(Opening plenary presentation at 2023 Annual Conference, Sydney)
Hello everyone and welcome to Sydney! And thank you all for making the journey, and for zooming in, to our conference for Urantia Book readers from Australia and New Zealand. It’s a beautiful part of the world here on Sydney’s leafy north shore, and this is looking like a great venue; we’re very fortunate to have access to such fine facilities here in this college. And we’d like to express our thanks and gratitude to all who have been involved in giving us such a pleasant environment here in which to meet. A warm welcome, and many thanks also, to those who are here and supporting us in spirit, and to our brother, teacher and friend Christ Michael and his comforting spirit embracing us all.
It’s good to see you all again, and I’m sure we’re all looking forward to a great weekend of catching up with each other, listening to inspiring presentations and having some stimulating discussions about everything we’re passionate about.
I have to say, I think last year’s conference in Tasmania was one of the best I’ve ever been to. I had such a great time, and I must thank Julian and the organisers once again for doing such a great job in making all that happen. However, I came away from that conference a little troubled. But as we all know, a little bit of trouble isn’t such a bad thing, we might even say it’s inevitable. There had been several discussions, and at times passionate concern expressed, about how ineffective we seem to be in speaking to non-readers and attracting people to the teachings contained in these Papers that we know and treasure so well. This touched a nerve on a problem that has concerned me for quite some time. And which, as I found out, was a concern broadly shared by many others, some of whom will speak this weekend.
In today’s world, there is much confusion, mistrust, disillusionment, resistance and apathy about religion in general and Christianity specifically. And much of it completely justified. Mention the name ‘Jesus,’ and many people instantly glaze over and prime themselves to reject or dismiss whatever you’re about to say. Mention the word ‘religion,’ and they’ll do the same. Both words are loaded with baggage, preconceptions, negative views and connotations, are contentious and can lead to conflict. People have already formed their views on these subjects and either don’t want to talk about it, want to avoid conflict, or don’t want their views challenged in any way. Or, alarmingly, one thing I do hear a lot these days is, they simply don’t need it. We enjoy such a good standard of living these days in Western countries really, what is missing from people’s lives who basically have everything they need?
Atheism and agnosticism owe much to the way religion and concepts of God are presented to today’s well-educated society. The disbelief is in what has been offered. But review and change the definitions, and update the facts and the narratives about anything, including religion and God, and people’s beliefs can also change. I heard even the atheist Richard Dawkins admit recently that he has a greater understanding of people believing in the concept of, and worshipping, the loving parental God as presented by Jesus in the New Testament, than the vengeful, spiteful and jealous God of the Old Testament. Change of hearts and minds can happen, it just needs to be done in the right way.
And people are always looking for meaning.
Problem and Reason for Conference
Urantia Book readers love to talk about their favourite book! And of course, it has brought much, very much meaning to our lives. But in our enthusiasm, we can sometimes be overzealous, unrestrained and indiscriminate in what we say about the book. Many non-readers upon hearing us either become completely overwhelmed by the content, are incredulous or offended, or simply turn off when contentious subjects are raised. And so we tend to avoid it altogether. We readers have no such trouble when talking about the book amongst ourselves. We love to explore its meanings more deeply, and together at study groups etc., where we can speak freely and openly about it all, without the other person thinking we’re crazy. But we seem to lack some basic principles by which to gradually disclose the material, or have the skills and tools, or are practiced and confident enough in broaching and teaching Urantia Book concepts to people unfamiliar with the book.
Perhaps it’s time to talk a bit about – how we talk about the book.
