Plate, Poetry & Prose @ Open Table

Friday 24 April 2020 | Open Table

PLATE, POETRY & PROSE

ZOOM Link (472 481 329; PW: ppp)
+ padlet.com/david_benson/opentablepoet for hire

It’s been tough days for artists; Corona has all but shut down multiple industries with nary a penny of government funds to help. And, what, with Christ’s Pieces being an outpost for budding bards and aspiring painters, parodists and poetasters, these isolates are in search of an outlet. Especially while waiting in lock-down.

So, come one, come all–whether dilettante or accomplished dramatist–to this veritable (and virtual) smorgasbord of verse! We warmly invite regulars and sundry to this themed Open Table “Plate, Poetry and Prose” night, 7pm on Friday 24th April, 2020.

It will be a “Zoom-in-your-room” night of

  • BYO meal (theme ingredient = beans) … we’ll share our recipes
  • BYO poetic verse or paragraph of prose (theme ingredient = waiting)

Select from something existing (though, avoiding naughty plagiarism, let us in on the source) OR have a go and write your own (as our resident mystic, Noel, has below).

Naked spirit, naked flesh
embracing mystery
exploring earth

Living now, alive always
flowing with time
eternally being

Silly, serious, questioning or clever … whatever takes your fancy. Get your creative on!

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And excessive expertise or professionalism is off-putting, so puns and poorly rhyming songs are most welcome, in the spirit of Hunt for the Wilderpeople’s haiku or happy birthday song

We will connect our dinners and dialogue over the interwebs of data:

  • Click here for the direct Zoom meeting (Meeting ID: 472 481 329; Password: ppp)
  • Upload your shared recipe or verse to padlet.com/david_benson/opentable, or simply ‘Share Screen’ from Zoom on the night. (If really stuck, you can text it to 0491138487, and Dave B will put it on the padlet for you.)

So, prepare your dinner ready to eat at 7:00pm, for a fun night of “Plate, Poetry & Prose.” We’ll be all done by 9:30pm when you might want to stay and e-socialise over tasty supper (yes, which you provide) and shandy or some other preferred sip. All welcome, whatever your faith or none.

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Ritual @ Open Table

Friday 21 February 2020 | Open Table
RITUAL

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Needled by Michael Leunig’s cartoon “So You Believe in This?” and imaginatively entering the multilayered drama of Exodus 12:1-13:16 (the Passover; echoed in Luke 22:7-20 with Jesus’ Last Supper), we launch Open Table 2020 with a night sharing stories on the theme of RITUAL.

In a culture fixated with the here and now of this immanent frame, any kind of ‘ceremony’ seems suspect and superstitious–empty and easy to knock down. And yet, these richly symbolic and habitual practices tie us into a greater story and a deeper identity–a kind of tactile memory hook re-narrating who we are and what we’re called to do. SO, what rituals are most meaningful to you? What’s involved, how does it work, and to what hope does it point? And how might we discern between living sacrament and stale liturgy? 

This exploration leads well into our first Open Book series, dialoguing with Eastern Orthodox scholar-priest Alexander Schmemann, considering his sacramental theology in the classic, For the Life of the World

Join us, 7:00pm for a 7:30pm start, at Nik and Dave Benson’s place, 152 Tanderra Way, Karana Downs, with bring-your-own pot-luck mains to share (dessert provided), and beautiful conversation in community to follow this graced meal. All are welcome (invite away!), whatever your identity, practice, creed and belief, or lack thereof. Any questions before the night? Call/txt Dave on 0491138487.

Art/Poem     | Michael Leunig, “So You Believe in This?

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Text & Reflection   |  Exodus 12:1-13:16 (Passover Ritual) esp. 12:21-27, and 13:9-10, 16, as a precursor to Luke 22:7-20 (echoed in the Last Supper/Messianic Passover, itself foreshadowing the greater deliverance through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross):

Moses said, When you enter the land the Lord has promised to give you, you will continue to observe this ritual. Then your children will ask, ‘What does this ceremony mean?’ And you will reply, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, for he passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt. And though he struck the Egyptians, he spared our families.’ … This annual festival will be a visible sign to you, like a mark branded on your hand or your forehead. Let it remind you always to recite this teaching of the Lord: ‘With a strong hand, the Lord rescued you from Egypt.’ So observe the decree of this festival at the appointed time each year.(Ex 12:21-27, 13:9-10, 16)

Now the Festival of Unleavened Bread arrived, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed. … Jesus took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” After supper he took another cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you. (Luke 22:7-20)

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Further thoughts to prime your narrative pump …

Recently we attended some friends’ citizenship ceremony, as they were naturalised as Aussies. I must confess, I was caught out by how similar this service was to an evangelical ‘come to Jesus’ rally.

