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Monday, 21 April 2014

Sacred Steel: African-American Holiness-Pentecostal churches

In the House of God churches, members of the congregation began playing sacred music on the electric steel guitar in the late 1930s. Today, the tradition flourishes and its premier figures include Robert Randolph, Chuck and Darick Campbell, Willie Eason, Sonny Treadway, Aubrey Ghent, Calvin Cooke, The Lee Boys, Glenn Lee, Elton Noble, Ted Beard, Josh Taylor, Footie Covington, and Henry Nelson.

In his book, Sacred Steel: Inside an African American Steel Guitar TraditionRobert L. Stone follows the sound of steel guitar into the music-driven Pentecostal worship of two related churches: the House of God and the Church of the Living God. A rare outsider who has gained the trust of members and musicians inside the church, Stone uses nearly two decades of research, interviews, and fieldwork to tell the story of a vibrant musical tradition that straddles sacred and secular contexts.
 
Most often identified with country and western bands, steel guitar is almost unheard of in African American churches - except for the House of God and the Church of the Living God, where it has been part of worship since the 1930s. Sacred Steel traces the tradition through four generations of musicians and in some two hundred churches extending across the country from Florida to California, Michigan to Alabama. Presenting detailed portraits of musical pioneers such as brothers Troman and Willie Eason and contemporary masters such as Chuck Campbell, Glenn Lee, and Robert Randolph, Stone expertly outlines the fundamental tensions between sacred steel musicians and church hierarchy.
 
In this thorough analysis of the tradition, Stone explores the function of the music in church meetings and its effect on the congregations. He also examines recent developments such as the growing number of female performers, the commercial appeal of the music, and younger musicians' controversial move of the music from the church to secular contexts.

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The Campbell Brothers - Morning Train.

Orthodoxy and music

Orthodoxy, Music , Politics and Art in Contemporary Russia and Eastern Europe was a conference and festival organized by the Centre for Russian Music and the Department of History, Goldsmiths, University of London, and the Department of Orthodox Theology, University of Eastern Finland in the Great Hall, Goldsmiths, University of London during March 2013.

The abstracts from the conference programme give an indication of the range of engagements which exist between Orthodoxy and modern or contemporary music.

Elena Artamonova spoke about the relationship between Sergei Vasilenko and the Old Believers:

‘Vasilenko has been perceived as a conformist and inconsequential Soviet composer in post-Soviet Russia. The recent discoveries of unpublished documents reveal Vasilenko to be a talented musician whose search for a niche within the culture of Soviet music forced him to keep his true musical writings secret from the public in the drawer of his desk.

Chant as an element of musical vocabulary and as a symbolic depiction of faith played an important role in his artistic expression. Vasilenko undertook a diligent practical and scholarly research on the Old Believers’ chant, znamennyi raspev, studied the kriuki notation and attended the Old Believers’ liturgies in Moscow, which were forbidden for outsiders and kept in strict confidence in spite of severe persecution. Vasilenko’s first major composition, a cantata the Legend of the Great City of Kitezh and the Quiet Lake Svetoyar op. 5 written in 1902, was composed using the authentic tunes of the Old Believers and schismatic legends from the Volga region. This work anticipated Nikolai Rimskii-Korsakov’s opera on the same subject.

Vasilenko strongly linked the ascetic simplicity and plainness of the monodic tunes of the Old Believers with the ancient icons and the paintings of a devout Russian Orthodox artist, Mikhail Nesterov. The visual and narrative aspects of his work depicted an irrational mystic world that was in harmony with Vasilenko’s musical aspirations.’

Boris Belge highlighted religious expression in the work of Sofia Gubaidulina:

‘Sofia Gubaidulina (*1932) is widely considered one of the most "religious" composers of the former Soviet Union. In fact, she believed in God since her youth. Due to this religiosity, she could not but include religious material and ideas in to her musical work. Socialized in the days of Khrushchev’s antireligious campaigns and a widespread disinterest in religion in Soviet society, her religious conviction seems to be something exceptional.’

