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Tuesday, 30 June 2009

God's Hazard

God’s Hazard, Nicholas Mosley, Dalkey Archive Press, 2009 (ISBN 978-1-56478-540-4)

A writer named Adam is writing a reinterpretation of the Genesis creation stories but his tale becomes intertwined with the story of his daughter and her friends leaving school and travelling to the conflict zones of the contemporary world. Myth becomes combined with history in the making and the reader is challenged to resolve questions of creation, responsibility and parenting.

Adam writes of God’s hazard being in setting his children free but then faces a hazard of his own as his daughter makes her way in the world. But who is actually hazarding what and who is telling whose story? Adam seems to write God’s story and that of his daughter Sophie but his own story is also being told and who is doing the telling? What choices, freedom and responsibility do each actually have?

Mosley’s novel places us, as readers, in the centre of these questions and gives us the responsibility for mediating between “God’s efforts to care for humans while leaving them free” and “humans’ rediscovery of their true need for God through darkness and disaster.” It may seem as though Mosley is seeking to tie us up in knots but it may also be that what he has written is a love-knot that “both binds and leaves you free.”

Accordingly and rightly, earlier reviewers have noted that everything in Mosley’s realm is double-edged and multidimensional and that his novels are both abstract and realistic. In a similar vein Mark C. Taylor has written of the way in which “some of the most creative contemporary painters and architects are seeking a third way that falls between abstraction and figuration.” In their work, “torn figures mark the trace of something else, something other that almost emerges in the crack of faulty images.” This other, he writes, “is neither being nor nonbeing, fullness nor void, immanent nor transcendent.” Taylor calls this “genealogy of otherness and difference based on the principle of creative juxtaposition”, altarity.

Nicholas Mosley is therefore the novelist, par excellence, of altarity and God’s Hazard, his latest effort at the truth of a Christian faith in free will.

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Switchfoot - Dare You To Move.

Evangelism & Pastoral Care

Daisy Stephens, from St Johns Seven Kings, with Archbishop Rowan at the Present & Engaged Study Day

I said that I would post a summary of Ann Morisey's excellent presentation on 'Evangelism and Pastoral Care' given at the Present and Engaged study day. There was much that resonated with me in Ann's talk so much so that, at times, it felt as though she were describing what I aim to practice (although consistently falling well short) in my ministry.

My summary of Ann's presentation is below. Other material from the day has also been published including the insightful sermon that Archbishop Rowan Williams gave later in the day to launch the Greater London Presence and Engagement Network (http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/2464). For a full set of materials from the day, email Angus Ritchie, Director of the Contextual Theology Centre, at director@theology-centre.org.

Anne said that: "We are living in troubled times and people have become bothered and bewildered by fragmentation and are tempted into a neo-tribalism. These dynamics have been exposed very clearly in the European elections. Anxiety and fear easily gain momentum and under such conditions our instinctive response is scapegoating and death-dealing.

René Girard begins his explanation of the dynamic of scapegoating by postulating the ‘mimetic of desire’, which is basically a kind of jealousy, but with a twist: we learn what is desirable by observing what others find desirable. Having ‘caught’ our desires from others, in a context of scarcity, everyone wants what only some can have. This results in a struggle to obtain what we want - which in turn produces a generalised antagonism towards the individual or group that seems to be responsible for this disappointment.

The vicious riddance of the victim has the potential to reduce the eagerness for violence, and if not, then the assumption is that more scapegoats need to be sacrificed in order to achieve a sense of appeasement and restoration of the status quo. The removal of the victim or victims – the lambs to the slaughter, gives a temporary re-assurance of the crisis disappearing, and the sensation of renewed possibility. This is a description of cheap solidarity and cheap hope.

Girard concludes his anthropological and literary analysis of scapegoating by examining Judeo-Christian texts, and traces the movement away from the dynamic of scapegoating through the Old into the New Testaments. It was this experience that contributed to Girard’s conversion to the Christian faith. His analysis of the Bible ‘as literature’ led him to conclude:
  • That Jesus is the final scapegoat.

  • The New Testament is ‘on the side of’ Jesus, the scapegoat. The Gospels are unusual because here is literature that encourages people to see the world through the eyes of the scapegoat.

  • The scapegoat in the Gospels refuses to let death be the final word and he rises again triumphant.

  • The followers of the scapegoat enact the seizing of the scapegoat, and the scapegoat’s triumph over death, in Eucharistic celebration.
I focus on Girard for two reasons: The obvious one - because of the relevance of his ideas to our context where ‘difference’ – whether faith or ethnicity, easily becomes a threat. But for a further reason: Girard is not a theologian! He, as an anthropologist, is more likely to pass what John Rawls terms “the test of public reason” than the theologian or the clergy, or the committed lay person for that matter. Let me re-code – or decode Rawls’ term “the test of public reason”…. ‘Self-praise is no recommendation’! And of course – in our secular world, all faiths have to submit themselves to the test of public reason if they are to have a right to a public platform.

So on the public stage it becomes possible to offer a new aspect of the gift of salvation that Jesus brings to us: it brings insight into our hatred and murderous behaviour, and endeavours to help people move beyond the anxious laden response of scapegoating – and importantly, it is not just theologians and the churches who say so! The missionary challenge is to find creative ways of helping people to hear and explore this insight, and the pastoral challenge is to help people appropriate, or take this gift of insight into their (our) practice.

Jesus, through his death and resurrection rescues us, as Girard suggests, from scapegoating but Jesus also bring salvation to us by the way in which he lived his life. In his actions and teaching, Jesus shows us how we can participate in a reliable economy of abundance. The tendency has been for the church – and others to assume that economy of abundance belongs to the realm of Heaven rather than earth. This is a mistake.

Jesus lived his life in a very distinctive way. This included: eschewing Power; willing to risk being overwhelmed ; subverting the ‘status quo’; wide ‘fraternal’ relations; avoiding tit-for tat’ behaviour; and investing in the most unlikely. My thesis is straightforward: When we muster an intention to do things like Jesus i.e. to follow Jesus – even in the most modest of ways, we arrive at the portal into the economy of abundance – where virtuous processes flow and grace cascades.
In our troubled times the faiths have to forego investing and promulgating ‘hard-to-believe’ formulaic faith – which for post-modern and troubled times are so hard to believe that the come close to a fresh expression of …. Gnosticism. So for the Church there is a new evangelistic challenge: To enable people to weigh-up whether the example of Jesus can provide a way of making sense of their lives, within a hope filled rather than gloomy future.

