Letters to the editor – May

Every girl and woman. Everywhere, period.

Due to the amazing support, Victoria wide, following the article in February’s Crosslight, the Days for Girls East Gippsland group has been able to provide quality materials for the sanitary hygiene kits that are being hand made in the Bairnsdale Uniting Church. To all supporters we say a big ‘Thank You’ on behalf of the women and girls of Noro and Munda in the Solomon Islands who received kits in March and the Ministry of Education in Kiribati with whom we are working in the hope we can provide 10,000 starter kits next year for both girls at school and women in the community.

This is a huge task but we now know this is possible due to the individuals and church groups who see how simple, reusable and hygienic sanitary products can change the life of women staying at work and girls at school. As mentioned previously by Judy Williams from Berwick, if you wish to help, there are groups closer to you by checking the website www.daysforgirls.org

Not only are sewers needed but also non-sewers who can help with packing, threading bags and administration etc. The philosophy of our Monday craft group is about fellowship and support and anyone who walks in the door will be given a job to do by the amazing coordinator of the Days for Craft group Merle McRae. As a Christian outreach what better way to serve the Lord with fun and fellowship? For more information and progress reports please contact Wendy Flahive (leader) 0438516322 or Merle McRae (co-leader) 51522322.

 

Wendy Flahive
Bairnsdale, VIC

 

Who speaks for the UCA?

In letters to the editor I was drawn to the response by Dennis Litchfield who wrote “neither Crosslight nor Rev Dr Avril Hannah Jones speak for the whole of UCA”. This raises the question on the nature of the UCA and who speaks for whom.

As widely observed, the UCA is not only becoming more diverse in its cultural make up but also in its theology. Members of the UCA are becoming more aware of the theological diversity within its membership. We range from ‘left’ to ‘right’ with many positions in between. It can also be argued how left or right UCA is.

The perception the response raises is that no one can speak for the Church as a whole on matters of theology. There was once a practice to look up to the academic scholars to validate the Church’s theology. But even that has become ambiguous.

We can only speak for ourselves and not on behalf of others. It is for others to say if they are with us or not. But having diverse theologies is healthy for the Church. It is when one theology demands that it is superior it creates conflicts. These diverse theologies need to engage with each other in a respectful way to critique, inform, share, learn from, with an openness to be shaped or changed by the other.

But the reality is we are creating theological silos in the UCA, where sometimes we not only fail to engage but conveniently ignore each other and pretend that the other does not exist, or worse, do not even matter. We tend to build a hierarchy of theologies in a Church that is seeking to build equity and respectful conversations.

Unless the Church consciously creates a place of theological equity where members can engage with honesty, truth and openness without fear, conflicts are unavoidable. No one wants to be in a place of conflict. It is an unsafe space. A place of honest and open theological inquiry will draw people who are in pursuit of truth.

For it is truth (the seeking of truth) that will set us free.

Rev Dev Anandarajan


Family search

An article in Crosslight, regarding the 100th birthday of Rev Ken Blackwell, was brought to my attention by an Australian friend, in relation to my efforts to trace the family of one Philip Hedley Malcolm Levey.

Philip Levey was the navigator of a WWII Halifax bomber, which crashed in Germany on the evening of 9 October 1944, killing all on board. My cousin, Denis Roy Muxlow, was that aircraft’s rear gunner. To confirm the information I will give, you can visit www.462squadron.com and navigate your way to crew 29 Coleman (Coleman being the pilot’s name) to see the facts I have found so far.

I have found that Philip Levey, who lived at Eagle Junction, Brisbane, had a sister called Beryl Ruth Levey. She married one Newton Taplin BLACKWELL. The best man (the Australian term is, I believe ‘groomsman’) was Kenneth Blackwell, the brother of Newton. The marriage was at Eagle Junction Congregational Church, with which the Levey family had strong connections, there being a memorial dedicated to Philip in that Church. Eagle Junction Congregational Church was mentioned in your article.

Are these two Kenneth Blackwells are one and the same person? If so, could he put me in touch with any member of the family, possibly Beryl and Newton’s daughter Lynette, or perhaps descendents of Beryl’s other brother Gordon Francis Levey?

The reason for trying to contact the family is to inform them of the forthcoming dedication of a Memorial Plaque which is to be placed in the cemetery Chapel in the village where they crashed, on the 72nd anniversary, 9th October 2016. I am in contact with four of the crew’s families which includes the other Australian member, John Tressider. I am trying my hardest to find the remaining families so that they can be made aware.

By far the easiest way to contact me is by e-mail – pjerlmuxlow@aol.com – this can be used to establish contact with me, should this enquiry be successful.

Peter Muxlow
United Kingdom.

 

Easter message

In the 21st century, man rides high on the crest of science and technology. We have sent space probes to the edge of the solar system, mastered the complications of limb and face transplant. As part and parcel of such progress, we demand that everything has to be or is able to be tested and trialled, measured and weighed, scanned and detected before we can accept something as valid and worthy.

Therefore the 21st century has within it an inconvenient paradox in the form of people out there who believe that a man can die, and indeed has died, and was  resurrected three days later and that the man was God Incarnate.

