“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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Treading Lightly @ Open Book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This series is animated by these questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1) Questions: what didn’t make sense?

2) Challenges: what did you think was wrong?

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“How to Find Rest” at Open Table

Friday 26 July 2019 | Open Table
HOW TO FIND REST

Leunig_Rest

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

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

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

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

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

112 Noon Rest from Work after Millet

Text & Reflection   |  Psalm 23 (KJV):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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?

Leunig_Hymn

 

 

“Wisdom of Our Elders” at Open Table

Friday 10 May 2019 | Open Table
WISDOM OF OUR ELDERS

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

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

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

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

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

Emily_JennySages1993Here’s a bit more on the subject:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nanna’s Rainbows in the Tears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Migration & Stability at Open Table

Friday 11 May 2018 | Open Table
MIGRATION & STABILITY

Australien Future 2017 oil on canvas 120 x 70 cm

Bring some soup, drinks or finger food to share, and come with a story to tell in response to the stimulus on the topic of Migration & Stability. This time we’re gathering at Noel & Deb Mostert’s (66 Fiona St., Bellbird Park [Ipswich]), so you can see Deb’s art studio and works. Call Noel Payne on 0412156772 if lost! Welcome from 7pm, official kick off at 7:30pm. Any questions before the night? Call/txt Dave on 0491138487.

Art     | ‘The flight begins’ (2018 oil on canvas 100 x 70 cm) … by Deb Mostert (fb here), to be exhibited in December 2018 as part of a larger series, “Australien Future: Tales of Migration” (Redland Art Gallery). Various other paintings by Deb are displayed on this page, to get a taste of her amazing body of work that persistently returns to themes of identity, place, baggage (!), and flight.

The flight begins 2018 oil on canvas 100 x 70 cm

Text   | Hebrews 11:8-16 on Abraham and Sarah, the Bible’s ultimate pilgrims setting out for God knows where as sojourners stumbling toward to the country God prepared for them. You might also want to check out the literally dozens of verses where God commands us not to “oppress the aliens [foreigners] among us”. Like Leviticus 19:33-34: “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God“; or Exodus 23:9: “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.”
Video | Exile by The Bible Project. As the authors contend, “The exile was the watershed moment of the Israelites history on which the entire Bible gains its significance.”

+++++

pilgrimWanderlust” [won-der-luhst]:
na strong, innate desire to rove or travel about. 1902, from German, literally “desire for wandering” (see wander + lust ).

Writing out of my privileged western context, I *love* to travel. To move about. To cast off the constraints of parochial existence and see the world. If anything, and as Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove explores, I need to embrace The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting [My] Faith in a Mobile World.

Humans, after all, come from humus–Adam from adamah. We are earthy beings, groundlings even, who form our first language and primal identity in a particular place. There are no truly “global citizens”. We all come from somewhere, with its culture, food, likes and dislikes, indelibly imprinted on our soul, irrespective of wherever we may go.

Sticks and Stones - Migrant Bee Eater 2015 watercolour 46 x 61 cmThe desire to move about thus takes on a different hue when we consider mass migration in this era of the refugee. Unprecedented numbers of people are streaming across Europe, and occasionally reaching our shores, out of foreign cultures such as Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, and Syria. While debates rage at “home” about what makes for a refugee as distinct from an “economic migrant”, this is hardly a case of wanderlust. The price paid is immense, to uproot from the known (however decimated it may now be), and set out to a new land without the money and language and networks to make any plans that guarantee safety, let alone a better life. Unsurprisingly, many of these children dream of returning to their homeland, and rebuilding what was to recapture their sense of identity and stability. (Take for instance, these Syrian children, interviewed by the International Catholic Migration Commission.)

museum

As Melbourne’s stunning “Immigration Museum” explores, our identity as “Australians” is an amalgam of colliding cultures across time. Various waves of Chinese, Greeks, Africans and now Middle-Easterners have challenged our sense of self, and in turn brought their gifts from foreign soil to grace our land. Indeed, with declining birth rates in Australia, we rely on something like the 190,000 annual migrants per annum to replenish our workforce and keep the country moving.

roots

I was reminded of this while enjoying the hospitality of Teddy and his team at Indooroopilly’s Gojo Ethiopian Restaurant. As beautifully depicted by Indigenous artist, Amarina (a member of arguably the only people who can truly call Australia “home”), Teddy’s identity is as blended as his Aterkek Alecha (vegetable stew).

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His powerful book’s title says it all: No One’s Son: The Remarkable True Story of a Defiant African Boy and His Bold Quest for Freedom.

