Friday, 29 February 2008
"Larry Norman, who has died at the age of 61, was a pioneer of what became known as Jesus Rock, which combined the rhythms of rock'n'roll with the social and spiritual observations of Christianity. Norman, who was instinctively an outsider, was resigned to the fact that his music would cause offence to the church and the music industry, and once summed his position up as "too secular for the Christians and too Christian for the secularists".
Yet it was his hybrid that provided the template for the development of the multimillion dollar contemporary Christian music industry, a genre that now outsells jazz, classical and new age combined in America."
Larry Norman - Let The Tape Keep Rolling.
Tuesday, 26 February 2008
I replied: Thank you for your letter and the Annunciation image that you included with it. I have appreciated the opportunity to reflect on your thinking about the purpose and meaning of Art and the chance to view another of your creations.
Most recently I’ve been writing about the new album by Rickie Lee Jones, The Sermon on Exposition Boulevard, which reminded me of some of the things you said in your letter. This album has been improvised from The Words, a book by photographer Lee Cantelon which documents the words of Jesus. Rickie Lee speaks about having “always felt a communion with the invisible world.” “I don’t give it a name,” she says, “because when you call it God – if you call it he, if you call it she – then you give it these human attributes. And it’s a mechanism, it’s a machine of life that we’re a part of. We speak to it, it speaks to us, it’s real, it’s obvious.” This reminded me of your thought about an energy beyond conscience and comparable with the spirit and human intelligence. Like you, they are also criticial of organised religion with Cantelon’s book being an attempt “to make available the message of Christ to non-religious readers, persons curious about the meaning and depth of Christ's words, who found themselves alienated from organized church and religion.”
I agree with you about the danger of fundamentalism in religion and in secular philosophies like fascism and communism. Wherever beliefs (secular or religious) are imposed on others or defended through violence and force you have a recipe for disaster. It is one of the vital (and still dangerous) roles that artists can play to expose and oppose such fundamentalism.
However, life and the practice of beliefs are rarely wholly black and white, right or wrong. Religions have taught love while their followers have practiced violence in the same way that Communists spoke about solidarity while imprisoning dissidents. But there are also many examples of the love that is taught in religions being practised even in the face of great oppression just as there are examples of humanitarian acts based on principles of humanism. Life and the practice of our beliefs is often paradoxical and this too needs to be reflected through the questioning, curiosity and critical spirit of artists.
It is encouraging to find in your work an interest in religious subjects and issues that is also combined with the ability to ask hard questions of those who hold religious beliefs. It is this combination of curiosity and criticism that I think is valuable not just in relation to religious beliefs but also to secularism, consumerism, globalisation and other contemporary meta-narratives.
My view is that contemporary art leans too far in the direction of deconstruction and, as a result, I have a tendency to look for art that moves in the opposite direction of re-construction or reconciliation. Your exposition of Annunciation seems to lead in this direction as you have combined a disparate set of images in order to create a harmonious whole. The sense of harmony that you have achieved is there in both the form and the content of the work. In this way, it reminds me of the work of Chagall who achieves harmonious works by re-combining: separated art movements (cubism, expressionism etc.); geometry and colour; and images drawn from dreams, memories, and religions. I realise, of course, that comparing your work to that of Chagall is not a ‘fashionable’ reference to be making but, in my view, deconstruction is the accepted norm of contemporary art – the easy thing for artists to do – while reconciliation is the unusual and radical alternative.
I note that you are moving on from your post as Director of the Atelier Public d'Arts Plastiques d'Allonnes in order to concentrate more on your own artistic creations. I wish you well in this move and hope that you find courageous galleries willing to take your work. I am sure that your work as Director has been greatly appreciated in Allonnes and more widely.
With all good wishes.
Rickie Lee Jones - Falling Up.
It seems, then, that there is an internal conversation within the Bible between the voices ‘above the fray’ and those ‘in the fray’, between structure-legitimation and the embrace of pain, between a narrative thread and a lack of closure. This internal conversation is there not just in the content of the scriptures (witness the great dialogues between God and Abraham, Moses, Jeremiah and Job) but in the very forms of the scriptures themselves. Conversation it seems is in-built into scripture and opens up to us the real-life reconciliation that is inherent in the structure and content of scripture.
The Bible can be seen as the record of a conversation between God and a human race which has, as a whole, rejected this conversation but which, in a remnant (mainly Israel and the Church), continues to oscillate between dialogue and independent rejection. This is why the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is finally so decisive. Jesus lives fully in the counter-testimony, the conversation with God which embraces pain and imagines possibility, and he then enables humanity to consistently enter in to that conversation too.
Rene Girard has described this radical reversal in terms of God first taking the side of the victim and then, in Christ, becoming the victim: “The desire that lives through imitation almost always leads to conflict, and this conflict frequently leads to violence. The Bible unveils this process of imitative desire leading to conflict, and its distinctive narratives reveal at the same time that God takes the part of victims. In the Gospels the process of unveiling or revelation is radicalized: God himself, the Word become flesh in Jesus, becomes the victim … The New Testament Gospels are the starting point for a new science or knowledge of humanity. This new knowledge begins with faith in Christ the innocent victim, and it becomes the leaven that will work itself out and expand to the point that the concern for victims becomes the absolute value in all societies moulded or affected by the spread of Christianity.”[ii]
In both the Art we have considered and in our discussion of Biblical form and content we have seen the holding together of fragments in ways that enable conversations to occur between these fragmentary ideas and images. This is, I think, what Nicholas Mosley meant when he called for a revival of religious and artistic languages that are “elusive, allusive; not didactic,” dealing not just with facts and units of data but also with “the patterns, connections, that such data, together with the minds that observe them, make.” By this, we can perhaps see that, “apparent contradictions might be held,” “seeming opposites held from a higher point of view” and “errors accepted as the purveyors of learning rather than traps.”
[i] P. D. Miller, ‘Introduction’ in W. Brueggemann, Old Testament Theology: Essays on Structure, Theme and Text, Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1992, p. xvi.
[ii] J. G. Williams, ‘Foreword’ in R. Girard, I see Satan fall like lightning, Orbis Books, 2001, pp. x & xix.
