“Life & Death” at Open Table

Friday 9 November 2018 | Open Table
LIFE & DEATH

Dostoyevsky quote

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

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

The Pioneer1904_FrederickMcCubbin

requiem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

19fc200d7f6232a57b1b3cc21062dced

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

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

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

So, what is this topic all about?

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

Near Life Experience_Leunig

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

Dutch fruit 2

“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

+++
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?

maxresdefault.jpg

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 (topic/book t.b.a.) on Thursday 22nd November, with a short series on “The Power of Poetry” (Thursdays 22nd November and December 6; same zoom address: https://zoom.us/j/165382785). We’ll share stirring verse, such as

  • T. S. Eliot’s 1934 pageant/play “The Rock” (Nov 22, Choruses I-X, read before coming, and bring your favourite poem to share),
  • Dorothy Sayers’ 1943 Christmas play “The Man Born to Be King” (Dec 6, Play 1 “Kings of Judaea” pp 35-52 … we’ll read this out loud together on the night),

… and explore the impact your favourite poems (bring to share both weeks) have had on you.

Hope to see you there!

 

*

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.

+++++

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.

TreeRoots2

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:

 

51kuYQI5OmL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

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.)

bed_crop

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.

+++

Divine+Sex+Pic+2

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!

2a4c817e839809ad55d6c9fb0653f09b

Migration & Stability at Open Table

Friday 11 May 2018 | Open Table
MIGRATION & STABILITY

Australien Future 2017 oil on canvas 120 x 70 cm

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

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

The flight begins 2018 oil on canvas 100 x 70 cm

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

+++++

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

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

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

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

museum

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

roots

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

cafe4

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

“War and Peace” at Open Table

Friday 6 April 2018 | Open Table
WAR & PEACE

WarAndPeace

Bring a main dish to share, and come with a story to tell in response to the stimulus below, this time held at Andrew & Liz Nichols’ house (155 Burbong St. Chapel Hill; call Liz on 0415624982 if lost!) and facilitated by Noel Payne.
Welcome from 7pm, official kick off at 7:30pm. Any questions before the night? Call/txt Dave on 0491138487.

Art     | “Will You?”‘ … “Will take my hand? Will you help me find truth? Will you help me seek justice? Will you please, please, please take my hand? by Indigenous artist, Jasmin Roberts (for Reconciliation Week; see Common Grace’s write-up here)Will You_Jasmin Roberts
Text   | 2 Timothy 3:1-4 on “the last days”: “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” … and if you’re more of a story person, perhaps bounce off Jesus’ mixed advice on carrying swords for self-defence into the Garden of Gethsemane, in Luke 22:35-38, 47-53 (cf. Matthew 26:47-56: “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” v52)
Poem | “Jesus of the Scars” by Edward Shillito (1872-1948), a Free Church minister in England during “The Great War” (WWI), himself discharged from the army with injuries from the battlefield:

Screen Shot 2018-02-17 at 1.28.48 pm

If we have never sought, we seek Thee now;
Thine eyes burn through the dark, our only stars;
We must have sight of thorn-pricks on Thy brow,
We must have Thee, O Jesus of the Scars. 

The heavens frighten us; they are too calm;
In all the universe we have no place.
Our wounds are hurting us; where is the balm?
Lord Jesus, by Thy Scars, we claim Thy grace.

If, when the doors are shut, Thou drawest near,
Only reveal those hands, that side of Thine;
We know to-day what wounds are, have no fear,
Show us Thy Scars, we know the countersign.

The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.

+++++

warpeace

Inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s 1867 book title oft’ quoted but rarely read, War and Peace as an Open Table theme invites you to share a personal story of violence and/or reconciliation as a gateway to global conflict and God’s shalom. 