No One's Son_Tewodros FekaduBorn in the midst of the Ethiopian–Eritrean Civil War, Tewodros “Teddy” Fekadu survives abandonment and famine as his family flings him unwanted across borders and regions, into orphanages, and finally onto the streets of Addis Ababa. Spanning five countries and three continents, the Catholic Church, and Japanese detention centers, this is a tale of defiance and triumph, and also of family love—unacknowledged by his wealthy father, abandoned by his desperately poor mother, Teddy is nurtured along the way by staunch individuals despite his ambiguous place in rigid family tradition: his father’s mother, a maternal aunt, a Catholic priest, and even his father’s wife.

Only after a lengthy legal battle was Teddy finally admitted to his promised land of Australia. And now he uses his considerable gifts to make amazing food, and produce movies telling stories of battlers like him, pressing on for a peace-full place in which to reside.

Ethiopian Abrahams Guests

This is not, however, simply a worldly tale of travel. Shaped by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Teddy understands his travails within the larger narrative of Abraham the pilgrim, welcoming our Triune God to dine at our table after the long and arduous journey from the perfection of Heaven to the dirty paths below (Genesis 18:1-15). As I explored in the Bible Society series “The Journey: Entering God’s Epic Story” (pp. 6-7 here), Abraham and Sarah were trained by a mobile God to set up and pack down at a moment’s notice, travelling light as sojourners who modelled the journey we must all make.

As with his Israelite spiritual ancestors, Teddy’s life is a tale of exile. Of uprooting one’s sense of self. Of grafting in, not so much to a new culture and context in another country, as to God and his gift from above that lies ahead, of the New Jeru-Salem: the city where we all walk in the way of peace, of shalom. No wonder God measures our love of Him by how we treat the least of these, especially the foreigner and the alien among us. All of this is less human accomplishment than a sacrificial gift given by the God-man, Jesus, who entered exile for us, and through whose death on a tree flowered life and re-entry to Eden, a place of paradise. For as Augustine averred, out of his own sense of lostness, longing, and even wanderlust,

Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest [its home] in thee.

first steps on Australian soil 2018 oil on canvas 100x 70 cm

To prime the pump, and get personal, consider the dimensions of your own migration and stability:

  • What was your first home, grounding your sense of self?
  • Where are your roots, and how have they formed your identity today?
  • Have you ever uprooted, and moved country and culture? What was disorienting, or life-changing about this experience?
  • What stories have you heard from migrants and refugees that make you reflect differently on our place?
  • Have you received hospitality when displaced?
  • Are you more prone to wander, or seek stability? Why?
  • What desires draw you on to new horizons, and how–if at all–does this tie into a larger, transcendent story of identity and place?

Let the conversation begin! … Bring food and a story to share,
and join us as together we explore MIGRATION & STABILITY as all our wanderings converge.

Posthumus family departure 1956 2018 oil on canvas 100 x 70 cm

Migration and Stability Opwn Book

Open Table on “Risk”

Friday 15 December 2017 | Open Table
RISK … celebrating incarnation

Video | I Can’t Believe He Jumped
Poem | The Nativity” (G. K. Chesterton)
Text | John 1:14 on Incarnation, and Philippians 2:5-11 on God’s self-limitation in Jesus

+++Feel free to skip below this meandering exploration of risk to the night’s details, or read on for some random thoughts that may spark a story you can share on the night+++

Christmas is a time of injury. Think free-time + new toys + instant crowd. Forget the kids. Picture that Aunty impressing the nieces on a Pogo-stick, or that dad showing his son how skateboarding was done back in his day. *Gulp*

hqdefaultAs one who loves rock-climbing, snapped his neck in a gymnastics accident, and still commutes on a motorbike most every day, I get this extreme sports high risk fixation. We want to feel alive … to free fall, and hopefully find a soft, immersive landing. Ta da! Sadly it only sometimes plays out this way. Understandably, we all have our limits. I’m comfortable weaving through traffic on two-wheels in the rain. But watching my 15 year old nephew pull a wheelie at 70km/hr on his dirtbike gives me the willies. And as for performing a ‘superman’ while launching off a ramp—I’ll leave that to motocross professionals.

So, when did you last task a RISK?

profit-loss-riskDefinitions vary, but pay attention to the valence. Risk has a negative aspect. It’s the possibility of loss or injury: peril; someone or something that creates or suggests a hazard. In other words, risk is the exposure to the likelihood of injury or loss; put simply, it’s a dangerous and chancy choice.

But, it also has a positive valence. From wiki’s fount of wisdom, risk is equally the potential of gaining something of value, whether that be physical health, social status, emotional well-being, financial wealth, or even friendship.