However, in troubled times, the expression of pastoral care also brings arduous challenges: by caring and loving, more than ever, we risk having our hearts broken … as much as finding fulfilment; compassionate responses risk being judged as naiveté; and we need the capacity to coach people in the neglected practice of self discipline if not to be imprisoned by our circumstances. And this carries a major challenge to authenticity…

Such vulnerability is essential – because this is the foundation for boundary breaking compassion that can embrace rather than scapegoat the stranger. The solidarity that is rooted in shared vulnerability makes for courageous compassion – and this combination of courage and compassion has not, so far, been called out of our Christian generation.

A resilient theology insists that current hopelessness and passivity are not the final word. A resilient theology enables us not just to see new possibilities, but to garner the intentionality to practice these possibilities. But even more than this, resilient theology continually acknowledges human frailty to the extent that perfection is never expected, otherwise the wonderful, liberating generosity of being treated better than we deserve - this ultimate ‘alternative performance’ that Jesus offers, becomes unnecessary.

Such a resilient theology only becomes possible when evangelism and pastoral care are held together."

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Robert Randolph & The Family Band - Going In The Right Direction.

Windows on the world (60)


London, 2009
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Moby - Whispering Wind.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Not titles but testimonies










Geoff Eze, curate at St Johns Seven Kings, was ordained as a priest during a service held at St Marys Walthamstow on Sunday 28th June. He was one of six ordained as priest by the Bishop of Barking during the service, which was attended by many of the St Johns congregation.

During the ordination service, the Ven. Elwin Cockett, Archdeacon of West Ham, spoke movingly about his father who instead of pursuing positions as a doctor in this country served others abroad through his skills and, as a result, died in his mid-thirties. On the day of his funeral the Ghanaian town where he had served came to a standstill. Elwin concluded that it was not titles but testimonies that are the true measure of a person’s life and service.
Geoff says that: "Serving St John's for the last year has been a privilege and a blessing. My ordination to the priesthood is a testimony to the work of the Lord through His people, especially that of my vicar, Jonathan and the loving and dedicated congregation of St John's. I look forward with intrepidation and excitement to continue working for St John's and the people of Seven Kings in Christ's name."

An ordination is a very special celebration for the whole church. From earliest times Christians have recognized that God has called and gifted every Christian to some sort of ministry. The Bible and early church history suggest our traditional pattern of Bishop, Priest and Deacon as servant leaders of God’s people.

Ordination as priest is the next step that Geoff is taking on an exciting journey through life of being committed to God. We, at St John’s, look forward to all that the next stage on that journey will bring both for him and for us.

Geoff will preside at communion for the first time in the 10.00am service at St Johns Seven Kings on Sunday 5th July. The service will be followed by a bring-and-share lunch to celebrate Geoff’s Priesting. All are welcome.

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Paul Johnson - If We Lose Our Way.

The Manifestation - Falling Phoebe






In 2002 Richard Layzell, for a commission from the firstsite gallery in Colchester, invented a group of four artists and made their work for them. After the exhibition closed, Layzell found himself missing the method and ease of producing work that he had discovered as one of these invented artists: Tania Koswycz. He decided to continue fabricating work as Tania finding that the internal dialogue that he engaged in as a result was germane to the creative process and could be dramatized through published dialogues and collaborative installations.

The Manifestation is a touring collaboration between Layzell and Koswycz and, in its most recent form as The Manifestation – Falling Phoebe (a firstsite commission installed at St Martin’s Colchester), represents a return to the town for which Layzell first imagined Koswycz.

In tribute then to Layzell and Koswycz this review continues as a dialogue with a co-reviewer Tania Kostain, who is fictitious.

TK. This it, then? Music stands, TVs, tables and a film! Is this what you dragged me here to see?

JE. It’s artfully arranged, Tania, you must admit. The music stands are the outer edge of a circle that is completed by the curved wooden panel at the rear and the circular tables, their plates and mirrors echo the circle that is the whole installation.

TK. It all looks pretty random to me. So someone’s come up with a particular arrangement for all these different things but so what? What about the film? That’s not part of the circle and it just shows a man collecting leaves and scattering them again.

JE. Maybe the film is intended as an introduction to the installation. In the film disparate objects are gathered up and scattered again just as these has happened with the different objects in this installation.

TK. But you said these objects were artfully arranged which means they’ve not just been scattered, so there must be some purpose in the way they’ve been put together. What’s going on? Do the sheets on the music stands explain it?

JE. Well, they contain a dialogue between the two artists who collaborated on this installation, one of which is a figment of the other’s installation.

TK. You mean, he talks to himself! That’s the first sign of madness, isn’t it?

JE. But don’t we all have an interior conversation going on all the time? You’ve seen dramatizations or visualizations, for example, of angels and demons on people’s shoulders voicing their conflicting thoughts. Isn’t that to do with bringing our internal dialogue into the open?

TK. So, the idea is that we can read the sort of chat he has with himself on the inside when he’s making art. If we can read that talk then we can join in too. I like a good chat myself. So what’re they talking about?

JE. Part of their dialogue deals with an ancestor of the artist who lived in Colchester and married at St Martins.

TK. But that’s where we are, isn’t it? In St Martins?

JE. Well, yes. But they married at St Martins-in-the-Field in London, not this St Martins. So there’s a connection but it’s not exact.

TK. But that’s it, isn’t it? That’s what all this is about, isn’t it? You’ve got all these different objects and the point of the exercise is to find the clues to work out the connections between all the different things – some are personal and some are just cause that’s the way they were put together – but everything is connected in some way. It’s cool; connections and conversation. I can buy that!

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Noah And The Whale - Rocks and Daggers.

C4M webpage update (13)

Two new posts on the commission4mission webpage this week, both regarding the West Ham Festival that ended today.

