The fifth Common Dreams conference was held in Sydney on 11 – 14 July at Newington College Sydney at which Matthew Fox featured as the distinguished international keynote speaker. Ocean Grove members, Geoff and Carol Naylor, attended, and returned high on the excitement of this triennial gathering of advocates of a more progressive * Christianity in Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific.
After worship on the 28th, Geoff and Carol, spoke to the congregation of their experiences. Here is a summary of their presentation:
At the recent Common Dreams conference in Sydney, we were called to stewardship of the earth as well as other issues of social justice. The Common Dreams website
has extensive information about the conference program and speakers and also the music, art, drama and poetry.
The primary overseas keynote speaker, Matthew Fox focused on eco-theology. His thesis is that the earth is sacred and is as important a neighbour as our fellow humans. His challenge to us all is to love and care for ‘Mother Earth’ which is currently crying out for help. Matthew Fox explores this and other reflections in his blog: dailymeditationswithmatthewfox.org.
Interestingly, the challenges Fox presented have been independently echoed in the press in the last few days. For example, Gareth O’Reilly says in The Age on Monday, 29 July, that as individuals or organisations we should ask ourselves two key questions. ‘Do I operate within one-planet constraints’? And ‘Do my actions help move us out of ecological overshoot’? (On Monday it was World Overshoot Day when ‘we will have consumed more resources than our planet has the capacity to regenerate over an entire calendar year’).
For me, the creative activities that were interspersed and available throughout the conference acted as a bridge between the positive and the negative. A highlight was the performance poetry of two young poets, Joel McKerrow and Roje Ndayambaje. Joel, who has performed at the Sacred Edge Festivals at Queenscliff, covered topics spanning despair and depression, but also the hope and joy that his two young children bring to his life.
Roje, a young African refugee from the Rwandan wars spoke movingly in rap style about his nightly prayer as a child which was that when someone came to kill him in the night that it would be by gunshot and not by machete. He also writes of his hope to be a Dad one day, given that his Dad died (was killed?) when he was a child. His courage and optimism and strong faith were incredible – and we were told at some earlier point in the conference that in African languages there is no word for loneliness. I have been puzzling over that statement, and perhaps it means the possibility of Hope prevailing over Despair. Roje’s story and his optimism have become a personal touch stone for me.
I encourage anyone who is interested to read some more, and think of small and large ways that our Congregation can act for the universe. In all of this we were encouraged to adhere to beauty, awe, wonder, joy, delight, gratitude, reverence and to look, and laugh with astonishment – to share astonishment!
One of the speakers was the Fr. Rod Bower, an Anglican Priest in Gosford, NSW, who gained the attention of the wider public with his church signage. If you would like to see some of his work, visit the Facebook page of the Gosford Anglican Church Sign Appreciation Society.
* “Progressive” is perhaps not the best term to describe the movement. Perhaps ‘genetic’ is more accurate, for this movement is an attempt to return to the beginning; to the teachings of Jesus, freeing them of all the religiosity and superstition that has grown up around them over the centuries, and clouded their truths.
Neither is the progressive movement particularly new, for ‘progressive’ voices have never been completely silent throughout the history of Christianity, although the church has often done its best to ensure they were not widely heard.
Borrowing from the website of Progressive Christianity, we can affirm that…
- following the path and teachings of Jesus can lead to an awareness and experience of the Sacred and the Oneness and Unity of all life;
- the teachings of Jesus provide but one of many ways to experience the Sacredness and Oneness of life, and that we can draw from diverse sources of wisdom in our spiritual journey;
- our community is inclusive of ALL people, including but not limited to: conventional Christians and questioning skeptics, believers and agnostics, women and men, those of all sexual orientations and gender identities and those of all classes and abilities;
- the way we behave toward one another is the fullest expression of what we believe;
- grace is found in the search for understanding, and there is more value in questioning than in absolutes;
- we strive for peace and justice among all people;
- we strive to protect and restore the integrity of our Earth;
- we commit to a path of life-long learning, compassion, and selfless love.
Since articles of faith are, by definition, unable to be proven, we cannot say anything is correct or incorrect; we can only judge them as helpful or unhelpful. If a belief leads to a more compassionate, loving, open, aware, just, fair and free individual and society, then we can support it, even if it is not a belief we share. If, however, a belief brings disharmony, hatred, prejudice, violence, repression, injustice and evil into the world and into individual lives, then it must be questioned and challenged, and it is our responsibility to do so. Over the centuries, the church has harboured both helpful and unhelpful beliefs.