“How to Find Rest” at Open Table

Friday 26 July 2019 | Open Table
HOW TO FIND REST

Leunig_Rest

Bouncing off Psalm 23, and welcoming winter hibernation … bring SOUP, DRINKS &/or TASTY BREAD to share, with dessert provided; come with a story to tell in response to the stimulus on the topic of “How to Find Rest” (slides here). 

What does rest look or feel like for you? Is it a priority? Why/not?
What’s your best resting memory and favourite place to take a kip?
Do you readily rest, or–like a toddler–fight until you’re made to lie down?
What inner whirrings and outer impediments ward off hibernation during the lean seasons when you really need to take a break?
What is most restful for you, to unwind and recharge?
Are there substitutes that promise rest but only exacerbate exhaustion?
What do we learn about the meaning of life and the designs of our creator by the necessity of sleep and the benefits of sabbath?

… So, catch 40 or so winks during this season of winter hibernation, and come ready to share what you’ve learned about the way of rest as an antidote to our anxious, agitated, insomniac and workaholic culture.

Held at Shayne & Bron’s, 18 Kooralla Court, Karana Downs (directions here). Welcome from 7pm, official kick off at 7:30pm. Any questions before the night? Call/txt Dave on 0491138487.

Art     | Vincent Van Gogh’s “Noon: Rest from Work after Jean-Francois Millet.”

112 Noon Rest from Work after Millet

Text & Reflection   |  Psalm 23 (KJV):

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Or, for Jesus’ take on rest, in modern parlance, check out Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG):

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.

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Way back on October 15, 2014, I posted my first Christ’s Pieces blog. The topic? “A Rest-less Sabbath: Musings from My Inner Voice.” With more transparency than I prefer, I offered a window into my anxious soul and wondered out loud:

If my ‘worldview’ is best gauged not from my words but my actions, then something is definitely out of kilter. Work—even Christian vocational ministry (perhaps especially -)—can become an idol. We worship that to which we sacrifice the most … time, money, energy, relationships. I thought I was doing all this for God. Yet, ichabod. Sometimes I wonder if His Spirit has left the building and I’m stuck slaving away. When a holiday seems like a mixed blessing—think of all those things I won’t be able to achieve while resting—then it’s time to recalibrate.

Sadly, I’m not sure I’ve made much progress on this front over the last five years. Why is it *so* hard to slow down, to rest and refresh when clearly it’s *sogood for me? I feel like a tired toddler, fighting with all I’ve got to stay anxiously awake, even as my eye-lids droop and my babbling makes no sense. There must be a better way! If it’s good enough for God to take a load off–come the end of a creative work week where the whole cosmos was brought into being–then it should be good enough for his image bearers.

DelightWonderPresence

As New York Times op-ed columnist and nominal Jew, Judith Shulevitz, explores here, however, rest takes practice. For neurotic workaholics miserable from the constant grind, a solid rest at least once a week facilitates “drudgery giving way to festivity, family gatherings and occasionally worship … [where] the machinery of self-censorship shuts down, too, stilling the eternal inner murmur of self-reproach.” (This is one of Tim Keller’s favourite and oft’ repeated lines, in sermons and Sabbath articles alike.)

What works for the individual is a pattern necessary for cultures, especially frenetically busy ones like ours: “To thrive, societies must designate set times in which work stops and the rest of life occurs.” (See Shulevitz’s book, The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time, from which she shares a talk here).

Not surprisingly, the Bible says quite a bit about rest, prescribing an antidote to our anxious, agitated, insomniac and workaholic culture.

Let’s start with sleep, that under-appreciated necessary biological rhythm. Psalm 127:1-2 says this:

Unless the Lord builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted. Unless the Lord protects a city, guarding it with sentries will do no good. It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, anxiously working for food to eat; for God gives rest to his loved ones.

Granted, sleep is subconscious, so it’s not surprising that it slips below the threshold warranting theological investigation, for all but the most observant scholars. In a book entitled, Christian Devotion, by a well-known Scottish author, John Baillie, you will find a chapter with the unusual title “A Theology of Sleep.” Here’s a taste of his astute observations on the Psalm above:

My subject is the theology of sleep. It is an unusual subject, but I make no apology for it. I think we hear far too few sermons about sleep. After all, we spend a very large share of our lives sleeping. I suppose that on average I’ve slept for eight hours out of every twenty-four during the whole of my life, and that means I’ve slept for well over twenty years. …Don’t you agree then that the Christian gospel should have something to say about the sleeping third of our lives as well as about the waking two-thirds of them? I believe it has something to say and that this text serves as a good beginning for the exposition of it.

7-Tips-for-Falling-AsleepIt’s like God has hard-wired into the very shape of our REM patterns an amazing truth that we are dependent, vulnerable, needing rest that is not our own native possession. Our very existence is a gift of grace, and sometimes it’s only at our limits, when our proud heads drop as we fall unconscious on the pillow, that we stop resisting what makes us whole. Day dreaming on this theme lead the likes of Augustine to look up to God and recognise that “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you” (Confessions Bk I, Ch. 1; see also the beautiful visual benediction from The Work of the People, capturing how the “I Am” being here is the ground for a non-anxious way in the world).

If we fail to see this in our human family, then consider the animal kingdom. When times are lean and the wind chills, species as diverse as Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrels and Black Bears (here, here and here) go into hibernation. Their system slows down with the seasons, first stocking up, then slimming down, emerging ready to go when the sun is shining. As Ralph Ellison says in his novel, The Invisible Man, “A hibernation is a covert preparation for a more overt action.” 

Sadly, this seems a world away for Homo sapiens who work and shop 24-7 under the artificial glare of fluorescent lighting, trapped withing a self-enclosed ‘rhythm’ falsely promising to maximise productivity and pleasure with no need of down-time. As God chides his people whom he brought out of Egypt, but couldn’t break their toxic self-dependence nor stop their inner whirrings, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.

We desperately need to get back in touch with our creatureliness, accepting the genuine rhythms of grace. May we be people wise enough to enter that Sabbath rest, whatever our inner drives dictate and exhausted colleagues champion.

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This Open Table night, then, is a chance to celebrate the sleepy season. To explore our patterns of rest, and reluctance to slow down. We’ll delve into where you to unwind and refresh, and expose substitutes that promise to renew the spring in your step but instead suck you dry. Perhaps we’ll even get practical, exchanging sleeping tips and how to shut out the tempting blue light or innumerable devices vying for attention late into the night–let’s put our insomnia and anxiety to bed once and for all. Whatever your story, come ready to share.

As a precursor, perhaps the following primer on Sabbath 101 will get you in the mood? (For more, check out Marva Dawn’s talk and book, Lauren Winner’s work, and Pete Scazzero’s guidance on Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, summarised in Module 4 of my course on Everyday Theology and Module 13 of Christian Worldview.)

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SABBATH REST

In Christ, we have entered into the ‘Sabbath’ rest of the Lord (Hebrews 4:9). That is, whatever time of day, and whatever our circumstances, through the Spirit of God we can find peace. Nevertheless, even as we are not required to practice Sabbath as the Jews did (Exodus 20:8-11; Deuteronomy 5-6)—and though we are not saved by such practices—Sabbath is a key resource for emotionally healthy spirituality.

Sabbath comes from the Hebrew word that means “to cease from work”. It means doing nothing related to work for one 24-hour period each week. We are to separate (the same root as “holiness”) ourselves from our work.

