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?

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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“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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Profit and Loss at Open Table

Friday 3 August 2018 | Open Table
PROFIT & LOSS

Bring some mains to share, and come with a story to tell in response to the stimulus on the topic of Profit & Loss. This time we’re gathering at Jo Hargreaves’ place, 1 Harvey Close, Brookfield (directions here). Welcome from 7pm, official kick off at 7:30pm. Any questions before the night? Call/txt Dave on 0491138487.

Art /Video    | Image above and video below by Artos.

 

Text   |  Matthew 6:19-34, from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, especially vv.  19-21 & 24:

Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal.  Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. … No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.

See also Matthew 16:26 “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?”, and Matthew 10:39 “If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.” As for what this looks like in the Apostle Paul’s life, read Philippians 3:1-11, especially vv. 7-8 “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” For helpful commentary and study notes on Php 3:1-11 by Dr. David Nelson, see here.

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What do I mean by Profit & Loss? Well, hopefully the stimulus will provoke you to recall and share personal stories of being in plenty and want, wealth and poverty, handling money wisely, resisting the greedy lure of mammon in our post-GFC world [Global Financial Crisis, as poignantly captured by the movie, The Big Short, explained here,  here and here], and finding the pearl of great price that puts all other possessions in their place. Where is worth and value truly found in your experience? Is it primarily in financial gain–for instance, would owning a $2 million gold and jewel-encrusted version of a Monopoly board cut it? Does clearing your personal or national debt make the grade? Or does real worth and profit lie elsewhere?

Let these questions prime the pump:

  • What are your core values?
  • What do we put our confidence/trust in?
  • What retains its value and resists depreciation?
  • Is there any worth or profit when we breathe our last?
  • What on Earth is the ultimate point of all this acquisition (think Luke 12:16-21 and Jesus with the parable of the man convinced we’re gonna’ need a bigger barn)?

Basically, anything that gets at what you value is on the table, exchanging stories of perceived worth, and moments of significant ‘profit’ (whatever that may be) or tragic ‘loss’.  Was it really a loss? Or did you perhaps gain something greater, even eternal, from the experience? Like Solomon, perhaps your debit exposed that certain pursuits were merely “chasing after the wind”, ultimately meaningless, when actually that which was of infinite worth was already at hand?

Delving Deeper?

See Dr. David Nelson’s helpful commentary on the Apostle Paul’s ‘Profit and Loss’ in Philippians 3:1-11 here.

We explore this theme of “Income” at great length in Module 11 of the Malyon “Integrating Faith and Work: Principles of Vocational Stewardship” Course. From this course, here are some insightful books, chapters and essays we get into:

“Divine Sex” at Open Book!

loveIn our second cycle for 2018 (starting Thursday 24th May), we tackle the vexed question of sexuality. Unless you’ve been hiding in a closet since the 1960s, it’s pretty evident that a lot has changed when it comes to sex. All our mores and most every moral has come up for scrutiny, from the taken-for-granted (though rarely practiced) Christian line of no sex before marriage and life-long complementary union “until death do we part”, to the norm of nuclear families purposed for bearing children. We live in the age of no-fault divorce, friends with benefits, sexting in schools and “torture porn” on TV (think “Game of Thrones”), Tinder hook ups, LGBTIQA+ multiplying identities, safe schools and gender education normalising dysphoria, gay pride and homosexual marriage, surrogacy, contraception and over-the-counter abortifacents, partner swapping, and the sexual revolution rolls on.

This is not to prejudge any of these phenomenon. Few issues are as close to home, or as central to our identity, as one’s sexual identity, orientation, and practice. And yet, amidst these swirling currents of change and claims of liberation, what does our Creator think? With the gnostics, do we see matters of the body as irrelevant, given that God is only interested in saving our souls? Or does God have a plan for sex in his divine economy, albeit fractured through cultural idolatry in a broken world, requiring us to participate wisely in his mission with healing action?

iStock-537294788-1024x575What a travesty to treat “sexuality” as a problem, when it was one of God’s foundational gifts to those bearing his likeness. And yet, we must step back, looking with fresh eyes at both the culture and the Scriptures, to discern how God may be at work in this particularly turbulent period where religion is taboo and confined to one’s private quarters, while what was hidden in the bedroom is now public politic.

Our central question for this series calls for a positive exploration of sex … one that discerns a more beautiful and comprehensive purpose in God’s economy for singles, marrieds, divorcees, widows and widowers, gay and straight, young and old and inbetween.

How do we follow Christ and image God as sexual beings?

book coverOur conversation partner is Jonathan Grant (ThM, Regent College, Vancouver), the leader of St. Paul’s Symonds Street, one of the largest Anglican congregations in Australasia, located in the heart of Auckland, New Zealand. Out of his work with young adults, Jonathan pursued this thesis and developed it into a book, to guide a church struggling to speak wisely to young adults disoriented by what he terms a “hypersexualized world”. While many of us at Christ’s Pieces fantasise of returning to our fully functioning twenty-something body, the book is still incredibly relevant as this demographic is facing unprecedented pressures at the centre of sexual storm. Their struggle is an intensification of all our experiences in this brave new sexular age.

Here’s Jonathan’s synopsis (online here, alongside contents):

The digital revolution has ushered in a series of sexual revolutions, all contributing to a perfect storm for modern relationships. Online dating, social media, internet pornography, and the phenomenon of the smartphone generation have created an avalanche of change with far-reaching consequences for sexuality today. The church has struggled to address this new moral ecology because it has focused on clarity of belief rather than quality of formation. The real challenge for spiritual formation lies in addressing the underlying moral intuitions we carry subconsciously, which are shaped by the convictions of our age.

In this book, a fresh new voice offers a persuasive Christian vision of sex and relationships, calling young adults to faithful discipleship in a hypersexualized world. Drawing from his pastoral experience with young people and from cutting-edge research across multiple disciplines, Jonathan Grant helps Christian leaders understand the cultural forces that make the church’s teaching on sex and relationships ineffective in the lives of today’s young adults. He also sets forth pastoral strategies for addressing the underlying fault lines in modern sexuality.

