Daily Archives: July 14, 2010

The links to Spirit of Things on “Progressive Christianity”

I have mentioned a couple of times the two programs on “Progressive Christianity” on the ABC Radio National program “Spirit of Things”. I thought I would just put up the links for all of you to look at, listen to and ponder.

The Spirit of Things – 9 May 2010 – Progressive Christianity Pt 1
Can you take Christ out of Christianity and still remain in the Church? Critics of the Rev’d Gretta Vosper claim she has done just that, but the Canadian minister in the United Church of Canada says she is forging a new inclusive form of Christianity where the Bible is not ‘privileged’. She and Australian fellow travellers are part of the Progressive Christianity movement and they speak to Rachael.

The Spirit of Things – 16 May 2010 – Progressive Christianity Pt 2
After a spiritual epiphany Fred Plumer wanted the experience of God to be at the centre of his Christian faith. Now the California-based Rev. Plumer is President of the Centre for Progressive Christianity, with a growing list of international church affiliates. The Rev. Margaret Mayman of Wellington in New Zealand sees Progressive Christianity as the best hope for achieving justice for lesbians, gays and transgenders in the church. Dean of the Anglican Cathedral in Darwin, The Very Rev. Jeremy Greaves, has to mind the gap between his Progressive Christianity beliefs and his aging congregation.

There are times in these interviews when Rachel Kohn, the interviewer (she is Jewish, by the way) gets a little frustrated with the ideas being expressed by her interviewees. For instance, she says to Fred Plumer, the founder of Center for Progressive Christianity:

I must say that your description of what young people don’t want was very disheartening this morning. I mean you talked about how the Bible’s fusty and they hate the music and they want to dump all sorts of things, basically dump a whole lot of the tradition, put in some rock music, things that feel good for them now. But it does make me wonder whether this is a rather unfortunate dumbing-down of a great long tradition, simply because a couple of generations of people have not been raised with any Christian education, they haven’t got any deep familiarity with the texts, certainly no love for them, and so they’re pretty alienated from them, and I wonder whether then this is kind of selling Christianity short, just in order to get the young people in at any price?

And again, at one point, she challenges the Dean of the Anglican Cathedral in Darwin about why he remains in the Anglican Church if he can’t abide the Apostle’s Creed:

Rachael Kohn: Do you specifically then have difficulties with the Apostles’ Creed that you might like to rewrite it or ditch it?

Jeremy Greaves: I’d be happy to abandon the Creed. And it’s certainly a point of conversation with some of my colleagues in Darwin. And I think when so much of the rest of our worship talks about spirituality and God in very different ways, to then stand and recite the Creed, particularly after some of the sermons that get preached in the cathedral, seems a very odd thing. There’s a great dissonance and the real challenge is how we move past that, I think…

Rachael Kohn: And is the whole issue of ‘does religion work for you’, the central one? It seems a kind of functional way of looking at religion, you know – if it works, good; if it doesn’t, ditch it. It’s a bit brutal, isn’t it?

Jeremy Greaves: It is brutal, but I think we’ve got a really good story to tell and if we can’t find a way of telling the story that people will hear, then what’s the point of having the story?…

Rachael Kohn: When you said the gut, it reminded me of what Gretta Vosper said, she was quoting Carter Haywood, who named the lurch in her stomach as God. What was your response to Gretta’s charge to the conference here to leave behind a lot of what has been traditional about Christianity, and even abandon some of the terminology?

Jeremy Greaves: I feel very conflicted about some of those things because – and she talked about that chasm between what so many of us believe and what we feel we have permission to say in our churches. And for so many of us in ministry, we’re locked into a model where the people who sit in the pews pay our salaries, pay our way. I have a wife and three small children to support and so the challenge of being too prophetic and changing too many things too quickly is that there won’t be enough people left in the short term to help me survive financially, and that’s a brutal and very difficult challenge.

Indeed yes, it is hard to be “prophetic” when you have to pay the bills. Tell me about it. If I could offer the Rev’d Greaves a word of unrequested advice, given that I know something about making hard choices in line with your conscience when you earn your bread and butter as a clergyman of a particular religious community. Sooner or later, Jeremy, you are going to have to bite the bullet and ask yourself whether, in conscience, you can truly be “prophetic” if you are not acting on your convictions…


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The Church of England decides – sort of

According to this report in The Age, it looks like the Church of England has successfully applied Perry’s “Fortieth Article” (“There is always a middle way, and it doesn’t have to be logical”) and found a way forward:

After almost two decades of infighting, posturing and politicking over the issue among traditionalists and liberals, a fragile peace has emerged, with both sides accepting that local arrangements should be made for Anglicans wanting to exempt themselves from female leadership.

At the meeting in York of the General Synod, the church’s ruling body, more than 370 of the 480 members voted in favour of diocesan bishops being able to decide what provisions should be made for traditionalists. It was not what the conservative evangelicals or Anglo-Catholics wanted, but after four days of bruising debate, it was all that was left.