John Tavener - Song for Athene.
Monday, 25 February 2008
Echo and The Bunnymen - Rescue.
This long weekend challenge links two great European cities, London and Paris, covering around 300km in just 3 days. Encounter historic towns, sleepy villages and rolling countryside en-route. Cycle along wide Parisian boulevards to the finishing line at the city’s most famous landmark, the Eiffel Tower. Free day to explore the sights of Paris before boarding the Eurostar train back to London.
DAY 1: Cycle from central London through Surrey with views of South Downs to Newhaven. Ferry to Dieppe. 98kmDAY 2: Quiet tree lined roads and sleepy Normandy villages to Gournay en Bray. Some challenging hills to conquer en-route! 80kmDAY 3: Ride from Gournay en Bray to outskirts of Paris. Reach city centre via the famous Bois de Boulogne park. Finish under Eiffel Tower. 114km.DAY 4: Explore Paris before returning to London on board Eurostar.
Contact Rejuvenate Worldwide if you are interested in joining the ride (there are a few places left for those who fancy a challenge …. ). See the website for other fundraising activities to get involved in throughout the year: www.rejuvenateworldwide.org.uk .
Blue Aeroplanes- The Boy In The Bubble.
Sunday, 24 February 2008
This conversation (John 4. 5 - 42) takes place by Jacob’s well. Jacob had a vision of a ladder between earth and heaven with angels ascending and descending on the ladder. In conversation with Nathanael (John 1. 51), Jesus has already described himself as the ladder, the connection between earth and heaven and that is what we see happening in practice in the conversation Jesus has with this Samaritan woman.
In this conversation Jesus continually connects every aspect of division between him and the woman and within her own life. For this woman, he brings heaven and earth together. What divisions do I mean? Firstly, there was division between Jews and Samaritans. A history of division going back to the split between the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel and involving the Samaritans building a rival Temple to that in Jerusalem and the Jews tearing down the Samaritan Temple. With that kind of history we can understand why Jews would not use the same cups and bowls as Samaritans.
Then there were divisions of gender. “The rabbis taught that a man should not talk to a woman in the street. Some even refused to acknowledge their wives in public, while certain Pharisees sported bruises from bumping into things when their eyes were shut to avoid looking at a woman!” (R. Burridge, John, BRF 1998).
Finally, there were divisions of purity. The woman has come to the well during the hottest part of the day, which can only be to avoid others, implying that she was immoral. Later we find out that she has had five husbands, when Jews at that time only permitted marriage to three husbands, and the man with whom she is now living is not her husband.
So this conversation is “a real meeting of opposites – of Jew with Samaritan, a man with a woman, a rabbi with a sinner, the one ‘from above’ confronting the lowest of the low. It sums up all the bitterness of human separation by race, creed, class, sex, profession, status yet Jesus, alone, without even his disciples to protect him, asks her for a drink … this is what it means for him to be the ladder at Jacob’s well, bridging not only the gulf between God and the world, but also all the barriers human beings put between themselves. It was for this reason that God sent his Son into the world, and for this reason there is hope for us all, from modern Samaria on the West Bank to our daily petty differences.”
“As the conversation unfolds … Jesus gently leads her through levels of misunderstanding from the earthly and literal to the heavenly and spiritual.” Jesus begins with the actual situation (being beside a well), an everyday action (drawing water), and with what the woman can give to him (a drink of water). From the everyday, the earthly, the ordinary, he makes connections with the heavenly, the spiritual, by offering life-giving water that will never run out. He is not saying that the two are separate, distinct and different. Instead, he is acting as the connection between the two, bringing them together so that what is heavenly can be seen in what is earthly and vice versa.
There is a contrast throughout this conversation between the old and the new. Jesus is saying that if you drink from Jacob’s well, in other words, if you drink of Jacob’s religion, you will be satisfied temporarily but will thirst again. But whoever drinks of the water Jesus gives will not thirst for all eternity. Jesus’ words, “they will not thirst” literally mean ‘into the new age.’ Jesus brings a new age into the world, in him heaven/eternity are breaking through time and entering into our present moment now. In Jesus heaven and eternity are here now and begin in our lives now as we receive his love, forgiveness, and acceptance into our lives now. “The water which Jesus offers to give is the raw material of himself. It is his human body and mind and spirit; but it is alive with the Spirit of God. What flows out of him for this Samaritan woman, if she has faith, and asks for it, will be water alive with Spirit, and this will activate a similar spring of water and Spirit within herself.” (Verney, Water into Wine, Fount, 1985)
Once she has become captivated by Jesus’ offer, then there is a moment of personal challenge. In speaking about her personal relationships, Jesus “confronts her with herself so that her impurities can be cleaned out and the living waters flow freely.” (Burridge) But we need to understand with love and acceptance with which this challenge comes. Stephen Verney describes it in this way:
“Jesus says to her, “You have answered beautifully ‘I have no husband’. For you have had five husbands, and the man you have now is not your husband. In this you have spoken truthfully.” Some years ago I was reading these words with a woman whose marriage had broken up, and she said, “Look! Jesus is complimenting the Samaritan woman.” I had never seen it until that moment. Jesus says to her “You have answered beautifully … you have spoken truthfully.” Your sexual life is chaotic and you have one man after another – that is the reality of how you are in the flesh. But because you have brought this out into the light and recognised it, the reality of god can now enter into the reality of you. , the reality of god can now enter into the reality of you. Our flesh can come alive with Spirit. You are just the very person who is able to receive the living water. The self-righteous cannot receive it, because they do not know that they need it.”
The question the woman then asks about the place to worship God may have been a distraction, a sign that this conversation was getting too close to home for the woman, or it may have been a sincere question about where she should go with her sinful life in order to find God. Jesus says that the place is not important. God’s heavenly future is breaking into our earthly realm now and those who know this, worship in his Spirit and in truth. Jesus then reveals himself as God, the one who connects heaven and earth, the living water, when he uses the Old Testament name of God – I AM who I AM – in saying A AM he, who is talking with you.
