Finding Out About Beliefs—
five series of talks
Fifth series on PRAYER starting Sunday, 21st May
AN EVENING SERIES OF 6 SESSIONS ON THE SUBJECT OF PRAYER
6pm, Sundays, at the United Reformed Church on the High Street in Newport Pagnell (MK16 0AH)
Come along and join as we think about prayer in a wide rangng and interactive way; challenging our thinking and sharing our experiences
May 21st: WHAT IS PRAYER? led by Dr Robert Ellis, Principal, Regent's Park College, Oxford
May 28th: DIFFERENT TYPES OF PRAYER; quotes around them and discussion
June 4th: STYLES OF PRAYER
June 11th: OUR EXPERIENCES OF PRAYER; an opportunity to share
June 18th: MULTI-FAITH PRAYING
June 25th: Follow up: discussion and sharing;
All ages are welcome—all meetings held at
Newport Pagnell UNITED REFORMED CHURCH
The more we understand each others faiths and beliefs, the more we can understand ourselves and the more tolerant of differences we may become. These sorts of discussions also help us to clarify our own beliefs and thinking.
For more information on the URC see the United Reformed Church
Notes for the previous four series
[You may find the links in the following paragraphs do not work when using a Safari browser; in that case just browse down this page to the relevant section;]
The fourth series was held Februrary to Aprtil 2017. The three topics were Living to Die and Dying to Live; Life and death in the Bible; Dying well-end of life thinking;
Goto About belief--fourth series Spring 2017, for the notes
The third series was held Octover to December 2016. The topic was understanding a bit more about the Church and Christianity, and the sessions were entitled What is Church? What is Christian Faith: What is Bible? What is Salvation? What is Sin and Forgiveness?
Goto third series (below) for the notes.
The second series of talks (held from May to July 2016) featured speakers representing the Salvation Army, Jehovah's Witness, Buddhism, a Quaker and a Sikh, followed by a sixth discussion session.
Goto second series (below) for the notes.
The first series was held in February and March 2016, five talks were held, when a person spoke about what they believe and how they live this out in today's world. The sixth session was a discussion to talk about reactions and learnings. The first series speakers represented Christian, Atheist, Muslim, Hindu and Jewish beliefs.
Goto first series (below) to find notes of these meetings.
Finding Out About Beliefs SERIES 3
The following meetings were held in November and December 2016, looking at the Christian concepts of faith, the church, the Bible, sin, salvation and forgiveness, and where God is in all this.
Talk1—30th October—What is church?
Given by Geoffrey Clarke.
Where/who/what is church? What is church for?
Some ideas of the possible sorts of functions going on in a church: (1) a centre of celebration of faith, (2) a place of belonging, (3) a base for proclaiming the Good News, (4) a community of hope, (5) healing i.e. some sort of hospital, (6) education and teaching, some sort of classroom, (7) what ought to be done, a sort of police station, (8) keep spiritually fit, a sort of gym, (9) food & drink, nourishment, a sort of restaurant, (10) a source of journeys, a sort of bus/train/plane station (11) sky gazing, looking beyond, a sort of observatory, (12) keeper of tradition, a sort of museum, (13) pampering, looking after ourselves, a sort of spa, (14) a place of experiment, a laboratory, (15) a place to spiritually invest, a sort of bank, (16) a place to draw/donate life, a sort of blood donor, (17) a place of beauty, a garden, (18) a place of worship and liturgy, a sort of theatre.
There is good church and bad church, and Geoffrey gave examples of both from his wide experience as a minister. Bad church is where there is contradiction; good church where church is for God's sake. Good church, for him, is about good relationships, not about agreeing in everything, but about being able to equitably bridge the gaps between people; about care and kindness between the people of the church community; about that group of people being a source of inspiration, strength and perspective which cannot be found elsewhere.
