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20 March 2017: Mission in Contemporary NZ – a discussion paper by Prince Devanandan, President of Methodist Church

We have lost a sense of Mission as traditionally understood in the last 100 years. It’s no longer ‘saving souls’.  It’s something that the church helps, prepares, trains members to do.  We are in a new axial period so there is no clear path as to the future direction of Christianity.  Is ‘being active in the community’ sufficient? No, as it doesn’t address the spiritual aspects of an individual, or answer ‘Give a reason for the faith within you’.  Jesus spoke and taught (while socialising?) much more than doing healing and feeding.

John Wesley and Billy Graham told people they were sinners and needed to repentant to save their souls.  While this had a short term impact of people attending church, it has not been long lasting- perhaps because this interpretation no longer rings true for people today.  Our world view has moved on.  In the paper this is referred to as “inherited mission” contrasted with ‘Emerging mission’ for 21st century.

We were concerned that the church has become a ‘corporation’ that needs to be supported with rules and regulations.  Has become myopic – the organisation and its existence becomes the focus.  Jesus and Wesley stepped out of their corporate church world?

We thought the word ‘God’ is a stumbling block with its image of an old man in the sky determining ones fate after death.

A recent article suggested that the focus of Conservative churches is overseas mission(aries); Liberal churches on social justice. 

What is the motivation for mission? Self-interest (not selfishness), a sense of achievement, attaining something one’s strived for; altruistic because it needs to be done, without expectation of reward

We noted the emphasis on discernment, which always has a component of ‘what I want’; in learning what are the needs in the community, it’s important as to how we react to it – positively/negatively, do something about it/ignore/too big.  Prayer => silence => discernment.  Discernment issues now? – petitions to Parliament on water use/rights/free for commercial exploitation, parking costs at hospital.

Definitions for 21st Century mission:

  • Bringing people into a right relationship with everything in and on the planet
  • Make the world a better place – for all living things
  • The seen and unseen church in action

We will lead the service on 23 April on Mission.

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13 March 2017: Article “‘…as we forgive them…’ or not: when forgiveness is inappropriate” a précis of and by Trish McBride 2010; led by Heidrun

This challenges the traditional view that forgiveness is the embodiment of the Christian message; in some situations, it is not appropriate eg abuse of children, rape, lack of guilt.  Acknowledged that forgiveness is a laudable and a real Christian characteristic.  Forgiveness allows those who have been injured/wronged to move on, but need time and opportunity to release feelings.  Whether forgiveness is accepted or not by the other party is not important, forgiveness is for the individual wronged.  Consequently giving an apology is not necessary but depends on level/perception of contrition can help. Forgiveness is a journey; being able to move on, no longer angry; relationship will always be different than before.

Forgiveness by you should not prevent reporting to the police; removing the wrong doer from society prevents further ill/wrong being done.  Christian repentance needs to be genuine so there should be no further wrong doing.  The Christian emphasis is on the perpetrator (repentance) not the victim.  Jesus on the cross asked God to forgive – but by implication he didn’t forgive!!

In the end forgiveness is about the power one has (imbalance).  Men have more power, ego, less forgiving; women tend to be opposite. This is reflected in the typical/historical church attitude that the wife is in the wrong in a family situation – ‘go home and try harder’!

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5 December 2016: film on Utube ‘Taking Root: The vision of Wangari Maathai’

Wangari won the Nobel Peace prize in 2004 for her work in Kenya.  Wangari first came to some prominence when she started a movement (The Green Belt) to address a shortage of firewood for cooking in villages, by simply planting trees.  The villagers collected seeds and propagated them and nurtured them until large enough to be planted out.

Wangari’s story was inseparable from the political history of colonial and then dictator Moi’s abuses, power and economic exploitation.  The film suggested a deliberate elimination of cultural heritage through the spread of Christianity so as to ‘tame’ the indigenous population. The Mau Mau uprising in 1952 eventually resulted in independence from the UK in 1963. However the removal of the forest to grow tea and coffee initiated under the colonial rule was accelerated after independence.  This resulted in the loss of knowledge of traditional crops which exacerbated health issues from food shortages.

The Green Belt continued to expand and plant trees, despite challenges from the Moi regime.  Wangari herself became used to challenging authorities and, with the momentum of the Green Belt behind her, succeeding. This included organising a hunger strike (11 months) for the release of political prisoners, protesting the selling public forests and spearheading a campaign using international connections, to prevent a hotel being built on a central Nairobi park.  Moi was very unhappy as it showed the regime was not all-powerful.

