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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cc-cover-200x300

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

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

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

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

 

Open Table on “The Beautiful”

Friday 6 October 2017 | Open Table
on the theme of the third transcendental, THE BEAUTIFUL

Bring a main dish to share, and come with a story to tell in response to the stimulus below, at Nik and Dave Benson’s place, 152 Tanderra Way, Karana Downs, at 7:30pm. Any questions? Call/txt Dave on 0491138487.

Leunig_CellBeautyUniverse.jpeg

Art | Michael Leunig, Glorious Gravel [My title! Image above]
Text | Exodus 28: 1-5, 31-41 “Clothing for the Priests”
Extra | Plotinus (3rd Century BCE, Greek Philosopher) Enneads I.6 “On Beauty” (4 minute video grab or full text here, especially §3-4,6) OR Hans Urs von Balthasar excerpt on Beauty here.

What does beauty mean to you? And when’s the last time you used the word “beautiful”? As an adjective, it seems capable of qualifying almost anything. A beautiful … sunset, dress, speech, meal, painting, putt, mind, person. The list goes on.

Related imageIn delving into this theme, I discovered a Spotify playlist with 1.5 million followers entitled “The Most Beautiful Songs in the World.” And I stumbled upon “Euler’s Identity”, voted by physicists as “the most beautiful equation”. If you failed senior maths, this will strike you as bizarre. And yet, this formula is arguably beautiful as it travels together with truth—spirituality and science strangely coinhering—and it takes an exceptionally trained mind to see and appreciate a dance of complexity and elegance representing “some of the most profound rules that govern the Universe and everything in it.” This appreciation often travels together with cultivating a poetic or musical ear to discern acoustic order. For those lacking ears to hear or eyes to see, however, it’s almost impossible to define what makes it a thing of beauty, and ultimately—philosophically and theologically—what beauty means.

Simplistically defined, beautiful means “pleasing the senses or mind aesthetically”. Anything or anyone that can elicit this perceptual experience of satisfaction in another is labelled “beautiful”. Sounds like it’s more about the spectator, rather than a quality in the object itself, held to some higher standard. You know, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.

Image result for beautySearch “beauty” on google images, and you’re bombarded with breezy pictures of young women, often plastered with make-up and typically caucasian. No wonder singers like Christina Aguilera (“You Are Beautiful”) and Marilyn Manson (“The Beautiful People”) deconstruct the stereotypes which have shut our eyes to the diffuse beauty of a thousand flowers blooming in all shapes and sizes—rarely confined to what the market conditions us to consume.

Besides which, as we learn from stories as disparate as Shallow Hal, Beauty and the Beast, Shrek, and The Picture of Dorion Gray, physical and moral beauty in a broken world rarely travel together. The recently deceased Hugh Hefner may have surrounded himself with stunning Playboy Bunnies, but no one dedicates his eulogy to a beautiful life well lived among paragons of pulchritude. Bottom line: we must be cautious before reducing “beauty” to any one look.

Image result for beauty is not in the eye of the beholderAnd yet, these caveats fail to dismiss beauty as merely subjective. As Alain de Botton observes in his School of Life video, our language, photography and travel plans reveal amazing overlap in what images and destinations we find attractive; on the grounds of democracy alone, there seems to be something objective to beauty, which we ignore to the detriment of all. Which city needs another ugly concrete skyscraper? Beauty is intended to draw us onward and upward. In Dwayne Huebner’s words, it’s the “lure of the transcendent”.

Now, you could argue that this allure is simply explained by survival. Humans are like Bower Birds, seeking out beautiful blue objects to adorn our nests, even bodies, drawing a partner to propagate our species. And yet, the sheer excess—even superfluity—and diversity of beauty in our universe overflows such reductionism. Instead, it appears to point beyond itself to something that perhaps truly is “beautiful” in essence … an ideal, or form of sorts—even as I have some theological qualms with neo-Platonism as a Greek philosophy distorting Christianity’s affirmation of the material world as “very good” apart from disembodied ideas.

Image result for leunig starDespite our post-modern penchant for inverting age-old symbols, Michael Leunig suggests that the best “art … is not entirely of this world. … Perhaps it is a flight into beauty and eternity.” Rightly oriented, it is capable of directing our gaze heavenward, passing through and beyond our mundane material existence.

