Treading Lightly @ Open Book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An ATSI v Euro worldview comparison handout-page-001.jpg

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

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This series is animated by these questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check out the calendar below for key dates, and pick up your paperback or kindle version of TL here, with a temporary PDF here.

{Want to join us virtually? We’re experimenting with Zoom so you can listen in, and share your thoughts, live streaming the experience. Download the pdf of the powerpoint slides (on schedule below, e.g., click link for TL1) to play on your computer, and then see what’s happening through a basic web-cam capture of the group. We’ll have a shared microphone so the sound won’t be great, but you should be able to hear what we’re each saying, add your own voice when you ‘unmute’ your microphone, and participate in the practices as best as we can short of teleporting materials to your living room! … https://zoom.us/j/396017392 … Log in around 7:00pm on the fortnightly Thursday to test your sound, then start the conversation with us around 7:20-9:10pm. New to Zoom? 50 second meeting joining video  here, and more detailed directions, especially for problem shooting, here.}

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

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

1) Questions: what didn’t make sense?

2) Challenges: what did you think was wrong?

3) Implications: what wisdom does this offer for harmonious existence?

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope to see you there!

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“How to Find Rest” at Open Table

Friday 26 July 2019 | Open Table
HOW TO FIND REST

Leunig_Rest

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

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

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

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

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

112 Noon Rest from Work after Millet

Text & Reflection   |  Psalm 23 (KJV):

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

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

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

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

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

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

DelightWonderPresence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Banksy_Rest

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

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

TechnologyShabbat

SABBATH REST

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

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

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

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

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

SabbathSabbath involves four key elements:

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

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

Leunig_Hymn

 

 

“Wisdom of Our Elders” at Open Table

Friday 10 May 2019 | Open Table
WISDOM OF OUR ELDERS

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

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

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

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

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

Emily_JennySages1993Here’s a bit more on the subject:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nanna’s Rainbows in the Tears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“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.

Dutch fruit 2

“War and Peace” at Open Table

Friday 6 April 2018 | Open Table
WAR & PEACE

WarAndPeace

Bring a main dish to share, and come with a story to tell in response to the stimulus below, this time held at Andrew & Liz Nichols’ house (155 Burbong St. Chapel Hill; call Liz on 0415624982 if lost!) and facilitated by Noel Payne.
Welcome from 7pm, official kick off at 7:30pm. Any questions before the night? Call/txt Dave on 0491138487.

Art     | “Will You?”‘ … “Will take my hand? Will you help me find truth? Will you help me seek justice? Will you please, please, please take my hand? by Indigenous artist, Jasmin Roberts (for Reconciliation Week; see Common Grace’s write-up here)Will You_Jasmin Roberts
Text   | 2 Timothy 3:1-4 on “the last days”: “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” … and if you’re more of a story person, perhaps bounce off Jesus’ mixed advice on carrying swords for self-defence into the Garden of Gethsemane, in Luke 22:35-38, 47-53 (cf. Matthew 26:47-56: “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” v52)
Poem | “Jesus of the Scars” by Edward Shillito (1872-1948), a Free Church minister in England during “The Great War” (WWI), himself discharged from the army with injuries from the battlefield:

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If we have never sought, we seek Thee now;
Thine eyes burn through the dark, our only stars;
We must have sight of thorn-pricks on Thy brow,
We must have Thee, O Jesus of the Scars. 

The heavens frighten us; they are too calm;
In all the universe we have no place.
Our wounds are hurting us; where is the balm?
Lord Jesus, by Thy Scars, we claim Thy grace.

If, when the doors are shut, Thou drawest near,
Only reveal those hands, that side of Thine;
We know to-day what wounds are, have no fear,
Show us Thy Scars, we know the countersign.

The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.

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warpeace

Inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s 1867 book title oft’ quoted but rarely read, War and Peace as an Open Table theme invites you to share a personal story of violence and/or reconciliation as a gateway to global conflict and God’s shalom. 

War And Peace Quotes War And Peace | Book Quotes Hub | Page 3

To prime the pump, consider the dynamics fuelling and resolving the conflict:

  • Would all parties agree on who was the oppressor and the oppressed, or do these categories blur with who is telling the story?
  • What was the battle over–whether interpersonal, communal/tribal, or national/ethnic?
  • For each party, what did they hope to gain? Was there an ideal outcome, a win-win even?
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  • What casualties and injuries were incurred? Have these wounds changed over time, whether deepening or healing–the scars becoming counter-signs of character?
  • What allies or medics came to your attention, helping heal the outcome of violence?
  • What held each party back from seeking a peaceful resolution, at least at first?
  • Describe the process of reconciliation, whether actual or potential, i.e., what it would take to re-unite the divided people. That is, what makes for peace?
  • How does this encounter, and telling this story, impact you in the present? Is it a redeemed memory, or an ongoing source of pain?
  • In what ways does your experience of violence offer a window into global conflict that grips our countries, and from which we turn to the heavens for relief?

Let the conversation begin! … Bring food and a story to share,
and join us as together we explore WAR & PEACE as the pendulum of human history.

leo

 

 

 

 

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!

(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)