There are over two billion Christians and counting who believe Christ is worthy of heart-and-soul worship and adulation.

Go to a mainstream church on Good Friday or Easter Monday and you are wonder-struck by pews overflowing with the faithful waiting to hear the message that was spoken every year for the last 2000 years – how one man suffered and died to redeem mankind and conquered death.

‘Progressives’ and their humanistic explanation of events have only succeeded in putting their church on the road to obscurity. The Cross will always be what it was: the symbol of resurrected victory, not just of sacrificial death.

It is a seeming anomaly that something as tenuous and archaic as an unsubstantiated belief can flourish and even re-surge in the new millennia. Theirs is a faith no calamity, whether man-made or natural, can shatter or diminish. Theirs is a conviction no evil or brutality of random, recurrent terrorism can crush. In a world wracked by the insanity of mindless violence, Easter offers what the 21st century cannot – the promise of a better tomorrow. Proof enough of God at work.

Kimmy Fam
Ballarat, VIC


Rules too rigid

Can anyone tell me how many church buildings in the last 50 years have had significant fires while a church gathering is in progress? Have there been any?

And yet we are still insisting on meticulous measures – a church out in the country, congregation six, has to replace its century-old door handles with expensive, new fire-approved ones. Neatly printed and laminated Exit signs in another church must be replaced with a non-reflective commercial variety. Commercial Exit signs in the Op Shop must be illuminated – call an electrician.

When we open our church door on Sunday mornings the only word on the door is ‘Exit’. I’d like to change it to ‘Entrance’ and put ‘Welcome’ underneath.

It’s easy to feel that it seems as though it doesn’t matter much if we forget the cross and the Bible as long as our signs fit the rules.

I’m feeling frustrated.

Carmyl Winkler
Tallangatta VIC

 

Foundation is our future

Mark Porter (‘The future could have looked so different’, April Crosslight) raises a very important issue of what the foundation of the Uniting Church was and will be into the future as we consider the past 40 years of UCA history and contemplate the next 40 years and beyond. Mark suggests that: ‘…these congregations (of the UCA over the last 40 years) and their forbears (the congregations of our previous denominations) are the foundation of who we are and the future that is in front of us.’

I am writing this letter on Good Friday. Earlier today at the local gathering of the congregation of which I am proud to be a member, (now 113 years old) we worshipped the only foundation of any Christian church: the crucified one: Jesus, the Christ. Because of his extraordinary love of God (his Father) and of all his sisters and brothers and because of his unswerving faithfulness to God, he died for his love of all. This One of Love is the only foundation that matters, from the beginning of time to the end of all things. And of course, we expectantly anticipate in two days’ time, through the same Christ, the glorious foundational new life of all things in Heaven and on earth. This is foundation enough!

Or as Geoff Thompson (co-ordinator of Studies: Systematic Theology, Pilgrim Theological College), on the page adjacent to Mark’s letter in Crosslight, concluded a reflection on ferment and change in the church as follows: ‘All of us know that the creation of such (church) communities is hard work … stripped of its historically-accidental accumulation of cultural prestige and status, all the church has to offer is an odd message of the life, death and resurrection of an unusual young Jewish man who lived a life of strange obedience to the one who he called ‘Abba’.

This Christ of God alone is the Foundation upon which the church and the world is built, whether the church and world accept it or not. Nothing else matters!

Ron Townsend

McKinnon, VIC

 

Let’s stop ‘going to church’

I was saddened to read Geoff Thompson’s article in the last issue of Crosslight.  No wonder the churches are dying if the best we can do is blame the ‘materialistic’ world instead of facing up to our own failures.

Geoff’s analysis is just plain wrong.

The environment in which the church exists is no more materialistic today than it ever was. Neo liberalism etc. are just new forms of humanity’s ancient and ever-present problem.

Three things have changed, however. But Geoff has only identified one of them, the fact that the church is no longer a state-controlled, state-sponsored institution. That, of course, ought to be in our favour.

The key issue is that the church has failed to accept the massive change in thinking that occurred a few centuries ago with the coming of the age of modern science and rational thought in the European Enlightenment.

That means that we no longer find or express knowledge of ourselves and our world  in belief systems and pre-scientific pagan concepts such as virgin births, resurrections, ascensions into heaven etc. (whether as truths or mythological ways of speaking), or ancient Greek philosophical dualistic concepts that no longer have currency or credibility.

The third issue Geoff overlooks is that while he correctly defines the church as the ‘community of grace’, that is not a description of today’s churches.  We not only persist with outdated Constantinian theological formulations but also with the Constantinian church structure – large institution, hierarchical priestly systems of control, and elaborate buildings for the worship of God.

Contemporary New Testament scholarship tells us that the original Jesus movement was not defined by buildings set up for the worship of God, but by ‘communities of grace’ (to quote Geoff) meeting in homes or other people’s buildings.  These communities were centres of healing and hospitality (see Crossan) empowering people to live lives of love, justice and righteousness.

Let’s stop blaming the world and conforming to Constantinian concepts, but instead sell our properties, stop ‘going’ to church, and start becoming or being the church.

