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Sunday, 28 December 2008

Embrace the risk

Geoff Eze, the curate at St John's, hadn’t sung ‘Unto us a Son is born!’ before and he got quite a shock when he was out carol singing round the parish and he realised what he was singing in the third verse:

“Herod then, with fear was filled:
‘A prince,’ he said, ‘in Jewry!’
All the little boys he killed
At Beth-lem in his fury,
At Beth-lem in his fury.”

‘Unto us a Son is born!’ is the only carol in our Carol Sheet that mentions this part of the Christmas story and you can see why, as in a few short phrases it graphically brings home to us the horror of the genocide which the Christmas story contains.

A few days ago I heard Revd. Giles Fraser, Vicar of Putney, talk about this story in a BBC Four programme on ‘Ten Best Sacred Christmas Classics.’ He was talking about ‘The Childhood of Christ’ by Berlioz and spoke about the way that this piece of music associates Christmas with fear by including the story of the massacre of the infants.

Why should Christmas be associated with fear? He was arguing that people had traditionally associated God with protection. God was the all-powerful, the omniscient, the all-seeing, all-knowing one who could always be there for you in every situation and circumstance. But the Christmas story is of God becoming the weakest, most vulnerable, most dependent thing that a human being can be and that is a new-born baby.

The Christmas story is that the God who we think of as being an all-powerful protector actually becomes wholly dependent on human beings for his own protection. Fraser argues that that is frightening because it removes our sense of being protected at the same time that it makes God weak and vulnerable. And the point in the Christmas story when this realisation comes rushing in on us like a freight train is the massacre of the innocents because we realise that God is now in a place and position where he can be killed; not just through the malevolence and wickedness of Herod but possibly just through an accident or neglect. As a human baby God is wholly dependent on human beings for his protection and as we hear regularly on the news we don’t actually have a very good track record when it comes to treating children well.

Fraser emphasises the sense of shock and fear for us in finding our protector become dependent. I want instead to emphasise what this conveys to us of God’s love. The story of the massacre of the innocents shows us that God is willing to take the risk of coming into our world; a world in which genocide occurs and in which innocent children are abused and die. He is willing to risk coming into this world unprotected as a baby wholly dependent on his human parents for protection:

“And the word became …
Wordless
Flesh
A baby with no words
And the voice of the maker became a hungry voice
A cry for food
A cry for milk
The voice that made gravity cried out for fear of falling
The voice that made women cries for a woman’s breast and screams with disappointment when it is denied …

Then now God is this small thing
Is a baby
Is a baby that can be dropped or hurt or left unfed, left unchanged, left wet and smelly
Or be child-abused.” (‘Image of the Invisible,’ Late, Late Service)

This is the reality of the incarnation and of the Christmas story. This is what it means for Jesus to be born. It is the ultimate identification. God becomes flesh and blood and moves into our neighbourhood with all that that involves, not just at the beginning of his life but throughout:

incarnation

knew what it meant to be born into poverty
knew what it meant to survive genocide
knew what it meant to be forced to live as a refugee
knew what it meant to grow up disadvantaged
knew what it meant to experience the stigma of illegitimacy
knew what it meant to go to school and to learn a trade
knew what it meant to turn to God in prayer, faith and hope
knew what it meant to offer up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears
knew what it meant to be hungry and thirsty
knew what it meant to be tempted and tested
knew what it meant to share food and drink with friends
knew what it meant to be feted and praised
knew what it meant to feel compassion
knew what it meant to meet people’s needs
knew what it meant to be criticised for doing good
knew what it meant to shed tears at the death of a friend
knew what it meant to be questioned and rejected
knew what it meant to wrestle with God
knew what it meant to be arrested and imprisoned
knew what it meant to be put on trial
knew what it meant to be beaten and tortured
knew what it meant to be scarred
knew what it meant to be abandoned by a father
knew what it meant to learn obedience from suffering
knew what it meant to die

Emmanuel – God with us
made like his brothers and sisters in every way
tempted in every way, just as we are
able to sympathize with our weaknesses
Emmanuel - became flesh and blood
moved into our neighbourhood.

Why does God do this? Why does he take the risk? It is all because of love and it is perhaps best explained in some words from Hebrews 2. 14-18:

“Since the children are made of flesh and blood, it's logical that the Saviour took on flesh and blood in order to rescue them by his death. By embracing death, taking it into himself, he destroyed the Devil's hold on death and freed all who cower through life, scared to death of death.

It's obvious, of course, that he didn't go to all this trouble for angels. It was for people like us, children of Abraham. That's why he had to enter into every detail of human life. Then, when he came before God as high priest to get rid of the people's sins, he would have already experienced it all himself—all the pain, all the testing—and would be able to help where help was needed.”

Hebrews 4. 14-16 then goes on to says: “Now that we know what we have — Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God — let's not let it slip through our fingers. We don't have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He's been through weakness and testing, experienced it all — all but the sin. So let's walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.”

This Christmas let's do just that - walk right up to him and get what he has demonstrated that he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help, receive the love, embrace the risk.

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Regina Spektor - The Call.

Windows on the world (34)

London, 2008

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Thursday, 25 December 2008

God in the neighbourhood


This Christmas, a specially commissioned painting of the nativity, set in a freezing bus shelter, has been displayed at over 1,000 bus shelters across the UK throughout December. We have also displayed copies of the painting around the Church and on our notice boards.

The painting is by Royal Academy Gold medal winner, Andrew Gadd and depicts the holy family, with halos, in a dark bus shelter. The shepherds and wise men are replaced with fellow passengers waiting for a bus. Some are watching the nativity intently; others appear oblivious and are checking the bus timetable and flagging down a bus.