The woman has changed through talking with God. “She came to the well in the hottest, quietest part of the day to avoid people – but now she goes to find them and tell them what has happened to her. Now the fact that Jesus knows all she has done is not something to be avoided with a theological hot potato –but the hottest news to be shared – ‘can this really be the Christ?’
The fields are white for harvest Jesus then says to his disciples and this is proved by the many in Sychar who came to believe in Jesus. The fields around us are also white for harvest and people will hear and respond if we are able to learn from the way in which Jesus connects faith with everyday life. He sits with ordinary people, listens and talks with them. He starts with ordinary life, with the things that others have to give and then reveals how the spiritual and heavenly can be seen in the everyday. He is not afraid of challenge, but his challenges come couched in encouragement, understanding and acceptance instead of condemnation. The challenge is to move on, to grow beyond the point that we have reached. This challenge is profoundly life affirming.
In the PCC at St John's we are currently discussing ideas and proposals for future outreach and mission through St John’s and these ideas will be shared more widely soon in Pilgrimage and at the APCM among others. We are discussing mission because, as Jesus said, the fields are white for harvest. Let us be in conversation with Jesus ourselves through prayer and bible reading. Let us learn from Jesus’ conversations and make connections for others between earth and heaven. Let us, at St John’s, begin to reap a harvest. May it be so for each one of us. Amen.
Aretha Franklin and Mavis Staples - O Happy Day.
Rémy wrote: "All my good wishes for 2007 and good reading.
Amongst other questions that contemporary art can pose of religion is that of truth. Is Man born from chance and need or the creation of a mysterious divine will? For my part and to locate me, I lean towards chance and need but I do not exclude a will in the form of an energy which would be beyond that of a conscience and comparable with that of the spirit and human intelligence (even if a share of this force lives in it). The mystery, of course, hangs on this question, ‘is this what God is?’ and finally what is interesting for the artist (who is posed questions by nature and its works) is to observe the demonstrations of the spirit of mankind and society and to translate these questions so as to wake up the senses, to maintain alive and constructively a critical spirit and curiosity.
To fall into idolatry, in opposition to the progress of religious dogmas or policies is dramatic. As you know, we can observe how, for example, poor interpretation of a rigid Islam leads to disaster, in stupidity, with murder, with oppression and how it, fascism and communism crushed people. Before that the Inquisition tried to congeal and destroy freedom to imagine and to think of a multitude of curious spirits fleeing conventions. But the courage and imagination of some continues since the Enlightenment happened and still constitutes the foundation of our modern era, which, has arrived in a turn of materialism and individualism leading to a frightening paroxysm of financial interests and powers. We agree therefore that it is necessary to jostle dogmas where they have solidified becoming irritational or retrograde. The great religions are positive in that they made it possible to leave cruelty and that was overall good, so why not believe quite simple in mankind and in the good that is already recognised in the morality of various religions. While going in this direction, if god exists, he will be acknowledged because, ‘the sky will help you!’
I agree with you that all the works in the 'Humour and Criticism' exhibition did not claim to attack conventions in 'unique thoughts' or 'political correctness' and did not all try to give lessons or solutions. It is one of the functions of artist to ‘disturb’, it is this that humourists do with words and drawings and it is useful. Short of this is a vast debate which I do not control at all. Of course, many people on the planet also question your position. I am admitting to you a personal interest in writing on this subject but finally there are all the same risks to be become wrongly understood and poorly accepted, as much in art as in journalism and art criticism.
The image attached (Annonciation) is my most recent image, it was conceived to be the greeting card of the city of Allonnes, as requested of me each year by the Mayor. From now on I will be moving on from the organising of exhibitions to devote more time to sculpture and the design of images for myself and for art galleries, if I can find courageous ones. I have many ideas inside including religious and socio-political subjects.
I shall make a small personal analysis here of my image (although I do not doubt that you can do it yourself) but this gives me the occasion to try to formalise my thoughts into words. Finally each viewer will put their own personal interpretation on it, as for any work of art.
1. The tree is a symbol of life, exchange (bond and place) between the spiritual forces (sky) and telluric forces (today the majority of the plane trees in France are diseased, so one can see there a wink at ecology).
2. The sky is gilded and a little ruffled like wrapping paper for a gift. In the tree are several kinds of leaves representing the diversity of races and species.
3. The levitating woman is a mother, dispenser of life, who is divinized like the Virgin Mary on a flower-seat decorated with small bells (like a jester’s cap because history is insane). Children are in nests under her generous bosom as in life, home, (as long as goodwill, work, money and love allow, if not caught up in misfortune and misery!)
4. The church, architectural monument and its monumental door symbolise institutions in general, nuns or laymen. On the door ‘Jeff of Bruges’ (large chocolate mark) is engraved to mark that inside are good things to attract our interest. In the round window (the eye of an ox) an individual, a preacher or Muezzin, blesses the neighbourhood and exhorts people to enter. The red lantern is a little iconoclastic (a face appears inside, perhaps a devil) but red was necessary here to the plastic composition.
5. With his tricolour sash, Yvon Luby ‘true' mayor of Allonnes and the secretary of Armelle ‘the wrong’ Town Hall (agent of maintenance in our workshop) ready to receive complaints and to join those who will want for both the best and for the worst.
6. The crowd of demonstrators beat the advancing drum. Smiling people assert and hope that their democratically elected leaders will hold to promises that have often been deferred. In the large print photograph of this picture – the sentence on the streamer 'Allonnais hopes’ will be transformed into ‘the men still hope’. On the back of the Pax flag = Peace. At the bottom is a statue of freedom and doves etc.
The general title of this image is ‘Annunciation’."
Blind Boys From Alabama - Amazing Grace.
Saturday, 23 February 2008
Wonderful family film based on the value and power of the imagination and dealing sensitively with responses to grief.
"Since emerging from a House of God church in Orange, New Jersey steeped in the “sacred steel” tradition, Randolph’s astonishing pedal steel playing has had a revolutionary impact. Like a mere handful of musicians – Louis Armstrong, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder – he has actually been able to redefine the sonic possibilities of his instrument. Randolph’s string wizardry is the focal point of the Family Band’s legendary live appearances, and led to guest spots with artists ranging from the Blind Boys of Alabama to Ozzy Osbourne.
