“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)

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

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

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

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

superheroes in everyday situations

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what is this topic all about?

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

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

heroes

 

Enneagram Self-Discovery at Open Book

In our first cycle for 2019 (starting Thursday 14th March), we consider a conundrum. Jesus said it is by our love for each other that the reality of God is made known to the world (John 13:34-35). Love is the church’s greatest apologetic in this post-Christian culture that cares little for religious dogma and commitment. And yet, how can our community demonstrate this kind of love, if we don’t even understand our neighbour? Her drives and core motivations? His fears and insecurities? Crystallising these questions, I’m wondering:

How might accurate self-knowledge shape the way we love each other and our witness to a watching world?

cover cushion

Over four fortnightly sessions (schedule below), Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile will be our conversation partners. We’ll dive deep into their book, The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery (Downers Grove, IL: InverVarsity Press, 2016).

Speaking frankly, I find most personality tests frustrating, even as I can see their purpose, like the Meyer-Briggs/16Personalities and the Gallup Poll’s StrengthsFinder. It may well be my personality type (!), but I’m suspicious of how they compartmentalise your identity into fragments like introvert vs. extravert, thinking vs. feeling, sensing vs. intuition, and judging vs. perceiving. Personally, I’ve changed a lot since my early days in youth work, later losing my head in the books, and now lecturing in higher education.

But what’s largely remained constant is the core motivation driving my decisions, and my strong tendencies, whether healthy and relaxed or stressed and under pressure, to adopt certain patterns of behaviour in dealing with a complex world and confusing people therein.

That’s where the beauty of this repackaged ancient wisdom in the Enneagram is apparent. The deeper I’ve looked, and the more conversations with devotees I’ve had, it keeps life together and is the most powerful tool I’ve found to truly understand both myself and my neighbour, thus learning to love as a witness to a relationally dysfunctional wider world. A model for healthy relationships may be one of the greatest gifts the church can give a post-Christian culture. That is, of course, if it’s a gift we already possess.

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True, we could have read any one of the experts on this tool, whether Don Richard Risso and Russ Hudson’s The Wisdom of the Enneagram (text here) with their precursor Personality Types and simple follow-up Understanding the Enneagram, or Franciscan contemplative Richard Rohr’s book alongside countless talks and videos on the topic. And you might find it helpful to browse some key sites and organisations like The Enneagram Institute and The Enneagram Academy, taking free tests (herehere and here) or paying for a more accurate assessment (here and here). After getting my results, it’s somewhat helpful to know I’ve been placed as a Type 1 Reformer–closely followed by a Type 5 Investigator–with an equally strong Type 9 Peacemaker and Type 2 Helper wing (1w9/2). But, frankly, I’m more interested in discovering this through conversation and dynamics among friends, rather than being boxed by a survey. (Again, perhaps my personality type aversion to imperfect systems!)

Thus the beauty of Cron and Stabile’s book. They synthesise many of these frameworks into an accessible and engaging read, seeing the non-reducible person at the centre, and placing this informative schema within a Christian theological frame. Each type is considered from childhood to adulthood, at work and play, alone and in relationship, when healthy and unhealthy, in terms of strengths and weaknesses, even mapping a path toward transformation guided by prime examples.

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To give you a jump start into the 9-types of personalities and core drivers, listen to an interview with them on the Liturgists podcast (page/youtube), check out their web site and original podcast, and see what it looks like relationally through interviews on Ian Morgan Cron’s Typology podcast or  by reading Suzanne Stabile’s The Path Between Us (2018). I’ve also enjoyed listening to the band “Sleeping at Last“, with their Atlas Album featuring 9 Enneagram songs (e.g. Type VIII Challenger here) and lyric videos (also here).

All of this encouragement aside, we also need to critically assess some questionable ties between the Enneagram and Kabbalistic mysticism/New Age syncretism, such as examined here and here. Studying this book shouldn’t be read as a whole-hearted endorsement of all the authors say and do; rather, it’s recognition that there’s something worthy of further exploration, even if–as Augustine aptly said in City of God–we must “despoil the Egyptians” to repurpose pagan tools for godly ends.

All of this will come out over four weeks of dialogue, as you discover your type with its infinite varieties, and learn how to love those different to you.