The Book: "Called to Praise", Donald Hilton 2005 was used for some quotes, including the following prayer:
You built your church, Lord Jesus Christ, on the rock of faith, and so we in your faithful name, will stand firm if persecuted, hold fast if tempted, journey on even in weariness, act steadfastly in the search for truth, present ourselves lovingly to the world, and trust, not in our weakness but in your strength.
Talk2—6th November—What is Christian faith?
Given by Peter Sharrocks.
Christian faith was presented as something dynamic and active; a continuing stepping out into an adventure into the unknown; attempting to embrace our unknowing about our own future, and about our understanding of God; In this journey there are highs and lows, backsliding and progress, which is why a key attitude to approach this journey is one of humility; As an image to represent this idea, Peter described the cosmic egg idea of author Richard Ruhr—the whole egg represents the broadest outlook into the unknown future of possibilities; we and our known world is just a part of this, a segment of the whole egg; there is my individual story of myself, our story of our collective lives, and the wider story of the whole world, which includes, as an example, the different collective stories of the different faiths around the world; By contrast, church dogma likes to focus on teaching a certainty, set against other ideas, and not acknowledging the intrinsic unknowns;
As an example, the whole Bible describes a collection of stories of the developing adventure of faith;when Abraham stepped out from his homeland, he was stepping into the unknown, he didn't know where it might lead, but he was acting out his faith, his story into his unknown; when Moses was working on his faith, we might say he was acting in prayer and contemplation, part of his faith story; there is a development towards a more personal relationship with God, as the Bible stories progress through the prophets to Jesus; For Hosea, God just cannot stop loving us; For St Paul, Jesus is the image of the invisible God;
Our individual journeys of thinking/finding out through action what the above means for each one of us is our faith journey;
Talk3—13th November—What is the Bible?
Given by Deborah Baird.
As a comment on the title, Deborah quoted 2 Timothy chapter 3 v16, "All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness."
First the following texts were mentioned as components, contributions, sources, for the text in English translation we refer to as the Bible; (i) the Hebrew BHS bible, which uses the Hebrew and Aramaic languages, with some Ugaritic sentence structure; (ii) the Septuagint LXX in Greek in two volumes; (iii) the Dead Sea Scrolls in Hebrew, not quite the same as the BHS bible, 40 different Qumran scrolls in different collections; the version of Isaiah almost exactly the same as later versions; (iv) the New Testament in (koine) Greek; several versions of Jeremiah of different lengths, and possibly also of Isaiah, to translators into Greek might have chosen different Hebrew versions;
Of the English translations, the New Jerusalem Bible translated from the Hebrew, Greek and includes the Apocrypha; in 1952-1957 a common English translation was produced, accepted by major branches of Christianity, and in 1977 included 1,2, Maccabees; the standard Apocrypha now included in Protestant, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Bibles; different translations are based on different groups of translators, so don't just stick to one English translation; When asked about books like Enoch and the pseudo-apocrypha, not included in the canonical Bibles, Deborah's view was they were fascinating but not essentially needed;
Commenting on ways to read/hear a section of the text, we can read on our own, hear short snippets read out in church, or study in a group with others; all the sections of the Bible are important to the overall interpretation as a revelation of God's nature, God's love, God's revelation in the whole of creation; and there is only one God, whether looking at the Old or the New Testament; regarding interpretation, this is a heart exercise, not a head/mental exercise, we should not just rely on our own understanding, but listen to God in prayer, engage in a creative dialog with God, interact in a group (with church members), use other sources such as the Church Fathers to help; the tradition of the church and the Holy Spirit are needed; God desires a loving relationship with all creation, and the Bible shows how that works, two steps forward, one step back; reading the Bible as personal, responding to the text, we can ask How does it change me? How does it apply to me? How does it include me? our heart responding to God's heart;
Amongst responses to questions asked: as a ciounter to too readily reading Jesus into the OT, we can read each book on its own, in its own context, in Greek context, and then in the context of Jesus; Who is the Suffering Servant --- write your own 2000 word essay on that; we have mostly the scripture Jesus had;
Resources you might look at:
Talk4—20th November—What is Salvation?
