Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Notes from my reading..

A panorama of Sawyers Bay area taken while I walked this afternoon.
"Why weren't we told? A Handbook on progressive Christianity."

I have finished this book which is a smorgasbord of articles on the theme of "Progressive Christianity". I have been encouraged and felt less alone in my dissonance with the Traditional Church. I have felt challenged and recognise my failings. I have felt alone. Let me explain.
Schizophrenic Existence.
 Many of the writers spoke of their frustrations and difficulties while trying to minister or stay within the traditional Churches. They questioned hymn and song language, creeds, traditional doctrines and general imperialistic exclusive understandings.  As I read I felt less alone- there are others who are where I am at. One writer spoke of ministering in a traditional Church as a "schizophrenic experience," working within the traditional expectations but deep down trying and wanting to be elsewhere. That's me, and I guess one of the reasons I look forward to retirement.
Me a gutless wonder...
There was a section of the book which told of the heretics down through the history of the Church.  They claimed the right to think for themselves, to question accepted teachings and to re-image Christianity. Some were asking the same sort of questions progressive Christians ask. Some were martyred for doing this.  The thing that struck me was that when they were threatened with being excommunicated, exiled, burned or with some other punishment, they kept proclaiming their truth.  Me, I would have just pulled my head in and thought it! Avoid conflict - that's me. I do not keep on waving a red flag at the bull. I let them carry on doing their thing unchallenged. I disagree with where my denomination is heading. I just stay away from denominational gatherings and do my own thing. The heretics of old would have had the courage to challenge the leadership - but not me! Even in the local scene I have perhaps been a coward. Don't rock the boat too much... I rationalise it by saying it is out of "pastoral concern" for the people, but in reality it could be that I am just a coward. Perhaps too you choose your battles and where you spend your energy. But in reflection I think I have been a coward. So I have been challenged.
As I read about what progressive Christians do and the various groups and gatherings, I felt alone. There were some exceptions, but I got the feel that many of the Progressive Christian groups were groups where people got together to discuss, dissect and rethink. They get their religious jollies by have a good old discussion about theology etc. That is good, but I think an essential part of following Jesus is to be in the community as salt and light, serving the needs of people. Discussion has its place but ultimately we "do the truth" not just talk about it. I felt alone because while I agree with a lot of the progressive christianity thinking, this action part is one of the essentials for me. 
Two memorable lines...
One writer reminded me of a classic line which Bishop John Shelby Spong repeats again and again. The writer was quoting John 10:10 where Jesus says "I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly." Bishop Spong when speaking of this often says a line I love;
"Live fully, love wastefully, be all that you can be; and dedicate yourself to building a world in which everyone has an opportunity to do the same." 
The second quote comes from Florence Nightingale. I learned that she was quite a free thinker as far as religion is concerned and was ahead of her time. She is most often known for her contribution to nursing, but she had a real contribution to social and religious thought. Here is the quote: 
When King William IV declared cholera a judgement on a sinful nation and asked for prayers, Florence said, "It is a religious act to clean out a gutter and to prevent cholera... It is not a religious act to pray (in the sense of simply asking to take cholera away)"
I love it... we in the Churches love to discuss and pray... but are so slow to "clean out the gutters", actually do stuff!

The old portable infant's cot - with additions to its design.
By the way, I'm not a very patient patient. I am not allowed to drive so I am a bit stir crazy. I have been working on little projects and going for walks. People imagine I should be resting up in bed recovering from my operation. We dug out an old portable cot we used for our children and other infants we have cared for over the years. It was a bit loose in the joints so I have added improvements to make it more robust, should any of our grand children require it.

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