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We’ve chosen this book for Christ’s Pieces, as it moves beyond the typical treatment of sexuality as a problem to construct a desirable imaginary more compelling and coherent than contemporary alternatives. That said, it draws on the best of philosophy and sociology to get to the root of today’s sexual confusion. It also augments the common emphasis on doctrine and right belief (orthodoxy) with the kind of narrative, imagination and practices necessary to form a community of belief characterised by right loves (orthopathy) and right action (orthopraxy). And by ‘right’ I’m not thinking of some moralistic ‘in or out’ set of rules and boundary markers; rather, I’m talking about wise action that serves the holistic flourishing of all in a pluralistic post-Christendom context where the church doesn’t call the shots, and perhaps our society is better for it.

back coverFor some excellent reviews of Divine Sex (DS)–if the wide-ranging commendations on the back-cover don’t cut it for you–check these out:

 

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It’s always a hard call choosing a single book on such a complex topic. Running a very close second was Glynn Harrison’s A Better Story: God, Sex, and Human Flourishing (ably reviewed by Nathan Campbell, St. Eutychus himself, here). Equally winsome is Ryan Messmore’s part theological-philosophical dialogue and part romantic memoir, In Love: The Larger Story of Sex and MarriageIf I was to go with a brutally heavy hitting theological exploration, I would inflict the brilliant work of Cambridge Professor Sarah Coakley on you, especially God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity’ (youtube interview here), followed by The New Asceticism: Sexuality, Gender and the Quest for God(Sarah’s 3 part series with ABC Religion & Ethics on “Rethinking Sex and the Church”–I, II, III–delve down to the fundamental question of desire, love, and the human telos, offering a way forward out of our binary traps and culture wars … well worth a read.)

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To these more detailed treatments, I would add 3 grace-filled and yet grounded sermons by Aussie pastor turned creative New York church planter, Jon Tyson, from his Controversial Jesus series on “A Theology of Singleness“, “Sexual Formation“, “Jesus and the Gay Community,” and “Jesus and the Trans Community“. And in terms of my own writing/thinking in this space, check out from Malyon College Module 9 from Worldviews on “Body, Sex & Marriage”, Module 9 from Everyday Theology on “The Body: Discipline and Play”, and Module 11 from Apologetics on “Moral Relativism, Nihilism & Existentialism”. See also the discussion guide for a practical/public theology of (homo)sexuality entitled, “Everything’s Bent,” which developed my two-part blog “Everything’s Bent: Rethinking Normal” here and here.

on the meaning of sex

Whatever your beliefs and practices sexually, it’s clear that we cannot have a meaningful conversation until we pause long enough to dialogue about what sex is for, and who–if anyone, divine or human–has the right to say. (For great wisdom from J. Budziszewski, aka Professor Theophilus, on precisely this point and the meaning of sexual powers, see here, here, and here.) Perhaps, then, all our desires to be “in love” will point back to their transcendent source. So, let the conversation begin.

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

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Over 5 Thursday sessions (May 24 – July 19) at Nik & Dave’s house (152 Tanderra Way, Karana Downs; directions here) we will dialogue with Jonathan Grant and each other, learning how to live in faith-full community as sexual beings who image God and follow Christ as disciples who desire rightly.

Check out the calendar below for key dates, and pick up your paper or kindle version of Divine Sex (DS) 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, what does it mean for how we live as sexual beings following Christ in community?

4) Applications: what does it look like for us to live out of this vision, as disciples imaging the loving interpenetration of Father-Son-Spirit (to use heated Trinitarian language of coinherence!)?

OPEN BOOK, THURSDAYS 7PM | Jonathan Grant’s Divine Sex (DS)
(Click session # hyperlink for liturgy/ppnt slides)

May 24 | DS 1, pp. 9-53: Foreword + Ch. 1 “Adjusting Our Vision: Christian Formation and Relationships in a Sexualized Age” + Ch. 2 “Seeking the Truth Within: Love, Sex, and Relationships within the Culture of Authenticity”

June 7 | DS 2, pp. 54-95: Ch. 3 “Three Paths to Freedom on the Road to Nowhere: The Dead End of Modern Liberty” + Ch. 4 “We Are What We Acquire: Consumerism as a Corrupting Dynamic”

June 21 | DS 3, pp. 96-130: Ch. 5 “The Hypersexual Self: Sex and Relationships as Happiness Technologies” + Ch. 6 “Churches without Steeples: The Loss of Transcendence and the Atomistic Worldview”

July 5 |DS 4, pp. 133-187: Ch. 7 “Searching for Truth that Transforms: Introducing a Christian Social Imaginary” + Ch. 8 “Seeing the Good Life and Becoming What We See: The Role of Vision within Sexual Formation” + Ch. 9 “Getting to the Heart of Things: Redeeming Desire and Becoming Our True Selves”

July 19 | DS 5, pp. 188-238:  Ch. 10 “Living the Gospel Story: Narrative Discipleship within the Narrative Community” + Ch. 11 “Becoming What We Do: The Formative Power of Practices” + Epilogue “Melodies of Heaven”

Hope to see you there!

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Migration & Stability at Open Table

Friday 11 May 2018 | Open Table
MIGRATION & STABILITY

Australien Future 2017 oil on canvas 120 x 70 cm

Bring some soup, drinks or finger food to share, and come with a story to tell in response to the stimulus on the topic of Migration & Stability. This time we’re gathering at Noel & Deb Mostert’s (66 Fiona St., Bellbird Park [Ipswich]), so you can see Deb’s art studio and works. Call Noel Payne on 0412156772 if lost! Welcome from 7pm, official kick off at 7:30pm. Any questions before the night? Call/txt Dave on 0491138487.

Art     | ‘The flight begins’ (2018 oil on canvas 100 x 70 cm) … by Deb Mostert (fb here), to be exhibited in December 2018 as part of a larger series, “Australien Future: Tales of Migration” (Redland Art Gallery). Various other paintings by Deb are displayed on this page, to get a taste of her amazing body of work that persistently returns to themes of identity, place, baggage (!), and flight.

The flight begins 2018 oil on canvas 100 x 70 cm

Text   | Hebrews 11:8-16 on Abraham and Sarah, the Bible’s ultimate pilgrims setting out for God knows where as sojourners stumbling toward to the country God prepared for them. You might also want to check out the literally dozens of verses where God commands us not to “oppress the aliens [foreigners] among us”. Like Leviticus 19:33-34: “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God“; or Exodus 23:9: “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.”
Video | Exile by The Bible Project. As the authors contend, “The exile was the watershed moment of the Israelites history on which the entire Bible gains its significance.”