Even so, here’s a snapshot of the nine (ennea in Greek) personalities. The figure (gram) depicts arrows away from a type showing how your personality shifts to take on unhealthy aspects of another core motivator when stressed (as a Type 1, I become sullen like a depressed and jilted Romantic Type 4 when my ideals are endangered), and arrows toward your number indicating the positive energies you draw from another type when feeling secure (when happy I ride my motorbike way too fast, climb mountains, incessantly socialise and seek risky adventure like a Type 7 Enthusiast).enneagram-map

There’s a more detailed summary both here and here (click hyperlinks for more), and the following hyperlinks to pictures come from Derek Bruff’s @doodlinginchurch here.

Here’s the lowdown. At a glance, which seems most like you, and your core motivation?

TYPE ONE: THE PERFECTIONISTEthical, dedicated and reliable, they are motivated by a desire to live the right way, improve the world, and avoid fault and blame.

TYPE TWO: THE HELPER. Warm, caring and giving, they are motivated by a need to be loved and needed, and to avoid acknowledging their own needs.

TYPE THREE: THE PERFORMER. Success-oriented, image-conscious and wired for productivity, they are motivated by a need to be (or appear to be) successful and to avoid failure.

TYPE FOUR: THE ROMANTIC. Creative, sensitive and moody, they are motivated by a need to be understood, experience their over-sized feelings and avoid being ordinary.

TYPE FIVE: THE INVESTIGATOR. Analytical, detached and private, they are motivated by a need to gain knowledge, conserve energy and avoid relying on others.

TYPE SIX: THE LOYALIST. Committed, practical and witty, they are worst-case-scenario thinkers who are motivated by fear and the need for security.

TYPE SEVEN: THE ENTHUSIAST. Fun, spontaneous and adventurous, they are motivated by a need to be happy, to plan stimulating experiences and to avoid pain.

TYPE EIGHT: THE CHALLENGER. Commanding, intense and confrontational, they are motivated by a need to be strong and avoid feeling weak or vulnerable.

TYPE NINE: THE PEACEMAKER. Pleasant, laid back and accommodating, they are motivated by a need to keep the peace, merge with others and avoid conflict.

“A humble self-knowledge is a surer way to God than a search after deep learning.”
Thomas à Kempis 

Details below, and all welcome, whatever your faith commitment, tradition, or none.17-04-01-Road-Back-to-You-True-Stories

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Over 4 Thursday sessions (March 14 – April 25) at Nik & Dave’s house (152 Tanderra Way, Karana Downs; directions here) we will dialogue with Cron and Stabile’s The Road Back to You [RBY] and each other, teasing apart our Enneagram types and their inter-relationship, en route to discovering how to love each other for the sake of the world.

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

{Want to join us virtually? We’re experimenting with Zoom so you can listen in, and share your thoughts, live streaming the experience. Download the pdf of the powerpoint slides (e.g. on schedule, e.g., click link for RBY1) 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.

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

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

2) Challenges: what did you think was wrong?

3) Implications: what difference does this make for loving each other and being a communal witness in a divided world?

4) Applications: what does it look like for us to live out of this vision, making God known by the life of our community together?

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OPEN BOOK, THURSDAYS 7PM | Cron & Sabile’s The Road Back to You (RBY)
(Click session # hyperlink for liturgy/ppnt slides–e.g., RBY 1 below–and page numbers for the next reading. Virtual/Zoom participation via https://zoom.us/j/396017392.)

March 1 | Pre-series Open Table dinner, on the theme 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!).

March 14 | RBY 1, pp. 9-62: Ch. 1 “A Curious Theory of Unknown Origin” (9-20), Ch. 2 “Finding Your Type” (21-39), and Ch. 3 “Type Eight: The Challenger” (40-62).

March 28 | RBY 2, pp. 63-128: Ch. 4 “Type Nine: The Peacemaker” (63-89), Ch. 5 “Type One: The Perfectionist” (90-109), and Ch. 6 “Type Two: The Helper” (110-128).

April 11 | RBY 3, pp. 129-187: Ch. 7 “Type Three: The Performer” (129-147), Ch. 8 “Type Four: The Romantic” (148-166), and Ch. 9 “Type Five: The Investigator” (167-187).

April 25 | RBY 4, pp. 188-230: Ch. 10 “Type Six: The Loyalist” (188-204), Ch. 11 “Type Seven: The Enthusiast” (205-225), and Ch. 12 “So Now What? The Beginning of Love” (226-230).

May 10 | Open Table dinner, on the theme of “Wisdom of Our Elders“. Who has impacted your life the most as a mentor? We’ll explore stories of ageing, what we’ve learned from those who’ve lived well and also would rather forget from our grumpy forebears. Generally, we’ll trade hard earned wisdom that gave many their grey hairs! Location t.b.a.