War And Peace Quotes War And Peace | Book Quotes Hub | Page 3

To prime the pump, consider the dynamics fuelling and resolving the conflict:

  • Would all parties agree on who was the oppressor and the oppressed, or do these categories blur with who is telling the story?
  • What was the battle over–whether interpersonal, communal/tribal, or national/ethnic?
  • For each party, what did they hope to gain? Was there an ideal outcome, a win-win even?
    d20f9c71ea5b624b1a33e85379346980
  • What casualties and injuries were incurred? Have these wounds changed over time, whether deepening or healing–the scars becoming counter-signs of character?
  • What allies or medics came to your attention, helping heal the outcome of violence?
  • What held each party back from seeking a peaceful resolution, at least at first?
  • Describe the process of reconciliation, whether actual or potential, i.e., what it would take to re-unite the divided people. That is, what makes for peace?
  • How does this encounter, and telling this story, impact you in the present? Is it a redeemed memory, or an ongoing source of pain?
  • In what ways does your experience of violence offer a window into global conflict that grips our countries, and from which we turn to the heavens for relief?

Let the conversation begin! … Bring food and a story to share,
and join us as together we explore WAR & PEACE as the pendulum of human history.

leo

 

 

 

 

Open Book on “Faithful Presence”

In our first cycle for 2018 (starting Thursday 8th March), we tackle the church! What is the church, and what’s it for? In the economy of God’s mission and peace-full reign, how is Christ’s body to engage, even change, the world? In other words:

How might the church’s life of worship when gathered together serve its work in the world when scattered and sent into a post-Christian culture?

9941Our conversation partner is Professor David E. Fitch, missiologist and founding pastor of Life on the Vine Christian Community and Peace of Christ Church, both in Chicago. The book? Faithful Presence: Seven Disciplines that Shape the Church for Mission (2016)

The title borrows from James Davison Hunter’s landmark 2010 book, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. As summarised here, Hunter dismantles prevailing political theologies and popular wisdom concerning how the church is to engage and change the world. Most strategies founder on triumphalism (evangelicalism & radical orthodoxy) that tries to take over the culture one individual at a time, or pietistic escapism as a counter-culture on the margins (anabaptists) that largely leaves the culture to rot. Instead, Hunter calls for a different paradigm of Christian engagement with the world, that being “faithful presence”—an ideal of Christian practice that is not only individual but institutional; a model that plays out not only in all relationships but in our work and all spheres of social life.

quote-if-christians-cannot-extend-grace-through-faithful-presence-within-the-body-of-believers-james-davison-hunter-86-64-59

Unfortunately, as critiques here and here demonstrate, Hunter at times caricatured these communities, ignoring what they look like at their best. And more importantly, for our purposes at least, his proposal was largely abstract and theoretical, hinting at a strategy but never mapping out the path. Does this call for cultural persistence constitute a program, a project, or a reworking of the church itself geared up for mission? Hunter leaves us wondering.

14DavidFitch-420Thank God, then, for Fitch. He steps in with a more embracing theological vision of God’s faithful presence across biblical history. He presses back on Hunter, revealing that the church itself, in its very inner life and rhythms when rightly constituted, is a counter-politic embodying God’s peace-full reign. And that’s all by Chapter 2. (For a 3 minute grab of why Fitch thinks we must move “from gospel presentation to kingdom presence” see here. This emphasis on “faithful presence” as seen in Luke 10, the sending of the 72, gives us a poignant image of “eucharist on the move, extending the presence of Christ into the world.”)

vintage-faithful-presence21217-2-638

The rest of the book is dedicated to outlining seven disciplines/practices through which we are formed to host God’s faithful presence, and recognise/call-out this presence in the wider culture in a non-coercive way, through which our Triune God changes the world. (For a slick graphical summary of the book, see Vintage Church’s slide-show here.)

vintage-faithful-presence12917-1-638

The practices?

  • The Lord’s Table (hospitality)
  • 41Cv1F8+gJLReconciliation (peace-making)
  • Proclaiming the Gospel (preaching the Word)
  • Being with the “Least of These” (care/compassion)
  • Being with Children (nurture/education/discipleship)
  • Fivefold Gifting (shared non-hierarchical leadership)
  • Kingdom Prayer (intercession)

(You may notice close parallels with Mike Frost’s B.E.L.L.S. (Bless, Eat, Listen, Learn, Sent) in his excellent little 2015 book, Surprise the World: The Five Habits of Highly Missional People. Simple summaries and resources herehere, and here.)

