Open Table on “The Good”

Friday 1 September 2017 | Open Table
on the theme of the second transcendental, GOODNESS

Leunig Venerable Blessed Saintly CreaturesVincent_Willem_van_Gogh_022Art | Michael Leunig, “Venerable, Blessed & Saintly Creatures“; Vincent Van Gogh, “Good Samaritan
Text | Luke 10:25-37, “The Good Samaritan”

Good job! Good luck. Good night. All good. 

Looking good! Good pizza. Good wife. A good life. 

good thumbs upWhen a word can mean everything, it ceases to mean anything. So, what do we mean by “good”? In modern parlance, it’s highly malleable. For ancients, however, it was the second transcendental, alongside truth and beauty. It was the perennial quest for quality.

aristotleAnd yet, how do we measure excellence? Surely good implies its counterpart bad, and draws on some objective standard by which we judge? Good thus draws us deeper into questions of identity, essence, purpose, destiny/telos … some larger story heading either here or there, in which the part–whether a pizza or a person–rightly relates to the whole.

zen

Perhaps some quotes will sharpen the focus.

Let’s start with Robert Pirsig in his classic philosophical travelogue,  Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Valuesexploring the nature of quality (goodness), of both machine/motorcycle, and person:

You want to know how to paint a perfect painting? It’s easy.
Make yourself perfect and then just paint naturally.

How about Uncle Jack (C. S. Lewis) … what wisdom can he offer? Especially given that he thinks good and bad, right and wrong, are a “clue to the meaning of the Universe” (watch his Doodle video here).

Goodness is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness. And there must be something good first before it can be spoiled. …
No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. …
There is but one good; that is God. Everything else is good when it looks to Him and bad when it turns from Him.

Finally, let’s get mystical with the unknown author of The Cloud of Unknowing:

Genuine goodness is a matter of habitually acting
and responding appropriately in each situation, as it arises,
moved always by the desire to please God.

Image result for quotes goodness

So, this Open Table is dedicated to sharing stories sparked by this theme of “the good” … call it goodnesscharacterquality, the fullest expression of our essence and identity, a realisation of our telos … whatever you call it, come with food to share and a story to tell.

Who or what embodies this quality we call “good”, in a way that fixes your focus and calls you onward and upward? Join us and explore together one of life’s greatest themes.

 

Open Book: The Benedict Option

cover_150417_landscapeIn our second cycle for 2017 (starting Thursday 27th July), we turn to explore the challenge of a community sustaining its faith in a secular culture toxic to deep commitment:

What practices preserve our witness [& identity] in a post-Christian context?

Dreher920x537Our conversation partner is American conservative and Eastern Orthodox devotee, Rod Dreher. His book, The Benedict Option (BenOp for short), has drawn a lot of attention, especially on the Catholic forum, First Things. It has been identified by New York Times bestseller and cultural critic, David Brooks, as “the most discussed and most important religious book of the decade.” Facing an increasingly hostile culture, Dreher offers “a strategy for Christians in a post-Christian nation”. As for how wise this strategy is—though at risk of spoiling the surprise and poisoning the well—you might want to check out some of the following reviews:

izunoOkay, the tone of these reviews not-so-subtly communicates that I’ve stopped short of the monastic gates to Mr. Dreher’s Benedictine retreat. I’m not particularly conservative, I detest self-concerned protectionism, and this book is far more right-leaning than most of Open Book’s offerings here-to-fore. So, why bother with this diatribe?

Well, two reasons come to mind, one short and sweet, and the other as complex as statistical analysis.

For one, it records the seismic shifts shaking the western world, and represents what many people (especially conservatives) find to be a compelling vision for a re-imagined church that has fragmented and lost its way. It challenges our individualistic, consumerist and thin spirituality at its core, and turns our attention to corporate and classic practices that enrich our identity. Given that Christ’s Pieces seeks to grapple with what it means to follow Jesus at this post-Christendom juncture, BenOp is sure to provoke rich discussion, wherever we land on Rod’s particular strategy. It will help us form our own “rule of life” that keeps us in Christ, come-what cultural changes may. So, we’ll drop the protectionism, but redouble our efforts to form a communal spirituality for the sake of the world … one that resonates with Jamie Smith’s embodied and imaginative worship project in You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit, and Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives. Think less Christian conservatism worried about its own survival in a secular state, and more of an outward looking shalom seeking community captured by Mike Frost’s B.E.L.L.S. in his Surprise the World: Five Habits of Highly Missional People (sample here; we’re called to Bless, Eat, Listen, Learn, and be Sent) and David Fitch’s Faithful Presence: Seven Disciplines that Shape the Church for Mission. Our selfie-society needs kingdom citizens who have the virtue and vision necessary to serve the holistic flourishing of all in today’s pluralistic democracy, most especially when hostility is directed to followers of the world’s only saviour.

absAnd for two, it asks questions Aussie Christians must answer. How can we sustain faith in an increasingly secular context—one which corrodes contemporary Christianity faster than an iron ark on a salty sea? Since the Australian Bureau of Statistics released its 2016 Census results, many Christian leaders have been in a spin. While 52% of Aussies still loosely identify as Christian, this is a massive slide from the 88% in 1996 and 74% in 1991. This loss neatly parallels the increase in those shunning any religious identification, up from 0.8% in 1996, 12.9% in 1991, and 19% in 2006, to nearly 1/3 of the population (30%) in 2016. If we compare this demographic to Christian denominations (termed ‘religions’ in the census), then NRI (“No Religious Identification”) is the largest “religious” group, overtaking both Catholicism (22.6%) and Anglicanism (13.3%).