The first concerned a textile and design project based in Manor Park and run by Celia Ward (who is a Commission For Mission artist). The aim of the project is to make a series of hangings based around the different alphabets in the area, one of which was exhibited at the West Ham Festival.

The second was a selection of photographs of the commission4mission exhibition at the Festival, showing the diversity of the works included.

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Leonard Cohen - Who By Fire.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Windows on the world - London 25/06






I've spent my day off in London with my friend Alan Stewart catching up, taking Windows on the world photographs and visiting two exhibitions.
We began at White Cube with Tracy Emin's Those Who Suffer Love. It is stating the obvious but Emin's work is heartbreakingly honest and open. You might not like what you see but what you get is raw, intimate confessional art -genuine self-revelation. For me, that is what Emin's drawings and animation of a masturbating woman symbolise. She writes of them as being a symbol of lust, loneliness and self-preservation but they are also about the naked, open exposure of what is most private and intimate.

This sense of everything being out in the open links to Emin's drawing style which she describes as "simple and linear, straight to the point." Her drawings appear as though they are unconscious doodles, particularly in the Monoprint diaries with their scribbles, crossings out, reverse writing, all of which increase the sense of immediacy; the sense of actual emotions spewed out onto the page as they arise.
This is, of course, a style, an artful creation which has proved immensely profitable for Emin and to which she is returning in this show; she feels she has come back to what she really knows. And yet, confessional art, for all the artistry and style involved, ultimately cannot be faked because it involves emotional connection with our lives that must be experienced first before it can be conveyed.
So, while never having been a fan of her work and despite not identifying greatly with the attitudes and choices revealed through her honesty, I cannot deny the raw power - which is on a par, for example, with the primal scream of the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album - of her confessions and would agree with Julian Schnabel that: “Tracey’s need to be honest supercedes all decisions in her life and art. The crystalline presentation of the most intimate and private emotions are what she wants to share with us.”
Our second choice of exhibition was very different; David Claerbout's three video installations at Hauser & Wirth. These were calmer, meditative works concerned with synergies and harmonies which nevertheless embraced dissonance.
Riverside involved two films viewed side-by-side shot in the same landscape and with narratives which maintained a tension as to the extent to which their stories would intersect. The culmination of the piece involved a synergy of space and sound without a similar synergy of time and story. We are constantly inhabiting the space of others without being aware of their stories or the connections that we could experience were we to know them and, yet, Riverside seemed to suggest that at some level of experience or reality synergies can and do occur.
Claerbout's video installations reveal an intense attention to the life of his subjects such that patterns and harmonies are seen - 'heaven in the ordinary' - that would ordinarily be overlooked. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the second installation, Sunrise. This film focused on the pre-dawn household preparations of a maid, where her activities were reflected in the glass, chrome and water of the modernist home where she worked affording her simple activities a quiet beauty as they created patterns by being mirrored in the half-light.
Claerbout, however, counterpoised the still beauty of work in the half-light of modernism with the radient beauty of the risen sun as the maid cycled away from the house and into her life outside work. As the exhibition's press release notes, "balance of the film turns in these final minutes from mute perfection to a flood of emotion."
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Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Absence of God - Raqib Shaw

Raqib Shaw’s paintings in Absence of God are sublime in all senses of the word.

In their scale and content, they reference the sublime apocalyptic works of the Romantic artists, John Martin and Francis Danby, which miniaturised human beings emphasising our powerlessness in the face of God and Nature as part of their exploration of the sensations of immensity, darkness and terror. Shaw uses similar methods – densely populated scenes set against backdrops of classical ruins – to engage similar sensations of decline and fall.

But Shaw’s paintings are also sublime in their technique and beauty. Working with metallic industrial paints, Shaw creates a marbling effect through use of a porcupine quill and outlines each detail of his compositions in gold. When glitter and gemstones are added to the mix the whole shimmers in a riot of colour, which although slightly kitsch, nevertheless is harmoniously blended towards beauty.

When combined with the monstrous content of Shaw’s works - the intense violent and sexual nature of its manga-like imagery – a bitter-sweet paradox is established which, in light of the exhibition’s title and his anthropomorphic imagery, could reflect a world of harmonies and beauty formed with intricacy and inter-connectivity yet red raw in tooth and claw.

Shaw draws on the works of Hieronymus Bosch in depicting the monstrous beauty found in the absence of God. He finds there a similar paradox; Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights also being Hell. Nowhere is this more apparent than in his sculpture Adam, which features a human figure with a bird’s head, its mouth and genitals swarming with parasites, mounted by a large, bejewelled lobster. Adam removes the monstrous from the beautiful and represents the fall of humanity into the bestial.

Shaw’s work in its focus on the monstrous and its referencing of past masterpieces has parallels with the Goya-based installations and vandalisations of the Chapman Brothers. However, the paradoxes that Shaw establishes through the beauty of his violent compositions seem to avoid the double negatives of, for example, the Chapman Brother’s Insult to Injury series where their defacing of Goya’s Disasters of War etchings seems to revere desecration and thus reverse the intent of Goya’s work.

Shaw’s paintings counter many of the stereotypical critiques of contemporary art. They are conceptual works requiring traditional painterly skills in terms of composition and technique. They are figurative narrative paintings which form abstract harmonious visual wholes. They are iconoclastic while referencing a broad multi-cultural art history. In short, they are sublime.

Absence of God, Raqib Shaw, White Cube Hoxton Square, 20 May – 4 July and Kunsthalle Vienna, 19 August – 27 September 2009

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David Byrne - Road to Nowhere.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Bible books meme

I've been tagged by Philip on this:

"Name the five books (or scholars) that had the most immediate and lasting influence on how you read the Bible. Note that these need not be your five favourite books, or even the five with which you most strongly agree. Instead, I want to know what five books have permanently changed the way you think."

I enjoyed Philip's autobiographical approach to this meme and will try to do something similar.

