Bishop John Shelby Spong ~ June 16, 1931 – September 12, 2021
Bishop Spong provided a much needed place for those of us who did not connect with traditional theology. We love you Bishop Spong. You will be missed! Funeral services will be held at St. Peter’s, Morristown, NJ and at St. Paul’s, Richmond, VA. Dates and times will be announced as soon as they are available

God Is Within

Church Service Sunday 14th March 2021 at Toronto Uniting Church.

Introductory comments before the service commences.  

This will most probably be the last church service I ever conduct.  An important milestone in my life.  My physical body is wearing out and the time and effort to prepare is just becoming a bit much for me.   Whether or not my mental capacity has also deteriorated may become evident during this service.  I don’t think it has deteriorated but we’ll see.  So, before we begin the service, I wish, if I may, to share with you some of my personal spiritual journey and the way my beliefs have changed.  My journey will continue and I have no doubt that my beliefs will change, as time goes on.

Without interruption, I have been associated with the church for all my 85 years.  When little, I always sat between Mum and Dad in church every Sunday.  I can remember dad would give me a nudge on the leg, if my head was not bowed low enough or my eyes were not closed during prayers.  Not quite sure how he knew my eyes were not closed!!  I attended at least 2 church services every Sunday for about 30 years and can remember even the numbers, in the Presbyterian hymn book we used, of many hymns we sang again and again.  Nos. 1, Holy, Holy, Holy; 535, Onward Christian Soldiers; 205, The Church’s One Foundation; 105, There is a Green Hill Far away, and so on and on.

The theology of the Cross of Jesus I was taught for about 50 years both in church services on a twice a week basis, and also to a large extent in theological seminary where I studied to become an ordained minister, is quite well summarised in the hymn, ‘There is a green hill far away’.   Why did Jesus die?

He died that we might be forgiven.                    There was no other good enough
He died to make us good.                                  To pay the price of sin.
That we might go at last to heaven,                    He only could unlock the gate
Saved by his precious blood.                             Of heaven and let us in.

I was deemed to be such a sinner, that it needed Jesus to die for God to be able to forgive me for being such a bad person.  I can remember endless conversations I had with my elder brother Alan, asking him ‘Why did Jesus have to die?’  Over the years my bewilderment grew significantly.

During all these 50 or so years, Jesus was portrayed as God, in human form.  I was taught that that was the Incarnation – God coming to earth as a human for a short period, to live as a human, to die, rise again and then return to heaven from whence he came; all according to God’s plan.   This was preached by the early disciples of Jesus, as in Acts 2:23-24;

In accordance with his own plan God had already decided that Jesus would be handed over to you; and you killed him by letting sinful men crucify him.  But God raised him from death…
 
And from a carol we still sing at Christmas, ‘Once in royal David’s city’

And our eyes at last shall see him                  Not in that poor lowly stable,

Through his own redeeming love;                     with the oxen standing by,

For that child so dear and gentle                   we shall see him; but in heaven,

Is our Lord in heaven above.                        set at God’s right hand on high,

And he leads his children on,                       when his children gather round                                               
To the place where he has gone.                     bright like stars, with glory crowned.
 
God was always portrayed to me anthropomorphically, as a super-duper human being.   ‘He’ had all the traits of a Human Being; bodily features of eyes, fingers, hands, feet, ears, nostrils and mouth, etc.; human emotions of love, hate, jealousy, uncertainty, wanting power, getting annoyed, etc.; human attributes of hearing, seeing, listening, talking, smelling, whistling, laughing, resting, etc. “He’ destroys, fights, forgives, creates, goes away, gets weary, changes God’s mind, etc.    All that humans do.    And so on and on!  But of course ‘He’ had more.    This anthropomorphic image of God is the major way, nearly the only way, God is spoken of, right throughout the whole Bible

All this is what I have been taught most of my church life, and I now find a lot of it unhelpful, in my journey with Jesus.  However, I don’t wish to criticise or belittle our religious forebears.