Having grown up in urban New Jersey and making the leap from playing in church to headlining rock festivals, Randolph’s aspirations go beyond expanding his own musical boundaries. “I’m trying to create a new field and a new style that’ll influence some kids to go, ‘wow, I can be Black and be from the inner city and I don’t have to be a rapper,’” he says. “I look at Sly Stone, how he came in and just ripped the music industry apart – I think music fans are ready for that again.”
"The Harbour Lights began life in early 2005 acting as house band for Soulcafe, a regular event at St Paul's Church, Derby. From the acoustic roots nucleus of songwriters Phil Baggaley and Ian Blythe and vocalist Bethan Court, the band evolved into a wonderful genre-defying blend incoporating elements of folk, country and rock."
"With their leaning towards an English country folk tradition, The Harbour Lights debut on a high [Leaving Safe Anchorage], fronted by the quite magical voice of Bethan Court. In their songs, Phil Baggaley and Ian Blythe, wrap us up in intimate meadows and throw us around on rolling seas, opening up forgotten paths and far horizons along the way - yet always taking us somewhere. There is hope for the journey in every unravelling tale."
"Closed For Winter is a genre-defying blend incorporating elements of folk, country and rock from acclaimed songsmiths Phil Baggaley and Ian Blythe. Their subtle, intelligent, intimate and spiritual songs are the perfect platform for the smooth and achingly-beautiful vocals of Bethan Court. Following critical acclaim and popular performances throughout the UK, the band’s second album is bound beautifully together with musical influences as diverse as Fleetwood Mac and Kate Rusby."
Robert Randolph And The Family Band - I Need More Love.
As westerners revel in designer lattes and cappuccinos, impoverished Ethiopian coffee growers suffer the bitter taste of injustice. In this eye-opening expose of the multi-billion dollar industry, Black Gold traces one man's fight for a fair price.
The UK TV premiere of the award-winning film BLACK GOLD will be shown on More4, Tuesday February 26th at 10pm. Repeated: Saturday, March 1st at 10pm.
"EXCELLENT - angry, good-humoured and essential" - The Observer
Visit Channel 4's mini-site about the broadcast or the BLACK GOLD site for more information about the film.
Ali Farka Toure - Niafunke.
Campaigners from across Africa are calling on us to join them in asking the European Union to reopen negotiations on Economic Partnership Agreements: trade deals that Europe is making with some of the world's poorest countries.
Ahead of the end-of-December deadline, some African countries signed up to potentially damaging interim agreements. Senior officials in the European Commission have said that it's possible to renegotiate some elements of these agreements, so please take action now, asking the UK government to hold them to this promise.
Click here to write to Douglas Alexander, Secretary of State for International Development.
The Holmes Brothers - Jesus is on the Mainline.
Friday, 22 February 2008
Work in progress on Station 2
Work in progress on Station 2
Station 2 - Jesus takes up his cross
On Wednesday evening I attended the second art workshop arranged by Hertford & District Churches Together as part of the programme of Lent activities this year. These workshops are developing six Stations of the Cross for Hertford stns: A Stations of the Cross for Hertford which will take place during Holy Week.
The workshop began with Alan Stewart leading reflections on Jesus taking up the cross and we then thoughtshowered words describing those things that Jesus took up on our behalf when he took on our humanity and took up the cross. These were listed on flipchart and we then each chose a word to engrave on a large wooden cross using a nail.
Before doing so, there was discussion on how people felt about this act, which in some ways looked and felt like an act of vandalism on the central symbol of Christianity. One person said that we spend our whole lives trying not to sratch things, while another said that it felt sacriligious. Alan spoke of the offence of the cross and the way in which the early Christians did not depict the cross for this reason. He suggested that this action might be a way for us of recovering a lost sense of that offence. Another participant suggested that we would be engraving onto the cross, things that had been engraved into Christ's flesh.
This very visceral engagement with the experience of the Stations was intentionally a significant aspect of creating each artwork. The previous week's workshop had involved discussion of the charges made against Jesus before each person chose a charge, created a collage based on that charge and then drove a nail through their collage securing it to a block of wood. The experience of driving the nail into the wood was as much part of the emotional and creative experience of the Station as was the creation of the collage. Each person's wood block and charge was then arranged to form the shape of a crucifix.
Participants said that the workshops were providing a different kind of Lenten experience from that of discussion groups. Interestingly, for an ecumenical event, people said that they got to know others differently in these workshops: "People can be cagey in Lent discussion groups but here we see a different side to people."
In addition to work on Station 2, participants also created personal cross designs telling the story of their life and faith. These were based on the ideas behind traditional South American crosses. There was also discussion of ideas for a Station in the sculpture garden outside the Courtyard Arts gallery in Hertford. Next week's session will be a textile workshop creating the Station for Jesus is stripped.
The finished Stations will be exhibited throughout Holy Week; some in churches but many in other public spaces around the town such as the Library, Tesco store, Castle Hall and Courtyard Arts.
Julie Miller - How Can You Say No To This Man?
Thursday, 21 February 2008
'Station 2: Jesus takes up his cross'
Workshop participants carving 'Station 2'
Woven Hand - Sparrow Falls.
Wednesday, 20 February 2008
1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five other people.
I'm sitting at my computer as I write this (obviously!) which is also where I do most of my service preparation, so the Bible is the nearest book to hand (this is my excuse for appearing pious!):
"Count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath on which you bring your sheaf of corn to present to the Lord. On the fiftieth day , the day after the seventh Sabbath, present to the Lord another new offering of corn. Each family is to bring two loaves of bread and present them to the Lord as a special gift." (Leviticus 23. 15 - 17)
I tag Huw, Jim, Philip, PainterBlue and Tim.
Lloyd Cole & The Commotions - Cut me Down.