Given by Lawrence Moore to a group of about thirty.
Started with four questions for short disussion in small groups: (1) What is God saving? (2) What are we being saved from? (3) What will happen? (4) How does Jesus's death achieve this?; there was a short review of what people came up with; the rest of the talk was Lawrence's view;
The Bible is little interested with what happens after death; but rather about how we experience God, and how we live abundantly with God; as an example part of Isaiah chapter 2 was read; not only did God create the world, but He is saving it; God is going to save all that God made (and God is all powerful to do that) the Biblical picture/story is one of transformation, the whole of creation changes into what God intended for it--a gift from God, to yield abundance of life;
The following three dates were used to describe stages in this story:
1. 1000 BC, the time of David—David unites the twelve tribes, and God makes a covenant with him, that a member of his dynasty with always be on the throne, the temple of God will always be there amongst them; and God will always be with them;
2. 587 BC, the time of the Exile—through three waves, the Israelites were conquered and deported, and in the last wave Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed, all the rulers deported into exile; as an example, read Psalm 137; the experience of exile was that it appeared God had gone back on his word of the covenant, all that they had relied upon had crumbled; What had gone wrong with their world? the prophets said 'no this was not the end but they had been unfaithful to God, and had not kept their side of the covenant bargain'; the Biblical answer, by way of explanation, is the story of the first three chapters of Genesis—there had been a breakdown in relationship, betweenn men and women, between humans and the rest of creation, this was sin, rebellion against God; humans make their world, but are now unable to make everything right, to do that needed Jesus;
And what did Jesus say: 'the time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God is at hand' not about being zapped into heaven, but about God coming down to pitch his tent with us; 'Thy Will be done on Earth, as in Heaven'; as an example, in Luke there are no no-go areas for God, Jesus is forever contaminating himself; (see the book: 'The Great Divorce' by C.S.Lewis) Jesus showed through his actions God making things right, as they were supposed to be from the beginning; then there came the choice, the Jewish authorities and the Romans in the way; they (we) chose against the Kingdom and Jesus had to be killed; but then with the resurrection of Jesus, we can know that God's last word is forgiveness, making a whole new world possible (Revelation 21);
2. 313 CE, when Constantine (and the Empire) became Christian—the time when the developing story went all wrong—from this time the focus of the church story was corrupted or moved to the afterlife, and the focus became concern about our eternal souls in the afterlife; before this, the church had been praying for the end of the Empire, after this, it became part of the establishment, rich and powerful, seduced by power, and no longer the rejected underdog; no longer concerned about this life, moved the saving focus to the afterlife;
There was more interesting discussion with the questions and one of the closing thoughts was that the grace of God just keeps coming.
Talk5—27th November—What is Sin and Forgiveness?
Given by Stephen Norrish
the session started with a short reflection: considering the breadth of salvation which includes the whole of creation, reflect on the whole world around us as opposed to well-worn church phrases which might come to mind. Comments made included: see pain and violence, but also local angels; extreme views/anger in politics; the lives of 2 in a car crash seem to matter more than 100 drowning refugees; Stephen commented that there is massive disorder whether we look outward in the world, or inward; but there is also good stuff too; there are two tensions, one between disorder and goodness, and another, although we are part of this disorder, how much do we contribute to it;
The belief in a loving God is also about a world which at its heart is good; the negative part we talk about as sin, but often take this to be only personal, our own misdemeanours, punishable sooner or later by God; but the Bible describes things differently e.g. in the first commandment--putting God first; more about living aligned with God and not only personally, but also communities and societies; and Biblical examples of not doing this are idolatry and pride; the psalms recognize a wider disorder in society and that nations (as well a individuals) need to seek forgiveness; we need saving not just from the guilt of our misdemeanours, but also from the ills of the world;
This failure to understand the breadth of sin is summed up in the misunderstandings of two New Testament words: cosmos and sarkos; world and flesh; cosmos about God's whole creation, and our estrangement from it is examplified by the sytems/structures/world economic system which we have built which do not serve our neighbour (and for example, result in war and poverty); flesh is about our bodies, but an overemphasis on the sinfulness of our bodies, our sexuality, has taken our focus away from the disordered systems of the world/of society; it was convenient for the politics of Constantine's time, but does not ring true with Jesus' Good News of the Kingdom--has a sharp political focus, not just personal, about the injustices of real things in this world, not focussed on a world to come;
The image Stephen presented was of seeds within us being reflected in events in the world; e.g. war an extension of our own anger; wealth of inward selfishness and greed; we can only continue to work at it; for example in the present world conditions, it would be impossible for us to say that we had never bought something which had hurt someone on the other side of the world; personally, we can ask ourselves what is our response to the challenge of sin whenever we find it? how do we poiint up the injustices we see? e.g. choose to buy freetrade; a big shift towards social action in some churches.