1. A Way Through the Wilderness by Jamie Buckingham - This is the book that I think most influenced my late teens and early twenties after recommitting my life to God. I read Risky Living and Where Eagles Soar before this one but this was the one that grounded Buckingham's talk of being led by the Spirit most firmly in scripture as he created parallels between his experiences and the people of Israel's wilderness wanderings. I didn't know it at the time but what I was responding to was Buckingham's paradigmatic reading of the wilderness wanderings. It was reading Christopher Wright's Living As The People of God later that set out the value of this way of understanding scripture. What has stayed with me particularly from A Way Through the Wilderness is the background that Buckingham gives to Deuteronomy 32. 10-12. The image of the mother eagle pushing her chick out of the nest, catching it in the small of her back and then tipping the chick off until it learns to fly is a wonderful image for the way in which God is always seeking to disturb our complacency and move us "farther up and farther in" as C.S. Lewis puts it in The Last Battle.

2. The Book of God by Gabriel Josipovici - This book helped confirm in my mind a hunch about the Bible that I had developed out of thinking about the use made of fragments of materials and images in the poetry of T.S. Eliot, the poetry and paintings of David Jones, and the paintings of Marc Chagall. Each of these combines and holds together a series of fragments in such a way that a relation is established between the fragments and, often, a non-linear story told. Eliot is explicit about this at the end of The Waste Land when he writes: "These fragments I have shored against my ruins." The diversity of texts, genres, and voices in the Bible seemed to me to be similarly fragmented but held together by the narrative developed by means of the canon. Three books that I read around the same time - The Collage of God by Mark Oakley, God's Home Page by Mike Riddell, and Josipovici's The Book of God - seemed to understanding the form of the Bible in a similar fashion. Josipovici was the most significant as he unpacks both the fragmented form of scripture and the implications for interpretation of scripture being fashioned in this form. As a result, in order to be serious about scripture I think we have to take account of the form as well as the content of scripture and recognise that the fragmented nature of scripture militates against approaches to scripture, such as harmonisation, which view scripture as being essentially linear and consistent when that is not actually the case.

3. Old Testament Theology: Essays on Structure, Theme and Text by Walter Brueggemann - The first of Brueggemann's books that I read and it remains my favourite for its exploration of the dialectic of the Old Testament between its core/majority/structure legitimating testimony and counter/minority/pain embracing testimony. Brueggemann's insights revealed the extent to which the diversity of materials in the Bible enable a conversation to develop between these two testimonies. His conclusion, like that of Josipovic, is that in the Old Testament this dialectic is essentially unresolved and open. This understanding of dialogue within and between the texts made sense of the fragmentary form of scripture and developed a sense that, rather than being an instruction manual, reading scripture is actually more like participating in a debate or going on a journey of exploration.

4. The New Testament and the People of God by N.T. Wright. This book helped me to understand Jesus as 'a one-man Temple/Land/Torah-replacement movement' i.e. what Israel had been waiting for! The implication of all this is that God, through Jesus, is in dialogue with scripture reinterpreting and re-enacting the story of Israel through his life, death, and resurrection. Wright also provides a means for understanding the authority of scripture when scripture is understood in the more dynamic and open sense that I have been writing about. He describes scripture as being like a five act play containing the first four acts in full (i.e. 1. Creation, 2. Fall, 3. Israel, 4. Jesus). "The writing of the New Testament ... would then form the first scene in the fifth act, and would simultaneously give hints (Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 15, parts of the Apocalypse) of how the play is supposed to end ... The church would then live under the 'authority' of the extant story, being required to offer an improvisatory performance of the final act as it leads up to and anticipates the intended conclusion ... the task of Act 5 ... is to reflect on, draw out, and implement the significance of the first four Acts, more specifically, of Act 4 in the light of Acts 1-3 ... Faithful improvisation in the present time requires patient and careful puzzling over what has gone before, including the attempt to understand what the nature of the claims made in, and for, the fourth Act really amount to." Going back to my first book (and confusing metaphors), this is a description of us, as eaglets, learning to flap its wings in order to fly up to ride the thermals of the Spirit in order that our improvisations are Spirit-led. As Wright concludes, he proposes "a notion of "authority" which is ... vested ... in the creator god himself, and this god's story with the world, seen as focused on the story of Israel and thence on the story of Jesus, as told and retold in the Old and New Testaments, and as still requiring completion."

I see Satan fall like lightning by René Girard - "Girard brings our attention to three facts without which we will never make sense of our lives, our world or our faith, namely: the role violence has played in cultural life, the role mimesis plays in psychological and social life, and the role the Bible plays in revealing both of these things and showing us how to deal with them." Girard also reveals how the developing dialogue and narrative of scripture can critique, deconstruct and expose societal norms such as the scapegoat mechanism. Girard's thesis then gives us both an understanding of the way in which the fragmented, dialectical narrative of scripture can speak to our world (not just the interpretive community, for whom it is normative) and a basis/focus for our improvisations in Act 5 of the play.

Should anyone want to think more about these ideas of and approaches to scripture, I posted a series last year called 'The Bible - Open or Closed?' exploring them in more detail in dialogue with Philip and they can be found by clicking here.

I tag Interim Mutterings, one of the St John's housegroups, for this meme.

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Igor Stravinsky - Symphony of Psalms I.

CompassionArt & Deanery Youth Service

In January 2008 twelve of the best-known writers in the gospel/Christian music scene - Michael W. Smith, Darlene Zschech, Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, Tim Hughes, Paul Baloche, Israel Houghton, Graham Kendrick, Steven Curtis-Chapman, Andy Park, Stu Garrard, Martin Smith – got together in Scotland to spend the week writing songs that could impact on issues of poverty in some of the poorest parts of the world on a long-term basis. They wanted to be people that can make a change rather than just singing about it.

As a result CompassionArt was born, a charity dedicated to seeing works of art generate income for the poorest of the poor. When we sing a song in church it actually makes money. A royalty is paid to CCLI – the global body that oversees the process. They take out a small percentage to cover their administration costs and then pass the remainder of the royalty on to the songwriter's publisher who take a cut themselves and then pass what remains to the writer of the song who then splits it with a management team. But everyone involved in these songs from writers to publishers, managers to the team at CCLI have waived all their rights and allowed CompassionArt to own the copyrights. So the songs that were written in Scotland are now owned by the charity meaning that every penny will come to it and the trust will own these copyrights forever.