Francis Goodwin, the Chair of Christian Advertising Network, said: "We are very used to the Renaissance image of the Nativity. But what would it look like if it happened today? Where would it take place? We want to challenge people to make them reassess what the birth of Jesus means to them.”

Andrew Gadd, the artist, answered that question by setting the nativity in a bus stop. He explained that: "At first I didn't like the idea of painting a nativity scene in an urban setting. However, once it was explained that it was to be designed for bus stops, it gave me an idea... this idea. The bus stop when simplified is like a stable. It is after all a shelter; a place people go to but never want to be. So where better to stage a nativity? How unlikely!”

The details of the Christmas story — the visit of the angel to a poor Jewish girl, the humble occupation of the man to whom she was betrothed, the birth in a manger, the visit of the shepherds — are unlikely but not in terms of being out of the ordinary; instead they are unlikely precisely because they were ordinary.

Paul Richardson, writing in the Church of England Newspaper this Christmas, reminds us that:

“In the ancient world, gods were seen as superior to human beings but they remained alongside them, fighting with them, tricking them or sleeping with them ... When Homer wrote his epic poems, he wrote of kings and warriors, not ordinary people. Aristotle admired the kind of superior people who had the wealth and leisure to reflect and take part in the government of the state. Such people did not soil their hands with work. Ordinary, everyday work was left to slaves, an unimportant class of people whose job it was to free the aristocratic elite to get on with things that really mattered.

How different the gospels are. In the words of the literary critic, Eric Auerbach, ‘Christ has not come as a hero and king but as a human being of the lowest social station. His first disciples were
fishermen and artisans. He moved in the everyday milieu of humble folk. He talked with publicans and fallen women, the poor and the sick and children’.

As the Canadian philosopher, Charles Taylor, has noted, as a consequence of Christianity people began to view the world from the perspective of ordinary human beings. It took time for the
implications of this radical development to become apparent (we are still in the process of working things out), but it led eventually to the abolition of slavery, the extension of the vote to all adults, and the view that government should exist for the benefit of everyone, not just of the rich and powerful. Almost immediately in the early years of the church, Christians were known for their readiness to care for the poor and the sick. Hospitals began as a result of the church’s work.”

This focus on ordinary people is what the bus stop nativity reminds us of. It reminds us ultimately that Jesus was born to be Emmanuel – God with us. That is what the incarnation, “the union of the human and the divine in the life of a humble Jewish carpenter,” is all about. As John 1. 14 says, in the contemporary translation of the Bible called The Message:

“The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood.”

Through Christ’s birth, God has entered our world and moved into our neighbourhood. In Christ, God has identified with us by becoming one of us. The entire movement of the Bible - from God walking with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, through God having a tent (the tabernacle) and then a house (the Temple) so he could live with the Israelites - leads up to this moment in history when God becomes flesh and blood and enters our world. That is why Jesus is also called Emmanuel which means God is with us.

What does it mean for God to be with us in the way? It means that God becomes one of us. He becomes a human being experiencing the whole trajectory of human existence from conception through birth, puberty, adulthood to death including all that we experience along the way in terms of relationships, experiences, emotions and temptations.

Through his experience as a human being God understands us in ways that he could not if he had remained solely as our Creator. The letter to the Hebrews puts this well: “Since the children [meaning ourselves; all human beings] are flesh and blood, Jesus himself became like them and shared their human nature … he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way … And now he can help those who are tempted, because he himself was tempted and suffered.”

This is what we find when we reassess what the nativity means. It what the bus stop nativity reminds us of and, as Paul Richardson, reminds it is a major way in which Christianity marked a break with Greece and Rome:

“The message of Christmas is that … it is the incarnation, the union of the human and the divine in the life of a humble Jewish carpenter, that transformed our understanding of the significance of ordinary, everyday life and led ultimately to a world where it is possible to talk of human rights and even of the fundamental equality of all human beings.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, when he visited one of the Bus Stop Nativity posters made just this point when he said that: "Jesus, the Son of God, … knew what it meant to be without wealth, he knew what it meant to grow up disadvantaged, he knew what it meant to turn to God in prayer, faith and hope.” And so he hoped that this image of the Holy Family, in a contemporary setting, would move those who see it “to stop, pray and reflect on what the birth of Jesus means to them in their daily lives."

Look again at the image of the bus stop nativity. A bus stop is a place that all of us go to. We are there, included in the image. Are we among those who are watching the nativity intently or are we oblivious, checking the bus timetable and flagging down a bus? What does it mean to us that God has become flesh and blood and has moved into our neighbourhood?
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Bruce Cockburn - Joy To The World.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Post-Denominational Human Consciousness

I received the following Christmas greeting today from Peter Challen which I thought was well worth sharing more widely:
"We have many opportunities and much hard work before us in 2009, as the incarnational resonance of Christmas implies.

The mind-shift required of us in the present global stress challenges us all to set our own lives in the big picture. Here is my attempt, based on Shakepeare's wise quip ' A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.' We are in pursuit of inclusive justice and can find leads in many places.
POST DENOMINATIONAL
HUMAN CONSCIOUSNESS

All things apposite not opposite,
birth emergent out of universe
that reaches always for transcendence
without ever leaving immanence.
Natality easing into life-consciousness,
body in soul, never soul confined to body,
ecumenicity ensuring cosmic inclusiveness,
catholicity providing whole earth identity,
protestation keeping boundaries open,
pentecostal fire retaining enthusiasm,
orthodoxy securing tentative limits,
heterodoxy escape from dogma,
friends awed by inspiration,
and good faith, in all faiths,
offering love, passed on, not back;
pastors as prophets
and prophets pastors too,
in cyclical ceaseless creativity
gift of life eternal.