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We stood for the entering of the flags; we sang our national anthem full of antiquated words like ‘girt’; a sermon was delivered by a (Government) Minister decked out in robes, honoring Australian heroes like the ANZACs, and retelling stories of what it means to be called to this promised land; a creed was recited and the penitent stood to acknowledge their serious commitment. “Remember, when you stand and say the pledge, this is the moment when you become a citizen.” For the denoument, the converts walk across the stage to receive their certificate–all set to rapturous applause as these foreigners became part of our extended family–even as this official document was merely the outward sign of an invisible grace that transformation had truly taken place. Afterward we ate a sacred meal of lamingtons and vegemite-smeared bread rolls while sipping lemon tea, all heading back to our homes reminded of our shared identity that binds disparate individuals in a modern democracy.

This elaborate event functioned as a sacrament of sorts. When looking for a picture to accompany the preceding prose, I came across a book by scholar Bridget Byrne (2014), the title of which captured it perfectly: Making Citizens: Public Rituals and Personal Journeys to Citizenship (from the Palgrave “Politics of Identity and Citizenship” Series). So, what am I to make of such a ‘religious’ event in this 21st century ‘secular’ western society? Haven’t we moved past all this clap-trap?

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There is something in the post-Christendom mind–even present in pastors and theological educators like me–that is prone to scoff at such symbolic action. It can seem so contrived, artificial, put-on, even pathetic. “So, you believe in this?” Can’t we just talk about these ordinances rather than going through the motions; why not simply agree that it’s merely a mental game, and move on?

Worse, to the uninitiated, it seems like a gateway to dangerous jingoism, religious fanaticism, and perhaps even distorted occultic fascination among the growing ranks of the ‘spiritual but not religious’. I’m reminded that some of my Protestant forebears had the same attitude shortly after the Reformation to their Catholic brethren, for whom the Communion ritual remains so dear as the place the veil is removed and heaven comes to earth, as captured in this seven minute film.

BLESSED CHEESEMAKERSsospecialJuxtaposed with this reverence above, picture the Monty Python Life of Brian scene, when the intelligentsia mishear our Lord’s sermon on the mount to promise that “Blessed are the cheesemakers”–they guffaw, “what’s so special about the cheesemakers?”

Well, overhearing the Eucharist in Latin, “hoc est corpus“–“this is the body of Christ”–and observing that with the ringing of a common bell the bread apparently transubstantiated into the sacred body of Christ, the Protestant intelligentsia (foreshadowing postmodern deconstructionists) guffawed,

Hocus pocus! What’s so special about the bread and winemakers?”

ritual-circle-ceremony-womens-sacredWe wonder out loud, how is this different to a magic trick, a meaningless ritual best left in the dark ages? Pagan cultus and religious superstition apparently collide, both readily dismissed as pure ignorance in an enlightened era.

062413 01And yet, sometimes growing up as individuals and as a culture means entering, in philosopher Paul Ricoeur’s beautiful phrase, a “second naïveté” where these rituals take on fresh meaning, even in an age allergic to religion and far from amused by metaphysics. It’s no virtue, intellectual or ethical, to be so literally minded that we conflate the symbol and its referent, thereby dismissing both as an illusion. Like the Roman general, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, conquering Jerusalem and entering the Holy of Holies in the Temple, to declare it “empty“, perhaps we are all too quick to mock a fundamental aspect of what it means to be human, thus avoiding the divine who takes on flesh to accommodate his presence to our senses, in place of a crass and localised idol.

2011 French Open - Day NinePerhaps we can get at the human aspect of ritual through the great Rafael Nadal, consummate tennis great and man of many habits. To be sure, his rearranging of water bottles, stepping across the line leading with his right foot, and repetitive pick of his pants before serving another ace, looks very quirky to the uninitiated. And yet, our performance as human beings is premised on stringing together numerous routines and habits–collectively comprising rituals–hard-wired through our bodies into neural pathways that gear us up for whatever comes next.

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This is how we learn, how we grow, and how the human animal fairly short on instincts is able to accommodate so many foreign environments and thrive. It’s a fine line between superstition and sport-stars having a rich pattern that ties them into a stronger psychological game, reminding them of where they’ve come from, who they presently are, and where they’re going. Again, this is a fundamentally human activity, not a peculiar predilection of ‘religious’ people. (Though, Paul Tillich would argue that to be human is to be religious, in the sense of religare–bound together like ligaments by our ultimate concerns and liturgies to keep what matters most at the centre.)