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pilgrimWanderlust” [won-der-luhst]:
na strong, innate desire to rove or travel about. 1902, from German, literally “desire for wandering” (see wander + lust ).

Writing out of my privileged western context, I *love* to travel. To move about. To cast off the constraints of parochial existence and see the world. If anything, and as Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove explores, I need to embrace The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting [My] Faith in a Mobile World.

Humans, after all, come from humus–Adam from adamah. We are earthy beings, groundlings even, who form our first language and primal identity in a particular place. There are no truly “global citizens”. We all come from somewhere, with its culture, food, likes and dislikes, indelibly imprinted on our soul, irrespective of wherever we may go.

Sticks and Stones - Migrant Bee Eater 2015 watercolour 46 x 61 cmThe desire to move about thus takes on a different hue when we consider mass migration in this era of the refugee. Unprecedented numbers of people are streaming across Europe, and occasionally reaching our shores, out of foreign cultures such as Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, and Syria. While debates rage at “home” about what makes for a refugee as distinct from an “economic migrant”, this is hardly a case of wanderlust. The price paid is immense, to uproot from the known (however decimated it may now be), and set out to a new land without the money and language and networks to make any plans that guarantee safety, let alone a better life. Unsurprisingly, many of these children dream of returning to their homeland, and rebuilding what was to recapture their sense of identity and stability. (Take for instance, these Syrian children, interviewed by the International Catholic Migration Commission.)

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As Melbourne’s stunning “Immigration Museum” explores, our identity as “Australians” is an amalgam of colliding cultures across time. Various waves of Chinese, Greeks, Africans and now Middle-Easterners have challenged our sense of self, and in turn brought their gifts from foreign soil to grace our land. Indeed, with declining birth rates in Australia, we rely on something like the 190,000 annual migrants per annum to replenish our workforce and keep the country moving.

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I was reminded of this while enjoying the hospitality of Teddy and his team at Indooroopilly’s Gojo Ethiopian Restaurant. As beautifully depicted by Indigenous artist, Amarina (a member of arguably the only people who can truly call Australia “home”), Teddy’s identity is as blended as his Aterkek Alecha (vegetable stew).

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His powerful book’s title says it all: No One’s Son: The Remarkable True Story of a Defiant African Boy and His Bold Quest for Freedom.

No One's Son_Tewodros FekaduBorn in the midst of the Ethiopian–Eritrean Civil War, Tewodros “Teddy” Fekadu survives abandonment and famine as his family flings him unwanted across borders and regions, into orphanages, and finally onto the streets of Addis Ababa. Spanning five countries and three continents, the Catholic Church, and Japanese detention centers, this is a tale of defiance and triumph, and also of family love—unacknowledged by his wealthy father, abandoned by his desperately poor mother, Teddy is nurtured along the way by staunch individuals despite his ambiguous place in rigid family tradition: his father’s mother, a maternal aunt, a Catholic priest, and even his father’s wife.

Only after a lengthy legal battle was Teddy finally admitted to his promised land of Australia. And now he uses his considerable gifts to make amazing food, and produce movies telling stories of battlers like him, pressing on for a peace-full place in which to reside.

Ethiopian Abrahams Guests

This is not, however, simply a worldly tale of travel. Shaped by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Teddy understands his travails within the larger narrative of Abraham the pilgrim, welcoming our Triune God to dine at our table after the long and arduous journey from the perfection of Heaven to the dirty paths below (Genesis 18:1-15). As I explored in the Bible Society series “The Journey: Entering God’s Epic Story” (pp. 6-7 here), Abraham and Sarah were trained by a mobile God to set up and pack down at a moment’s notice, travelling light as sojourners who modelled the journey we must all make.

As with his Israelite spiritual ancestors, Teddy’s life is a tale of exile. Of uprooting one’s sense of self. Of grafting in, not so much to a new culture and context in another country, as to God and his gift from above that lies ahead, of the New Jeru-Salem: the city where we all walk in the way of peace, of shalom. No wonder God measures our love of Him by how we treat the least of these, especially the foreigner and the alien among us. All of this is less human accomplishment than a sacrificial gift given by the God-man, Jesus, who entered exile for us, and through whose death on a tree flowered life and re-entry to Eden, a place of paradise. For as Augustine averred, out of his own sense of lostness, longing, and even wanderlust,

Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest [its home] in thee.

first steps on Australian soil 2018 oil on canvas 100x 70 cm

To prime the pump, and get personal, consider the dimensions of your own migration and stability:

  • What was your first home, grounding your sense of self?
  • Where are your roots, and how have they formed your identity today?
  • Have you ever uprooted, and moved country and culture? What was disorienting, or life-changing about this experience?
  • What stories have you heard from migrants and refugees that make you reflect differently on our place?
  • Have you received hospitality when displaced?
  • Are you more prone to wander, or seek stability? Why?
  • What desires draw you on to new horizons, and how–if at all–does this tie into a larger, transcendent story of identity and place?

Let the conversation begin! … Bring food and a story to share,
and join us as together we explore MIGRATION & STABILITY as all our wanderings converge.

Posthumus family departure 1956 2018 oil on canvas 100 x 70 cm

Migration and Stability Opwn Book

Open Book on “Faithful Presence”

In our first cycle for 2018 (starting Thursday 8th March), we tackle the church! What is the church, and what’s it for? In the economy of God’s mission and peace-full reign, how is Christ’s body to engage, even change, the world? In other words:

How might the church’s life of worship when gathered together serve its work in the world when scattered and sent into a post-Christian culture?

9941Our conversation partner is Professor David E. Fitch, missiologist and founding pastor of Life on the Vine Christian Community and Peace of Christ Church, both in Chicago. The book? Faithful Presence: Seven Disciplines that Shape the Church for Mission (2016)

The title borrows from James Davison Hunter’s landmark 2010 book, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. As summarised here, Hunter dismantles prevailing political theologies and popular wisdom concerning how the church is to engage and change the world. Most strategies founder on triumphalism (evangelicalism & radical orthodoxy) that tries to take over the culture one individual at a time, or pietistic escapism as a counter-culture on the margins (anabaptists) that largely leaves the culture to rot. Instead, Hunter calls for a different paradigm of Christian engagement with the world, that being “faithful presence”—an ideal of Christian practice that is not only individual but institutional; a model that plays out not only in all relationships but in our work and all spheres of social life.

