Archive for February, 2023

Nicodemus:  Protecting the Curious in Us.

The streets were dark and deserted. Not a soul could be seen.  At least he hoped not. There was one lonely figure, jumping from shadow to shadow, never using the major streets of the town, travelling only in out of the way places, hoping not to be seen.

So, what’s he doing, jumping from shadow to shadow in the middle of the night? He is going to pay a call on Jesus who is staying with friends. He doesn’t want anybody to know that he, one of the leaders of the community, would be going to see this itinerant preacher.

Jesus is roused from his sleep, I presume, and meets Nicodemus. Strangers in the night… So begins a story sermon by probably one of the best in narrative preaching. Eugene Lowry.  (Lowry 1990:78-84)

It’s a really good example of a narrative or story sermon. Yet we can’t help feeling that, in this, and in other bits of the text we don’t address here, Lowry gives Nicodemus a bit of a ‘bad rap’, even if unwittingly. To Quote Iain McGilchrist the Scottish Pychiatrist, Philosopher who offers us a new and enlightening way of looking at the Human brain and the human mind. He says:

Left hemisphere dysfunction does not change the world radically in the way that right hemisphere dysfunction does. Rather, it presents impediments to fluent utilisation of the world, either through the right hand or through language: the problem is not one of understanding (comprehension), but of manipulating (apprehension), the world. The fabric of reality typically goes for the most part unaltered when the left hemisphere is suppressed.

Iain McGilchrist.

Rex Hunt thinks Nicodemus is reduced to a foil by Lowry. Portrayed as a narrow-minded, left brain, literalist. What Rex is suggesting here I think, is that it is too easy to lock Nicodemus into a category or a character that misses the whole person. Like many in today’s world the certainty and literalization of narrative that offers a singular truth is not sufficient. What happens when we do that is we take the narrative out of context with which it interacted. The left hemisphere has a preference for that response, it is seeking after the parts that make up a final outcome rather than take first an overall view of the matter which is to see that the whole is always more than the sum of the parts.

The added difficulty in our task of reading the text is that we don’t know enough about the context if anything at all further relying only on theory based on parts, and we know that there is never a truth without a context with which it interacts: there is a context for everything in the real world. In the theorizing that gets left out. To decide that Nicodemus’ so-called ‘illicit’ night-time liaison is to be interpreted as skulking about under the cover of darkness is to limit our understanding Or as Jack Shea suggests, “be stranded in twilight”.  Nicodemus is not mesmerized by the signs he is encountering as questions… He wants a teaching, not another miracle.  But before he can receive a teaching from God, he must receive a teaching about himself”.  (Shea 1998:83-84)

This encourages us to continue to take another look at Nicodemus and like Rex to do that through the eyes of both some Jewish and Christian New Testament scholars.

The first thing we do is note that this is a story composed by the teller we call John written somewhere around the early second century. More than one hundred years after Jesus.
and we only ever hear of Nicodemus in John’s writings. So, we don’t have other accounts to compare it with.

Much debate still centres around this story and the storytellers use of this story at this point in the gospel. But we might put that down for a bit today. What should concern us is the way traditional Christianity appears to have used Jewish Jesus and Jewish Nicodemus. By the time of the writing the Jesus story is spreading among the Greek and Roman world, the interpretations are being contextualized to meet new cultural understandings. We know also that even among Judaism in the time of Jesus there was debate and discussion about diversity of thought and interpretation within Judaism. It was into this environment that Jesus spoke.

Jesus was a Jew.  A first century Galilean Jew. His prayers were Jewish. His thinking was Jewish. His ‘voice’ is thick with Jewish history – personal and cultural. And we miss that when we follow traditional Christianity and convert him into a proto-christian. The likelihood is that much ‘Greekness’ has impinged his Jewishness. By the time of John’s writing.