Sabbath provides for us a key rhythm for our entire re-orientation of our lives around the Living God (cf. Genesis 2:2-3). Keeping the Sabbath in our culture is both revolutionary and difficult. It is an imitation of God in His stopping and resting from work. Without the Sabbath in a fallen world, we soon become like the rest of a frenetic and lost society. The Sabbath is an advisable command from God, as well as an incredible invitation to hold on to His lifeline. Our culture knows very little about setting a whole day aside to rest and delight in God. Resting in God is not an optional extra for fanatics but an essential core ingredient of discipleship.

In our pressurised Western culture, we are to live in a way that demonstrates freedom brought about by a confidence in God’s total provision. Ceasing from our work and resting in God is part of that witness. The Sabbath calls on us to build into our lives “rest”—which by the world’s standards is seen as inefficient, unproductive and even useless. One theologian said, “To fail to see the value of simply being with God and ‘doing nothing’ is to miss the heart of Christianity.” We need to note that what is being said is not the promotion of laziness but rather the promotion of a rest in God to build faith, hope, motivation and energy to then serve Him and the world in which we live.

One of the great dangers of observing the Sabbath is legalism—which Jesus roundly challenged. The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath. The Sabbath must be responded to by each individual before God. The important matter is the underlying principle. The key is setting a regular rhythm of exercising a Sabbath rest for a 24 hour time block each week. For the Jews the Sabbath began at sundown on Friday evening and ended at sundown on Saturday. The Apostle Paul seemed to imply that any day would be as good as any other (Romans 14:1-17).

SabbathSabbath involves four key elements:

  1. Stopping—embrace your limits and cease your work … it’s not a day for “different tasks” on your to-do-list
  2. Resting—prioritise whatever replenishes your soul, with activities different to your everyday tasks … sleep, re-creation, music, sport, worship, prayer, cooking, etc.
  3. Delight—take time to evaluate the “very good” of your co-creation with God and be thankful for God’s good work in your life. Play in the presence of our triune God
  4. Contemplating—this time is “holy to the Lord” (Exodus 31:15), so develop expectation of dwelling in God’s presence as one day we will in fullness when we see Him face to face (Revelation 22:4). Enter His splendour, greatness, beauty, excellence, and glory.

Just as God instituted Sabbath years for the land to rest and debts to be cancelled (every ‘perfect’ seven years, with the “perfect perfect” year of Jubilee after the 49th year), your holidays offer more sustained time of rest and re-creation. Perhaps you can work towards taking a “Sabbatical” after seven years of work?

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“Wisdom of Our Elders” at Open Table

Friday 10 May 2019 | Open Table
WISDOM OF OUR ELDERS

Bring some mains to share, and come with a story to tell in response to the stimulus on the topic of Wisdom of Our Elders” (slides here). 

Who has impacted you the most as an older mentor?
What tale best captures your connection?
What aspects of her life and character stand out?
What lessons have you learned from him?
What mistakes were most salient for your own journey?
What pithy wisdom have these elders proffered?

We’ll explore stories of ageing, what we’ve learned from those who’ve lived well and also would rather forget from our grumpy forebears. Generally, we’ll trade hard earned wisdom that gave many their grey hairs!

At Nathan and Melissa McConaghy’s place (69 Sunset Rd., Kenmore, 4069). Welcome from 7pm, official kick off at 7:30pm. Any questions before the night? Call/txt Dave on 0491138487.

Art     | Rembrandt’s Self-Portraits video. Also “Emily Kame Kngwarreye with Lily,” by Australian artist, Jenny Sages (1993), in the National Portrait Gallery. Chosen by our resident artist, Deb Mostert, she reflects, “I almost wept at this when viewing it in real life at the Tweed gallery … it is visceral and powerful … and I like that Jenny and Emily were the same age when this was painted and that they yarned like ‘two 83 years do’.”

Emily_JennySages1993Here’s a bit more on the subject:

Emily Kame Kngwarreye (Kngwarrey) (c.1910–1996), Anmatyerre artist, was born at Alhalkere, Utopia Station in the Northern Territory. After her ancestral land was appropriated for cattle grazing, she worked as a stockhand. As she grew older she became a leader in women’s ceremonial business, experienced in ceremonial body painting. From 1977 she collaborated in the production of batik, an important industry for the Anmatyerre after they regained land title. She first painted on canvas in 1988. In the course of her brief career she produced thousands of canvases depicting the flowers, roots, dust and summer rains of her country, the translucent colours built up with layered touches of paint to create an illusion of depth and movement. In 1998 a retrospective exhibition of Kngwarreye’s work, Alhalkere – Paintings from Utopia, travelled to three state galleries and the National Gallery of Australia. Ten years later Utopia: The Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarrey, an exhibition of 120 of the artist’s works, showed in Osaka and Tokyo. With that exhibition, Kngwarreye was recognised as one of the very greatest abstract artists of the twentieth century.

Text & Reflection   |  Proverbs 1:1-9 (NLT/MSG), composed by Solomon as arguably the world’s wisest person. He set out the first of thirty chapters for his son, like cairns marking the way to life, for children to come.

These are the proverbs of Solomon, David’s son, king of Israel.
Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline,
    to help them understand the insights of the wise.
Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives,
    to help them do what is right, just, and fair.
These proverbs will give insight to the simple,
    knowledge and discernment to the young.
Let the wise listen to these proverbs and become even wiser.
    Let those with understanding receive guidance
by exploring the meaning in these proverbs and parables,
    the words of the wise and their riddles.
Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge,
    but fools despise wisdom and discipline.
My child, listen when your father corrects you.
    Don’t neglect your mother’s instruction.
What you learn from them will crown you with grace
    and be a chain of honor around your neck.

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world-elder-abuse-awareness-day-stop-elder-abuse-print-405767-adeeveeProverbs are short, well-known pithy sayings, stating a general truth or piece of adviceAs a forty-something adult, showing clear signs of ageing, I take comfort in the many proverbs and generic advice offered across the Bible, referencing my changing complexion and ‘crown’, and guarding against today’s rampant “elder abuse” (also here).

It sounds best in the Old King Jimmy. Here’s a sample:

Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:32)

The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness. (Proverbs 16:31)

The glory of young men is their strength: and the beauty of old men is the grey head. (Proverbs 20:29)

Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren; The elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity. (1 Timothy 5:1-2)

Now also when I am old and greyheaded, O God, forsake me not; until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come. (Psalm 71:18)

And even to your old age I am he; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you. (Isaiah 46:4)

gray-hair-quotes-crown-of-splendorIf a “hoary head” isn’t your thing, then perhaps this modern rendering says it best: “Silver hair is a beautiful crown found in a righteous life” (Proverbs 16:31).

Note that there is nothing automatic about ageing producing this kind of life. Rather, as the grey hairs grow, the rough and tumble of hard experiences tests our mettle, refining and revealing what was only nascent as a youngin. No wonder the globally recognised wise-man, Nelson Mandela, took great pains in 2007 to set up “The Elders” as an independent group, consulting with governments to guide us out of intractable conflict and human rights abuses, instead toward peace and justice. They have the historical distance to see turbulent events as located in the wider stream of human experience. Ignore their insight at your own peril. As G. K. Chesterton quipped, “The disadvantage of [people] not knowing the past is that they do not know the present.” Or, as polymath and sage historian George Santayana said,

Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual.
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it
(The Life of Reason, 1905-1906)

eldersIn our narcissistic culture addicted to adolescence, rushing from achievement to achievement, it takes self-control to slow down and learn at the feet of our elders. And yet, their many years–more often than not–are a tribute to hard won wisdom. It’s worth hearing, and may well add years to our lives, saving us from stupid mistakes that need not be made. For this reason, among many more, our elders are worth celebrating!