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Unfortunately, as critiques here and here demonstrate, Hunter at times caricatured these communities, ignoring what they look like at their best. And more importantly, for our purposes at least, his proposal was largely abstract and theoretical, hinting at a strategy but never mapping out the path. Does this call for cultural persistence constitute a program, a project, or a reworking of the church itself geared up for mission? Hunter leaves us wondering.

14DavidFitch-420Thank God, then, for Fitch. He steps in with a more embracing theological vision of God’s faithful presence across biblical history. He presses back on Hunter, revealing that the church itself, in its very inner life and rhythms when rightly constituted, is a counter-politic embodying God’s peace-full reign. And that’s all by Chapter 2. (For a 3 minute grab of why Fitch thinks we must move “from gospel presentation to kingdom presence” see here. This emphasis on “faithful presence” as seen in Luke 10, the sending of the 72, gives us a poignant image of “eucharist on the move, extending the presence of Christ into the world.”)

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The rest of the book is dedicated to outlining seven disciplines/practices through which we are formed to host God’s faithful presence, and recognise/call-out this presence in the wider culture in a non-coercive way, through which our Triune God changes the world. (For a slick graphical summary of the book, see Vintage Church’s slide-show here.)

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The practices?

  • The Lord’s Table (hospitality)
  • 41Cv1F8+gJLReconciliation (peace-making)
  • Proclaiming the Gospel (preaching the Word)
  • Being with the “Least of These” (care/compassion)
  • Being with Children (nurture/education/discipleship)
  • Fivefold Gifting (shared non-hierarchical leadership)
  • Kingdom Prayer (intercession)

(You may notice close parallels with Mike Frost’s B.E.L.L.S. (Bless, Eat, Listen, Learn, Sent) in his excellent little 2015 book, Surprise the World: The Five Habits of Highly Missional People. Simple summaries and resources herehere, and here.)

Fitch corrects the maintenance mode of a church turned inward on itself (where the world serves the church and thus the church is irrelevant to the world), and equally addresses the exhaustion that comes from a missional church pressing every act as in service of outreach (thus making the church merely an instrument, undermining worship for the end of God’s glory, and tiring out members as they leave the church to serve the world). Instead, he offers a seamless missional ecclesiology … a way of being the church that is itself a witness in the world. (For a meaty dialogue between David Fitch and Scot McKnight, highlighting some points of difference in theology and practice, listen to this mp3 podcast from Northern Seminary here.)

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It puts flesh on much of what we do in Christ’s Pieces. God hosts us in the “close circle” of Christian fellowship (much like Quarry, practicing the disciplines every Sunday, and Open Book, going deeper in formation). We then make space to host God’s faithful presence around the tables of our homes (like Open Table). In turn, this mixed community is formed to recognise and carry/bear God’s transforming presence as our wider post-Christian culture hosts us, whether in their homes, at work, study or play (our mission as church scattered). God’s transcendence and immanence unite in this Spirit-filled community. Mission and incarnation work in synergy, rather than dividing a fellowship down the middle to either serve home base or go it alone on the margins.

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So, this book is timely for us. Whilst it’s American in origin, the illustrations map easily onto our Aussie context and especially our intentional Christian Community. Studying Faithful Presence and putting these disciplines into practice is a brilliant opportunity to grow together, and see our communal life opened for the peace and transformation of our local community.

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

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Over 5 Thursday sessions (March 8 – April 26) at Nik & Dave’s house (152 Tanderra Way, Karana Downs; directions here) we will dialogue with David Fitch and each other, learning how to host God’s faithful presence for the sake of the world.

OPEN BOOK, THURSDAYS 7PM | David Fitch’s Faithful Presence (FP)
(Click session # hyperlink for liturgy/ppnt slides)

March 8 |FP 1, pp. 9-43: Intro + Ch. 1 “God’s Faithful Presence” + Ch. 2 “To Change the World” [n.b. FP 2 is only one week later, not fortnightly]

IVPPraxis-mobileMarch 15 |FP 2, pp. 47-92, 189-195: Ch. 3 “The Discipline of the Lord’s Table” + Ch. 4 “The Discipline of Reconciliation” + Appendix 1 “What Formation Looks Like Around the Table” + Appendix 2 “The Indispensable Role of the Dotted Circle in the Disciplines”

March 29 |FP 3, pp. 93-129, 197-205: Ch. 5 “The Discipline of Proclaiming the Gospel” + Ch. 6 “The Discipline of Being with the ‘Least of These'” + Appendix 3 “Extending the Presence: An Alternative Basis for Ecclesiology and Mission”

April 12 |FP 4, pp. 131-165, 207-209: Ch. 7 “The Discipline of Being with Children” + Ch. 8 “The Discipline of Fivefold Gifting” + Appendix 4 “Where Is the Church? A Closer Look at Matthew 25”

April 26 |FP 5, pp. 167-185, 211: Ch. 9 “The Discipline of Kingdom Prayer” + “Epilogue: How God Changes the World” + Appendix 5 “A Simple History of the Disciplines from New Testament Church to Christendom”

Fitch-FP

PS – originally we had planned to study Sam & Sara Hargreaves, Whole Life Worship: Empowering Disciples for the Frontline (buy here; accompanying website here with extra resources here) … promo video hereThough we’ve opted instead for Fitch’s Faithful Presence, this book is still excellent for a focus on the nature of worshipping God as arguably the central purpose of humanity (theologically understood). But what is worship? Is it just singing songs? And how does what we do on Sunday as the Church Gathered, relate to our worldly work Monday to Saturday as the Church Scattered? Similar to the focus for this series, our core question was to be: What does it mean to worship God with our whole lives, where Sunday’s liturgy is a springboard to every day’s worshipful service?

(If you’re after some meaty stimulus, check out my compiled interactions and a couple of blog posts from others on the ‘worship wars’ in evangelical circles … this heated argument raises the questions well, even as it reduces ‘worship’ to simply singing of songs and what we do on Sunday together … which is part of why we opted for a practices driven exploration of the church as a whole via Fitch.)