In the words of C. S. Lewis,

The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.

Image result for leunig sun tvIn this same stunning essay, The Weight of Glory (1942), Lewis notes that beauty and “glory”, biblically framed, do travel together. (Or, in Jonathan Edwards’ theology, like flares from the Sun, we perceive beauty as an emanation from a radiant Triune source.) Far from trite conceptions of becoming “a kind of living electric light bulb”, our human longing for glory makes sense like our human fascination with watching the sunrise. Granted, it’s an imperfect sign. But it’s a faithful pointer to something more. Glory is “brightness, splendour, luminosity.” More than perceiving beauty, stimulating our senses, in a very real way we want “to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.” And this process quite often passes through pain, being remade, reconstituted even by a reality beyond our control. Collateral Beauty may thus sneak up on us, shining through our darkest times of suffering.

Related imagePerhaps this is why we find truly “beautiful souls”—especially those who have emerged through struggle with battle-scars and yet a soft heart—so attractive? They graciously wear the virtues in which we long to be clothed. Thus the Bible persistently refers to putting on “the beauty of holiness” (e.g., Psalms 29:2; 96:9; cf. here), reflecting The Beautiful, being Godself. It takes a radiant character like Beatrice to draw damned Dante out of the Inferno and into Paradise. Similarly, our artwork, our creativity, even our fashion may in a real sense be drawing us to mimic and experience—albeit imperfectly like young girls smearing bright red lipstick on their face, yearning to be like their model mums—a beauty of character that is more than skin deep. We increasingly transform into the likeness of what we admire, imitating what we magnify and that upon which we meditate. In short, we become what we worship.

Maybe this is why God went to the trouble of prescribing Aaron’s outfit, as Israel’s High Priest, holy and whole in “glorious and beautiful” attire (Exodus 28)? Dressed in holiness we can see God; lacking the gracious covering of divine beauty, we risk being consumed in the encounter.

And thus we loop back to our original observation. Beauty can qualify most anything. But, like the 14th Century Italian employment of Botticelli to depict Fortitude, Beauty comes into its own when it illuminates virtue and aligns with the way God intended the world to be, “danc[ing] as an uncontained splendor around the double constellation of the true and the good and their inseparable relation to one another” (von Balthasar).

Gifts Glittering and PoisonedNot all that glitters is gold, this is true. In the history of empire, circuses and spectacle have been used to deceive and poison the masses, obscuring the really real. “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting …” (Proverbs 31:30). And yet, gold does have a glitter meaningful in and of itself, pointing beyond to Beauty, perhaps even a transcendent source of unfading glory we call “God”. As the editors of the Kalos (Greek for Beautiful) book series aver,

[the beautiful] is the call of the good; that which arouses interest, desire: “I am here.” Beauty brings the appetite to rest at the same time as it wakens the mind from its daily slumber, calling us to look afresh at that which is before our very eyes. It makes virgins of us all, and of everything—there, before us, lies something that we never noticed before. Beauty consists in integritas sive perfectio [integrity and perfection] and claritas [brightness/clarity]. It is the reason why we rise and why we sleep—that great night of dependence, one that reveals the borrowed existence of all things …. Here lies the ground of all science, of philosophy, and of all theology, indeed of our each and every day.

photo-montage-1514221_1280.jpgBringing this wide-ranging provocation to a close, what story, person, experience or object from your life comes to mind when you think of beauty? When do you typically employ the qualifier, beautiful? And is there any sense in which you believe—or, better yet, have tasted—that your subjective encounter with beauty points to The Beautiful, as the third transcendental, travelling with her sisters, The True and the Good?

Let the conversation begin!

Open Table on “The Good”

Friday 1 September 2017 | Open Table
on the theme of the second transcendental, GOODNESS

Leunig Venerable Blessed Saintly CreaturesVincent_Willem_van_Gogh_022Art | Michael Leunig, “Venerable, Blessed & Saintly Creatures“; Vincent Van Gogh, “Good Samaritan
Text | Luke 10:25-37, “The Good Samaritan”

Good job! Good luck. Good night. All good. 