There was an earlier idea, reinforced by the church, that 'you are a bad person who needs to be made right by God (saved)'; maybe now moving to putting love first; what would the world be like if God was in charge? there are all sorts of answers in the Old Testament, but the overall point is that our systemic disorder/our sin (about the world of which I am a part) stands in the way of the new creation; God is saving his whole creation
Session6—4th December—What did we think? open discussion
discussion among those who attended the talks;
Revd Jenny Mills chaired the group, which first recalled what most stood our for each one from each of the previous five talks; we then split up into groups of five to discuss all this in smaller groups. There was plenty of participation, and then there was a final section together as one group; each person present was able to contribute and summarise what they felt about what we had discussed, and what the original speakers had said. A range of interesting ponts were made, and everyone appreciated the contribution of the speakers. The meeting closed with the grace.
Finding Out About Beliefs SERIES 2
Below you will find short meeting notes of each session of the second series of five talks and a discussion session.
Talk1—22nd May—the Salvation Army
Bob, Madge, and Angie were welcomed for the first talk of Series 2, and Bob started by reading the following from 2 Thessalonians
But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the trugh.
He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.
May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourrage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.
Bob traced the principles and activities of the Salvation Army back to the key ideas of the founder, William Booth, 150 years ago; it is a Christian organisation, firmly based on the Bible and the message of Jesus Christ; a church first, a charity for social action second. There is a training college which ordains ministers (male and female since the founding) for work in all 120 countries where the Salvation Army has a presence, coordinated by an internationl office in London. The local Conniburrow branch holds several services on Sunday, Bible study and prayer groups mid-week. The first branch in the area was at Fenny Stratford in 1886.
In the last decades of the 19th Century, following the principle of 'faith in action', the Salvation Army set up amongst other services orphanages, help for the homeless, the first labour exchanges (an idea later taken up by the government). More recent work includes helping vicitms of people trafficking.
Bob explained how the membership works, including reading the eleven articles of faith, and described some of what the Conniburrow branch does in the local area. The testimony was much appreciated. Questions probed some of the details further, and two leaflets were handed out at the end to prompt further interest.
Book/eBook: "Going Deep" by Gordon Macdonald.
Local Conniburrow Milton Keynes website link Milton Keynes
Main Salvation Army website SalvationArmy
Kate's calm delivery of an interesting talk was well received. Unlike most of our other speakers, who continued with the faith of their family upbringing, Kate specifically chose to join a local Triratna Buddhist group several years ago. She described a little of the background of this group, and her current commitment to the local group.
Triratna Buddhism was founded by an Edwardian Englishman as Buddhism for the Western mind and now there are groups in the US and India as well as the UK. Buddha is not a god, and so Buddhism is more a philosophy. At least for Kate herself, reincarnation is not part of her belief. The Buddha's experiences were a search for a solution to the suffering (dukkha) of living in this world, and gave rise to the four noble truths. These include the idea that we mentally cling to things, and need to acknowledge our limitations and work with practices to develop loving kindness. Ethical principles include the five precepts—to not harm living beings, to not steal, avoid sexual misconduct, control speech, not lying, abstain from intoxicants.