We should be taking a lesson from our teacher when he told his Apostles to:
“Learn to weigh the consequences of your sayings and your doings. Remember that the reaping is in accordance with the sowing. Pray for tranquillity of spirit and cultivate patience. These graces, with living faith, shall sustain you.” 192:2.8 (2048.4)
When I got home after the Tassie conference, I was mulling all this over and thought, we can do something about this. Knowing that, ‘the act is ours, the consequences God’s,’ it’s time to put aside the worries and have a go! And realising that this is a concern commonly shared, why not get everyone together and put our minds to work, to consider and discuss practical ways in which we can deal with this problem. And that is what we hope to do here at this conference, dear friends, all of us. We all love coming to conferences to be with such sympathetic and understanding fellows and being so uninhibited in discussing The Urantia Book. But it’s time to use this sort of opportunity, with all the knowledge, talent and resources we have here, to share, explore and develop some practical tools and techniques, and personal approaches we can use when talking about this revelation and its teachings with people unfamiliar with it. We are not a secret club. The first rule of Urantia Book students cannot be, ‘we don’t talk about The Urantia Book.’ It must be, “freely you have received, freely give.” 193:0.5 (2053.1)
We need to ask and address such questions as:
- How can the teachings of The Urantia Book help people to meet present day challenges and improve their lives?
- How do we best articulate the teachings and the values, the guiding philosophy, the cosmological insights and the universal love, that we’ve learned from reading this book?
- How best to share all this with people around us that seem to have increasingly: less time, less open-mindedness, less tolerance, less care, more confusion, more self-interest, ever more secular and materialistic tendencies, more despair, an increased scepticism of anything religious or spiritual, and an ever-increasing need for the life-saving knowledge that we have to offer them?
You may be aware of the many initiatives happening around the world that are increasing the profile of The Urantia Book. And we’ll be hearing an update later from Gabriel Rymberg in Israel on the Center for Unity projects as an example of this. We in this part of the world I think are not ready for the exposure that’s coming. We need to be ready and have tools, strategies, and some eloquence when we talk about the book. We do not want to be like poor old Peter in the courtyard, in denial. We need to be ready to deal with the question of, ‘How do you know?’ in an evidence-demanding world. We need to expect challenge, ridicule, and criticism. Preparation and courage are required.
The reasons for this conference are twofold:
1. There is a need for our world to hear what we have to say; there always has been. But perhaps the need is now even greater with the declining influence of the traditional religions.
2. We seem to lack the confidence, or the skills needed to convey our message attractively, and in an appealing way, to draw in others’ interest, to make improvements in their lives.
In the presentations and discussions, we’ll be having this weekend, we will be looking at just what are some of the keys we need to have foremost in our minds when talking about this revelation to people who don’t know about it, to open their minds and let the soul-inspiring message in. We’ll be:
- Considering the gulfs that can exist between our own and other people’s realities.
- Getting to know, attempting to understand and engage various personality types and interests.
- Looking to discern fertile ground for receptivity of this revelation, asking the right probing questions and opening up conversations.
- Examining some of our background, the interface between evolution and revelation.
- Exploring the issue of discussing the spiritual in an increasingly secular society.
We’ll also look at the tone and language we can utilise to make our message sweet and appealing, that makes the revelation attractive to the person we’re speaking with. And how we can overcome criticisms and objections without alienating. We’ll review some of the approaches that are already being used and see how they’re going. We’re also hoping to look at whether there is something about the Aussie and Kiwi character to consider. We’re obviously part of Western culture and most obstacles we encounter are not unique to us, but are there attributes that are unique to us that we need to bear in mind and work with or through? We do pride ourselves on being good ‘BS detectors,’ so we in the Urantia community really do have to, as Jesus said, “weigh the consequences of your sayings and your doings.” 192:2.8 (2048.4)
We’re hoping for plenty of participation from everyone. Following each presentation will be an opportunity to discuss what you have just heard and resolve any questions that might arise. And consider how you would approach ideas, or talk about these revealed truths, with non-readers, in natural and everyday language that is attractive and not off-putting; and are expressed so that anyone can relate to and understand; in ways that do no harm to the listener, yourself or fellow readers. These discussions will give you all an opportunity to raise and share anything you think is relevant from your personal experience, including but not limited to what you have gained from involvement in the broader Urantia community.
But before we get into all of that… this revelation does such a great job of clearing up so many of our uncertainties, I want to highlight some that we can be thinking about as we work on how we can discuss them with non-readers.