1_CJM06TSMMXD3A0zNCXUAIQI’m looking forward to hearing your stories as we gather for this open table. In the spirit of vulnerability and priming the pump, here is a foretaste of what I hope to share, about my favourite ‘wise elder’, who was ‘promoted to glory’ more than a few years ago. It’s a reflection I first wrote as the preface to my Nanna’s poetry collection, later published as a blog on Wonderingfair.com, capturing what I learned from watching her suffer with incredible grace. nanna

Nanna’s Rainbows in the Tears

There is no guarantee how suffering will shape a soul.  As C.S. Lewis, the imaginative author of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, once noted,

I am not convinced that suffering has any natural tendency to produce such evils [as] anger and cynicism.  … I have seen great beauty of spirit in some who were great sufferers.

One such “great sufferer” must certainly be Nell Hodgson.  Across a lifetime of adventures, she had faced loss of loved ones, a near-death experience while giving birth, and three bouts of cancer, not to mention numerous rounds of chemotherapy.  Yet as a child, I knew none of this.  Nell—or ‘Nanna’ as I knew her—was to me an imaginative storyteller … a living, breathing “Wardrobe” offering a gateway to my own Narnia.

paperbarkRecently I was jogging through Noosa National Park with a Canadian friend, pointing out the great diversity and character in the surrounding trees.  In place of uniform stands of pines were paperbarks and gnarled gumtrees.  Nanna quickly came to mind.  Trees like these were features in many of her paintings, and her poems.  Nanna loved nature.  She used to tell tales of fairies in the garden, replete with intricate details of what each would wear and how they would move.  The banksia bush had a larger-than-life personality in her imagination.  At the least opportune time—like when picking me up from a friend’s place—Nanna would quietly slip out of the conversation, leaving us all wondering where she’d gone.  After looking around, we would find Nanna on her knees, crawling through the garden bed.  She was scraping off bits of bark from the base of a gumtree—“It’s for my bark paintings,” she explained.  For Nanna, this was normal.

Yet as an adult, I wonder how to integrate the playful person I knew with this scarred woman who suffered so much.  Many others would become bitter given her lot.  Yet Nell had an insatiable appetite for life.  Her life resembled the gnarled yet glorious gumtrees she immortalised.

elder1-640x416Perhaps in the title to her final collection of poems we can find the answer: Rainbows in the Tears.  For when love looks through tears of pain, a vision of hope will emerge.

Of all the books that Nell had read, it’s no secret that her favourite was the Bible.  In this “book of books” we find a recurring theme growing to a climax in the person of Christ, like the lapping of waves on a beach as they reach toward full tide.  It is the pattern of grace, fall, and new grace.

This book begins with God’s grace as He paints a paradise and plants humanity in the midst.  Yet our forebears overreached and fell, weeping as Eden became a wasteland.  Yet God extended new grace, covering our shame in love and pointing to the day when all our sad stories will come untrue.

Or take Noah.  Noah was the only righteous man among peers as people took pride in enacting every evil desire.  So God judged the world in a flood, preserving Noah, his family, and a good deal of biodiversity in that floating safe haven.  Grace had given way to fall.  What would new grace look like?  In Genesis 8-9 we read of the ark settling on Mount Ararat, this strange parade evacuating the vessel to see a land decimated by (super-) natural disaster.  As they recalled what was, I’m sure that tears must have flooded their eyes.  Yet precisely at this moment of despair, in the wake of immense suffering brought about by broken humanity, God gives us a sign.  Whenever storm clouds gather, look up, for there you will see the rainbow—that even if life falls apart and flood waters rise, yet my new grace will preserve this beautiful creation in loving covenant.  The rainbow is what love looks like when it refracts through this planet’s collective tears.

rainbowNell was known as a woman of faith.  But this was not “faith in faith” or some subjective impulse to trust beyond reason.  Not at all.  Instead, my Nanna trusted in the one true God, who was able to take the worst suffering, and the greatest injustice, and turn it into new grace and hope for all humanity.  At the Bible’s climax we see God Himself in the person of Jesus, left high and dry as He opened His arms to embrace a world gone awry.  Love is cruciform.  And love is passionate, where passion literally means to “suffer with.”  So Nanna had faith in the God with scars.  When Nanna looked through tear stained eyes at the resurrected Christ, she knew all her sad stories would one day come untrue.  And the result was art fuelled by hope.

This is how ‘imaginative Nanna’ and ‘suffering Nell’ fit together as one.  Suffering can be redemptive: there are rainbows in the tears.  In my playful grandmother I’ve seen the vitality of a passionate God.  God has suffered much.  And yet He is ever young, always crawling through the garden beds of this world alive with wonder.  May we meet Him there?

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Blessed are the Peacemakers at Open Book

PalestineIn our second cycle for 2019 (starting Thursday 23rd May), we stare a half-century long wicked problem in the face. How should we understand and engage the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which lies at the heart of so much Middle-Eastern political unrest?

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This bloody disagreement is so complex, and the perspectives so disparate and propped up by alternate facts, as to make it impossible to understand–let alone agree over–precisely what is going on. (Vox and Crash Course in History, however, offer a good start, as does the 6-part video history by Dr. Jonathan Kuttab).

A protester holds a placard as she stands next to Israeli soldiers during a protest against Israeli settlements in Beit Fajjar town south of the West Bank city of Bethlehem

A protester holds a placard as she stands next to Israeli soldiers during a protest against Israeli settlements in Beit Fajjar town south of the West Bank city of Bethlehem December 27, 2014. REUTERS/ Mussa Qawasma

At one level, and drawing on Neil Postman’s memorable phrase from Amusing Ourselves to Death, this seems like “impotent information”; it streams through our screens from such a distance that we are powerless to do anything with these horrible images of looming walls, water shortages, firing rockets, territory occupied, dismembered children, shouting voices, guttural cries and clashing flags. So, why bother studying such a contentious and seemingly intractable topic, from the relative safety of the antipodes?

Jesus at checkpointAt another level, it behooves any Christian who claims to follow the Prince of Peace as part of his beatitude community (exemplified here) to both pray for the shalom of Israel (Psalm 122:6), and to stand against injustice, irrespective of the perpetrator. And yet, this dual vocation exposes a fault line running through the heart of modern evangelicalism.

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TOPSHOT – A man walks past graffiti depicting US President Donald Trump on the controversial Israeli separation barrier separating the West Bank town of Bethlehem from Jerusalem on August 25, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / THOMAS COEX (THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images)

Prominent American voices say that supporting Israel is a “big deal“, forging an interfaith partnership with pro-Israeli forces to carve out “Christian Zionism“. This both supposedly fulfils unconditional Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants permitting occupation of this land as a Jewish gift from God, and secures Jerusalem as the global centre for Christ’s rule from a rebuilt Temple initiating the second coming.

6205594305_119800573e_bAnd yet, a growing number of Jews and Christians, even conservative evangelicals, have recognised human rights abuses by the modern Israeli State in the name of religion; in place of ill-defined and ever expanding territory, they call for a two-state solution that protects both a formerly and currently displaced people group.

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While we must be careful to avoid anti-Semitic beliefs that the Church has replaced Israel, it would seem that popular evangelical support for the modern state of Israel is premised on some poor theology and questionable history, failing to sufficiently grapple with the plight of the Palestinians, including many oppressed Christian brothers and sisters.

Israel-Palestine-Ben-HeineHow, then, can we take sides when both Israelis and Palestinians love Jesus, and each party has blood on their hands? Is there a path forward?