Both the Nicene Creed written in the 4th Century and the Apostle’s Creed finalized in the 7th are silent on this fact. They do not mention his Jewishness at all. Which has caused Jewish New Testament scholar, Amy-Jill Levine, to say: “With the stress in some churches on Jesus’s divine sonship, the cross, the resurrection, and the redemptory role of saving humanity from sin and death, his historical connection to Judaism gets lost along with his very Jewish message of the kingdom of heaven”.  (Levine 2006:19)

Levine than goes on to point out that in popular Christian imagination Jesus is presented as: against the Law, against the Temple, against the people of Israel, as the only one to speak with women, as the only one who teaches non-violent responses to oppression, as the only one who cares about the ‘poor and marginalised’. “No wonder even today Jesus somehow looks ‘different’ from the ‘Jews’: in the movies and artistic renderings, he’s blond and they are swarthy; he is cute and buff and they need rhinoplasty and Pilates”. (Levine 2006:19)

This ‘divorcing’ of Jesus from Judaism in biblical stories and traditional Christian theology is neither honest nor helpful. Especially when we hear John’s story about Nicodemus.

So, in light of these comments, some suggestions; about the Jewish Rabbi we call Nicodemus, and his encounter with the Galilean sage we call Jesus. We might begin by hearing Nicodemus as a pilgrim.  A sincere religious seeker. A student who uses his precious study time to “expand his search beyond the standard texts… and distractions of the day”.   ( 2008)

We might also hear Nicodemus, a member of the religious institution of his day, as a mover of theological boundaries. Willing to risk leaving behind past ‘truths’ as he and his colleagues 
have been taught them and known them, in order to explore something new. Many boundary movers today know what that means among friends and colleagues and among literalists and institutional stakeholders.

So instead of questioning his motives, as it appears Lowry and our general interpretive tradition has done, we might see Nicodemus’ motives recognised as both open and honourable. For Nicodemus, as for us, he must be allowed to respond to ‘the new’ or ‘the different’ in a variety of ways rather than prescribing a single way of thinking or believing. How else can he and we discover that our lives and our thinking might be different?
Not just by re-shaping, but by re-thinking and reconstructing!

The invitation that metaphor offers Nicodemus and us. It to be able to think wholistically about life and ask ourselves what would we do differently if given half the chance? How would we grow up differently? How would we re-edit the story of our life?

The story of Nicodemus is an invitation to be curious about life. To rethink and re-construct assumptions, the imposed order and the rules by which we control human relations. Not just to conduct an autopsy on our past, but to look to the future through the eyes of new possibility. To take seriously the ambiguity and serendipity of human existence. And in traditional words; to be born anew, metaphorically! To consider how life might be different!

I was at a retreat recently where the question that came up was What does being a Progressive Christian mean and I think the suggested approach to this Nicodemus story is a good start in answering that question.

Taking a prayer from the website ‘Textweek’ is the following:

Nicodemus.  Patron saint of the curious.  ( 2008)

  • May he protect the curious in each of us.
  • May he place us in the company of earnest and compassionate teachers,
    of whatever faith tradition, whose openness defines a new community 
    of hope and grace.
  • May he give us the courage to dare to know creativity – ‘g-o-d’, with heart and mind, with courage and strength, as traditional theological boundaries are pushed…
  • And pushed again, with honesty and originality, wisdom and imagination.

Lee, B. L. The Galilean Jewishness of Jesus. Retrieving the Jewish Origins of Christianity.  Mahwah. Paulist Press, 1988.
Levine, A. The Misunderstood Jew. The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus. New York. HarperOne, 2006.
Lowry, E. L. “Strangers in the Night” in W. B Robinson (ed). Journey Toward Narrative Preaching. New York. Pilgrim Press, 1990.
Shea, J. Gospel Light. Jesus Stories for Spiritual Consciousness. New York. A Crossroad Book, 1998.

McGilchrist, Iain . The Matter With Things: Our Brains, Our Delusions and the Unmaking of the World (p. 165). Perspectiva Press. Kindle Edition.

What is Lent?

Posted: February 22, 2023 in Uncategorized

What is Lent?

