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.

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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.”)

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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.)

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.)

 

Open Table on “Risk”

Friday 15 December 2017 | Open Table
RISK … celebrating incarnation

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

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

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

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

So, when did you last task a RISK?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Eugene Peterson renders John 1:14,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Open Book on Endō’s SILENCE

3b68cd92e1547d20e2cb8a84580d9daeOver the last four books, we’ve explored the importance of our bodies and imagination in forming kingdom habits (Desiring the Kingdom), ways of integrating our faith and everyday work (Kingdom Calling), the importance of community in growing up in Christ and reaching out in mission (Community & Growth), and how we should live our kingdom story as ‘true’ in an age of conflicting empires (Colossians Remixed). Each fortnightly gathering we’ve shared in the combination of rich liturgy (Taize songs, Northumbrian prayers, creative Bible reading), open discussion, reflection on art, and the designing of rich practices and habits to reinforce our identity and calling in Christ.

In our first cycle for 2017 (starting Thursday 2nd February), and making a long awaited switch from argumentative essays to a sweeping narrative, we turn to explore the struggle for faith in a world marked by suffering and God’s silence:

How can we imitate Christ as witnesses
in a culture rejecting Christianity?

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Order the Picador 2016 edition online here.

Our conversation partner is Shūsaku Endō (1923-1996), arguably the greatest Japanese novelist of his time, and author of one of the twentieth Century’s most renowned books, Silence. The impact of this book reverberates into the present, challenging, inspiring, infuriating and humbling countless modern writers (see here for nearly 50 such reflections).

fumie2Endō, a Japanese Catholic, was no stranger to occupying the place of the Other: too foreign, too Oriental, to be understood by the West, and too Christian, too iconoclastic–not to mention insufficiently Buddhist–to be accepted at home. His work of historical fiction is set in 1635 as Portuguese missionaries seek to proselytise the Japanese during a time of extreme persecution. Following rumours of their leader (Ferreira) abandoning his faith, two younger Jesuits (Fr. Rodrigues and his companion Fr. Francisco Garrpe) head to Japan to uncover the truth and shore up the struggling converts. How will this collision between cultures resolve, as each grapples with the other? Will Rodrigues and Garrpe, too, betray their Lord, trampling his crudely formed icon (fumie) underfoot and committing the sin of apostasy?

For Dave’s thoughts on why Silence is so timely to read in Open Book 2017, read on.
For the key details and dates, skipping the essay, scroll down below the second +++!

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This book is timely for two reasons.

japanese-martyrs2First, our times increasingly resemble the novel’s setting, thus posing questions that we must answer in our own missional context. This is not to play the victim and suggest that Aussie Christians experience persecution akin to Japanese Christians during the Edo Period (1603-1868). This was a time when Japan turned inward to forge a unified national identity set over and against the colonising other, especially its religious symbols which challenged ultimate allegiance to the Land of the Rising Sun. To be sure, most Aussie Christians barely feel a twinge of persecution, largely disconnected from the pain in the global body of Christ as it faces widespread “Christianophobia“.

Nonetheless, this anti-Christian sentiment has settled into the western church’s heartland. Our once familiar home is turning “hostile“, with anti-Christian bias increasingly prevalent. Many followers of Jesus are lost for how to respond to their faith coming under attack. The “Christian Century” of peacefully coexisting with and playing chaplain to the elites, appealing to the cultured despisers, is long gone. Instead, leading thinkers call the church to “prepare” for persecution–to follow Jesus outside the gates of institutional power, and to embrace the ignominy of being the misunderstood Other who yet speaks truth to power and leads with sacrificial love (Heb 13:12-16). Facing political protectionism and resurgent nationalism (think Brexit, Trump, One Nation) and a supposedly unified “secular” identity that marginalises faith as the populace “loses [its] religion” (even amidst unprecedented plurality), the “disappearing church” of contemporary Australia must change goals, “from cultural relevance to gospel resilience”.