Following the true and better Joshua, before we justify any siege on today’s “Jericho”, we do well to ask our Saviour who alone is just to bear the sword:

Are you for us or for our enemies?”
“Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.”
Then Joshua fell face-down to the ground in reverence. (Joshua 5:13-15)

Tensions Remain High At Israeli Gaza Border

SDEROT, ISRAEL – JULY 18: An Israeli reservist troop prays near the Israeli-Gaza border on the morning of July 18, 2014 near Sderot, Israel. Late last night Israeli forces escalated their operation with a ground offensive, sending troops into Gaza. More than 250 Palestinians have lost their lives since Israel began operation ‘Protective Edge’. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

This series, then, is a poignant case study in a re-tribalising and polarised age, drawing us into deeper questions that we must all face:

Blessed are the peacemakers! Yet where is Christ in ongoing global conflict? How might his church wisely serve as agents of reconciliation, healing rather than exacerbating historical wounds?

B3-AA668_ISPAL_P_20180412134543Over four fortnightly sessions starting Thursday 23rd May (schedule below), editors Manfred Kohl and Munther Isaac will guide our conversation, having selected pivotal papers across various “Christ at the Checkpoint” conferences, hosted by Bethlehem Bible College in Palestine. Who comprises this conference?

We are a community of evangelical Christians who believe that following Jesus with integrity means that our lives are formed by our love for God, the teaching of the Bible and a fearless life of discipleship in the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We believe that one of the first hallmarks of discipleship is love for both our own community and for our enemies. We wish to find Jesus at the center of everything we do and to make his life our life. Which means finding courageous love for Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews alike.

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Christ at the CheckpointWe’ll grapple with their 2018 book, Christ at the Checkpoint: Blessed are the Peacemakers (CCPwebsite; videos), chosen by Liz and Andrew Nichols. It gets into the complexities of following Christ as agents of reconciliation amidst very divided situations such as daily experienced by Palestinian and Jewish residents of “the holy land”.

In Andrew’s words, here’s why they thought this book was timely to explore:

Prison cities, refugees, targeted killings, arrests of children and demolitions of houses of families of activists, shooting of demonstrators, destruction of orchards, settlements, illegal occupations and annexations. Surely Christians would condemn this and support sanctions against such a nation … like they eventually did with Apartheid in South Africa. … But no! Christians, and in particular Evangelicals, seemingly suspend their faith when it comes to such acts committed by Israel.

Why is Israel singled out for this special treatment by the followers of Christ, and is it really justified by Scripture? Are we just not the worst hypocrites?

I discovered the material of  Bethlehem Bible College some years back, on line. They are dedicated to spreading the Kingdom of God in reconciliation between Jews and their Palestinian neighbours, but they do not shy away from engaging with and calling out injustice, and showing how Christians can no longer turn a blind eye to it.

bethlehem-wall-880x495Clearly, this book amplifies the less heard voice of Palestinian Christians. This shouldn’t, however, be taken as a one-eyed view of the world. No less a scholar than Old Testament Professor and former theological chair for the evangelical Lausanne global evangelisation movement, Dr. Chris Wright, offers this endorsement:

Having participated in two Christ at the Checkpoint conference in past years, I found them greatly challenging and informative. I was impressed with the range and balance of speakers and the desire to listen respectfully to voices from radically different perspectives, theologies and locations. I was also deeply moved by the willingness to share one another’s pain on both sides of “the wall,” and the profound longing for biblically rooted and defined justice, reconciliation and peace. For those of us who stand “outside” the realities of life in Israel-Palestine, there is so much to learn, so much to re-think, and so many dear brothers and sisters in Christ, both Arab and Jewish, to help us understand. We need to hear Christ in and through them.

In preparation for this series, you may find of interest my Malyon Theological College Chapel Talk on Exclusion and Embrace unpacking Genesis 16 and 21 from Hagar’s perspective (Aug. 22, 2018: video; slides), the Lausanne Movement’s “Larnaca Statement” (Aug. 2016) composed by Messianic and Palestinian Christians together (press release; introduction; statement), and from an internationally respected inter-religious scholar and theologian arguing for an ongoing biblical concern for the people and land of Israel (though still challenging fundamentalist Zionism), see the work of Gerald McDermott, in particular his books Israel Matters, Returning to Zion and Covenant and Hope, with a taste in his interviews herehere and here.

leesmith_041712_620px.jpgUltimately this is not about choosing sides. Whatever our view, we need to skirt both the Scylla of supercessionism (where Israel is replaced by the church and is ignored in the rest of the Bible) and the Charybdis of unthinking Christian Zionism (where the modern and largely secular nation-state of Israel is conflated with the ancient ethnic group of Jews, thereby baptising all they do and offering unconditional support to their possession of modern territory that unethically displaces and harasses Palestinians).

No easy task, but a crucial dialogue nonetheless!

Details below, and all welcome, whatever your faith commitment, tradition, or none.

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201404-2Over 4 Thursday sessions (May 23 – July 4) at Andrew and Liz Nichols’ house (155 Burbong St. Chapel Hill; call Liz on 0415624982 if lost) we will dialogue with Kohl and Isaac’s Christ at the Checkpoint [CCP] and each other, discovering what it means to work as peacemakers amidst intractable conflict.

Check out the calendar below for key dates, and pick up your paperback or kindle version of CCP here.

{Want to join us virtually? We’re experimenting with Zoom so you can listen in, and share your thoughts, live streaming the experience. Download the pdf of the powerpoint slides (e.g. on schedule, e.g., click link for CCP1) to play on your computer, and then see what’s happening through a basic web-cam capture of the group. We’ll have a shared microphone so the sound won’t be great, but you should be able to hear what we’re each saying, add your own voice when you ‘unmute’ your microphone, and participate in the practices as best as we can short of teleporting materials to your living room! … https://zoom.us/j/396017392 … Log in around 7:00pm on the fortnightly Thursday to test your sound, then start the conversation with us around 7:20-9:10pm. New to Zoom? 50 second meeting joining video  here, and more detailed directions, especially for problem shooting, here.}

We have a soft-start from 6:30pm—feel free to rock up early and eat your dinner or share a cup of tea. (Park up top, on the left-hand side of our circular driveway.) At 7pm sharp we get into the night, finishing each night by 9pm with supper together and an unrushed chat over coffee. OPEN BOOK includes some basic spiritual practices and prayer, before unpacking the pre-reading scheduled for that night.

IVPPraxis-mobile

For each week, it helps to think through how the reading provokes you in 4 ways:

1) Questions: what didn’t make sense?

2) Challenges: what did you think was wrong?

3) Implications: what difference does this make for peace-making in a polarised world?

4) Applications: how do we live as a be-attitude community, brokering shalom?

Screen+Shot+2018-06-05+at+10.44.17+PM

OPEN BOOK, THURSDAYS 7PM | Kohl and Isaac’s Christ at the Checkpoint (CCP)
(Click session # hyperlink for liturgy/ppnt slides–e.g., CCP 1 below–and page numbers for the next reading. Virtual/Zoom participation via https://zoom.us/j/396017392.)

May 10 | Pre-series Open Table dinner, on the theme of “Wisdom of Our Elders“. Who has impacted your life the most as a mentor? We’ll explore stories of ageing, what we’ve learned from those who’ve lived well and also would rather forget from our grumpy forebears. Generally, we’ll trade hard earned wisdom that gave many their grey hairs! Location at Nathan and Melissa McConaghy’s place (69 Sunset Rd., Kenmore, 4069).

May 23 | CCP 1, pp. 5-63: Introduction/About/Manifesto (5-13), and Part 1: Voices of Palestinian Christians: Ch. 1 “A Testimony to God’s Faithfulness” (15-20), Ch. 2 “The Arab-Israeli Conflict: A Palestinian Perspective” (21-30), Ch. 3 “The Delegitimization of Palestinian Christians” (31-44), Ch. 4 “A Testimony of Palestinian Women in the Midst of Conflict” (45-50), Ch. 5 “Transforming Hearts through Non-Violence” (51-63).

