Finding Naasicaa @ Open Book

FindingNaasicaaIn our second cycle for 2020, we dialogue with Charles Ringma’s book Finding Naasicaa” (2007) and ask:

When religious words are exhausted, yet we’re anxious for real hope,
how do we share the wonder of our world reborn when centred on Christ?

It’s a no-holds barred exploration facing doubt head on, and discerning what good news of God’s reign remains for a post-Christian generation prone to deconstruct dogmatic jargon, the transcendent, and empty optimism. Think Kesha’s Hymn for the Hymnless below, with lyrics here. (Share page: https://padlet.com/david_benson/OpenBook.)

In a post-Christendom world, young people continue to be vitally interested in matters of spirituality and justice, despite their lack of engagement with the Christian faith and church. This situation calls for new forms of communication and a reconsideration of the claims of the Christian faith. This book for searching minds does just this. A series of letters written by theologian Charles Ringma to his 19-year-old granddaughter, Finding Naasicaa addresses ultimate issues of life, faith, spirituality and social transformation accessibly, unpretentiously and winsomely.

Charles-ReadingAs Charles writes, this book is dedicated to a new generation: bearers of hope for a newer tomorrow; a past generation of parents: whose spiritual faith fractured with the collapse of Christendom; and an older generation of grandparents: whose life is marked by anxious prayer.”

So, join us virtually at 6:55pm for a 7:00pm start, as we fuse liturgy that satisfies all five senses, rich book discussion, and transformative practices to live what you read.

(Shut out with Corona? Join us virtually direct zoom link here (or via https://zoom.us/join with Meeting ID 333262992 and Password = openbook.)

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If you’d like to research more deeply the themes this book brings up, check out the following:

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Check out the calendar below for key dates, and pick up your paperback or kindle version. Until then, pdfs of each reading are linked.

On the odd chance Corona restrictions lift, here’s how it works for face-to-face gatherings … We have a soft-start from 6:45pm—feel free to rock up early and eat your dinner or share a cup of tea. At 7:10pm 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.

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

1) Question: what didn’t make sense?

2) Challenge: what did you think was wrong?

3) Implication: what wisdom does this offer for being a holistic witness to a post-Christian generation?

4) Application: how might this help us share the good news of God’s reign?

OPEN BOOK, THURSDAYS 7PM | Ringma’s, Finding Naasicaa (FN) | Join us virtually direct zoom link here (or via https://zoom.us/join with Meeting ID 333262992 and Password = openbook) + Share page: https://padlet.com/david_benson/OpenBook 

May 14 | FN Ipp. 1–59 (Preface + Letters 1–5)

L1 An opening word for Naasicaa
L2 The world without and within
L3 Life’s meaning and uncertainty
L4 The doing of good and the persistence of evil
L5 The story of God and the human predicament

May 28 | FN IIpp. 60–110 (Letters 6–8)
L6 Faith and doubt in a perilous world
L7 The sign and contradiction of the community of faith
L8 Symbols and countersigns of spirituality

June 11 | FN III, pp. 111–161 (Letters 9–12)
L9 Themes of life and threads of decay
L10 Passion, commitment and disillusionment
L11 Gratitude, wonder, creativity and the dulling power of conformity
L12 Mending and bending

June 25 | FN IV, pp. 162–202 (Letters 13–17)
L13 Work and play in a world of inequality
L14 The reign of God and the human enterprise
L15 The Galilean prophet and the timeless Christ
L16 Time, finitude, death and the power of hope and transcendence
L17 Afterword

Hope to see you there!
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Plate, Poetry & Prose @ Open Table

Friday 24 April 2020 | Open Table

PLATE, POETRY & PROSE

ZOOM Link (472 481 329; PW: ppp)
+ padlet.com/david_benson/opentablepoet for hire

It’s been tough days for artists; Corona has all but shut down multiple industries with nary a penny of government funds to help. And, what, with Christ’s Pieces being an outpost for budding bards and aspiring painters, parodists and poetasters, these isolates are in search of an outlet. Especially while waiting in lock-down.

So, come one, come all–whether dilettante or accomplished dramatist–to this veritable (and virtual) smorgasbord of verse! We warmly invite regulars and sundry to this themed Open Table “Plate, Poetry and Prose” night, 7pm on Friday 24th April, 2020.