Belge discussed Gubaidulina’s musical spirituality by analysing some of her works written in Soviet times (Offertorium, Seven Words) and by discussing questions of continuity or discontinuity in Gubaidulina’s spirituality in the Brezhnev era, as well as Perestroika, and postcommunist times.

Predrag Djokovic explored Sacred Music In The Musical Life Of Serbia In The Time Of Communism:

‘In order to understand the status of sacred music in communist Serbia, it is necessary to explain the attitude of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia towards religion between 1945 and 1990. This country treated religion as "the opium for the people" and had a negative approach to the different Christian denominations, especially to the Serbian Orthodox Church. Since the religious communities were, as well as all their activities in that period, on the margins of social, and particularly public life, sacred music was very little, if at all, present in the concert halls. Although this attitude was common throughout the communist Yugoslavia, in predominantly Roman Catholic Croatia and Slovenia situation was different to some extent. In the Orthodox Serbia, the communists completely abandoned traditional cultural values. In the course of almost 50 years, spiritual, a cappella choir music, which was a significant part of the cultural identity of the Orthodox Serbs, could not be heard publicly at all. Many pre-WW2 church choirs transformed under the influence of the militant atheism, while new, city choirs performed partisan songs glorifying the communist sacrifices and their struggle in creating the new society. However, contrary to the lack of the Orthodox Church music, in the same period in Serbia, the Catholic and Protestant church music was performed from time to time. This deliberate neglect of the Orthodox music in the musical life of Serbia lasted until 1980s. As a consequence of the weakening of the communist regime and its ideology, the status of the sacred music improved in public. One of the turning points was the celebration of the 125 years of Mokranjac’s birth. In 1981, the Radio Television Belgrade Choir performed and recorded the greatest Serbian composer Stevan Mokranjac’s most important spiritual works – The Liturgy and The Funeral Service (Requiem).’

Rachel Jeremiah-Foulds spoke about Galina Ustvolskaya’s unexpected avenue to the Znamenny tradition through the works of Igor Stravinsky:

‘As one of the most important composers to arise in Soviet Russia, Ustvolskaya (1919-2006) opened new dimensions for Russian music by cultivating an original style in the midst of cultural and political calamity. Her indignant protests that she was ‘in isolation by choice and by geopolitical circumstance’ were reinforced by her vigorous rejection of many conventional genres and traditions and the development of her own, uncompromising voice. This paper will begin with a review of the conspicuous inclusion of characteristics of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Znamenny Raspev in her work, an approach that provided a route through which her extreme musical language could progress, and her spirituality could be explored, amidst the restrictions imposed in twentieth-century Russia.

Yet Ustvolskaya was not the first composer to be fascinated by the spiritual and cultural implications of this Orthodox chant, and to spot the possibilities its musical vocabulary presented. The thriving folk tradition of the chant, its reference to an ancient - more spiritual - Russia, along with its Modernist potential, had also made it a very attractive musical vocabulary to Stravinsky (1882-1971) half a century beforehand in an entirely different political context.’

Julija Jonane discussed the appearance of Russian Orthodox genres and composers in the revival of Latvian Sacred Music:

‘Latvia is a multi-religious country where the most prevalent are three Christian Confessions:

- Evangelical Lutheran
- Roman Catholic
- Russian Orthodox.

Although Russian Orthodoxy in Latvia has an old and rich history, Orthodox traditions in musical compositions of the Latvian music history became incorporated much later, only at the end of 20th century. As Latvia regained independence (1980s and 1990s), the traditional churches also re-established themselves. At the same time, Latvian music culture was hit by the wave of the spirituality and religious music become even fashionable. Composers became interested in music genres of the old and established religions (Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox), such as masses, liturgies, hymns, vespers, sacred concerts, etc.

Nowadays, at the beginning of 21st, century, we have composers who are truly dedicated to sacred music and consider it to be their calling. Among them the following three are of the particular importance:

1) Jurijs Glagolevs’s/Yuriy Glagolyev’s (born in 1926) predecessors were known Orthodox priests and church choir conductors. He created sacred compositions for performance mainly in church ceremonies.