McCrindle2017_Faith-and-Belief-in-Australia-Infographic-page-001The situation is markedly more dire if you delve below the superficial ABS data, and dive into the 2016 NCLS “Australian Communities Study” and especially the 2017 McCrindle “Faith and Belief in Australia” study (faithandbelief.org.au; 4 page infographic + 60 page report). Claiming that roughly half of Aussies are Christian is massively overstated, better reflecting low-commitment “moralistic therapeutic deism” (a distant God just wants me to generally be good and feel good) than a community living under the Lordship of Jesus, which based on regular church connection is closer to 15%. As Stephen McAlpine argues, “sexing up the statistics“only makes us slower to accept our minority status, wherein we do better to become a well-formed counter-culture that can prophetically speak truth to power from society’s margins, without claiming historical privilege.

2in5noreligionThe media has seized on these stats, highlighting that this slide away from religion will only accelerate as more-religious older generations shuffle off this mortal coil, and younger less-religious generations take their place, such as Gen Y (those presently 18-34 years old) with 39% distanced from traditional religion. Secularists have renewed calls for the government to “End Australia’s Religious Bias“, damning any public funding and governmental support even for churches contributing to the common good, garnering support through op-eds in leading national newspapers.

Whatever your take on these stats, Aussies Christians have some tough questions to answer, for—as the 2017 Morling College Symposium theme suggests—we are “Not In Kansas Anymore“.

dorothyWhat is the role of God’s people in an increasingly post-christian West? Are we activist exiles or quaint keepers of an ancient flame? Are we to lean in to culture and insist on our right to act as chaplains to a fading Christendom, or should we withdraw and exercise the ‘Benedict option’? What is a creative and biblical strategy for how the church is to be in a context where God’s people feel increasingly marginalised and overlooked.

So, for at least these two reasons, it’s timely for Christ’s Pieces to grapple with The Benedict Option. As Ryan Messmore of the The Millis Institute observes, we are simultaneously called to be both “salt and light“. And this raises two pressing questions:

Question #1. For those promoting engagement with the world, the question is: how can Christians expect to offer their neighbours a different way of thinking and loving if they fully immerse themselves in their neighbours’ ways of speaking and acting? … [and] Question #2. For those promoting a distinct countercultural community, the question is: how will those who live according to a different worldview be able to see the Church’s distinct witness as intelligible and attractive?

Which brings us back to the core question driving this series: “What practices preserve our witness [& identity] in a post-Christian context?” Interested? Then come along, whatever your religious conviction or none.

+++

Over 5 fortnightly Thursday sessions (July 27 – September 21) at Nik & Dave’s house (152 Tanderra Way, Karana Downs; directions here) we will dialogue with Dreher and each other, learning how to sustain our faith in a secular culture toxic to deep commitment.

Check out the calendar below for key dates, and pdf links to carry you through until you get your own copy of the book (purchase asap on Amazon.com).

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.

benop

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: if this is true, what does it mean for being the church today?

4) Applications: what does it look like for you to live out of this vision as part of the community of God?

OPEN BOOK, THURSDAYS 7PM | Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option (BenOp)
(Click session # hyperlink for liturgy/ppnt slides)

July 27 | BenOp 1, pp. 1-47: Introduction—The Awakening (1-6), Ch. 1 The Great Flood (7-20), & Ch. 2 The Roots of the Crisis (21-47).

August 10 | BenOp 2, pp. 48-99: Ch. 3 A Rule for Living (48-77) & Ch. 4 A New Kind of Christian Politics (78-99).

August 24 | BenOp 3, pp. 100-143: Ch. 5 A Church for All Seasons (100-121) & Ch. 6 The Idea of a Christian Village (122-143).

September 7 | BenOp 4, pp. 144-194: Ch. 7 Education as Christian Formation (144-175) & Ch. 8 Preparing for Hard Labor (176-194).

September 21 | BenOp 5, pp. 195-246: Ch. 9 Eros and the New Christian Counterculture, Ch. 10 Man and the Machine (218-236), & Conclusion—The Benedict Decision (237-244).

October 19 | Restart for the final series of 2017, exploring Pope Francis’s Laudato Si’ for what it means to care for our common creational home (also drawing on “The Uluru Statement” for an Indigenous perspective of our connection to the land).

Hope to see you there!

salt light

 

(Post) Truth @ Open Table

manifesto for post truth artFriday 9 June 2017 | Open Table
on the theme of the first transcendental, TRUTH

 

In 2016, Oxford Dictionaries named “Post-Truth” (video here and here) their Word of the Year. Post-Truth:
adj. “
relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion or personal belief.” In short, emotion beats truth.
posttruthSure, it’s associated with politics in this Trump-esque age of “truthful hyperbole” and rule by Tweet. And yet, it seems to be a “general characteristic of our age”. Art becomes propaganda, and we’re trapped in an infinite echo-chamber.

colbert truthinessStephen Colbert calls it “truthiness“: a claim grounded on nothing more than a feeling deep in our gut of its actual “truth”. (For Colbert, “post-truth” and “Trumpiness” is simply a contemporary rip-off of “truthiness” [5 mins on]), defined as “The belief in what you feel to be true rather than what the facts will support”. Social media opinions have swallowed verifiable propositions (see here, here and here), leaving us simultaneously sceptical of any truth claims and–without any recognised authorities nor clear criteria and character to search out what’s right–defenseless against unchecked spin. Who, then, to trust?

honestyOf course, this isn’t a new issue. Back in 1978, Billy Joel was already lamenting the loss of “Honesty” (lyrics here): “If you look for truthfulness, you might just as well be blind; it always seems to be so hard to give. … Honesty is such a lonely word. Everyone is so untrue. Honesty is hardly ever heard. And mostly what I need from you.”