The idea of American music as a lake reflecting an ugly self isn't the only strange definition that's been given though. This is the picture of traditional American music conjured up by Bob Dylan in 1966: "Traditional music is based on hexagrams. It comes from legends, bibles, plagues, and it revolves around vegetables and death. ... All these songs about roses growing out of people's brains and lovers who are really geese and swans that turn into angels - they're not going to die. .... I mean, you'd think that the traditional music people could gather from their songs that mystery is a fact, a traditional fact ... In that music is the only true, valid death you can feel today off a record player. ... It has to do with a purity thing. I think its meaninglessness is holy."
Greil Marcus has pointed out that this 'traditional music' - the ancient ballads of mountain music, songs like Buell Kazee's East Virginia, Clarence Ashley's Coo Coo Bird or Dock Boggs' Country Blues - are what Dylan and the Band tapped into when recording The Basement Tapes, John Wesley Harding and The Band, music which Marcus describes as a "kaleidoscope of American music". "The "acceptance of death" that Dylan found in "traditional music"", says Marcus, "is simply a singer's insistence on mystery as inseparable from any honest understanding of what life is all about; it is the quiet terror of a man seeking salvation who stares into a void that stares back." Or a lake that reflects an ugly self?
But maybe that's only one half of the picture. Anything that comes from bibles and where swans turn into angels can't be all void and ugliness, can't be all bad. In 1985 Dylan expanded on the fundamental impact of the Bible on America and on his work: "... the Bible runs through all U.S. life, whether people know it or not. It's the founding book. The founding fathers' book anyway. People can't get away from it. You can't get away from it wherever you go. Those ideas were true then and they're true now. They're scriptural, spiritual laws. I guess people can read into that what they want. But if they're familiar with those concepts they'll probably find enough of them in my stuff. Because I always get back to that." Maybe what you get in traditional American music is that combination of sin and salvation that Peter Case said characterised his debut album.
Dylan maintained back in 1966 that this kind of American music was not going to die so where can we find it today? There are a loosely affiliated group of bands and songwriters - T.Bone Burnett, Peter Case, Mark Heard, The Innocence Mission, Maria McKee, Julie & Buddy Miller, Sixteen Horsepower, Violent Femmes, Gillian Welch, Jim White, Victoria Williams - for whom fear and threat, mystery and enamour - the twin poles of American music - again and again show up in their music and in relationships. The affiliations between these artists branch out in a way that cries out for a Rock Family Tree mapping production, songwriting and session credits together with personal relationships.
In this way too they take us back to Dylan, The Band, The Basement Tapes and Greil Marcus' surely incomplete statement that they show "the quiet terror of a man seeking salvation who stares into a void that stares back". The whole point about The Basement Tapes was that a bunch of mates sat around making the music they loved the way they loved it and when they liked. If Dylan was staring into a void then he wasn't doing it alone. And wasn't this true too of the music that they drew on, that it was more the music of a community than of individuals. We talk more about Appalachian traditions or the bluegrass Bristol area of Tennessee and East Carolina than we do about Dock Boggs or Clarence Ashley. A relational approach to work and life seems important to Williams, Burnett, Heard and the other musicians that share their musical vision and this is so although their relationships feature brokenness, pain and loss. Relationships and a community of music makers seem a vital part then of this tradition of American music.
So there we have it. Fear and threat on the one hand, mystery and enamour on the other - the twin poles of American music. Legends, bibles, plagues, vegetables and death, roses growing out of people's brains, lovers who are really geese and swans that turn into angels - they're all in the mix. These are songs of sin and salvation as sung by the wild, unshod, soot-covered orphans of God.
16 Horsepower - Black Soul Choir.
Gabriel Josipovici has suggested, that the scriptures work “by way of minimal units laid alongside each other, the narrative being built up by slotting these together where necessary”.[iii] This form then affects the content because “events are laid out alongside each other, without comment, and we are never allowed to know whether the pattern we see emerging at one point is the true pattern”.[iv] But if all this is purely the case then the Bible would be an entirely random collection.
Riddell and Oakley though both argue that the disparate materials are held together. Riddell says that, “what holds all these bits together is the fact that they somehow represent the continued involvement of God with the world in general and humanity in particular.”[v] Oakley suggests that “held together, they form a colourful and intriguing picture that draws us into its own landscape” and which enables Christians to “glimpse something of the divine being and his life in the world” and to find “a vocabulary for the Christian life.”[vi]
Josipovici is able to make a stronger assertion about the unity of the Bible by identifying the narrative thread that holds together the disparate fragments that form the Bible: “It’s a magnificent conception, spread over thousands of pages and encompassing the entire history of the universe. There is both perfect correspondence between Old and New Testaments and a continuous forward drive from Creation to the end of time: ‘It begins where time begins, with the creation of the world; it ends where time ends, with the Apocalypse, and it surveys human history in between, or the aspect of history it is interested in, under the symbolic names of Adam and Israel’. Earlier ages had no difficulty in grasping this design, though our own, more bookish age, obsessed with both history and immediacy, has tended to lose sight of it. Neither theologians nor biblical scholars have stood back enough to see it as a whole. Yet it is a whole and quite unlike any other book.”[vii]
What we have then in the scriptures is a both/and. A linear narrative thrust combined with the laying of fragments side by side so that each fragment adds to and challenges the others. The Bible’s narrative thrust is essentially structure-legitimating, a pledge of the stability of the cosmic order, while the laying of fragments side by side constitutes a refusal of closure. What we have, in a phrase that Joel Rosenberg coined to describe the Torah, is “a purposeful documentary montage.”[viii]
[i] M. Riddell, God’s home page (Oxford: The Bible Reading Fellowship, 1998), pps.24 & 25.
[ii] M. Oakley, The Collage of God (London: Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd, 2001), p.21.
[iii] G. Josipovici, The Book Of God: A Response To the Bible (New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 1988), p.68.
[iv] Ibid, p.85.
[v] Ibid, p.25.
[vi] Ibid, p.21.
[vii] Ibid, p.42 citing Northrop Frye, The Great Code (1982).
[viii] Cited in Josipovitch, p. 17. Like Josipovitch, Rosenberg states that this montage “must be perceived as a unity, regardless of the number and types of smaller units that form the building blocks of its composition”.
Nickel Creek - When In Rome.