Nothing in this would surprise Endō or other such wise students of mission’s history. Fr. Francis Xavier, Jesuit missionary extraordinaire, ushered in what looked like an Oriental Christian Century, with his inquisitive welcome by Japan’s elites in 1549. And yet, within fifty years, under feudal warlord and Shogun strong man Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Christianity–with its foreign religious icons carried on “black ships” of commerce, backed by military force–was anathema, understood as a threat to fledgling national identity. Missionaries now risked ridicule, even torture and martyrdom, and indigenous believers retreated as “hidden Christians”. Should they just give up on Japan? Does the gospel simply not grow in this soil? And yet, the incarnation and way of Jesus models that God can take on flesh in every time and place, embracing its particularities–contextualisation without compromise (Mt 28:18-20). “If Christianity cannot be true in every culture, then it cannot be true at all.” How Portuguese and Japanese believers responded was a test of Christianity’s integrity as a whole.

silence-endoWe must, however, count the cost. Incarnation always leads to the cross.

As Alissa Wilkinson writes in her powerful review of Silence, “For Endō, there are no easy routes to salvation; a person’s body—its ethnicity, its weaknesses, its susceptibility to pain and desire—is as much his link to the life and sufferings of Christ as a person’s soul.”

This is the paradox of faith: to save your life, you must first lose it (Mt 16:25). How, then, can fallen Christians imitate the incarnation, and witness to a culture rejecting Christianity? Can we do so without suffering? Will our efforts end better than Peter, or Judas?  And how will we be sustained for this impossible mission when the God who sends us apparently stands by, watching in silence?

Endō will not allow us to see this as a “culture war”, a battle between them and us. Surely, there is much that the story’s antagonists and inquisitors, especially former Christians like Kichijirō and Inoue, rightly reject in Christianity as a religion and colonial power–as Japanese Pastor Marre Ishii explores in his review of Silence? It is difficult to distinguish to what degree they would have us wrongly trample underfoot Christ himself as rebels idolatrously set against the Lord of All (Ps 2; Mt 5:10-12; Lk 10:16; Jn 15:18-25), and rightly destroy our crude images of Christ reified in broken institutional religion that is prone to hypocrisy, “cross[ing] land and sea to make one convert, and then turn[ing] that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are” (Mt 23:13-15). Like Jesus himself, Endō is calling the church to “cleanse the temple” (Mt 21:12-17) by evicting what truly is not of God. Only in humility can we witness to a post-Christian culture.

silence-978144729985101Recapping this first point, then, our times increasingly resemble the novel’s setting. Christianity, once popular and even powerful, is on the outer, and a nation “come of age” is prone–with some good reason–to marginalise and even persecute the Church as a threat to the common (read “secular”) good. As missiologist Lesslie Newbigin argues powerfully (see Truth to TellFoolishness to the Greeks, and The Gospel in a Pluralist Society), however, most Christians have not yet recognised that we are the other, the foreigner, in our own home. We, the increasingly “hidden Christians”, are missionaries to a post-Christendom culture. And, as such, the novel Silence is a poignant conversation partner, raising questions of witness, power and colonialism, suffering and doubt, persecution and apostasy. Given that Christ’s Pieces is called to explore what it means to faithfully follow Christ at this cultural cross-road, this book is ripe for our reading together.

Image result for silence movieMercifully shorter than my first rationale, a second reason this book is timely to discuss is that the much anticipated movie rendering of Silence by Martin Scorsese has come! Thirty years in gestation since first reading, this master director describes its production as his own “pilgrimage”. It’s set to be released in Brisbane on February 16, 2017. God willing, we’ll watch it together on Thursday March 2. Obviously watching the movie, mid cycle in Open Book, comes with a complete “spoiler alert”! That said, his adaptation is receiving critical acclaim by the religious and secular alike, and will stimulate great discussion as these tortured characters lift off the page, at once enfleshing and challenging the images in our mind’s eye.