It will be a “Zoom-in-your-room” night of

  • BYO meal (theme ingredient = beans) … we’ll share our recipes
  • BYO poetic verse or paragraph of prose (theme ingredient = waiting)

Select from something existing (though, avoiding naughty plagiarism, let us in on the source) OR have a go and write your own (as our resident mystic, Noel, has below).

Naked spirit, naked flesh
embracing mystery
exploring earth

Living now, alive always
flowing with time
eternally being

Silly, serious, questioning or clever … whatever takes your fancy. Get your creative on!

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And excessive expertise or professionalism is off-putting, so puns and poorly rhyming songs are most welcome, in the spirit of Hunt for the Wilderpeople’s haiku or happy birthday song

We will connect our dinners and dialogue over the interwebs of data:

  • Click here for the direct Zoom meeting (Meeting ID: 472 481 329; Password: ppp)
  • Upload your shared recipe or verse to padlet.com/david_benson/opentable, or simply ‘Share Screen’ from Zoom on the night. (If really stuck, you can text it to 0491138487, and Dave B will put it on the padlet for you.)

So, prepare your dinner ready to eat at 7:00pm, for a fun night of “Plate, Poetry & Prose.” We’ll be all done by 9:30pm when you might want to stay and e-socialise over tasty supper (yes, which you provide) and shandy or some other preferred sip. All welcome, whatever your faith or none.

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Ritual @ Open Table

Friday 21 February 2020 | Open Table
RITUAL

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Needled by Michael Leunig’s cartoon “So You Believe in This?” and imaginatively entering the multilayered drama of Exodus 12:1-13:16 (the Passover; echoed in Luke 22:7-20 with Jesus’ Last Supper), we launch Open Table 2020 with a night sharing stories on the theme of RITUAL.

In a culture fixated with the here and now of this immanent frame, any kind of ‘ceremony’ seems suspect and superstitious–empty and easy to knock down. And yet, these richly symbolic and habitual practices tie us into a greater story and a deeper identity–a kind of tactile memory hook re-narrating who we are and what we’re called to do. SO, what rituals are most meaningful to you? What’s involved, how does it work, and to what hope does it point? And how might we discern between living sacrament and stale liturgy? 

This exploration leads well into our first Open Book series, dialoguing with Eastern Orthodox scholar-priest Alexander Schmemann, considering his sacramental theology in the classic, For the Life of the World

Join us, 7:00pm for a 7:30pm start, at Nik and Dave Benson’s place, 152 Tanderra Way, Karana Downs, with bring-your-own pot-luck mains to share (dessert provided), and beautiful conversation in community to follow this graced meal. All are welcome (invite away!), whatever your identity, practice, creed and belief, or lack thereof. Any questions before the night? Call/txt Dave on 0491138487.

Art/Poem     | Michael Leunig, “So You Believe in This?

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Text & Reflection   |  Exodus 12:1-13:16 (Passover Ritual) esp. 12:21-27, and 13:9-10, 16, as a precursor to Luke 22:7-20 (echoed in the Last Supper/Messianic Passover, itself foreshadowing the greater deliverance through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross):

Moses said, When you enter the land the Lord has promised to give you, you will continue to observe this ritual. Then your children will ask, ‘What does this ceremony mean?’ And you will reply, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, for he passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt. And though he struck the Egyptians, he spared our families.’ … This annual festival will be a visible sign to you, like a mark branded on your hand or your forehead. Let it remind you always to recite this teaching of the Lord: ‘With a strong hand, the Lord rescued you from Egypt.’ So observe the decree of this festival at the appointed time each year.(Ex 12:21-27, 13:9-10, 16)

Now the Festival of Unleavened Bread arrived, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed. … Jesus took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” After supper he took another cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you. (Luke 22:7-20)

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Further thoughts to prime your narrative pump …

Recently we attended some friends’ citizenship ceremony, as they were naturalised as Aussies. I must confess, I was caught out by how similar this service was to an evangelical ‘come to Jesus’ rally.

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We stood for the entering of the flags; we sang our national anthem full of antiquated words like ‘girt’; a sermon was delivered by a (Government) Minister decked out in robes, honoring Australian heroes like the ANZACs, and retelling stories of what it means to be called to this promised land; a creed was recited and the penitent stood to acknowledge their serious commitment. “Remember, when you stand and say the pledge, this is the moment when you become a citizen.” For the denoument, the converts walk across the stage to receive their certificate–all set to rapturous applause as these foreigners became part of our extended family–even as this official document was merely the outward sign of an invisible grace that transformation had truly taken place. Afterward we ate a sacred meal of lamingtons and vegemite-smeared bread rolls while sipping lemon tea, all heading back to our homes reminded of our shared identity that binds disparate individuals in a modern democracy.

