Treading Lightly @ Open Book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This series is animated by these questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1) Questions: what didn’t make sense?

2) Challenges: what did you think was wrong?

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Wisdom of Our Elders” at Open Table

Friday 10 May 2019 | Open Table
WISDOM OF OUR ELDERS

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

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

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

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

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

Emily_JennySages1993Here’s a bit more on the subject:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nanna’s Rainbows in the Tears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Blessed are the Peacemakers at Open Book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tensions Remain High At Israeli Gaza Border

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No easy task, but a crucial dialogue nonetheless!

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

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

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

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

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

IVPPraxis-mobile

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

1) Questions: what didn’t make sense?

2) Challenges: what did you think was wrong?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope to see you there!

Vox

“Superheroes” at Open Table

Friday 1 March 2019 | Open Table
SUPERHEROES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

superheroes in everyday situations

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what is this topic all about?

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

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

heroes

 

“Divine Sex” at Open Book!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

on the meaning of sex

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

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

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

Check out the calendar below for key dates, and pick up your paper or kindle version of Divine Sex (DS) here.

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

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

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

2) Challenges: what did you think was wrong?

3) Implications: if this is true, what does it mean for how we live as sexual beings following Christ in community?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope to see you there!

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(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 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