Some Things to Think About

I was talking to a friend of mine on Skype other day, about being “older” and its challenges. His name is Rev. Brian McCaffrey and he is very experienced in this topic, being the Chairman at the Northeast Forum on Spirituality & Aging for the Upstate New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of [...]

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I took a taxi to a doctor’s appointment in Double Bay today. As so often happens in Sydney, the driver had an accent and I asked him where he originally came from. “Yemen, twenty years ago.” We chatted about how great Australia is then I asked him if I could ask him a serious question. [...]

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St V’s has done all it can for me; I sense that. It’s not my decision however. The Neurosurgeon has the magic power to say his work is done; I can go home. He will do another CT scan Monday to look at my head and see if it is normal enough for me to [...]

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You go under a General Aenesthaetic, get operated on, then go to  a recovery area where the nurses wake you up. “Jim, do you know where you are?” There are no preconceptions in the ICU, just the insistent question about whether you are conscious or not. The nurses don’t stop asking you until you reply. [...]

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i told my friend Father Brendan Purceell that I named this post after Thomas DeQuincey’s famous essay, because most of the material came to me in the ICU using a self-administered Morphine drip machine. It was my way of occupying my mind when my body was restrained after my (first) operation. More about that later. [...]

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They woke me early so I could have a piece of gluten free toast and jam, and a cup of black coffee. Nothing much to do but wait for the operation, which is number two on the afternoon schedule. I suppose they’ll take me down early; the aenesthetist has her work to do first. I [...]

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Anyone who knows me knows that I spend a lot of time in my head, and also pursue the spiritual dimension of reality. Going into a hospital forces you to be aware of your body, whether you want to or not. Here are a few of my experiences: They  are continually measuring my heart. Great [...]

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This is a view from my room in St V’s looking west toward CBD Sydney, taken when I woke up this morning about 7:30M.  Had a good night’s sleep without all the ‘entertainment’ in the ER the previous 2 nights. Also slept later than I usually do — Oscar normally walks across my chest at [...]

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Living life isn’t writing about it. Such an obvious statement but one that comes home very quickly when your GP says, “I’m sending you to the hospital.”  It’s a bit complicated but basically I have headaches caused by a bleeding between my skull and the outer lining of the brain. At the Emergency Room I [...]

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People use the word ‘transformation’ very loosely today. Corporate change programs are called transformational, even if they leave the company largely the same. People say that they have experiences that ‘transform’ them — and yet they too largely remain the same. But the OED defines transform as “change the form, shape, or appearance of; alter the [...]

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Over the past several years, some of my posts have been viewed or commented on by a number of people. I thought I’d summarize and give you the links to some of my most popular posts to celebrate the milestone of my 100th post. If you enjoy these posts, I hope you’ll subscribe to my [...]

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In the northern half of our planet, Easter comes in early Spring — rebirth and new growth after Winter is obvious and seems to announce the meaning of Easter. But in the southern hemisphere where I now live, it is early Autumn and things are dying rather than growing. This Easter Sunday, after reading Jesus of Nazereth by Pope [...]

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In possibly the strangest editorial on Easter ever written, “Nailing the cross to mind and body” Elizabeth Farrelly actually got past the usual bunnies, coloured eggs and cuteness as she stretched her imagination to find the meaning of Easter. [Click here to read her Sydney Morning Herald editorial] While trying to connect biology and worship, Farrelly [...]

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In the March 2013 issue of Quadrant, “one of Australia’s leading intellectual magazines,” Michael Giffin made a plea for rationality in his article The Church, Its Enemies, and Child Abuse. He points out that “unfortunately (the media) reports (child abuse) in a way that, in the public mind, links it predominantly with the Catholic Church, as [...]

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My previous post raised a question about the meaning of “authenticity” — does it apply to beliefs or the state of an individual holding a belief? And why should anyone care anyway? The OED defines authenticity as ”the quality of being authentic” — and authentic means “Of authority, authoritative, entitled to obedience or respect” in the [...]

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Chris Stedman, a “former Christian” and now an atheist and Chaplain at the Harvard humanist community wrote the following in an article posted on Q, Ideas for the Common Good. [Click here to read the full article] “Recently, I participated in an interfaith dialogue with someone who responded to my bristling at evangelizing by saying: But, [...]

