Blake Prize and Sydney Life

I spent the day visiting two of my favourite annual art exhibitions in Sydney “Sydney Life” and “The Blake Prize“. “Sydney Life” is a photographic competition and exhibition held each year in Hyde Park. “The Blake Prize” is a spiritual/religious themed art competition and exhibition held each year at the National Art School. They’re exhibitions I enjoy because they both challenge and entertain.

The Blake Prize, in particular, is a favourite. It began as an art prize for “religious art” in a fairly strictly Christian sense (I think) but has developed over the years to become a more general exploration of spirituality in art. Just about every year I’ve been, there have been a couple of works which I’ve found truly moving.

My favourite this year is a an untitled bust by Tim Silver, though I think it’s the beautiful craftwork involved more than the concept which fascinated me most. Sadly it’s not for sale. Also for the craft, there’s also a wonderful piece where a skeleton has been covered in plasticine and located in the cosmos, with lots of plasticine balls representing planets. And there’s a terrific work by Adam Cullen who has focussed his attention this year on Mary Mackillop.

As for Sydney Life? There’s a lot of terrific works this year, though I wasn’t as impressed as I’ve been in previous years.

The most delightful work is – head and shoulders above the rest – the photograph of the pig at the Royal Easter Show. It’s a great moment in time, it’s well composed, and it has a great sense of fun about it. There’s also a wonderful photograph of a storm front coming over the harbour which is visually spectacular.

My favourite, though, was the image of two Sydney taxi drivers enjoying a meal in the back of a cab at night. I really like it, because it offers an insight into a really significant part of Sydney life (taxi drivers), but also because it’s so beautifully shot, with Henson-like night-time darkness. It’s a warm, lovely shot.

St Patrick’s Day

stpatrick
Statue of St Patrick - Hill of Slane, Ireland
Statue of St Patrick - Hill of Slane, Ireland

Let me first of all wish my sister, Pat, a very happy birthday. Although she wasn’t born and christened “Pat” that’s what we’ve always called her. In fact, we call her “Patsy” a lot of the time and “Pat” on other occasions. The only time anyone ever uses her real name is on an official letter of some type.

And why not? I come from a family with strong Irish Catholic roots. We may not have been regular church-goers, but we’ve always identified as Catholic, and we’ve always identified as Irish, even though of course, like most Australians, we’re descended from a combination of Irish, English and Scottish ancestry.

On the Irish side of things, though, we’re descended from names like Hoare, O’Brien, Smith (yes, Irish really), Lynch, Moynihan, Fitzgerald, Noonan, Lynch, Dunn and O’Brien.

My ancestry on the O’Brien side actually comes from a place called Knockerk (located near Slane) where St Patrick began his mission to bring Christianity to Ireland. Damo and I visited and stayed in the area in 1999. It was interesting to go the cemetery on the top of the Hill of Slane where St Patrick is said to have “kindled the Paschal fire”.

Arguably, it’s thanks to the big black brewery that St Patrick’s Day continues to live on when so many people around the world no longer identify as Christian.

Earth Hour
Guessing there will be no concession or victory speeches in the NSW Election between 8.30 and 9.30pm on March 26

And as we walked through the city this afternoon, my friend Sue and I couldn’t help but notice St Patrick’s Day seems more about the beer and less about St Patrick or even any sense of Irishness. Even with my solid Irish-Catholic credentials I neglected to wear any green today.

Sue was in town for work for the day, by the way, and so we caught up for a dinner at one of my current favourite restaurants, Red Chilli in Chinatown. A lovely way to spend a couple of hours with a good friend, enjoying good food.

A bus trip home, and here am sitting in front of the computer, and thinking I must catch up on some of the many hours of television I’ve recorded this week but haven’t yet watched.

On the way home I noticed an interesting connection between Earth Hour and the NSW Election. Ordinarily in an election, the concession and victory speeches would be held sometime between 8.30 and 10.00. As the result is likely a little earlier this time – it’s likely to be landslide – I’m guessing the concession and victory speeches could be as early as 8.00 and 9.00. I’m wondering which of our two leaders is likely to make their speech by candelight?