The practice centres around meditation, which clears the mind to focus on what is happening at the present moment, and then to decide and act more skilfully in the present moment. This is develping the (achievable) Buddha nature.
Resources that may be of interest
The Cambridge Buddhist Centre (mentioned as a local centre with their own building)
The Buddhist Centre (not specifically mentioned in the talk, although referenced from the Cambridge website)
Talk3—12th June—Jehovah's Witness
Gemma, assisted by son Jacob, gave this third talk in the second series. She first described the numerous Witness activities, including Bible study, which can occupy each week. The benefit of faith was described as help to overcome difficulties, and an example of the fruit of Bible study is to imitate the faith of key figures in the Biblle such as Samuel or Elijah. Each local congregation meets one night a week in a local Kingdom Hall, and there is one large annual meeting where activities include water baptism. Becoming a Jehovah's Witness involves water baptism and undertaking to study/learn the Bible and put this into practice. Differences from other branches of Christianity include celebrating the death of Jesus, but not his birth; accept medical treatments but not blood transfusions (ref: Acts 15, abstain from blood); although there is the concept of resurrection for all, there is also a concept that some are 'the elect' and that others are destined for some sort of eternal life on earth; do not vote, take up arms, or get involved in politics (although they may be imprisoned, as for example in South Korea, and 5000 were killed in the Holocaust); celebrate the passover last supper once a year;
The movement was founded in the US in the 1870s, came to the UK in 1900, and is now a worldwide organisation with materials produced in many languages. The Witness beliefs were summarised as Christian (from many backgrounds), belief in one God, the whole Bible (old and new testaments) as an inspired message, follow the teachings of Jesus, accept the ransom of Jesus, accept the existence of heaven, and that the earth was created for us humans. A major focus of the worldwide organisation is the teaching and preaching of the Biblical word to all, hence the door-to-door visits.
Resources that may be of interest
Talk4—19th June—being a Sikh
We welcomed a family and two elders to explain the beliefs and practice of being a Sikh.
The word Sikh derives from Sikhi meaning a disciple. All Sikhs are followers of the teachings a a line of ten gurus which trace back to Guru Nanak who died in 1539. 2016 is the 350th anniversary of the birth of the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh. The teachings are contained in a document called the Guru Granth Sahib, which has been updated by successive gurus. The basic context for a disciple is summarised by the three pillars, which include selfless service and to praise and remember God and carry out His will; and the five k's—to not cut hair, use a wooden comb, wear an iron wrist-band, wear a (small) ceremonial sword, stand up for the weak, and wear white undershorts; included is a particular interpretation of reincarnation which considers the present human life very precious, because it is a chance to recall harmony with God effected through the quality of our actions (good or bad); the consequence of this present life may be another sequence of 8000 lives in any form of life before getting another opportunity in a human life.
The meeting place for services is known as a Gurdwara (the local one is a Leadenhall) where it is open for anyone to attend, providing they cover their head and remove shoes before entering; there is a prohibition of meat, alcohol and smoking; training for priests takes seven years, and although possible for women, most priest are men; women can read the Guru Granth Sahib, and participate in services;
Resources that may be of interest
Talk5—26th June—being a Quaker
Thanks to Helen and Gloria for giving an informative talk. They started with some history of the founder George Fox, who was a Christian grounded in the Bible, but critical of the church organisation of his time (second half of the 17th century, died 1691). He was interested in simplicity, absence of luxury, and was guided by the experience of the Spirit, not the ways of an ecclesiology. He felt that God was in each person who could be individually guided, and this is the core of Quaker practice to the present day. These were radical ideas for his time, and he was beaten and imprisoned, but this did not change his convicions and practice. The aversion to all ritual including baptism, speaking truth to power (he once had a meeting with Cromwell), and against all conflict and wars, are all ideas which trace back to George Fox.