Initiation rituals among Ndaka people, near Epulu, Ituri Forest, Congo (Democratic Republic),Anthropologists assure us that every culture across time draws on ritual: “a religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order.” Whether it’s for birth or death, coming-of-age or getting hitched, work or worship, we draw on rich symbolism and repetitive actions to form new habits that enshrine a particular identity and trace the contours of the cosmos.

Jamie Smith captures this well in his “cultural liturgies” trilogy, which we explored in one of our first Open Book series:

Human persons are intentional creatures whose fundamental way of “intending” the world is love or desire. This love or desire—which is unconscious or noncognitive—is always aimed at some vision of the good life, some particular articulation of the kingdom. What primes us to be so oriented—and act accordingly—is a set of habits or dispositions that are formed in us through affective, bodily means, especially bodily practices, routines, or rituals that grab hold of our hearts through our imagination, which is closely linked to our bodily senses. [Desiring the Kingdom, pp62-63. Or for the hoi poloi readable version, see You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit]

6b6157025ba7dccc38ed0fe693ef9b0dTrue, this is pivotal for religious people gathered together as the church. We are called to be a foretaste of when God sets the world right; we are a sacrament for the life of the world, extended through our practice of multi-sensory rituals such as communion and baptism, embedded in the ongoing story of redemption tracing back to Passover and walking through the Jordan into the promised land. Our past identity and future vision of hope directs our rehearsing—for truth, justice, beauty, and healing—in the present. Ceremony is central to it all, orbiting around God-become-man in the Christ, and climaxing with the bloody cross.

PR_Use the power of ritual_peace vigilBut, there is a growing recognition among the non-religious–both spiritual and secular alike–that our ephemeral age has not ceased to be human, needing richer liturgies to remind us of who we are, and empower our actions in the search for justice. “Beautiful Trouble“, for instance, is a disparate band of activists seeking a more just world. There’s hardly a Christian among them, but they advocate for leveraging “the power of ritual” to add meaning to their protests–symbolic action capturing what it’s all about.

78f767a51883820554b095abf7ec2c48Bringing these meandering thoughts to a close, “practices are not passe.” We should be cautious before rubbishing ritual. Even as we are right to deconstruct empty man-made customs where any repetitive action is believed to automatically achieve some transcendent result, we are wrong to seek a purely intellectual way in the world, where words alone (sola verbum) empty life of symbol and sacrament. There is a deeper magic in the ways of God, where re-membering the mystery of Christ’s blood shed may be the only balm for a hopeless generation bent on cutting words of shame into their skin. Not merely a memory trick, God is pleased through our everyday motions and the material stuff of bread and wine to redeem and form those who humbly trust this intervention. As we grow up to better grapple with the shape of the universe, let us not be offended that the Creator was pleased to make humanity from the humus of the earth, and draw us into the divine life through such fragile rituals that speak poetically of greater things, embodying the good and directing our gaze upward to the source of grace.

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“Grown & Gathered” at Open Table

Friday 15 November 2019 | Open Table
GROWN & GATHERED

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Bouncing off Genesis 1:29 and Matthew 13:31-32, we’re pleased to host actor and historian, eccentric educator and effervescent green-thumb, not to mention all-round good-guy, Chris Chapman, to share with us his experiments in cultivating organic gardens in suburbia, and urban foraging around Brisbane (e.g., Horst’s Edible Brisbane: Public Fruit map). This follows on well from our Open Book series learning from the wisdom of Indigenous cultures to Tread Lightly.

Co-hosted by A’Rocha Australia, all are welcome, so cajole your friends along for a taste of how Christians practice creation care (also here, with a previous Open Book series on Care for Our Common Home here). And if you haven’t found sufficient goodies along the road on the way to 155 Burbong St. Chapel Hill, bring a MAINS &/or DRINK to share, with dessert provided; come with a story to tell in response to the stimulus on the topic of “Grown & Gathered”. 

In Chris’s words, Grown & Gathered is about “getting free food from garden plants and wild weeds for those too scungy to go and buy food like normal people do.Cheap as I am, I’m sold. But, what’s your experience on this adventure?

 What’s your favourite bush food?
Any ethics surrounding ‘scrumping‘?
Given your gardening efforts, what colour is your thumb and why?
How, if at all, does your worldview shape how you cultivate the land and consume food?
How might horticultural wisdom (weeding, watering and fertilising) inform holiness and pursuit of a healthy and fruitful life? 