Different people in all different ages have used their imaginations to contemplate the mysteries of life, God and the universe.  I use my imagination too but it is very different to the imaginations of those who wrote our many of our well known hymns as well as the writers of the Bible.   This is partly because I live 2 to 3000 years after many biblical writers.  I do not believe the earth is flat with a solid dome above it, called heaven; as they did.  I do not believe in a three tiered universe with heaven up there, hell down there with the earth in the middle, as they did.  I do not believe there are many gods and that their god was the strongest; the almighty creator of all things, as they did.  I do not believe that God makes everything happen, as they did.  Their god was separated from the earth, living in heaven.  This was the imagination of the Bible writers.

My imagination is very different.  It includes the Big Bang, as the origin of the universe; billions of galaxies, with billions of stars in each.  This universe is expanding.  It includes the idea that all matter is made up of tiny atoms and molecules that are in continual internal motion.  These atoms and molecules are indestructible.  The atoms and molecules that form me are billions of years old.  I don’t really think I look quite that old!   These atoms and molecules came into being at the explosion of stars and all of them are still here, some in me.  I am connected to stars!  Wow!

Theologically, the imagination of past religious teachers had Jesus as the second person of the trinity, Father, Son and Holy Ghost.  I was encouraged to worship Jesus as God, who came to earth for a short period, before returning to heaven from whence he came.  I was taught that he will come again so I had better be ready for that and behave myself; or else!

Now, my theological imagination includes the idea of God as the Divine Energising Force which is present in everything and everybody; always has been and always will be.  Some call this Panentheism.  This Divine Energising Force is inherent, an aspect that is an inseparable dimension of everything and everyone, including you and me.  So for me, God is not a separate being but an inseparable feature of me and you.  God is part of who I am and I am part of who God is.  God is in me and I am in God.  This is all mystical, spiritual talk.   I can’t explain it but I believe it.    All is mystery and I accept that.

Much of my imagination can be found in the Bible and I hope this will become obvious as the service continues.   The traditional theology I have been taught also had the seeds in it that enabled my beliefs to grow into what they are today.  It was an important part of my spiritual journey.

However, I can remember that from about 1990, for about the last 30 years I have been re-evaluating many of the basics of my past religious teachings.  In many ways it has been quite traumatic for me; turning my back on a lot of what I have been taught all my life; but in other ways it has been rewarding, enriching and a great release for me.     So we commence our church service.

As we come together. We come from different places but we do come together.   We sing but think about the words.  Our church service can be an experience of contemplating life and what it means to be human.  It can be a celebration of life and a time to remember Jesus and what he taught us.

As we come together.            Tune  Caswell   TiS 344

As we come together
Come just as we are.
With our diff’rent feelings;
Near and from afar.
As we come together,
Some may come to pray;
Seeking for direction
How to live each day.

As we come together,
Some to meet with friends.
Talking, list’ning, sharing;
On these love depends

As we come together,
Some to understand
Challenges from Jesus;
And what they demand.

As we come together,
Some may come to pause;
Stressed or in depression;
Looking for the cause.

As we come together
At this time and place,
May we see God’s presence
In each other’s face.

So we come as we are with our own special feelings, feelings that arise out of our own individual living experiences.  We come with our own beliefs, our wisdom and beauty as well as our inadequacies and needs.

We will hear some teachings from the Bible. However, instead of working with the Bible as we usually do, being given a reflection on a particular passage, we are going to have the Bible work with us.  We will have a few conversations with it.   I have decided the themes that we will deal with and I have researched the Bible, using some of what it has to say about them.  Everything Jeff reads is a direct quote from the Bible.

About God and the relationship we, as human beings, have with God.

Bible conversation. 1.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness … So God created man in his own image; male and female he created them.’  Genesis 1:26 & 27.

All that came to be was alive with his life, and that life was the light of men.  John 1:4.

The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the    world.  John 1:9.

We are all sacred, made in the image of God.  From the very beginning, the light of God has been life to all humans.  That is still the case.  Let us be aware that we are all sacred.