Our young people at St Johns Seven Kings heard about CompassionArt during a Youth Group session about Christian music and decided that they wanted to base a Deanery Youth Service on its work and music. They have come up with some great ideas for leading prayer and worship and their service will be held at St John’s on Sunday 5th July at 5.00pm.

By supporting our young people and coming to this service you can help CompassionArt support projects restoring choice and hope to people's lives. CompassionArt is a charity that joins the dots between art and poverty. It raises money to help breathe life into the poorest communities, restoring hope and igniting justice.

They provide funding to projects working with children in Uganda – some of whom have already endured the brutality of life as a child soldier – as well as children of sex workers in Indian slums. There are homeless shelters in the middle of wealthy western cities and orphanages in the middle of developing nations that are helped financially - as a result of the sale of CompassionArt albums, songs and books - all of them breathing hope back into lives that have been conditioned to believe that life may never get any better.

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CompassionArt - Friend Of The Poor.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Martin Wilson

Martin Wilson is an artist that I met at last year's Greenbelt. He also contributed a piece to the Northwood & Northwood Hills stns which used my Stations of the Cross meditations during Holy Week this year.

Martin has one of his pieces in The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, which is now open to the public. His work can also be seen in Leicester at Bishop Street Methodist Church in July.

Martin trained as a graphic designer and works is an art director for a large publishing business, but during his free time he is busy creating photographic artworks that tease meaning from the urban jumble.

His work captures words and letters from urban typography, such as road signs, number plates and billboards, or crafts new letter forms from material as unpromising as rubbish and road markings. He then re-appropriates these to spell out unexpected, but often familiar, messages.

His pictures are painstakingly created frame by frame on 35mm film, with the final images appearing only when the completed film strips are laid out side by side on contact sheets. Each work usually takes months to complete, as each word letter or image is obsessively taken in sequence, rather than pasted together after the event. If he makes a mistake or takes a frame out of place he starts the film again from the beginning. His works are all records of real journeys, the visual remnants of hours walking or cycling round town, bringing to life the unheard voices of the city.

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Stevie Wonder - Living For The City.

Prayer for peace in Congo

As a responce to the conflict and unstability in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a Prayer for Peace in Congo website has been established to encourage churches and individuals to pray for this war torn nation.

The Prayer for Peace in Congo website will be launched at the Houses of Parliament on 30 June 2009. Prayer for peace in Congo is an initiative, which gathers believers across Christian denominations, non-governmental organisations, churches, businesses and the political sector which campaign for peace and reconciliation in the DRC.

The website aims:
  • To pray for unity, peace reconciliation, stability and prosperity of DRC
  • To promote global awareness on DRC conflict
  • To encourage local churches and Christian organisation to put the DRC on their prayer agenda
  • To encourage UK churches and Christian communities, to campaign and advocate renewed stability in the DRC
  • To pray for a systematic end of war in all DRC territory
  • To support victims of the persecution in the conflict through prayer and other means of support
  • To pray for a systematic end of war in all DRC territory

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CompassionArt - There Is Always A Song.

Windows on the world (59)


London, 2009
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Nanci Griffith & John Prine - Speed of the Sound of Loneliness.

Rejuvenate Worldwide newsletter

Rejuvenate Worldwide Newsletter Date: July 09

Imagine an area with no prospects and little vision for their future! An area where there is no school and no access to education - leading to fewer children contributing to their community! Fewer adults being able to provide for their families through work, and a community affected by poverty and alcohol dependency.

Now…….Imagine a community with a school, where young people are raised with a vision and a hope for their future, where young people graduate and become the leading lights in their community, their community transformed by adults who are teachers, doctors, business owners and accountants.

This is NOT just an imaginary exercise….. What will you do to make a difference…..?

Andi Thomas - Rejuvenate Coordinator

NEW SCHOOL: Sironko Primary School

Working with community workers in Uganda together we have identified the need for a school to be built in a remote area on Mount Elgon – Kasabasi Village in the Masira sub-county. The villagers have little access to local towns and therefore no access to education without a school they can afford in their village. Without education Ugandans have limited options in their adult life. Land has been secured in order that Rejuvenate plan, build and supply resources and a teacher to the school.

SPONSOR A TEACHER

In England an average teacher’s salary is £25,000. In Uganda an experienced teacher’s wage is £1200. Are you a school that can sponsor a teacher for the new school? Can you do a non-uniform day each term? £3 buys chalk for a school for a WHOLE YEAR in Uganda, can you sponsor the resources a teacher will need? To read more and sponsor any of the projects in Uganda please visit Rejuvenate Worldwide.

RJW has been working in Uganda since 1998. On a recent trip to Uganda we were updated with the various struggles and challenges Ugandan's face daily and yet we take for granted.

YOUTH GROUP SCALE NEW HEIGHTS!

In May 20 young people from Reality Youth Group in Kingstanding Elim Church climbed Snowdon to raise money for the new school in Kasabasi village. A beautiful sunny day saw the team race to the top in record time with much fun had by all.

THANK YOU for all their hard work and amazing contribution!

We need your support, get involved!

Rejuvenate Worldwide is solely run by volunteers and we rely on the generosity of people like you to keep the charity running. You can support the charity as an individual or a group by praying or giving financially, getting involved in our events or organising one yourself. We would also love to come and share with you about our work by giving a presentation. For 2009/10 we are looking for people to get involved in:

1. Rejuvenate fundraiser evening Autumn 2009
2. Trek Italy 24 - 29 September 2009
3. Trek Tanzania (Kilimanjaro) 17 - 27 September 2009
4. Cycle Mexico 19- 29 November 2009
5. Giant abseil spring 2010

NEW FOR 2010 CYCLE EUROPE CHALLENGE

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Gillian Welch & David Rawlings - Red Clay Halo.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

C4M webpage update (12)

This week on the commission4mission webpage we have information about two openings with which we are involved.

The first was the opening of Café Refresh at St Andrews Leytonstone last Saturday. commission4mission's exhibition at St Andrew's from 5th - 16th July will launch their creative programme – Reflect – which will run alongside the café.

The second was the opening of our current exhibition at All Saints Church, Church Street, West Ham, London E15 3HU, from 20th - 27th June, as part of the West Ham Festival.