At the philosophical level, then, we wonder: what is truth? Can it be discerned, and what are the criteria? Does intuition and gut instinct (a la Michael Polanyi’s “tacit and personal knowledge”) have a role to play? Is there even such a thing as “truth”, and “facts”, or is all we say simply subjective and language-bound? But in this Open Table night of sharing, we’re getting personal. With Billy Joel, we’re coming clean that “All I want is someone to believe.”

Ecce_homo_by_Antonio_Ciseri_(1)Who, if anyone, can you trust? What does it mean for a person to be “true”, even “The Truth” (cf. Jn 14:6)? Why extend this faith? On what basis can we have confidence that our deepest beliefs, or what another tells us, is actually “true” and worth believing, beyond the spin? And if we fail to trust anyone in our post-truth society, what is the personal and cultural fall out?

PostTruthPortrait_DoronNoyman2017Check out the stimulus below, and come with a personal story to share that embodies this quest for “truth” and someone to believe.

Art: Doron Noyman’s “Post-Truth Portrait” (2017) + Antonio Ciseri’s “Ecce Homo” (1871; the title means “Behold, The Man,” from the Latin Vulgate John 19:5, Pilate to Jesus]). You might also find stimulating Leunig’s cartoon “The Big Picture” (from his DVD, Melancholy)

Poetry/Song: Billy Joel’s “Honesty” (1978; video clip + lyrics)

Scripture: John 18:28-19:16 (esp. 18:33-38), as Pilate questions Jesus: “What Is Truth?” (Jn 18:38)

(And if you’re really wanting to delve deep into this topic, check out John Stackhouse’s 2014 book, Need to Know: Vocation As the Heart of Christian Epistemology, and Esther Lightcap Meek’s 2011, Loving to Know: Covenant Epistemology)

Open Table on LOVE

banksy-girl-and-balloon-london-2002

Friday 10 March 2017 | Open Table
on the theme of the third theological virtue, LOVE

Art: Leunig’s animated cartoon “Heart on a String” (from his DVD, Whimsy)
Also Banksy’s “Girl and Balloon“, from his 2002 East London stencil. (We’ll also bounce off his 2014 reworking, “Syrian Balloon Girl“, as part of the “Stand with Syria” campaign: video here.)

Image result for smith "you are what you love"Scripture: John 15:9-17, as Jesus drops the “Great Commandment” on his disciples, bracing them for persecution and passionate mission after he departs

(And if you’re really wanting to delve deep into this topic, check out Jamie Smith’s 2016 book, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit.)

Friday June 9 2017 | Open Table, on the theme of the first transcendental, TRUTH.

Since 2016, we’ve been hosting semi-regular Open Table gatherings. So far we’ve explored HOSPITALITY, before getting into the theological virtues of FAITH, HOPE & LOVE. From there, we’ll launch into the transcendentals, TRUTH, GOODNESS & BEAUTY. Paul’s advice has led the way:

Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (Philippians 4:8).

All welcome from 6:30pm onwards, but officially we’ll kick off at 7pm, and be done around 9pm. It’s pretty informal, but coming on time helps the group hang together.

XP is obviously Christian! That said, it’s not “religious” in the sense that you can only come if you’re a churchy kind of person.
This night in particular is a community event.

Everyone has a story. And God’s story interweaves with our own, often in ways we can’t even see.
It takes a face-to-face encounter with those who are different from us to draw it out.

So, this night is open to everyone. Bring a friend.

There is no r.s.v.p. That said, it’s a massive help if you bring something small to contribute to the meal.  Bring something for a main dish that you would enjoy eating, and if you’re feeling lavish, bring a bottle too! We’ll provide dessert and some extra drinks. And if you forget to grab something, don’t let that stop you. Come anyway!

Sgreenso, what exactly is OPEN TABLE?

Imagine communion as a true meal, sharing stories around a central theme, and seeing how our stories tie into God’s story of mission to redeem (and reconnect) a broken world.

The themes are as deep and varied as life itself: love, hate, work, pain, hope, reconciliation, creativity, evil, wisdom, healing, purpose, violence, confusion, destiny …

Whatever the theme for that week sparks in you is fair game. You can even bring along a song, a piece of art, a movie clip, a photo, an artifact … bring whatever helps you tell a scene from your personal story.

We will typically post one passage from the Bible alongside that theme. No preaching, but picture an open dialogue about how this story resonates with your own. Perhaps together we’ll see how in God we really do live, move, and have our being.

Feel free to post your ideas for themes and passages also

… we’re keen for this to become an authentic/real community.

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

Open Book on KINGDOM CALLING

The first cycle of Open Book for 2015 is largely done and dusted. For those who have journeyed with us, it’s been a rich time of reading James Smith’s book, Desiring the Kingdom.  Together we’ve explored how to leverage our everyday habits to align with and experience the reign of God. Through the combination of rich liturgy (Taize songs, Northumbrian prayers, creative Bible reading), open discussion, reflection on art, and the designing of rich practices, we’ve each been in the process of forming a new habit that helps us follow Christ in the fullness of life he offers. We have two sessions (June 4 & 18) before we take a month-long break.