Talkin’ about God

Duncan Young, Pamela Jikiemi and Robert Alexander
Duncan Young, Pamela Jikiemi and Robert Alexander
Duncan Young, Pamela Jikiemi and Robert Alexander

Colin, Peter and I crossed the bridge tonight to see “The God Committee” at The Ensemble which was a really enjoyable, interesting play.

The setting for the play is a hospital meeting room in an American city somewhere, where a committee must make decisions about candidates for transplant surgery.

They have a set of “independant criteria” such as the candidates not being drug users, having a good support network and so on.

But the play demonstrates the apparent greyness of these criteria. On the issue of drug use, for example, I learned from the play amoxicillin can provide a false test positive for cocaine. On the issue of “support networks”, the argument explored is whether someone with a large family is necessarily more supported than someone with just one friend, or someone with a rich family. Who is the more supported?

Thus, at the heart of the play there is argument that even “facts” and “independant criteria” can be valued laden and open to many different interpretations.

A timely play for a few reasons, as the issue of God’s existence (or at least the existence of a creator) has come up a lot in various conversations I’ve had in the last twenty four hours. At the pub last night, a colleague mentioned growing up in a household where his father was an atheist and his mother was a pagan. Today at work we discussed the forthcoming canonisation of Mary McKillop.

And then tonight I tweeted what I thought was a rather amusing comment that, “Atheists are quite strong in their belief eh? Wondering if they appreciate the irony?”. The stone-faced response from someone I’ve never heard of was.. ” nope – atheism isnt a belief system. Instead its the position where one states the evidence for any god just isnt enough. And by a huge margin ;)”

Strictly speaking that’s not correct: atheists are people who do not believe in the existence of God or gods. If you think there’s a possibility of the existence of God if there’s enough evidence, you’re not an atheist. You need to find another word for what you believe because atheist isn’t the right one.

And frankly I think atheism IS a belief system. It’s a belief-system based around a notion that things like “science” and “facts” are somehow non-subjective interpretations of reality.

The first virus was only found 100 years ago. Prior to that science offered a different explanation for a range of medical conditions. In 100 years time, many of the conditions we currently face we may well come to understand as the cause by something else we do not know or understand.

I’m willing to accept that if 99 people look at a car and say it’s a car, and 1 person says it’s an elephant, that it’s probably a car. But we’re dealing with far more complex matters. Matters which have fascinated humans for, presumably, as long we’ve existed.

When it comes to the creation story, I lack the absolute certainty of both the fundamentalist and the atheist. Obviously either one or the other position is correct, that’s logical. I just don’t accept the evidence-based so-called scientific approach will you give you answer, as much as the absolutism of literal biblical interpretation. Both “searches for meaning” are based around a set of assumptions.

And that, I guess gets back to the heart of “The God Committee” as a play: that so-called reality is subjective.

It reminds me of a quote from a book by Caroline Jones which I read years ago, and which I often quote. She said, “More many years people have argued that seeing is believing. Now, many others are saying that believing is seeing”.

Lieber Gott

Lieber Gott
Lieber Gott
Lieber Gott

With all this Copenhagen stuff going on, I thought this was an interesting contribution to the discussion.

It’s a song by Frida from ABBA (of course) which is a “prayer” about peace, the environment and everything.

Here’s the translation that’s on Youtube.

Shout out to Matt for the music :)

English Translation (courtesy of Matt):
“Dear God”
Tell me, dear God,
do you hear me?
This prayer is for you
Oh, do not let the world go down
Let us be responsible for each other
Why do we have to be at war with one another?
Why is it so hard for us to give love?
Why are we so full of hatred and envy
and never have time for others?
(Why do we have to?)
How many people still have to die without reason?
How many hearts still have to be broken?
How much do we still have to suffer?
Tell me, what sense does it all make?
Promise
I will not be alone
Tell me, dear God,
do you hear me?
This prayer is for you
Oh, do not let the world go down
Let us be responsible for each other
Who are we passing judgement on justice
while we destroy the world?
Who on earth are we?
We are killing nature, our native soil.
(Why do we have to?)
Frida speaks the Lords Prayer in swedish …
Fader vår som är i himmelen.
Helgat varde ditt namn.
Tillkomme ditt rike.
Ske din vilja, såsom i himmelen så ock på jorden.
Vårt dagliga bröd giv oss idag,
och förlåt oss våra skulder, såsom ock vi förlåta dem oss skyldiga äro,
och inled oss icke i frestelse utan fräls oss ifrån ondo.
Ty riket är ditt och makten och härligheten i evighet.
Amen
Tell me, dear God,
do you hear me?
This prayer is for you ..