This elaborate event functioned as a sacrament of sorts. When looking for a picture to accompany the preceding prose, I came across a book by scholar Bridget Byrne (2014), the title of which captured it perfectly: Making Citizens: Public Rituals and Personal Journeys to Citizenship (from the Palgrave “Politics of Identity and Citizenship” Series). So, what am I to make of such a ‘religious’ event in this 21st century ‘secular’ western society? Haven’t we moved past all this clap-trap?

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There is something in the post-Christendom mind–even present in pastors and theological educators like me–that is prone to scoff at such symbolic action. It can seem so contrived, artificial, put-on, even pathetic. “So, you believe in this?” Can’t we just talk about these ordinances rather than going through the motions; why not simply agree that it’s merely a mental game, and move on?

Worse, to the uninitiated, it seems like a gateway to dangerous jingoism, religious fanaticism, and perhaps even distorted occultic fascination among the growing ranks of the ‘spiritual but not religious’. I’m reminded that some of my Protestant forebears had the same attitude shortly after the Reformation to their Catholic brethren, for whom the Communion ritual remains so dear as the place the veil is removed and heaven comes to earth, as captured in this seven minute film.

BLESSED CHEESEMAKERSsospecialJuxtaposed with this reverence above, picture the Monty Python Life of Brian scene, when the intelligentsia mishear our Lord’s sermon on the mount to promise that “Blessed are the cheesemakers”–they guffaw, “what’s so special about the cheesemakers?”

Well, overhearing the Eucharist in Latin, “hoc est corpus“–“this is the body of Christ”–and observing that with the ringing of a common bell the bread apparently transubstantiated into the sacred body of Christ, the Protestant intelligentsia (foreshadowing postmodern deconstructionists) guffawed,

Hocus pocus! What’s so special about the bread and winemakers?”

ritual-circle-ceremony-womens-sacredWe wonder out loud, how is this different to a magic trick, a meaningless ritual best left in the dark ages? Pagan cultus and religious superstition apparently collide, both readily dismissed as pure ignorance in an enlightened era.

062413 01And yet, sometimes growing up as individuals and as a culture means entering, in philosopher Paul Ricoeur’s beautiful phrase, a “second naïveté” where these rituals take on fresh meaning, even in an age allergic to religion and far from amused by metaphysics. It’s no virtue, intellectual or ethical, to be so literally minded that we conflate the symbol and its referent, thereby dismissing both as an illusion. Like the Roman general, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, conquering Jerusalem and entering the Holy of Holies in the Temple, to declare it “empty“, perhaps we are all too quick to mock a fundamental aspect of what it means to be human, thus avoiding the divine who takes on flesh to accommodate his presence to our senses, in place of a crass and localised idol.

2011 French Open - Day NinePerhaps we can get at the human aspect of ritual through the great Rafael Nadal, consummate tennis great and man of many habits. To be sure, his rearranging of water bottles, stepping across the line leading with his right foot, and repetitive pick of his pants before serving another ace, looks very quirky to the uninitiated. And yet, our performance as human beings is premised on stringing together numerous routines and habits–collectively comprising rituals–hard-wired through our bodies into neural pathways that gear us up for whatever comes next.

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This is how we learn, how we grow, and how the human animal fairly short on instincts is able to accommodate so many foreign environments and thrive. It’s a fine line between superstition and sport-stars having a rich pattern that ties them into a stronger psychological game, reminding them of where they’ve come from, who they presently are, and where they’re going. Again, this is a fundamentally human activity, not a peculiar predilection of ‘religious’ people. (Though, Paul Tillich would argue that to be human is to be religious, in the sense of religare–bound together like ligaments by our ultimate concerns and liturgies to keep what matters most at the centre.)

Initiation rituals among Ndaka people, near Epulu, Ituri Forest, Congo (Democratic Republic),Anthropologists assure us that every culture across time draws on ritual: “a religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order.” Whether it’s for birth or death, coming-of-age or getting hitched, work or worship, we draw on rich symbolism and repetitive actions to form new habits that enshrine a particular identity and trace the contours of the cosmos.