In our second cycle for 2015 (starting July 23) we get down to brass tacks.
Here’s our big question:

How can I seek first the kingdom
through my everyday vocation?

We’re talking about vocation. Whatever you do with the majority of your time can become a vocation, situated within your call to follow Christ.

kingdom-calling-coverThe book is Amy Sherman’s Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good. It’s far more practical than Smith’s book, which is good news if that was a hard slog for you! Her companion web-site here gives you a feel for its scope. Whether you’re a business person, a bar tender, a builder, a teacher, or an artist; whether you’re a student, a retiree, a mum, or looking for work, there’s lots of great stuff here to discuss. … How do you restrain sin and promote shalom in your everyday “work”?  What does it mean to be a “righteous” person who works for the common good?

Check the calendar at the bottom of the page for key dates, and pdf links to carry you through until you get your own copy of the book (presently $10 on kindle!). Also, you might consider registering for Malyon College’s “Transforming Work” conference on June 20, or auditing “Principles of Vocational Stewardship” at Malyon Tuesday nights if you want to go even deeper.

We have a soft-start from 6:30pm – feel free to rock up early and eat your dinner or share a cup of tea. 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:

1) 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 the church follows Christ today?

4) Applications: what does it look like for you to live out of this vision?

Following are the dates when we’ll meet. I’ve also included pdf links for the readings if you’re not able to get the book in time–just click the KC references below. That said, give credit where credit’s due, so do buy the book preferably by the first week.

If you want to get an overview of Sherman’s book, listen to her one hour talk at Q Ideas on “Seeking the Prosperity of Our Neighbours” here.

OPEN BOOK, THURSDAYS 7PM:

June 4 | OUTDOOR MOVIE NIGHT & SUPPER – We’re either watching The Intouchables or The Way (email us with your preference!), following up the theme of embodied worship. … Bring an outdoor chair, a blanket to keep warm under the stars, and a snack or drink to share … We’ll provide the hot chocolate! (Indoors if bad weather.) … The movie *starts* at 7pm, so arrive from 6:30pm as always.

June 18 | “HOSPITALITY & HOME-COOKED DINNER” – Bring some food to share for a pot-luck dinner, eating at 7pm. This night is a fusion of Open Book with Open Table … so, have a read of the 12 page chapter on the practice of hospitality (Ana Maria Pineda “Hospitality”), and join us for a really relaxed night of eating, discussing, laughing, and sharing in communion. It’s open to anyone. The key question is this: “What does hospitality look like in my life, and how can I extend God’s table grace to others?” 

[On this theme, you might find these other articles/chapters stimulating:
Yancey (1997) on Babette’s Feast
Dorothy Bass on “Eating”
Wendell Berry on “The Pleasures of Eating”]

Then, we’re into the new cycle on KINGDOM CALLING [KC] from Thursday 16 July.

July 23 | Kingdom Calling #1: KC 1-23 (Foreword + Intro)

August 6 | Kingdom Calling #2:  KC27-44KC45-63KCAppA235-241(Ch. 1, 2 + Appendix A)

August 20 | Kingdom Calling #3:  KC64-75KC77-86(Ch. 3, 4)

September 4 | Kingdom Calling #4: KC91-100KC101-115 (Ch. 5, 6)

September 17 | Kingdom Calling #5: KC116-128KC129-140 (Ch. 7, 8)

October 1 | Kingdom Calling #6:  Open Week Sharing + watching either a session of LICC “Fruitfulness on the FrontLine” or Regent College’s “Reframe” series … Read KCAppB-D (Appendices B, C, D)

October 15 | Kingdom Calling #7: KC143-150KC151-168 (Ch. 9, 10)

October 29 | Kingdom Calling #8: KC169-182KC183-198 (Ch. 11, 12)

November 12 | Kingdom Calling #9: KC199-222 (Ch. 13)

November 26 | Kingdom Calling #10: KC223-234 (Conclusion/Afterword … Integration/Application)

December 10 | END OF YEAR CELEBRATION – details t.b.a.

Hope to see you there!

mad-farmer-5-we-are

Open Book on COLOSSIANS REMIXED

20110531111214_00013Over the last three books, we’ve explored the importance of our bodies and imagination in forming kingdom habits (Desiring the Kingdom), ways of integrating our faith and everyday work (Kingdom Calling), and the importance of community in growing up in Christ and reaching out in mission (Community & Growth). Each fortnightly gathering we’ve shared in the combination of rich liturgy (Taize songs, Northumbrian prayers, creative Bible reading), open discussion, reflection on art, and the designing of rich practices and habits to reinforce our identity and calling in Christ. In our second cycle for 2016 (starting Thursday 28th July), and as we descend into the long winter of our Australian political discontent, we ask some tough questions of how our Christian faith should rightly relate to worldly regimes:

How should we live our Kingdom story as ‘true’
in an age of conflicting Empires?

20110531111214_00023Ever since Constantine’s ‘vision’ of the Chi-Rho–‘conquer by this sign‘–on the eve of his victorious battle at Milvian Bridge, 312 AD, Christians have understandably confused the cross of their crucified Saviour with the Labrum of the ascendant Emperor. It’s far too easy in our politically charged contemporary existence to hitch powerful agendas to the way of Jesus … a way that challenged exclusive mono-cultural identities, and worship of money and violence. We need to tease apart the competing stories and imaginaries of Kingdom and Empire.