Think of how these elements map onto the biggest risk you’ve taken.

  • The Risk Taker: how did the risk taking impact you, mentally (fear?) and physically (fast, shallow breathing?), and how did you manage the stress?
  • Motivation and Reward: what drove you to take this risk, and what were you hoping to achieve on the other side? That is, what might you gain, and how valuable is it to you?
  • Who Is the Risk For? Is this an X-Games kinda’ risk, for personal thrill and glory? Or was this a noble Fire-Fighting kinda’ risk, for protection of the vulnerable and freedom for the oppressed?
  • Actual vs. Perceived Risk: What do you stand to lose if it goes wrong? And how probable is ‘success’? What is your knowledge of the odds? And must you trust only yourself, or others, in this faith-filled jump?

247264-Soren-Kierkegaard-Quote-Leap-of-faith-yes-but-only-afterIt’s no artificial segueway to see that this is now about that. This worldly risk is also about that greater good. As Søren Kierkegaard, the great Danish Father of modern existentialism, averred, we are all limited and biased, finite and fallen fleshly creatures. Life is fraught with risk. Beyond self-interested dares in our Red Bull age, we need courage for wings to fly. We are all faced with the choice to pull back from the edge, or take a whole-hearted “leap of faith”. Perhaps this jump is into the dark, or into the light? Reflect, to be sure, but then you must launch to truly live. (Or, in other parlance, run the numbers before undertaking risky business.) It’s trust, risk, fear and hope all rolled into one, a self-involving decision to go beyond the known and often put ourselves at the mercy of the elements and an uncertain onlooking crowd.

trinity-iconTurning to the biblical story, then, we might rightly wonder if the Triune God—Father-Son-Spirit—is prone to risk-taking? Can God even take a risk, given the above definition? If you hold to the medieval philosophical framing of God being, by definition, omniscient (all knowing), omnipotent (all powerful), omnipresent (everywhere), and ultimately impassible (unchanging, and therefore unaffected by what happens in our world), then you would have to answer no. God knows the outcome of every divine and human action, has the power to ensure all gain and no loss, is spiritual/disembodied posing no risk of suffering even if things went pear shaped, and thus experiences no pain or pleasure due to the actions of others.

If you’ve actually read the biblical story, you’ll rightly wonder about whom these descriptives apply. As Blaise Pascal penned in the inside of his jacket, discovered only on his death (see here), our fiery Creator is the “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of philosophers and scholars.” God is passionate, invested; God suffers with, ultimately for his glory but in a way that wraps us into the action as agents with a genuine role to play where all win or lose together. Still, is risk possible?

BradiBarth_TrinityCreationEveTest case: Creation. The all-sufficient Risk-Taker whose essence is communion, overflowed in the perichoretic dance to creatively birth the cosmos. The motivation was love, and the reward was shalom, weaving us together through right relationship with God, neighbour, self and creation, all pointing back to its transcendent source. The risk is for everyone, not simply God in a zero-sum game; holistic flourishing, like African Ubuntu, means “I am, because we are”—one interconnected fabric. There is genuine risk, for the outcome is open. Preservation of love requires the extension of freedom; the Creator gifts agency to creation, where humans can accept or reject the overture and subsequently screw up God’s good world. ‘Sin’ results in suffering and requires intervention to fix the mess.

So far, so good. And yet, apart from some process theology overlay where the Creator is within time and unfolding with creation, it would seem that God knows the actual risk. He is both sovereign and all-seeing. Short of coercing the outcome, God still stands apart from Creation, and can perceive where it will all go. Adam and Eve’s rebellion didn’t take God by surprise. Granted, it “grieved” God that we rebelled (Genesis 6). And yet, like a parent disciplining a child saying “this will hurt me more than it hurts you”, the watery punishment of Noah’s flood physically inflicted only flesh-and-blood creatures. For God had no skin in the game.

Mariama McCarthy_Beautiful JesusLike I said, though, Christmas is a time of injury.
It’s the time we remember the ultimate risk of incarnation.

As Eugene Peterson renders John 1:14,

The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.

dbeb4-img_9546The unlimited, all knowing, all powerful Creator, tied himself to matter and was confined to a crib in a baby’s body. God hurt. And forget those romanticised Christmas carols: “meek and mild, no crying he makes”. No, this was first century Palestine, no more peaceful than today (cf. here). If I was God, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t choose this time and place to be born. Forget the bright star and warm stable; this was a vulnerable adolescent mother out of wedlock bearing a child, heading to an outback census under threat of angry authorities wanting to keep their power. This was more like the war-torn grab in the stunning movie, Children of Men—a world ripped apart by violence over scarcity of resources and infertility, but gripped by the hope found in a new-born babe. Cease Fire! Would you risk incarnation if modern day Syria was the landing point?