Tuesday, 19 February 2008
His expression of these ideas involved learning to see and paint as children do. "I learned to draw again as if from the beginning, drawing what I felt and knew rather than what it looked like." A painting usually starts with some idea that could be put into words but when he begins to paint he becomes fully involved in "the struggle to harmonise shapes, colours and textures". This can go on for several months with the original idea becoming lost in the paint only to re-emerge as something quite different. In this way he both draws his images from his subconscious and integrates them into the wholeness of the painting. His approach tallies with that of another contemporary painter, Ken Kiff. Kiff, too, argues that his subconscious images only achieve meaning through the process of shaping and forming the painting. The painting, as a whole, must be discovered, by the artist, bit by bit. This has to happen in order "for the thing to really grow together and be significantly all part of the same growing thing". In this growth there can be a sense of peace, completeness and wholeness despite the presence, at times, of disturbing imagery.
For Herbert, like John Reilly, the stories of the Bible cannot be bettered for revealing universal and timeless truths. “The Bible stories are treated as symbols, metaphors, revealing the ‘marvellous’, an intention”, says Herbert, “which I first discovered in that surrealist magazine long ago.“ "The painting of Moses climbing the mountain and speaking to God in a cloud, is about the incomprehensible; God is beyond understanding, it is the revelation coming from outside the tangible world of the senses. It cannot be put better than in this Biblical image of something hidden from you by a cloud; and you going upwards with great difficulty, away from the ordinary world, and looking for something hidden from you."
Sister Wendy Beckett has described Herbert as a “religious painter of genius” while Patrick Reyntiens has said that he is “the most significant religious painter to emerge in England in the 1980’s”. Specialist appreciation is one thing but general acceptance another altogether. When Herbert prepared a series of Stations of the Cross for a London church they were rejected. Herbert’s deliberate child-like style can be a barrier to appreciation but, for those prepared to look, it strips away surface distractions and gets the viewer to real correspondences and motives.
In Jesus is Stripped of His Garments II (1987) the vulnerability of God is clearly shown in the centre of a crowd of nightmarish faces and grasping hands. The best response to make to this work is also a simple descriptive one as the actor Griff Rhys Jones did in writing about Herbert’s Jonah and the Whale in the RA magazine. “This painting is very straightforward. It’s a pictorial respresentation of a woman trapped in one circumstance and a man trapped in another, and the way the colours link together is rather impressive. It’s quite a complicated idea expressed very simply.”
U2 - Grace.
Monday, 18 February 2008
- National Office - firstname.lastname@example.org , 0845 094 6350, fax 0845 094 6351;
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FaithAction are also putting together the final touches for their conference and are very pleased to announce the following seminars showcasing best practice in the sector:
- Faith, Women and Business - hosted by Robina Dina from Faith Regen Foundation & Gweneth Balson of Digital Life, Bradford, who manage the FaithAction Office for the Yorkshire and the Humber region. Topics of discussion in this seminar will include; capacity building, funding, confidence building, how to become self employed inc. social enterprise, how to embed equality and diversity.
- Faith groups impact in local communities - hosted by Zoe Sanderson of Faithworks, this seminar looks at how a faith-based organisation can remain true to their principles and original mission when working with statutory bodies to deliver public services.
- Going for Growth - hosted by Lisa Webb, Deputy CEO Lifeline. This session will also feature case studies of other faith-based organisations including Aquila Way, London Muslim Centre & East London Mosque.
The conference is now only 8 days away! If you have not yet booked your place, click here to go to the Money Well Spent conference web page.------------------------------------------------------------------------
Iona - Strength.
Gillian Welch & David Rawlings - Red Clay Halo.
Rémy wrote: “Thank you for the dispatch of your very interesting magazine devoting subtle columns to interconnections and reports of art and Christianity.
I really appreciated the relevance and style of your article regarding the exhibition of St Jean de Monts, you understood to a great extent the direction of our work, of our choices, the political, social and spiritual content about which we wanted to testify to the popular and family public of the region and beyond.
However, I am not in agreement with your conclusion and the assumption that we can eliminate the positive (this is not possible) because it cannot be stripped from history and facts, the trajectory of civilizations. On the contrary we enlarge the debate by asking questions of the reality of creeds and this means that men (with the aid of the gods) can project, influence or modify their destiny. This exhibition contained as much of positives as of negative and in that was definitely the reflection of the actual reality of our societies.
Be blessed in your creed and protected for your action and this media quest!
I replied: “Thank you very much for your letter in reply to my review of Humour and Critique.
I am grateful for the point which you make in your letter of the necessity for criticism and questioning of religions and I accept absolutely the importance of such questioning happening. In my review I did not try to suggest that religions should be free from criticism (far from it!) but I tried to suggest that some criticisms which are made through the Arts are rather shallow and superficial.
In certain cases this can be because certain artists only see negatives in religion and do not make any attempt to focus on the positives. This tendency can more be pronounced in conceptual art where works of art can often be created simply to illustrate a concept that once grasped has no deeper resonance. My view was that some works in the exhibition fell into this trap and that their impact was diminished as a result. Other works, including your own Nus, I thought had real depth and resonance, both in ideas and execution.
I have no intention of asking that debate on religion concentrate only on positives but, at the same time, I want to call for debate to be appropriately nuanced and, for that happen, those that criticize or question religion should also acknowledge the positive aspects of religion, as demonstrated by many followers of different religions.
I hope that this clarifies my position and responds expressly to the points made in your letter.”
Mark Heard - Lonely Moon.
Sunday, 17 February 2008
Some have been many years in planning and execution as with the Stations by Chris Gollon to be unveiled at St John’s Bethnal Green on Good Friday. The commissioning process for these works began eight years ago and developed as funders were drawn in over the period to enable completion of the series. Gollon’s dramatic and moving paintings are site specific, feature his own son as the model for Jesus, and have been used in previous Good Friday services at St John’s.