The talk then moved to the current organisation and practice. There are local meetings around the UK and other parts of the world, particulary the Americas and Africa, where anyone is welcome to attend. About 50% are like that, and known as 'attenders', the other 50% have made a membership commitment. In addition to a weekly meeting, there are a range of other small group meetings which might be for study, or more practically focused. The Milton Keynes meeting is part of a local area centred on Luton, and then there is also an annual national meeting. At the annual meeting a text is agreed, to represent current ideas and ideals. A key feature of a meeting is that it is held in silence; with speaking only by those moved to speak. There is no creed, specialised priesthood or rituals, and a particular way of decision making and agreeing statements of ideals known as testimonies. Through these processes, there is an active interest in action in the world, including in politics.
Founded as a reaction to 17th century Christianity, there is still the idea of the one God (discerning the will of God), but a more open approach to studying and understanding that God, and although the Bible is important, no rigid credal incorporation of the story of Jesus who became the Christ. The commitment seems to be more to a process than a creed, and focussed on individual guidance by the Spirit within.
The final part of the talk described the different personal testimonies of how the two speakers came to Quakerism.
Resources that may be of interest
For the local Milton Keynes meeting QuakersMK
or nationally, Quakers in Britain
Talk6—3rd July—what have we learned?
After good attendances at all the other meetings, there was just a die-hard few to wrap up the second series. Comment and discussion centred around the following points: silence/meditation as an alternative to wordiness and the difficulty of slowing down; the sense of belonging or community; expanded thinking; interpretation of scripture; accepting responsibility; division/status of each other, no one has the whole story; recent thinking, change can be very hard; control; failure to communicate;
This was followed by discussion of topics within Christianity, which might form the topics for a series in the Autumn or Winter; All those present thought the two series had been wide-ranging and worthwhile, and there may be some interest in return visits to some of the organisations we have heard about, all local to the Milton Keynes area.
Finding Out About Beliefs SERIES 1
Below you will find short meeting notes of each session of the first series of five talks and a discussion session.
Talk1—14th February—I'm a Christian
In introducing the first session of this series, Revd Jenny Mills suggested that
"Religion should open your heart, not close your mind."
and set the tone with the following quote:"Religion is at its best when it makes us ask hard questions of ourselves. It is at its worst when it deludes us into thinking we have all the answers for everyone else."
Derek presented this session, and described his Christianity as a gentle but consciously chosen walk with Jesus, not a sudden conversion; a believer in and follower of Jesus Christ; Jesus the carpenter, the healer, the teacher, the son of god. The Bible is a primary source, but it's helpful to remember that biblical interpretion is discerned by tradition, by the spirit led people who wrote it, by the setting and context of the time, by the opinions of scholarly people in our time who've written commentaries, and by the leading of the spirit in our listening and reading.
For more about Christianity, see Where to start with Christianity?
Talk2—21st February—I'm an atheist
This session was given by Paul, who said that his position was that he did not believe in any form of god or gods. He rejects any form of religion on the grounds that in his view they are based on indoctrination and are liable to cause violence. He seemed to prefer a scientific outlook, thought the purpose of life was to be happy, and that there was no existence or life outside the physical.
Arising from the questions, there was some discussion of experience, but not proof, of the Christian God, the difference between science and Christian faith, how to deal with difficult personal situations and know about right and wrong, that some personal experiences were not based on indoctrination, and following Christ is not just about a religion of a Book.
The audience of about twenty were mainly Christian.
Talk3 —28th February—I'm a Muslim
Thanks to Zainab and Saima for sharing their views of being Muslim. Zainab began by describing the five pillars of Islam—affirmation of God, prayer, charity giving, fasting, and pilgrimage to Mecca if you have the means. She feels there is a significant cultural dimension to following a religion, and in their case, as for many, they have remained with the religion of their childhood family. This cultural dimension extends to the sub-group within Islam to which they belong. This group extends around the world, but only includes a part of the total group of Muslims in the UK.