1. Firstly, the reason for revelation. It’s probably stating the obvious to us, but it should be noted, that there are aspects to our lives and the universe that we cannot and will never discover; that are beyond our instruments and powers of observation, that with our material and mental limitations we lack the capacity to detect or deduce. Yes, we have the rigours of our science and its burden of proof, and it’s extremely powerful and provides great insights into the material world. But it has its limits. It cannot be applied to the metaphysical and non-material aspects of life – which are just as real. The purpose of revelation is to reveal crucial knowledge and information, when we are ready for it, that otherwise would not/could not be discerned by us on our own. But we can’t get ‘everything everywhere all at once,’ that would be completely incomprehensible nonsense, we just get what we can handle to continue on a forward path of growth.
2. Perhaps we could have concluded on our own that there must be a first cause of everything we know and see, but would we have ever deducted the true nature and character of a loving God, existing in a constant state of giving of himself to every individual ever created? Highly unlikely, especially when there is so much hardship and suffering, and solitude, so many problems and upheavals in the natural world and in society. God’s loving nature is one of giving/sharing. His love is demonstrated by the giving of life and freedom, not by preventing suffering, being overprotective, intervening or taking away our obstacles and problems. We can’t be always going to him to solve our problems; he wants us to solve them ourselves and learn. He wants us to do better and improve all the way up to perfection and provides the security of infinite mercy and forgiveness for our mistakes along the way.
The Church knows and tells us that ‘God is love.’ But I’m not sure they’ve fully unpacked this idea. These Papers reveal that God’s love is literally responsible for everything in the vast universe; it is a simultaneous giving and receiving, and the source of all attraction. Gravitational, magnetic and nuclear forces that build the physical fabric of our universe are echoes of God’s embrace. All mind and spirit likewise emanate from him and are ever drawn back towards him. God can’t help but give of himself, infinitely, it is his nature. This giving out has enabled the vast creation of worlds and hosts of beings to inhabit them; we have been given life and a planet in which to live, and to share in God’s existence and to further give to others. The fingerprint of his nature is on everything. A plant will draw itself away from the shade and grow towards the sun’s giving and enriching rays of light, likewise our attention will naturally be attracted to a beautiful thing, idea or truth, or person. Love is a spiritual force, that draws in and holds people together in the bond of relationships and friendships. And in loving the perfect spirit within others, despite all their imperfections, we can emulate God and be God-like, and is how we can return our love for him.
There is a whole new narrative revealed about God that dispels the confusion and despair that people have about why God allows so much pain, trouble and suffering despite supposedly loving us. A narrative that appeals to a logical and reasoning thinker that may have dismissed the notion of God as previously presented, and that outlines a guiding philosophy that will actually go a long way to solving many of the problems we have in our world.
3. The Trinity: we have an account of the Trinity that finally makes some sense and is practical. That is, the differentiation of a singular but giving, sharing God into others he can share with – his representative and his enabler – and thus setting the universal pattern of everything in the universe, providing us with a clearer understanding of the nature of reality. Looked at philosophically, the Trinity can be considered the original thought, relation and action. Pick an example of anything (e.g. a planet, a government policy, you) and it will have these three qualities about it: the idea of it that you can hold in your mind, the actual phenomenon itself, and the relation/articulation between these two, such as a description, explanation, plan, etc. It’s obvious when you see it, but it’s a case of ‘not seeing the woods for the trees.’ These qualities are not incidental, they didn’t come from nowhere, they come from the Trinity, the origin and source of everything: the Father – original thought/idea, the Eternal Son – relation/articulation/‘the word’ of that idea, and the Infinite Spirit – that idea in action/actuality. Three distinct and inseparable levels of reality of the one thing.
Is the idea just as real as the thing it represents? Of course, they’re both real, there is only one reality, they just manifest on a different level of reality. When you think about it, anything we encounter exists on one of these three levels: the level of idea/potential, the level of relation/articulation or the level of action/actuality. Each level is just as real as the other.
4. Another great insight into the nature of reality is the distinction between perfect and imperfect universes, the existential and the experiential. The physicists might be onto something with their theoretical ‘multiverse’ and ‘parallel universes,’ but have they hypothesised these two, could they ever? There is perfection in some of the universe, and it has always existed, is eternal (i.e. no Big Bang there), but it is not where we are. The freedom and wildness of our universe is necessary for creatures like us to live in and experience, but it’s not perfect, and is why there are so many problems here. It is revealed to us that this is intentional. The plan is for us to start here at the bottom of everything and gradually improve our way up, step by step, to perfection. Hence the universal mandate of ‘Be you ever perfect.’