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Warning. This post may upset your accustomed way of thinking about your beliefs. However, in the spirit of what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, I offer some reflections on the state of belief in the post-postmodern world. In a nutshell, belief is under attack from every direction — but we can also ‘deconstruct’ those [...]

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In the Sunday Life section of the Sydney Sun-Herald there was an article “Sacred Sunday” that got me thinking. The author Susie Burrell never defines what she means by ‘sacred’ but uses a practical ideal as the basis for her well-written article. “. . .we have to actively schedule more rest time, for the benefit [...]

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I receive emails occasionally from the Harvard Humanist Community. Recently they awarded comedian Eddie Izzard a Lifetime Acheivement Award, and featured one of his quotes on their Facebook page –”I don’t believe in a God. I believe in people.” That got me to thinking (as the Harvard Humanist Community usually does). This is a classic [...]

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It’s strange how I come to write these posts. Usually I experience or read something that causes an idea to surface suddenly — I have to capture it immediately or it gets lost. This post was triggered by a phrase I read this morning in Psalm 81 — “A voice I did not know said [...]

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In 1953  Robert Nesbit wrote a very insightful book called The Quest for Community. In it he summarised the prevailing view of  man with these words: “The theologian Paul Tillich sees before him in the western world today a culture compounded not of traditional faith and confidence, but one agitated by feelings of fear and [...]

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When Martha my teacher / coach taught me the rudiments of NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming), she gave me a model for how the human mind works. Whether or not you agree with this model, you must admit that some of its ideas are quite provocative: Our memories and emotions profoundly influence our behaviours The way [...]

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I posted a link to Part 1, The insistence of everyday, and a good friend commented: “Interesting post Jim. May be applicable to anyone who believes in a higher power, not just Christians. You took the time to reflect, which I must confess, I don’t do nearly enough.” What struck me was his phrase “may [...]

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As I was driving through Sydney yesterday, I had the Bach Goldberg Variations on ABC Radio. I was stopped at a traffic light, and noticed the people crossing past my windshield, some talking to a friend, some punching their iPhone’s screen, no doubt linked to someone else doing the same thing. There was a cluster [...]

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There was an interview with Malcomb Turnbull in this week’s Sydney Sun-Herald. (For my American friends, he is the former leader of the Liberal Party now a back-bencher in Parliament, mainly focused on technology.) What grabbed my attention in the interview was his focus on literary insights. “Malcomb has an aesthete’s heart locked in a technocrat’s job [...]

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I was having a conversation with a friend about respect. She said that you just can’t respect some people, the way they live or think. I said that God respected us so much that he sent his only son to become one of us and heal us. What does it mean to follow God’s example [...]

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I have lived in Australia for 16 years, a transplanted American. Compared to the USA, Australia is, for me, a place where  “nothing happens.” I say that with respect. Australians seem to keep their remote continent under control. The national attitude down under might be summarised as “No worries mate.” There aren’t any really big [...]

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What are we to make of the popularity of fantasy, say the huge following of The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars, or  the box office performance of the Hobbit? Libby Brooks in the Guardian concludes that the banality of the idea of “happily-ever-after” is rescued by the “magic that is used to get [...]

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We have arrived at that special period just before Christmas when all the platitudes emerge. How frantic everyone is, buying last minute gifts, etc. But what I really look forward to are the pre-Christmas editorials in newspapers. I thought I’d share a sample of a bit of the wisdom from the Sydney Morning Herald on [...]

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I went to a retreat over the weekend where Father Brendan Purcell presented 4 reflections on different aspects of communion. One distinction that came clear to me was that community and communion are both essential human activities but not the same. A community is any group of people who share a common purpose and basic set [...]

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I recently had a Facebook conversation with a Christian woman I don’t know. At one point she said “We have to ‘occupy’ the world until Jesus comes.” I asked her what she meant and she said, “be an occupation force in the world until He comes!” Her statement made me think about how Christians view [...]

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At the risk of igniting an explosion of arguments, I’d like to comment on two events of the past week that graphically illustrate the distinction between the Christian view of the world and other (secular) views. These events are the US Election and The NSW Commission of Inquiry into ‘alleged paedophile priests in the Hunter [...]

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It struck me, as I watched the superstorm Sandy hit New York City, that millions of people suddenly found themselves thrown down Maslow’s hierarchy and face to face with basic security needs. Probably most of these people were used to operating at the mid-level of social and esteem needs, with a few (according to Maslow) [...]