CODA

Language
being only mundane metaphor,
these terms with any other name
hold just as true
to an ineffable unity in totality,
confined frame containing all being.

Peter Challen 12-08"
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Annie Lennox & Al Green - Put a Little Love in Your Heart.

PM's Christmas message to the Third Sector

Click here for a Christmas message for all in the Third Sector sent by Gordon Brown via FaithAction.

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The Polyphonic Spree - Hold Me Now.

Rebuilding Congo by the book & bike





Inspire magazine is currently running the genuinely inspiring story of Judy Acheson and her colleagues in the Democratic Republic of Congo who have developed a manual to help youth get involved in political and social issues and take charge of their future.
Entitled Young People with God, Let Us Rebuild Our Beautiful Country, it is written from a Christian perspective and has been endorsed by the national government. More importantly, it has been enormously popular with young people, who use the book in groups. One first year secondary pupil said: “Learning French, maths and other courses, without also gaining a sense of responsibility, is time wasted. This manual shows us how to be responsible citizens.” Another student called the book “the Congolese Remedy”. Read more about this project by clicking here.

Above are more photos of the motorbikes which have been boughts for Archdeacon's in the Boga Diocese of the DRC with money raised in memory of Dr. Sugie Davie, a long-term member of St John's Seven Kings and the Tamil Church in East London.
The motorbikes will enable the Archdeacons to travel around the parishes more easily and meet up with Bishop Isingoma, the Bishop of Boga, whenever necessary. They will be a real help to the Archdeacons to help their congregations through these difficult times into greater reconciliation and will also build up a good relationship with Isingoma as their new Bishop, otherwise they have to bicycle or walk everywhere.

Bishop Isingoma, who sent the photos, writes that, "we continually thank Dr Sugie's family for their generous help which is going to help for the Propagation of the Gospel in our diocese."

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Sublime - Dans Tes Portes.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Windows on the world (33)


London, 2008

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Seth Lakeman - Lady Of The Sea.

Friday, 19 December 2008

A Christian embrace of contemporary art

I've been visiting galleries today on my day off beginning at England & Co to see Remembering Albert Herbert. It was interesting to see early etchings of London in a similar style to but without mythic power and psychological density of the Biblical etchings. Also interesting was the extent to which towards the end of his life the Biblical references fell away and Herbert focussed on relational imagery drawn from youth and early parenthood.

While at England & Co I was also intrigued by two collage constructions with found text from Chris Kenny. Kenny produces, as England & Co's website states, an unexpected kind of poetry with his three-dimensional ‘drawings’ and constructions made from twigs, fragments of maps and strips of found text. Objects or phrases of the same type are mounted on pins and organised in a way that suggests an intention to rationalise the differences between them. The constructions I saw featured fragments of text arranged to form squares or circles and either telling a partial story or making word associations. Being mounted on pins they cast shadows mirroring the squares or circles created by the found text. There is therefore a visual and lingual patterning formed from fragments and yet one that is partial, ephemeral and fragile.

England & Co also regularly feature Outsider Art and while I was in Notting Hill I picked up a copy of the Raw Vision Outsider Art Sourcebook. Produced by the people behind Raw Vision magazine this is a useful introduction to Outsider artists, environments, collections, galleries, publications, and websites.

Walking from Bond Street to Saville Row to see the Garry Fabian Miller exhibition at James Hyman Fine Art, I passed the Halcyon Gallery which is currently showing Bob Dylan's Drawn Blank series. Dylan's art is interesting more for what it reveals or doesn't reveal about him but while there I also saw some lithographs by Marc Chagall and sculptures by Lorenzo Quinn.

Quinn's symbolic sculptures reminded me of the work of Juginder Lamba and Ana Maria Pacheco but with a smoother felicity which is reflected in his choice of materials and which at times displays a sentimentality and lack of originality in his imagery; clasped hands symbolising love and an open hand holding a figure symbolising the hand of God.

What I found most interesting about discovering Quinn's work in this way, was that here was yet another successful artist exhibiting in a central London gallery and enjoying major commissions while exploring significant religious themes in his work. Many such artists seem almost totally ignored by large sections of the Christian Church and yet are successfully raising questions of faith and meaning in so-called 'secular' settings. Their work should be celebrated yet is often ignored.

Time Passage is the largest and most comprehensive exhibition of photographs by Fabian Miller ever staged in London and includes some of his most acclaimed photographic series. Fabian Miller explores the elements of light, time and colour in camera-less images produced in his darkroom. His images are created by a long process of exposing light directly onto photographic paper through organic materials and substances. He uses this approach to create luminous windows of colour that range from abstract expressionist stripes and rectangles to contemplative evocations of landscapes.

The gallery blurb notes the spirituality of Fabian Miller's work and again we are encountering an artist with links to Christianity. He was co-curator of The Journey, a search for the role of contemporary art in religious and spiritual life, exhibited at Lincoln Cathedral and chose to work specifically with cruciform imagery in his Petworth series. This is not to imply that there is anything didactic in Fabian Miller's work. His spirituality emerges through a wonderful and wondering engagement with the interaction of light and nature.

Back at home and reading the Church Times I was pleased to see that Hertford stns and the Advent Art Installation both featured in Glyn Paflin's review of the Arts for 2008. Also waiting for me was a review copy of God in the Gallery which aims to explore a Christian embrace of Modern Art. Now that I like the sound of!

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Edmund Rubbra - Fukagawa (Deep River).