 

Open Table on “Risk”

Friday 15 December 2017 | Open Table
RISK … celebrating incarnation

Video | I Can’t Believe He Jumped
Poem | The Nativity” (G. K. Chesterton)
Text | John 1:14 on Incarnation, and Philippians 2:5-11 on God’s self-limitation in Jesus

+++Feel free to skip below this meandering exploration of risk to the night’s details, or read on for some random thoughts that may spark a story you can share on the night+++

Christmas is a time of injury. Think free-time + new toys + instant crowd. Forget the kids. Picture that Aunty impressing the nieces on a Pogo-stick, or that dad showing his son how skateboarding was done back in his day. *Gulp*

hqdefaultAs one who loves rock-climbing, snapped his neck in a gymnastics accident, and still commutes on a motorbike most every day, I get this extreme sports high risk fixation. We want to feel alive … to free fall, and hopefully find a soft, immersive landing. Ta da! Sadly it only sometimes plays out this way. Understandably, we all have our limits. I’m comfortable weaving through traffic on two-wheels in the rain. But watching my 15 year old nephew pull a wheelie at 70km/hr on his dirtbike gives me the willies. And as for performing a ‘superman’ while launching off a ramp—I’ll leave that to motocross professionals.

So, when did you last task a RISK?

profit-loss-riskDefinitions vary, but pay attention to the valence. Risk has a negative aspect. It’s the possibility of loss or injury: peril; someone or something that creates or suggests a hazard. In other words, risk is the exposure to the likelihood of injury or loss; put simply, it’s a dangerous and chancy choice.

But, it also has a positive valence. From wiki’s fount of wisdom, risk is equally the potential of gaining something of value, whether that be physical health, social status, emotional well-being, financial wealth, or even friendship.

Think of how these elements map onto the biggest risk you’ve taken.

  • The Risk Taker: how did the risk taking impact you, mentally (fear?) and physically (fast, shallow breathing?), and how did you manage the stress?
  • Motivation and Reward: what drove you to take this risk, and what were you hoping to achieve on the other side? That is, what might you gain, and how valuable is it to you?
  • Who Is the Risk For? Is this an X-Games kinda’ risk, for personal thrill and glory? Or was this a noble Fire-Fighting kinda’ risk, for protection of the vulnerable and freedom for the oppressed?
  • Actual vs. Perceived Risk: What do you stand to lose if it goes wrong? And how probable is ‘success’? What is your knowledge of the odds? And must you trust only yourself, or others, in this faith-filled jump?

247264-Soren-Kierkegaard-Quote-Leap-of-faith-yes-but-only-afterIt’s no artificial segueway to see that this is now about that. This worldly risk is also about that greater good. As Søren Kierkegaard, the great Danish Father of modern existentialism, averred, we are all limited and biased, finite and fallen fleshly creatures. Life is fraught with risk. Beyond self-interested dares in our Red Bull age, we need courage for wings to fly. We are all faced with the choice to pull back from the edge, or take a whole-hearted “leap of faith”. Perhaps this jump is into the dark, or into the light? Reflect, to be sure, but then you must launch to truly live. (Or, in other parlance, run the numbers before undertaking risky business.) It’s trust, risk, fear and hope all rolled into one, a self-involving decision to go beyond the known and often put ourselves at the mercy of the elements and an uncertain onlooking crowd.

trinity-iconTurning to the biblical story, then, we might rightly wonder if the Triune God—Father-Son-Spirit—is prone to risk-taking? Can God even take a risk, given the above definition? If you hold to the medieval philosophical framing of God being, by definition, omniscient (all knowing), omnipotent (all powerful), omnipresent (everywhere), and ultimately impassible (unchanging, and therefore unaffected by what happens in our world), then you would have to answer no. God knows the outcome of every divine and human action, has the power to ensure all gain and no loss, is spiritual/disembodied posing no risk of suffering even if things went pear shaped, and thus experiences no pain or pleasure due to the actions of others.

If you’ve actually read the biblical story, you’ll rightly wonder about whom these descriptives apply. As Blaise Pascal penned in the inside of his jacket, discovered only on his death (see here), our fiery Creator is the “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of philosophers and scholars.” God is passionate, invested; God suffers with, ultimately for his glory but in a way that wraps us into the action as agents with a genuine role to play where all win or lose together. Still, is risk possible?

BradiBarth_TrinityCreationEveTest case: Creation. The all-sufficient Risk-Taker whose essence is communion, overflowed in the perichoretic dance to creatively birth the cosmos. The motivation was love, and the reward was shalom, weaving us together through right relationship with God, neighbour, self and creation, all pointing back to its transcendent source. The risk is for everyone, not simply God in a zero-sum game; holistic flourishing, like African Ubuntu, means “I am, because we are”—one interconnected fabric. There is genuine risk, for the outcome is open. Preservation of love requires the extension of freedom; the Creator gifts agency to creation, where humans can accept or reject the overture and subsequently screw up God’s good world. ‘Sin’ results in suffering and requires intervention to fix the mess.

So far, so good. And yet, apart from some process theology overlay where the Creator is within time and unfolding with creation, it would seem that God knows the actual risk. He is both sovereign and all-seeing. Short of coercing the outcome, God still stands apart from Creation, and can perceive where it will all go. Adam and Eve’s rebellion didn’t take God by surprise. Granted, it “grieved” God that we rebelled (Genesis 6). And yet, like a parent disciplining a child saying “this will hurt me more than it hurts you”, the watery punishment of Noah’s flood physically inflicted only flesh-and-blood creatures. For God had no skin in the game.

Mariama McCarthy_Beautiful JesusLike I said, though, Christmas is a time of injury.
It’s the time we remember the ultimate risk of incarnation.

As Eugene Peterson renders John 1:14,

The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.

dbeb4-img_9546The unlimited, all knowing, all powerful Creator, tied himself to matter and was confined to a crib in a baby’s body. God hurt. And forget those romanticised Christmas carols: “meek and mild, no crying he makes”. No, this was first century Palestine, no more peaceful than today (cf. here). If I was God, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t choose this time and place to be born. Forget the bright star and warm stable; this was a vulnerable adolescent mother out of wedlock bearing a child, heading to an outback census under threat of angry authorities wanting to keep their power. This was more like the war-torn grab in the stunning movie, Children of Men—a world ripped apart by violence over scarcity of resources and infertility, but gripped by the hope found in a new-born babe. Cease Fire! Would you risk incarnation if modern day Syria was the landing point?