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Somehow, singlemindedness seems a poor strategy in today’s complex, unpredicatable world. Better to have many options and a Plan B, C and even D. If you really focus on only Plan A, and that doesn’t work you fail. Balance not focus. There is a different point of view. Singleminded people put all their energy into [...]

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We live in a world filled with information. Media, Facebook,  email and mobile phone connectivity push information at us continuously. In fact. our lives are so completely full of information that we constantly need to make quick judgments about whether we should pay attention or not, or whether something rings true or not. We ought to use critical thinking to make [...]

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I went to a day of reflection yesterday on the topic “Contemporary Christianity.” What’s happening to the church? The session leader gave us some interesting perspectives. I’d like to share some of them with you, as well as my own reflections. Weekly attendance at church services in Australia was 74% in 1954 and is 14% [...]

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In the 21st century, we don’t think we need the ancient religious myth about Adam and Eve anymore. Science has basically explained human origins. Isn’t that right? [1] No. In a way, the story of Adam and Eve is more relevant today than most other biblical stories. Let me explain. A clash of civilizations The story of [...]

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Several of the commentators on the riots here in Sydney have focused on the issue of multi-culturalism — and how far does freedom of speech go? That is a persistent debate in a diverse society. How can we accept a degree of conflict between an energetic minority — religious or political –and the rights of [...]

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I have had a number of comments on my post Anger and Mercy, about the recent riots in Sydney concerning the blasphemous (to Muslims) YouTube video. I wrote specifcally to Christians about how I believed they ought to react. I can now see that my answer requires a bit more background. First of all, what’s [...]

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Over the weekend here in Sydney there was a small riot in protest of the outrageous amateur film posted on YouTube about the Prophet Mohammed, and a sermon on mercy in the small church I go to. While the priest did not make the connection with the riots, the link between anger and mercy occurred [...]

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Mr. Cranky

September 10, 2012

in Some Things to Think About

My wife gave me a soft toy a few years ago, with the word “Cranky” embroidered on its stomach. Forty years earlier, when my son joined Indian Guides, each father and son had to have ”indian” names, made up by the boy. I was “Chief Growling Bear.” Are you beginning to get the idea? What’s interesting is [...]

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In a recent Sydney Morning Herald Essay, the noted observer of Australian life Hugh Mackay wrote “when it comes to time, we can indeed have it all, every bit of it.” Well, yes and no. If time is the ordinary progression of minutes, hours and days, then yes. Time is there for the taking, if [...]

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At the risk of politicising this blog, I’d like to comment on a deeper aspect of the current “marraige vow” controversy being debated within the Anglican Church as well as publically in the Australian newspapers. To me, this debate is really the collision of two worlds — the sacred and the secular — with the [...]

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I’m in the final stages of completing a new book called Imagining Rama. My publisher, planning the cover and layout for the book asked, as they always do, who is your target audience? I told her, initially, “People who searching for transformation” but then broadened the ‘market’ to “searchers.” From her standpoint, the trick is to [...]

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“When I look at my tattoo it reminds me I want to be free and independent and open to more experiences. . .As Johnny Depp reportedly said, ‘My body is my journal and my tattoos are my story.’” in a featured article “I ink therefore I am” in Sunday Life, Sydney Morning Herald, May 27, [...]

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In an editorial The great shock of Easter, the Sydney Morning Herald used the Christian Easter proclamation to make a provocative point to a wider audience. “Simply put, ours is a culture that pretends to liberate the “me” from the “we” by inviting each of us to forget about the tried wisdom of the past and [...]

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I realise from some of the comments I have received on my previous post that the word “ideology” has many different connotations — some good, some bad. As I said in my previous post, I started out with a positive story about ideology myself. After my conversation with the woman who was a social activist I began [...]

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I had a very provocative dinner table conversation last night, with a woman who is a passionate advocate for social justice. At 15 she set up a special breakfast at her school for poor aboriginal children because they had no food. She has continued to be an activist for social causes her entire life. She [...]

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“Here I learned to distinguish what I was planning to do after graduation from the person I aspire to be after graduation” I read those words in my latest copy of Marquette, the magazine published by the university I attended many years ago. Looking  backward at my own years in university, it doesn’t seem to [...]