5. It is revealed, as is becoming increasingly probable to our cosmologists, that we are not alone in the universe. The deeper we explore and the more we discover about our universe, the more we find that it appears likely to support other life. But beyond our detection is the non-material life, the architectural worlds and spirit administration of the universe; and the fact that the universe is intentionally designed to support life. As Jesus said, ‘in my father’s house there are many mansions.’ It is revealed to us just what these ‘mansion’ worlds are, who resides on them, where we go when we die, and what we do there. An incredible life of discovery and activity awaits us there; not all lounging back in fluffy clouds and playing air hockey! And the place is friendly, caring and supportive of us in our career after death, not hostile aliens waging forever wars.
6. We also have in this revelation a recount of the whole course of evolution, showing that it was not accidental but purposeful. We can now see that the process of evolution was the technique of ‘creation,’ and that we thinking people were the aim. It reveals the activation of different levels of mind from basic instincts and perception through to knowledge, and right up to the capacities of worship and wisdom. Such a complete account is missing form our records and such an overview not possible when we ourselves are embedded within the tapestry – revelation is required. Us, we are the goal of evolution, creatures with mind that can be recognised as a person – the ‘actual’ to arise out of all that genetic ‘potential.’ A person who is capable and able to choose for themselves, make those choices freely and decide what they will do and how they will live their life and, of course, ultimately choose to live in sync and complete harmony with the universe around them – i.e. according to the will and the way of God.
7. A clear effect of the evolutionary process that any biologist can see is diversity and differentiation. Life finds its niche in just about every part of the world. Through revelation we see that this is part of the process of an infinite God being expressed in infinite ways. Including through the varied races, cultures, and blended peoples of humanity; as well as our different points of view, and different ways of thinking, being and acting in the world. And all of it a part of the design and intent to maximise the expressions of the infinite creator. There are attempts in today’s world to blur and diminish our points of difference, but it’s clear from this account that difference is the point! And realising this, we can remove much of the consternation by embracing diversity, accepting our differences honestly and nobly, and most importantly looking at ways we can unite despite the differences, and all take advantage of this fact of life. Indeed, our civilisation has always progressed in this way. Slowly and unfortunately, sometimes brutally, improvement always eventually comes through the clash of differences in ideas and ways of living, following the inevitable exchange of ideas, knowledge, and beliefs. Peoples kept isolated from this kind of engagement progress much more slowly.
This life is a kind of trial to start learning about difference and how to relate and get along. There is even greater diversity of life and difference in the worlds to come, so the more practiced and prepared we are before we get there, the better.
8. In this revelation religion is redefined. Ah religion— the cause of so much strife in the world! All the terrible things that have been done in God’s name, and ‘with God on our side.’ We learn that religion is not just about a group of people following shared beliefs, practices and traditions, rather it is something very individual and personal. It’s about the personal relationship shared between you and God; not a relationship between you and the church/mosque/temple/etc. It is of no concern to others. None can be an intermediary between you and God. We learn in Paper 103:
The unity of religious experience among a social or racial group derives from the identical nature of the God fragment indwelling the individual. It is this divine in man that gives origin to his unselfish interest in the welfare of other men. But since personality is unique — no two mortals being alike — it inevitably follows that no two human beings can similarly interpret the leadings and urges of the spirit of divinity which lives within their minds… In reality, every human being defines religion in the terms of his own experiential interpretation of the divine impulses emanating from the God spirit that indwells him, and therefore must such an interpretation be unique and wholly different from the religious philosophy of all other human beings. 103:1.1 (1129.8)
I explained this idea to a staunch Christian once and he was shocked. He said, “that sounds like ‘the religion according to Dan,’ isn’t that a bit dangerous!?” And I said, “not if I’m following the golden rule of doing good to others, even loving others as Jesus loved us.” If each and every one of us has their own relationship with God, why should that bother others; and if it results in the guiding philosophy of brotherly love, what is there to fear? The church might fear that it could lose more of its members and influence! But as we now know, this is the religion of Jesus, it has never been properly tried, and anyway, if it leads to genuine ‘peace and goodwill to all men,’ then why on earth not?
