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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cc-cover-200x300

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

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

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

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

 

Open Book: The Benedict Option

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

benop

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

1) Questions: what didn’t make sense?

2) Challenges: what did you think was wrong?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope to see you there!

salt light

 

Open Book on KINGDOM CALLING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1) Questions: what didn’t make sense?

2) Challenges: what did you think was wrong?

3) Implications: if this is true, what does it mean for how the church follows Christ today?

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

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

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

OPEN BOOK, THURSDAYS 7PM:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope to see you there!

mad-farmer-5-we-are

Open Book on COLOSSIANS REMIXED

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

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

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

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

Yay for Paul.

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

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

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

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

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

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

1) Questions: what didn’t make sense?

2) Challenges: what did you think was wrong?

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

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

OPEN BOOK, THURSDAYS 7PM:

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

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

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

Open Table dinner on Friday September 2 … Theme of HOPE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope to see you there!

Maiorina-Vetranio-siscia_RIC_281

Open Book on Endō’s SILENCE

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

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

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

silence-high-quality-book-cover

Order the Picador 2016 edition online here.

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

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

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

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This book is timely for two reasons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+++

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

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

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

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

1) Questions: what didn’t make sense?

2) Challenges: what did you think was wrong?

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Wednesday* Mar 1 | Silence Movie

Open Table dinner on Friday March 10 … Theme of LOVE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope to see you there!fumie

Liturgy: Colossians Remixed

 

Lighting of the Candles   

We light a candle in the name of the Maker,

Who lit the world and breathed the breath of life for us

We light a candle in the name of the Son,

Who saved the world and stretched out his hand to us…

We light a candle in the name of the Spirit,

Who encompasses the world and blesses our souls with yearning…

We light three lights for the trinity of love:

God above us, God beside us, God Beneath us:

The beginning, the end, the everlasting one.

Confession & Handwashing                                             

Song                                   

(Wk 1) Solid Rock/Cornerstone https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fX0UYyJZKCc

(Wk 2) I need you https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_rR_Rdb1CTE

(Wk 3) O the deep deep love of Jesus https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1vUhwyjdk8A

(Wk 4) See the stars by Andy Flanaghan (meditation) http://tidido.com/a35184373683301/al55d689e713b521ef22692b51/t55d689e813b521ef22692b7e

(Wk 5)  Holy, holy, holy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=414dGGTedpM                        This little light of mine https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J2kDsqGeoLU

(Wk 6)  Ubi Caritas, Audrey Assad, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_Pp0jKn1zQ    How Can I Keep From Singing, Audrey Assad, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Li2hddmy63U

(Wk 7)  I shall not want, Audrey Assad https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gn7Wwa4T16A  God of Justice (we must go), Tim Hughes https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BUn05awXdsY

(Wk 8)  Christ is Risen, Matt Maher https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jZM-eNHrp5k  What a beautiful name, Brooke Fraser https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vc4WNBKa7Eg

Liturgy                 

Let nothing disturb you, nothing dismay. All things are possible. God does not change.

In the shadow of looming institutions and power structures, we come.

Lord have mercy

Surrounded by wars and rumours of wars, we come.

Lord have mercy

Drawn by the pull to possess, we come.

Lord have mercy

Seduced by the stories of our age, we come.

Lord have mercy

Let nothing disturb you, nothing dismay. All things are possible. God does not change.

As deep cries unto deep

We yearn for your ancient paths.

Faithful and true, grant us a vision of life large enough to reject the false claims of our age.

Faithful and true, anchor us as the tides pull at our feet of clay.

Faithful and true, show us those who have gone before and faithfully improvised in their age.

Faithful and true, make us faithful and true.

Reflection on Practice from previous week

Read corresponding Colossians passage and share thoughts and questions                                         

Discussion / Art/Imagine

1. Questions: What didn’t make sense?

2. Challenges: what did you think was wrong?

3. Implications: if this is true, what does it mean for how the church follows Christ today?

4. Stimuli

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

Wk 1 Praying the papers: each person takes a page of ‘the Australian’ as stimulus. Discussion and group prayer.