2) Musical settings by Andrejs Selickis/Andrey Selickiy (born in 1960) are also inspired by his work as a singer and choir conductor of various Russian Orthodox churches in Riga. However, often the composer’s sacred oeuvre rises above the traditions and canons of his religious denomination – towards Christian ideas in a more general sense.

3) The third composer who writes music according to the Russian Orthodox traditions is Georgs Pelecis/Georg Pelecis (born in 1926). Although he is not directly involved in church activities, his compositions are inspired by his faith. Five oratorios by him are considered to be an important contribution to Latvian sacred music history as well as intersecting with Russian Orthodox genres. The oratorio God is Love (2001) was specially composed as a dedication to Russian Orthodoxy in Latvia within the framework of the 800th Jubilee of Riga. This work, described by the author himself as "an ecumenical concert", combines the Latvian and Russian languages, thus symbolically reflecting the interaction of two different cultures.’

Ivana Medic highlighted Serbian piano music inspired by the Orthodox tradition:

‘One of the most interesting strands of Serbian musical modernism that emerged in the decades after the World War Two was an idiosyncratic intertwining of the various neo- styles (neoclassicism, neoexpressionism etc.) with Orthodox tradition. This trend was distinguished by the nostalgic/poeticised relation towards the distant past (in particular, the idealised Middle Ages), and the aim to revive the "archaic" by using contemporary (including avant-garde) artistic means. This style has proved to be extremely vital and, with some modifications, it has survived to this day.’

She discussed piano music by several Serbian composers (Vasilije Mokranjac, Svetislav Božic, Miroslav Savic, et al.) who found inspiration in the Orthodox tradition. ‘While some of them use verbatim quotations of church chants and work them into the pieces, others opt for a less direct approach, where the church music is only simulated (and often supported by the onomatopoeia of ubiquitous bells).’

Gregory Myers shared thoughts on Nikolai Korndorf’s 1978 Setting of the Orthodox Divine Liturgy:

‘A work that has only recently appeared on the composer’s work list, and a composition best defined as written for the drawer, Nikolai Korndorf’s setting of the Orthodox Liturgy is an early work dating from 1978; this is music composed at the pre-dawn of a new era. The decade of the 1970s marked the beginning of Russia’s spiritual awakening; the allure of the Russian Orthodoxy crossed generations drawing many to and back into its fold, as if they were saying ‘this was once ours and let us reclaim it to make us whole’. Korndorf’s compositional approach appears to draw on earlier traditions that antedate and therefore bypass traditional 19th-century Russian sacred music trends. The composer recasts, reconnects and succeeds in re-establishing that long lost organic relationship between canonical texts and music.’

Tara Wilson argued that for Vladimir Martynov Russian Orthodoxy was a cultural and compositional aesthetic:

‘Vladimir Martynov (b. 1946) is one of Russia’s leading contemporary composers, noted for his long-term employment of minimalist techniques, as well as for his cultural and compositional manifesto, entitled ‘The End of the Composers’ Time’ (1996). Regarded as a polymath, with specialisms in Russian Orthodoxy, sacred choral music, Eastern and Western Philosophy and post-structural theory, Martynov advocates that contemporary compositional language should function as a form of ‘bricolage’; as a commentary on past cultures and musics, both secular and sacred, while connecting these to the present day. Directly influenced by Russian Orthodoxy as a doctrine, as form of ritual and as a source of archaic musical vocabulary, Martynov makes the connections between chant and Minimalism, while constructing what he terms a ‘New Sacral Space: a new type of performance ritual that aims to engender meditative contemplation within a postmodernist context.’

Tatiana Soloviova considered Stepan Smolensky and the Renaissance of Sacred Music in Russia:

‘To understand Russian sacred music, it is crucial to investigate its history. One of the most important in the history of sacred music in Russia was its renaissance, which took place at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. After a long period of being a marginalized area subdued by foreign domination, Russian sacred music was at that time returning to its roots, ancient chants becoming an element of the vanguard of music creativity in Russia, and the subject of admiration for foreigners. This renaissance included several simultaneous trends: historical research, composing, performing, educational issues and also public debates. For the first time in Russian history, sacred music was being discussed in leading newspapers!

