There is a fairly lively alliance of religious progressives in Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific who hold triennial conferences. As PCN delegates have participated in recent Common Dreams events, it would be wonderful to learn about these gatherings.
The Open Discussion on Progressive Christianity in Australia have published the following brief summary of the conference. They are calling it the “Best Ever!’
• Over 400 participants including the parallel special program for Gen Y/Millennials, the Emerging Generations
• The largest contingent came from Queensland which more than doubled its previous attendance figures
• Multi-faith representation was good as well as presentations providing Muslim and Jewish progressive perspectives
• New ground was broken with the incorporation of a “Dine About” at eight Southbank restaurants
• The World premiere of the new video from Living the Questions – Let’s be Frank was presented in the lunch breaks – soon to be available free from their website.
• The book signing by many of the authors present led to queues.
• 700 lunch box meals provided by the wonderful catering team from Somerville House College; 1500 morning and afternoon teas served in the splendid courtyards.
If anyone can share more information, please do.
The Common Dreams team are currently uploading conference materials to the website. At present a selection of audio recordings are available and placeholders exist for papers, videos and photos.
The audio recordings include the following speakers:
David Felten, Julie Leaves, Val Webb, Sam Watson, Saara Sabbagh, Lorrioane Parkinson, Pamela Eisenbaum, Margaret Mayman, Marianne Borg, Diana Butler Bass, Jane Norman, Michael Morwood, Deshna Ubeda, Noel Preston, Alex Sangster and Ian David.
David Felten’s address is engaging and heartening. He was sadly asked to stand-in for Professor John Dobson due to ill-health but manages to set an uplifting tone for the conference. The address lasts for around 20 minutes.
Julie Leaves pays a moving tribute to her husband Nigel. I had no idea that Nigel Leaves had passed away and was quite shocked when I noticed the tribute listed in the Common Dreams programme. Ever since Don Cupitt broadcast the BBC’s ‘The Sea of Faiith’ in 1984, I have intermittently followed Cuppitt’s work. When Nigel Leaves published two scholarly volumes cataloguing and discussing Cupitt’s theology, it provided a much needed commentary.
His wife’s address outlines personal and professional aspects of his life and their family life. It is greatly to her crdit that she delivers it so well. The tribute finishes with an audio-visual presentation using Coldplay’s ‘The Scientist’ as the soundtrack. The lyrics and music are wonderfully appropriate.
Val Webb lectures around the the conference theme of progressive spirituality for an hour, so make sure you have enough time to listen.
She provides a helpful summary of the variety of forms of progressive spirituality. The term itself is challenged and we are asked to consider what we mean by the adjective ‘progressive’; she suggests that the word ‘progressing’ could be more appropriate. She also later asks us to consider the term ‘radical’ as a more effective description.
In addition, she reviews the limitations that are imposed by labels and ‘branding’. Her enquiry provides a very useful prompt to your own thinking in this area. She also shows a commendable awareness of the decline in any form of religious participation, especially amongst the young.
Val Webb concludes with a consideration of attention and interruption. She draws on Simone Weil’s suggestion that ‘absolutely unmixed attention is prayer’ and asks that we open ourselves to interruption. It is only by interrupting our attention to preconceptions that we are free to continue progressing.
Sam Watson gives a really interesting introduction to the Aboriginal Country around Brisbane. It is a geat help to open a Google Maps window centred on Brisbane, as he describes the local geography. His address lasts around 10 minutes.
Saara Sabbagh is of Syrian descent, studied Islam in Melbourne and subsequently travelled Syria to study sacred knowledge under female leaders. She conveys optimism and determination. As a cross cultural educator she constantly challenges stereotypes. In her view the revival of Sufism is a return to the spirituality at the core of Islam. Her address lasts around 30 minutes and is followed by a question and answer session.
Lorraine Parkinson’s address is titled ‘God’s Treasure Hunt: encouraging us to find the meaning of existence.’ She suggests that ‘Love is God’, rather than, as more commonly argued, ‘God is Love’. Love requires no institution and no priestly class to control it. Parkinson believes that Jesus discovered that the meaning of life can be found by everyone. The address lasts about 30 minutes.