As most contemporary New Testament scholars now know, Jesus didn’t start a new religion called Christianity, to worship God and save people from their sins, but rather a community of grace to love and serve the world.

John Gunson
John was an ordained minister in the Congregational churches, and is the author of God, Ethics and the Secular Society.


The cost of alcohol

Why for the life of me are we still encouraging alcohol distributers the right to advertise their products when we know that excessive alcohol consumption will result in carnage and social ills.

It is a well-established fact that excessive alcohol consumption leads also to mental dysfunction.

The federal government can address this issue by legislating to restrict alcohol advertising and the alcohol industry can do lot more to encourage further self-regulation. This will help to save not only lives but lessen family violence, car accidents, assaults and many other social ills

This is such an obvious ‘remedy’, or is the government in so much need of the revenue that it is prepared to keep encouraging alcohol advertising?

Ron Roberts
Cranbourne, VIC

 

Review response

I write in response to Larry Marshall’s, (March 2016) review of Dr Bernie Power’s recent book, Jesus Vs Muhammad; a review that seemed to reveal more about the views of himself and others than the actual contents of the book.

Larry resorts to derision and belittlement of the author, no doubt in an effort to essentially close down debate, narrow discussion and in the process dismiss 400 years of cause-and-effect Enlightenment thinking.

For the record, Dr Bernie Power is a man with a doctorate in Hadith studies, who’s lived more than 20 years in Islamic countries and lectures on the topic of Islamic studies at the Melbourne School of Theology.

In referencing an alternative opinion, that of former Catholic nun Karen Armstrong, Mr Marshall could be likened to a climate-change sceptic who dismisses Sir David Attenborough’s analysis and concerns about environmental degradation as gross fear-mongering, capable of upsetting people, because he has a friend who says the climate is always changing – and that should be enough.

Like every other topic on earth capable of being researched and investigated, it must surely be instructive to first analyse the facts – not opinion – in reaching a conclusion.  In the case of Islam, this can only come from the contents of the Koran, Hadith and Sira.  Everything else is just opinion and conjecture and must in turn be tested by whether it is backed up by the contents of the above texts.

Setting aside Larry Marshall and Karen Armstrong’s progressive, well-meaning words and opinions, there is no shortage of Arab speaking, learned Islamic scholars around the world who clearly state that Islamic teachings support the actions of violent Jihadists. This is not opinion, it is simply the documented way, or Sunnah, of Muhammad; which a quick reading of the life of Muhammad clearly supports.

In contrast, if we reflect on the life, teaching and example of Jesus, it’s difficult to conclude that … love thy neighbour means anything other than ‘love thy neighbour’ – despite the actions of ‘powerful men’ down the ages.

There is no doubt that as Christians we are called – challenged – to love all people.  But we are also compelled to seek truth.  And Dr Bernie Power’s book, Jesus Vs Muhammad, does just that.

Is Larry Marshall suggesting that we are not capable of, or allowed to, seek truth on the topic of Islam?

In response, I’d be interested to read Larry’s review of the book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, by (once-devout Muslim) Nabeel Qureshi. Would Larry conclude that Nabeel, who draws all the same conclusions and parallels between Muhammad and Jesus as Bernie, is also ‘setting up straw men’ and ‘feeding Islamophobia’ and should therefore be silenced.

Robert Latimer
North Ringwood Uniting Church

 

I was both surprised and disappointed by Larry Marshall’s dismissive review of my book Understanding Jesus and Muhammad. My first question was: ‘Has he actually read it all?’ Its details about Muhammad are not taken only from the Koran (Qur’an). Muhammad’s earliest biography, the ‘Sira’, the Hadith traditions and wide range of mostly Muslim scholars (see the bibliography) are quoted extensively throughout the book. I have not shaped the profiles of Jesus or Muhammad at all, but allowed the texts to speak for themselves, without distortion or alteration.

Any presentation taken from the Bible and early Muslim texts should not be massaged to fit the contemporary policies or priorities of an individual or church: it should respect the integrity of the original documents. The Muslim PhD who acted as a co-editor for my book considers it balanced and fair, and would be insulted by Marshall’s charge of feeding “Islamophobia”. Marshall should really have read the whole text before dashing off some comments about it.

A second question was ‘Why did he suggest Karen Armstrong as a model?’ She is a popular writer but has a scant understanding of the early Islamic texts. Her two books on Muhammad’s life read like a 1950’s Hollywood hagiography rather than a carefully researched modern biography. Her comment about missionaries introducing anti-Semitism to Islam betrays a lack of knowledge about the centuries-long troubled history of Muslim-Jewish conflict.

Ironically I write this from Malaysia where one of Armstrong’s books on Islam has been banned as ‘a threat to public order’. I am here to speak at a Muslim-run conference on Arabic Studies and Islamic Civilisation, the only non-Muslim among dozens of international presenters. Our papers must be carefully researched, academically sound, cogently argued and meticulously referenced – the same standards I apply to all my writings. I encourage people to read Karen Armstrong alongside my book, as it fills in the gaps that she misses. It is important to weigh up all the evidence and draw your own conclusions.

Bernie Power

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