A remarkable role in this renaissance was played by Stepan Smolensky (1848-1909), little known to Russians, let alone the English public. His pioneering research into medieval sacred chants, his teaching and composing were not only germane to the renaissance, but also its essential ingredient. During this directorship the Moscow Synodal School became a first class educational institution and its Choir was hailed by Europeans as an outstanding phenomenon. Smolensk greatly influenced Kastalsky, Rachmaninoff, Grechaninov and others: thanks to his guidance many masterpieces were created (it is to him that Rachmaninoff dedicated his "All-Night Vigil"). The so called New Direction in sacred music started and led by Smolensky represents one of the most glorious pages in cultural history of Russia. Discussions of that time are both relevant and enlightening for those interested in sacred music nowadays.’

Tanya Sirotina discussed the poetic theatre of Vladimir Rubin:

‘Born in 1924, Rubin served in the Red Army during the Second World War. Since the 1950s he has been active as a composer, living his philosophical and religious convictions in the medium of art. He survived the fall of the Soviet empire and the emotional turmoil, and witnessed the ensuing disruption of human souls that arose within this period.

A patriarch of the contemporary Russian compositional school who continues the line of Russian musical tradition, he took lessons from Vakhrameyev as a child, and was later a student of Goldenveyzer (1949, piano, Moscow conservatoire). Personally acquainted with Shostakovich and Sviridov, in his art he pursued the idea of poetic theatre and maintained the revival of the sacred word in his operas, choral and film music.’

In an interesting deviation from the main theme Arnold McMillin explored the reflection of religion in Modern Belarusian Literature:

‘Belarus was dominated by its neighbours from the mid-17th century onwards, and its history has taught it to be tolerant to the point of passivity, albeit not in religion where for centuries Belarusians have striven to retain their religious identity, despite opposition from within and without the country.
Poland and Russia attempted to impose Catholicism and Orthodoxy, respectively, but Uniate beliefs remained, and have been adopted by many contemporary writers.

In the 1920s in Western Belarus several clerical poets, whilst preaching the Catholic faith, defied the government by espousing nationalist ideas. Many such ‘bourgeois priests’ were to suffer murder and exile.

During most of Stalin’s time religion was banned in Belarus. Since the collapse of Communism, however, it became a prominent theme in literature, especially poetry. In the 1910s and following decades, a number of writers had written about the pull of Russia on the one hand and Poland on the other, leaving Belarus in the middle, trying to remain politically and spiritually independent. This theme has was taken up again by several prominent contemporary poets

Religious controversy, never far away, also entered scholarship, through falsification of the name of the enlightenment figure of Francis Skaryna.

Contemporary Belarusian literature contains myriad responses to God, from pious verses to angry challenges, particularly following the Chernobyl disaster. Notable are many lively dialogues with the Deity, who often seems to be rural and local, offering protection from the world around.’

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Galina Ustvolskaya - Symphony No. 5 Amen.

Windows on the world (290)


Barcelona, 2013

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Sunday, 20 April 2014

Lent, Holy Week and Easter at St John's





















Children from Downshall Primary School came to St John's Seven Kings to learn more about Easter. They took part in seven Easter Activity Stations which enabled them to learn about the Easter story and reflect on what the story says to them. This year's Easter Activity Stations involved, among other activities, tasting vinegar and chocolate, washing hands, placing rocks in water and making foil crosses. The Easter Activity Stations taught, among other stories, about the Last Supper, the trial of Jesus, carrying the cross, Jesus' death and resurrection. These activity Stations were also used at All Saints Goodmayes this year and for our own Good Friday Children's Activity Morning.

Brambles the donkey led our Palm Sunday procession from St Paul's Goodmayes to St John's. The service and procession was attended by more than 100 people. From St Paul's the procession went to Westwood Recreation Ground where palm crosses were blessed and the Gospel was read. From there the procession continued along Meads Lane to St John's Seven Kings where the service concluded with Communion. Along the way, the congregation of Seven Kings United Free Church left their service to greet the procession with waved palms, banners and instruments.

