Losing my religion

The word “religion” can have different meanings. At its simplest, it means “belief in and worship of God or gods” (Oxford Dictionary). But more precisely, religion is often seen as a designated set of beliefs and rituals by which people relate to a god. Thus religion (implying dogma and restrictions) is often contrasted to spirituality (emphasising freedom and feelings).

Like many other people, I have lost my religion, or a large part of it. Many others have lost their faith in God as well, though I haven’t.

This movement is one of the stories of our times.

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Modern western evangelicalism – easy religion for comfortable christians?

I’ve been thinking for a while about modern western evangelical christianity. Not what some people may see as the worst of this belief system – televangelists, conservative politics and a focus on sexual ethics – but the mainstream.

My initial christian experience was in this culture and belief, and while I have moved on in many ways, I still share many of its values. But it’s starting to look way too comfortable to me.

Let me explain.

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Is this the most important thing you could do as a christian?

Thirty five years ago my life was changed after listening to a talk on prayer and spiritual warfare.

I had been converted as a teen in a Presbyterian church where doctrine was regarded as the most important thing and God was known to be sovereign, ordaining everything according to his good purposes. But this doctrine left little place for prayer. After all, if God knew everything, he already knew what was best without me advising him, and if he was good and all-powerful then he would assuredly do the good thing whether I asked or not.

So I rarely prayed in my everyday life. Until 35 years ago, that is.

This blog is mostly about better understanding the Bible and postmodern culture, following Jesus in a world far removed from when he lived, and being a better and more faithful church. But all of these are means to the end of “seeing Jesus more clearly, loving him more dearly and following him more nearly”, and so playing our part in his mission of seeing God’s kingdom established on earth.

And for me, what I am writing about here is the most necessary aspect of that mission.

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Letting go and hanging on ….. and flying!

Who doesn’t enjoy flying a kite? There’s something special about seeing a colourful kite soaring higher and higher while we hold onto the string, feeling somehow in command (even if we’re not).

We need at least three things for a kite to fly:

  1. We need to let go and allow it to fly. It can’t fly if we hold onto it.
  2. It needs a string to hold it and maintain an aerodynamic position in the wind. Without the string, it will be blown randomly downwind and just gradually flop to the ground.
  3. There needs to be a wind. In still air, we can run to get it aloft, but there is a practical limit to that, and it will soon fall to the ground again.

Following Jesus is like being a kite

The parallels are clear, and I guess obvious.

We were made to fly

Human beings have aspirations to do more than just exist. We want to find meaning, we want to be valued. We want to achieve great things, or at least something worthwhile. We long for adventure or at least a life that transcends the mundane.

And Jesus calls us to follow him in a life lived for others, and for him. If we try to hang on to our own lives and our own selfishness, we will lose out, he tells us, but if we let go of safety and follow him out of our comfort zones and into life with him, we will be fulfilled.

Staying safe isn’t an option. Holding onto the past isn’t an option. God is always doing new and unpredictable things, and Jesus calls us to let go of self and join him in the adventure of the kingdom of God on earth. Nothing less than that.

We were made to fly like a kite.

We need to hold on

We are not in this adventure alone and we cannot do just as we like. Without him, we can do nothing, Jesus said.

Like kites, we need to stay grounded. We need to stay connected to reality and truth. We need to stay connected to him. We need to hold on even when the currents around us are strong. Especially then.

We won’t fly for very long, and we won’t achieve our potential, if we let go of the way, the truth and the life.

We were made to be tethered like a kite.

It isn’t a choose your own adventure

How do we know when and how to hold on, and when and how to fly? What gives us the impetus and motivation to keep flying when we are tired and buffeted?

The Holy Spirit is the wind beneath our wings. The Spirit motivates us and empowers us. The Spirit is the wind that sends us this way or that.

But unlike a kite, we have a choice. The kite is passive in the wind, and cannot fly upwind. But we can ignore the Spirit or welcome him. We can choose to invite him to guide our direction, or we can go our own way.

But we’ll only truly be the kite God wants us to be if we invite (daily) and welcome the wind of the Spirit to lead us into new adventures, flights to places we’ve never been before.

We were made to soar on the wind, like a kite.

Like a kite

The Holy Spirit can lead us in so many ways.

  • To begin new things that build God’s kingdom. They may be really new, or just new to us.
  • To learn new things from him and the scriptures. Our understanding of God is necessarily so incomplete it is rudimentary. The world and human culture are always changing. There is always more to know. There may be new things that are crucial for our lives and the kingdom.
  • To speak to this person or that, to say this and not say that.
  • To hold on to this truth and to let go of that thing we thought was truth, but is not, or is no longer applicable.
  • To apply for this job or that, to live in this street or that, to marry this person or that, or not at all.
  • To correct us and convict us when we need it, if we are listening.

We needn’t be afraid or worried about all this. The Spirit of God doesn’t lead us to be fearful, but leads us into truth and peace.

Let’s be like kites, lifted and driven by the Spirit of God and anchored to Jesus.

The analogy that following Jesus is like being a kite came from reading the first few pages of Bruxy Cavey’s (Re)union.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

“Just because you know something doesn’t mean you have to say it!”