Wk 2 https://www.telstra.com.au/thriveon

Wk 3 Are you gonna go my way, Lenny Kravitz – pray for the receptivity of our culture to the whole gospel. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i5PZQMwL7iE

Wk 4 “Thank God you’re Here” clip & discussion regarding faithful and unfaithful ‘improvisation’.

Wk 5 Praying the papers: each person takes a page of the ‘Courier Mail’ as stimulus. Discussion and prayer

Wk 6 Economy/Oikinomia, For the Life of the world, Episode 3, Creative Service (7:34-12:07)

Wk 7 “Praying the papers” identifying those who are being controlled or oppressed behind the stories.  Also, “Man” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WfGMYdalClU

Wk 8 “O little town of Bethlehem” St Paul’s Media https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjQDl95tOcU

Everyday Practice/Challenges (see ‘practices’ blog for details)

Wk 1 : drawing the anchor

Wk 2 : the reef as flourishing

Wk 3: read a portion of the letter to Diognetus

Wk 4: Preach to Creation

Wk 5: Turn to face the sun

Wk 6 Inclusive Hospitality

Wk 7  Ethical Consumption

Wk 8: Advent Candles

Doxology (join with community of saints through the ages)

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.

Praise Him, all creatures here below.

Praise God above, ye heavenly hosts.

Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.    Amen.

Benediction (Dave)

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you: wherever he may send you;

may he guide you through the wilderness: protect you through the storm;

may he bring you home rejoicing: at the wonders he has shown you;

may he bring you home rejoicing: once again into our doors.

Resources

“Common Prayer: A liturgy for Ordinary Radicals” by Shane Claiborne et al p480-482

“Iona Abbey Worship Book” by The Iona Community

Liturgy: Community & Growth

Lighting of the Candles

We light a candle in the name of the Maker,

Who lit the world and breathed the breath of life for us…

We light a candle in the name of the Son,

Who saved the world and stretched out his hand to us…

We light a candle in the name of the Spirit,

Who encompasses the world and blesses our souls with yearning…

 

We light three lights for the trinity of love:

God above us, God beside us, God Beneath us:

The beginning, the end, the everlasting one.

 

Prayer & Silence Confession (tasting lemon)

Receive God’s Grace (tasting honey or sweet)

Prayers of Adoration & Gratitude (whispered simultaneously)

                                                           

Song 

(Wk 1) This I believe (the Creed), Hillsong

(Wk 2) intro (Jeremy Begbie) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2u20RxqPvo

Holy God – the Trisagion Hymn, Eastern Orthodox https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0CmQd7BgNis&index=27&list=RDICnHiJbmjLI

(Wk 3) Let all mortal flesh keep silence (Ordinary Time)

(Wk 4 & 5) Author of my days (Ordinary Time)

(Wk 5) O Praise the Name ‘Anastasis’ (Hillsong)

(Wk 6)  The Servant Song & Servant King

(Wk 7)   You Cannot Lose My Love (Sara Groves)

How Deep the Father’s Love (Deep Still 2)

(Wk 8) Handel’s Messiah, Hallelujah Chorus

 

Truth Declaration – Liturgy of Love

“You are one” clip http://www.theworkofthepeople.com/you-are-one (4:25)

 

Prayers for Others

(respond aloud with single names if group member are comfortable, or pray silently)

God, we bring to you someone who we bumped into or remembered today …

God, we bring to you someone who is hurting tonight….

God, we bring to you a troubled situation in our world tonight…

God, we bring to you someone whom we find hard to forgive or trust…

God, we bring ourselves to you that we might grow in generosity of spirit, clarity of mind, and warmth of affection…

 

One Another Ministries (grp member choose one – read – members share thoughts or stories).