The Seven Kings Fellowship of Churches celebrated the learning done together as part of this year's Lent Course - 'Build on the Rock: Faith, doubt and Jesus' at a Lent Service hosted by Seven Kings United Free Church. Among feedback from each of the three groups that studied the Course was the following:

  • "We had some very deep discussions. Our discussion about death was particularly interesting, thoughtful and deep."
  • "I appreciated thinking about Jesus as 'friend' and 'brother'. This was a new way of thinking. I had to stop and think about what we are really saying when we call Jesus our 'brother'."
  • "Asking why God leads us to pray was thought-provoking and important for me."
  • "You think you're not that good as a Christian but to then hear that we all struggle with doubt, it makes you realise that you're not odd."  
On Maundy Thursday we appreciated a reflective Communion service with footwashing where Jean Richards, our Reader, spoke about the background to Jesus' prayer for unity in John 17. Our Good Friday Devotional Service featured dramatic monologues written by Rev. Alan Stewart giving perspectives on Christ's Passion from Judas, Pilate, Mary, a Soldier and Peter. Our Service Sheet included two images of the Passion by Worthing-based artist Jonathan Peter Smith (smithpeterjonathan@yahoo.co.uk). In between came our Good Friday Children's Activity morning with Easter crafts including: Easter snow globes, Easter cards, Easter plates, Easter gardens, Easter cakes and more.

Easter Day included a Sunrise Service followed by breakfast which began, as did our All-Age Communion Service, with the rolling away of the stone from the empty tomb. During this Service I said, 'The story of Christ’s death and resurrection takes us forward into a new life. The reality of his presence with us on the way helps us endure and persevere. The combination of the two brings hope for the future because whatever we may experience in the here and now, ultimately Love wins. That is what has made sense for millions of Christians over the centuries since that first Easter Day. May we also know Christ’s resurrection not only making sense for us but also making sense of our lives too.' 

Our Easter Day ended with the baptisms of four children from a local family. There, I said, 'As we celebrate these baptisms today, may we realise afresh the way that our deepest needs - for love and significance – are fully met through baptism into the family of God. Who are we? We are the beloved sons and daughters of our Father God. Why are we here? To use our God-given abilities to do work for God that only we can do.'  
   
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Scott Stapp - What Would Love Do?

Christianity: Making sense of life

Sherlock Holmes once remarked to Dr Watson that, ‘When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.’

This is what motivates Professor John Polkinghorne. As a Cambridge physicist he might be expected to disbelieve such an extraordinary miracle as resurrection, which appears to contravene the laws of nature. But in fact, it is the cornerstone of his faith. Reflecting on the remarkable rise of the early Church, he concluded: Something happened to bring it about. Whatever it was it must have been of a magnitude commensurate with the effect it produced. I believe that was the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.’

“Only a tiny handful of people have founded immense, influential movements. They shared three vital assets:

a charismatic personality
a long life
a fast growing number of committed followers

Muhammad is a good example. He died in his sixties after a very energetic life. His following had momentum - lots of people, good organisation, a buoyant mood. So it's no surprise to find that Muhammad's charisma gave rise to a great movement, known today as Islam.

The single exception to the 'long life and growing movement' rule is Jesus. He died young - in his thirties. He spent only three years in the public eye and that in a small country under enemy occupation. He stayed local and didn't write anything down (apart from a word or
two in the sand). Towards the end his popularity ran out and his followers ran away, their lofty dreams shattered.

To sum up ... it was quite impossible for this sequence of events to give rise to a movement of any size or consequence, let alone the largest movement in all history. Yet ... IT DID!”


As Sherlock Holmes remarked, ‘When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.’

We are not speaking here of proof. Just as the existence or non-existence of God cannot be conclusively proved and is therefore, for both Christians and atheists, a matter of belief; so the resurrection cannot be conclusively proved or disproved and, on both sides, is ultimately a matter of belief.