This challenge is not, however, new. The Apostle Paul dealt with it head on as he wrote to the mixed community in Colossae, a Roman outpost. He offered wisdom to re-narrate their identity and action as an alternative community under the humble reign of the slain lamb. In turn, this posed a challenge to the superficial ‘peace’ offered by power brokers (Pax Romana).

Yay for Paul.

Still, what might this look like today, in the post-Christendom western context?

Colossians Remixed CoverEnter Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat with their provocative commentary, Colossians Remixed. They fuse indepth theological and cultural analysis, creative dialogue, and bold Targums that interpret Colossians and translate this ancient text into our contemporary political and economic context.

Over 8 sessions we will dialogue with these authors, learning to pray for the Empire, and live faithfully and subversively as an alternative kingdom culture in the midst of competing stories and conflicting powers.

Check out the calendar below for key dates, and pdf links to carry you through until you get your own copy of the book.

We have a soft-start from 6:30pm–feel free to rock up early and eat your dinner or share a cup of tea. 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:

1) 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 being the church today?

4) Applications: what does it look like for you to live out of this vision as part of the community of God?

OPEN BOOK, THURSDAYS 7PM:

July 28 | Colossians Remixed [CR] #1: Placing Ourselves: Globalisation & Postmodernity … pre-read CR 7-37 (Preface + Ch 1) + Col 1:1-2

Aug 11 | CR #2: Placing Colossae: In the Shadow of Empire … pre-read CR 38-76 (Ch 2-4) + Col 1:1-14

Aug 25 | CR #3: Subversive Poetry & Contested Imaginaries  … pre-read CR 79-114 (Ch 5-6) + Col  1:15-2:23

Open Table dinner on Friday September 2 … Theme of HOPE

Sep 8 | CR #4: Truth, Lies & Improvisation … pre-read CR 115-144 (Ch 7-8) + Col  2:1-3:4

Sep 22 | CR #5: An Ethic of Secession … pre-read CR 147-168 (Ch 9) + Col 3:1-17

Oct 6 | CR #6: An Ethic of Community … pre-read CR 169-200 (Ch 10) + Col  3:1-4:1

Oct 20 | CR #7: An Ethic of Liberation … pre-read CR 201-219 (Ch 11) + Col 3:18-4:9

Open Table dinner on Friday October 28 … Theme t.b.a.

Nov 3 | CR #8: A Suffering Ethic … pre-read CR 220-233 (Ch 12) + Col 4:7-18 … series integration as we look toward Advent

Feb 2017 | Restart semester 1 with a new book and theme … t.b.a.

Hope to see you there!

Maiorina-Vetranio-siscia_RIC_281

Open Book on Endō’s SILENCE

3b68cd92e1547d20e2cb8a84580d9daeOver the last four books, we’ve explored the importance of our bodies and imagination in forming kingdom habits (Desiring the Kingdom), ways of integrating our faith and everyday work (Kingdom Calling), the importance of community in growing up in Christ and reaching out in mission (Community & Growth), and how we should live our kingdom story as ‘true’ in an age of conflicting empires (Colossians Remixed). Each fortnightly gathering we’ve shared in the combination of rich liturgy (Taize songs, Northumbrian prayers, creative Bible reading), open discussion, reflection on art, and the designing of rich practices and habits to reinforce our identity and calling in Christ.

In our first cycle for 2017 (starting Thursday 2nd February), and making a long awaited switch from argumentative essays to a sweeping narrative, we turn to explore the struggle for faith in a world marked by suffering and God’s silence:

How can we imitate Christ as witnesses
in a culture rejecting Christianity?

silence-high-quality-book-cover

Order the Picador 2016 edition online here.

Our conversation partner is Shūsaku Endō (1923-1996), arguably the greatest Japanese novelist of his time, and author of one of the twentieth Century’s most renowned books, Silence. The impact of this book reverberates into the present, challenging, inspiring, infuriating and humbling countless modern writers (see here for nearly 50 such reflections).

fumie2Endō, a Japanese Catholic, was no stranger to occupying the place of the Other: too foreign, too Oriental, to be understood by the West, and too Christian, too iconoclastic–not to mention insufficiently Buddhist–to be accepted at home. His work of historical fiction is set in 1635 as Portuguese missionaries seek to proselytise the Japanese during a time of extreme persecution. Following rumours of their leader (Ferreira) abandoning his faith, two younger Jesuits (Fr. Rodrigues and his companion Fr. Francisco Garrpe) head to Japan to uncover the truth and shore up the struggling converts. How will this collision between cultures resolve, as each grapples with the other? Will Rodrigues and Garrpe, too, betray their Lord, trampling his crudely formed icon (fumie) underfoot and committing the sin of apostasy?

For Dave’s thoughts on why Silence is so timely to read in Open Book 2017, read on.
For the key details and dates, skipping the essay, scroll down below the second +++!

+++

This book is timely for two reasons.

japanese-martyrs2First, our times increasingly resemble the novel’s setting, thus posing questions that we must answer in our own missional context. This is not to play the victim and suggest that Aussie Christians experience persecution akin to Japanese Christians during the Edo Period (1603-1868). This was a time when Japan turned inward to forge a unified national identity set over and against the colonising other, especially its religious symbols which challenged ultimate allegiance to the Land of the Rising Sun. To be sure, most Aussie Christians barely feel a twinge of persecution, largely disconnected from the pain in the global body of Christ as it faces widespread “Christianophobia“.