June 6 | CCP 2, pp. 65-119: Part 2: Biblical Response to Christian Zionism: Ch. 6 “What Can We Tell When We Return Home?” (65-74), Ch. 7 “A Biblical Response to Christian Zionism” (75-92), Ch. 8 “Abraham in the New Testament” (93-104), Ch. 9 “Christian Zionism as Imperial Theology” (105-119).

June 20 | CCP 3, 121-193: Part 3: The Gospel in the Face of Religious Extremism: Ch. 10 “The Gospel and Religious Extremism” (121-132), Ch. 11 “Jewish Extremism and a Gospel Response in Israel-Palestine Today” (133-142), Ch. 12 “My Jewish Neighbor” (143-152), Ch. 13 “Religious Extremism: Radical Islam and Violence” (153-178), Ch. 14 “A Christian Response to Radical Islam” (179-193).

July 4 | CCP 4, 195-250: Part 4: Blessed Are the PeacemakersCh. 15 “Evangelicals and Peacemaking” (195-206), Ch. 16 “Christ, Violence and Peacemaking Today” (207-222), Ch. 17 “Jesus, Muslims and Violent Extremism: Five Commands for the Road to Peace” (223-238), Ch. 18 “The Kingdom of God” (239-250).

July 19 | Open Table dinner, theme and location t.b.a.

Hope to see you there!

Vox

“Superheroes” at Open Table

Friday 1 March 2019 | Open Table
SUPERHEROES

marvel_superheroes

Bring some mains to share, and come with a story to tell in response to the stimulus on the topic of SUPERHEROES

Who did you always want to be?
What’s your superpower? Or your kryptonite?
How do these strengths and weaknesses travel together
in a purpose-full life lived to “save the world”?

At Andrew & Liz Nichols’ house (155 Burbong St. Chapel Hill; call Liz on 0415624982 if lost!). Welcome from 7pm, official kick off at 7:30pm. Any questions before the night? Call/txt Dave on 0491138487.

Art     | “Bound,” a photographic contrast between Superman’s classic pose, and Christopher Reeve’s existence post-spinal accident, as captured in his books Still Me and Nothing Is Impossible. What-I-Learned-from-Christopher-Reeve

samson

Text & Reflection   |  Judges 16:1-31 on Samson’s strength and Delilah’s kryptonite, climaxing with his hairy demise and one last flex to bring the enemy down, saving the day.

Finally, Samson shared his secret with her. “My hair has never been cut,” he confessed, “for I was dedicated to God as a Nazirite from birth. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as anyone else.” … Then she cried out, “Samson! The Philistines have come to capture you!” When he woke up, he thought, “I will do as before and shake myself free.” But he didn’t realize the Lord had left him. (Jdg 16:17, 20)

Superdads-e1528783832164+++

When you were a kid, which super hero did you idolise?

Like many other little boys, for me it was Superman. He had the iconic poses, even as Batman won on the swagger stakes. Even today, as we’ve moved from idolising the good guy to empathising with the anti-hero, kids still hope for a hidden superpower, and role-play their mission to save the world.

Like this 5 year old I once saw in a shopping centre, decked out in a cape. As he walked over the in-floor ducted heating, this dead fabric animated, and for a minute he truly believed he was flying. Far from mocking, the adults paused and recaptured the wonder of when they too believed in a higher calling that lifted their mundane existence into the extraordinary.Slide11
As I shared at the Theologicon conference back in 2017 (video; manuscript & slides; 2017 & 2018 videos), children and adults alike are “story-telling animals” who make sense of their lives in light of a larger tale, archetypes, heroes and villains. As annoying as the cancer-like proliferation of Marvel and DC Superhero stories is, it fills a gap in a biblically illiterate age where neo-pagans have returned to terra firma for role models.

And yet, as Paul Armishaw demonstrated, characters like Superman are merely containers for our projections. They can illustrate humanity at its best on a good day, worthy of emulation.

superheroes in everyday situations

But on a bad day, they’re just like us: only more so. They, too, have clay feet and are prone–like Hawkeye–to unflattering comparison. They stumble and give into temptation when their kryptonite comes near. They disappoint and fall short of expectations when judged–like Superman–at the bar of popular opinion.

davebenson_emoticonWhen we build our lives around imperfect idols–emulating fallen gods, however noble and powerful–we become a caricature of ourselves. Old Man Logan is but a shadow of Wolverine. Superman can reduce to a helpless quadriplegic in the blink of an eye, for all our powers are derivative and contingent. We are all bounded: limited, biased, finite and fallen.

True knowledge of one’s self as simultaneously hero and villain, powerful and powerless, must precede flexing our muscle and taking on any mission.

With which superhero, then, do you most identify? What are your superpowers, and how has kryptonite taken you out? What mission do you see yourself on? Where do you turn for help when your back is against the wall? And who makes up your justice league, such that–when combined–what seemed to be disability transforms into strength?

justice-league-ht-mt-170822_4x3_992

As cliché as this segueway may sound, for all the poseurs and wannabe superheroes, there is only one Saviour of the world. And he looks positively unlike Superman in all his incarnations, or antihero Samson in his foibles. He veils his spectacular power, squeezes the power out of evil by his open-armed embrace, and destroys enemies by making them his friends. While Hollywood reversals are aplenty–the underdog unexpectedly rising to fight again–none has dealt with our deepest injustice and captivity, healing the darkest heart, and resurrecting from death to life to illustrate the new humanity.

No comparisons are needed. From a Christian perspective, Jesus sits unchallenged at the centre of the (post)modern pantheon. He offers to infuse his life into plebs weaker than Steve Rogers, empowering sacrificial heroes who never draw attention but love like their idol, captaining the human team toward flourishing without collateral damage caused by mindless violence.Slide34

So, what is this topic all about?

SUPERHEROES is an invitation to share a grace-filled meal and real tales as we plumb the depths of your alter-ego. Superpowers. Kyptonite. Heroes. Villains. Saving the world. It’s all fair game. So, what’s your story?

Looking forward to hosting you in our house, as strangers become friends.

heroes

 

Enneagram Self-Discovery at Open Book

In our first cycle for 2019 (starting Thursday 14th March), we consider a conundrum. Jesus said it is by our love for each other that the reality of God is made known to the world (John 13:34-35). Love is the church’s greatest apologetic in this post-Christian culture that cares little for religious dogma and commitment. And yet, how can our community demonstrate this kind of love, if we don’t even understand our neighbour? Her drives and core motivations? His fears and insecurities? Crystallising these questions, I’m wondering:

How might accurate self-knowledge shape the way we love each other and our witness to a watching world?

cover cushion

Over four fortnightly sessions (schedule below), Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile will be our conversation partners. We’ll dive deep into their book, The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery (Downers Grove, IL: InverVarsity Press, 2016).

Speaking frankly, I find most personality tests frustrating, even as I can see their purpose, like the Meyer-Briggs/16Personalities and the Gallup Poll’s StrengthsFinder. It may well be my personality type (!), but I’m suspicious of how they compartmentalise your identity into fragments like introvert vs. extravert, thinking vs. feeling, sensing vs. intuition, and judging vs. perceiving. Personally, I’ve changed a lot since my early days in youth work, later losing my head in the books, and now lecturing in higher education.

But what’s largely remained constant is the core motivation driving my decisions, and my strong tendencies, whether healthy and relaxed or stressed and under pressure, to adopt certain patterns of behaviour in dealing with a complex world and confusing people therein.