As we read in Philippians 2:5-11, the uncontainable God “gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being [w]hen he appeared in human form ….” That’s kenosis. Theological minds boggle: in what sense and what way can God be limited and still, in identity, remain ‘God’? And yet, the point is clear. God, while sovereign, gave up his right to control the game. He was at the mercy of the onlooking crowd. This was the ultimate risk. No soft landing and immersive embrace on planet Earth.

2f53a-s0444002It’s captured well in the iconic Greek Orthodox painting “Slaughter of the Innocents”. Granted, the statistics suffer symbolic inflation over this feast honouring the “14,000 slaughtered children”. In reality, King Herod’s blood-lust cost around 40 baby boys their lives (cf. Matthew 2). The Christ was spared, thrust like a modern day political refugee to the relative “safety” of Egypt. And yet, the number represents the countless lives torn apart and destroyed by despots hell-bent on asserting their preeminence, especially standing against the Lord’s anointed (Psalm 2).

256035.pThe risk of incarnation led inexorably to the crucifixion, the final relinquishment of divine power, not for personal gain, but that all may be set free from the ultimate demonic despot, finding life in renewed relationship with God, neighbour, planet and self. Literally, this risk offered a sign, a fore-taste, of “peace on earth”. Kings in palaces were oblivious. But shepherds, simpletons, and wise magi prepared to travel got front row on the spectacle and angelic Hallelujah chorus (beautifully depicted in St. Paul’s Arts and Media’s 2010 “Christmas Story”).

This paradoxical risk and revelation is poignantly captured in G. K. Chesterton’s poem, The Nativity. He riffs off Isaiah 9:6-7, juxtaposing a helpless child with just and powerful rule.

1a2d94f9ba1e689ef24bf3e64fe225e8Transposed into the modern world, where facing today’s Herods requires the combined courage of Mary and the Messiah, Chesterton composed this poem:

The thatch on the roof was as golden,
Though dusty the straw was and old,
The wind had a peal as of trumpets,
Though blowing and barren and cold,
The mother’s hair was a glory
Though loosened and torn,
For under the eaves in the gloaming
A child was born.

Have a myriad children been quickened,
Have a myriad children grown old,
Grown gross and unloved and embittered,
Grown cunning and savage and cold?
God abides in a terrible patience,
Unangered, unworn,
And again for the child that was squandered
A child is born.

What know we of aeons behind us,
Dim dynasties lost long ago,
Huge empires, like dreams unremembered,
Huge cities for ages laid low?
This at least—that with blight and with blessing,
With flower and with thorn,
Love was there, and his cry was among them,
“A child is born.”

Though the darkness be noisy with systems,
Dark fancies that fret and disprove,
Still the plumes stir around us, above us
The wings of the shadow of love:
Oh! Princes and priests, have ye seen it
Grow pale through your scorn;
Huge dawns sleep before us, deep changes,
A child is born.

And the rafters of toil still are gilded
With the dawn of the stars of the heart,
And the wise men draw near in the twilight,
Who are weary of learning and art,
And the face of the tyrant is darkened,
His spirit is torn,
For a new king is enthroned; yea, the sternest,
A child is born.

r1303218_17851361And the mother still joys for the whispered
First stir of unspeakable things,
Still feels that high moment unfurling
Red glory of Gabriel’s wings.
Still the babe of an hour is a master
Whom angels adorn,
Emmanuel, prophet, anointed,
A child is born.

And thou, that art still in thy cradle,
The sun being crown for thy brow,
Make answer, our flesh, make an answer,
Say, whence art thou come—who art thou?
Art thou come back on earth for our teaching
To train or to warn—?
Hush—how may we know? —knowing only
A child is born.

manger-incarnation-nativityReturning, then, to our key theme, and inspired by Parker Palmer’s reflection below (cf. here): What dynamics underlay your greatest risk? How did it impact you, and who was it for? What values stood to be gained, or goods did you risk to lose? What motivated your leap of faith, and how well could you predict the outcome? … Taking it even deeper in this Christmas season, let’s put skin on it. What are you are willing to risk to embody your deepest values? Where do you find the courage to take on the risk of incarnation, embodiment, and sacrifice for the life of the world?

Let the conversation begin! … Bring food and a story to share, and join us as together we explore RISK taking as one of life’s great phenomenon.

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