Challenging conversations at Pints with a Purpose

Pints with a Purpose closed out a successful year last Monday evening, 1 December, with guest speaker Father Rod Bower – the “recklessly defiant” parish priest of the Anglican parish of Gosford.

Recklessly defiant – his words, not mine - for that is how he defines his character and his ministry. At first glance, this seems to be an apt enough description of the man who is famous for posting on the billboard at the front of his church "Jesus had two dads, and he turned out just fine." I'd wager my Christmas bonus (if I had one) that there was more than one near car accident out the front of Gosford Anglican church the day that sign went up.

Just google Rod Bower and you'll get a pretty clear idea of where he stands on a range of issues, from marriage equality, to global warming and asylum seekers. Father Rod knows how to make a headline, but until Monday night I had little to no idea of the substance of the man behind the slogans.

And there is undoubted substance there - much more than can be covered in a forty five minute presentation, let alone this short article. I'd strongly suggest you check out the podcast of the event when it is uploaded to the Diocesan website in the coming month.

Rod covered a broad swath of issues ranging from the role of religion and people of faith in a secular democracy, to the various stages of spiritual maturity, and of course the specific social justice issues for which he is famous. Those present were challenged not to ask ourselves what kind of society we want live in, but instead, what kind of society do we want to be? Society, he tells us, is not the bricks and mortar institutions and structures we so often imagine. Instead, society is defined by our relationships; relationship with friends and families, relationship with the planet, and most importantly, relationship with the stranger.

It was immediately clear that Rod's passion for social justice is rooted firmly in his faith as a Christian. At the outset, Rod shared with us his understanding of Jesus as a revolutionary who was executed for sedition against a society that had lost its way. Jesus' recklessly defiant refusal to comply with the social norms of excluding the outcast and the unclean inspire Rod to do the same today, answering God's call to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.

Pints promotes itself as a forum for exploration and discussion of what it means to be a Christian in 21st Century Australia. Some of Rod's stances and arguments presented at Pints may not have sat easily with those present. Certainly, he presented a different perspective on elements of scripture from the one that's familiar to me. The challenge to us as a church is to define how we respond to being uncomfortable. Do we shut down perspectives and points of view that challenge the accepted wisdom of the day, or do we engage in conversation as community in order to reach mutual understanding and respect? Clearly Pints with a Purpose, at least, is attempting to follow the latter path, generating a space where we can gather as Catholics, not fearfully in the upper room, but in a public house where all are welcome regardless of where they are on their journey.

Pints is back in February 2015, with Bishop Bill as guest speaker. Stay tuned for more information in the new year.

Photo courtesy of Elroy Aguiar.

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