I was raised in a family of four noisy boys. As we grew up, we became quite opinionated, and often argued, quite amicably but noisily, about religious, political, ethical and a thousand more trivial issues that interested us.

When each of us found girlfriends and eventually wives, they didn’t always find our loud and rambunctious conversations easy.

And it didn’t always stop there. As an idealistic and articulate youth, I found it easy to argue with just about anyone. Fortunately, my wife had good advice for me.

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The power of forgiveness

Some readers may recall, 18 months ago, two posts about the long distance endurance cycling race, the inaugural Indian-Pacific Wheel Race, which tragically ended in the death of one of the leading contestants, Mike Hall.

At the time I spoke of the grief many participants and followers of the race felt, and the very sensitive and admirable way in which the cycling community dealt with the tragedy.

Today I can report something even more admirable – how forgiveness can show love in the midst of tragedy.

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“Because of her, we can”

Like many countries colonised by European nations, Australia has a sorry two century history of poor treatment of our indigenous peoples, resulting in a significant reduction in their numbers and the quality of their lives. But they have survived, their numbers are building again, and many indigenous leaders are become more forthright in their pleas for greater recognition.

NAIDOC week, which is finishing as I write this (I wrote this Sunday night but only posted it Wednesday morning), has been set up as a celebration of the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It has been, in my view, a resounding success.

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Grasstree Gathering: surely it’s time for recognition, unity and respect?

Grasstree Gathering

Australia’s indigenous peoples form a small minority (2.8%) in the country they once had to themselves, and have suffered significantly since white colonisation (which can reasonably be seen as an invasion). About three quarters identify as christian.

They tend to be a spiritual people, but it can be difficult for them to meet with other indigenous christians, because of their small numbers and often remote locations. Grasstree Gathering was organised to offer this opportunity.

Grasstree was held in Sydney this past week. 85 indigenous christian leaders and potential leaders attended for several days, some leaving their remote community for the first time. Non-indigenous christians were invited to support the Gathering in several ways, including attending several of the events.

We were privileged to attend, and meet many of the delegates.


A full day symposium was held to inform white Australians like me about indigenous culture and viewpoints.

Aboriginal christians see their indigenous spirituality as consistent with the christianity they now believe, and one theme of the symposium was correcting what they see as a wrong impression among non-indigenous christians that their traditional spirituality is pagan or worse. They believe, I think with some justification, that they have a lot to offer the white christian church.

They naturally feel they have in the past been unfairly invaded and mistreated, and since then displaced, marginalised and disrespected. They feel they are still often treated as second class citizens who have to change to adapt to white people’s ways that they often feel are not good. It is hard to argue against this, even though it hurts to admit that “my people” have perpetrated injustices and mistreatment.

Even more hurtful is the clear fact that many white Australians simply don’t care about the hurts aboriginal peoples have suffered, and still feel, often thinking they should “just get over it”. I was asked by one aboriginal leader why I think that there is so little empathy and support even from white christians, was the issue simply too political? I had to say I suspect it is laziness and lack of christian love – for if we care, we will have to do something about it.

The interesting, and sometimes surprising, thing is that the aboriginal christians bear so little malice. Their plea is simply that we non-indigneous christians walk with them. They ask us to be accomplices in making change, helping make a better Australia and a stronger church.

The symposium also addressed aboriginal history, writing, art and education. I learnt a lot, and made a few new friends.

Uncle Rex and his wife Ida, from remote Central Australia are interviewed by Steve Bevis (a white pastor and singer from the same area) about life, spirituality and art.

Artist Safina Stewart explains the genesis of one of her artworks.

Prayer gathering

At a previous Grasstree Gathering, Brooke Prentis, who organised this gathering, had a vision of a place she had never visited, where she foresaw aboriginal and non-aboriginal christians gathering together to pray for reconciliation. Almost two years ago, Brooke came to speak at our church, and we took her to Kurnell, where Captain Cook first had dealings with aboriginal people. There she saw the place she had seen in her vision, a significant location in Australian and aboriginal history.

Her vision came to fruition this week as a large group of indigenous and non-indigenous christians (as in the photo at top) came together to pray for unity and to symbolically express solidarity.

It was a deeply moving time for me.

Sand and ashes from places all over Australia were placed on the map of the 300 aboriginal nations, and mixed, to symbolise the unity in diversity of indigenous and non-indigenous christians across this land.

Safina explains the symbolism of the sand and ashes.

Celebration night

This was more of a fun night, as a range of indigenous artists performed song and dance.

An ad hoc singing group from North Queensland and Torres Strait.

Aboriginal artworks, one of which was presented to the school whose venue was used for the night.

Sightseeing day

The day after the gathering concluded, we led about 30 of the delegates on a sightseeing day around Sydney city and harbour. It was a great opportunity to make some new friends.

On the ferry.

The group after lunch at Watsons Bay.


Grasstree 2018 was a great blessing to us. We learnt, shared a small part of the journey, made new friends and gained a new status as “accomplices” in bringing indigenous and non-indigenous christians together. I don’t see this as my main mission in life, but I think christian love demands that I respond as best I can.

Aboriginal people have much to offer the Australian church – for example their humour, their sense of community, their laid-back nature, their spirituality and their focus on the essentials of following Jesus.

I hope many Australian christians are willing to journey with them, learn from them, support them and make a better Australia.