Thematically, the notion of Christianity and the environment also fits in with an interesting discussion I listened back to via a Radio National podcast the other day.

Holy Pictures

As a child our house was full of “holy pictures” (as my mum called them). In fact, aside from my sister’s wedding photographs, and my ABBA posters, the only pieces of art that adorned our walls were pieces of Catholic iconography. “The Crucifixion”, “The Last Supper”, “Mary’s Assumption into Heaven”: that kind of thing.

While some Christians really freak out at this kind of iconography – equating it to idol worship, seeing it as something which gets in the way of a relationship with God – it’s something I’m quite happy with. And it’s soemthing I quite like, Last year, for example, when I was travelling around I spent a fair amount of time in both Catholic and Orthodox Churches marvelling at the works.,

And certainly tonight, attending the “Blake Prize” at the National Art School, there were elements of the iconography which I grew up with. The prize started in 1951 as a religious art prize, though more recently it’s become a prize centred around “spirituality, religion and cultural diversity”. As I’ve attended the prize over the last few years it’s been interesting to watch the evolution of the works involved. Each year, there appears to be fewer and fewer overtly religious works, though the theme remains.

My favourite work, this year, for example was of a life-sized statue of a black woman holding a loaf of bread. As I walked through the crowded exhibition, I thought at first she was someone who was blocking my way. But then when I realised, I too, found myself firm-footed, unable to move, as I took in the work. Beautiful craft, and wonderful conceptually. Another favourite was a piece called “Ladders” (in its broadest sense it could be a ladder to heaven, to spiritual enlightenment etc). For me it was probably the craft more than the idea which appealed.

I would have taken more notes, except the exhibition opening was incredibly crowded with a surprisingly – and encouragingly – large number of young people. I’ll revisit the exhibition over the weekend to take it in with a greater depth.

And besides, I’m feeling a bit tired tonight. This is my third night in a row where I’ve felt tired, actually. And I can’t decide if it’s because I’m coming down with something – I’ve been sneezing a bit too – or if I’m just feeling tired from working too hard.

So, after spending 45 minutes or so wandering around the exhibition, I’ve grabbed a bite to eat, and have come home to relax.

Over the next few days I’ve got a few things planned including (hopefully) lunch with Yvette tomorrow (though she was sick today), seeing a cabaret show tomorrow night, catching up with The Other Andrew for his birthday, and going with Grant to see “Sounds Like Teen Spirit”, a documentary about the Junior Eurovision Song Contest.

In the midst of all this, I have Swedish homework to catch up on, and I’m hoping for a few hours of relaxing on the couch doing nothing much at all.

And hopefully getting back to see those “Holy Pictures” in a less crowded environment.

Spong

I was given it at work yesterday and, having gone to work without a tie yesterday, I immediately put it on. That is quite a nice tie, a colleague said, though she recoiled in horror when I told her what it was.

As I walked through the streets of Glebe last night I wondered how many people would recognise my tie. Was I from the CIA or the FBI or was I a member of another unknown unit in Sydney for just a couple of weeks. As I sat down in a small cocktail bar on Glebe Point Road and drank a glass of Pinot Grigio, I wondered if people would look at me as if I was a member of the Federal Police. In case you hadn’t recognised it, it’s the official APEC tie.

I was in Glebe last night to see Bishop John Shelby Spong speak at Gleebooks. I read one of his books, Sins of Scripture few years ago, and was quite interested in what he had to say, especially as his new book is called “Jesus For The Non-Religious”.

His view of Jesus is complex. Although he believes in God the creator, he doesn’t believe in the human-like supernatural being which he believes we, as human beings, have created. “You ask a horse what God looks like and he’ll describe a horse”, he told us.