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Re-engaging with the Arts

Bishop David, Patron of commission4mission

Henry Shelton with 'Do this in remembrance of me'

Rosalind Hore's 'Pieta'
Bishop David has just sent out his Advent mailing including a new publicity leaflet for commission4mission. Bishop David writes that, commission4mission "has come into being this summer as a result of conversations I have had with some artists in the Barking Area."
He adds that, "for centuries the Arts have been an important medium through which public communication of the faith has taken place." In the leaflet he says that “the Church has had a lengthy and happy marriage with the Arts in the past but needs more artists." He agrees with Rowan Williams that ‘artists are special people and every person is a special kind of artist’ and writes that there is a big need for the Church "to re-engage with the Arts."
commission4mission exists to encourage the commissioning and placing of contemporary Christian Art in churches, as a means of fundraising for charities and as a mission opportunity for churches.

commission4mission promotes the purchase of artworks by churches through donations given in memory of loved ones, with these people being commemorated in plaques placed (wherever possible) on or near the artwork itself.

Membership of commission4mission is open to any Christian artist (of any discipline) or supporter of Christian Art. commission4mission members pay an annual subscription and for this receive: a vote in organising committee elections; places on commission4mission events/ conferences; and promotion of their work to churches through commission4mission’s activities.
The fees for all artwork (of whatever type and media) sold to churches through commission4mission are determined using the following:
  • a charge for materials/expenses claimed by the artist in creation of the work;
  • an optional fee to the artist for the creation of the work;
  • a contribution towards the work of co-mission; and
  • a donation to a charity or charities.
commission4mission’s objectives are to:
  • provide opportunities for churches to obtain and commission contemporary Christian Art for church buildings;
  • provide information, ideas and examples of contemporary Christian Art and its use/display within church settings; and
  • raise funds for charities through commissions and sales of contemporary Christian Art.
As a result we are involved in:

1. Creating a database of members able to create artworks for churches.

2. Promoting an approach to the commissioning and placing of contemporary Christian Art in churches as a means of fundraising for charities.

3. Organising conferences, exhibitions, meetings, seminars, visits etc. to provide information, ideas and examples of contemporary Christian Art and its use/display within church settings.

4. Displaying member’s work through brochures, exhibitions, leaflets, websites etc.

At present Henry Shelton and I, as founding members, are building up an initial pool of members (both artists of all disciplines and those interested in supporting the arts). We are planning towards:
  • a launch event on Saturday 7th March at St Albans Romford which will include: a art tour of St Albans by Father Hingley (includes works by Mark Cazalet, Patrick Reyntiens, Peter Eugene-Ball etc.); a commission4mission AGM; a keynote speech by the Bishop of Barking; and refreshments; and
  • a showcase exhibition (2nd - 7th November) and study day (7th November) at Chelmsford Cathedral which will include input on commissions from the Dean of Chelmsford Cathedral, Chelmsford DAC, and the Bishop of Barking.
Our members currently include: David Hawkins; Rosalind Hore; Henry Shelton; and Celia Ward, among others. We will also be working together with 'Faith & Image' and their co-ordinator Mark Lewis, who is a silversmith and Arts Lecturer at London Metropolitan University. Mark and several other members of Faith & Image plan to become commission4mission members and both organisations will collaborate on events and publicity.
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U2 - Yahweh.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Brownies, a Bishop and Advent Art

St Margaret's Great Ilford
Bishop David, Bridget de Mello and Stephen Pugh

Bishop David talks to the Brownies about the Advent Art Installation

Bishop David listens as the Brownies respond to the Advent Art Installation

Stephen Pugh, the Brownies and the Advent Art Installation

The Advent Art Installation arrived today at St Margaret's Great Ilford, it's penultimate destination, where it was welcomed Stephen Pugh, the Parish Priest, and Bishop David.

Stephen and Bishop David discussed the Installation with the Brownie Pack based at St Margaret's. The children were very responsive to the artwork and its imagery. Some saw explicitly Christian ideas in the crucifix shape of the star while others focussed on the contrasts between darkness and light. Bishop David talked to them about the theme of light coming into darkness.

After the visit from the Brownies we shared in the liturgy of welcome which Stephen had prepared for use in all the churches visited by the Installation.

The Installation can be viewed at St Margaret’s Church, Perth Road/Balfour Road, Ilford , IG1 4HZ: 17th 10.00 am – 4.00 pm; 18th 10.00 am – 4.00 pm; 19th 10.00 am – 4.00 pm; 20th 10.00 am – 4.00 pm. It's final location will be the Vine Church, Riches Road, Ilford, IG1 1JH: 21st 10.00 am – 11.00 am; 22nd 10.00 am – 3.30 pm; 23rd 10.00am - 3.30 pm.

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The Greater London suburban High Street

I met up today with Jay Gort of Gort Scott, an architecture and urban design company based in East London. We met because Gort Scott are currently wanting to speak to active members of the community within and around Seven Kings.

The current Mayor of London is focussing more attention on issues affecting Outer London and Redbridge council is preparing an Area Action Plan for sites along the Roman Road Corridor. Redbridge, with the assistance of Design for London, intends to carry out an urban design framework study and movement analysis, which will be looking at the area - the design team for this study should shortly be made public.

Gort Scott's position in all this, is that they are currently carrying out a design research project looking into 'The Greater London Suburban High Street', focussing on the area between Ilford and Chadwell Heath in particular as a case study. The client for this project is Design for London, which is a part of the Mayor's London Development Agency. Design for London's aim is that this study should feed into Redbridge's Urban design framework study. Gort Scott's project aims to illustrate some urban design approaches to the Outer London High Street, with particular focus on this stretch of the Roman Road.

They believe it is very important to get a full understanding of the culture and communities that exist around Seven Kings High Street, and that the existing places of meeting, social/cultural exchange and business, should be nurtured and improved. It is only really by understanding and revealing what is already happening on the ground, that they can start to suggest what may be missing, or imaginative ways of making lasting improvements. And it is only by meeting and talking to people that they can find this out.

