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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!!

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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