As we read in Philippians 2:5-11, the uncontainable God “gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being [w]hen he appeared in human form ….” That’s kenosis. Theological minds boggle: in what sense and what way can God be limited and still, in identity, remain ‘God’? And yet, the point is clear. God, while sovereign, gave up his right to control the game. He was at the mercy of the onlooking crowd. This was the ultimate risk. No soft landing and immersive embrace on planet Earth.

2f53a-s0444002It’s captured well in the iconic Greek Orthodox painting “Slaughter of the Innocents”. Granted, the statistics suffer symbolic inflation over this feast honouring the “14,000 slaughtered children”. In reality, King Herod’s blood-lust cost around 40 baby boys their lives (cf. Matthew 2). The Christ was spared, thrust like a modern day political refugee to the relative “safety” of Egypt. And yet, the number represents the countless lives torn apart and destroyed by despots hell-bent on asserting their preeminence, especially standing against the Lord’s anointed (Psalm 2).

256035.pThe risk of incarnation led inexorably to the crucifixion, the final relinquishment of divine power, not for personal gain, but that all may be set free from the ultimate demonic despot, finding life in renewed relationship with God, neighbour, planet and self. Literally, this risk offered a sign, a fore-taste, of “peace on earth”. Kings in palaces were oblivious. But shepherds, simpletons, and wise magi prepared to travel got front row on the spectacle and angelic Hallelujah chorus (beautifully depicted in St. Paul’s Arts and Media’s 2010 “Christmas Story”).

This paradoxical risk and revelation is poignantly captured in G. K. Chesterton’s poem, The Nativity. He riffs off Isaiah 9:6-7, juxtaposing a helpless child with just and powerful rule.

1a2d94f9ba1e689ef24bf3e64fe225e8Transposed into the modern world, where facing today’s Herods requires the combined courage of Mary and the Messiah, Chesterton composed this poem:

The thatch on the roof was as golden,
Though dusty the straw was and old,
The wind had a peal as of trumpets,
Though blowing and barren and cold,
The mother’s hair was a glory
Though loosened and torn,
For under the eaves in the gloaming
A child was born.

Have a myriad children been quickened,
Have a myriad children grown old,
Grown gross and unloved and embittered,
Grown cunning and savage and cold?
God abides in a terrible patience,
Unangered, unworn,
And again for the child that was squandered
A child is born.

What know we of aeons behind us,
Dim dynasties lost long ago,
Huge empires, like dreams unremembered,
Huge cities for ages laid low?
This at least—that with blight and with blessing,
With flower and with thorn,
Love was there, and his cry was among them,
“A child is born.”

Though the darkness be noisy with systems,
Dark fancies that fret and disprove,
Still the plumes stir around us, above us
The wings of the shadow of love:
Oh! Princes and priests, have ye seen it
Grow pale through your scorn;
Huge dawns sleep before us, deep changes,
A child is born.

And the rafters of toil still are gilded
With the dawn of the stars of the heart,
And the wise men draw near in the twilight,
Who are weary of learning and art,
And the face of the tyrant is darkened,
His spirit is torn,
For a new king is enthroned; yea, the sternest,
A child is born.

r1303218_17851361And the mother still joys for the whispered
First stir of unspeakable things,
Still feels that high moment unfurling
Red glory of Gabriel’s wings.
Still the babe of an hour is a master
Whom angels adorn,
Emmanuel, prophet, anointed,
A child is born.

And thou, that art still in thy cradle,
The sun being crown for thy brow,
Make answer, our flesh, make an answer,
Say, whence art thou come—who art thou?
Art thou come back on earth for our teaching
To train or to warn—?
Hush—how may we know? —knowing only
A child is born.

manger-incarnation-nativityReturning, then, to our key theme, and inspired by Parker Palmer’s reflection below (cf. here): What dynamics underlay your greatest risk? How did it impact you, and who was it for? What values stood to be gained, or goods did you risk to lose? What motivated your leap of faith, and how well could you predict the outcome? … Taking it even deeper in this Christmas season, let’s put skin on it. What are you are willing to risk to embody your deepest values? Where do you find the courage to take on the risk of incarnation, embodiment, and sacrifice for the life of the world?

Let the conversation begin! … Bring food and a story to share, and join us as together we explore RISK taking as one of life’s great phenomenon.

+++

Open Book on “Laudato Si’: Care for Our Common Home”

In our final Open Book cycle for 2017 (starting Thursday 19th October), we go green! How does Christian faith relate to ecology? Does the Christ care about climate change? If we love the Creator, how should this affect the practices of his church? In short:

How would the Creator have us see and steward the gift of Creation?

Our conversation partner is the Argentinian, Jorge Mario Bergoglio. You likely know him better as the 266th Sovereign of Vatican City, Pope Francis (or Papa Francesco as Italians fondly call him), who took his name from the nature loving Saint Francis of Assisi.

Pope Francis’s 2015 Encyclical, Laudato Si’ (“Praise be to You”) establishes an expansive theological frame of a creational “common good” and “ecological citizenship”, within which our lives and work can be situated. As the subtitle suggests, it’s on “care for our common home”–where humans are entrusted with a unique care-taking role from within nature, rather than dominating fellow creatures for our anthropocentric ends.

(This human-centred assumption is both amusingly and disturbingly exposed by animators Steve Cutts in “Man” and Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax in the song “How Bad Can I Be?”;  Prince Ea’s spoken word pieces “Dear Future Generations: Sorry” and “Man vs. Earth” are a tad more melancholic.)

That is, our Genesis 1:28 authority to “rule” and have “dominion” (kabash and radar in the Hebrew), as God’s image bearers, empowers the Genesis 2:15 purpose of this call to “care for” and “keep” creation (abad and shamar), in the same way God tends and cares for us, expressed in the Aaronic blessing of Numbers 6:24-26:

Tillers_MakoHoranaiThe Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you
    and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
    and give you peace.

There has been a world-wide growing sense that unconstrained human activity and over-consumption has damaged God’s very good gift of Earth, becoming in Bill McKibben’s words Eaarth–an irreversibly changed and tough new planet on which we must make our way forward, humbled for having spoiled our home.