As a result, I am setting up a meeting at which they can meet up with representations of TASK, Seven Kings & Newbury Park Resident's Association, and the Seven Kings Fellowship of Churches to discuss these issues.

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Athlete - Flying Over Bustops.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Developing a shared faiths response to the credit crunch

Delegates attending the Ethics in a global economy seminar organised by Faiths in London's Economy (FiLE) called for a shared faiths perspective on the credit crunch to be developed and FiLE undertook to try to facilitate that process. A meeting to begin discussing a possible shared faiths response that was held on 3rd December 2008 and the first draft document that follows derives from written contributions to and discussions at that meeting.

Each of us involved is going to be copying this rough first draft document widely around our networks in order to increase the range of contributions to it and to bring greater clarity to its statements. Therefore I am posting it here and would welcome comments on this draft.

In addition to general comments, I would be grateful if those commenting could say which, if any, of the eight ‘headline’ statements they agree with and whether there are additional ‘headlines’ which they think should be included.

First draft of shared faiths response to the credit crunch

1. The value of work

Work is valued in most faith traditions, even to the extent that in some human beings are seen as co-creators with the divine. The work ethic is seen as a noble endeavour in many faith traditions e.g. Sufi’s divide the day into work, worship and rest. Hard work and creativity are valuable but are they always appropriately directed? We need to differentiate between the value of the work ethic and appropriate kinds of work. Not all work is appropriate or ethical, therefore the value of the work ethic and of human creativity can be dissipated in work that is inappropriate or unethical. Practices such as profiting from the process of charging and paying interest and lending what you don’t have which have been exposed by the credit crunch would seem to fall into this latter category. We should value productive work but are often divorced from the fruits of our labours.

2. Concerns about credit

The Hebrew Scriptures forbid charging interest to a fellow Jew while the Qur’an forbids charging interest and encourages trade and trade-type banking arrangements. Instead of credit-based banking systems, we commend trade-type banking and the approach of mutual building societies and credit unions. We need banks for current and savings accounts and for business loans, we need building societies (preferably mutual ones), and we need insurance (a legitimate pooling of risks); but the rest of it we really don’t need and it needs to be shut down.

3. Structures of greed

Western economies have been inflated through greed, with their economic make-up being based on self-centred acquisition. Economic and political systems tend to be based on immediate profitability not long-term benefits. As a result, much of what we do makes no logical sense. Why, for example, do we sacrifice quality time by working hard in order to have quality time while on holiday or why do we drive to a gym in order to get on a walking machine? Concerns regarding our economic systems are also to do with transparency. Many faiths reflect on light and dark and how bad things happen in the dark where actions can be hidden. Much of what has brought about the credit crunch has been hidden from view and from scrutiny.

4. The god of growth

Western economies have been predicated on unlimited growth and this has caused harm to the environment. Developing countries are using the same model. Many natural, God given resources are running out because we have exploited that which we have been given instead of stewarding and sharing them. The argument about whether oil and gas supplies have peaked or not remains unresolved but we are certainly running out. The failure of those two resources would impact on every aspect of our lives and would produce far greater misery that the 'credit crunch', as will climate change. We can’t ignore these wider issues most especially that of climate change.

5. Loss of relationships

There is a breakdown in the relational aspects of the economy. Exchanges are occurring in virtual space, trust is being lost and we need to return to our roots in relationships. Practices such as profiting from the process of charging and paying interest and lending what you don’t have led to banks no longer trusting each other and no longer lending to one another. In the past, there was a degree of trust in the markets summed up in the phrase ‘my word in my bond.’ It is important to work together in cooperation. There are also social consequences in terms of social cohesion arising from the credit crunch.

6. Support for developing economies

We should look for methods of ameliorating the financial/environmental misery that continues and develops around the world. Developing countries are using the same model of economic growth as the West despite the harm that it has caused to the environment. Economies throughout the world need rebalancing in the direction of wealth creation: education; the care of the vulnerable; manufacturing, creative and cultural industries; renewable energy; and agriculture.

7. Time for reflection

There can be a sense of hope in this crisis; the credit crunch can be seen a watershed opportunity and not a catastrophe. A year ago people weren’t having the kind of conversations we are having today; that, in itself, is a positive change. Perception is vital in what is understood as being economically viable.

Some faiths, but by no means all, understand periods of suffering as part of a developmental process. We need to reflect on our experience of suffering and look for causes (i.e. underlying economic fundamentals). There may be natural causes but these may also have personal implications to which we will need to respond. Reflection and action go together. For example, a recent survey found that 25% of respondents are praying or meditating more as a result of the credit crunch.

Not all faith communities think that suffering is ennobling and there can be a polarization around concrete political change versus inner personal change. Both are needed in dialogue, both are on the same spectrum of responses.

We need to reflect on the values that we share. The economy has spiralled a long way from real valuations. We need to link personal, moral and spiritual values with economic values.

8. Constituencies for action

People of faith form a huge constituency and can motivate people to action. People of faith are also part of rooted communities (e.g. local authority areas) which in some instances are beginning to plan for greater economic resilience. People of faith need to be party to these debates and summits. There is no quick fix but, together, we have a vast constituency, one large enough to start sowing seeds of change. We should look for methods of ameliorating the financial/environmental misery that continues and develops, around the world.

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1 giant leap - Money pt1.

Windows on the world (32)


Little Gidding, 2008
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Magic Magic - French Song.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Who are you?



Photos from last night's Nine Lessons & Carols by candlelight at St John's

Who are you? That was the question that the priests and Levites asked John the Baptist in today’s Gospel reading. Think for a moment about the way in which you answer that question when someone asks it of you.