When democratic elections were announced (which Moi lost), the Green Belt ran Civil and Education Centres to inform people about the election process an importance of voting. Education was largely by using stories and encouraging ordinary people to challenge the ‘ney sayers’ – Why should we not plant tress, What’s wrong with trees?  Trees can’t vote! She stressed the importance of stories, and sharing stories, to stand up for what we believe in and not to be intimidated.

The film ended with the observation that ‘the little people (the ordinary person) can change this world’.  Wangari Maathai was one of those people.   An inspiring story.

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28 November 2016: Book ‘Matter and What Matters’ by Lionel Sharman Chapt 11 – led by John

This last chapter starts by considering prayer.  If god in non-interventionist, is prayer a waste of time? We thought not – it clarifies and calms our thoughts, stimulates the brain to a higher consciousness, calms a troubled mind – via the rosary, Taize chants.  Is there some spirit in the universe which draws mystics towards a common understanding, vision – that of compassion?

The true message of Christmas? The image of a baby – humbleness, potential, helplessness.  The traditional view as god incarnate as shown through Jesus’ love of self and in his relationships with others, challenging the primacy of the Levitical laws.

The author contents that god/Jesus had to die – we could not rationalise this view.  Jesus was killed as he was a potential trouble maker for the Roman authorities; a theological argument was created later.  Religious ‘promises’ give people hope and meaning especially in times of stress /bereavement – when its appropriate to let go (of more rational views) and just hope.

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21 November 2016: Book ‘Matter and What Matters’ by Lionel Sharman Chapt 10 – led by Ian

With the backdrop of the Presidential election in the US, we discussed the seemingly dawning of a post-factual, post-truth age; lies are put forward as truth, those that wish to believe do – the rejection by non-believers is not important or relevant.  The lies are ‘revisited/re-interpreted’ later.

As God is not interventionist what are the implications for biblical themes of judgement, prayer and petition?  What is the concept of ‘fairness’ – is there any, how might it be measured or recognised?  Is an earthquake fair?  Is nature fair or simply ‘neutral’?  Does judgement fall on communities eg bush clearance resulting in land slips and local climate changes? Karma – what goes around comes around.  The group thought we all needed to work together, to cooperate to create a ‘fairer’, by which we meant more equitable, society.  There is never a single answer to What is the mind of God?

Humans are social creatures and therefore need to belong, want to feel part of some affiliation – hence clubs, gangs; the Jews of the Old Testament had a tribal identity.  Over time tribes have morphed into principalities, into countries/nations and more recently, as a consequence of globalisation, into global corporates.  Corporates are replacing national governments as the decision makers eg via free trade agreements.  The poem by Epicurus assumes an interventionist god – but what if god is more laize faire? Is there the possibility of a wisdom dimension of the universe that people can tap into through prayer and mediation?

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7 November 2016: Book ‘Matter and What Matters’ by Lionel Sharman Chapts 8 & 9 – led by Ian

Chapt 8 is titled ‘Stories’.  We are creators of meaning from nature and history.  Reality is only what is perceived by our senses and then ‘interpreted’ by our brain.  (The story of a blind person trying to interpret the form of an elephant through touch.) This led to the thought that the reality of the physical world is ‘more’ real as it is a shared experience; our feelings, experiences, relationships form our personal reality – and therefore can’t be challenged or really known by others.  Hence the difference of views of witnesses to the same event.  There is no absolute truth!  Humans can and do justify events; they really believe that bad things haven’t happened.

So how ‘real’ is science?  Our ‘materialism’ influences our values and vice versa.  Teleology is the interpretation of a purpose in physical events.  We need to keep up to date with the possible implications of technology – can’t undo once the ‘genie is out of the bottle’.  Morality is now being set by corporations – not Governments, rulers or people. [Exception ISIS.]   We noted that Millennials are more tolerant with less ‘hate’, greater acceptance than previous generations.  This could be a consequence of more diverse communities which engender more understanding through greater interaction.

Chapt 9 ‘History & Meaning’.  Humans don’t learn from our negative/bad experiences so seem predetermined to repeat them!  Arguably though, there has never been a better time to be alive – world-wide the level of general health/life expectancy, availability of food assistance from technology has never been greater.  [Will it continue to improve – if so for how much longer?]  We make stories to give meaning => we need to modernise our myths to make them speak to today’s situations and experiences or let them go to invent new ones.  Children need myths to work with, journey with or they may be unable to see any future.

Why read the Bible?  The stories are still relevant because they are about people and we haven’t changed in basic behaviour or instincts since the stories were developed.  They are not about the science of understanding, but making sense, interpretation of events and the meaning of life.