Similarly, Stations of the Cross by Iain McKillop were dedicated by the Bishop of Dunwich at St John’s Bury St Edmonds on 2nd February after a commissioning process that had included their temporary hanging in St John’s during Lent 2007, where they became a theme for the town’s ecumenical Lent course. After seeing how the Stations were developing, a local benefactor commissioned a Resurrection to complete the scheme. Like Gollon’s Stations, McKillop’s are representational and are strong on the suffering of Christ.
Ghislaine Howard walked the streets of Liverpool in the early mornings to sketch and photograph spaces vacated by rough sleepers. She has used these images to situate her painting of The Empty Tomb in the “reality of lived experience” and to bring to “this spiritual subject a simple human dimension.” This painting is the culminating piece of the series Stations of the cross: the captive figure which was made for Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral in 2000 and has been touring British cathedrals since, returning to Liverpool every two years. The Empty Tomb is being exhibited at the Anglican Cathedral from Lent onwards and is being joined by the full set of Howard’s Stations from February to March.
St Andrew’s Fulham Fields sponsored a Stations of the Cross competition for students at the Slade, part of the University of London. Nine artists entered the competition and the winning proposal was by Aishan Yu who has created paintings on ‘found objects’ that blurred the edges between representation and reality. All but one of Yu’s works is painted on natural found materials to reflect the idea that God creates all matter and is omnipresent. She has chosen to combine realistic figures with abstract backgrounds to convey the key message of each Station, while leaving a degree of ‘imagination space’ for viewers. The fifteenth and final Station, representing the resurrection of Jesus, takes the form of a projection of moving clouds on the ceiling of St Andrew’s, which interacts visually with a sculpture in the church depicting the ascent of Jesus to heaven.
Finally, Hertford stns will combine Stations painted by local artists with six Stations created through art workshops held in Lent organised by Hertford & District Churches Together. During Holy Week the complete set of Stations will be sited either in different places of worship throughout the town or in public, civic and outdoor locations enabling people to make a pilgrimage from station to station with accompanying meditations to aid their spiritual journey.
The Harbour Lights - Sweet Hand of Mercy.
Saturday, 16 February 2008
I got involved in the debate following a statement from Sam that religious belief does not assert that God exists in terms of scientific measurements. Sam, it seemed to me, was asserting that religious and scientific beliefs are not the same and, as a result, that scientific measurement is not a relevant means of assessing the wisdom emerging from religious belief. In modernism, scientific belief was viewed as an objective metanarrative that superseded and overrode other forms of knowing. Many atheists remain stuck in such modernist mindsets and seem unable to deal with the diversity of means of knowing that postmodernism celebrates.
In my comments I argued for a broad rationality that takes adequate account of received experience. To my mind, 'aspect blind' atheism jettisons too much of human experience by insisting on scientific measurement as the only measure of reality. For example, in a evolutionary framework love tends to be understood primarily as part of the survival instinct in humanity, the means by which we perpetuate the species. But, while perpetuating the species is clearly an aspect of our human experience of love, it seems to me to be reductive to argue that the richness of human experience of love (as revealed in life, literature and the Arts) can be explained simply in terms that fit within the means of scientific measurement.
I want an understanding of love that celebrates that richness without reducing it simply to a survival mechanism and I believe that religious and artistic understandings of love provide that broader framework and rationality. In other words, they capture more of the richness and breadth of our human experience of love (including scientific understandings alongside other understandings) than scientific explanations alone do (for all their veracity within the limits of their narrow framework).
It is the same when it comes to both my own personal experience of relationship with God and my engagement with the whole human history of encounter and non-encounter with God, I want a frame of reference that responds to that richness on its own terms not one which seeks again to reduce the richness of that experience to survival mechanisms and the limits of scientific measurement.
To do that, we need more languages for describing and influencing human experience that just the language/metaphor/belief system of scientific measurement. At the end of the day, I think that religious languages and frameworks can, at their best, encompass scientific understandings of the world without perverting the science while scientific understandings of religion tend to reduce our lived experience of relationship with God to narrow perceptions that do not resonate with the richness of that experience. It is the broader of the two rationalities that makes most sense to me.
I am saying that there are things that cannot be measured mathematically and occasions when atheists describe experiences of being awestruck would seem to bear this out. The language that they naturally reach for in order to describe such experiences – “beauty”, “wonder”, “emotion”, “awestruck”, “mystery”, “deep” – is not the language of science and does not have the precision required by scientific experiment. However, they clearly value these experiences and don’t appear to be concerned by the vagueness or lack of precision that is needed in order to adequately describe them, so why should religious people then be criticized for vagueness when such phrases are used to speak of God?
It seems to me that there are, at least, three possible responses to experiences that require a language other than the language of science in order to adequately describe them. The first is to try to lock them up again within the narrow framework of scientific language but this, it seems to me, is reductionist and doesn’t do justice to what we actually feel about such experiences.
The second is to acknowledge that scientific language cannot adequately describe such experiences but to argue that this reveals the inadequacy of our science and that, in time, as our scientific knowledge grows we will be able to adequately describe them. This is a perfectly reasonable position but involves a non-scientific leap of faith as it does not follow that, just because we can measure and describe some things scientifically, we will, in time, be able to measure and describe all things in this way.
The third is simply to acknowledge that scientific language has its limits and that other forms of language are needed in order to adequately describe some experiences. Taking this position does not mean that religious language has to be used to describe these experiences but it does open up the possibility that the languages of religion may provide justifiable descriptions of these experiences. I would argue that this third response is a perfectly reasonable position to hold and, beyond that, that religious languages do provide an adequate language for describing for such experiences.
As a writer and painter it has always seemed to me that there is much in life that cannot be simply described in words or images. When George Herbert wrote a poem about prayer he used 26 different images and still could not capture all that prayer can be for the believer. As an artist and a believer I want to celebrate multiplicity of meanings and paradox in language and life as a form of richness. The precision in language that characterises scientific experiment is a utilitarian necessity within its limited frame of reference but, if it is the only allowable language, then the world is drained of colour, energy, life, richness and meaningfulness. If it is the only allowable language then we are unable to describe the moments when we have been awestruck in terms of “beauty”, “wonder”, “emotion”, “awe”, or “mystery”.
The Reese Project - The Colour of Love.