John Shelby Spong asks: What do you make of the Season of Lent and how should the Christian Church observe it?

Gretta Vosper responds; The season of Lent is traditionally understood to be a time for reflection, contrition, and consideration of the sacrifice Jesus undertook for our sins.

It has been, as we know, traditionally recognized for the forty days leading up to Easter. Preceded by Shrove Tuesday, upon which Christians are to prepare to confess their sins, Lent traditionally is entered into by many still as a holy season of penitence. However fewer and fewer follow that tradition even in today’s church. Just the other day I heard a radio announcement that The Tuesday is known as Pancake Tuesday when we make pancakes to give away to others.

Of course, all the traditionally penitence focus is contingent upon a belief in the atonement theory of the crucifixion by which we accept that Jesus died to save us from our sins and bring us into eternal relationship with the divine being, God. This is quite a crucial theological shift as when our belief in that story has cracks in it, the idea of Lent can become nonsensical. Why would we need to be penitential if we are considering the death of a man who didn’t die for our sins but was rather a sage/mystic who challenged the assumptions about the current social, political and economic way of being. It is no wonder he was executed because he challenged the very infrastructure of Roman theology, social beliefs and the Empire’s economic wellbeing. And it was political genius of the Romans to use his challenge to his own Judaic religion to crucify him.

If we didn’t believe in the idea of sin as it was constructed in the early centuries of Christianity? Why would we consider an act of contrition the appropriate response to an act of barbarity and violence?

The seasons of the Christian year and the festivals and traditions that are celebrated within them are usually based upon doctrinal or theological premises that are traditional contextually relevant and they may be difficult to discern for us at first blush. Communion often feels like a beautiful, communal meal. The doctrinal assertions that undergird it, however, are considerably different than many assume. Sacrifice, isolation, persecution social exclusion undergirds the importance of community and the stories of blood and body as metaphor for the communal meal are contextually out of place.

Similarly, however, Lent can be thought of as a meaningful time for reflection and the consideration of love, justice, and kindness when the doctrinal beliefs upon which it is built no longer synch with contemporary understandings elicited through the study of the historical Jesus or the evolution of the idea of God.

If our understandings have shifted and we no longer believe that Jesus died for our sins, something many of us do not believe, does that mean, however, that we should give up on the idea of Lent? Many progressives do not think so. Sometimes setting aside a period of time for intentional reflection on life, on love, and on the things that flow from the often challenging, intersection of those two things, can be a very important discipline to undertake, particularly in the busy craziness of twenty-first century Western society, and specifically in this current age when post covid, climate change impact and interpersonal violence are a growing influence on society, community and our families.

And so, I like Gretta and others, invite you to undertake a course of reflection and study if that is your wont and to set aside a prescribed period in which to do it. Forty days feels good to me. And giving something up for Lent, an idea that is built on the practice of fasting, again, an act of penitence, can be worked in, if you like, by way of breaking a bad habit, or building up a good one.

 I’m giving up austerity for Lent.  
 My impulse to beat myself-up in order to win God’s favour seems to die hard.  
 So, I’m tackling this with a diet of joy,

supplemented by a daily dose of the Lord’s Supper.  
The original Christians didn’t celebrate Eucharist

with cardboard wafers and diluted grape juice.  
They shared communion in the midst of a common meal

and sometimes inside a genuine feast.  
I wonder what we’ve lost.  
So, I’m giving up austerity for Lent.  

Mark Herringshaw,

As with other ecclesial practices and understandings, however, I invite you to consider leaving behind the exclusively Christian word associated with it: Lent. To hold onto I think without critique and even perhaps with it, continues to overshadow our period of reflection with a bleak and dangerous interpretation of a tragic story. This is not suggesting that we deny others their right to use the word or to critique them for it. The thought is simply that we practice without it and see if it feels okay for us. Like most words over time, they can change with their meaning. We don’t need the doctrinal interpretation to reap the benefits of reflection and a sabbatical time away from the daily grind. And it is very likely that if we share the news of our intentional forty-day practice with someone who is not involved in church – someone at work or a family member – they will be far more likely to want to know what it is we are doing and why.