Looking good! Good pizza. Good wife. A good life. 

good thumbs upWhen a word can mean everything, it ceases to mean anything. So, what do we mean by “good”? In modern parlance, it’s highly malleable. For ancients, however, it was the second transcendental, alongside truth and beauty. It was the perennial quest for quality.

aristotleAnd yet, how do we measure excellence? Surely good implies its counterpart bad, and draws on some objective standard by which we judge? Good thus draws us deeper into questions of identity, essence, purpose, destiny/telos … some larger story heading either here or there, in which the part–whether a pizza or a person–rightly relates to the whole.

zen

Perhaps some quotes will sharpen the focus.

Let’s start with Robert Pirsig in his classic philosophical travelogue,  Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Valuesexploring the nature of quality (goodness), of both machine/motorcycle, and person:

You want to know how to paint a perfect painting? It’s easy.
Make yourself perfect and then just paint naturally.

How about Uncle Jack (C. S. Lewis) … what wisdom can he offer? Especially given that he thinks good and bad, right and wrong, are a “clue to the meaning of the Universe” (watch his Doodle video here).

Goodness is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness. And there must be something good first before it can be spoiled. …
No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. …
There is but one good; that is God. Everything else is good when it looks to Him and bad when it turns from Him.

Finally, let’s get mystical with the unknown author of The Cloud of Unknowing:

Genuine goodness is a matter of habitually acting
and responding appropriately in each situation, as it arises,
moved always by the desire to please God.

Image result for quotes goodness

So, this Open Table is dedicated to sharing stories sparked by this theme of “the good” … call it goodnesscharacterquality, the fullest expression of our essence and identity, a realisation of our telos … whatever you call it, come with food to share and a story to tell.

Who or what embodies this quality we call “good”, in a way that fixes your focus and calls you onward and upward? Join us and explore together one of life’s greatest themes.

 

Open Book: The Benedict Option

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

benop

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

1) Questions: what didn’t make sense?

2) Challenges: what did you think was wrong?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope to see you there!

salt light

 

(Post) Truth @ Open Table

manifesto for post truth artFriday 9 June 2017 | Open Table
on the theme of the first transcendental, TRUTH

 

In 2016, Oxford Dictionaries named “Post-Truth” (video here and here) their Word of the Year. Post-Truth:
adj. “
relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion or personal belief.” In short, emotion beats truth.
posttruthSure, it’s associated with politics in this Trump-esque age of “truthful hyperbole” and rule by Tweet. And yet, it seems to be a “general characteristic of our age”. Art becomes propaganda, and we’re trapped in an infinite echo-chamber.

colbert truthinessStephen Colbert calls it “truthiness“: a claim grounded on nothing more than a feeling deep in our gut of its actual “truth”. (For Colbert, “post-truth” and “Trumpiness” is simply a contemporary rip-off of “truthiness” [5 mins on]), defined as “The belief in what you feel to be true rather than what the facts will support”. Social media opinions have swallowed verifiable propositions (see here, here and here), leaving us simultaneously sceptical of any truth claims and–without any recognised authorities nor clear criteria and character to search out what’s right–defenseless against unchecked spin. Who, then, to trust?

honestyOf course, this isn’t a new issue. Back in 1978, Billy Joel was already lamenting the loss of “Honesty” (lyrics here): “If you look for truthfulness, you might just as well be blind; it always seems to be so hard to give. … Honesty is such a lonely word. Everyone is so untrue. Honesty is hardly ever heard. And mostly what I need from you.”

At the philosophical level, then, we wonder: what is truth? Can it be discerned, and what are the criteria? Does intuition and gut instinct (a la Michael Polanyi’s “tacit and personal knowledge”) have a role to play? Is there even such a thing as “truth”, and “facts”, or is all we say simply subjective and language-bound? But in this Open Table night of sharing, we’re getting personal. With Billy Joel, we’re coming clean that “All I want is someone to believe.”

Ecce_homo_by_Antonio_Ciseri_(1)Who, if anyone, can you trust? What does it mean for a person to be “true”, even “The Truth” (cf. Jn 14:6)? Why extend this faith? On what basis can we have confidence that our deepest beliefs, or what another tells us, is actually “true” and worth believing, beyond the spin? And if we fail to trust anyone in our post-truth society, what is the personal and cultural fall out?

