Ways of knowing: how the God story spoke to a scientist

The youngsters I teach human biology to at the University of WA, who are around 17, generally think the only way of knowing is through science – ‘Give me the facts and I will understand the world’.

I love science, but there is another way of knowing, what Rob Bell called mythos, about what lies beneath the facts, that lies in our experiences and our awareness at a very deep level, sometimes beyond the everyday. We would say this is where God  is to be found. Continue Reading

A church without a passenger seat

In May this year, Dr Deidre Palmer, who at the time was the President of the Uniting Church in Australia, invited young adults of the Uniting Church WA to join her for a conversation. This would be one of eight entries into her project, ‘Around the Table’, which aimed to collate and represent the direct experiences of young people across the Uniting Church in Australia. Continue Reading

Proactive Peace

Ashley Macmillan, member of Wembley Downs Uniting Church, is a PhD student at the University of Otago’s National School of Peace and Conflict Studies, in Aotearoa/New Zealand. She shares a reflection on her studies so far.

Recently, I began researching how wars don’t happen, and this subject feels important to share with the Uniting Church because the kinds of things that prevent war are the kinds of things that the Uniting Church supports – often without realising it’s war prevention. Aside from that, when we consider that in a modern war, 90% of victims are civilians  many of them children), it becomes clear that following the teachings of Jesus includes preventing war from ever having call to start.

War prevention doesn’t receive much attention in academia… or anywhere really. There is plenty about what communities do to create peace, however the focus is mostly on communities currently or recently affected by violence. What stands out here, is that when we only look at what communities do in mid or post-violence situations, we miss out on the ability to learn from communities who successfully prevented violence from ever starting.

For example, we hear many stories about violence and war in Africa, but did you ever hear about the war that never occurred in Botswana?

Despite being surrounded by apartheid, economic collapse and warring neighbours, different ethnic and language groups, large refugee inflows, colonisation and starting out its independence as one of the poorest African nations, Botswana didn’t collapse into violence. This story receives little attention, even though it represents an opportunity to learn from and about communities that have successfully avoided war.

Of course it’s much more difficult to tell stories of what hasn’t happened, than stories of what has.

Successful war prevention and the actions that bring it about are essentially invisible whilst the failure to prevent war is highly visible. This phenomenon influences many things including what receives funding, what receives media attention and what is easily measurable for research. Yet, it is not an insurmountable problem, and peace is not the only area that faces it.

Public Health is a concept that seeks to make visible the processes required for both disease prevention and maximising health, allowing us to consider lives saved through anti-smoking campaigns, vaccinations, and drink-driving education. In short, it allows us to study and further our successes.

In my research, I developed the concept of Proactive Peace, which I hope will provide a similar addition to Peace and  Conflict Studies that Public Health has for Health Sciences. Proactive Peace refers to the variety of different community projects and process that address conflict risk factors, fostering an environment that diminishes the likelihood of violent responses to conflict sparks.

A conflict spark is an event or crisis which has the potential to directly trigger a violent response. Risk factors indicate a region’s vulnerability to conflict. Basically, a conflict spark is the lightening strike and the risk factors are the dry forest that easily catches ablaze. The approach of Proactive Peace is to address the dry forest, creating a situation where if lightening strikes, it won’t start a fire.

Of course, the presence of risk factors does not guarantee war, but they do make war more likely. In the same way that smoking, not exercising and a poor diet do not guarantee you will become unwell, but they do make it more likely. Public health measures address these health risk factors.

Proactive Peace takes the same approach, seeking to address the risk factors for violent conflict, rather than trying to resolve conflict after it has already started (which, to continue the medical analogy, is equivalent of focussing all your resources on the intensive care unit and the emergency department). Importantly, Proactive Peace is the actions undertaken to address conflict risk factors, be it through development, community organising, lobbying, cultural revival, or activism.

Of course, the exact actions undertaken will vary greatly across time, place and culture. However, as long as actions undertaken are addressing risk factors in that community, it is Proactive Peace – regardless of how similar or different it is to Proactive Peace actions we may be familiar with in our own communities.

For example, if conflict risk factors included: water, food and land scarcity; limited educational opportunities; and high youth unemployment, then Proactive Peace actions could include: planting along a riverbed, so the banks aren’t washed away after heavy rain; lobbying to stop a nearby mine discharging pollutants into the water to ensure it remains drinkable; providing toilets in schools to support girls to attend; and starting an agro-forestry project to provide youth employment and prevent the desertification of land.