And yet, living out of a Greek/neo-Platonic legacy, many Christians have ignored the memo. Perhaps worse, in ecologist Lynn White’s classic 1967 essay, “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis” here, our western reading of the Bible may itself be uniquely to blame for the mess we’re in. We have a tendency to spiritualise the nature and purpose of humanity. You know, where God will burn up all physical things bright and beautiful in the end, taking the “real me”, my disembodied essence, to heaven for eternity … so cut the greeny talk and just get on with preaching and saving sinking souls off our Titanic planet. But is this who we truly are and what we truly believe? This precarious ecological moment may be reawakening an at once more ancient and future-looking reading of the Bible and framing of faith.

Many churches have missed the missional logic of resurrection, and struggled to see that “creation care is a gospel priority.” As the Lausanne Cape-Town Commitment II.2.6 says here, “We are also commanded to care for the earth and all its creatures, because the earth belongs to God, not to us. We do this for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ who is the creator, owner, sustainer, redeemer and heir of all creation.”

(For more, see their Creation Care Issue Network, their Occasional Paper on “An Evangelical Commitment to Simple Lifestyle“, the Jamaica Call to Action, and the excellent essays in Colin Bell and Robert White’s (eds) volume, Creation Care and the Gospel: Reconsidering the Mission of the Church [2016]. The leading light in combining best theology and ecological practice is A’Rocha [international here; Australia site here; fb here; led by Roger Jaensch]. See also “Green Christian”, “Common Grace”, Mike Pope’s 2013 Tinsley Annual Lecture “Preaching to the Birds?”, and Byron Smith’s facebook posts on environmental activism. For some solid theological underpinning, see Richard Bauckham’s The Bible and Ecology, and Living with Other Creatures.)

Care of earth Att infographic-01The National Church Life Survey in Australia’s numerous reports on faith and the environment (here; podcast here) reveal that only 28 percent of Christians believe that “caring for the earth is an essential part of mission”, despite nearly 7 in 10 believing that “nature is sacred”. Only 22 percent disagree with the belief that “plants and animals exist primarily for human use”. (This is a radically different attitude to our Indigenous forebears, in “The Uluru Statement” asserting our integral connection to the land.) Not surprisingly, then, only a quarter of Jesus’ followers in Australia are very active in caring for the environment as part of their responsibility as disciples–roughly the same proportion of Christians who are even aware of Papa Francesco’s illuminating ecological encyclical Laudato Si’. Which is why it’s high time we delve into this gem.

(For commentary on Laudato Si’, see here for a Catholic introduction, here and here for A’Rocha’s Protestant take, here and here for secular commentary, and here for a taste of how the National Council of Churches in Australia have responded with an “Eco-Mission” project, drawing on the work of its member Clive Ayre. I’ve written about “Shalom and Sustainability” from an educational/curriculum perspective, in Clive’s ecological edition of the Australian Journal of Mission Studies here, December 2016, pp. 60-67.)

Church activities past 2 yrs infographic-01Thankfully, changing our habits isn’t rocket science, whether at the civic/political, local community and church, or consumer level! Churches have recycled, planted trees, hosted community gardens, celebrated environmental days or seasons, run children’s activities, worshipped outside in nature, worked on a project in their community and participated in advocacy campaigns for the environment in the last two years, according to NCLS Research.

Well, there’s always more to say. You can read my worldview notes on Creation here, or watch a stirring talk by celebrated Brazilian politician and environmental activist Marina Silva, for her work in saving the Amazonian forest here.

destroying-nature-is-destroying-life-surachai-puthikulangkura-robin-wood-8-2

You could also explore global climate change responses after the Paris accord here, and what this looks like in Oceania here. And for an artistic angle, see Robin Wood’s powerful images for the “Destroying Nature Is Destroying Life” campaign here.

Of the posting of links, there is no end, and too much reading just makes one tired! So, as the pointy end of this blog, can I simply invite you to join us in conversation as we consider a new way of being creaturely, stumbling imperfectly forward as we work in love for the care of our common home?

OPEN BOOK, THURSDAYS 7PM | Pope Francis’s Laudato Si’ (LS; website here)
(Click session # hyperlink for liturgy/ppnt slides)

cc-cover-200x300

October 19 | LS 1, pp. 1-44: Intro + Ch. 1 “What Is Happening to Our Common Home?” (§1-61)

November 2 | LS 2, pp. 45-101: Ch. 2 “The Gospel of Creation” pp. 45-74 (§62-100) + Ch. 3 “The Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis” pp75-101 (§101-136)

November 16 | LS 3, pp. 103-148: Ch. 4 “Integral Ecology” pp. 103-120 (§137-162) + Ch. 5 “Lines of Approach and Action” pp.121-148 (§163-201)

November 30 | LS 4, pp. 149-180: Ch. 6 “Ecological Education and Spirituality” (§202-246).

 

Open Table on “The Beautiful”

Friday 6 October 2017 | Open Table
on the theme of the third transcendental, THE BEAUTIFUL

Bring a main dish to share, and come with a story to tell in response to the stimulus below, at Nik and Dave Benson’s place, 152 Tanderra Way, Karana Downs, at 7:30pm. Any questions? Call/txt Dave on 0491138487.

Leunig_CellBeautyUniverse.jpeg

Art | Michael Leunig, Glorious Gravel [My title! Image above]
Text | Exodus 28: 1-5, 31-41 “Clothing for the Priests”
Extra | Plotinus (3rd Century BCE, Greek Philosopher) Enneads I.6 “On Beauty” (4 minute video grab or full text here, especially §3-4,6) OR Hans Urs von Balthasar excerpt on Beauty here.

What does beauty mean to you? And when’s the last time you used the word “beautiful”? As an adjective, it seems capable of qualifying almost anything. A beautiful … sunset, dress, speech, meal, painting, putt, mind, person. The list goes on.

Related imageIn delving into this theme, I discovered a Spotify playlist with 1.5 million followers entitled “The Most Beautiful Songs in the World.” And I stumbled upon “Euler’s Identity”, voted by physicists as “the most beautiful equation”. If you failed senior maths, this will strike you as bizarre. And yet, this formula is arguably beautiful as it travels together with truth—spirituality and science strangely coinhering—and it takes an exceptionally trained mind to see and appreciate a dance of complexity and elegance representing “some of the most profound rules that govern the Universe and everything in it.” This appreciation often travels together with cultivating a poetic or musical ear to discern acoustic order. For those lacking ears to hear or eyes to see, however, it’s almost impossible to define what makes it a thing of beauty, and ultimately—philosophically and theologically—what beauty means.

