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Woopee. Spring is here!!!

Finally Spring has arrived … finally … with all its variety of weather. But amongst the continuing rain and cold wind there are times when the sun does shine and its warmth is so welcome. I don’t remember the last time I brought a cup of coffee out to the table in the back yard and just sat for a few minutes.  It’s a beautiful experience. And I find myself noticing the wattle birds flitting from blossom to blossom … the white cockatoos prowling the big oak trees in the back corners of the yard between excursions to the bird feeder where fights erupt with the precocious and funny rainbow lorikeets … magpies warbling joyfully a short distance away … voices wafting in from the golf driving range over the back fence. Somehow the sounds of the traffic on nearby roads, reminders of thee busy world we live in, fades into the background for just a little while. I find myself hearing sounds I haven’t ‘heard’ for so long, not because they weren’t there necessarily, but because I hadn’t taken the time to sit and pay attention to what was present. Life so often squeezes such spaces with the result that we fail to appreciate what is available to us. We fail to notice the ‘dance of creation’ that is going on all around us, inviting us to join in. So often our spirits are burdened by the next item on our agenda, demanding attention, and rather than engendering an appreciation of life in our souls instead draining that joy. Its all a matter of what we pay attention to.

(Rev) Stan


Stories as a powerful medium

I have had the delightful privilege of visiting the children in our kindergarten programs this week and reading them a story. Stories are such a powerful medium. But those stories come in all sorts of varieties – some exciting and fill us with joy, others are tough stories that entail grief. Our lives are a succession of stories that together make up a much greater story than any single entry in that compendium. During our recent short visit to Fiji we heard some stories about that country that I had never heard before. I have a colleague who lived for some time in Fiji, initially as a school teacher and then was ordained in Fiji. His wife is indigenous Fijian. I have talked with them often about the various developments in that country since our first visit there 25 years ago. I thought I had a reasonable grasp of what has been going on. But during our recent visit I heard three such divergent stories – the first from an indigenous Fijian who is a member of the Methodist Church, the second an Indian Fijian of several generations descent who was a Hindu, and the third from a Pakistani Fijian of several generations descent who is a Muslim. I was reminded of an old Indian fable that tells of six blind men who came across different parts of an elephant, each describing that self-same elephant in very different ways. Each of those descriptions was right. Philosophy departments use that fable to warn against delusions of absolute truth. But perhaps philosophers end their agenda too quickly, for doesn’t the picture of the fable point to them encountering something bigger than their own limited encounter, namely the elephant. Knowing that anything we are learning and experiencing is only part of a bigger truth that is always beyond our current descriptions has two consequences. It should, with the philosophers, help us to accept other people’s experiences as valid. But it should also drive us, as theologians, to continue our own search for understanding of that bigger truth then we have presently grasped.

(Rev) Stan


The NIMBY phenomenon

The choice to be a radical follower of Jesus is becoming starker in an increasingly polarised community. This week I was appalled to read of a group of residents who mobilised to block refugees being accommodated in their suburb. Other residents in the complex have made it known they are looking forward to meeting and getting to know their new neighbours. It reminded me of the battle EACH had in securing planning permission to build the complex providing accommodation for people with disabilities in Greenwood Ave. A group of residents fought that proposal all the way to VCAT. I welcome those residents as new neighbours. I am proud of how our community is providing an accommodation option for them that is respectful and enables them to participate in their community. The NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) phenomenon is seemingly alive and well. In considering potential development of our site in coloration with Uniting Wesley and EACH, while also providing additional accommodation options,  we have had to consider such a possible response. At Ringwood Uniting Church we believe the Gospel of Jesus commits us to accepting such a risk in the name of bringing healing and wholeness to our community. This week re read how Jesus engaged a group of lepers. Their community adopted a NIMBY attitude towards them. Jesus offered them friendship. In doing so he offered them healing on so many fronts – for themselves, for their families, and for the community generally. Not all of them deigned to thank him for his intervention. One, though, came to Jesus in profound gratitude. We will be exploring this ‘attitude of gratitude’ in our worship this week. It is a radical attitude to live out … but one that brings healing and wholeness for all of us.

(Rev) Stan


It’s bad news for organized religion

A majority of the religiously unaffiliated – the so-called “nones” – say they fell away from faith not because of any negative experience, but because they “stopped believing,” usually before the age of 30. And only a fraction – seven percent – say they are looking for a religion to belong to at all.

Those are among the more salient findings of a new study of the religiously unaffiliated conducted by the US Public Religion Research Institute…

Nones do not generally leave religion due to negative experiences. Sixty percent said they simply “stopped believing” in their childhood religion, while 32 percent cited their family’s lack of religious commitment. Less than a third – 29 percent – said negative religious teachings about gays and lesbians was important to why they left their childhood religion and only 19 percent cited the clergy sex-abuse crisis.

A majority of nones still believe in God – 22 percent say God is a “person,” while 37 percent see God as “an impersonal force.” One in five nones say a belief in God is “necessary” to morality.

But the study is full of interesting contradictions, too. While only one-fifth of all nones say morality is fostered by belief in God, one in three believes children should be raised in a religion to learn “good values.” And while one third of all nones say they do not believe in God, only a fraction – 13 percent – accept the label “atheist.”

[Kimberly Winston posted by Sojourners 22 September copyright 2016. More]

This whole study raises the very real question of whether the church in the western world is up to the evangelical challenge of communicating the Gospel of Jesus Christ to an unchurched community.

(Rev) Stan


A diverse but wonderful reality

There is an oft told story of a group of blind people all being led to an encounter with a large elephant from different directions. Consequently they each have a very different description to give of what they encounter. We had a similar experience during our recent visit to Fiji. I have friends who know Fiji very well. She is an indigenous Fijian. He taught and was ordained in Fiji, living there for some time. They have kept very close communication to Fiji. We talked often about the political goings-on in that country over the last 25 years. I thought I had a reasonable picture. But the person who drove us from the airport to our accommodation was an indigenous Fijian, a Methodist. He told us all sorts of things as we travelled, learning about what had happened to this Indian village here, that new power station being built over there. He also told us that we Methodists know that Fiji is a Christian country but some Muslims are trying to take control of the government. Midway through our stay we took an outing which required being driven to a meet-up point by an Indian Fijian. He was a Hindu. He had a very different story to tell. He was equally Fijian for several generations. Our fellow passenger was a pastor of an evangelical/Pentecostal church in Asia. He was only interested in talking to us and telling us what he had worked out about the genealogical heritage of the indigenous Fijians, not at all interested to talk to our driver. Then our driver back to the airport at the end of our stay was a Pakistani Fijian, again of several generations. And he heard another story of Fiji. Every one of those stories was true, honest, and personal. It is a wonderful place, with lots of wonderful upside, but also some real challenges. We are increasingly aware that that is many people’s experience of the church. The church is not a single definitive story, but rather a collective of all our stories, that we must share with those we meet. They are wonderful stories. They are all stories of God’s grace.

(rev) Stan