I say that the Uniting Church supports actions which prevent war ‘without realising it’, because so many of our actions of development, protest and advocacy address conflict risk factors, both at home and in the world. By making visible this important work that occurs preventing wars Proactive Peace gives the world a way to see (and support) peace, before we see violence.

If anything in this introduction interests you, please get in touch with through my blog at proactive-peace.org

Life in our time and place

My wife Deb and I moved to Como and joined South Perth Uniting Church just before the first Pandemic lockdown in 2020. Typically, such a transition would have involved spending time adjusting to our new neighbourhood and faith community. Instead, we had the unique opportunity to be part of a congregation that rapidly adopted to new ways of meeting online, on-site and adjusting to an influx of new people.

The challenge has been navigating through different expectations, styles of communication and age ranges that includes four generations. We experimented a lot, in order to deepen and grow fellowship together as followers of the ways, works and words of Jesus. The pandemic constricted all of us to local places, as well as accelerating a bunch of societal changes. How are we meant to think, talk and act as followers of Jesus in our ‘new normal’ time?

I often remind myself of Jesus’ promise that the Holy Spirit will teach and guide us at the right time with what needs to be said and done (for example, in Luke 12:12).

As I look back over the past 18 months, I’m struck by Bible stories, set in a very specific time and place, that we explored – and which became meaningful to us – in our time and place. Using the Godly Play material’s ‘core stories’ we started with Creation, Noah’s flood and Tower of Babel, before exploring the journeys of Abraham, Jacob and the Apostles, and finishing with the stories of saints like Eric Liddell, Amy Carmichael and John Wesley.

We have discovered that each of these witnessed to God’s presence, protection and provision and have acted like anchors in our own stormy season of change.

Is it strange that the unique experiences of people in their place and time can help us in ours?

Generation after generation have discovered and rediscovered the Bible as a valuable “light unto our path” (Psalm 119:105) with its ability to “equip (us) for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). One claim for the Bible’s power to bring peace and hope is that it’s God’s overarching revelation and explanation of history to humanity. We are the beneficiaries of that slow and intentional unveiling that culminates in Jesus, and is unpacked in the early church and subsequent disciples by the Holy Spirit.

Suppose when you die, you come to God with a list of questions regarding the point and purpose of creation and  specifically humanity. You might ask God:

  • why did you create us, particularly if you knew we were going to rebel and be so destructive? or
  • why did you not just wipe-out all the bad people and start again? or
  • why are there so many languages that makes communicating so hard between people? or
  • why didn’t you choose a good family to be your spokespeople on the earth? or
  • why didn’t you send someone to tell us directly what we are meant to do? And so on and so forth.

All these questions and many more are answered in the Bible. Of course, we might not like the answers and in that case we might want to read Job Chapters 38 to 41 and find God’s response to such a disagreement.

I wonder what stories from distant places and long ago times encourage, comfort and challenge you?

Its winter here in the Southern  Hemisphere, making it an ideal season to curl up with the mostpopular book in the world, the Bible, and refresh yourself for the days ahead.

You must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you. Many of you have been taught the Holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus.

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true, and to make us realise what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.

God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. (1 Timothy 3:14-17)

Rev Mark Illingworth

Remembering Stolen Generations on Sorry Day

Sorry Day is held each year on 26 May to remember and acknowledge the Stolen Generations.

Dr Alison Atkinson-Phillips is a member of the Bringing Them Home Committee, supported by the Uniting Church WA. She is also the author of ‘Survivor Memorials: Remembering trauma and loss in contemporary Australia’, and worked as Media and Communications Manager at the Uniting Church Centre from 2005 to 2012. She reflects on what Sorry Day means to her. Continue Reading

Uni life in lockdown

In February 2020, I travelled to Melbourne to begin my studies as part of candidating through the Uniting Church WA to become a Minister of the Word.

My studies and ministry formation took place at Pilgrim Theological College and I lived – and worked as the chapel verger – at Queen’s College, University of Melbourne. At the time there were a few articles about a new virus and some travel restrictions to a province in China, but it seemed far away. Continue Reading

Respect, learning and welcoming

When the Uniting Church WA gathers, we often share in a Welcome to Country or an Acknowledgment of Country. Both are significant ways the church can acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land, but there are some important differences.

A Welcome to Country is only led by Traditional Custodians; whereas an Acknowledgment of Country can be led by anyone, and acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of that place. A Smoking Ceremony is a process of cleansing and healing, which can also take place with a Welcome. Continue Reading