What is being said though is that we have to make sense of the historical facts about the remarkable rise of the Early Church and that belief in the resurrection makes sense of that story. As John Polkinghorne has said, Something happened to bring it about. Whatever it was it must have been of a magnitude commensurate with the effect it produced.’

More than that, the Christian story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection makes sense of life itself. For the early Church and for Christians ever since, this story enables us to understand life, to make sense of it, to see it as a journey with meaning, purpose and an ultimate destination which is not death and destruction but new life and rebirth.

Death AND resurrection. Suffering AND salvation. This is the journey which Christians make, following in the footsteps of Jesus, as we travel through Lent and Easter.

While it is a journey which in no way minimises the reality and pain of suffering and bereavement, it is ultimately a journey of hope. One which leads to new life, where we proclaim that Jesus is alive and death is no longer the end.

As a result, to go on this journey, builds resilience and endurance in those who travel this way. As we look at our lives, the difficulties and challenges we might face, our Christian faith tells us that this is not the end instead change and new life are possible; indeed, that they will come.

The story of Christ’s death and resurrection takes us forward into a new life. The reality of his presence with us on the way helps us endure and persevere. The combination of the two brings hope for the future. Whatever we may experience in the here and now, ultimately Love wins.   

In his book ‘Surprised by Joy C.S. Lewis sets out the series of moves which led him to faith in God, using a chessboard analogy’:

‘What Lewis describes in Surprise by Joy is not a process of logical deduction: A therefore B, therefore C. It is much more like a process of crystallisation, by which things that were hitherto disconnected and unrelated are suddenly seen to fit into a greater scheme of things ... Things fall into place ...

It is like a scientist who, confronted with many seemingly unconnected observations, wakes up in the middle of the night having discovered a theory which accounts for them ... It is like a literary detective, confronted with a series of clues, who realises how things must have happened, allowing every clue to be positioned within a greater narrative. In every case, we find the same pattern – a realisation that, if this was true, everything else falls into place naturally, without being forced or strained. And by its nature, it demands assent from the lover of truth. Lewis found himself compelled to accept a vision of reality that he did not wish to be true, and certainly did not cause to be true ...

Lewis finally bowed to what he now recognised as inevitable. “In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”

Lewis ... realised that if Christianity was true, it resolved the intellectual and imaginative riddles that had puzzled him since his youth ... he began to realise that there was a deeper order, grounded in the nature of God, which could be discerned – and which, once grasped, made sense of culture, history, science, and above all the acts of literary creation that he valued so highly and made his life’s study.’


So, we have seen that belief in the resurrection not only makes sense of the rise of the Early Church but also can make sense of life itself, seeing it as a journey with meaning, purpose and an ultimate destination which is not death and destruction but new life and rebirth. This gives us a means of enduring the difficulties and challenges we face now with resilience and endurance because of our belief that this is not the end and that change and new life are possible and will come.

As a result, the story of Christ’s death and resurrection takes us forward into a new life. The reality of his presence with us on the way helps us endure and persevere. The combination of the two brings hope for the future because whatever we may experience in the here and now, ultimately Love wins. That is what made sense to John Polkinghorne and C.S. Lewis and is also what has made sense for millions of Christians over the centuries since that first Easter Day. May we also know Christ’s resurrection not only making sense for us but also making sense of our lives too. 

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Alice Cooper - I Am Made Of You.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Sabbatical art pilgrimage

I will be on sabbatical from 5th May to 8th August during which time I plan to visit significant sites connected to the renewal of religious art in Europe during the twentieth century. 

