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12 September 2016: ‘Church Teaching and Practice with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs’ led by Cristina

We considered Maslow’s hierarchy and its completeness and relevancy in today’s times and society.   How seriously does the church accept the Physiological needs?  Each congregation will (should) react to local needs; there are also national umbrella groups making submissions to Select Committees on government bills eg NZCCSS.  We determined that the next level ‘up’, security, is something of an illusion – there is not such thing as absolute security – life itself is risk and implicitly involves risk.  Security can be at many levels physical, emotional, psychological, financial.  We thought prayer could assist in ‘externalising’ fear/concerns and so helping to lay the issue to one side; mindfulness can also play a role as can the support, sharing, sense of belonging to small (intimate) church groups.  Love is the next level but some wondered whether this should be an even more basic need – unloved babies don’t result in fully human adults.

Churches can assist building self esteem by supporting and encouraging, not searching for excellence.  Historically the church has been guilty of the opposite by proclaiming ‘the wages of sin are death’ and the associated loss of self esteem in order to promote its ‘redemptive’ theology.

Governments and western societies in general are focussed on levels 1 and 2 ie aspects that can be measured and haven’t attempted to build a loving, caring society by sharing of wealth.  We reiterated our view that the education, health and housing are government responsibilities and should not be run for as a business or for profit, but for the benefit of all.

Praise should be directed towards what someone has achieved, rather than praising the person (which can become an addiction.)  We will all move up and down the Maslow needs as circumstances change; there are not fixed ‘lines/boundaries’ between the levels.  They are not something one moves up on and then stays at that level.

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25 July 2016: ‘Progressive Spirituality Boldly Doubting Still’ by Val Webb video lecture led by John

The lecture was recorded under the auspices of the St Andrew’s Trust for the Study of Religion and Society, Wellington on 1 September 2014.

Some quotations worth recording:

  • At the bottom of great doubt lies great awakening – no doubt, no awakening!
  • Doubt in any area of life is healthy, but for many people in religion doubt is not OK.
  • Silencing the doubter is a form of abuse – “it’s all her fault”.
  • Martin Luther endured years of agony before he challenged the Church.
  • Being freed to doubt “my chains fell off, my heart was free..”
  • Doubt is not the opposite of faith.
  • The opposite of faith is to be without faith, and the opposite of belief is unbelief
  • Unfortunately, many church communities are not hospitable spaces for doubters.
  • The sturdiest faith comes out of a struggle with doubt.

…and many more!

She also gave an interesting summary of the Gospel of Thomas, and her explanation as to why Thomas was given such a bad press because of his requests for evidence.

Val Webb has a pleasant conversational style of presentation, and all our group were certainly given encouragement in our faith journeys.

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11 July 2016: Lecture “Spiritual Defiance – Faith as a Resistance to Empire” by Robin Meyers available on the web led by Karen

This is one of a 3 part theme of Meyer’s which is also the theme of a book of the same name.  The 3 aspects are Resistance to Ego, to Orthodoxy, to Empire.

Jesus is Lord ie Caesar is not.  Jesus’ mission was to challenge the established ‘church’ and its acquiescence to Roman rule.  Meyer’s perspective is the US, where the church is not a thorn in the side of the government (which acts like an empire).  When Empires have a problem with some-body they react by getting rid of the ‘body’.  After Constantine in the 4th Century, Christianity became an empire. Conformity (apathy?) is the most dangerous attitude against Christianity.

There are many revealing and fresh thoughts and observations – ‘TV is the foot soldier of the Empire’; call conflict and armed intervention for what is is – War.  No Christians would serve in armies/fight until 4th century. The empire favours and supports the unelected power of corporations and financial institutions [hence one of the basis of Christian opposition to TPPA?] to the overall detriment of individuals.

Meyers portrays a church which has completely missed the essential message of Jesus – love your neighbour as yourself; also as expressed in the Golden Rule.  Christians need be be reactive by demonstrating ‘resistance’ to Empire and its tools of power.