Nonetheless, this anti-Christian sentiment has settled into the western church’s heartland. Our once familiar home is turning “hostile“, with anti-Christian bias increasingly prevalent. Many followers of Jesus are lost for how to respond to their faith coming under attack. The “Christian Century” of peacefully coexisting with and playing chaplain to the elites, appealing to the cultured despisers, is long gone. Instead, leading thinkers call the church to “prepare” for persecution–to follow Jesus outside the gates of institutional power, and to embrace the ignominy of being the misunderstood Other who yet speaks truth to power and leads with sacrificial love (Heb 13:12-16). Facing political protectionism and resurgent nationalism (think Brexit, Trump, One Nation) and a supposedly unified “secular” identity that marginalises faith as the populace “loses [its] religion” (even amidst unprecedented plurality), the “disappearing church” of contemporary Australia must change goals, “from cultural relevance to gospel resilience”.

Nothing in this would surprise Endō or other such wise students of mission’s history. Fr. Francis Xavier, Jesuit missionary extraordinaire, ushered in what looked like an Oriental Christian Century, with his inquisitive welcome by Japan’s elites in 1549. And yet, within fifty years, under feudal warlord and Shogun strong man Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Christianity–with its foreign religious icons carried on “black ships” of commerce, backed by military force–was anathema, understood as a threat to fledgling national identity. Missionaries now risked ridicule, even torture and martyrdom, and indigenous believers retreated as “hidden Christians”. Should they just give up on Japan? Does the gospel simply not grow in this soil? And yet, the incarnation and way of Jesus models that God can take on flesh in every time and place, embracing its particularities–contextualisation without compromise (Mt 28:18-20). “If Christianity cannot be true in every culture, then it cannot be true at all.” How Portuguese and Japanese believers responded was a test of Christianity’s integrity as a whole.

silence-endoWe must, however, count the cost. Incarnation always leads to the cross.

As Alissa Wilkinson writes in her powerful review of Silence, “For Endō, there are no easy routes to salvation; a person’s body—its ethnicity, its weaknesses, its susceptibility to pain and desire—is as much his link to the life and sufferings of Christ as a person’s soul.”

This is the paradox of faith: to save your life, you must first lose it (Mt 16:25). How, then, can fallen Christians imitate the incarnation, and witness to a culture rejecting Christianity? Can we do so without suffering? Will our efforts end better than Peter, or Judas?  And how will we be sustained for this impossible mission when the God who sends us apparently stands by, watching in silence?

Endō will not allow us to see this as a “culture war”, a battle between them and us. Surely, there is much that the story’s antagonists and inquisitors, especially former Christians like Kichijirō and Inoue, rightly reject in Christianity as a religion and colonial power–as Japanese Pastor Marre Ishii explores in his review of Silence? It is difficult to distinguish to what degree they would have us wrongly trample underfoot Christ himself as rebels idolatrously set against the Lord of All (Ps 2; Mt 5:10-12; Lk 10:16; Jn 15:18-25), and rightly destroy our crude images of Christ reified in broken institutional religion that is prone to hypocrisy, “cross[ing] land and sea to make one convert, and then turn[ing] that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are” (Mt 23:13-15). Like Jesus himself, Endō is calling the church to “cleanse the temple” (Mt 21:12-17) by evicting what truly is not of God. Only in humility can we witness to a post-Christian culture.

silence-978144729985101Recapping this first point, then, our times increasingly resemble the novel’s setting. Christianity, once popular and even powerful, is on the outer, and a nation “come of age” is prone–with some good reason–to marginalise and even persecute the Church as a threat to the common (read “secular”) good. As missiologist Lesslie Newbigin argues powerfully (see Truth to TellFoolishness to the Greeks, and The Gospel in a Pluralist Society), however, most Christians have not yet recognised that we are the other, the foreigner, in our own home. We, the increasingly “hidden Christians”, are missionaries to a post-Christendom culture. And, as such, the novel Silence is a poignant conversation partner, raising questions of witness, power and colonialism, suffering and doubt, persecution and apostasy. Given that Christ’s Pieces is called to explore what it means to faithfully follow Christ at this cultural cross-road, this book is ripe for our reading together.

Image result for silence movieMercifully shorter than my first rationale, a second reason this book is timely to discuss is that the much anticipated movie rendering of Silence by Martin Scorsese has come! Thirty years in gestation since first reading, this master director describes its production as his own “pilgrimage”. It’s set to be released in Brisbane on February 16, 2017. God willing, we’ll watch it together on Thursday March 2. Obviously watching the movie, mid cycle in Open Book, comes with a complete “spoiler alert”! That said, his adaptation is receiving critical acclaim by the religious and secular alike, and will stimulate great discussion as these tortured characters lift off the page, at once enfleshing and challenging the images in our mind’s eye.

With this movie release (synopsis here; trailer here) has come great interest and a flurry of responses. There have been occasional detractors, such as Roy Peachey from First Things. He questioned both Scorsese and Endō’s telling as rationalising an escape from the suffering of the cross in the name of contextualisation and protection of fellow believers. Most reviewers, however, have praised their constraint, avoiding preaching and instead raising pivotal issues for our at once secular and religious age. As Stephanie Zacharek from Time commented, this story “maps the space between faith and doubt …. Silence makes no clear value judgment between belief and doubt. It’s a movie in the shape of a question mark, which may be the truest sign of the cross.” Personally, this story of cross-shaped witness in a post-Christian context reminded me of Brendan Gleeson’s 2014 characterisation of Irish Priest, Fr. James, in the similarly celebrated and poignant movie, Calvary (Trailer here).