Representatives from liberal campaign group Women and the Church said it was delighted with the outcome.

Traditionalists opposed to the compromise nevertheless supported it, fearing that the legislation would contain no provision for them at all. On Saturday, the Synod rejected their demands for extra dioceses and access to a class of male bishop who had never ordained a woman.

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, as they say. The Traditionalists have placed great faith in their local dioceses to respect their liberty. Nevertheless, it is good that they have come to some sort of resolution. We will simply have to wait and see how it works in practice.


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Songs to Saints

A Lutheran friend of mine once quipped, when I was telling her about music in the Catholic Charismatic movement, “Does that mean that instead of ‘Jesus I just love you I just want to hug you’ they sing ‘Mary I just love you I just want to hug you’?” Chortle, chortle.

The Age this morning had a news item about a new song written to honour our upcoming Saint, Mary MacKillop, written by Gary Pinto, which it said was available on YouTube. I went searching for it, and I think this is the one they mean:

Nice enough, but it got me wondering about that chorus:

“And the grace of your spirit gives hope to our lives,
the grace of your spirit gives peace to our hearts,
Mary of the Cross, woman for our times, Blessed of God.”

It reminded me of a song by Brother Michael Herry (whose music I rather like, even though not all of it is appropriate for singing at mass) in honour of the founding saint of his Marist Order, St Marcellin “You are the One” in which the chorus is:

“You are the one
on fire with the Gospel,
you are the one
who saw with new eyes.
You are the one
we name as our Founder,
You are the one we claim,
claim as our saint.

Neither song actually says much about Christ or about God, but is (perhaps understandably) rather focused on the particular graces of the Saint to whom the song is being sung.

You could probably find quite a few songs to saints in the past that are similar, but the traditional “saint song” (eg. “Great St Joseph, Son of David“, “Hail Glorious St Patrick“, “St Theresa Flower of Grace” (not online)) do tend to refer us to the mystery of the Divine in some manner or other (eg. their role in salvation history or their intercession for God’s graces) rather than simply extol their particular virtues.

I am particularly uncomfortable about singing to Mary of the Cross about her “spirit” rather than God’s Spirit, or the repeated “you are the one” in the hymn to St Marcellin rather Christ who is “the One” who reveals God to us.

Perhaps it is just my latent Lutheranism showing through…


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Understanding the place of Dialogue and Proclamation in the Church

Today, Cathnews is carrying an opinion piece from The Huffington Post by Jesuit Fr James Martin in reaction to this address by South African bishop Kevin Dowling.

I do not endorse the ideas presented in either piece, but it does remind me of a conversation I had with a priest yesterday about the way in which the media (and hence our society as a whole) sees the Catholic Church as beurocratic and authoritarian. I had just had reason to revisit the 1964 encyclical of Pope Paul VI Ecclesiam Suam in which he proposes a new way of communication with the world, namely dialogue.

In this encyclical, Pope Paul discusses the different modes of communication that are appropriate to different audiences. He writes:

But it seems to Us that the sort of relationship for the Church to establish with the world should be more in the nature of a dialogue, though theoretically other methods are not excluded. We do not mean unrealistic dialogue. It must be adapted to the intelligences of those to whom it is addressed, and it must take account of the circumstances. Dialogue with children is not the same as dialogue with adults, nor is dialogue with Christians the same as dialogue with non-believers. But this method of approach is demanded nowadays by the prevalent understanding of the relationship between the sacred and the profane. It is demanded by the dynamic course of action which is changing the face of modern society. It is demanded by the pluralism of society, and by the maturity man has reached in this day and age. Be he religious or not, his secular education has enabled him to think and speak, and conduct a dialogue with dignity.

Of course, today (as indeed the publication of Bishop Dowling’s “off the record” speech demonstrates) anything said to one audience is instantly made available to audiences everywhere and of every kind. So what is said in one context finds itself in many contexts.

The Church has many different ways of communicating. One long standing and indeed apostolic mode is that of “proclamation”: truth is proclaimed and taught AS truth, and the hearers are invited to accept and receive it. This happens in homilies (be they by parish priests or by popes), and it happens in circumstances where the audience is reasonably expected to hear and receive it as Truth – for eg. in the exercise of the formal teaching office of the Magisterium.

Dialogue, in which I am daily involved, involves a different approach, where we speak of our experience and our perceptions of truth, and invite a dialogue with those who have different experiences and perceptions, remaining open to hearing and understanding the dialogue partner as well.

The point is that anything said anywhere by anyone in the Church today will very probably be heard by many who cannot distinguish proclamation from dialogue, or the original context in which something is said. I for one speak differently when I am teaching from how I speak when I am in dialogue. I am thinking even of pastoral letters of bishops, which may be addressed to the faithful, but which are, by their public nature, going to be read and heard by many others with many different backgrounds.

So I am wondering: how do we make room for the Church to do that which she must do – ie. proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ – and at the same time make it clear to the world who is hearing us that we are not closed to dialogue, but rather invite it and welcome it?


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