Gretta Vosper offers some suggestions about what one could do as an alternative practice. She says that of we are at a loss as to what you would do rather than some self-flagellating practices here are some ideas to begin with:

Think about what one or another of others might elicit in and from you. Would it make your life or the life of another more beautiful? If so, it is certainly worth trying. But the list is simply to stir your own imagination and see what you might undertake against the backdrop of your own life. 

Consider, making a pledge to yourself, and, if you can, keep track of how to feel as you move through your time.

  • Use one of the online short meditations each day.
  • Sign up for a poetry blog and read a new poem every morning when you get up and the same one every evening before retiring. Better yet, write a new poem every day!
  • Find an appropriate phrase or sentence of commitment, Print or write it out and pin or stick it up next to your bathroom mirror. In the morning, consider how that phrase or sentence can affect your day positively; in the evening, acknowledge what you might have done better and celebrate the good you made happen.
  • Write a thank you note to someone every day. Like that person down the street who you don’t know but who gifts the community each year with a beautiful garden or Christmas light display.
  • Think of a charity you’d like to support. Every day, place an amount of money you’d like to contribute to it and a note to explaining why you want to support it (yes, a different one each day!). Read the notes when you’re done and, if you feel like it, send them in an envelope with your cheque.
  • Subscribe to the daily TED talk or a YouTube series about the latest thinking on Sociology or Community and learn something new every day. Follow up on stuff that really intrigues you.

This will go a long way towards breaking any mold that Lent has been and release the new you that you’ve not yet met! And don’t forget to celebrate you while you do it!

About the Author:
The Rev. Gretta Vosper is a United Church of Canada minister who is a self-described ‘atheist’. Her best-selling books include With or Without God: Why The Way We Live is More Important Than What We Believe, and Amen: What Prayer Can Mean in a World Beyond Belief. She has also published three books of poetry and prayers.

Bishop John Shelby Spongs ‘Question & Answer” Newsletter 23 February 2017 Published by <>

Living Imaginatively.

Posted: February 14, 2023 in Uncategorized

Living Imaginatively.

I think the words of the 1960s poet and song writer Sydney Carter got it right when he wrote….

You can blame it on Adam,
you can blame it on Eve,
you can blame it on the apple,
but that I can’t believe.

Transfiguration Sunday. Is a bit like – that I can’t believe! and today’s gospel story by Matthew is about one of those ‘but that I can’t believe’ incidents. A mythical incident in the life of Jesus called the ‘transfiguration’. And a direct pinch from the other storyteller, Mark.

But this claim is nothing new. Many times, it has been spoken of as a very imaginative story that has Jesus and some of his friends climbing to the top of a mountain. They enjoy the magnificent views. They breathe deeply the fresh air. They are engulfed by a cloud. They allow the experience to recharge their flagging spirits and re-sensitize their imaginations. Sounds familiar doesn’t it. Remember those moments when we meet nature anew. And like us they wanted the experience to last forever. ‘Let’s build our own chapel and you, Jesus, can be our private chaplain’. Never too much of a good thing.

But, says the storyteller, a booming voice out of a cloud put paid to the idea. And as another storyteller has said: The mountaintop is a refuge, but it is not home. The mountaintop is safe, but it is removed. We are forever changed up on the mountain, but we are useless to the world if we do not return and share what we have experienced. We go up the mountain so that we can come back down.

Now we can approach this story with historical questions… such as

  1. ‘How did this happen?’ ‘Where did it happen?’
  2. Or we can approach this story with theological questions… such as ‘What connections can we make to this story?’ ‘What is this story saying about Jesus, or even g-o-d?’
  3. Or we can approach this story with imagination as the poets and hymn writers have done through the ages, using what Tom Troeger calls ‘spiritual exegesis’.