LOVE one another — Jn 13:34-35, Rom. 12:101 Pet. 1:221 John 3:11

ENCOURAGE one another — Rom. 1:121 Thess. 4:185:11Heb. 10:25

INSTRUCT / TEACH / ADMONISH one another — Rom. 15:14Col. 3:16

CARE FOR / SERVE one another — 1 Cor. 12:251 Pet. 4:8-11

SERVE one another — Gal. 5:13, Col 3:23-24, Phil 2:5-7, Mark 9:35 + 10:45

COMFORT one another — 2 Cor. 13:11

FORGIVE one another — Eph. 4:32

EXHORT one another — Heb. 3:12-13

STIR UP one another TO LOVE + GOOD WORKS — Heb. 10:24-25

PRAY FOR one another & CONFESS SINS TO one another— James 5:16

BEAR With / BEAR the burdens of one another — Rom. 15:1Gal. 6: 2Eph. 4:2

BUILD UP one another — Rom. 15:2

LIVE IN HARMONY WITH / WELCOME one another — Rom. 15:5-7, 1 Pet 3:8

MINISTER TO one another — 1 Thess. 5:12-14

WORSHIP GOD together — Rom. 15:6Heb. 2:1213:13-15

 

Discussion / Art/Imagine

  1. Questions: What didn’t make sense?
  2. Challenges: what did you think was wrong?
  3. Implications: if true, what does it mean for how the church follows Christ today?
  4. Art & time to imagine
  5. Applications: what does it look like for you to live out of this vision?

 

Wk 1  The Scream, Edvard Munch (1863-1944) depiction of modern alienation

Wk 2 http://www.theworkofthepeople.com/my-neighbors-music

Wk 3   The Last Supper, Leonardo Da Vinci (1494-1499)

Wk 3  The Table of Hope, Joey Velasco

Wk 3 http://www.theworkofthepeople.com/table-benediction (1:53)

Wk 4  American War Cemetery Personal Reflection Activity

Wk 5  Vulture Stalking a child, Kevin Carter, 1993 (Sudan). Reflect on 9 sources of nourishment; which are lacking in your life? In the life of the communities to which you belong?

Wk 5 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SloBtoNwD9k ‘Punkmonks’ monastic community, East Germany

Wk 6 Helen Keller biography https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oxiJ02-hpZY

Wk 7  The Return of the Prodigal Son, Rembrandt (1661-9)

Wk 7  Light of the World, William Holman Hunt (1851-3)

Wk 8  The Wedding Feast at Cana, Paolo Veronese (1563, The Louvre)

Wk 8 The Marriage at Cana, Jan Cornelisz Vermeyen (1530, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam)

Wk 8 “For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles” Episode 7: the church. Acton Institute, Evan Koons 2015 (8:54 mins – 12:36 mins

 

Everyday Practice

(Wk 1) Jelly making – heart of flesh/vulnerability

Ez 36:26 “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

(Wk 2) Pop art – Light and shade in all of us. What are my blocks, jealousies, prejudices, hatreds, ways of comparing myself with others?

(Wk 3) Earplug activity – hearing the voices from the margins. Confession using images/earplugs then pray the beatitudes.

(Wk 4)  Foot Washing – humility and service (to be remembered throughout the week whenever drying your own feet “Lord, wash me so I can love”

(Wk 5) Participants to use art reflection to consider a unique practice targeting weak areas of nourishment eg. meeting with godly friend, bedtime.

Also (while sharing of fruit platter) silence and thanksgiving during evening meals or breakfast (for sources of nourishment in participants lives).

(Wk 6) Hand Spelling (Helen Keller) “Life is Gift”

(Wk 7) Free Hugs Campaign, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vr3x_RRJdd4 or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hN8CKwdosjE

Discuss components of a hug and how they parallel having an open heart.

As opportunity arises to hug another remember God’s open arms to you.

(Wk 8) Drying the Dishes – Post your hallelujah chorus words at the kitchen sink and give thanks for the everyday ordinariness of serving Christ/others in the mundane.

“when you did it for the least of these, you did it for me” Matt 25:40

 

Benediction (while holding hands)

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon;

where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master,

grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;

to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love;

For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

http://www.theworkofthepeople.com/prayer-of-saint-francis (1:35)

 

Doxology (join with community of saints through the ages)

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.

Praise Him, all creatures here below.

Praise God above, ye heavenly hosts.

Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.    Amen.

 

Resources

http://www.theworkofthepeople.com

“Common Prayer: A liturgy for Ordinary Radicals” by Shane Claiborne et al

“Iona Abbey Worship Book” by The Iona Community