With this movie release (synopsis here; trailer here) has come great interest and a flurry of responses. There have been occasional detractors, such as Roy Peachey from First Things. He questioned both Scorsese and Endō’s telling as rationalising an escape from the suffering of the cross in the name of contextualisation and protection of fellow believers. Most reviewers, however, have praised their constraint, avoiding preaching and instead raising pivotal issues for our at once secular and religious age. As Stephanie Zacharek from Time commented, this story “maps the space between faith and doubt …. Silence makes no clear value judgment between belief and doubt. It’s a movie in the shape of a question mark, which may be the truest sign of the cross.” Personally, this story of cross-shaped witness in a post-Christian context reminded me of Brendan Gleeson’s 2014 characterisation of Irish Priest, Fr. James, in the similarly celebrated and poignant movie, Calvary (Trailer here).

If you’re wanting to delve deeper, these are the best reviews of Silence I’ve read:

  • Alissa Wilkinson on Vox: “Silence is beautiful, unsettling, and one of the finest religious movies ever made. Martin Scorsese’s film keenly understands Shūsaku Endō’s novel and challenges believer and nonbeliever alike.”
  • Simon Smart (from Australia’s Centre for Public Christianity [CPX], on ABC: “How the pain of Scorsese’s Silence mirrors the ‘hard and bitter agony’ of Christmas.”
  • Brett McCracken on Christianity Today: “Scorsese’s Silence asks what it really costs to follow Jesus.”

The particular version of the novel we’ll use is the 2016 edition by Picador (available on Amazon.com here), translated by William Johnston, with a foreword by movie director Martin Scorsese. Their discussion guide is most helpful, posing piercing literary and theological questions with which we will grapple. The companion reflections from nearly 50 authors, responding to Silence, are likewise profound.

We will also draw from a companion book that closely follows Endō’s novel, written by the wonderful Japanese artist and theologian, Makoto Fujimura, with a foreword by Philip Yancey, entitled Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering. Fujimura’s companion website has interviews, art-work, and his own discussion guide. For Yancey’s chapter on Shūsaku Endō (“A Place for Traitors,” in his Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church [London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2007], 261-279), see here. Yancey shares how Endō’s attention to the suffering image of Christ–“the Jesus of reversal” (268)–restored Yancey’s faith, after rejecting the unreality of Christian triumphalism from his fundamentalist youth.

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Over 9 fortnightly Thursday sessions (Feb 2 – May 25) we will dialogue with Endō and each other, learning how to realistically imitate Christ’s incarnation as his witnesses, in our post-Christendom (post-Christian?) Australian culture.

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 or via Picador).

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 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 | Shūsaku Endō’s SILENCE (S)

Feb 2 | Silence Part 1, pp. vii-10 (27pp): Scorsese’s Foreword (vii-ix), Translator’s Preface (xi-xxiv), Endō’s Prologue (1-10)

[Yancey’s chapter on Shūsaku Endō, “A Place for Traitors,” pp261-279 in his Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2007), is also great introduction.]

Feb 16 | S Part 2, pp. 11-47 (37pp): Ch 1 (11-21), Ch 2 (22-29), & Ch 3 (30-47)

*Wednesday* Mar 1 | Silence Movie

Open Table dinner on Friday March 10 … Theme of LOVE

Mar 16 | S Part 3, pp. 48-83 (36pp): Ch 4 (48-83)

Mar 30 | S Part 4, pp. 84-107 (24pp): Ch 5 (84-107) [cancelled due to Debbie’s Cyclone 😦 ]

Apr 13 | S Part 5, pp. 108-128 (21pp): Ch 6 (108-128) + revisit pp. 84-107 (Ch 5)

Apr 27 | S Part 6, pp. 129-164 (36pp): Ch 7 (129-164)

May 11 | S Part 7, pp. 165-189 (25pp): Ch 8 (165-183), & Ch 9 (184-189)

May 25 | S Part 8, pp. 190-212 (23pp): Dinner celebration/remembering of all practices (ppnt/pdf recap) and consolidation of our response to the central question of the series: “How can we imitate Christ as witnesses in a culture rejecting Christianity?” (Ch 10 (190-204), & Appendix (205-212). We’ll provide soup & bread (7pm sharp); bring dessert if able.

Open Table dinner on Friday June 9 … Theme of TRUTH (7 for 7:30pm start)

July 27 | Restart semester 2 with The Benedict Option on the question, “What practices preserve our witness [& identity] in a post-Christian context?”

Hope to see you there!fumie