We really do have several options but as a person interested in the theological overview I would choose option 2 and as a person who prefers to use intuition option three feels better when engaging with the serendipitous world.

During my life I have moved home many times so moving has been somewhat a regular event! Packing one’s stuff for a move is also a good time to throw out some of one’s stuff. And I and my wife have done that over the years. Neither my late wife nor I were hoarders! 

During our last move, on my retirement before I threw out many of my books papers and sermons, (More than six boxes) I admit to a degree of nostalgia.

I have to say that when I reflected on the past in preparation of this address it was the theological underpinnings which seemed to dominate my thinking. That, along with what is being suggested in this story/myth, is something quite important about God. It is that God is to be understood as a creative transforming ‘energy’ in the lives of people. And that we are called to come down off the mountain top and serve in the towns and cities and the valleys below. To reach out our hand, so to speak and touch the One who is incognito in our neighbour.

Undergirding this approach has been the archaeological concern for material to undergird or challenge the assumptions. I like many of my colleagues have appreciated the archeological work of both Dom Crossan and (the late) Marcus Borg.

As a follower of the Jesus Way and a Minister of Word and Sacrament I have been trained to be a critical biblical and theological thinker. And to be such is to seek understanding of what one believes and values, and to grow in that understanding. But there has always been that thing called experience and life and its part in the shaping of who I am and how I think. For many years my preaching on the Transfiguration reflected my training. It was during the years of parish ministry that I began to ask ‘what about the passion , the prophet’s ecstasy, the dreamer’s vision, the preacher’s imagination’. In reading Iain McGilchrist in his work of the two hemispheres of the human brain I have come to value the instinct, the experiential, and the non-conscious. Both as an wholistic critique of everything and as the outworking of love as a transfiguring event of life.

It has over latter years been of import to understand the comment: “Our faith is about entertaining angels, every bit as much as it is about seeking to comfort the afflicted and to heal the sick.  It is about seeking visions of a new heaven and a new earth, every bit as much as it is about seeking justice and resisting evil.”

And Marcus Borg’s comments that ‘Jesus was an ‘ecstatic’.’ Has renewed my interest in a more wholistic approach to discernment of truth.  Borg says “Jesus… was a Jewish mystic.  …I think he was a ‘critical thinker of the wholistic order’. This seems like the best explanation of his understanding of the wilderness and the impact of ‘empire’ on his society and civilization.  I think he had visions, though I don’t know whether we have an account of any of them.  I have a hunch that he had experiences of nature mysticism… this would be consistent with his sense of the immediate presence of God… I suspect like many he had an experiential sense of the reality of God in his prayer life, which I assume included some form of meditation”. (Borg 2002:132).

Option No. 3 is probably looking better now? Or maybe an amalgamation of all three?

Returning to our text for today we have to acknowledge that there is good news in this story. The good news is, that God, (however we use that word/symbol/metaphor), is not aloof and detached and supernatural, but rather that God as ‘Dynamic Event’, works like an expert weaver, and is as Panentheism suggest intimately in nature naturally. Using some personalistic (and imaginative) language, God is in the fibre of our lives, weaving them into beautiful, powerful garments of love… empowering us for mission as a collaborative people critiquing our continuing theological journeys (as individuals and as communities)

The good news is also, the present-ness of God is: in the beauty of the universe around us, and in our ability to apprehend it, in the close encounters with new life and death. There is also an awareness of the way in which the hemispheres work to give meaning to human suffering, in the creation of the new, a tool of the imagination that gives value and meaning to daily in praying and meditation, and dare I say it, in many church liturgies.

So, with all the above the suggestion is that we don’t ignore or throw away these imaginative and mysterious experiences. Don’t let go of those things that you don’t understand or cannot explain slip past but rather, meditate on them, delight in them, use them in all their exciting particularity… As imaginative ‘energy’ or Creativity that vitalizes faith. See them as ‘Transfiguration’ or as a source of strength for living (and ministry) in the valleys below. As we revere how things are, and find ways to express gratitude for our human existence.