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27 June 2016: A Matter of Faith – group discussion

The search for ‘truth’ somewhat counters the need for ‘faith’.  If one knows the truth one doesn’t need to have faith to believe – one already knows.  Faith is built up by experience, so one’s life and work and experiences shape our views on what is true/truth.  When one steps out in faith into new experiences we have to place our trust on the extension of previous experiences of truth.  Generally a rationalist reduces experiences to previous truths and therefore reduces/eliminates the need for faith.  The greater one holds the Biblical writings as literal truth, the less the need for faith in ‘things unexplained’.

We thought that over the centuries, people have become more compassionate, and civilisation has brought life improvements to many millions; there is less violence now than in earlier times – we just hear about violent acts more.  Our individual theological reflection is a result of our society and context. We noted the politicisation of religious belief and practice in US politics (it’s a necessity) which contrasts the formal position of separation of church and state.

Prayer and faith go hand in hand.  The spirit of God is here, present, within.  Pray provides insight, reflection (of self and others), a time to step aside from the pace of everyday life, internal centring; we don’t regard prayer as supplication to an external entity to interact with the world.

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13 June 2016: “The New Testament” a series of video Lectures by Prof Bart D. Ehrman. Lecture 3 ‘Ancient Judaism’ led by Linda

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23 May 2016: “The New Testament” a series of video Lectures by Prof Bart D. Ehrman. Lecture 2 ‘The Greco-Roman Context’ led by Hugh

The key point Ehrman makes in this lecture is that if the context is different the meaning of words change.  As an example “I love this course’ can be interpreted in the context of a golf course, a course of study, a meal course, a river course.  By emphasising the word ‘love’ it could also be heard as being cynical.

The period 300 BCE to 300 CE is known as the Greco-Roman period characterised by cults/paganism.  The area dominated by the Greek language for business, culture and learning was conquered by the Romans.  This was an agrarian economy, which looked for providence from many gods, controlled by Pax Romanu with a common language (Greek), coinage and a good road/communications network.

Characteristics of the pagan or cult society at that time were identified as:

  • Acceptance that there were were many gods – poly-theistic
  • It was accepted that all gods were valid, tolerated; there were gods acknowledged by the Roman state that had to be acknowledged through festivals; all others were a matter for the individual. [Not worshipping the state gods could be seen as insurrection.]
  • There was not a constant, daily devotion to one’s gods; religion was a matter of practice (sacrifice, prayers etc) not ethics.
  • Worship was through the practice of the cultic acts – largely sacrifices. The gods had to be appeased!
  • There was no belief in the afterlife; just day-to-day living was on the edge of survival so securing the favour of the gods was to ensure continued existence.
  • There was a hierarchy of gods from Zeus etc, down to ‘divine humans’ who were the result of a god and a human mother. Apollonius of Tyana was one with many parallels with the life story to Jesus. Stories of such ‘divine humans’ were not uncommon.  Note that we still have lower level gods today – eg saints such as St Christopher, Mary, etc.  In this sense at least, Christianity is not monotheistic.

Note that Judaism stood largely apart from these concepts of the pagan cults, apart from the practice of sacrifices.

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9 May 2016: “The New Testament” a series of video Lectures by Prof Bart D. Ehrman. Lecture 1 ‘The Early Christians and Their Literature’ led by Hugh

The accompanying notes to first first lecture include: ‘The New Testament is undoubtedly the single most important book in the history of Western civilisation, whether seen as a religious book of faith or as a cultural artefact.  It is probably also the most widely disputed and misunderstood.’  We agree with both observations.  The Bible is the root of our culture, it provides a sense of hope, it is often invoked and misquoted to support both sides of the same argument!  In this course, Ehrman has chosen to study the Bible from the perspective of its Historical context ie what was it’s meaning to people of the time of the original writings?

Knowledge of some of the basic facts about the NT is very low amongst today’s young people.  Which books should be included in the Canon which forms the NT, were in much dispute in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th centuries.   The present 27 books we have today was first included in a letter written by Athanasius bishop of Alexandria in 367CE.  There are other writings that we not included eg Gospels of Thomas and Peter.  The criteria for inclusion in the Canon were, written by the Apostles or someone close, written as close to the time of Jesus as possible, widely read and the writings included teaching that was widely accepted ie orthodox.