That’s where the beauty of this repackaged ancient wisdom in the Enneagram is apparent. The deeper I’ve looked, and the more conversations with devotees I’ve had, it keeps life together and is the most powerful tool I’ve found to truly understand both myself and my neighbour, thus learning to love as a witness to a relationally dysfunctional wider world. A model for healthy relationships may be one of the greatest gifts the church can give a post-Christian culture. That is, of course, if it’s a gift we already possess.

17-03-31-Road-Back-to-You-Intro

True, we could have read any one of the experts on this tool, whether Don Richard Risso and Russ Hudson’s The Wisdom of the Enneagram (text here) with their precursor Personality Types and simple follow-up Understanding the Enneagram, or Franciscan contemplative Richard Rohr’s book alongside countless talks and videos on the topic. And you might find it helpful to browse some key sites and organisations like The Enneagram Institute and The Enneagram Academy, taking free tests (herehere and here) or paying for a more accurate assessment (here and here). After getting my results, it’s somewhat helpful to know I’ve been placed as a Type 1 Reformer–closely followed by a Type 5 Investigator–with an equally strong Type 9 Peacemaker and Type 2 Helper wing (1w9/2). But, frankly, I’m more interested in discovering this through conversation and dynamics among friends, rather than being boxed by a survey. (Again, perhaps my personality type aversion to imperfect systems!)

Thus the beauty of Cron and Stabile’s book. They synthesise many of these frameworks into an accessible and engaging read, seeing the non-reducible person at the centre, and placing this informative schema within a Christian theological frame. Each type is considered from childhood to adulthood, at work and play, alone and in relationship, when healthy and unhealthy, in terms of strengths and weaknesses, even mapping a path toward transformation guided by prime examples.

edge_ian-151

To give you a jump start into the 9-types of personalities and core drivers, listen to an interview with them on the Liturgists podcast (page/youtube), check out their web site and original podcast, and see what it looks like relationally through interviews on Ian Morgan Cron’s Typology podcast or  by reading Suzanne Stabile’s The Path Between Us (2018). I’ve also enjoyed listening to the band “Sleeping at Last“, with their Atlas Album featuring 9 Enneagram songs (e.g. Type VIII Challenger here) and lyric videos (also here).

All of this encouragement aside, we also need to critically assess some questionable ties between the Enneagram and Kabbalistic mysticism/New Age syncretism, such as examined here and here. Studying this book shouldn’t be read as a whole-hearted endorsement of all the authors say and do; rather, it’s recognition that there’s something worthy of further exploration, even if–as Augustine aptly said in City of God–we must “despoil the Egyptians” to repurpose pagan tools for godly ends.

All of this will come out over four weeks of dialogue, as you discover your type with its infinite varieties, and learn how to love those different to you.

Even so, here’s a snapshot of the nine (ennea in Greek) personalities. The figure (gram) depicts arrows away from a type showing how your personality shifts to take on unhealthy aspects of another core motivator when stressed (as a Type 1, I become sullen like a depressed and jilted Romantic Type 4 when my ideals are endangered), and arrows toward your number indicating the positive energies you draw from another type when feeling secure (when happy I ride my motorbike way too fast, climb mountains, incessantly socialise and seek risky adventure like a Type 7 Enthusiast).enneagram-map

There’s a more detailed summary both here and here (click hyperlinks for more), and the following hyperlinks to pictures come from Derek Bruff’s @doodlinginchurch here.

Here’s the lowdown. At a glance, which seems most like you, and your core motivation?

TYPE ONE: THE PERFECTIONISTEthical, dedicated and reliable, they are motivated by a desire to live the right way, improve the world, and avoid fault and blame.

TYPE TWO: THE HELPER. Warm, caring and giving, they are motivated by a need to be loved and needed, and to avoid acknowledging their own needs.

TYPE THREE: THE PERFORMER. Success-oriented, image-conscious and wired for productivity, they are motivated by a need to be (or appear to be) successful and to avoid failure.

TYPE FOUR: THE ROMANTIC. Creative, sensitive and moody, they are motivated by a need to be understood, experience their over-sized feelings and avoid being ordinary.

TYPE FIVE: THE INVESTIGATOR. Analytical, detached and private, they are motivated by a need to gain knowledge, conserve energy and avoid relying on others.

TYPE SIX: THE LOYALIST. Committed, practical and witty, they are worst-case-scenario thinkers who are motivated by fear and the need for security.

TYPE SEVEN: THE ENTHUSIAST. Fun, spontaneous and adventurous, they are motivated by a need to be happy, to plan stimulating experiences and to avoid pain.

TYPE EIGHT: THE CHALLENGER. Commanding, intense and confrontational, they are motivated by a need to be strong and avoid feeling weak or vulnerable.

TYPE NINE: THE PEACEMAKER. Pleasant, laid back and accommodating, they are motivated by a need to keep the peace, merge with others and avoid conflict.

“A humble self-knowledge is a surer way to God than a search after deep learning.”
Thomas à Kempis 

Details below, and all welcome, whatever your faith commitment, tradition, or none.17-04-01-Road-Back-to-You-True-Stories

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Over 4 Thursday sessions (March 14 – April 25) at Nik & Dave’s house (152 Tanderra Way, Karana Downs; directions here) we will dialogue with Cron and Stabile’s The Road Back to You [RBY] and each other, teasing apart our Enneagram types and their inter-relationship, en route to discovering how to love each other for the sake of the world.

Check out the calendar below for key dates, and pick up your paperback or kindle version of RBY here.

{Want to join us virtually? We’re experimenting with Zoom so you can listen in, and share your thoughts, live streaming the experience. Download the pdf of the powerpoint slides (e.g. on schedule, e.g., click link for RBY1) to play on your computer, and then see what’s happening through a basic web-cam capture of the group. We’ll have a shared microphone so the sound won’t be great, but you should be able to hear what we’re each saying, add your own voice when you ‘unmute’ your microphone, and participate in the practices as best as we can short of teleporting materials to your living room! …
https://zoom.us/j/396017392 … Log in around 7:00pm on the fortnightly Thursday to test your sound, then start the conversation with us around 7:20-9:10pm. New to Zoom? 50 second meeting joining video  here, and more detailed directions, especially for problem shooting, here.}

We have a soft-start from 6:30pm—feel free to rock up early and eat your dinner or share a cup of tea. (Park up top, on the left-hand side of our circular driveway.) At 7pm sharp we get into the night, finishing each night by 9pm with supper together and an unrushed chat over coffee. OPEN BOOK includes some basic spiritual practices and prayer, before unpacking the pre-reading scheduled for that night.

For each week, it helps to think through how the reading provokes you in 4 ways:

IVPPraxis-mobile1) Questions: what didn’t make sense?

2) Challenges: what did you think was wrong?

3) Implications: what difference does this make for loving each other and being a communal witness in a divided world?

4) Applications: what does it look like for us to live out of this vision, making God known by the life of our community together?

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OPEN BOOK, THURSDAYS 7PM | Cron & Sabile’s The Road Back to You (RBY)
(Click session # hyperlink for liturgy/ppnt slides–e.g., RBY 1 below–and page numbers for the next reading. Virtual/Zoom participation via https://zoom.us/j/396017392.)

March 1 | Pre-series Open Table dinner, on the theme of “Superheroes“. Who did you always want to be? What’s your superpower? Or your kryptonite? How do these strengths and weaknesses travel together in a purpose-full life lived to “save the world”? At Andrew & Liz Nichols’ house (155 Burbong St. Chapel Hill; call Liz on 0415624982 if lost!).

March 14 | RBY 1, pp. 9-62: Ch. 1 “A Curious Theory of Unknown Origin” (9-20), Ch. 2 “Finding Your Type” (21-39), and Ch. 3 “Type Eight: The Challenger” (40-62).

