At the beginning of the school holidays I found myself immersed in new ideas, new visions and new conversations. Does that sound very relaxing? Well the Common Dreams Conference held at Somerville House in Brisbane boasted a crowd of Christian and non- Christian religions that welcomed guest speakers from overseas, New Zealand and Australia. In a shared space of like-minded people, the potential was to invite us to share common dreams for the future.
Other conferences were explored in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne in past years with respect to the Traditional owners of the land and respects to the Elders past and present. With a set program of presentations, electives, workshops, book browsing and networking, I found myself pondering the new progressive spirituality phrase. What did it all mean? What could I learn? How would it impact my community, the world and myself?
Without overloading the reader about the new information I discovered, here’s some thoughts to process from a wide range of wonderful speakers. Lorraine Parkinson spoke about God’s treasure hunt encouraging us to find meaning in God’s existence. I can relate to this discovery idea with my grand children as they explore the backyard in Mapleton for notes, dinosaurs, easter eggs, or pirate gold coins. It’s learning how to see. It’s learning how to find. Everything is connected. Lorraine emphasises that “we are all connected biologically, atomically and chemically”. She cleverly relates to the Beatitudes and how they are connected to 1 Corinthians 13 about love. Connecting young and old.
In contrast to this, Margaret Mayman gave a presentation called, “Jesus is not my Boyfriend : A Spirituality of Christa/ Community”. She investigated the notion of the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. Often the “me” generation who explores the “personal saviour” and “social relationship” ideas involves the “Lord have your way in me.” ( love songs to Jesus) Margaret urges us to re-imagine Jesus in a wider capacity.
During the morning teas and lunches, we shared our conversations, backgrounds and beliefs over some of these reflections.
There was room for valuing differences, understanding and questioning new ideas, communicating personal experiences. There was opportunity to visit the book shop and purchase scholarly books and have them signed by the author.
I joined up in an elective that explored “Is Radical Church Possible?” Adrian Alker and his wife from the UK came from a background of active ministry in Leeds, Sheffield, Cumbria and Wigan. As a well organised and excellent communicator, Adrian asked the group to re-imagine a Jesus shaped church. His list of must haves was easily understood – passionate about the right things; justice, loving, healing, compassionate; prophetic and inclusive; holy, meditates the sacred; blesses all life; and offers a journey of discovery and questioning. He then went on to say that the elements of a radical church are:
1 being honest/ good scholarship
2 re-imagining liturgy and words
3 being passionate about the right words
4 offering a framework in which people can feel secure and familiar.
I enjoyed Adrian’s strong, confident presentation that left me pondering the idea that ” church is less a fortress of faith and more a resource of the soul”.
Now the days were full and evening lectures just as captivating, starting about 7pm.
Diana Butler- Bass is an accomplished American academic, scholar, teacher and author of 9 books, a loving mother and wife whose latest book “Grounded” sold out. Diana posed the simple question – Where is God? NOT, WHO / WHAT is God?
She gave us a brilliant metaphor using the holy elevator that goes up to heaven or down to hell. Often the liberal Christians put the tape over the DOWN button in the elevator. How do we make a shift from the vertical to the horizontal where God is found in nature ( God with the world) and community, neighbour ( God with all of us) ?
Personally for me I appreciate a sacred and loving God in the beauty of the rainforest, mountains or beach, in the wonder of the stars and galaxy, the creeks and bush. I can draw peace and meditation from nature to thank God for His creation. Where is God for you?What do you think? Is God in your neighbourhood? school? holiday?
How do you respond to the question where is God? Her quotation summed it up humorously. ” Religion is a person sitting in church thinking about kayaking. The spirit is a person sitting in a kayak thinking about God.”
PHEW! Does all this sound and feel too heavy? Liberating? Confusing? Challenging?
Well these lovely volunteers whose smiles welcomed you each morning made you feel uplifted and belonging to an event that promoted an interfaith and tolerant dialogue between Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Buddhists, Indigenous, Atheists, Agnostics and all others. From Jewish spirituality, to a podcast ( radio documentary) called The Beyondering Project to Transformative festivals , Val Webb’s catch phrase comment about Sunday being “Breakfast, Bike riding and Bunnings”and a special tribute to Marcus Borg by his wife, the Common Dreams conference touched on many aspects of the heart and sacred.
Words like MILLENNIAL, THEISM, PROGRESSIVE, CONSCIOUSNESS, TRANSFORMATION, GOSPEL, PANTHEISM, CODING, TRANSCENDENCE, STORY, FAITH, EQUALITY, RADICAL, DIGITAL – all a mouthful of mystery and madness.
Chaired by Rev. Jeremy Greaves of St Marks Anglican Church, Buderim, the Common Dreams Conference is to be congratulated for the hard work and brilliant minded speakers who gave their best. Check the website and find out what else you missed.
When leaving the grounds of Somerville House, I captured this flower whose beauty and fragrance summed up the conference. God is with us.
Let me know what you think and any questions you have.