Hope to see you there!Enneagram artistic

 

“Life & Death” at Open Table

Friday 9 November 2018 | Open Table
LIFE & DEATH

Dostoyevsky quote

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

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

The Pioneer1904_FrederickMcCubbin

requiem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what is this topic all about?

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

Near Life Experience_Leunig

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

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“Deep Church” at Open Book

In our third cycle for 2018 (starting Thursday 30th August), we dive deep into the identity and flow of the church by asking

How can we both listen to the wisdom of ages past and be open to the ongoing creative work of God today?

changing current

While studying at Regent College in 2006, in super-natural British Columbia, Maxine Hancock offered a vivid image in her lecture on “Following the Lord Jesus Christ in a Pluralistic Culture.” Picture a wild mountain river. A group of intrepid explorers are kayaking downstream, in search of ever greater vistas. If you are wise, where do you typically position yourself? Well, by and large, you should stick to the middle.

To the inexperienced, the river’s middle sounds boring. Surely there are more interesting things to see close to the banks? Isn’t the centre reserved for staid and afraid fundamentalists who resist the passionate swirl? Actually, it’s quite the opposite. The further you drift from the centre, the shallower the water, the more turbulent the current–the greater chance you’ll founder on underlying rocks or get caught unawares in eddies sending you back from whence you came. In the greatest rivers, however, the best flow is most always in the centre. It’s deep, fresh, rich, and has its own drive carrying you from the source to its telos in the wide ocean.heber-river-split-shot_Eiko Jones

The point? In the turbulent post-Christendom and pluralistic West, it’s tempting for Christians to seek novel solutions on the sides, splashing in the shallows. And yet, for the historically aware and well formed, you soon realise that many of our celebrated emerging church movements have simply settled for a simplistic vision and practice of the church, at best playing in the muddy banks of faith replicating the kind of consumerism and addiction to novel experiences that sank many an independent ecclesial vessel. The real action, though, is in the centre. Emerging from its divine wellspring, its source being Spirit baptism at Pentecost, the church is a mighty river propelling the adventurous toward divine union in the New Creation, when God is all in all and his glory covers the earth like the seas (1 Corinthians 15:28; Habakkuk 2:14).

apostles creed myersWe rediscover the centre in our common creeds (cf. Ben Myers’ excellent exploration, The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism), our shared stories, and our richest practices that have flowed across time, place, and tradition. This renews the church in its identity and mission. In the words of Australian historian Stuart Piggin, at its best this was the well spring of evangelicalism, a powerful synergy of “Spirit, Word and World” immersing us in the life of Christ. How tragic, then, that modern evangelicalism is often experienced as an unthinking conservatism, politically driven fundamentalism, or a superficial set of techniques and formulas channelling the Spirit to serve my personal health, wealth and prosperity.

With prophets of old, I believe God is confronting the church today:

You have abandoned me—
    the fountain of living water.
And you have dug for yourselves cracked cisterns
    that can hold no water at all!
(Jeremiah 2:13, NLT)

In short: leave the shallows, and locate your community in the deep, rediscovering the life-giving flow of church through the ages.

book coverWhat better conversation partner, then, than the DEEP CHURCH group? Remembering Our Future: Explorations in Deep Church (ed. Andrew Walker and Luke Bretherton, Wipf & Stock, 2007) has its origin in an ecumenical seminar, each chapter representing a call back to the historic centre of our faith which may paradoxically propel us forward in rocky and turbulent times. Each author invites us to ride the fast-flowing current that is Christian orthodoxy. “Mere Christianity“–far from fundamentalism, childish belief, or simplistic replication of shallow expressions of church, as C. Lewis challenges here, justifying his call to alternate the reading of popular contemporary books fixated on the controversies of the moment, with old books which are tried, true, and tested–is where the greatest adventure is found.

chesterton quote orthodoxy

Emerging from diverse charismatic traditions–Catholic, Anglican, and Evangelical–“the Deep Church conversation is helping [us] to re-imagine the Church of Christ and its task as we re-engage with the life of the public square in post secular Europe” (xiii). This is helpful, for sociologically, our culture in Australia and attitude to religion shares more in common with Europe/UK than we do with the American context, despite our penchant to copy trends from this foreign continent.