Jamie Smith captures this well in his “cultural liturgies” trilogy, which we explored in one of our first Open Book series:

Human persons are intentional creatures whose fundamental way of “intending” the world is love or desire. This love or desire—which is unconscious or noncognitive—is always aimed at some vision of the good life, some particular articulation of the kingdom. What primes us to be so oriented—and act accordingly—is a set of habits or dispositions that are formed in us through affective, bodily means, especially bodily practices, routines, or rituals that grab hold of our hearts through our imagination, which is closely linked to our bodily senses. [Desiring the Kingdom, pp62-63. Or for the hoi poloi readable version, see You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit]

6b6157025ba7dccc38ed0fe693ef9b0dTrue, this is pivotal for religious people gathered together as the church. We are called to be a foretaste of when God sets the world right; we are a sacrament for the life of the world, extended through our practice of multi-sensory rituals such as communion and baptism, embedded in the ongoing story of redemption tracing back to Passover and walking through the Jordan into the promised land. Our past identity and future vision of hope directs our rehearsing—for truth, justice, beauty, and healing—in the present. Ceremony is central to it all, orbiting around God-become-man in the Christ, and climaxing with the bloody cross.

PR_Use the power of ritual_peace vigilBut, there is a growing recognition among the non-religious–both spiritual and secular alike–that our ephemeral age has not ceased to be human, needing richer liturgies to remind us of who we are, and empower our actions in the search for justice. “Beautiful Trouble“, for instance, is a disparate band of activists seeking a more just world. There’s hardly a Christian among them, but they advocate for leveraging “the power of ritual” to add meaning to their protests–symbolic action capturing what it’s all about.

78f767a51883820554b095abf7ec2c48Bringing these meandering thoughts to a close, “practices are not passe.” We should be cautious before rubbishing ritual. Even as we are right to deconstruct empty man-made customs where any repetitive action is believed to automatically achieve some transcendent result, we are wrong to seek a purely intellectual way in the world, where words alone (sola verbum) empty life of symbol and sacrament. There is a deeper magic in the ways of God, where re-membering the mystery of Christ’s blood shed may be the only balm for a hopeless generation bent on cutting words of shame into their skin. Not merely a memory trick, God is pleased through our everyday motions and the material stuff of bread and wine to redeem and form those who humbly trust this intervention. As we grow up to better grapple with the shape of the universe, let us not be offended that the Creator was pleased to make humanity from the humus of the earth, and draw us into the divine life through such fragile rituals that speak poetically of greater things, embodying the good and directing our gaze upward to the source of grace.

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For the Life of the World @ Open Book

TheophanyIn our first cycle for 2020For the Life of the World“–we discover the difference it makes to realise God’s presence pulsating through all things.  (Share page: https://padlet.com/david_benson/OpenBook.)

This four-part series is centred on Alexander Schmemann‘s classic work of Eastern Orthodox theology, For the Life of the World ([FLW] 1973 or 2018 version). Following on from our exploration of ritual at Open Table (Feb 21, 2020), we dive into this beautiful vision of how to worship in a secularised age shorn of transcendent meaning.

The church does not exist for itself, isolated from the world. Rather, it is a sacrament … a visible sign of an invisible grace … blessed by God as a foretaste of his universal and loving reign, existing “for the life of the world”. (While separate from this study, the DVD series of the same name, aka “Letters to the Exiles“, was heavily influenced by Schmemann’s theology, and is well worth a watch.)

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Such a vision calls for a practice of gratitude–seeing all things as charged with the glory of God–as bearers of his presence and portals to experiencing heaven-on-earth.

While this isn’t a familiar perspective to many Protestants (like me) who prefer a giant ontological gap between the Creator and the Created, this book beckons us to see afresh that in the divine “we live, move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). And this, truly, is a gift.

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So, join us at Jo Hargreaves’ house, 1 Harvey Close, Brookfield, 6:45pm for a 7:00pm start, as we fuse liturgy that satisfies all five senses, rich book discussion, and transformative practices to live what you read.

(Shut out with Corona? Join us virtually direct zoom link here (or via https://zoom.us/join with Meeting ID 333262992 and Password = openbook.)

This series is animated by this question:

How do we live everyday immersed in God’s presence, the church being a gift given for the life of the world?