Finally, we also have a post about our newest artist member who is mosaicist, Viki Isherwood-Metzler. To see a good range of Viki's work click on the link here to view images on her website.

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Television - Marquee Moon.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Cycle & nature path

At the recent AGM of the Seven Kings & Newbury Park Resident's Association, members were updated on the delayed cycle and nature path for Seven Kings Park and Happy Valley. Our understanding is that funding is in place for this exciting new development, that outstanding legal issues have nearly been resolved and that work on the initiative may recommence shortly.

As a result, we have just written to the local press to say that:

"There is real support among residents for the delayed cycle and nature path for Seven Kings Park and Happy Valley and, given the length of delay, we urge all the agencies involved to ensure that work on this initiative restarts as a matter of urgency.

We also ask that, in contrast to the lack of information that has been provided about the reasons for the delay, local residents are given full information about the initiative and its timescale.

This project will be a positive development for the Seven Kings and Newbury Park areas and residents are impatient to see it realised and to enjoy its benefits."

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The Low Anthem - Oh My God, Charlie Darwin.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Airbrushed from Art History? (9)

So far this series of posts has summarised the first circle of artistic influence to come out of the French Catholic Revival; the circle of artists which formed around Maurice Denis and which, having been influenced by Bernard and Gauguin via Sérusier, was itself influential through the Nabis, Symbolism, and the Ateliers de l’Art Sacré.

The second of the four circles of influence that came out of the French Catholic Revival, as noted in my post summarizing where this part of the series is going, was that which surrounded the philosopher Jacques Maritain.

Jean-Luc Barré writes in Jacques and Raïssa Maritain: Beggars for Heaven of how poets, painters and musicians began gravitating around the Maritains, “most of whom they met in the company of Léon Bloy.” There was firstly their discovery of Georges Rouault, “then of Pierre van der Meer de Valcheren, a Dutch novelist who was presented to them in 1911, two days after his own conversion … Then, during the war, they met the young seventeen-year-old composer, Georges Auric, soon a frequent visitor at Versailles …”

Barré goes on to describe how these friendships led to the formation of Thomistic study circles at the Maritain’s home in Meuden “where close friends of the couple came together – Abbé Lallement, Roland Dalbiez, Doctor Pichet, Noële Denis, the eldest daughter of the painter Maurice Denis, Vitia Rosenblum, the brother-in-law of Stanislas Fumet.” Barré continues, “The year 1921 would see the first circle grow larger: a Romanian prince converted to Catholicism, Vladimir Ghika, a young orientalist eager to bring together the Muslim and Christian worlds, Louis Massignon, the philosopher Henri Gouhier, the writer Henri Ghéon, the future Abbé Altermann, among others, joined the study group.

In The Maritain Factor: Taking Religion into Interwar Modernism Rajesh Heynickx and Jan De Maeyer note that:

“the French poet, writer, and surrealist filmmaker Jean Cocteau converted under the influence of Maritain. For the painters Gino Severini, a pioneer of Futurism, and Otto Van Rees, one of the first Dadaists-both converts - Maritain played the role of spiritual counselor. And when the promoter of abstract art Michel Seuphor embraced Catholic faith in the 1930s, he, too, had extensive contact with Maritain. For all of them, the dictum of the Irish poet Brian Coffey, once a doctoral student under Maritain, applied: modern art needs a Thomist conceptual framework.”

This journey of significant influence began for the Maritain’s with Léon Bloy. The reading of Bloy’s novel Le Femme pauvre led on to their meeting with the man himself. A period of examination by the maritains of “the life, the doctrines, and the sources of Catholicism” ensued before, on 5th April 1906, “the couple, at the end of “long conversations” confided to Bloy their desire to become Catholics.” Rouault made a similar journey to that of the Maritains, first reading Le Femme pauvre before meeting Bloy. Barré writes that Rouault “seems to have come to the home of this prophet of malediction seeking for other reasons, and always more painful ones, to question himself and to set out towards the unknown.”

William Dryness writes in Rouault: A Vision of Suffering and Salvation that, “Jacques and Raïssa Maritain met Rouault for the first time in November of 1905, and Raïssa recalls evenings when she and her husband would sit and listen to Rouault and Bloy discuss “every important question about art.”” Rouault was, for the Maritains, “the first revelation of a truly great painter” and it was in him that they perceived “the nature of art, its imperious necessities, its antinomies and the conflict of very real demands, sometimes tragic, which made up perhaps the theatre of the artist’s mind.”

Their initial approach, Barré writes,“to this “true and great artist” in his imperious confrontation with the first demands of the creative act … then took form and developed into a reflection which ended with the publication in 1920 of Art et Scolastique.” Art and Scholasticism:

“set itself to demonstrate the autonomy of the creative act, the particular responsibility that falls to artists. Directed to beauty as to its very own absolute … art has “an end and a set of rules and values, which are not those of men, but of the work of art to be produced.” … Nor does the nature of art consist in imitating the real, but rather in “composing or constructing” by delving into the “immense treasure of created things, from sensible nature as from the world of souls.” In this way the creator becomes “an associate of God in the making of beautiful works.” … In praise of pure art, Art et Scolastique can be read as the manifesto of a new classicism, founded on “the simplicity and purity of means,” aspiring to nothing more than the veracity of the work itself. In modern art Maritain disclosed the first steps of search in this direction and noticed in cubism “the infancy, still toddling and screaming, of an art that is once again pure.” … it contained a kind of call, inviting philosophers and artists to enter into a “conversation” that would lead to an escape from “the immense intellectual disarray inherited from the nineteenth century.””

As Barré notes the book “was closer to Jean Cocteau and Erik Satie than to Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas” and, as a result, in the 1920s and 1930s, Maritain’s cultural criticism (Antimodern, 1922, Religion et Culture, 1930) and his reflections on aesthetics in Art and Scholasticism enjoyed wide interest in artistic and intellectual circles.