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“It’s not enough, apparently, to have lived life well.” In a Sydney Morning Herald News Review Essay, The Marketing of BrandMe, Hugh Mackay, the well-known observer of Australia social customs and culture, discusses the “virus of self-promotion.” He contrasts self-esteem with self-respect. Recognition — the number of Likes on our Facebook page, the number of [...]

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I love fantastic stories, especially those which create entirely new worlds in my imagination. For example, The Lord of the Rings or the Star Wars Trilogy. I am currently reading a fascinating science fiction trilogy by S. M. Stirling about ‘The Change’, where the Earth has been devastated by a catastrophy that instantly eliminates all electrical [...]

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I was driving back from doing the grocery shopping today, and happened to hear the last movement of Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony, the Pathetique. What a sad, emotionally draining piece of music, with its evocation of the “dying of the light” at the end. Whenever I hear it, I remember the only time I ever heard [...]

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I had just parked the car and was walking toward St Peters for the 10:30 service when I spotted him. An old, ragged man slouching his way toward me, looking at the ground as if he might fall over. But when I went to pass him, he looked up at me and grinned, “Allo, Cheeky [...]

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Alain de Botton, “possibly the world’s richest philosopher” according to the Sydney Morning Herald, explains religion this way: “There’s something called religion and it was invented a long time ago by people who felt very out of control with their lives, who didn’t know . . . why the sun always rose over the mountains. [...]

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I love Jesus but hate religion CLICK to watch video I suggest you watch this Youtube video, viewed more than 10,000,000 times, with a 10 to 1 like versus dislike rating, and ask yourself the following questions: 1. How much of what this obviously sincere young man is saying makes sense to you? 2. What doesn’t make sense [...]

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I went to the 10:30 Service on New Years Day at St Peters in Surry Hills, after attending the Lord Mayor’s party at the Sydney Opera House the evening before. The church was cool and the service quiet. I was suddenly struck by the enduring simplicity of what takes place every Sunday at St Peters, and [...]

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I recently read a fascinating editorial by Elizabeth Farrelly in the Sydney Morning Herald entitled Leave behind the retail maze, zen is just a single path away. In it she manages to combine the usual post-holiday lament about Christmas shopping madness with an excursion into meditation, and the role of labyrinths in the search for inner [...]

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I love movies with happy endings.  My wife and I keep these “feel good movies” in a special place  so we can easily find them when  we need cheering up. It’s a Wonderful Life is one of our favorites. The look on George Bailey’s face (played by Jimmy Stewart) when he is reunited with his family at the end [...]

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The human mind works like this. Very basically, we see something and compare it against what we know and then we automatically know how to think and act. For example, we see an angry face and automatically prepare to ‘fight or flee’ — Scientists have shown that even infants can recognise what a face is, and [...]

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When I was in sixth grade we learned english grammar — how to speak and write according to commonly accepted rules. One of the basic things drilled into us was how to identify the different “parts of speech” — the role that words play in sentences.  Two of the most important parts were nouns and verbs. As [...]

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When I was in high school, my cousin Leo and I would occasionally get into ‘philosophical’ debates late at night. “What is nothing?” “Why does something exist?”  and so on. We were pushing the limits of what we knew, spreading our mental wings, trying to make sense of it all.  Later, as an adult, I [...]

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In her book, Inspiring Tomorrow’s Leaders Today — a task I completely support — Avril Henry uses a quote to set the stage. “Unhappy is a people that has run out of words to describe what is going on.” (Thurman Arnold) I think that describes the underlying theme of life in the 21st Century. We [...]

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One of the challenges of ‘making sense of it all’ in the 21st century is resolving the apparent conflicts between science and religion. I say apparent because I have degrees in both engineering and physics, and a certificate in theology, and after reading widely on the subject, I can’t find any real conflicts except those [...]

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I recently read a powerful book about changing the “system,” Power and Love: A Theory and Practice of Social Change by Adam Kahane. In it the author describes how both the proper use of power and the proper use of love must walk together to achieve lasting social change. Here is his most basic point [...]

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“Our most important learnings come not simply when we see the world anew, but specifically when we see ourselves–and our role in creating the world — anew” (Adam Kahane in Power and Love quoting Ursala Versteegen) This type of learning is at the heart of transformation. Rather waiting for a magical leader to make our [...]