Following Jesus’ metaphor, in what sense is God’s Kingdom a humble seed planted in a field, a home for the wandering birds looking to alight?

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Held at Andrew and Liz Nichols’ house (155 Burbong St. Chapel Hill). Welcome from 6:30pm, official kick off at 7:00pm. Features a 50 minute talk from Chris, then stories and dialogue on the theme thereafter, all over dinner. Any questions before the night? Call/txt Dave on 0491138487.

Art/Poem     | Michael Leunig, “The Summer Palace

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Text & Reflection   |  Genesis 1:29 and Matthew 13:31-32

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Then God said, “Look! I have given you every seed-bearing plant throughout the earth and all the fruit trees for your food. (Gn 1:29)

Here is another illustration Jesus used: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants; it grows into a tree, and birds come and make nests in its branches.” (Mt 13:31-32)

All welcome, whatever your faith or none.
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“How to Find Rest” at Open Table

Friday 26 July 2019 | Open Table
HOW TO FIND REST

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

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

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

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

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

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Text & Reflection   |  Psalm 23 (KJV):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SABBATH REST

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

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

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

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

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

SabbathSabbath involves four key elements:

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

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

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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?

29895-Respect-Your-Elders

“Superheroes” at Open Table

Friday 1 March 2019 | Open Table
SUPERHEROES

marvel_superheroes

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

samson

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)

Superdads-e1528783832164+++

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?

justice-league-ht-mt-170822_4x3_992

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

 

“Life & Death” at Open Table

Friday 9 November 2018 | Open Table
LIFE & DEATH

Dostoyevsky quote

Bring some mains to share, and come with a story to tell in response to the stimulus on the topic of Life & Death. This time we’re gathering at Shayne & Bron’s, 18 Kooralla Court, Karana Downs (directions here). Welcome from 7pm, official kick off at 7:30pm. Any questions before the night? Call/txt Dave on 0491138487.

Art     | “The Pioneer” triptych by Frederick McCubbin (1904). See also Michael Leunig’s “Requiem” (2015).

The Pioneer1904_FrederickMcCubbin

requiem

Text & Reflection   |  Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Moses challenging the children of Israel to choose wisely on the edge of the promised land:

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life.

We see this pivotal choice reach its peak in the person of Jesus, in John 10:10:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Digital StillCameraIn the Greek, there are three key words for “Life“. As hinted at in John 10:10, God gives biological life (bios), and is interested in saving our psychological sense of self–our soul (psuche). And yet, the bigger story is that the Logos, the creator of all, seeks to animate our life to the full (zoe) and make it truly worth living (cf. John 1:4). This is a quality of life–“eternal life” even (John 17:3)–only found in loving relationship, embraced by the source of love behind all that is.

autumn leafParadoxically, sometimes this quality of the “life of the ages” comes via dying, rather than striving to preserve one’s physical existence at all costs: “If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it” (Matthew 10:39). In this way of being, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). This is powerfully captured by the German artist, Hans Holbein, in his 1522 masterpiece, “The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb.”

The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb 1_Hans Holbien

Piero della Francesca, ResurrectionConsider, also, the many biblical reflections on sacrifice, atonement and resurrection, where through the Messiah dying on our behalf, death itself was defeated–in C. S. Lewis’s Narnian imaginary, this was the “deeper magic” by which life and death are no longer opposites, but invitation to a process of dying to self in order to truly live. For instance: 1 Corinthians 15:55-57 “Where O death is your sting?”; Hebrews 2:14-15 “Through death Jesus destroyed the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and delivered all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery”; Colossians 2:14-15 “When you were stuck in your old sin-dead life, you were incapable of responding to God. God brought you alive—right along with Christ! Think of it! All sins forgiven, the slate wiped clean, that old arrest warrant cancelled and nailed to Christ’s cross. He stripped all the spiritual tyrants in the universe of their sham authority at the Cross and marched them naked through the streets.”

19fc200d7f6232a57b1b3cc21062dced

Bottom line, then? Jesus lays it out plainly in John 11:24-25:

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb 3_Hans Holbien

So, what is this topic all about?

LIFE & DEATH is an invitation to share personal stories at the razor’s edge between health and sickness, flourishing and devastation, blessing and curses, even heaven and hell. What choices and circumstances drove you there, and what made the difference between these seemingly binary outcomes? Can we embrace life as part of death, and death as part of life? Where, if anywhere, do we find “life to the full”?

Near Life Experience_Leunig

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

Dutch fruit 2