Fitch corrects the maintenance mode of a church turned inward on itself (where the world serves the church and thus the church is irrelevant to the world), and equally addresses the exhaustion that comes from a missional church pressing every act as in service of outreach (thus making the church merely an instrument, undermining worship for the end of God’s glory, and tiring out members as they leave the church to serve the world). Instead, he offers a seamless missional ecclesiology … a way of being the church that is itself a witness in the world. (For a meaty dialogue between David Fitch and Scot McKnight, highlighting some points of difference in theology and practice, listen to this mp3 podcast from Northern Seminary here.)

vintage-faithful-presence22617-14-638

It puts flesh on much of what we do in Christ’s Pieces. God hosts us in the “close circle” of Christian fellowship (much like Quarry, practicing the disciplines every Sunday, and Open Book, going deeper in formation). We then make space to host God’s faithful presence around the tables of our homes (like Open Table). In turn, this mixed community is formed to recognise and carry/bear God’s transforming presence as our wider post-Christian culture hosts us, whether in their homes, at work, study or play (our mission as church scattered). God’s transcendence and immanence unite in this Spirit-filled community. Mission and incarnation work in synergy, rather than dividing a fellowship down the middle to either serve home base or go it alone on the margins.

vintage-faithful-presence2517-19-638_orig

So, this book is timely for us. Whilst it’s American in origin, the illustrations map easily onto our Aussie context and especially our intentional Christian Community. Studying Faithful Presence and putting these disciplines into practice is a brilliant opportunity to grow together, and see our communal life opened for the peace and transformation of our local community.

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

+++
Over 5 Thursday sessions (March 8 – April 26) at Nik & Dave’s house (152 Tanderra Way, Karana Downs; directions here) we will dialogue with David Fitch and each other, learning how to host God’s faithful presence for the sake of the world.

OPEN BOOK, THURSDAYS 7PM | David Fitch’s Faithful Presence (FP)
(Click session # hyperlink for liturgy/ppnt slides)

March 8 |FP 1, pp. 9-43: Intro + Ch. 1 “God’s Faithful Presence” + Ch. 2 “To Change the World” [n.b. FP 2 is only one week later, not fortnightly]

IVPPraxis-mobileMarch 15 |FP 2, pp. 47-92, 189-195: Ch. 3 “The Discipline of the Lord’s Table” + Ch. 4 “The Discipline of Reconciliation” + Appendix 1 “What Formation Looks Like Around the Table” + Appendix 2 “The Indispensable Role of the Dotted Circle in the Disciplines”

March 29 |FP 3, pp. 93-129, 197-205: Ch. 5 “The Discipline of Proclaiming the Gospel” + Ch. 6 “The Discipline of Being with the ‘Least of These'” + Appendix 3 “Extending the Presence: An Alternative Basis for Ecclesiology and Mission”

April 12 |FP 4, pp. 131-165, 207-209: Ch. 7 “The Discipline of Being with Children” + Ch. 8 “The Discipline of Fivefold Gifting” + Appendix 4 “Where Is the Church? A Closer Look at Matthew 25”

April 26 |FP 5, pp. 167-185, 211: Ch. 9 “The Discipline of Kingdom Prayer” + “Epilogue: How God Changes the World” + Appendix 5 “A Simple History of the Disciplines from New Testament Church to Christendom”

Fitch-FP

PS – originally we had planned to study Sam & Sara Hargreaves, Whole Life Worship: Empowering Disciples for the Frontline (buy here; accompanying website here with extra resources here) … promo video hereThough we’ve opted instead for Fitch’s Faithful Presence, this book is still excellent for a focus on the nature of worshipping God as arguably the central purpose of humanity (theologically understood). But what is worship? Is it just singing songs? And how does what we do on Sunday as the Church Gathered, relate to our worldly work Monday to Saturday as the Church Scattered? Similar to the focus for this series, our core question was to be: What does it mean to worship God with our whole lives, where Sunday’s liturgy is a springboard to every day’s worshipful service?

(If you’re after some meaty stimulus, check out my compiled interactions and a couple of blog posts from others on the ‘worship wars’ in evangelical circles … this heated argument raises the questions well, even as it reduces ‘worship’ to simply singing of songs and what we do on Sunday together … which is part of why we opted for a practices driven exploration of the church as a whole via Fitch.)