March 28 | RBY 2, pp. 63-128: Ch. 4 “Type Nine: The Peacemaker” (63-89), Ch. 5 “Type One: The Perfectionist” (90-109), and Ch. 6 “Type Two: The Helper” (110-128).

April 11 | RBY 3, pp. 129-187: Ch. 7 “Type Three: The Performer” (129-147), Ch. 8 “Type Four: The Romantic” (148-166), and Ch. 9 “Type Five: The Investigator” (167-187).

April 25 | RBY 4, pp. 188-230: Ch. 10 “Type Six: The Loyalist” (188-204), Ch. 11 “Type Seven: The Enthusiast” (205-225), and Ch. 12 “So Now What? The Beginning of Love” (226-230).

May 10 | Open Table dinner, on the theme of “Wisdom of Our Elders“. Who has impacted your life the most as a mentor? We’ll explore stories of ageing, what we’ve learned from those who’ve lived well and also would rather forget from our grumpy forebears. Generally, we’ll trade hard earned wisdom that gave many their grey hairs! Location at Nathan and Melissa McConaghy’s place (69 Sunset Rd., Kenmore, 4069).

Hope to see you there!Enneagram artistic

 

“Life & Death” at Open Table

Friday 9 November 2018 | Open Table
LIFE & DEATH

Dostoyevsky quote

Bring some mains to share, and come with a story to tell in response to the stimulus on the topic of Life & Death. This time we’re gathering at Shayne & Bron’s, 18 Kooralla Court, Karana Downs (directions here). Welcome from 7pm, official kick off at 7:30pm. Any questions before the night? Call/txt Dave on 0491138487.

Art     | “The Pioneer” triptych by Frederick McCubbin (1904). See also Michael Leunig’s “Requiem” (2015).

The Pioneer1904_FrederickMcCubbin

requiem

Text & Reflection   |  Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Moses challenging the children of Israel to choose wisely on the edge of the promised land:

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life.

We see this pivotal choice reach its peak in the person of Jesus, in John 10:10:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Digital StillCameraIn the Greek, there are three key words for “Life“. As hinted at in John 10:10, God gives biological life (bios), and is interested in saving our psychological sense of self–our soul (psuche). And yet, the bigger story is that the Logos, the creator of all, seeks to animate our life to the full (zoe) and make it truly worth living (cf. John 1:4). This is a quality of life–“eternal life” even (John 17:3)–only found in loving relationship, embraced by the source of love behind all that is.

autumn leafParadoxically, sometimes this quality of the “life of the ages” comes via dying, rather than striving to preserve one’s physical existence at all costs: “If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it” (Matthew 10:39). In this way of being, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). This is powerfully captured by the German artist, Hans Holbein, in his 1522 masterpiece, “The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb.”

The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb 1_Hans Holbien

Piero della Francesca, ResurrectionConsider, also, the many biblical reflections on sacrifice, atonement and resurrection, where through the Messiah dying on our behalf, death itself was defeated–in C. S. Lewis’s Narnian imaginary, this was the “deeper magic” by which life and death are no longer opposites, but invitation to a process of dying to self in order to truly live. For instance: 1 Corinthians 15:55-57 “Where O death is your sting?”; Hebrews 2:14-15 “Through death Jesus destroyed the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and delivered all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery”; Colossians 2:14-15 “When you were stuck in your old sin-dead life, you were incapable of responding to God. God brought you alive—right along with Christ! Think of it! All sins forgiven, the slate wiped clean, that old arrest warrant cancelled and nailed to Christ’s cross. He stripped all the spiritual tyrants in the universe of their sham authority at the Cross and marched them naked through the streets.”

19fc200d7f6232a57b1b3cc21062dced

Bottom line, then? Jesus lays it out plainly in John 11:24-25:

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb 3_Hans Holbien

So, what is this topic all about?

LIFE & DEATH is an invitation to share personal stories at the razor’s edge between health and sickness, flourishing and devastation, blessing and curses, even heaven and hell. What choices and circumstances drove you there, and what made the difference between these seemingly binary outcomes? Can we embrace life as part of death, and death as part of life? Where, if anywhere, do we find “life to the full”?

Near Life Experience_Leunig

Looking forward to hosting you in our house, as strangers become friends.

Dutch fruit 2

“Deep Church” at Open Book

In our third cycle for 2018 (starting Thursday 30th August), we dive deep into the identity and flow of the church by asking

How can we both listen to the wisdom of ages past and be open to the ongoing creative work of God today?

changing current

While studying at Regent College in 2006, in super-natural British Columbia, Maxine Hancock offered a vivid image in her lecture on “Following the Lord Jesus Christ in a Pluralistic Culture.” Picture a wild mountain river. A group of intrepid explorers are kayaking downstream, in search of ever greater vistas. If you are wise, where do you typically position yourself? Well, by and large, you should stick to the middle.

To the inexperienced, the river’s middle sounds boring. Surely there are more interesting things to see close to the banks? Isn’t the centre reserved for staid and afraid fundamentalists who resist the passionate swirl? Actually, it’s quite the opposite. The further you drift from the centre, the shallower the water, the more turbulent the current–the greater chance you’ll founder on underlying rocks or get caught unawares in eddies sending you back from whence you came. In the greatest rivers, however, the best flow is most always in the centre. It’s deep, fresh, rich, and has its own drive carrying you from the source to its telos in the wide ocean.heber-river-split-shot_Eiko Jones

The point? In the turbulent post-Christendom and pluralistic West, it’s tempting for Christians to seek novel solutions on the sides, splashing in the shallows. And yet, for the historically aware and well formed, you soon realise that many of our celebrated emerging church movements have simply settled for a simplistic vision and practice of the church, at best playing in the muddy banks of faith replicating the kind of consumerism and addiction to novel experiences that sank many an independent ecclesial vessel. The real action, though, is in the centre. Emerging from its divine wellspring, its source being Spirit baptism at Pentecost, the church is a mighty river propelling the adventurous toward divine union in the New Creation, when God is all in all and his glory covers the earth like the seas (1 Corinthians 15:28; Habakkuk 2:14).

apostles creed myersWe rediscover the centre in our common creeds (cf. Ben Myers’ excellent exploration, The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism), our shared stories, and our richest practices that have flowed across time, place, and tradition. This renews the church in its identity and mission. In the words of Australian historian Stuart Piggin, at its best this was the well spring of evangelicalism, a powerful synergy of “Spirit, Word and World” immersing us in the life of Christ. How tragic, then, that modern evangelicalism is often experienced as an unthinking conservatism, politically driven fundamentalism, or a superficial set of techniques and formulas channelling the Spirit to serve my personal health, wealth and prosperity.

With prophets of old, I believe God is confronting the church today:

You have abandoned me—
    the fountain of living water.
And you have dug for yourselves cracked cisterns
    that can hold no water at all!
(Jeremiah 2:13, NLT)

In short: leave the shallows, and locate your community in the deep, rediscovering the life-giving flow of church through the ages.

book coverWhat better conversation partner, then, than the DEEP CHURCH group? Remembering Our Future: Explorations in Deep Church (ed. Andrew Walker and Luke Bretherton, Wipf & Stock, 2007) has its origin in an ecumenical seminar, each chapter representing a call back to the historic centre of our faith which may paradoxically propel us forward in rocky and turbulent times. Each author invites us to ride the fast-flowing current that is Christian orthodoxy. “Mere Christianity“–far from fundamentalism, childish belief, or simplistic replication of shallow expressions of church, as C. Lewis challenges here, justifying his call to alternate the reading of popular contemporary books fixated on the controversies of the moment, with old books which are tried, true, and tested–is where the greatest adventure is found.

chesterton quote orthodoxy

Emerging from diverse charismatic traditions–Catholic, Anglican, and Evangelical–“the Deep Church conversation is helping [us] to re-imagine the Church of Christ and its task as we re-engage with the life of the public square in post secular Europe” (xiii). This is helpful, for sociologically, our culture in Australia and attitude to religion shares more in common with Europe/UK than we do with the American context, despite our penchant to copy trends from this foreign continent.