And to conclude a story that Rex Hunt wrote of; a story from Karl Peters, retired professor of philosophy and religion, as a clue to a new awareness and imagination.

Peters was sharing in a conference on ‘Prayer and Spirituality’ with a Zen Buddhist nun, called Geshin.  He said: “We were having a vigorous intellectual go at prayer and spirituality, with all their implications.  In the midst of our intense discussion, Geshin raised her hand and said, ‘Do you hear the bird outside, singing?’  I realized at that point that she had included not only what we were talking about, but also the whole environment around us.  She was connected ‘with the way things are in all their exciting particularity’”. (Peters 2008:104).

So like Rex I too offer the comment that imaginative and mysterious experiences can allow us to balance our personal selves with the sense we are in a context that is larger and more important than our selves. We humans need stories. Compelling stories. Stories from the sages and artists of past and present times “which help to orient us in our lives and in the cosmos”. (Goodenough 1998:174).

On that note Amen.

Borg, M. ‘Jesus: A Sketch’ in R. W. Hoover (ed) Profiles of Jesus. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press, 2002.
Carter, S. ‘Friday Morning’ in J. A. T. Robinson. But That I Can’t Believe. London. Collins/Fontana, 1967.
Goodenough, U. The Sacred Depths of Nature. New York. Oxford University Press, 1998.
Peters, K. E. Spiritual Transformations. Science, Religion, and Human Becoming. Minniapolis. Fortress/FACETS Books, 2008. 

‘Evolution, God, and an Unfolding Connectedness…’

Today in the progressive religious world, is Evolution Weekend and I want to recount a story by Rex Hunt that reminds us that there is a difference in talking about the nature of God and the Nature and God.

Rex tells of the time he bought a recommended book and when he got it home he realised he discovered that it was not called Nature of God at all. But instead, Nature and God. Nevertheless, the book and its author, L Charles Birch, former Challis Professor of Biology at the University of Sydney, became a valuable travelling companion with him on his personal theological journey. The very first sentence in Birch’s book is: “The concept of God’s operations in the universe as a series of fitful interventions from a supernatural sphere overlaying the natural is quite unacceptable to science”. (Birch 1965:7). While the third sentence said: “On the other hand, the traditional thinking of science, sometimes called mechanism, is quite unreconcilable with any reasoned Christian position”. (Birch 1965:7). Rex noted that since reading Birch an interest in communication, regular eye tests, and as a self-described ‘religious naturalist’ the relationship between science and religion, has remained with him! On the latter: the relationship between science and religion, three major views exist:

(i) the ‘conflict’ view – that science and religion are inherently, and perpetually, in opposition;
(ii) the ‘contrast’ view – that science and religion are different because they ask different questions;
(iii) the ‘integration’ view – that science and religion can be integrated into a self-consistent worldview.

Unfortunately, what emanates from many pulpits is more likely to represent the ‘conflict’ view than the ‘integration’ view. Which is why, on Evolution Weekend, many clergy try to speak personally about God.

God’ spelt G-O-D is a symbol or word known and used by nearly everyone who speaks the English language. But it is also a word which has many uses and meanings attached to it. The Macquarie Dictionary for one defines the word as: “the one Supreme Being, the creator and ruler of the universe”. (Macquarie Dictionary 1981:763). And this way of speaking theologically is called ‘classical theism’. This ‘God’ is supernatural, interventionist, and nearly always couched in male anthropological (or human-like) language and images. And for many this is still the way they think when they hear the word ‘God’.  Increasingly however this way of thinking no longer works. With inclusive language, pronouns critique and  dare I say it shifts in the human relationship with nature and the cosmos people’s thinking has and continues, to change.