Often when we asked who we are, we answer by saying what we do and tell the person asking about the job that we do. For many of us, our work seems to be the thing that we think is the most significant thing about us. If we don’t talk about our job, then we might talk about a role we have, perhaps being a parent, or we might talk about our family; so I might say to someone who knows my family that I’m Phil and Pauline’s son or Rachel’s brother. Another tack might be to talk about our interests, so I might say that I’m a painter or a writer or an Oxford United fan. Whatever we say in answer to the question ‘Who are you?’ the answer usually involves saying something about ourselves.

So it is surprising that when John the Baptist is asked who he is, he doesn’t say anything about himself at all. Firstly, he is asked whether he is one of the great figures of the Jewish religion; the Messiah, Elijah or Moses. We’ve probably all at sometime pretended that we are one of our heroes, whether we’ve played at being our favourite pop star looking into our bedroom mirror and singing into our hair brush or have wanted to be Pele or Bobby Moore or Kevin Keegan or Ronaldo when we have been playing football with our mates. We all have delusions of grandeur! Even as Vicars, maybe wanting to be the next Billy Graham or T D Jakes or Tom Wright!

The temptation for John the Baptist to claim his place in the pantheon of Jewish heroes must have been strong but what he actually says is just ‘No, I am not.’ Nothing about who he is, just statements of what he is not. And yet these denials have huge significance.

On one level they are a way of saying that what he is part of, what he is pointing towards can’t be explained by the usual ways of understanding things. The priests and Levites were looking for a category that they could use to understand John, perhaps so that they could label him and file him away and forget about him. If we can fit someone into a neat category – he’s a Hammers fan, she’s single mother, he’s Irish or she’s a computer programmer - then we feel as though we’ve got them sussed and we know all about them. John doesn’t allow that to happen and by doing so says that what is going on here does fit any of your categories; it’s ‘outside the box’ and, if you’re going to understand then you’ve got to have your way of thinking about God expanded and changed.

On another level, his denials are also a subtle way of pointing to Jesus as God. Throughout John’s Gospel Jesus makes a series of I AM statements about himself. He says, ‘I AM the living water, the bread of life’ and so on. In doing so, Jesus is using the very name of God who responded to Moses by saying ‘I AM who I AM.’ John by contrast says, ‘I AM NOT.’ By framing his denial using the ‘I AM’ statement he is pointing his listeners to the one who will come after him who will be able to say ‘I AM,’ who will be God himself.

This is John the Baptist’s sole mission and purpose; not to point people to himself by saying look at me aren’t I wonderful, instead it is to point away from himself in order to point to Jesus. That is what the writer of this Gospel says in verses 6-9: “There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.”

We see this also in what John the Baptist does say about himself. When he is asked, “What do you say about yourself?", his reply is to say ‘I’m not the significant person here, I’m actually only a voice calling out to prepare the way for the one who is to come. Don’t pay attention to who I am instead listen to my message and look for the coming of the Lord.

The same thing is there in what he says about baptism. John is asked why he baptizes but he doesn’t answer the question. Instead, he again points beyond what he is doing to the one who comes after him, the one who is so much greater that John feels unworthy even to untie the thongs of his sandals.

In his commentary of this passage Lesslie Newbigin says that this is the mark of a true witness; “the function of a witness is not to develop conclusions out of already known data, but simply to point to, report, affirm” the new reality that the witness has seen and heard.
This is also what John’s Gospel sets out to do and what it wants those who read it, like us, to become. Newbigin writes:

“[John] points his hearers to Jesus (e.g., 1:29ff., 36ff.; 3:27ff.); Jesus draws his hearers to himself. But these hearers will in turn become witnesses through whom others may believe (15:27; 17:20; 20:31), for the purpose is that not some but all … may come to faith. This book in its final form is based upon the testimony of one of these witnesses (21:24), and its purpose is that it readers may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and believing may have life in his name.”

So we are to be witnesses like John, this is our calling as Christians. And this is essentially a simple task. We are not asked to become fluent in all the doctrines of the Christian faith or to have an answer for every question that people ask about Christianity. Instead, like John we are to be witnesses to what we have seen and heard about Jesus. The focus is not on us and our lives but on him and what we know of him and have experienced of him in our lives. So instead of needing to memorize a Gospel presentation like ‘2 Ways to Live’, all we need to do to be a witness is to tell our story; this is how I came to know Jesus and this is what he has come to mean to me.

Christmas is a time for preparation and then for sharing. The example that John the Baptist sets is one of preparing people for the real Christmas gift; the coming of Jesus. Can we do the same this Christmas by sharing the best news of all, the good news, with those around us – our family, friends, neighbours and work colleagues – simply by being witnesses and pointing others to Jesus by telling our story of knowing him ourselves?

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Pedro the Lion - I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day.

Artistic nuns

Today's Sunday Times has an interesting interview with Dame Joanna Jamieson, a 73 year-old abbess who has just spent a year at an East End art school.

Dame Joanna's call to the monastic life followed a meeting with Dame Werburg Welch at Stanbrook Abbey in Worcestershire, where she was herself to become a religious.

Dame Werburg entered Stanbrook in 1915. Expecting to give up art altogether, she found herself instead being encouraged to extend her scope to vestment designs and wood-engravings for the Press. Desmond Chute and Eric Gill gave her postal tuition. As a result she adopted Gill's angular style, which was a life-long influence on her own work.

After her paintings, vestment designs and wood-carvings received favourable reviews at exhibitions of the Guild of Catholic Artists and Craftsmen in the 1930s and 1940s, commissions came in from churches and private individuals all over the country. Illustrations appeared in contemporary Catholic magazines such as Art Notes and L'Artisan Liturgique.