If you’re wanting to delve deeper, these are the best reviews of Silence I’ve read:

  • Alissa Wilkinson on Vox: “Silence is beautiful, unsettling, and one of the finest religious movies ever made. Martin Scorsese’s film keenly understands Shūsaku Endō’s novel and challenges believer and nonbeliever alike.”
  • Simon Smart (from Australia’s Centre for Public Christianity [CPX], on ABC: “How the pain of Scorsese’s Silence mirrors the ‘hard and bitter agony’ of Christmas.”
  • Brett McCracken on Christianity Today: “Scorsese’s Silence asks what it really costs to follow Jesus.”

The particular version of the novel we’ll use is the 2016 edition by Picador (available on Amazon.com here), translated by William Johnston, with a foreword by movie director Martin Scorsese. Their discussion guide is most helpful, posing piercing literary and theological questions with which we will grapple. The companion reflections from nearly 50 authors, responding to Silence, are likewise profound.

We will also draw from a companion book that closely follows Endō’s novel, written by the wonderful Japanese artist and theologian, Makoto Fujimura, with a foreword by Philip Yancey, entitled Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering. Fujimura’s companion website has interviews, art-work, and his own discussion guide. For Yancey’s chapter on Shūsaku Endō (“A Place for Traitors,” in his Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church [London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2007], 261-279), see here. Yancey shares how Endō’s attention to the suffering image of Christ–“the Jesus of reversal” (268)–restored Yancey’s faith, after rejecting the unreality of Christian triumphalism from his fundamentalist youth.

+++

Over 9 fortnightly Thursday sessions (Feb 2 – May 25) we will dialogue with Endō and each other, learning how to realistically imitate Christ’s incarnation as his witnesses, in our post-Christendom (post-Christian?) Australian culture.

Check out the calendar below for key dates, and pdf links to carry you through until you get your own copy of the book (purchase asap on Amazon.com or via Picador).

We have a soft-start from 6:30pm–feel free to rock up early and eat your dinner or share a cup of tea. 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:

1) 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 being the church today?

4) Applications: what does it look like for you to live out of this vision as part of the community of God?

OPEN BOOK, THURSDAYS 7PM | Shūsaku Endō’s SILENCE (S)

Feb 2 | Silence Part 1, pp. vii-10 (27pp): Scorsese’s Foreword (vii-ix), Translator’s Preface (xi-xxiv), Endō’s Prologue (1-10)

[Yancey’s chapter on Shūsaku Endō, “A Place for Traitors,” pp261-279 in his Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2007), is also great introduction.]

Feb 16 | S Part 2, pp. 11-47 (37pp): Ch 1 (11-21), Ch 2 (22-29), & Ch 3 (30-47)

*Wednesday* Mar 1 | Silence Movie

Open Table dinner on Friday March 10 … Theme of LOVE

Mar 16 | S Part 3, pp. 48-83 (36pp): Ch 4 (48-83)

Mar 30 | S Part 4, pp. 84-107 (24pp): Ch 5 (84-107) [cancelled due to Debbie’s Cyclone 😦 ]

Apr 13 | S Part 5, pp. 108-128 (21pp): Ch 6 (108-128) + revisit pp. 84-107 (Ch 5)

Apr 27 | S Part 6, pp. 129-164 (36pp): Ch 7 (129-164)

May 11 | S Part 7, pp. 165-189 (25pp): Ch 8 (165-183), & Ch 9 (184-189)

May 25 | S Part 8, pp. 190-212 (23pp): Dinner celebration/remembering of all practices (ppnt/pdf recap) and consolidation of our response to the central question of the series: “How can we imitate Christ as witnesses in a culture rejecting Christianity?” (Ch 10 (190-204), & Appendix (205-212). We’ll provide soup & bread (7pm sharp); bring dessert if able.

Open Table dinner on Friday June 9 … Theme of TRUTH (7 for 7:30pm start)

July 27 | Restart semester 2 with The Benedict Option on the question, “What practices preserve our witness [& identity] in a post-Christian context?”

Hope to see you there!fumie

Open Table on FAITH

hqdefaultincredulity-of-saint-thomas-1602_caravaggioFriday 28 October 2016 | Open Table
on the theme of FAITH

Art: Leunig’s animated cartoon “Cardboard Box” (from his DVD, Whimsy)

Also Caravaggio’s 1603 painting,
The Incredulity of Saint Thomas

Poem/Song: Lauren Daigle “I Will Trust in You” (lyrics here) in response to a prophet’s impassioned prayer while awaiting his city’s destruction, in Habakkuk 3:1-2, 16-19.

Scripture: John 20:24-29, as Thomas–the patron saint for skeptics–is confronted by the call to put his faith in the crucified Christ.

Friday January 2017 (date tba) | Open Table, on the theme of the third theological virtue, LOVE.

Since 2016, we’ve been hosting semi-regular Open Table gatherings. So far we’ve explored HOSPITALITY, before getting into the theological virtues of FAITH, HOPE & LOVE. From there, we’ll launch into the transcendentals, TRUTH, GOODNESS & BEAUTY. Paul’s advice has led the way:

Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (Philippians 4:8).

All welcome from 6:30pm onwards, but officially we’ll kick off at 7pm, and be done around 9pm. It’s pretty informal, but coming on time helps the group hang together.