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31 October 2016: Book ‘Matter and What Matters’ by Lionel Sharman Chapts 7&8 – led by Adrienne

Chapter 7 is titled ‘Back to Humans’ (compared to biology & Physics).   Sharman makes the point that we are much more than our constituent parts, that view is too reductionist, we have self consciousness, sentience.  If the universe is to have meaning does this imply the reality of God?  Is meaning just laws (of nature)? We thought not, there is a spiritual dimension within each of us.  Time limits us – but ‘God’ is not so limited – though our concept, understanding, experience of God changes with time.

Early humans sought meaning in the physical events they were caught up in eg, weather, success of crops and other natural phenomenon; meaning was somehow ‘revealed’, a willingness to consider a higher power at work.  We thought a modern parallel could be the sense of serenity in care facilities.

Is the Bible – literally ‘The Word of God’ or a purely human construct or a mix of the two?  We thought that we would interpret ‘the Word of God’ as the experiences, impressions, search for meaning of ordinary people seen and interpreted through their cultural eyes.  We have found that the physical and biological worlds are much more complicated than our thoughts or experiences (at a macro level).  Humans have a strong desire to know about how things work/operate.  Is complexity a feature or a purpose with a deeper meaning?  Final thought: is sin a lack of willingness to be part of the purpose of God? Is that purpose a desire to investigate complexity?

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17 October 2016: Book ‘Matter and What Matters’ by Lionel Sharman Chapts 5&6 – led by Heidrun

These chapters consider the operation of our brains.  Does the brain operate in the coherent, predicable, mathematically way Lionel proposes?  Some brain functions are innate, most from ‘experiences’ – both are stored in the brain.  How much is the brain like a computer – some functions ‘hard wired’, some determined by programmes (and increasingly now by learning).

We considered ‘out-of-body’ experiences, dreams, self awareness – these don’t appear to be ‘innate or predicable’.  Lionel argues that we don’t really have ‘free will’ – the brain will arrive at the same conclusion given the same set of circumstances – experience will predispose our decision/viewpoint.  We thought that age and other experiences would change one’s views and that indoctrination can be unlearned.  On the other hand, we tend to chose communication channels which reinforce our preconceptions eg news channels, social media, political rhetoric, and so limit our ability to think of other outcomes/views.

We think there is no separate non-material self.  We are a total complete package.  Criminals and psychopaths are as they are as a result of birth (hardwired) and circumstances; some reprogramming is possible, not but necessarily all.  We contrasted Lionel’s views with Karen Armstrong’s Logos and Mythos; modern thought focusses on logos and ignores mythos – dreaming, imagination, hope.  According to Lionel, God is not provable as no test can be established to demonstrate god’s actions ie cause and effect.

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10 October 2016: Book ‘Matter and What Matters’ by Lionel Sharman introduction – led by Ron

Lionel identifies 6 features which encourage him to attend church – we couldn’t disagree with any. He poses some searching questions – are events in the universe all determined by cause and effect?  Are our bodies also subject to the same laws as the rest of the universe?  What is the nature of ‘free will’, do humans really have it or are our ‘decisions’ just a predicable consequence of cause and effect?

Lionel then proposes a number of physical laws: observation trumps theory, all events are physical and can be observed, everything observable has a cause – a material explanation, nature (and hence science) is coherent ie behaves consistently.  We wondered where nurture and emotion fit into this picture?  The physical world may be predicable, mathematical but does this always apply to sentient beings?

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19 September 2016: RNZ interview with Brian McLaren – Nights with Brian Crump early 2016 – led by Adrienne

Brian responded to the questions posed very gently, calmly and positively.  These were his views but he wasn’t about to force theses on others or expect others to agree.  He started his Christian journey as an ‘evangelical’ but became unsatisfied with ‘standard answers’ to difficult questions. Jesus taught ‘love one another’; if we don’t (love one another) we faces consequences here and now (not in some after-life).  Should we accept this present materialistic world?  Yes, but challenging and changing societal issues such as social justice, climate change and accepting others not like ourselves, is not taking an easy way out. The word ‘God’ has so much baggage.

Climate change is a very significant challenge and is something that all faiths should tackle together; people en-masse can force change.  Christians choose ‘God’ through baptism; for Jews, ‘God’ chose them!  We all should respect other religions ie don’t tear them down to build up ours.

The Emergent Church is developing with parallel movement in Catholicism and Islam.  Brian has chosen to remain within establish church structures and work at reform from within, rather than start a new one.  He made the bold claim that the church’s biggest asset is its ‘ability to change and move’.  We must have been in a different world where church inertia and resistance to change appears paramount!!