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Over 4 Thursday sessions (March 5 – April 16) virtually as we dialogue with Alexander Schmemann’s For the Life of the World [FLW] and each other, discovering a sacramental spirituality, where our worship inspires the world.

Check out the calendar below for key dates, and pick up your paperback or kindle version of FLW here (2018 edition), with a temporary PDF here (1973 edition).

We have a soft-start from 6:45pm—feel free to rock up early and eat your dinner or share a cup of tea. At 7:10pm 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.

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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 wisdom does this offer for worship in and for a secular age?

4) Applications: how might this help us be the church as a gift for the life of the world?

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OPEN BOOK, THURSDAYS 7PM | Schmemann’s 

For the Life of the World (FLW) | Join us virtually direct zoom link here (or via https://zoom.us/join with Meeting ID 333262992 and Password = openbook) + Share page: https://padlet.com/david_benson/OpenBook

March 5 | FLW I, pp. 7-22, 117-134 (Preface, Ch. 1, Appendix 1): The Life of the World + Worship in a Secular Age

March 19 | FLW IIpp. 23-66 (Ch. 2-3)The Eucharist + The Time of Mission

April 2 | FLW III, pp. 67-94 (Ch. 4-5): Of Water and the Spirit + The Mystery of Love

April 16 | FLW IV, pp. 95-116, 135-151 (Ch. 6-7, Appendix 2): Trampling Down Death by Death + And Ye Are Witnesses of These Things + Sacrament and Symbol.

FindingNaasicaaHope to see you there!

PS – While still t.b.c., the following series will explore how to share the good news of God’s reign (i.e., evangelism/witness) with a post-Christian generation prone to deconstruct religious jargon, the transcendent, and empty optimism. Check out Charles Ringma’s book, Finding Naasicaa: Letters of Hope in an Age of Anxiety (2006) from Amazon or Regent College’s bookstore. This will likely be a four gathering study on Thursday nights: April 30 (possibly with pot-luck dinner for first discussion), May 14, 28, June 11, Location t.b.d.

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“Grown & Gathered” at Open Table

Friday 15 November 2019 | Open Table
GROWN & GATHERED

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Bouncing off Genesis 1:29 and Matthew 13:31-32, we’re pleased to host actor and historian, eccentric educator and effervescent green-thumb, not to mention all-round good-guy, Chris Chapman, to share with us his experiments in cultivating organic gardens in suburbia, and urban foraging around Brisbane (e.g., Horst’s Edible Brisbane: Public Fruit map). This follows on well from our Open Book series learning from the wisdom of Indigenous cultures to Tread Lightly.

Co-hosted by A’Rocha Australia, all are welcome, so cajole your friends along for a taste of how Christians practice creation care (also here, with a previous Open Book series on Care for Our Common Home here). And if you haven’t found sufficient goodies along the road on the way to 155 Burbong St. Chapel Hill, bring a MAINS &/or DRINK to share, with dessert provided; come with a story to tell in response to the stimulus on the topic of “Grown & Gathered”. 

In Chris’s words, Grown & Gathered is about “getting free food from garden plants and wild weeds for those too scungy to go and buy food like normal people do.Cheap as I am, I’m sold. But, what’s your experience on this adventure?

 What’s your favourite bush food?
Any ethics surrounding ‘scrumping‘?
Given your gardening efforts, what colour is your thumb and why?
How, if at all, does your worldview shape how you cultivate the land and consume food?
How might horticultural wisdom (weeding, watering and fertilising) inform holiness and pursuit of a healthy and fruitful life? 

Following Jesus’ metaphor, in what sense is God’s Kingdom a humble seed planted in a field, a home for the wandering birds looking to alight?

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Held at Andrew and Liz Nichols’ house (155 Burbong St. Chapel Hill). Welcome from 6:30pm, official kick off at 7:00pm. Features a 50 minute talk from Chris, then stories and dialogue on the theme thereafter, all over dinner. Any questions before the night? Call/txt Dave on 0491138487.

Art/Poem     | Michael Leunig, “The Summer Palace

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Text & Reflection   |  Genesis 1:29 and Matthew 13:31-32

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Then God said, “Look! I have given you every seed-bearing plant throughout the earth and all the fruit trees for your food. (Gn 1:29)

Here is another illustration Jesus used: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants; it grows into a tree, and birds come and make nests in its branches.” (Mt 13:31-32)

All welcome, whatever your faith or none.
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Treading Lightly @ Open Book

9781741148749In our third cycle for 2019Treading Lightly“–we humbly posture ourselves to learn from the hidden wisdom of the world’s oldest people.