As a follower of Christ, Spong argues against the notion of Jesus as a supernatural being. Rather, he argues Jesus was more than just an enlightened human being, he was “fully human”. Although I can’t articulate this myself, I think I understand what he means.

The central thesis of last night’s talk was that, because the Bible was written decades after the death of Jesus, there was a degree of embelishment in what was written. Subsequently, he believes Jesus the man became Jesus the supernatural.

That said, he said he acknowledges the contradictions in his own belief system. Despite this apparent denial of the supernatural, he says he believes in God running through all of us. He also believes in the afterlife, though he doesn’t accept the idea of heaven and hell, and he says he find its difficult to articulate what he does believe the afterlife means.

So yes, an interesting evening, and not what most people would be doing on a Friday night.

Otherwise, the last few days have been busy both with work and social life. Socially, there was Wednesday night drinks at the Lewisham, and Fruits In Suits at Slide. So yeah, an interesting couple of days.

Saint Patrick

Poet's Rest

Statue of St Patrick

Here it is, St Patrick’s Day 2007, and my thoughts have gone back to my visit to Slane, County Meath in Ireland in 1999.

The reason is simple: it’s believed that it was at Slane that St Patrick had a “spiritual standoff” in support of his plan to convert Ireland to Christianity. St Patrick is also said to have built his first church there.

The statue of St Patrick is located on the Hill of Slane (about ten minutes drive from the town centre), which, co-incidentally, is also the area where my O’Brien ancestors came from. Specifically, James O’Brien and Mary Smith who lived at the nearby village of Knockerk, before they came to Australia in 1864.

But if you think for a moment my trip to Ireland was a spiritual/genealogical journey only, think again…

PS. Happy Birthday to my sister, Pat.

Christmas & Multiculturalism

Strawberry Hills SantaI really love the Strawberry Hills Santa. That’s my name for the blow-up item currently atop the Strawberry Hills Hotel. And what I like most about it is the way it makes the blow-up Santa currently outside the “cheapie shop” near Taylor Square look positively traditionally festive. It’s like a giant snow-dome meets a giant beach ball. I snapped this photograph on the way home from work earlier, today.

Because stupidly I decided to work this week. Well actually, it’s not too bad, as it’s largely a supervisory role, and everyone at work is really keen and enthusiastic, and really happy to be there, despite the early start. This morning, it was a four-thirty start for me, which explains why I sounded awfully groggy when a mate called me a short while ago to see what I was doing, as I was having an afternoon nap.

And when I reflect on it, (aside from family) an afternoon nap was the only thing missing from my Christmas Day yesterday, which I spent with a friend and her family. Ordinarily, at home in Lismore, our Christmas Day tradition consists of getting up, opening presents, other family members arriving, lunch, a visit to the cemetery to wish mum and dad a Merry Christmas, and then back home for an afternoon nap. But that nap was absent from my Christmas yesterday.

Nonetheless, I really nice day along with my friend’s family and a few other friends. We had a great afternoon chatting, wining/dining, eating turkey, ham, duck, and a truly wicked chocolate mousse desert.

As I caught the bus to her parent’s place at Northbridge, I wandered through the city, with the only evidence of life being hordes of Irish and English backpackers (hunting in packs!), and Japanese tourists taking photographs of the large Christmas Tree in Martin Place, and looking for directions in a city which almost everyone else has abandoned.

I first noticed how quiet things were on Saturday afternoon, when the normally busy nearby Crown Street was almost deserted. Hardly any of the shops were open, and there were hardly any cars on the road. Even today, coming home from work, it was odd to see someone out and about. And I haven’t bothered to venture to the CBD where the totally odd Boxing Day shoppers have taken over. It seems it’s only “the slightly odd” who have remained in Sydney for the week between Christmas & New Years.

And one of the oddest sights I noticed was also on Saturday. At the back of the ABC there was a man doing a bit of disco dancing all by himself. It was amazing just how well it synced up to Donna Summer’s “Macarthur Park”, which I was listening to on my mp3 player. One of those wonderful moments of syncronicity that you know would make the basis for a great moment in an art house film.