PostTruthPortrait_DoronNoyman2017Check out the stimulus below, and come with a personal story to share that embodies this quest for “truth” and someone to believe.

Art: Doron Noyman’s “Post-Truth Portrait” (2017) + Antonio Ciseri’s “Ecce Homo” (1871; the title means “Behold, The Man,” from the Latin Vulgate John 19:5, Pilate to Jesus]). You might also find stimulating Leunig’s cartoon “The Big Picture” (from his DVD, Melancholy)

Poetry/Song: Billy Joel’s “Honesty” (1978; video clip + lyrics)

Scripture: John 18:28-19:16 (esp. 18:33-38), as Pilate questions Jesus: “What Is Truth?” (Jn 18:38)

(And if you’re really wanting to delve deep into this topic, check out John Stackhouse’s 2014 book, Need to Know: Vocation As the Heart of Christian Epistemology, and Esther Lightcap Meek’s 2011, Loving to Know: Covenant Epistemology)

Open Table on LOVE

banksy-girl-and-balloon-london-2002

Friday 10 March 2017 | Open Table
on the theme of the third theological virtue, LOVE

Art: Leunig’s animated cartoon “Heart on a String” (from his DVD, Whimsy)
Also Banksy’s “Girl and Balloon“, from his 2002 East London stencil. (We’ll also bounce off his 2014 reworking, “Syrian Balloon Girl“, as part of the “Stand with Syria” campaign: video here.)

Image result for smith "you are what you love"Scripture: John 15:9-17, as Jesus drops the “Great Commandment” on his disciples, bracing them for persecution and passionate mission after he departs

(And if you’re really wanting to delve deep into this topic, check out Jamie Smith’s 2016 book, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit.)

Friday June 9 2017 | Open Table, on the theme of the first transcendental, TRUTH.

Since 2016, we’ve been hosting semi-regular Open Table gatherings. So far we’ve explored HOSPITALITY, before getting into the theological virtues of FAITH, HOPE & LOVE. From there, we’ll launch into the transcendentals, TRUTH, GOODNESS & BEAUTY. Paul’s advice has led the way:

Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (Philippians 4:8).

All welcome from 6:30pm onwards, but officially we’ll kick off at 7pm, and be done around 9pm. It’s pretty informal, but coming on time helps the group hang together.

XP is obviously Christian! That said, it’s not “religious” in the sense that you can only come if you’re a churchy kind of person.
This night in particular is a community event.

Everyone has a story. And God’s story interweaves with our own, often in ways we can’t even see.
It takes a face-to-face encounter with those who are different from us to draw it out.

So, this night is open to everyone. Bring a friend.

There is no r.s.v.p. That said, it’s a massive help if you bring something small to contribute to the meal.  Bring something for a main dish that you would enjoy eating, and if you’re feeling lavish, bring a bottle too! We’ll provide dessert and some extra drinks. And if you forget to grab something, don’t let that stop you. Come anyway!

Sgreenso, what exactly is OPEN TABLE?

Imagine communion as a true meal, sharing stories around a central theme, and seeing how our stories tie into God’s story of mission to redeem (and reconnect) a broken world.

The themes are as deep and varied as life itself: love, hate, work, pain, hope, reconciliation, creativity, evil, wisdom, healing, purpose, violence, confusion, destiny …

Whatever the theme for that week sparks in you is fair game. You can even bring along a song, a piece of art, a movie clip, a photo, an artifact … bring whatever helps you tell a scene from your personal story.

We will typically post one passage from the Bible alongside that theme. No preaching, but picture an open dialogue about how this story resonates with your own. Perhaps together we’ll see how in God we really do live, move, and have our being.

Feel free to post your ideas for themes and passages also

… we’re keen for this to become an authentic/real community.

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

Open Book on KINGDOM CALLING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1) Questions: what didn’t make sense?

2) Challenges: what did you think was wrong?

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

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

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

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

OPEN BOOK, THURSDAYS 7PM:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope to see you there!

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