My programme will include two UK-based retreats, a series of visits to UK sites, and a pilgrimage around sites in Belgium, France and Switzerland. On the European leg of my sabbatical I plan to visit sites connected with the groups of artists surrounding Maurice Denis, Jacques Maritain, Albert Gleizes and Pere Marie-AlainCouturier. This will include visits to (among others): Sint-Martens Latem (Albert Servaes); Chapelle Notre-Dame-du-Haut, Ronchamp (Le Corbusier); Churchof Sacré-Coeur, Audincourt (Various); Église de Saint Nicolas Semsales (Gino Severini); Eglise Saint-Paul à Grange-Canal, Geneva (Denis); Notre-Dame de Toute Grâce,Assy (Various); Moly-Sabata, Sablons (Gleizes); Notre Dame, Raincy (Denis); Denis Chapel, Saint-Germain-en-Laye (Denis). I will also visit some more contemporary sites and examples of good practice such as: Centre d’Art Sacré Contemporain, Lille (Various); Chapelle Sainte-Thérèse-de-l'Enfant-Jésus et dela Sainte-Face, Hem (Alfred Manessier); Metz Cathedral (Marc Chagall); and St Jean Baptiste, Bourbourg (Anthony Caro).


My intention is to reflect on the visits I make in terms of the significance of these sites both for art history and good practice for commissioning, as well as capturing my personal and spiritual responses to the artworks at the sites. I plan to photograph each site and its artworks, write journal entries (for posting to this blog - http://joninbetween.blogspot.co.uk/) and articles (for the ArtWay website - http://www.artway.eu/artway.php?lang=en) about my visits, and write a final report summarising my responses and general conclusions in terms of art history, commissioning good practice and implications for prayer/spirituality.

I make regular use of the visual arts within my ministry and the sabbatical will add to the image bank on which I draw to do so. The opportunity to post to my blog and write articles for ArtWay will also enable the wider church to benefit from the study element of my sabbatical. 

Marleen Hengelaar-Rookmaaker of ArtWay has said, “This sounds a wonderful sabbatical plan and this is certainly of great interest to ArtWay. We will be very happy to publish your findings on our website.” Ed Knippers (CIVA artist) has said, “Your plans for a sabbatical sound remarkable. You have really done your homework and it looks to be a wonderful adventure.”

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Creed - Don't Stop Dancing.

There is a need for models of sacrifice in society

Madeleine Bunting highlights the ideas of theologian Sarah Coakley in today's Guardian. Coakley argues that sacrifice needs to be restored as a central biological, ethical and theological principle. Far from sacrifice being an outmoded ritual, it is central to human experience:

'She cites recent evolutionary theory that puts sacrificial co-operation on a par with mutation and selection as a fundamental "principle" of evolution. "Individual evolutionary loss can be group evolutionary gain," she says.

Rather than imagining our genes as selfish, struggling in a race for the survival of the fittest, we can see evolution as requiring ceaseless sacrifices, small and large, to ensure the survival of the group ...

What makes Coakley's ideas so challenging is that, as she suggested in her 2012 Gifford lectures, "there is a need for models of sacrifice in a society" – that the existence of people dedicated to an "altruism beyond calculation" plays a critical role in challenging, inspiring and provoking the social order around them ...

We are living in an age of sacrifice on a near apocalyptic scale: a great extinction is under way with hundreds of species being eliminated as their habitats are destroyed. Looking at another dimension of this age of sacrifice, we have developed a global economy in which people's wellbeing and communities are routinely sacrificed for the sake of economic growth and efficiency – strange gods built on fantasies that allege rationality.

This is the ugly sacrifice that consumer capitalism attempts to conceal with its glamorous illusions and ideology of desire and entitlement, of self-fulfilment and self-expression. Capitalism offers speed, convenience and choice, but behind all of these lies sacrifice, from the poor working conditions of an exhausted workforce to the water-stressed cotton fields.

The urgency of us grasping the importance of sacrifice in human experience must surely be a vital part of any sustainable future.

Any proposal to slow down or reverse our destructive impact on the natural environment leads to talk of sacrifice on the part of consumers in western developed economies. Only when we understand how sacrifice can be a force for good have we any hope of restraining our destructive capabilities.'

Among other excellent Easter-themed coverage is John Dugdale's listing of 10 key Easter scenes to be found in writers ranging from Shakespeare to Yeats and Goethe to Tolstoy.

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Linda Perhacs - The Soul Of All Natural Things.