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4 April 2016: Book “How to be a Bad Christian” by Dave Tomlinson, led by Heidrun

This book has a provocative title and is part of a series of “How to be a Bad ….” where ‘Bad’ has the implication of being non-conformist compared with the established behaviours of the particular book’s subject matter.  In this case the author’s position is to expose the differences between a set of beliefs and ‘faith in one’s belly’.  We noted that we all have a set of religious/Christian beliefs as well as a greater or lesser degree of faith.  What might be the nature of such a faith – suggestions – a gut feeling, something/power in the universe, the goodness in all livings things especially sentient beings, that the universe is heading in the right direction, evolution is called into a journey, our journey through life is somehow ‘guided’.

The author also devotes considerable space to a discussion on the characteristics of Spiritual Intelligence SI – a parallel concept to IQ and EQ.  This prompted much discussion on whether a high SI was reflected in a higher level of faith compared with beliefs. Questions challenging what others say/contend (eg sermons) and creeds generally do not trouble those with a strong faith; there are no ‘keystone’ beliefs to loosen imperilling one’s whole belief structure.  What are the bedrocks to still being a Christian – if any?  Suggestions – compassion, love, treat others as you would wish to be treated (The Golden Rule), a sense of community, characteristics which Jesus portrayed.  We noted that boundaries need to be challenged if anything is to move forward – be that religious beliefs, technology, cooking etc.  One can foster one’s spiritual growth ie strengthen SI, through prayer, silence, mediation, wellness, appreciating nature.  There are 4 factors the author contends that give meaning to life – self-worth, personal authenticity, relationships and a sense of purpose (vocation).

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21 March 2016: Generous Hospitality Session 3 DVD: The Visitor

As a change from discussion, we watched the film ‘The Visitor’.  This is a moving account of ill-legal immigrants, who had been in the country for a number of years, apprehended after a no-fault incident, held in a detection centre and eventually deported despite the best attempts of friends and family.  Besides the hospitality offered the illegible couple, there is also an underlying theme of the powerless – v – the powerful.

Hospitality is initially offered reluctantly, but as relationships and trust build, wider aspects of hospitality are also offered.  The initial hospitality is also offered back – by cooking dinner, buying a newspaper, teaching drumming; common interests are discovered and shared eg music.  All the characters are changed by these interactions with each other.  Although hospitality is offered with no expectations, in this case (and maybe most cases) all parties are much the richer for the experience.

The film also had a powerful impact on those watching – mindful of the experiences of helplessness of those apprehended and held in detention centres in Australia.

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14 March 2016: Generous Hospitality Session 5: Recognising Jesus led by Cristina

We are not as open a society as we once were – witness the demise of front-facing verandas (moved to the great privacy of the back garden) to be replaced by (automatic) garage doors and or 1.8m high fences with keypad operated gates.

We acknowledged that the idealistic image of veranda-sitting wasn’t the only way of getting to know your neighbours – but this is much harder than it used to be with different working times, busy lives, more people renting and therefore more transient and increasing use of technology to allow choice of friendships not just with one’s physical neighbours!

We acknowledged that our homes are both a place of retreat from busyness and work but also a place to entertain and be hospitable.

On the road to Emmaus, the disciples had an opportunity to think about the events in Jerusalem around the Passover in a less emotional atmosphere, they were then joined by a fellow traveller which extended their discussion and thinking further; when they sat down to eat suddenly something made them recall similar situations when Jesus had been present and they realised that their memories would not allow these experiences to be lost. One’s experience of God is an emotional one, of the spirit – not a physical, analytical one.  The emotional experience can result in some reactive/irrational action eg in this case the disciples hurrying back to Jerusalem despite the dangers of being on the road after dark.

How to offer hospitality in todays’ setting?  With strangers a public place is preferable(safer) eg café, or as a group in a hired hall or marquee.  An ‘open’ home has some risks – burglary, invasion of private space, physical safety, embarrassment of personal ‘mess’.  The upside is that visitors to a home will get to know more about you via memorabilia, photos, books, the music you enjoy etc.  We need to try to be more creative in welcoming strangers especially those who come to church and by being more conscious about keeping in contact with people eg a phone call.