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Most of us are aware that the universe began in a ‘Big Bang’ about 14 Billion years ago. But how many people realize that another equally great ‘big bang’ happened just 2000 years ago? I once taught a weekend ‘Enrich Your Faith” workshop to a small group of Christians in the basement of a Baptist [...]

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“You aren’t a Christian but you are the most Christian person I know.” I hear this statement occasionally and it always makes me pause. I wonder what the person saying it means — and how the person being referred to feels. There are lots of possibilities. Then I realize that the person I need to [...]

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“Being authentic” is one of the key attributes of leading a good life in the postmodern mind. As our confidence in traditional beliefs and institutions has weakened, we have come to rely more and more on our own core strengths. One of these is our “integrity” or our “authenticity.” The opposites of “authenticity”  — being [...]

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I haven’t been to church for several months. For most of my life, this would have been unthinkable. Church was an integral part of my life. What has happened? I sense that my choice to stop going to church is wrapped in my own negative stories about many aspects of church. Where did these stories [...]

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A friend of mine learned today that the doctors had done all they can. His cancer is terminal. In empathy my wife and I reached out, to try to help and we prayed too. My prayer was straight forward: “God, please be very close to him and let him know you are and always will [...]

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“The study of man unmediated by religion marked the end of the middle ages and saw the beginning of the modern world.” (Rebecca Fraser in The History of Britain) It is easy for historians to look back and see the end of one way of thinking and the beginning of another. It doesn’t happen at [...]

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Michael Fallon in his book Change Leaders made a profound point that Christians must understand to follow Jesus’ leadership. “Day to day practice is the only experience that can engage and reshape the brain.” This raises a number of questions which, when answered, can expand our sense of what salvation and our church are all [...]

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I visited St Winifred’s Well in northern Wales on my holiday and encountered an “old fashioned” religion that I hadn’t experienced since I was a boy. This holy place is called “The Lourdes of The UK” and has been visited by kings and ordinary people for many centuries. While I was there, an old couple [...]

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Peter Fitzsimons (a skeptic) recently wrote in the Sydney Sun Herald: “There have been 10,000 gods worshiped since the dawn of time. You (Brian Rosner, a theologian he is debating) have rejected 9999 of them as arrant and obvious nonsense. I counted up, and I have rejected just one more.” He is pointing out a [...]

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Psychologists, cultural anthropologists and philosophers now generally agree that there is no such thing as an ‘independent, rational self.’ All of us are products of our genes, our upbringing and the pervasive, continual influence of the culture we live in. We cannot escape what it means to be human. As St. Paul said so well, [...]

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Hindus describe how man lives using a story about four ages of man. Youth simply enjoys life Young adults use their powers to achieve More mature adults seek ways to contribute Then, finally, some people seek  ultimate meaning What story do we Christians tell about life? I would call it the “living as if” story. [...]

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Thomas Merton believed that life is a process of going from “innocence to experience and back to innocence.” When we are innocent children the world is magical, and death doesn’t exist. As we grow up, we learn from experience that the world is a difficult place. We must compete with others to succeed.  Evil, sickness [...]

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“Our learning to see with Jesus’ eyes will eventually result in us desiring with Jesus’ heart — which is to say, our receiving the mind of Christ, which is how we discover the mind of God.” [James Alison in On Being Liked] There is a chain of reasoning associated with this statement that each of [...]

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A Christian is a person who loves Jesus Christ and follows him as their leader.  [1] There are many types of Christians: Roman Catholics, Anglo Catholics and Protestants, evangelicals and eucharistic, orthodox and modern, eastern and western, believers in the Bible as the sole guide and believers in the Bible and tradition, and other variations [...]

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Sometimes, I notice different kinds of anger when I talk with Christians or read their Blogs: “The church doesn’t give me what I need” “Those other Christians and their churches are heretics, apostates or just irritating.” “The Pastor offended me.” “They are ruining the church.” What is Jesus’ mind when it comes to such anger? [...]

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Human beings first understand things metaphorically. When we encounter something new, we understand it by comparing it with something that we already know. Many of us have never encountered the idea that the Christian church, like all living things, is on a journey. If we want to understand its ongoing life journey then the transformation [...]

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Jesus shines his light on the  most difficult issues we face in the early 21st century. Let me illustrate this by discussing a possible way forward toward peaceful collaboration between Christians and Muslims, to solve many of the economic and social issues our world faces. The issues between Islam and Christianity are extremely complex and [...]

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