So yeah, Christmas has been really nice this year, albeit a little quiet. And I imagine the quietness will continue for a couple of days yet, with the resident population of Surry Hills returning in time for New Years Eve. I reckon by Thursday, the restaurants, pubs and shops and will re-open. In the meantime, it’s the non-Christian shop owners, with their Indian, Lebanese and Turkish take-aways who are tradinng. And when I was looking for some take-away food for dinner last night, Christmas night, I thought to myself, “Thank goodness for multiculturalism”.

Blake Prize

I’ve just been to see The Blake Prize for Religious Art at the National Art School in Darlinghurst, and really enjoyed viewing many of the works on display. A highlight of the exhibition, as soon as you enter the door, is “We All See The Same Blue Sky” by Jeffrey Robert Wood. The sculpture/installation features a life-sized family of four covered in paper. They have televisions where their faces should be, and the paper that covers their body has writing on it. As you look closer, you realise the paper is pages from the Bible, the Koran, the Torah, and the Psalms.

Another favourite, both because of its physical beauty and its inspiration is “Whispered” by Louise Feneley. A beautiful oil painting on Belgian linen, the painting portrays a white cloth simply folded, but with light always coming through, giving it both physical beauty, thanks to the shadows, and spiritual depth.

Sticking more strictly to the notion of religion is “Preaching To Birds” by Arthur Apanski. Through strong vibrant colours, the painting portrays Adam and Even in a universal setting, and it’s not until you read the accompanying notes that you realise it’s them.

In a very contemporary sense, a couple of the works in this year’s exhibition touched on issues of religion and sexuality, including “Sermon” by Chris O’Doherty (aka Mambo) and “In God’s Image” by Rod McRae. The latter features a group of gay men in various degrees of undress, whereas the former is the kind of work you’ve come to expect of O’Doherty.

But in 2006, the Blake Prize isn’t really about religious art, per se, it’s about “the interaction of ideas and spiritual thought in contemporary Australian art”, as the written program tells us. This means there are many paintings based around nature, including a wonderful large red piece, which unfortunately I forget the name of which portrays the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Likewise, this year’s winner, a piece called, “Untitled Landscape with figure” by Euan MacLeod portrays the area around Alice Springs.

More interesting for me than the MacLead work, which I thought looked like everything else he’d ever done, was a piece called “The Six Towers Of Dachau”, photographs, by Lachlan Warner. I’ve been to Dachau, I’ve walked around and I’ve thought deeply about the experience. What makes this work wonderful, however, was that the artist had obviously thought about what it must have been like to have been in the Nazi death camp, and to have considered the significance of the watch towers in the every day lives of those who were there.

So yes, a terrific exhibition and one I’d recommend.

Surry Hillsong

I thought Surry Hills was homo heaven with its large gay population, significant drug taking population, multicultural elements and significant homelessness problem. Even though Hillsong has a branch just around the corner in Redfern (or is it Waterloo?) near the Danks Street Galleries, I didn’t suspect for a moment there would be Hillsong types in my apartment block, but apparently there are. I found a ticket in the stairwell of my apartment on the way home tonight and was shocked. Was it the people in #27? Maybe they live in #4? Who could it be?

I must confess I went to a Joyce Meyer convention a couple of years ago at the Sydney Entertainment Centre. Being a bit of a God-botherer myself I am quite a fan of Joyce, though her brand of theology is probably a lot more conservative than my own. Nonetheless, I really like her work, as she speaks about the importance of a personal relationship with God. Sometimes however, I get a little concerned/confused by some of her comments which suggest a belief in Prosperity Theology. You know, the idea that is commonly a part of televangelist and pentecostal churches which claims God wants Christians to be successful in every way, especially in their finances. Proponents of this doctrine claim that its purpose is funding of preaching throughout the World, and is based largely on a Bible verse (Deuteronomy 8:18) which says, “God gives you the power to get wealth to establish his covenant.” Critics, on the other hand, claim that the doctrine is used by its proponents to become wealthy at the expense of persons who give or that the doctrine’s focus on material wealth is misguided.. A lot of the time Joyce quotes a little too much from Deuteronomy for my liking, but mostly I think she’s okay, as she mostly speaks with honesty and passion.