Many have come to think of God as the creative process or ‘creativity itself’, I have used the term serendipitous creativity to try to embody the changing dynamic relationship rather than persist with terms that depict an impersonal machine maker who made something and then stepped back to watch it work and who only intervenes when asked to or when something needs fixing. Many clergy use the label of Christian Atheist to signify their difficulties with Theism. I prefer the term ‘Anatheism’ which suggests that this God is through and beyond and more than theism. Or as what might be terms as Love itself.

  • Many have tried, in the main, to use non-personal metaphors rather than personal ones to avoid the mechanistic and embrace the relational.  And let’s be honest the thoughts of many have been including those positively influenced by the work of Charles Darwin and his 1859 publication, On the Origin of Species.

In that book Darwin suggested that the world/universe was:

  • unfinished and continuing;
  • involved chance events and struggle, and
  • natural selection took the place of “design according to a preordained [divine] blueprint”. (Birch 1965:29).

Put another way more inclusive way might be to say: cosmic evolution, biological evolution, cultural/symbolic evolution. (Peters 2002, Kaufman 2004). Or yet another way: “In the beginning was creativity and the creativity was with God, and the creativity was God.  All things came into being through the mystery of creativity; apart from creativity nothing would have come into being. (Kaufman 2004:ix).

I would dare to suggest that we have mentally constructed another universe in recent years. Both in science and in religion/theology. Not as some sort of revelation by by evolution in keeping with our reality. In science, the most widely accepted modern estimate of the earth’s age is approximately 4.5 billion years.  While the universe – that whole “complex, interrelated and interacting… matter-energy in space-time… of which humans are an integral part…” (Gillette 2006:1), is approximately 14 billion years old.

And “if we put our fourteen-billion-year universe on a clock of one hour, humanity appears in only the last few seconds” (Peters 2002:127). So, ‘modern’ science is saying and has been saying, again and again: the universe must be regarded as a whole; it is of intrinsic value, and each part, galaxy, organism, individual atom, participates in that intrinsic value as each part or web, participates in this wonderful web of life.

This is further supported by recent neurological understandings and experimental outcomes of the human brain at work. Iain McGilchrist’s work on the brain and the mind supports this interdependent dynamic relational reality. No longer is it sufficient to argue that each part, put together makes a whole like some sort of mechanical entity is rather a living organism that is more than the sum of its parts. It is a whole first and foremost.

As one overseas colleague of Rex’s has said: “This science is public and cumulative and open to anyone who wishes to pick up a book and read”. (John Shuck). This is a challenge to the definitions we use for God.

And just in case you think this is new there are a few books, such as: Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution”, David Sloan Wilson, Evolution for Everyone. How Darwin’s theory can change the way we think about our lives, and
Lloyd Geering, ‘From the Big Bang to God’. Our Awe-inspiring Journey of Evolution. That support this view.

The ‘naturalistic’ strand of theology shaped by former (now late) Harvard Divinity School theologian, Gordon Kaufman, presents God as a non-personal ‘serendipitous creativity’
“manifest throughout the cosmos instead of as a kind of cosmic person.  We humans are deeply embedded in, and basically sustained by, this creative activity in and through the web of life on planet Earth”. (Kaufman 2004:58).

Rex argues that Kaufman clearly names the problem with traditional religious language and thinking. Likewise, his alternative thinking and language embraces both our scientific knowledge and the reality beyond the symbols of biblical faith.

What is happening around the world is that a growing number of people, religious and scientifically minded, and conscious of this ‘web within a web of life’, or this dynamic more that is both organic and material or spirit and matter interwoven are recognising that our modern life-style is: harming other creatures, diminishing the functioning of ecosystems, and altering global climate patterns.

The earth is under assault!  Indeed “we are killing our very life support system in a manner unprecedented in human history.  And yet, most of us go about our daily lives more or less blissfully indifferent to the devastation”. (Hill 2008:10). Thus, progressive religious thought calls each and every one of us to ‘dance with’, to find and live in harmony with, our world.

And progressive religious/christian thought seeks to name appropriately that creativity which indwells and sustains all life forms… galaxy organism and individual atom… ‘God’ or ‘the sacred’ or ‘serendipitous creativity’.