There is but one body and one spirit, just as there was but one hope set before you when you received your call.  There is but one Lord, one faith, one baptism; there is but one God and Father of all mankind who is Lord of all; – the God who is over all, pervades all, and is in all.  Ephesians 4:4-5

God pervades all and is in all.  God, pervading all and being in all, means that God is inseparable from what is, all things, everything in the universe.  There is a divine quality of all there is, absolutely everything.  What does this mean for all of us here, today?

It can mean that we are conscious of the Divine dimension of ordinary things, of everything that happens and of all us ordinary people.

Everything in God    Tune  Lobe Den Herren  TiS 111

God is the One in whom we all have life-giving purpose,
Spirit encompassing all and yet present within us;
Breath of each birth,
Source of all beauty and worth,
Found in us all, yet mysterious.

Have faith in virtue, have hope in great beauty abounding;
Hear words of love, and then listen for laughter resounding;
When, with delight,
We turn from darkness to light,
God, we discern, is surrounding.

Home is our world amidst wonder of life with its splendour;
Movement and colour show nature’s abundant agenda;
God is thus found
In air and sea, on the ground;
God is displayed by each gender.

God is the One in whom we live and move and have being;
Spirit within as we ponder our faith and believing;
Here and elsewhere,
Past, present, future to share,
God, the beginning and ending.

Bible conversation. 2.

What is my experience of God

In God we live and move and have our being.  Acts 17:28

If we ‘live’ in God, I believe that Jesus teaches us to ‘see’ God in all of our life, even the everyday experiences we all have from time to time.   Stories about Jesus and stories Jesus told, I believe, demonstrate that he ‘saw’ God, a sacred dimension in everything, including very ordinary things.   Some of these have to do with daily work.

The Kingdom of God is like this; A man sowed good seed in his field.  While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went off.   Matthew 13:25-26.

Why do bad people try to undo the good that others do?  Sometimes things don’t turn out how we wish.

The kingdom of heaven is like this.  A man takes a mustard seed and sows it in his field.  It is the smallest of all seeds but when it grows up, it is the biggest of all plants. 

The kingdom of heaven is like this.  A woman takes some yeast and mixes it with 40 litres of flour until the whole batch of dough rises.

“They don’t have to leave”, answered Jesus.  “You yourselves give them something to eat.”  They replied, “All we have is five loaves and two fish.  The number of men who ate were about 5,000.” Matthew 13:31-32,33&14:16-17&21.

Jesus talks about a man’s work, about a woman’s cooking and about feeding a whole crowd of people.   But he uses these ordinary things to teach about the deeper meaning these teachings pointed to.  A little thing can do a lot.  I can say to someone, “Are you OK?”  Who knows what affect this will have?  It may begin a process preventing suicide?

The kingdom of heaven is like this.  Some fishermen throw their net out in the lake and catch all kinds of fish.   Matthew 13:47.

Some fish were nutritious and others had to be thrown away.  I can say something which I think is positive and someone else may think I am being insulting.  This should make me far more sensitive when talking, but it should not stop me fishing!

Suppose a woman has 10 silver coins and loses one.  What does she do?  She lights a lamp, sweeps the house, and looks carefully everywhere until she finds it.   Luke 15:8.

Whoever heard of someone teaching about the Kingdom of God when speaking about house cleaning?  I can try to think and do something positive when I am annoyed, unhappy or even depressed.

Suddenly a strong wind blew up, and the waves began to spill over into the boat, so that it was about to fill with water.   Jesus stood up and commanded the wind, “Be quiet.”, and he said to the waves, “Be still.”   Mark 4:37&39.

Can I engender calmness when everything around me is violent or in conflict?

No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl; instead he puts it on a lampstand where it gives light for everyone in the house.  In the same way your light must shine before people, so they will see the good things you do…   Matthew 5:15-16

I can heap praise on people for the good they do.  Others may ignore them or not mention them.  I need to affirm good deeds.
Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel round his waist.   John 13:6.

Is washing dirty dishes and dirty clothes important?  Thankfully, they can be acts of loving service.

Everything that exists had a sacred dimension for Jesus.  We can learn godly things from the ordinary.   God is never absent, but always present in all things, if we use our eyes to see and our ears to hear.