XP is obviously Christian! That said, it’s not “religious” in the sense that you can only come if you’re a churchy kind of person.
This night in particular is a community event.

Everyone has a story. And God’s story interweaves with our own, often in ways we can’t even see.
It takes a face-to-face encounter with those who are different from us to draw it out.

So, this night is open to everyone. Bring a friend.

There is no r.s.v.p. That said, it’s a massive help if you bring something small to contribute to the meal.  Bring something for a main dish that you would enjoy eating, and if you’re feeling lavish, bring a bottle too! We’ll provide dessert and some extra drinks. And if you forget to grab something, don’t let that stop you. Come anyway!

Sgreenso, what exactly is OPEN TABLE?

Imagine communion as a true meal, sharing stories around a central theme, and seeing how our stories tie into God’s story of mission to redeem (and reconnect) a broken world.

The themes are as deep and varied as life itself: love, hate, work, pain, hope, reconciliation, creativity, evil, wisdom, healing, purpose, violence, confusion, destiny …

Whatever the theme for that week sparks in you is fair game. You can even bring along a song, a piece of art, a movie clip, a photo, an artifact … bring whatever helps you tell a scene from your personal story.

We will typically post one passage from the Bible alongside that theme. No preaching, but picture an open dialogue about how this story resonates with your own. Perhaps together we’ll see how in God we really do live, move, and have our being.

Feel free to post your ideas for themes and passages also

… we’re keen for this to become an authentic/real community.

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

Open Book 2016: Community & Growth

The old has gone, the new has come! Okay, Christ’s Pieces isn’t as exciting as the eschaton! Still, we hope that through this experimental Christian community at Open Book, faith is deepening and you are discovering a foretaste of the transformation God has in store for all of his creation.

2015 laid a great foundation with book studies of Desiring the Kingdom and Kingdom Calling. Together we’ve explored how to leverage our everyday habits to align with and experience the reign of God. We’ve also discovered how to reframe our daily grind as a God-given vocation through which we seek first the Kingdom.

Each fortnightly gathering we’ve shared in the combination of rich liturgy (Taize songs, Northumbrian prayers, creative Bible reading), open discussion, reflection on art, and the designing of rich practices and habits to reinforce our identity and calling in Christ. In our first cycle for 2016 (starting Thursday 4th February) we follow up with a natural and pressing question:

Beyond solo efforts, how do we grow together in Christlikeness and grow up in mission as the community of God?

Forming new life-rhythms and integrating our faith and work is not meant to be an individualistic pursuit. Jesus came to redeem and reconcile humanity as a family. He brings disparate members and even enemies together in one body. This is the “church”. 

And yet, today we are seeing vast numbers of Christians leaving institutional expressions of the faith, and setting out on their own spiritual voyage of discovery.

That’s why we’re taking a semester to sit at the feet of a sage. Jean Vanier , an internationally celebrated humanist, philosopher and theologian, formed the L’Arche community in 1964. It was a simple and yet revolutionary expression of Christ’s love, as people with and without an intellectual disability lived together in genuine, reciprocal relationship. (You can hear him share this vision here and here.)

Jean crystallised his thoughts in his book Community and Growth, expanded upon in the 1989 edition which is available on amazon.com here. Over 10 sessions we will dialogue with the work of this wise writer. We will re-imagine what it means to be the church–the community of God–in terms of unity, commitment, mission, growth, nourishment, authority, gifts, welcome (inclusion and hospitality), gatherings, rhythms, and celebration.

While few of us have a diagnosed intellectual impairment (I’m counting myself in on this, where PhD means ‘permanent head damage’!), we are each special in our own way. We each must learn to love and be loved precisely in our difference, weakness and even pain. In so doing, we may together grow and become more fully human, bearing God’s image collectively in our community.

Check out the calendar below for key dates, and pdf links to carry you through until you get your own copy of the book.

We have a soft-start from 6:30pm–feel free to rock up early and eat your dinner or share a cup of tea. 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:

1) 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 being the church today?

4) Applications: what does it look like for you to live out of this vision as part of the community of God?

OPEN BOOK, THURSDAYS 7PM:

February 4 | Community & Growth [CG] #1: Restart Open Book … Exploring the theme by sharing our stories of the good, bad and ugly of Christian community. We’ll bounce off the pre-reading from CG xiii-12 (Preface + Introduction)

February 18 | Community & Growth #2: UnityCG 13-60 (Ch 1)

March 3 | Community & Growth #3: Commitment and Mission … CG 61-83 (Ch 2) + 84-103 (Ch 3)

March 17 | Community & Growth #4: Growth … CG 104-164 (Ch 4)

March 31 | Easter celebration meal and open conversation … perhaps we could tie in with the Brisbane chapter of L’Arche here?

April 14 | Community & Growth #6: Nourishment … CG 165-204 (Ch 5)

April 28 | Community & Growth #7: Authority and Gifts … CG 205-239 (Ch 6) + 240-264 (Ch 7)

May 12 | Community & Growth #8: Welcome and Meetings … CG 265-283 (Ch 8) + 284-296 (Ch 9)

May 26 | Community & Growth #9: Rhythms and Celebration … CG 297-312 (Ch 10) + 313-328 (Ch 11)

June 9 | Community & Growth #10: Integration toward transformed lives … CG 329-331 (Conclusion)

July 28 | Restart semester 2 with a new book and theme … t.b.a.

Hope to see you there!