Meanwhile, Karl Peters, retired professor of philosophy and religion, has a couple of interesting and detailed comments. They are like that which I have often been accuses of, a bit technical and a little wordy, but they are an attempt to revisit interpretations and concepts of the past in a new way.

To the question: ‘How old are we?’ Peters says: “phenomenally, a few decades; culturally, a few centuries or millennia; biologically, millions of years; cosmically, about 15 billion years”. (Peters 1992:412).

To the additional question: ‘How long will we continue?’ he adds: “phenomenally, a few more decades or less; culturally, maybe a few more centuries; biologically, millions of years or, if we do not destroy ourselves first, perhaps until our sun dies five (5) billion years from now; cosmically, until the universe ends, which may be never…”. (Peters 1992:412).

Peters, answers are a kind of cosmic recipe for the functioning of all things. And reminds us that nature is in us as much as we are nature. “We are webs of reality, woven out of the threads of culture, biology, and cosmos…  As webs of reality each of us is a manifestation of a larger part of the universe as a whole…  We contain in us… after many cosmic, biological, and cultural transformations, the radiation that was present at the origin of the universe”. (Peters 1992:412).

For Peters and for many the evolutionary epic is a religious world view. All of this and more, is why, on Evolution Weekend, we might talk about God. The capacity of the natural world to inspire a religious response from humans has long been recognised—even before the new level of stunning cinematographic visualisations as in David Attenborough’s The Blue Planet 1 & 2 and before that, Carl Sagan’s Cosmos

Thus, there is no good reason to believe that taking nature to heart leaves a person with any fewer spiritual benefits than taking to heart the teachings of supernaturalist traditions.  “If we can go to special places, built by humans, which are designated as sacred,” writes Jerome Stone, “surely, we can go to special places, shaped naturally, which are recognized as sacred… 

J A Stone reminds us that there is a strong monotheistic tradition of cutting down the sacred groves. What we need is to realise that to have a sense of sacred place is not tree worship… but is rather the acknowledgement of the awesome, and the overriding and the overwhelming.” .(Stone 1997)

One of the important things to understand and embrace is that religious orientation only lives while we are making it up, while our imaginations and creative juices are firing and we are ‘composting’—crafting—new angles, new narratives, new metaphors within the particular context of the moment because these things are liberating.  And such ‘crafting’ is today, much more than embarking of a salvage operation!  What matters most for the religious life, is imagination and experimentation.  Honouring and engaging the mind, living the question as dynamic, dialectic, not just intellectually thinking and by exploring the adventure of being human, using intuition, imagination as the mode of becoming. 

Birch, L. C. Nature and God. London. SCM Press, 1965.
Birch, L. C. Science & Soul. Sydney. University of New South Wales Press, 2008.
Gillett, P. R. “Theology of, by, and for Religious Naturalism” in Journal of Liberal Religion 6, 1, 1-6. (An online journal).
Hill, J. A. Ethics in the Global Village. Moral insights for the post 9-11 USA. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press, 2008.
Kaufman, G. D. In the Beginning… Creativity. Minneapolis. Fortress Press, 2004.
Macquarie Dictionary. McMahons Point. Macquarie University, 1981.
Peters, K. E. Dancing with the Sacred. Evolution, Ecology, and God. Harrisburg. Trinity International, 2002.
Peters, K. E. 1992.  “Interrelating Nature, Humanity, and the Work of God: Some issues for future reflection” in Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 27, 4, 403-419.
Zimmermn, M. “The Evolution-creation Controversy. Why it Matters”. Part 1, in The FourthR 23, 6, 11-15, 26, 2010.
Stone, J. A. “On Listening to Indigenous Peoples and Neo-pagans: Obstacles to Appropriating the Old Ways” in (Ed). C. D. Hardwick & D. A. Crosby. Pragmatism, Neo-Pragmatism, and Religion: Conversations with Richard Rorty. New York. Peter Lang, 1997

R E Hunt