We think about the world so we pray about the world.
Acknowledgement of all our human ancestors.  (Said by the congregation)

We are thankful that all our human ancestors helped to leave us a world that we can treasure and enjoy.  We are particularly grateful for the care the Awabakal peoples gave to the land on which we stand and which we inhabit.   By our responsible deeds, may we be able to hand on to our children and their children, a world which they too, can treasure and enjoy.

Not only is God in us but we are also in God.  This is all very mystical, spiritual; but this is a way of thinking that can help us use our imagination to approach the ultimate mystery in which our lives are engulfed.

Bible conversation. 3.

In him we live and move and have our being.  Acts 17:28

Jesus, for me, is the prime example of this.   Jesus lived and moved and had his being in God.

Phillip said to him, “Lord show us the Father; that is all we need.” Jesus answered, “For a long time I have been with you all; yet you do not know me Phillip?  Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. Why then do you say, ‘Show us the Father’?  Do you not believe, Phillip that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?   Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.  If not, believe because of the things I do.   I am telling you the truth.”   John 14:8-12.

Do not believe me then if I am not doing the things my Father wants me to do.  But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, you should at least believe my deeds, in order that you may know, once and for all, that the Father is in me and that I am in the Father.  John10:37-38.

The way Jesus lived, his actions and his deeds show me that he was ‘God saturated’, ‘God filled’; that he was in God and God was in him.   I imagine this as God within.  Jesus, and the way he lived, is an excellent example of what a human life looks like when we cooperate fully with God Within.   I believe we can imagine this as God Within us.  Can we be ‘God saturated?  I believe so.

Love and ….. Tune Gloria/Iris TiS 309

God is love and when we love we manifest God.  We expose God in our midst.  We are profoundly blessed to be part of this experience.

When we strive to be much better
Do not think that it is odd
To believe this urgent feeling
And its forcefulness is God.
Love …….and challenge are so life reforming;
Love …….and challenge can be life transforming.

When we share a tragic moment
Do not think that it is odd
To believe this tender feeling
And its sentiment is God.
Love …….and kindness are, in life, enfolding;
Love …….and kindness are, for us, upholding.

When a gen’rous gift is given
Do not think that it is odd
To believe this noble feeling
And its graciousness is God.
Love …….and goodness are, for us, bewitching;
Love …….and goodness – always life enriching.

When delightful thoughts surprise us
Do not think that it is odd
To believe these thrilling feelings
And their joyfulness is God.
Love …….and gladness prompt us into dancing;
Love …….and gladness are so life enhancing

We connect with the God Within us.

We are thankful that, at times in our lives, we are prompted to be forgiving.  We are prompted to be generous.  We are prompted to serve others.  We are prompted to be considerate and kind.  We are prompted to be good.  From time to time we all experience these promptings. Where do they come from?

Let us imagine that these promptings are God within us.

We pray that we may allow these promptings to give rise to godly thoughts and actions.  We pray that we may ‘listen to this good inner voice’ and let it influence our thoughts and actions.  In our dealings with others today, God Within will prompt us to be considerate and thoughtful.

Will we let this influence guide us today in what we say and do with family, friends, and strangers?  Will we let this influence guide us today in how we regard and treat animals and how we care for our environment?

So we affirm our commitment to be kind.
Are willing to be a gift of love and generosity to others?
Can we be thankful for these intentions and will we work hard to make them happen?
Can we seek the way of the Spirit of Life and Love?

I believe Jesus shows us that way.

We think about ourselves so we pray about ourselves.

When we cooperate with the good spirit within us, what I call God Within, human virtue is the result.  I believe this good spirit is what makes us human; is what challenges us to want to love and care for each other and for all that is around us; is what prompts us to be honest and responsible; is what joins us with others in our efforts to build a better world.

God Within  Tune Ar Hyd Y Nos (All through the Night)  TiS 168

From beginning to each ending
God is within.
Human and divine keep blending;
God is within.
In our coming and our going,
In our learning and our knowing,
As we struggle in our growing
God is within.

When we cease from being greedy
God is within;
When we look to serve the needy
God is within.
When we use our wealth for sharing,
When we stand with those despairing,
When we live our lives in caring
God is within.