In other words, Chagall’s composition is designed to reconcile the fragments that it will contain. The same is true of Chagall’s use of colour as Haftmann, again, helpfully explains: "since the colours are in tone groupings ... colour loses its material quality and becomes the bearer of an independent, immaterial colour-light. ... it is a pure inner picture light, created out of the light values of the individual colours and their interaction. It is split into facets in the spatial and ornamental network of the picture surface, and shines unorientated out of the entire surface of the painting. The colour alone is the source of all light."[ii]
Chagall’s imagery anticipates surrealism by combining personal, folk and religious imagery in unusual juxtapositions. In I and the Village, an animal and a green faced man gaze lovingly into each others eyes as the man offers the animal a glowing branch that scatters light. Above them the green, yellow, blue and red houses of a Russian village turn onto their roofs while a man and woman move up the main street, the man upright, the woman upside down. Colour and pattern emphasise the link between the large human face and the animal face. The eyes are linked by a line that cuts across the other diagonals. The tender green filling the human face highlights the loving gaze directed at the animal. Together they emphasise the emotional unity underlying the picture, that all these objects and images are loved by the painter.
The images can be seen as bringing together four sections of creation; the human, the animal, plant life and civilisation. They bring together the strange (the topsy turvey houses and people) with the ordinary (a man walking the village street, a woman milking a cow). They connect a person with a community, the 'I' of the title with the people and animals who populate the village. These, together, may also hint at other unities; those of family (with the animal possibly symbolising a mother figure) and the village, and all within it, caught up in a parent-child relationship. Or where the tender love expressed towards all these disparate objects is speaking of a spiritual unity with God expressed in every aspect of His creation and all linked and made worthy of love as a result.
Chagall is also uniting some of the great artistic movements of his day. In his composition he makes use of the discoveries of cubism, in his colours the freedoms of fauvism and expressionism and, in his imagery he anticipates aspects of surrealism. His originality and innovations lie in the fact that, when all around him artists were dismantling the jigsaw of art in order to explore to their limits component pieces such as perspective, structure and colour, he was intent on fitting the pieces of the puzzle back together in new and imaginative configurations. Chagall has created a unity at every level within his painting so that both the medium and the content proclaim the possibility of reconciliation.
[i] W. Haftmann, Chagall, Thames & Hudson, 1985, p.52.
Inner City - Let It Reign.
Friday, 15 February 2008
Dedham from the Hall
She exhibited with the Federation of British Artists in the various exhibitions mounted with the R.O.I., N.S., S.W.A., and N.E.A.C. at the Mall Galleries, the 1973 Paris Salon, and the Campton, Windsor. She twice exhibited in the Laing Competition at the Mall, had five paintings exhibited in the 'Salon des Nations' at the National Centre of Contemporary Art, Paris, and also the Chenil Gallery, Chelsea.
In 1974 she was accepted as a member of the National Society of Painters, Sculptors and Printmakers. At that time Thames Television visited her home to film a programme about painting in later life. This was a high point for her.
Four "D's" at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition were an encouragement in the ambition she pursued. The years 1988 and 1992 saw two exhibitions at St John's Smith Square; one shared with a friend, the other solo. Painting was always a great joy for Barbara and so she often sat at her easel with a smile on her face. Other artists would, no doubt, understand this."
Paintings by Barbara Crooks to be auctioned include: Sunken Garden; Cartmel Fell; Dedham Church; Dedham from the Hall; and Near Skelwith Brige.
Brian Kennedy - Life, Love & Happiness.
“Humour et Critique dans l’art d’aujourd’hui at the Palais de Congres et Expositions, Saint Jean de Monts boasted 130 works, mainly composed of the satirical (photomontages) and the surreal (cartoon/pop art based paintings), 30 of which were giant digital images displayed along the esplanade. Several pieces were openly critical of organised religion: Yves Hayat superimposed bombers over a Velasquez portrait of Pope Innocent X, his eyes closed to the destruction in front of him (Sans titre No.10); Ben Boutin juxtaposed, between George W. Bush and Tony Blair, a man wearing a t-shirt with the slogan ‘Jesus is coming – look busy’ (War); while Chamizo equated the three Religions of the Book in a triangle of terror surrounded by representations of African tribal religions, Buddhism and Hinduism (Dieu est amour).
Much of the work in Humour et Critique worked like these three pieces; as visual punch lines. Once you got the joke, the works had little more to reveal. These three were all based on the well rehearsed argument that religions condone conflict but seemed to do little more than repeat a standard critique in a visual form at the same time as screening out from their frames and arguments all that is positive about religion. To me they operated as didactic cartoons closing down rather than opening up a depth of debate.
Fortunately, this exhibition also contained more nuanced uses of the same mediums. Chamizo’s Help Me depicted a weeping Muslim woman as the Statue of Liberty. Was the Statue of Liberty weeping at US aggression in Muslim lands or were her tears for a perceived oppression of women in Muslim cultures? As the hijab has recently been banned in the schools of the land of ‘libertie, equalitie and fraternitie’ this image seemed a significant opening up of reflection on the relative understandings of freedom in Western and Muslim cultures. Similarly, Nus by Rémy Le Guillerm was a witty photomontage that opened up reflection on consumerism by setting, against a traditional image of the Fall, a contemporary Adam and Eve with a shopping trolley piled high of apples. Consumerism seen as the logical outworking of original sin seemed a particularly apposite use of the scriptural story.
Surprisingly, at the end of an exhibition which highlighted human divisions, came a painting that unironically depicted harmony across divides. In Déjeuner À Kumasi, the artist Hervé Di Rosa depicted a meal at the Almighty God Art Works during his stay to collaborate with the artists based at this Ghanian workshop. Art, faith and food came together to create a harmony symbolised by different hands reaching into the same bowl to share the main course of the meal.”
This review initiated correspondence with the exhibition organiser, Rémy Le Guillerm, who was himself an artist with work represented in the exhibition I reviewed. In the course of this correspondence we exchanged thoughts on the place of religion in contemporary art and images and writings of our artwork. This series of posts documents our correspondence.
Sixpence None The Richer - Kiss Me.