/not a Progressive Christian

I accepted Christ at a Billy Graham rally in 1968 at the age of 14. I’d had no experience of belonging to a church, so when my best friend at school invited me to his church I was both relieved and delighted to go.

It was an Open Brethren group, full of lovely, uptight people. And lots of girls (so I could safely hover on the edges of friendships with girls for a long time).

I began to see cracks in the fundamentalism I was being taught, in the ways the scriptures had to be twisted to make them ‘inerrant’ and fit oh-so-neatly together. I began to see that taking the Bible seriously meant allowing its internal debate about things. Many things.

At the same time, I began to feel God was maybe calling me into the ordained ministry. Problem: The Brethren don’t ordain anyone. They argue against ‘one man ministry’ (I still do!).

When I plucked up enough courage to say this is what I wanted, and moreover in the Uniting Church, there was a great deal of resistance from some of my brothers and sisters. These people would accept my going to Sydney (nowhere else!) to be an Anglican minister. But Uniting? The word soon got out that Paul Walton may not be a Christian at all, even that he never really was. For a while, I doubted it myself. Leaving fundamentalism can be a scary journey at first.

That was around 30 years ago. A few years past, I went to a gathering of people from my old church. Enough time had gone by for me to be forgiven, and to forgive. I was keen to see how their views had changed over the decades. I was very disappointed to realise that their understanding of the Faith had stayed static.

Recently I read that

At its core, progressive Christianity maintains that there are no easy answers to the questions of faith simply because our understanding of God and Jesus evolves and changes (i.e., “progresses”) enormously over a lifetime. As we move through life, and as our experiences and knowledge shape and alter our view of faith, we come to see that we only have a piece of the truth and that we must be in conversation with others who themselves possess part of that spiritual truth.

It seems that this is one of a number of views on what ‘progressive Christianity’ is. It may be true, but I can’t accept it as an adequate definition.

Of course our understanding changes through life. Surely, no one has precisely the same belief in God in their adult years as they had as a young child. So if I can sense that changing understanding of God in my life, I must be a ‘progressive’ Christian? There is of course a necessary value judgement in the statement I quoted: a ‘progressive’ belief is one that has “come to see that we only have a piece of the truth and that we must be in conversation with others who themselves possess part of that spiritual truth”. There is a real humility here, but I’m not sure all ‘progressive’ Christians are this humble—a trait so many of us share. I’ll have to think some more. Maybe I’ll share again soon.

 

(See the articles in the What is Progressive Christianity? Symposium here.)

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All things work together (Year A, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 24 July 2011)

Readings|
Romans 8.26-39
Matthew 13.31-33, 44-52

 

The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

What was the difference between Paul and Jesus? (Besides the obvious, that Jesus is the eternal Son of God…) It was this: Jesus told parables, Paul didn’t. But if we could apply just one of Jesus’ parables to Paul, I think the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price would be a good contender.

Surely Paul was like the merchant: when he found the secret of the kingdom, that Jesus crucified and risen is the longed-for Messiah, he turned his back on everything and followed him. Others may have said he was a fool, they might say he threw everything away for this Jesus of Nazareth. But once Paul found his Pearl of Great Price he could pen the great eighth chapter of Romans and proclaim this wonderful, liberating  truth:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

And,

When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God…

And further,

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword…[nothing] in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This is indeed a prize worth living for. This is a prize worth losing everything else for.

Paul’s confidence in the Lord Jesus is such that he has even become convinced that

all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Which things work together for good? All things. Not just some things, and not even most things. All things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

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Brisbane, 2011 Flood: a personal view

It seems the floods that hit Queensland and Brisbane have hit the headlines all over the world… It’s been a bit hard for us to tell because we’ve been without power for several days. We got it last night—ah, that hot shower this morning!!

The picture below is of our stretch of the Brisbane River. Our house is arrowed; we were spared inundation, thank God. The house is normally a fair bit above the river, I’d say about 10 metres below the road. The river got within 2 metres in the end, and was closer than it is in this photo (original here). We were a tad nervous. You can see the width of the river here; I’m sure that helped to save us too. In the end, the river was probably a metre below 1974 levels.

Again, this is NOT the flood at its height! I’ve circled the part of the road that was under; we were cut off by road, but we could walk to higher ground to stay a night with friends.

Here is A Collect of the Morning, from An Australian Prayer Book:

Lord our heavenly Father,
almighty and everlasting God,
we thank you for bringing us safely to this day.
Keep us by your mighty power,
and grant that today we fall into no sin,
neither run into any kind of danger,
but lead and govern us in all things,
that we may always do what is righteous in your sight;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Anomie, accidie, tristesse—have we lost the words for sadness?

Is sad so bad?

As a person with chronic depression, I can only say “What a good question!”