God and Jesus are in union;
God is within.
We are also in communion;
God is within.
We can now find perfect rhythm,
We are cherished, we are welcome;
In this unity is freedom.
God is within.

When we act with human virtue
God is within.
Strive for live ideals we value,
God is within.
When we guard and guide each other
With compassion, we uncover
Our true selves and we discover
God is within.

I relate to the humanity of Jesus because I can see what a human being can do and be.  If he has special qualities that I do not share, then, for me, he is not one of us.  If he is God, then for me, he is not one of us.  If he is human, I can relate to him.  For me, he is then one of us.   God is in him and he is in God just like all of us.   He had a divine dimension the same as we have.

I have been taught to worship Jesus.   But I try to follow him.

I learn nothing from perfection.  Excellence is my challenging mentor and my inspiration.

I have been taught to glorify Jesus.   I want to acknowledge him as my mentor, teacher and guide.
I have been taught to pray to Jesus.    In my imagination, I wish to pray with him.

I believe the Cross of Jesus defines him and his message.   The Cross was inevitable, given the way he lived and what he taught.   The possibility of suffering and conflict did not distract him from what he believed was his mission in life.  Suffering and conflict were certainly not foreign experiences for him.   The gospel stories tell us that Jesus struggled; he was tempted to change course; he sweated blood in his decision making; he thought at one stage that God had abandoned him.   Yet, he never let go of his personal dignity, his strength of purpose, his integrity, his willingness to take responsibility for his actions, his will to love and forgive others, right to the very end.    This end of his life shows me what a human being can endure and can achieve.

And he did it alone!   I think I might be able to be reasonably strong when standing with others of like mind, but I am nearly certain that I could not do it alone.   But Jesus did and he was human.

Jesus was betrayed, but he loved his betrayer.
His disciples all ran away and left him, but he loved each one.
Jesus was denied, but he loved his denier.
Jesus was falsely accused, but he loved his accusers.
He was abused, but he loved his abusers.
Jesus was cursed, but he loved those who cursed him.
His mother grieved for him, and he loved her.
Jesus was killed, but he loved his killers.

What amazing inspiration.
What intense humanity.
What provocative challenge.
What a man!

The gospel stories tell us that there were 7 sayings from Jesus when he was dying on his Cross.   Many commentators do not believe these sayings actually came from the lips of Jesus but together, I believe they present a story that fits perfectly with what we know from the gospels, about Jesus of Nazareth.  He lived with integrity and this was how he died; with unquenchable integrity.   He died as he lived; faithful to what he taught.  He loved to the end.
Combining the sayings from all the gospels, I have a significant picture of Jesus.

Bible conversation. 4.

“My God.  My God; why have you forsaken me?”
Mark 15:34.

These are the dying words of a man who was humiliated beyond reason and without legitimate cause.  He had been betrayed and denied by those closest to him.  All his friends had run away, leaving him without support.    He felt isolated, totally alone.   He was broken.  Why would he not have called out to his God in such utter desperation?  Was he wrong, after all?
“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”  Luke 23:43.

These are the words of a man, even at the point of his own death, who cared for a stranger who was also dying.  He gave hope to another in a hopeless, tragic situation.  Love still flowed from him.

“Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.”  Luke 23:46.

These are the words of a man who believed deeply; a man whose confidence in God could not be destroyed.  He knew he was finished but he still trusted that God would be there for him.  God would take care of him.

“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  Luke 23:34.

These are the words a man who forgave others who were killing him.  They didn’t ask for it.  They didn’t deserve it but it was still available in abundance. He had taught forgiveness and now he lived it.  Forgiveness was the last thing he could give them and that’s what he did.

When Jesus Died so Long Ago.  Tune  Horsley  TiS 350

When Jesus died so long ago
And shared our human fate,
He did not curse his human foe
Nor utter words of hate.

He prayed for those who drove each nail;
He comforted a thief;
He struggled to let love prevail;
He battled unbelief.

He breathes his last; he bows his head;
This is the end – but NO!
The powers that be – they think he’s dead;
They are so wrong.  We know!

“Woman behold your Son.  Behold your mother.” John 19:26-27.