With four decades under my belt as an Aussie, I confess to shame over hardly having a sense of the history and heart of my country’s Aboriginal peoples. It improved a tad after visiting Uluru and blogging on “Tjukurpa versus the Tourist,” letting go of my inner drive to ascend every peak; my formation as part of the respectful ninti (those knowledgeable about nature’s law), however, is unfinished business. As the saying goes, I must stand under my neighbour’s way of seeing the world in order to under stand.

2010_sept_uluru-307Moving forward into post-Christendom times where our fast-paced consumeristic “Church Inc.” has reached a dead end, we do well to slow down and live at God’s speed, considering a more grounded indigenous spirituality sensitive to the place Where Mortal’s Dwell. (Some call this a Patient Ferment courtesy of Slow Church, which suits our Quarry family just fine!)

I suspect that this may well speak to what it means to follow Christ as those living in God’s good world, yet displaced as exiles, looking for a humble way to bless God, neighbour, nature and self as an ecological whole: that is, seeking the holistic flourishing that is shalom.

Some may wonder what Christians have to learn from those our colonial forebears framed as a ‘primitive’ people, awaiting enlightenment courtesy of science and the Holy Spirit. And yet, we have reason within the Scriptures to expect wisdom from those who have discovered how to live in tune with God’s creational song-lines (also here), whether or not they knowingly call on the Messiah.

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. (Romans 1:19-20; cf. Psalm 19:1-2)

In the past, God let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without witness: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy. (Acts 14:16-17)

Jesus is, after, the Logos who created the world in wisdom, and gives light to all people (John 1:9). Eternity is hidden in indigenous and Christian hearts alike (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Every culture reflects the very good of creation, the brokenness and idolatry of the fall, and tells redemptive analogies (cf. Don Richardson’s work, e.g. Peace Child) foreshadowing healing action as a sign of when Christ sets everything right and God is all in all (1 Corinthians 15:28).

To be sure, when a community encounters Jesus, the divine, devilish and human may better be distinguished, relativising what once was sacred (Philippians 3:8-10). And yet, whatever is genuinely true, good and beautiful will be affirmed and enhanced through this synergy. We do well, then, to recognise and call out these gifts in the here and now, awaiting the day when the glory of the nations (including that of Indigenous peoples) is brought into the New Creation’s city of peace, for the praise of God from whom every good thing derives (James 1:17; Revelation 21:26). And on first glance, it would seem that traditional Indigenous worldviews share much more in common with biblical wisdom than that of colonial Europeans–this chart from Noel Payne’s academic work in 2019:

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Dhiiyaan-Northside-Church-NEWThis series, then, is an amazing opportunity to grow together, listen and learn–to embrace gifts from a people at once different to us and yet the same as image bearers tasked with cultivating God’s world, finding grace to heal our brokenness. With the help of friends like Brooke Prentis from Common Grace, and Billy Williams from the Dhiiyaan mob, we will celebrate our shared humanity, and seek GABANMA-LI. Meaning? We’re looking to heal, restore, and make whole, working together as one.

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This series is animated by these questions:

What can we learn from the traditional Aboriginal way of life to create real Christian community and a sustainable society in modern Australia?

What stories and symbols help us tread lightly and flourish in relationship with God, neighbour, nature and self?

crane-and-crowChrist’s Pieces pillar, Noel Payne, is the driving force behind this series. He first discovered this book, Treading Lightly, while studying Social Work; Noel loved the conversation between the two authors: Karl-Erik Sveiby, a Scandinavian knowledge management professor, and Tex Skuthorpe, an Aboriginal cultural custodian and artist. Through their friendship, we are taken on a unique journey into traditional Aboriginal life and culture, finding a powerful and original model for building sustainable organisations, communities and ecologies–a compelling message for today’s world.

The book focusses on the Nhunggaburra peoples of Northern New South Wales, but references a wider spectrum of Indigenous peoples and culture.