Simplistically defined, beautiful means “pleasing the senses or mind aesthetically”. Anything or anyone that can elicit this perceptual experience of satisfaction in another is labelled “beautiful”. Sounds like it’s more about the spectator, rather than a quality in the object itself, held to some higher standard. You know, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.

Image result for beautySearch “beauty” on google images, and you’re bombarded with breezy pictures of young women, often plastered with make-up and typically caucasian. No wonder singers like Christina Aguilera (“You Are Beautiful”) and Marilyn Manson (“The Beautiful People”) deconstruct the stereotypes which have shut our eyes to the diffuse beauty of a thousand flowers blooming in all shapes and sizes—rarely confined to what the market conditions us to consume.

Besides which, as we learn from stories as disparate as Shallow Hal, Beauty and the Beast, Shrek, and The Picture of Dorion Gray, physical and moral beauty in a broken world rarely travel together. The recently deceased Hugh Hefner may have surrounded himself with stunning Playboy Bunnies, but no one dedicates his eulogy to a beautiful life well lived among paragons of pulchritude. Bottom line: we must be cautious before reducing “beauty” to any one look.

Image result for beauty is not in the eye of the beholderAnd yet, these caveats fail to dismiss beauty as merely subjective. As Alain de Botton observes in his School of Life video, our language, photography and travel plans reveal amazing overlap in what images and destinations we find attractive; on the grounds of democracy alone, there seems to be something objective to beauty, which we ignore to the detriment of all. Which city needs another ugly concrete skyscraper? Beauty is intended to draw us onward and upward. In Dwayne Huebner’s words, it’s the “lure of the transcendent”.

Now, you could argue that this allure is simply explained by survival. Humans are like Bower Birds, seeking out beautiful blue objects to adorn our nests, even bodies, drawing a partner to propagate our species. And yet, the sheer excess—even superfluity—and diversity of beauty in our universe overflows such reductionism. Instead, it appears to point beyond itself to something that perhaps truly is “beautiful” in essence … an ideal, or form of sorts—even as I have some theological qualms with neo-Platonism as a Greek philosophy distorting Christianity’s affirmation of the material world as “very good” apart from disembodied ideas.

Image result for leunig starDespite our post-modern penchant for inverting age-old symbols, Michael Leunig suggests that the best “art … is not entirely of this world. … Perhaps it is a flight into beauty and eternity.” Rightly oriented, it is capable of directing our gaze heavenward, passing through and beyond our mundane material existence.

In the words of C. S. Lewis,

The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.

Image result for leunig sun tvIn this same stunning essay, The Weight of Glory (1942), Lewis notes that beauty and “glory”, biblically framed, do travel together. (Or, in Jonathan Edwards’ theology, like flares from the Sun, we perceive beauty as an emanation from a radiant Triune source.) Far from trite conceptions of becoming “a kind of living electric light bulb”, our human longing for glory makes sense like our human fascination with watching the sunrise. Granted, it’s an imperfect sign. But it’s a faithful pointer to something more. Glory is “brightness, splendour, luminosity.” More than perceiving beauty, stimulating our senses, in a very real way we want “to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.” And this process quite often passes through pain, being remade, reconstituted even by a reality beyond our control. Collateral Beauty may thus sneak up on us, shining through our darkest times of suffering.

Related imagePerhaps this is why we find truly “beautiful souls”—especially those who have emerged through struggle with battle-scars and yet a soft heart—so attractive? They graciously wear the virtues in which we long to be clothed. Thus the Bible persistently refers to putting on “the beauty of holiness” (e.g., Psalms 29:2; 96:9; cf. here), reflecting The Beautiful, being Godself. It takes a radiant character like Beatrice to draw damned Dante out of the Inferno and into Paradise. Similarly, our artwork, our creativity, even our fashion may in a real sense be drawing us to mimic and experience—albeit imperfectly like young girls smearing bright red lipstick on their face, yearning to be like their model mums—a beauty of character that is more than skin deep. We increasingly transform into the likeness of what we admire, imitating what we magnify and that upon which we meditate. In short, we become what we worship.

Maybe this is why God went to the trouble of prescribing Aaron’s outfit, as Israel’s High Priest, holy and whole in “glorious and beautiful” attire (Exodus 28)? Dressed in holiness we can see God; lacking the gracious covering of divine beauty, we risk being consumed in the encounter.

And thus we loop back to our original observation. Beauty can qualify most anything. But, like the 14th Century Italian employment of Botticelli to depict Fortitude, Beauty comes into its own when it illuminates virtue and aligns with the way God intended the world to be, “danc[ing] as an uncontained splendor around the double constellation of the true and the good and their inseparable relation to one another” (von Balthasar).

Gifts Glittering and PoisonedNot all that glitters is gold, this is true. In the history of empire, circuses and spectacle have been used to deceive and poison the masses, obscuring the really real. “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting …” (Proverbs 31:30). And yet, gold does have a glitter meaningful in and of itself, pointing beyond to Beauty, perhaps even a transcendent source of unfading glory we call “God”. As the editors of the Kalos (Greek for Beautiful) book series aver,

[the beautiful] is the call of the good; that which arouses interest, desire: “I am here.” Beauty brings the appetite to rest at the same time as it wakens the mind from its daily slumber, calling us to look afresh at that which is before our very eyes. It makes virgins of us all, and of everything—there, before us, lies something that we never noticed before. Beauty consists in integritas sive perfectio [integrity and perfection] and claritas [brightness/clarity]. It is the reason why we rise and why we sleep—that great night of dependence, one that reveals the borrowed existence of all things …. Here lies the ground of all science, of philosophy, and of all theology, indeed of our each and every day.

photo-montage-1514221_1280.jpgBringing this wide-ranging provocation to a close, what story, person, experience or object from your life comes to mind when you think of beauty? When do you typically employ the qualifier, beautiful? And is there any sense in which you believe—or, better yet, have tasted—that your subjective encounter with beauty points to The Beautiful, as the third transcendental, travelling with her sisters, The True and the Good?

Let the conversation begin!