Series editor, Andrew Walker, launches our journey with these words:

Many are exasperated with what they perceive as the fad-driven, one-dimensional spirituality of modern evangelicalism and desire to reconnect with, and be deeply rooted in, the common historical Christian tradition as well as their evangelical heritage–welcome to what C.S. Lewis called ‘Deep Church’.

Deep Church is far more than an ecumenical dream of coming together across the barriers of ignorance and prejudice: it is predicated upon the central tenets of the gospel held in common by those who have the temerity to be “Mere Christians”. This commonality in the light of post-Enlightenment modernism is greater and more fundamental than the divisions and schisms of church history. … Deep Church, as its name implies, is spiritual reality down in the depths–the foundations and deep structures of the Faith–which feed, sustain, and equip us to be disciples of Christ.

deep church jim belcherWhatever your church background and denomination, interacting with this book should enrich all streams of our shared Christian life, for we are truly better together. We must remember our past to wisely face our future.

[Other books in close competition to serve much the same purpose included Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy, Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways, Robert Webber, Ancient Future Faith: Rethinking Evangelicalism for a Postmodern World, and Jim Belcher, Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional.]

Across five sessions, we will raft-up with some great thinkers–theologians, pastors, and practitioners–renewing the church with a fresh hermeneutic that makes meaning and forms a confluence at the juncture of the tributaries of Scripture and tradition. Again, our driving question is this: “How can we both listen to the wisdom of the ages past and be open to the ongoing creative work of God today?”

Details below, and all welcome, whatever your faith commitment, tradition, or none.

confluence

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Over 5 Thursday sessions (August 30 – October 25) at Nik & Dave’s house (152 Tanderra Way, Karana Downs; directions here) we will dialogue with the Deep Church Group and each other, returning to the well spring of our faith which propels our community forward in God’s mission.

Check out the calendar below for key dates, and pick up your paperback version of Remembering Our Future: Explorations in Deep Church (RF) here.

{Want to join us virtually? We’re experimenting with Zoom so you can listen in, and share your thoughts, live streaming the experience. Download the pdf of the powerpoint slides (e.g. on schedule, click link RF1) to play on your computer, and then see what’s happening through a basic web-cam capture of the group. We’ll have a shared microphone so the sound won’t be great, but you should be able to hear what we’re each saying, add your own voice when you ‘unmute’ your microphone, and participate in the practices as best as we can short of teleporting materials to your living room! …
https://zoom.us/j/165382785 meeting ID 165-382-785 … Log in around 7:00pm on the fortnightly Thursday to test your sound, then start the conversation with us around 7:20-9:10pm. New to Zoom? 50 second meeting joining video  here, and more detailed directions, especially for problem shooting, here.}

We have a soft-start from 6:30pm—feel free to rock up early and eat your dinner or share a cup of tea. (Park up top, on the left-hand side of our circular driveway.) At 7pm sharp we get into the night, finishing each night by 9pm with supper together and an unrushed chat over coffee. OPEN BOOK includes some basic spiritual practices and prayer, before unpacking the pre-reading scheduled for that night.

For each week, it helps to think through how the reading provokes you in 4 ways:

IVPPraxis-mobile1) Questions: what didn’t make sense?

2) Challenges: what did you think was wrong?

3) Implications: if this is true, then what does it mean for how we bring Christian tradition into dialogue with our contemporary context and church practice?

4) Applications: what does it look like for us to live out of this vision, “remembering our future” as deep church, journeying where the current is strongest?

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OPEN BOOK, THURSDAYS 7PM | Deep Church’s Remembering Our Future (RF)
(Click session # hyperlink for liturgy/ppnt slides, and page numbers for the next reading. Virtual/Zoom participation via https://zoom.us/j/165382785.)

August 30 | RF 1pp. xi-xx, 1-58: Front Matter (Preface, Foreword, Introduction: “Why Deep Church?”) + Ch. 1 “Recovering Deep Church: Theological and Spiritual Renewal” by Andrew Walker (1-29) + Ch. 2 “Beyond the Emerging Church” by Luke Bretherton (30-58). PRACTICES: Church Calendar & ADVENT (with Lectio Divina) pdf.

September 13 | RF 2pp. 59-107: Ch. 3 “Deep Church as Paradosis: On relating Scripture and Tradition” by Andrew Walker (59-80) + Ch. 4 “Reading Scripture in Congregations: Towards an Ordinary Hermeneutic” by Andrew Rogers (81-107). PRACTICES: CHRISTMAS & EASTER (with Lectio Divina) pdf.

September 27 | RF 3pp. 108-149: Ch. 5 ” Deep Calls to Deep: Reading Scripture in a Multi-Faith Society” by Ben Quash (108-130) + Ch. 6 “Holding Together: Catholic Evangelical Worship in the Spirit” by Christopher Cocksworth (131-149). PRACTICES: LENT (with Lectio Divina) pdf.

October 11 | RF 4pp. 150-206: Ch. 7 “God’s Transforming Presence: Spirit Empowered Worship and its Mediation” by Ian Stackhouse (150-169) + Ch. 8 “Baptism and Catechesis as Spiritual Formation” by Alan Kreider (170-206). PRACTICES: PENTECOST (with Lectio Divina) pdf.

October 25 | RF 5pp. 207-252: Ch. 9 “Education, Discipleship and Community Formation” by Mark Wakelin (207-226) + Ch. 10 “Mundane Holiness: The Theology and Spirituality of Everyday Life” by Luke Bretherton (227-252). PRACTICES: ORDINARY TIME (with Lectio Divina) pdf.

Restart Open Book on Thursday 22nd November and December 6, with a short series on “The Power of Poetry”, with various options of stirring voice and bringing your own favourite poem. If you’re wanting to join us virtually, then use the same link from the “Deep Church” series: https://zoom.us/j/165382785.

Emily Dickinson's Envelope Poems

Thursday 22nd November (slides)  this time held at Andrew & Liz Nichols’ house (155 Burbong St. Chapel Hill; call Liz on 0415624982 if lost!) and facilitated by Noel Payne. Bring your own powerful poem, and pre-read to bounce off one of these three:

  • A short poem A278 from Emily Dickinson’s Envelope Poems [(c) 2016 by New Directions];
  • LOOK back on time with kindly eyes,
    He doubtless did his best;
    How softly sinks his trembling sun
    In human nature’s west!
  • Or a medium length poem (1 page) by Sufi Poet, Hafiz: “Several Times in the Last Week” [From I Heard God Laughing: Renderings of Hafized. Daniel Ladinsky, (c) 1999];
  • Or, a long poem (19 pages) excerpting T. S. Eliot’s 1934 pageant/play “The Rock” (Choruses I-X).

Thursday 6th December … this time held at Noel & Deb Mostert’s (66 Fiona St., Bellbird Park [Ipswich], call Noel Payne on 0412156772 if lost!), and facilitated by Jo Hargreaves. No pre-reading, but on the night I’ll distribute print-outs of this classic, with background character notes:

  • Dorothy Sayers’ 1941-1943 Christmas play “The Man Born to Be King” (Play 1 “Kings of Judaea” pp 35-52 … we’ll read this out loud together on the night).

Looking forward to exploring the impact your favourite poems ) have had on you. (And if you want to grow in this space, join the Brisbane based “Deeper Rhythms” facebook group here.)

Hope to see you there!

 

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