Series editor, Andrew Walker, launches our journey with these words:

Many are exasperated with what they perceive as the fad-driven, one-dimensional spirituality of modern evangelicalism and desire to reconnect with, and be deeply rooted in, the common historical Christian tradition as well as their evangelical heritage–welcome to what C.S. Lewis called ‘Deep Church’.

Deep Church is far more than an ecumenical dream of coming together across the barriers of ignorance and prejudice: it is predicated upon the central tenets of the gospel held in common by those who have the temerity to be “Mere Christians”. This commonality in the light of post-Enlightenment modernism is greater and more fundamental than the divisions and schisms of church history. … Deep Church, as its name implies, is spiritual reality down in the depths–the foundations and deep structures of the Faith–which feed, sustain, and equip us to be disciples of Christ.

deep church jim belcherWhatever your church background and denomination, interacting with this book should enrich all streams of our shared Christian life, for we are truly better together. We must remember our past to wisely face our future.

[Other books in close competition to serve much the same purpose included Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy, Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways, Robert Webber, Ancient Future Faith: Rethinking Evangelicalism for a Postmodern World, and Jim Belcher, Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional.]

Across five sessions, we will raft-up with some great thinkers–theologians, pastors, and practitioners–renewing the church with a fresh hermeneutic that makes meaning and forms a confluence at the juncture of the tributaries of Scripture and tradition. Again, our driving question is this: “How can we both listen to the wisdom of the ages past and be open to the ongoing creative work of God today?”

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

confluence

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Over 5 Thursday sessions (August 30 – October 25) at Nik & Dave’s house (152 Tanderra Way, Karana Downs; directions here) we will dialogue with the Deep Church Group and each other, returning to the well spring of our faith which propels our community forward in God’s mission.

Check out the calendar below for key dates, and pick up your paperback version of Remembering Our Future: Explorations in Deep Church (RF) here.

{Want to join us virtually? We’re experimenting with Zoom so you can listen in, and share your thoughts, live streaming the experience. Download the pdf of the powerpoint slides (e.g. on schedule, click link RF1) 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/165382785 meeting ID 165-382-785 … 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.

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

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

2) Challenges: what did you think was wrong?

3) Implications: if this is true, then what does it mean for how we bring Christian tradition into dialogue with our contemporary context and church practice?

4) Applications: what does it look like for us to live out of this vision, “remembering our future” as deep church, journeying where the current is strongest?

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OPEN BOOK, THURSDAYS 7PM | Deep Church’s Remembering Our Future (RF)
(Click session # hyperlink for liturgy/ppnt slides, and page numbers for the next reading. Virtual/Zoom participation via https://zoom.us/j/165382785.)

August 30 | RF 1pp. xi-xx, 1-58: Front Matter (Preface, Foreword, Introduction: “Why Deep Church?”) + Ch. 1 “Recovering Deep Church: Theological and Spiritual Renewal” by Andrew Walker (1-29) + Ch. 2 “Beyond the Emerging Church” by Luke Bretherton (30-58). PRACTICES: Church Calendar & ADVENT (with Lectio Divina) pdf.

September 13 | RF 2pp. 59-107: Ch. 3 “Deep Church as Paradosis: On relating Scripture and Tradition” by Andrew Walker (59-80) + Ch. 4 “Reading Scripture in Congregations: Towards an Ordinary Hermeneutic” by Andrew Rogers (81-107). PRACTICES: CHRISTMAS & EASTER (with Lectio Divina) pdf.

September 27 | RF 3pp. 108-149: Ch. 5 ” Deep Calls to Deep: Reading Scripture in a Multi-Faith Society” by Ben Quash (108-130) + Ch. 6 “Holding Together: Catholic Evangelical Worship in the Spirit” by Christopher Cocksworth (131-149). PRACTICES: LENT (with Lectio Divina) pdf.

October 11 | RF 4pp. 150-206: Ch. 7 “God’s Transforming Presence: Spirit Empowered Worship and its Mediation” by Ian Stackhouse (150-169) + Ch. 8 “Baptism and Catechesis as Spiritual Formation” by Alan Kreider (170-206). PRACTICES: PENTECOST (with Lectio Divina) pdf.

October 25 | RF 5pp. 207-252: Ch. 9 “Education, Discipleship and Community Formation” by Mark Wakelin (207-226) + Ch. 10 “Mundane Holiness: The Theology and Spirituality of Everyday Life” by Luke Bretherton (227-252). PRACTICES: ORDINARY TIME (with Lectio Divina) pdf.