Although there is a requirement to dress modestly, they did not feel under compulsion to wear a hijab, and interestingly, one had chosen, when she married, to start wearing a hijab, and the other does not. This is a reflecion that around the world there will be cultural differences in behaviours. Within worldwide Islam, one major division is between those known as Sunni (about 85%) and those known as Shia (about 15%). This split goes all the way back to the immediate succession after the death of Muhammad the Prophet. The Islamic source documents are the Koran, and the Hadith, the stories. The Imans of individual Mosques are fairly independent from each other in their interpretation of Islam, but when necessary there are channels to seek advice on particular points.
The talk was followed by a range of questions which stimulated further discussion.
Talk4 —6th March—I'm a Hindu
Anita came to talk to us about being a Hindu. She spoke of her upbringing as a Hindu and her family's encouragement for her to both integrate into the society in which she lived and keep to the religious beliefs of her family. She was introduced to her husband, who is also Hindu (and they have now been happily married for 16 years!).
She spoke of the values by which she lives her life—honesty and being kind, giving time and money to charity and trying to live well alongside others; and how she encourages her children to do the same. She spoke of the one Hindu God manifest in a number of ways (literally hundreds) and how people find their own god to best worship. She spoke of karma and reincarnation, worship and festivals, arranged marriages and family traditions; then cultural and religious expectations, and how these get intertwined. She told us about how the Hindu community hopes to build a temple in MK; currently the nearest temple for her family is Luton or Watfford;
Once again, an interesting evening raising questions and challenges. We thank Anita for sharing and for her honesty and openness which were refreshing.
Talk5 —13th March—I'm a Jew
Zvee (aka Harry) and Sarah gave an interesting and reflective talk to a good crowd of over twenty people. He felt religion was a matter of date and place, a product of culture and distinct from being a person of faith, trying to keep a specific set of values; for example: truthful and honest, compassionate, care for animals and the planet, to do with God, but that word has a lot of baggage associated with it. He describes the basic human need as spiritual not religious. He also values highly being rational, using our reason, the highest gift to a hunan, and use that for ethical living.
His background, going back a few generations, comes from Poland and Lithuania and he grew up in a Jewish family, rebelling at an early age because of all the rules. With mostly Christian friends at school, he found out about Christianity, liked the art, music and architecture that it had inspired, but then found problems, significantly: the gap between claim and reality, the judas betrayal, and felt there was a failure to separate the intellectual from a deeply flawed history. For him strict monotheism means God can't be a man. So he turned back to the reformed wing of Judaism.
Reformed Judaism for him reconciles the emotional and the intellectual. About half the rabbis are women. Respect for the value of a deep tradition. Zionism is about having a homeland, but this has led to being aware of anti-semitic or anti-Israel expression. In Israel, the state, there are about 75% Jews, but also 25% are Muslim or Christian and some Jews are pious, some secular. He still values the prophets. During the talk he quoted Isaiah and he finished with these words of Micah
Talk6—20th March—What more do I know now?
This time there was no inviited speaker, we were digesting what we had heard in the previous talks. There were about twenty present, and we started as a whole group recalling what we remembered from each of the previous talks; Then, in smaller groups of 5, we discussed our thoughts guided by the headings (i) what made us think, (ii) what did we enjoy, (iii) what did we struggle with. Finally we shared some main ideas from each group.
There was full participation by all present, and reactions were discussed under all headings. A few highlights were: made us think a bit more about our own Christianity, and how we communicate that to the world at large; that culture and upbringing are important influences; we appreciated the honesty and openness of the speakers, and the new information we had learned; there was good fellowship in a positive atmosphere as we developed our Christianity in a context completely different from a formal church service.
In conclusion Revd Jenny Mills was thanked for arranging the series. Everybody felt the talks had been so worthwhile, that we started planning a follow up series to take place later in the year.