Speaking to John, these are the words a man who cared for his mother to the end.  Women were there at the Cross, grieving.  His mum was one of them.    At his death, she was important to him.  She was beginning to age and he was concerned for her.  He wanted her to be cared for.

“I thirst.”  John 19:28.

These are the words a man who was very human.   His body was drying out.  He was suffocating.   The one who gave ‘the living water’ to so many, could give no more.   Now, he needed some himself.   So he cries out in his own need.

  “It is finished.”  John 19:30.

These are the words of a man who endured to the end.  Exhausted, weak, drained and empty.  He had run his course.  He had completed the task given to him.  He had remained faithful.  Nothing more was needed to be done.  He couldn’t do any more but he knew he had done well.  He had loved to the end.

He uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. Mark 15:37.

This crazy mixture of contradictory human emotions and deathly experiences were those of Jesus, my friend, my mentor, my guide, the One who completely exposed God Within, the One who calls me to follow.

What amazing inspiration!
What intense humanity!
What provocative challenge!
What a death!
What a man!

The centurion surely had it right when he said, “Truly this man was a son of God.”

I shout “Hallelujah” and I weep with tears of sadness but also of admiration. So I shout “Hallelujah” again because in Jesus’ words are the seeds of resurrection; seeds of the victory of love and integrity over violence and the abuse of power.  This man is certainly worth remembering and following.

Jesus is crucified but he doesn’t stay dead on his Cross.  Love is murdered but it is never exterminated.   Jesus, Love never ends!   This is the wonderful news of the Gospel!  This is the message I gain from Jesus and his Cross.

Our last conversation with the Bible. 5.

Though God has never been seen by any man, God himself dwells in us if we love one another; his love is brought to perfection in us.   1 John 4:12.

God is love; he who dwells in love is dwelling in God and God in him.   1 John 4:16.

It seems that love makes all the difference.

I may speak in tongues of man and angels, but if I am without love, I am a sounding gong or a clanging symbol.  I may have the gift of prophesy, and know every hidden truth; I may have faith strong enough to move mountains; but if I have no love, I am nothing.  I may be able to dole out all I possess or even give my body to be burnt, but if I have no love, I am none the better.   1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Wait a minute!   I (Jesus) tell you this: “If you have faith no bigger than a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there.’, and it will move; nothing will prove impossible for you.”

I may have faith strong enough to move mountains; but if I have no love, I am nothing.1 Corinthians 13:2.

If any man says, ‘I love God’, while hating his brother, he is a liar.  And indeed this commands comes from Christ himself; that he who loves God must also love his brother.    1 John 4:20.

Loving others is what matters.  To love is godly.  To love God has no meaning if we don’t love others.  Maybe the only way we can show that we love God is by loving others.

We think about others and our community so we pray about others and our community.

God  is Constant Pursuing Love  Tune  Hyfrydol  TiS 217(i), 233, 517

As we come with our thanksgiving,
Sense God’s presence in each one;
Feel the pulse of wholesome living;
Peace and joy can still be won.
Confident we know God’s guidance;
We approach God’s open door;

Prized and precious we are welcome;
Peace in God; we need no more.

God is love and love gives freedom;
Freedom from all fear and guilt.
God is love and love will blossom;
Broken lives can be rebuilt.
Punishment for past wrong-doing
In God’s dealings has no place.
Love is constant, keeps pursuing;
We are bound in God’s embrace.

God is love and love is gentle;
Love can keep no scores of wrong;
God is love and love is central
When discipleship is strong.
If the kind and good and tender
Are to happen here today,
It will issue from surrender
Of our lives to Jesus’ way.

We disperse but we are still together in spirit, for God is in us and we are in God.
We know what this means by remembering Jesus.
We leave this place and go our own ways; into our homes,
our own work places and our leisure activities,
pursuing our interests, in God.

We meet God everywhere, in everyone we meet.

We are all, everyone is sacred.

God, in us, goes with us;
to challenge us, to comfort us and be in every part of our lives,
in everything we think and do.

We are never alone.  No one is ever alone.  We are thankful.

We are in God and God is in us.