One example of this response can be found in Gino Severini’s The Life of a Painter. Severini writes of his encounter with Maritain as marking an important point in his life, in part because Maritain loaned him money to set up his own art school. During his initial meeting with Maritain it was clear to him that he was being submitted to a thorough examination on the part of those present (which included Ghéon, as well as the Maritains) and that his every word was significant to them. As he left, Maritain put a book into his hands, “saying: “Take a look at it when you have the time.”” On the electric train back to Paris, Severini discovered that he had been given a first edition of Art and Scholasticism and “was amazed at the extent to which it agreed with the most modern goals, and at the profound sense of freedom, from what supreme heights of intelligence, the author could observe, put in order, and clarify, everything related to art.”

Severini continues:

“… what a great sense of joy I felt upon discovering, in Maritain, the confirmation of certain thought patterns, certain ways of clarifying these to myself and to others, and, what I considered most important, of discovering a friendship and human comprehension of the most profound sort. Later the formidable significance of Art et Scolastique became clear to everyone, as did the caliber of the author, the transparency and clarity of whose soul recalls the purest of rock crystals.”

It was at Maritain’s prompting, via Alexandre Cingria, that Severini began working on Church commissions eventually becoming in the words of Denis, “the most famous decorator of Swiss churches.”

Severini writes that Jean Cocteau was chief among the “somewhat atheist poets” that Maritain transformed into Christian artists but notes too that this period “was all too brief.” Similarly, Rowan Williams considers in Grace and Necessity that “Maritain’s relations with Cocteau … constituted an important if inconclusive episode in the lives of both.”

Although Cocteau’s subsequent life seemed, from the perspective of Maritain, to be “going deeper “into the caves of death” and to be dealing with the “powers of darkness”, the influence that Maritain and Catholicism had had on Cocteau was not altogether lost. Something of this can be sensed in the church decorations that Cocteau undertook.

In 1960 he painted murals in one of the chapels of Notre Dame de France, London. According to eye witnesses, he always began by lighting a candle before the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes and spoke to his characters while he worked on the mural. For instance, he is reported as telling the virgin of the Annunciation, “O you, most beautiful of women, loveliest of God’s creatures, you were the best loved. So I want you to be my best piece of work too… I am drawing you with light strokes… You are the yet unfinished work of Grace.” Cocteau is buried at the chapel of Saint-Blaise-des-Simples, where he had also painted decorations. Before his death, he had also been making sketches to paint a chapel in Frejus which was actually decorated, after his death, by the gardener that Cocteau had trained as an artist shortly before he died.

The failure of Maritain's relationship with Cocteau came at a time in which more than one of those whose conversions he had won wandered away from their regained faith and in which he became suspect in the eyes of Catholics in general. He questioned whether he had been wrong and mistaken to bother himself with all these literary people. Reflecting these new problems confronting him, Barré writes that new and different friendships formed around him with his network becoming “more open to philosophers, professors, French and foreign religious.”

Maritain’s greatest influence on an artist was perhaps not on one of those that was a part of his immediate circle. Art and Scholasticism was important, as Jonathan Miles and Derek Shiel write in The Maker Unmade, to the thinking in Eric Gill’s establishments at Ditchling, Capel-y-ffin and Pigotts as well as to David Jones’s thinking about art. Rowan Williams writes in Grace and Necessity that:

“Jones’ exposure to Maritain came through his participation in Gill’s project. After demobilization in 1919, Jones studied first at the Westminster School of Art, where it appears that a catholic friend introduced him to Fr. John O’Connor. He became a Roman Catholic in 1921 and, prompted by O’Connor, joined Gill at Ditchling later that year … Thus, he was alongside Gill and Gill’s colleagues … during the crucial period during which they were all reading Maritain; and it is very clear that for Jones … this made sense of what he had assimilated at the Westminster School of Art.”

As Rene Hague later wrote, ‘the Post-Impressionist attitude to the arts fitted in very well with Maritain’ and ‘Thomism’.

Miles and Shiel write that:

“The philosophy of Maritain explored two related questions that are of importance for David Jones: signification and epiphany. By rigorous habit, the artist would not only be able to reveal this or that object under the form of paint but also make an epiphany, make the universal shine out from the particular. Thus, what is re-presented also becomes a sign of something else and if that something else is significant of something divine, then the art can claim to have a sacred character or function, a sacramental vitality.”

Similarly, Williams argues that what preoccupies Jones from the beginning is “precisely what so concerns Maritain, the showing of the excess that pervades appearances.” As his work develops, Jones comes to see that you paint ‘excess’ by:

“the delicate superimposing of nets of visual material in a way that teases constantly by simultaneously refusing a third dimension and insisting that there is no way of reading the one surface at once. As in the Byzantine icon, visual depth gives way to the time taken to ‘read’ a surface: you cannot construct a single consistent illusion of depth as you look, and so you are obliged to trace and re-trace the intersecting linear patterns.”

Williams notes that in several respects Jones takes Maritain a stage further. Firstly, in that “the half-apprehended consonances of impressions out of which an artwork grows has to be realized in the process of actually creating significant forms which, in the process of their embodiment, in stone, words, or pigment, uncover other resonances, so that what finally emerges is more than just a setting down of what was first grasped.”

Secondly, in “the way in which a life may become a significant form – as, decisively and uniquely; in the life of Christ.” He:

“illustrates a point Maritain does not quite get to. Jones implies that the life of ‘prudence’, a life lived in a consciously moral context, however exactly understood, is itself an act of gratuitous sign-making; moral behavior is the construction of a life that can be ‘read’, that reveals something in the world and uncovers mystery.”

Both are exemplified by Jones’ life and practice as he turns away “from one mode of representation in which he excelled in order to include more and more of the interwoven simultaneous lines of signification and allusion” in “an attempt to embody a more radical love in what he produces, a love that attends to all the boundary-crossing echoes that characterize the real, which is also the good.”

In doing so, he embodies in his art Maritain’s view that “the joy or delight of a work of art is in proportion to its powers of signification”:

“the more there is of knowledge, or of things presented to the understanding, the vaster will be the possibility of joy; this is why Art, in so far as ordered to Beauty, does not, at least when its object permits, stop at forms or at colours, nor at sounds, nor at words taken in themselves and as things, but it takes them also as making known other things than themselves, that is to say as signs. And the thing signified may itself be a sign in turn, and the more the work of art is laden with significance … the vaster and the richer and the higher will be the possibility of joy and beauty”.