Restart Open Book on Thursday 22nd November and December 6, with a short series on “The Power of Poetry”, with various options of stirring voice and bringing your own favourite poem. If you’re wanting to join us virtually, then use the same link from the “Deep Church” series: https://zoom.us/j/165382785.

Emily Dickinson's Envelope Poems

Thursday 22nd November (slides)  this time held at Andrew & Liz Nichols’ house (155 Burbong St. Chapel Hill; call Liz on 0415624982 if lost!) and facilitated by Noel Payne. Bring your own powerful poem, and pre-read to bounce off one of these three:

  • A short poem A278 from Emily Dickinson’s Envelope Poems [(c) 2016 by New Directions];
  • LOOK back on time with kindly eyes,
    He doubtless did his best;
    How softly sinks his trembling sun
    In human nature’s west!
  • Or a medium length poem (1 page) by Sufi Poet, Hafiz: “Several Times in the Last Week” [From I Heard God Laughing: Renderings of Hafized. Daniel Ladinsky, (c) 1999];
  • Or, a long poem (19 pages) excerpting T. S. Eliot’s 1934 pageant/play “The Rock” (Choruses I-X).

Thursday 6th December … this time held at Noel & Deb Mostert’s (66 Fiona St., Bellbird Park [Ipswich], call Noel Payne on 0412156772 if lost!), and facilitated by Jo Hargreaves. No pre-reading, but on the night I’ll distribute print-outs of this classic, with background character notes:

  • Dorothy Sayers’ 1941-1943 Christmas play “The Man Born to Be King” (Play 1 “Kings of Judaea” pp 35-52 … we’ll read this out loud together on the night).

Looking forward to exploring the impact your favourite poems ) have had on you. (And if you want to grow in this space, join the Brisbane based “Deeper Rhythms” facebook group here.)

Hope to see you there!

 

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Profit and Loss at Open Table

Friday 3 August 2018 | Open Table
PROFIT & LOSS

Bring some mains to share, and come with a story to tell in response to the stimulus on the topic of Profit & Loss. This time we’re gathering at Jo Hargreaves’ place, 1 Harvey Close, Brookfield (directions here). Welcome from 7pm, official kick off at 7:30pm. Any questions before the night? Call/txt Dave on 0491138487.

Art /Video    | Image above and video below by Artos.

 

Text   |  Matthew 6:19-34, from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, especially vv.  19-21 & 24:

Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal.  Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. … No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.

See also Matthew 16:26 “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?”, and Matthew 10:39 “If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.” As for what this looks like in the Apostle Paul’s life, read Philippians 3:1-11, especially vv. 7-8 “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” For helpful commentary and study notes on Php 3:1-11 by Dr. David Nelson, see here.

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What do I mean by Profit & Loss? Well, hopefully the stimulus will provoke you to recall and share personal stories of being in plenty and want, wealth and poverty, handling money wisely, resisting the greedy lure of mammon in our post-GFC world [Global Financial Crisis, as poignantly captured by the movie, The Big Short, explained here,  here and here], and finding the pearl of great price that puts all other possessions in their place. Where is worth and value truly found in your experience? Is it primarily in financial gain–for instance, would owning a $2 million gold and jewel-encrusted version of a Monopoly board cut it? Does clearing your personal or national debt make the grade? Or does real worth and profit lie elsewhere?

Let these questions prime the pump:

  • What are your core values?
  • What do we put our confidence/trust in?
  • What retains its value and resists depreciation?
  • Is there any worth or profit when we breathe our last?
  • What on Earth is the ultimate point of all this acquisition (think Luke 12:16-21 and Jesus with the parable of the man convinced we’re gonna’ need a bigger barn)?

Basically, anything that gets at what you value is on the table, exchanging stories of perceived worth, and moments of significant ‘profit’ (whatever that may be) or tragic ‘loss’.  Was it really a loss? Or did you perhaps gain something greater, even eternal, from the experience? Like Solomon, perhaps your debit exposed that certain pursuits were merely “chasing after the wind”, ultimately meaningless, when actually that which was of infinite worth was already at hand?

Delving Deeper?

See Dr. David Nelson’s helpful commentary on the Apostle Paul’s ‘Profit and Loss’ in Philippians 3:1-11 here.

We explore this theme of “Income” at great length in Module 11 of the Malyon “Integrating Faith and Work: Principles of Vocational Stewardship” Course. From this course, here are some insightful books, chapters and essays we get into:

“Divine Sex” at Open Book!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

on the meaning of sex

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2) Challenges: what did you think was wrong?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope to see you there!

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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.”

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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