The only thing I didn’t like about her convention at the Entertainment Centre a couple of years ago was the music. There’s nothing worse than Christian Rock with its infernal blandness. Actually there is, it’s people singing and clapping along to Christian Rock, as they’re usually out of time with the music. It aint that hard if you want to clap properly and with a bit of groove… you clap on 2 and 4, not 1 and 3. Being surrounded by people who clapped 1, 4, 3, 4, 2, 4, 2, 3 made the experience more than I could bare and totally burned me from Christian music once and for all.

And I guess that’s why I was surprised to see a Hillsong ticket in my apartment block… it’s not the Christian stuff… it’s the appalling taste in music.

A Muslim, a Christian, and a Jew walk into a church

Muslim, Christian, Jew at Pitt Street Uniting Church
Muslim, Christian, Jew at Pitt Street Uniting Church

It’s Sunday night and I’ve just returned from a reasonably interesting evening at the Pitt Street Uniting Church.

I saw the sign a couple of weeks ago advertising an evening featuring a Christian, a Muslim and a Jew, talking about issues of diversity and belief and quickly jotted it in my diary as an interesting Sunday night excursion.

I’ve never been to a Uniting Church before. Well, actually as a child I used to go to Sunday School at a Presbyterian Church (with my cousins), but never as an adult. The venue was actually a former Congretational Church, one of the three churches (along with Methodist and Presbyterian) which formed the Uniting Church. On entering I noticed the lack of traditional iconography (I’m a Catholic, after all) but did notice patchwork quilts and other symbols noting the notion of a church made up of diversity. There wasn’t a crucifix in sight, the alter was hardly visible and the organ was replaced by a piano. The congregation consisted of mostly older people and (clearly, at question time) people with a commitment to those values of diversity, including a couple of transexuals.

The evening consisted of three people involved in the Goodness & Kindness Project (a Christian, a Muslim and a Jew) talking about their experiences of life and belief, and how they related those issues to people in primary schools, high schools and in the broader community, though it was their interest in primary schools that was strongest, because they believe it’s between the ages of 9 and 12 that you can have the most effect.

They, and a team, have travelled all over the countryside speaking to 25,000 people (85% primary school, 14% secondary school, 1% adult) about shared values.

Although they conceded their points of difference (especially on the issue of Israel/Palestine), they were most interested in their points of commonality. They emphasised, for example, the commonality of Bible stories, including Jonah and the Whale and Moses crossing the Red Sea. I was also surprised to hear about how Islam recognises Jesus and the Mother of Christ, Mary, in its teaching. I also learned that, except on one day each year, Jewish people do not use the name or word God. In fact, the word is unpronouncable in the Torah, leaving our vowels. They also, for example, spoke about their trepidation, sometimes, in going into “faith schools”. The Jewish man, for example, spoke of the fear he felt the first time he went into a Muslim school (he wears traditiona clothing, bit hat, beard etc_, though now goes into those schools as a “regular face”

The Christian man spoke the least, the Jew spoke a little more, but mostly it was the Muslim man who spoke the most, reflecting I guess, the underlying interests of the audience to know more about Islam. Audience members raised issues such as the lack of female representation (they DO have women doing the program) and the lack of involvement of other religious traditions such as Buddhism (there’s a common interest in these three religions which believe in just one God) which challenged the notion of what they are doing, but mostly people were supportive of this initiative.

Overall it was an interesting evening, though not earth shattering. My favourite moment, however, was when the Jewish man spoke of going to the World Trade Centre, and upon seeing some graffiti which said “death to all Muslims” came to a conclusion. He said, at that point he realised the world could go in two directions, one of division or one of unity. Upon making this realisation he said he made a promise to God to work for unity. A very touching moment that led to a round of applause.

If you want to know more, here’s a link to a program about them, as featured on ABC TV.

Sins of Scripture

Although I’d heard about John Shelby Spong as being a fairly liberal Christian, I wasn’t really aware of the detail of his theology until I read this book on a flight between Sydney and Adelaide. Yes, while the rest of the plane was reading the Da Vinci Code, I was reading another book which seeks to provide an alternative reading of the Christian story… although, of courser, a lot of Christians would argue both are works of fiction.