Stations of the Cross painted by Dame Werburg include a set painted on wood for the Church of Christ the King, Bromborough, Cheshire (c.1950); those painted for the Catholic Chaplaincy at Birmingham University c.1961; and c.1956 the set for St. Edmunds, Isle of Dogs. The Isle of Dogs paintings, along with the church building, suffered severe deterioration from damp but were restored for the new church in 1998. The Stations of the Cross carved in wood by Dom Vincent Duprè of Farnborough Abbey for the Anglican church of All Saints, Weston-super-Mare, were designed by Dame Werburg, as were the Douai Abbey Stations carved in stone by Dom Aloysius Bloor. Other major works include several large hanging crucifixes and the carved oak crucifix commissioned c. 1982 for the Czech chaplaincy in London.

Examples of Dame Werburg's work can be seen by clicking here.

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Karl Jenkins - Benedictus.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Remembering Albert Herbert

Remembering Albert Herbert, the current exhibition at England & Co, celebrates the life of Albert Herbert who died in May this year. For more than five decades, Herbert consistently painted dream-like images that were the product of an unusual and highly individual imagination—his poetic vision continued the metaphysical tradition in British art that extends from William Blake to Cecil Collins. Herbert’s idiosyncratic, mystical paintings used Biblical stories and religious subjects, although they were not exclusively Christian in their meaning—religion was his way of revealing ‘the inner world of the collective mind’. Herbert discovered images from universal narratives depicted by artists for thousands of years, and renewed them in a quintessentially modern way.

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John Tavener - The Lamb.

Advent Art @ St Andrews


The Advent Art Installation is currently at St Andrew's Great Ilford and can still be viewed at the following churches, dates and times:
  • St Andrew’s Church, The Drive, Ilford IG1 3PE: 13th 10.00 am – 4.00 pm; 14th 12.00 noon – 4.00 pm; 15th 10.00 am –12 noon & 2. 00 pm – 4.00 pm; 16th 10.00 am –12 noon & 2. 00 pm – 4.00 pm.

  • St Margaret’s Church, Perth Road/Balfour Road, Ilford , IG1 4HZ: 17th 10.00 am – 4.00 pm; 18th 10.00 am – 4.00 pm; 19th 10.00 am – 4.00 pm; 20th 10.00 am – 4.00 pm.

  • The Vine Church, Riches Road, Ilford, IG1 1JH: 21st 10.00 am – 11.00 am; 22nd 10.00 am – 3.30 pm; 23rd 10.00am - 3.30 pm.

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Karl Jenkins - Adiemus.

DR Congo conflict requires big response

More news of the troubles in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This time from Tear Fund:

Everything about the Democratic Republic of Congo is big. Physically, the country outsizes Western Europe. It has masses of natural resources including gold, silver and uranium.

But when it comes to politics, its problems are truly gargantuan. Since 1998 more people have died there due to violence, disease or hunger than in any conflict since the Second World War.

Conflict has been stalking the eastern province of North Kivu afresh in recent weeks throwing up a massive amount of misery in its wake.

Some 250,000 people have fled their homes as rebel and government forces have battled it out, killing and injuring countless civilians who have got in their way.

Standing with the people

The local church is also in these affected communities and Tearfund is supporting its humanitarian response through our emergency appeal.

Three long-term partners are working to ease people’s suffering not just physically but psychologically and spiritually.

HEAL Africa, which runs medical and development programmes, is treating the injured and wounded and staff are also distributing food and other essentials in Goma, Rutshuru and Masisi.

Fellow partner PPSSP is looking to use its expertise in providing water and sanitation, two things at a premium for many of the displaced who are living in refugee camps where the word basic does not do justice to the level of facilities.

They are also establishing feeding programmes for children at risk of malnutrition near Goma and in Lubero territory.

Psychological support

Another partner is PEAC, the medical and relief department of the Anglican Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has experience of running health centres. Its people will be working with PPSSP in Lubero on medical care and providing shelter.

In all Tearfund partners are looking to assist 15,000 of the most vulnerable people and the need for their psychological and pastoral support cannot be underestimated.

The country’s combatants have a history of using rape as a weapon of war and the reports of atrocity and torture are already starting to stack up from this latest bout of blood-letting.

The global church is making the case for peace in the face of such horrors. Church leaders from Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo have taken their peace message to Joseph Kabila, the latter country’s president.

Yet even if there is peace tomorrow, the legacy of this conflict will take years to deal with, which makes your prayers and support for our work to ease the plight of the long-suffering Congolese people all the more vital.

Prayer & giving

Tearfund has launched an appeal to respond to the crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Please give generously. Your money will enable us to help civilians caught in the middle of this conflict. Click here to give.

Pray for the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Download our prayer PowerPoint.

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Sublime - Dans Tes Parvis.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Archdeacons & motorbikes


Dr Sugie Davie was a committed member of St John's Seven Kings and an active member of the Tamil Church in East London. Money raised at Dr Sugie's funeral has been used to buy motorbikes for two of the four Archdeacons in the Boga diocese of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The motorbikes will enable the Archdeacons to travel around the parishesmore easily and meet up with Bishop Isingoma whenever necessary. They will be a real help to the Archdeacons to help their congregations through these difficult times into greater reconciliation and will also build up a good relationship with Isingoma as their new Bishop, otherwise they have to bicycle or walk everywhere.

Bishop Isingoma has recently sent the photo above of the new bikes and writes that, "we continually thank Dr Sugie's family for their generous help which is going help for the Propagation of the Gospel in our diocese."

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Dans Ton Sanctuaire.