While we have an increasing grasp of depressive illness and can treat it these days (and am I grateful for that!), Mary Kenny asks whether we have lost some of the rich vocabulary of sadness or “forms of low mood”, and says,

Depression may also be melancholy: it may be discouragement, disappointment, abandonment, sadness, sorrow, mourning, rejection, regret, anxiety, grief, obsession, introspection, loss, separation, loneliness, isolation, alienation, guilt, loss of hope, temperamental woe and simple, pure, unhappiness.

Read it all here, including the comments.

h/t Bridges and Tangents

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Praying in weakness

On holidays at the moment, so no sermons… I’ve been re-reading Henri Nouwen’s With Open Hands, an absolute gem of a book on prayer. I love this section, which speaks of the necessity of praying always from within our weakness. I take it as commentary on 2 Corinthians 12.9:

[The Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

We males especially have to listen to this; I think the first few words apply to males more than humans (my copy is from the 70s, and the language is exclusive; I’m sure the latest edition will have changed this).

In the thinking of modern, active, energetic man, praying and living have come to be so widely separated that bringing them together seems almost impossible. But here lies the central problem: How can your prayer be truly necessary for the welfare of your fellowman? How could it be that you should “pray always” and that prayer is the “one thing necessary”? The question becomes important only when it is posed in its most exacting form. The question of when or how to pray is not really the most important one. The crucial question is whether you should pray always and whether your prayer is necessary. Here, the stakes are all or nothing! If someone says that it’s good to turn to God in prayer for a spare minute, or if he grants that a person with a problem does well to take refuge in prayer, he has as much as admitted that praying is on the margin of life and that it doesn’t really matter.

Whenever you feel that a little praying can’t do any harm, you will find that it can’t do much good either. Prayer has meaning only if it is necessary and indispensable. Prayer is prayer only when we can say that without it, a man could not live. How can this be true, or be made true? The word that brings us closest to an answer to this question is the word “compassion.” To understand this, you must first examine what happens to a man when he prays. Then you can comprehend how you can meet your fellowman in prayer.

The man who looks prayerfully on the world is the man who does not expect happiness from himself, but who looks forward toward the other who is coming. It is often said that a man who prays is conscious of his dependence, and in his prayer he expresses his helplessness. This can easily be misunderstood. The praying man not only says, “I can’t do it and I don’t understand it,” but also, “Of myself, I don’t have to be able to do it, and of myself, I don’t have to understand it.” When you stop at that first phrase, you often pray in confusion and despair, but when you can a so add the second, you feel your dependence no longer as helplessness but as a happy openness which looks forward to being renewed

If you view your weakness as a disgrace, you will come to rely on prayer only in extreme need and you will come to consider prayer as a forced confession of your impotence. But if you see your weakness as that which makes you worth loving, and if you are always prepared to be surprised at the power the other gives you, you will discover through praying that living means living together.

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The passing of a wonderful man

Who was Charlie Chaplin’s favourite clown? Who was mobbed on holiday in Moscow in 1963? Who was personally invited by Mao on a month-long tour of China? And who became a cult figure in Communist Albania of all places, where his were the only western films shown under the regime of Enver Hoxha?

If you guessed Norman Wisdom, go to the top of the class.

He was one of my favourite comedians as a child; sadly, he died on Monday 4 October (St Francis’ Day—how appropriate!) at the age of 95; here is the BBC report. RIP, Norman Wisdom.

A cheeky chap!

(What? You’ve never heard of him? You can be forgiven if you’re under 40… Read his Wikipedia entry.)

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Wholeheartedness

Richard Rohr has written a new book called On The Threshold of Transformation: Daily Meditations for Men. I’ve ordered my copy, but excerpts are appearing in his Daily Meditations. (You can subscribe here.) I found today’s excerpt particularly helpful:

Much of a man’s life is spent going to work, running errands, cleaning house, mowing the lawn, waiting in lines, attending meetings, and tending to the necessary but endless minutia that make up life.  We know that we can’t live as if we’re in the middle of an Indiana Jones adventure.  We know that much of life is rather dull and repetitive.  That’s why it’s so important to be fully present to the ordinary things that keep us going: a movie, a concert, dinner with a friend.  Anything you do fully gives you joy.  Anything done halfheartedly will bore you.  People do not tire from overwork nearly as much as from halfheartedness.  Wholeheartedness requires that a person be fully present.  And people who are present are most ready to experience the Presence.

In the middle of the ordinary, in the midst of the tedium, if we pay attention to the Presence, we will be blessed by joy, grace, and simple, sustaining pleasures.  We no longer need religious highs to know God; the lows and mediums are more than high enough.

Wholeheartedly living in the ‘now’ is for me a great stress buster. If I am present to what I am doing—to the person I am with at the moment—I can attend with all I’ve got. I can then turn to something or someone else and give my attention where it now belongs. When I am able to do this, I am not preoccupied with what’s going to happen/what should have happened/what did happen. I am present to the Now.

It reminds me of a quotation from George MacDonald, a great source of inspiration for CS Lewis: he spoke of “living in the eternal carelessness of the eternal Now”. Isn’t that a great aim for life?

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