In Noel’s words, he wanted Open Book to consider Indigenous Australians because:

  • As a child I grew up with Indigenous kids and neighbours and enjoyed many friendships. My interactions with them disappeared as I grew older
  • I struggled to understand why my father was quite derogatory of them, though they were still our good neighbours
  • Many false historical understandings of them and their culture have been challenged by contemporary research
  • In exploring my own connection with the Celtic Tradition of Christianity, I have seen many parallels with Indigenous spirituality
  • Australian Aboriginal cultures have been on this land for 60,000 plus years, from which our society can learn wisdom.

u116_1_cover_image_1As we journey through this series, you may find the following sites and sources helpful to deepen your understanding:

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

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Over 5 Thursday sessions (August 29 – October 24) mostly at Noel & Deb Mostert’s house (66 Fiona St., Bellbird Park; call Noel on 0412156772 if lost) we will dialogue with Sveiby and Skuthorpe’s Treading Lightly [TL] and each other, discovering ancient Aboriginal wisdom to walk and work together in harmony.

Check out the calendar below for key dates, and pick up your paperback or kindle version of TL here, with a temporary PDF 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 (on schedule below, e.g., click link for TL1) 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.

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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 wisdom does this offer for harmonious existence?

4) Applications: how might this help us live sustainably together toward shalom?

 

OPEN BOOK, THURSDAYS 7PM | Sveiby and Skuthorpe’s Treading Lightly: The Hidden Wisdom of the World’s Oldest People (TL)
(Click session # hyperlink for liturgy/ppnt slides–e.g., TL1 below–and page numbers for the next reading. Virtual/Zoom participation via https://zoom.us/j/396017392.)

August 29 | TL I: At Nik & Dave Benson’s (152 Tanderra Way, Karana Downs), watching the 60 minute 2018 Tinsley Lecture with Indigenous leader, Brooke Prentis, on “Reclaiming Community: Mission, Church and Aboriginal Wisdom” (videotranscript).

For the 4 remaining sessions we’ll get into the book, Treading Lightly: The Hidden Wisdom of the World’s Oldest People by Karl-Erik Sveiby and Tex Skuthorpe (pdf, though buy your copy here), all held at Noel and Deb Mostert’s place, 66 Fiona St., Bellbird Park here.

2010_sept_uluru-402September 12 | TL IITreading Lightly pp. xv-40 (Intro-Ch. 2): In the Beginning + The Country Is a Story. We drew maps to capture our places and connections, finding our identity in the landscape.

September 26 | TL IIITreading Lightly pp. 40-95 (Ch. 3-5): The Knowledge is in the Story + Learning the Story: The Education System + Knowledge Economy. Includes ‘Dadirii‘, practicing deep listening and observing creation as a gateway to connection with our gracious Creator. Tree bark served as a sign of our layers, protecting life, but shed to allow growth.

October 10 | TL IVTreading Lightly pp. 95-162 (Ch. 6-7): Leadership: All Have a Role + The Fourth Level. Includes ‘Unity amongst Diversity Leadership Practice‘.

October 24 | TL VTreading Lightly pp. 162-209 (Ch. 8-10): The Spirit of Death Arrives … + The Nhunggabarra ‘Recipe’ for Sustainability + Sustain Our World! Includes ‘Indigenous Food Gift Practice‘.

Post-series, wanting to keep learning? Start with the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and this great video of how one amazing statement came together.

To end 2019, we have a 2 Thursday night mini-series at Open Book (at Nik & Dave’s place, 152 Tanderra Way, Karana Downs), as we consider a Theology of Place and slowing down to the pace at which people are known. In short, we’re learning how to “live God speed” (https://www.livegodspeed.org/).
Nov 28: Watch the 37 minute doco, “Live Godspeed” and share impressions (slides)
Dec 12: Exploring 2 of the 8 x 10 minute small group videos and discuss: “Place” + “Stability” (slides).
LiveGodSpeed
There’s no pre-reading, but if you’re interested, buy Julie Canlis’ accompanying book, Theology of the Ordinary here, and read her short article here. Their 8 session Small Group Guide is cheap to buy here, but a wonderful resource:
Session 1 GODSPEED – Watch in Community
Session 2  Place: Where are you?
Session 3  PresenceHere I am!
Session 4  PaceGod’s Speed
Session 5  IdentityLoved by God
Session 6  StabilityBeing Here
Session 7  NamesFace to Face
Session 8  MissionUnearthing Holiness
Hope to see you there!

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“How to Find Rest” at Open Table

Friday 26 July 2019 | Open Table
HOW TO FIND REST

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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.

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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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