Pamela Eisenbaum is a Jewish New Testament scholar who teaches in a Christian seminary. Her interests include the Apostle Paul and the Jewish tradition. She address the emergence of the description ‘Spiritual but not religious’ and concludes that modern spirituality lacks the depth of any particular tradition. Her address lasts for around 30 minutes.
Margaret Mayman gave an interesting address titled ‘Jesus Is Not My Boyfriend: A Spirituality of Christa Community’. She argues that Instead of a personal relationship with Jesus, we need a social relationship with the ‘Way of Jesus’. Not the personal saviour but Jesus the mystic, sage and prophet. Mayman uses extensive references to the visual arts to illustrate her talk featuring Edwina Sandys ‘Christa’ statue, Almuth Lutkenhaus ‘Crucified Woman’ and the work of Emanuel Garibay. Her talk lasts about 20 minutes.
Links to further talks continue in a second post below.
Marianne Borg pays a moving tribute to her late husband Marcus Borg. She describes his life in terms of a multi-tiered narrative of searching and discovery. He was an insightful and elegant scholar, who loosed tradition from its dogmatic moorings. Marcus Borg offered an understanding of Jesus as the embodiment of human capacity and his work will continue to accompany us on our jouney through life. Her tribute lasts around 20 minutes.
Diana Butler Bass gave the Marcus Borg memorial lecture. She reviews the time she spent with the scholar and gives several personal insights. Her address also develops themes around progressive spirituality. These include a shift from a vertical hierarchy to a more horizontal undertanding of spirituality. Her address includes a Q&A session and lasts around one hour.
Jana Norman’s lecture presents ‘progressive spituality as a reservoir for the reinvention of the human being in the ecozoic era’. She builds on the work of Thomas Berry and particulary his idea of the ‘The Great Work’. This requires a shift in consciousness to become human beings who live for the mutual benefit of the planet rather than its domination. Her address lasts about an hour and concludes with a Q&A session.
Michael Morwood explains the need for a new template for religion. He suggests that religions are locked into a model of the earth and cosmos that is no longer credible. Instead the ‘foundations of belief’ need revision and a new perspective. The lecture lasts about 45 minutes.
Deshna Ubedna addresses the emergence of transformational festivals. These gatherings are increasingly attened by millennials and others in a search for sacred community. Traditional churches are no longer perceived to connect with younger people; only 7% of the millennial generation are seeking a church community. Instead the search for a sacred community encompassing ecological and economic sustainability has emerged. The talk lasts around 45 minutes.
Noel Preston gives a personal tribute to Ian Mavor. His talk lasts about 10 minutes.
Pamela Eisenbaum lectures on’The End of the Word as We Know It: The Future of Scripture Past’. She reviews the emergence and development of different technologies of particular significance to the Bible. These include the alphabet, punctuation, codex, chapter & verse, index and hypertext. Eisenbaum suggested that technology has influenced theology through the ages and continues to do so. Her lecture lasts about one hour.
Diana Butler Bass addresses the title ‘Sacred Web: Nature and Neighbour as the Stage of the Divine’. She explores the shift away from a tradtional three tier hierarchy of heaven earth and hell. Instead of this vertical representation, she finds other horizontal forms of the sacred. People are seeking the spiritual in nature and neighbour. However, apart from some indigenous religions such as those in North America and Australia, there is as yet no narrative informing this spirituality. Bass believes the millennial generation are begining to explore this. Her lecture lasts about one hour.
David Felten gave the closing address to the conference. He offered a brief recap of the keynote speakers and encouraged others to embrace the radical and foster pluralism. The address includes two questions for audience discussion. His address lasts about 30 minutes.
Alex Sangster and Ian David are the artists in residence. They offer a selection of shared songs, stories and dreams. Their dynamic performance lasts around 40 minutes.