The essential argument of the book is that throughout history various bible texts have been used selectively to condemn homosexuality, keep women “in their place”, deliver war and encourage environmental unsustainability, amongst many other things.

But isn’t the bible the word of God? No he argues, describing how the texts were written in many different contexts over several hundred years and how they were often modified and mistepreted. The story of Sodom, for example, he argues has been misinterpeted as a proscribing homosexual behaviour. He also argues that Paul’s description of homosexuality as an abomination was a product of his own self-loathing concerned with his sexuality?

But surely a supernatural God wouldn’t allow such misinterpretation? In fact, he argues against the concept of a supernatural God, intervening in our lives on both a micro and macro scale, believing instead that God is a force in all of us which can allow us to reach a more complex human experience.

Spong argues that Jesus Christ was not the son of God, but rather an enlightened human being who tapped into a new consciousness of what it means to be a more complete human. For that reason, he describes himself as a Christian.

As a former Episcopalian (read “Anglican”) bishop, it’s easy to understand why Spong’s teachings have been controversial and widely criticised.

As someone without theological training I am not in a position to critique the book in any other way than how I reacted to it on a personal level. Although my brand of Christianity believes in a supernatural God, I was open to many of the arguments he expressed about the need for a more enlightened human consciousness.

As a reasonably liberal Christian, I was also open to many of his arguments about homosexuality, women and environmentalism, to name but three. But although Spong spoke about his long term love of the bible, I thought the passion was sometimes consumed by the intellectual argument.

That said, I’d rather read something like this than Dan Brown.

I’m A Quaker

quakeroats

And not just because I liked “rolled oats”. According to a survey I did on http://www.beliefnet.com, I’m either an Orthodox Quaker, a Liberal Quaker or a Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestant.

After some consideration, I think I’m a Liberal Quaker.

What does this mean?

Belief in Deity: Diverse beliefs, from belief in a personal God as an incorporeal spirit to questioning belief in a personal God.

Incarnations: Beliefs vary from the literal to the symbolic belief in Jesus Christ as God’s incarnation. Most believe we are all sons and daughters of God, with the main focus on experiencing and listening to God, the Light within, accessible to all.

Origin of Universe and Life: Emphasis is placed on spiritual truths as revealed to each individual. Many believe that God created/controls all events/processes that modern scientists are uncovering about origins. Many believe in scientific accounts alone or don’t profess to know.

After Death: Few liberal Quakers believe in direct reward and punishment, heaven and hell, or second coming of Christ. The primary focus is nondogmatic: God is love, love is eternal, and our actions in life should reflect love for all of humanity.

Why Evil?: Beliefs vary, as the focus is not on why, but how to eliminate wrongs, especially violence. Many believe that violence against another human is violence against God. Many Quakers believe that lack of awareness of God’s divine Light within all may result in wrongdoing. Many believe that evil is simply an unfortunate part of human nature that we all must work to eliminate.

Salvation: Beliefs are diverse, as dogma is de-emphasized. Most believe that all will be saved because God is good and forgiving, and the divine Light of God is available to all. Good works, especially social work and peace efforts, are viewed as integral to the salvation of humanity, regardless of belief or nonbelief in an afterlife.

Undeserving Suffering: Liberal Quakers do not believe that Satan causes suffering. Some believe suffering is part of God’s plan, will, or design, even if we don’t immediately understand it. Some don’t believe in any spiritual reasons for suffering. Quakers focus on reducing human suffering, especially that which is caused by social injustice or violence.

Contemporary Issues: Views vary, some maintaining that abortion violates Quaker commitment to nonviolence, but some view the right to choose abortion as an aspect of equal rights for women and/or as a personal matter between the woman and God. The American Friends Service Committee (an independent Quaker organization with participants of many faiths, which provides international programs for economic and social justice, peace, humanitarian aid) supports the woman’s right to choose abortion according to her own conscience.

I guess, then that it’s just as well that Quaker House is just down the road from my place in Sydney.