9. But the insight with probably the greatest capacity for solving much of the world’s problems, is the revelation that we are all part divine as well as human. There is, apparently, a fragment of God residing within us all! Not just the ‘emperors and kings’ of old or the so-called ‘chosen few’ of today, but the billions and billions of us right across the world. We know this, but it would come as a shock to many people.
Have you ever seen those population clocks with the totals of births and deaths per day? Take a look at this diagram: https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/
As much as I’m loath to reduce people to just a number, have a look at the births and deaths totals, they tick over so quickly! As people are born and die most of those numbers ticking over is also an Adjuster, that divine spirit within us. They are streaming in and out! It’s like an electricity circuit or blood circulating with their constant flow of electrons or blood cells. We might be disconnected in our isolation from some of the universe circuits, but not this one.
But this is just a representation. This is the spirit part of us; we cannot see it or detect it with our scientific instruments; we would not deduce it through reasoned argument. This knowledge requires revelation. Knowing this truly makes us all of equal value. Spiritual brothers and sisters all carrying an inner spark from our shared divine parent. And in knowing this, how can we ever think to do anything other than treat everyone like family, with love? It wouldn’t prevent the odd squabble but would certainly stop a lot of the big problems.
10. And Jesus. I was listening to Tom Holland (the historian, writer, atheist) recently as he was talking about Jesus, and to sum him up he essentially said this:
Even the most casual and secular observation shows that something extraordinary happened in the lives of people all those years ago that led to the spread of the most influential set of ideas and beliefs that the word has ever known. The teachings and philosophy contained in even the limited record of things Jesus said are so attractive and powerful that they changed the world and improved people’s lives immensely. If they didn’t come from someone called Jesus, then from who? It’s impossible to get even a small group of people to agree on an idea and stay on message for even a short time, let alone to have it persist for thousands of years in the minds of billions of people. Impossible also to delude so many people for such a long time. There must be something extraordinary about Jesus—his life and teachings—that they have this influential power. And if so, what is it? We can get a partial idea about this man from the Bible, but it’s far from satisfying to a rational mind, and even The New Testament itself says it is incomplete. The little heard phrase in John 21:25 says, And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.
The most poignant part of that biblical phrase is of course the ‘Amen,’ which means, ‘so be it.’ And here we have it! Within this revelation, we now have a full recount of the complete life and teachings of Jesus. And through this retelling, we can truly know him and how he lived his life, understand his message clearly, and come to see him as brother, teacher and friend. He chose goodness, truth and beauty in all he did, to be in harmony with the world he lived in, as well as revealing the fact of our sonship with God and our own dual natures—human and divine. He revealed there is a part of us that is divine, that while we toil and live firmly, loyally and courageously in the material every day, wants to draw us up and out of all things shadowy and temporary here and into a world that is more permanent—the world of spirit. He taught that, to do to others as you would have them do to you, is good; to love one another as he loves us is even better. It is shown in this revelation that ‘the cross’ is not the salvation, no. The unforgettable drama of his death serves simply to remind us of the extraordinary life he lived and what he demonstrated and taught us during that short life, that, if we heed and follow, will prepare our souls to carry us into the life hereafter.
This is surely the sort of thing we should be saying when talking to someone about Jesus and share his life-saving message. We simply cannot begin with something like:
Our Creator Son is the personification of the 611,121st original concept of infinite identity of simultaneous origin in the Universal Father and the Eternal Son. 33:1.1 (366.2)
That can come later.
I just wanted to look at one last point before I finish up, and that is, how do we talk about spirit and spirituality in our secular and materially minded world?
There are varied definitions of what spirit is. It’s broadly accepted that the term refers to a kind of non-material vital essence that animates us and all life. But it is also used to refer to our mood, our attitudes, that essence at the heart of a game or the intention of the law, and of course supernatural beings and ghosts. While ‘spirit’ refers to many different things, which can lead to confusion when we talk about it, most people would probably not admit that it’s not real. So, after we’ve clarified what we’re talking about and determined that the person we’re talking to accepts that spirit is real, then as a starting point, we could take that definition about a ‘vital essence’ and extend it to ‘that which animates the whole universe,’ and that spirit is what we would call God.