Advent Art & Church Times article


Year Six children from Downshall Primary School visit the Advent Art Installation at St John's Seven Kings



Detail of the Advent Art Installation

The Advent Art Installation at St John's Seven Kings
Henry Shelton and I having completed work on the Installation

Bishop David with the Advent Art Installation
The Advent Art Installation features in this week's edition of The Church Times. My article on the project can be found by clicking here.

The article quotes from the meditation that I wrote for the project which draws out some of the concepts that the design group had in mind when we were working on the Installation's design:

“The sombre colours and rectangular voids of this abstract artwork may recall works by Mark Rothko which hang in Tate Modern. Rothko’s later paintings have often been understood as depictions of the absence of God and the darkness of the world; an impression reinforced by Rothko’s suicide on the day that the Tate received those paintings.

Similarly, St Paul wrote that our experience in life is that of seeing in a mirror dimly; we do not see clearly and our understanding of life is clouded, he seemed to say. That may also be our experience in this installation, where the abstract colour has been applied to mirrored perspex, clouding our ability to see clearly in the mirrored panels of the installation. Yet the poet, Martin Wroe, has written that God can be seen as ‘the abstract art of paint and poem when our propaganda makes everything clear’.

In the darkness of the abstract design, we can still see reflected the candles, lit within the space where the artwork stands, and picked out on the panels, forming a star, are also lines of clear reflection. The light beaming from the star on the right panel is linked by a line to the repeated word ‘Peace’ on the left. In what ways might there be links be­tween light and peace in the darkness of our world?

What do we see as we look into the blurred and clear mirrored spaces of this installation? Essentially, as in any mirror, we see ourselves, both blurred and distinct. Are we defined by the darkness or are we one of the many points of light reflected in the darkness of this design? Is the reflection of our light blurred or distinct as we shine in the world? In what ways could we be­come light bringers and peace makers? After all, it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”
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Jide Chord - Better Ma Follow Mi.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

School visit to Advent Art






Henry Shelton and I were invited to talk about the Advent Art Installation today to Year Six children at Downshall Primary School.

We outlined the different stages involved in designing and creating the Installation before the children came across to St John's to see the Installation for themselves.

After they returned to school, the children came up with their own ideas for an artwork on the theme of light.

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Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Library Services Coffee Morning @ St John's





Redbridge Library Services held a Coffee Morning this morning, Wednesday 10th December, from 11.00am - 1.00pm, at the Parish Centre of St. John's Seven Kings. The event promoted existing library services in the area (such as the Mobile Library) and the services nearby in Ilford, Goodmayes and the Keith Axon Centre. There was also information regarding forthcoming regular library outreach services in Seven Kings.

The event was attended by local people from TASK, Seven Kings & Newbury Park Resident's Association, St John's Church, Downshall Primary School, Downshall Pre-School Playgroup and Downshall Pre-School Parents & Toddlers group, among others. Information was provided about current Library services, new Library users were registered and local people shared their thoughts on the type of outreach activities they would like to see in Seven Kings.

A group of children from Downshall Primary School attended and shared their ideas for Library Services in the area, having discussed these in school before coming to the event.

This was a very worthwhile event with good numbers attending. The event demonstrated that there is definitely interest from a cross-section of the local community in outreach events such as further Coffee mornings, Reading groups, Storytelling sessions and Poetry/Author events.

St John's was very pleased to have hosted this Coffee Morning in partnership with Redbridge Library Services. St John's Parish Centre is a well used community resource and is therefore an ideal location for community outreach events, such as this Coffee Morning. Through our involvement with TASK we are seeking to see and support the development of new and improved community facilities in Seven Kings. We view this partnership with Redbridge Library Services as a positive new development and look forward to further opportunities to work together.

Additional good news from TASK's ongoing discussions with Redbridge Library Services are that the mobile library attended the Christmas Bazaar at St John's Seven Kings and saw a good number of visitors and new library users. Additionally, the mobile library has agreed to begin visiting Downshall Primary School from late January 2009.

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Athlete - In The Library.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Advent Art Installation @ St John's






The Advent Art Installation is currently at St John's Seven Kings and can still be viewed at the following churches, dates and times:
  • St John’s Church, Seven Kings, St John’s Road /Aldborough Road South, IG2 7BB: 9th - 10.00 am – 1.00 pm & 2.00 pm - 5.00 pm & 7.00 pm - 9.00 pm; 10th - 10.00 am – 1.00 pm & 2.00 pm - 5.00 pm; 11th - 10.00 am – 1.00 pm & 2.00 pm - 5.00 pm & 7.00 pm - 9.00 pm; 12th - 10.00 am – 1.00 pm & 2.00 pm - 5.00 pm.
  • St Andrew’s Church, The Drive, Ilford IG1 3PE: 13th 10.00 am – 4.00 pm; 14th 12.00 noon – 4.00 pm; 15th 10.00 am –12 noon & 2. 00 pm – 4.00 pm; 16th 10.00 am –12 noon & 2. 00 pm – 4.00 pm.
  • St Margaret’s Church, Perth Road/Balfour Road, Ilford , IG1 4HZ: 17th 10.00 am – 4.00 pm; 18th 10.00 am – 4.00 pm; 19th 10.00 am – 4.00 pm; 20th 10.00 am – 4.00 pm.
  • The Vine Church, Riches Road, Ilford, IG1 1JH: 21st 10.00 am – 11.00 am; 22nd 10.00 am – 3.30 pm; 23rd 10.00am - 3.30 pm.

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Bjork - Unravel.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Windows on the world (31)

Worth, 2008

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Relient K - Be My Escape.


Sunday, 7 December 2008

Windows on St John's





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Velvet Underground - Jesus.

St John's Christmas Tree




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Bruce Springsteen - Santa Claus is Coming To Town.