Some extra stuff for those interested.

Gretta Vosper is a leading Canadian ‘progressive’ Christian, who was subjected to what many thought, was a heresy trial.  She is an author of many books and a theologian.  I quote from her book, With or without God.

Sit for just a moment.  When you think about it, you may find that you haven’t been thinking about god theistically – as a distinct, other being separate and definable – for a while.  You may think of god as a remote being for some of the time, but you also may have often thought of god as a feeling that makes you want to be the best person you can be. 

You get that feeling when you plunk a quarter into a stranger’s parking meter. You get that feeling when you talk to your kids about trying to make this world a better place, and they tell you some pretty good ideas they’ve come up with, all on their own.

You get that feeling when you stop and talk to that other person who has been sitting all alone the whole time you have been visiting your mum in rehab.  All he does is smile at you and nod but that feeling is almost tangible.  You get that feeling when you pick up the package you were expecting, and in it you find that perfect gift you ordered for your child, your lover or yourself. 

I invite you to think of that feeling as god.

I think this can be our experience if we use our imagination.   Maybe not the same imagination as the Bible writers and those of the last centuries, but that does not make our imagination wrong or unhelpful.   I urge you to use you own imagination.

Walter Brueggemann, a modern German biblical commentator says,

The Bible is an act of imagination.  It is not a package of certitudes.  It is an act of imagination that invites our faithful imagination which makes it possible for us to live faithfully.

I think Brueggemann is suggesting that we can understand the Bible as written by people, using their imaginations to express how they experienced God as they imagined God to be.   We have the freedom to do the same.

For me, this means that to maintain my honesty and integrity, I cannot allow my imagination to be bound to, or to be bound by the imaginations of the Bible writers/authors, who lived 2000 to 3000 years before me.   In some instances I must break free from this bind.

Matthew Fox is an American priest and theologian.   When he was expelled from the Catholic Dominican Order, he joined the Episcopal Church in 1993.  He says a lot about his concept of God, amongst which is,

What is the solution to the killing of God and the losing of the human soul.  It is moving from theism to panentheism. 

(A panenthieist believes that God is IN everything and everything is IN God.   Theism is the belief that God is a supernatural being who is all-knowing, all-powerful, and completely good.  Monotheism believe that there is only one such God.)

Experiencing the diaphanous and transcendent God: – ‘C.G.Jung has written that there are two ways to lose your soul.  One of these is to worship a god outside you.’  If he is correct, then a lot of churchgoers in the West have been losing their souls for generations to the extent that they have attended religious events where prayer is addressed to a god outside.   The idea that God is ‘out there’ is probably the ultimate dualism, divorcing as it does God and humanity and reducing religion to a childish state of pleasing or pleading with a God ‘out there’.  All theism sets up a model paradigm of people here and God out there.  All theisms are about subject/object relationships to God.

A bit difficult to understand but I think Fox is saying that if we think of God as a supernatural being then ‘he or she’ is separate and ‘out there’.   Being separate leads to ‘dualism’; there are two places; there are two realms of existence; things are here or there; they are not a unity.

But I think Fox is too hard when he says ‘reducing religion to a childish state of pleasing or pleading with a God ‘out there’.   I don’t think people do that in their religious life.  I believe that people who do believe in a supernatural Person they address as God, are not being ‘childish’ at all.
Born in Victoria, Australia, George Stuart now lives with his wife, Wendy, in Toronto, New South Wales, Australia about 120 kms. north of Sydney. He received his Bachelor of Divinity at Melbourne University’s Ormond College, with honours in Theology. His career has been varied, beginning as an Industrial Chemist, then as a Church Youth Worker and then as an ordained Minister of the Word, first in the Presbyterian Church and then the Uniting Church in Australia. After resigning from the ministry, he worked as a Personnel Officer/Manager in industry, concluding his employment as a Rehabilitation Consultant.

He has been writing new lyrics to traditional church melodies since 2005, self-publishing 7 volumes; a set of 3, one for each year of the Revised Common Lectionary, based on the gospel readings, and 4 other general volumes, each with over 100 sets of new lyrics.

Review & Commentary