Another approach to discussing spirit is that it can be thought of as that level of reality where original thoughts and creative ideas come from. No one would admit these are not real; they don’t emerge from the unreal and into reality. They could be thought of as coming from that part of our reality that is beyond the material, which we would call the spirit level of reality, above our conscious awareness but impinging down into our consciousness. This could help people to differentiate spirit from the mental and the material.
There is perhaps even more confusion in our world today surrounding spirituality. What defines spirituality has changed much over time and various interpretations now exist simultaneously. For some it could involve traditional religious beliefs or a blend of Eastern and Western philosophies, personal growth and the search for ultimate purpose and meanings in this life, or encounters with the supernatural and spirit beings, belief or not in an afterlife. People are either simply confused by it all or may only accept their own preconceptions.
Spirituality is becoming disconnected from the religious. But as we have learned from the Urantia Papers, the religious urge in us is innate, so if we remove the old spiritual anchors, we will naturally replace it with something else. (103:0.2) It is also well recognised that there can be significant physical and mental health benefits to having some kind of spirituality in your life. There are clear health benefits from having a higher sense of perspective, purpose, meaning and peace, increased self-confidence and self-control, better relationships, and the support of a caring community. People naturally want and see the need for spirituality in their life and so we hear a lot of people today say, they are ‘spiritual but not religious.’
Attending to our physical and mental health and wellbeing is crucial, obviously it’s extremely important. But if the focus of so-called ‘spiritual healing’ is purely on self-improvement, and looking for the sacred in the self, then we are selling ourselves short. From this revelation, we have been reminded that we have a piece of God’s spirit within ourselves. Genuine spirituality is, a) when you realise that divine part is in everyone around you too, and you love that, b) when you come out of the retreat and apply this knowledge to the human connections in your life, and c) it translates into a bearing of those ‘fruits of the spirit’ in how you live your life. That is, your thinking has been adjusted towards God-like behaviour. And spiritual growth, like physical and mental growth, of course comes through constant repetition.
As Jesus told us,
Salvation is the free gift of God, but those who are born of the spirit will immediately begin to show forth the fruits of the spirit in loving service to their fellow creatures. And the fruits of the divine spirit which are yielded in the lives of spirit-born and God-knowing mortals are: loving service, unselfish devotion, courageous loyalty, sincere fairness, enlightened honesty, undying hope, confiding trust, merciful ministry, unfailing goodness, forgiving tolerance, and enduring peace. 193:2.2 (2054.3)
We don’t live in isolation, we are social beings, and how we live with and treat others is important. And when we all truly desire good for others, and do good, then we also show respect and love for the source of that divinity that we all share. This does bring God back into our spirituality, and makes it a religious experience once again, but removed from all the connotations it previously bore. Focus on the self only is a trap. It may have short term rewards, but it confines us to the temporal. The fact remains that the true religious impulse has its origin in genuine spirit presences activating the will to be unselfish. 103:3.1 (1132.1)
There is a reality in religious experience that is proportional to the spiritual content, and such a reality is transcendent to reason, science, philosophy, wisdom, and all other human achievements. The convictions of such an experience are unassailable; the logic of religious living is incontrovertible; the certainty of such knowledge is superhuman; the satisfactions are superbly divine, the courage indomitable, the devotions unquestioning, the loyalties supreme, and the destinies final — eternal, ultimate, and universal. 103:9.12 (1142.3)
These are just some ways we can think about and talk about the knowledge we’ve gained from this revelation. There are many more things to emphasise, but it would take many more weekends and conferences, so I’m going to have to wind up there. And I’ll leave you with some points to think about on this topic and perhaps talk about further over the weekend:
* The faith-grasp. How do we articulate that to those asking, ‘how do you know?’ and ‘where’s the proof?’ of anything spiritual? Can we even do this? [references: 1:4.7 (27.2) & 5:5.6 (69.2)]
* What questions can be asked to open people up to talking about matters spiritual, or bring their attention onto their own spirituality and spiritual growth/journey?
* What are possible objections to, and criticisms of spirituality and how to overcome them?