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Peter Case - Who's Gonna Go Your Crooked Mile.

New mobile library site in Seven Kings

New mobile library site in Seven Kings

The Mobile Library will begin using a new site in Seven Kings from Friday 3rd July. Each Friday (from 3rd July onwards) the Mobile Library will be in St John's Road (outside St John's Church) from 11.15am to 12.15pm.

This is additional library service provision for Seven Kings at a time and venue that will be of particular benefit to users of the Aldborough Road South shopping parade, Downshall Centre and St John's Centre together with residents at Trillo Court.

Storytelling sessions for children

The next set of dates and times for Library Service storytelling sessions for children are as follows:

Wednesday 24th June 2009 - 2.00-2.30pm
Friday 17th of July 2009 - 11.30am - 12 noon
Wednesday 5th August 2009 - 2.00-2.30pm
Friday 28th August 2009 - 11.30am - 12 noon
Wednesday 16th September 2009 - 2.00-2.30pm
Friday 9th October 2009 - 11.30am - 12 noon
Wednesday 28th October 2009 - 2.00-2.30pm
Friday 20th November 2009 - 11.30am - 12 noon
Wednesday 9th December 2009 - 2.00-2.30pm

These are also all at St John's Seven Kings.

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Clannad - I Will Find You.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Death, change & opportunity

The Christian hope is to see death itself as change and opportunity. Saint Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15. 51 – 57 that death is not the end. Life continues beyond death but death involves a change to our life. What changes is that where before our bodies were perishable and mortal, after death they are imperishable and immortal.

What he seems to be saying is that the Christian hope is that the essence of the person survives death in a new existence with a new body and that this new existence provides the opportunity to live a life that is free from sin, guilt and death, the three things that dog and degrade our existence in this life.

There is a poem that is often read at funerals called ‘Death is nothing at all’ which captures something of this in its opening lines: “Death is nothing at all. / I have only slipped away into the next room. / I am I and you are you. / Whatever we were to each other, / that we still are.” But the poem is actually only a small part of a sermon preached by Henry Scott Holland, a Canon of St Pauls Cathedral, which examines the all pervading contradiction that everyone of us faces in times of death.

On the one hand there is the terror of the inexplicable – death is cruel, untoward and irrational – but, on the other hand, there is the inner conviction of personal continuity which death cannot destroy, the feeling that 'death is nothing at all.' Both experiences are real and somehow must be held together in our consciousness.

Holland ends by reassurring his congregation that we need not be afraid because when Jesus returns, as St Paul promises in the passage we heard read, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.' That is the Christian hope and the source of our conviction that death is but an accidental moment that changes nothing.

Holland concludes, “Let the dead things go, and lay hold on life. Purify yourself as Jesus bids you … Then the old will drop away from you, and the new wonder will begin. You will find yourself already passed from death to life, and far ahead strange possibilities will open up beyond the power of your heart to conceive.”

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Nick Cave & Kylie Minouge - Death Is Not The End.

Theology books meme

Sam tagged me with this ages ago (and I actually did a very similar exercise very early on in my blogging life which can be found by clicking here) but it's an interesting exercise in its own right and as a comparison with others, so here goes ...

Rules:

i. List the most helpful book you've read in this category;
ii. Describe why you found it helpful; and
iii. Tag five more friends and spread the meme love.

1. Theology

Biblical narrative in the philosophy of Paul Ricoeur: a study in hermeneutics and theology
By Kevin J. Vanhoozer - "by making words and sentences mean all they can, Ricoeur hopes to bring back to language its capacity for meaningfulness." I was excited by Ricoeur's linking of Biblical narrative with the creation of possibility as well as the description of actuality.

2. Biblical Theology

The Book of God by Gabriel Josipovici - Josipovici unpacks both the fragmented form of scripture and the implications for interpretation of scripture being fashioned in this form.

3. God

The One, the Three and the Many by Colin Gunton - an exploration of the implications of God in relation within himself as Trinity through the transcendentals – relationality, substantiality and perichoresis – which Gunton argues underpin all pattern and connection within the created order.

4. Jesus

Jesus and the Victory of God by N. T. Wright - a compelling account of how Jesus understood his mission; how he believed himself called to remake Israel around himself. Wright's focus on acted-out parables is significant both biblically and in terms of contemporary mission.

5. Old Testament

Old Testament Theology: Essays on Structure, Theme and Text by Walter Brueggemann - the first of Brueggemann's books that I read and it remains my favourite for its exploration of the dialectic of the Old Testament between its core/majority/structure legitimating testimony and counter/minority/pain embracing testimony.

6. New Testament

The New Testament and the People of God by N.T. Wright. I agree with Paul Trathen on this. As he wrote, "it helped me to understand Jesus as 'a one-man Temple/Land/Torah-replacement movement', ie. what Israel had been waiting for!"

7. Morals

I see Satan fall like lightning by René Girard - "Girard brings our attention to three facts without which we will never make sense of our lives, our world or our faith, namely: the role violence has played in cultural life, the role mimesis plays in psychological and social life, and the role the Bible plays in revealing both of these things and showing us how to deal with them."

8. (Church) History

The Descent of the Dove by Charles Williams - an idiosyncratic history of the work of the Holy Spirit in Church history identifying acts of substitution and co-inherence deriving from and in the pattern of the sublim co-inherence of the incarnation.

9. Biography

St Francis of Assisi by G.K. Chesterton - again Paul Trathen and I are in agreement, "a loving portrait of a generous man by a writer with a tremendous gift to write character well." Chesterton's description of Francis' life also sheds unexpected light on the paintings of Marc Chagall - the two inhabit the same perspective of life, seeing the world turned upside down.

10. Evangelism

Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture by Lesslie Newbigin - the twin dogmas of Incarnation and the Trinity form the starting point for a way of understanding reality as a whole, a way that leads out into a wider, more inclusive rationality than the real but limited rationality of the reductionist views that try to explain the whole of reality in terms of the natural sciences.

11. Prayer

Love & Fame by John Berryman - The 'Eleven Addresses to the Lord' are contemporary conversational prayer at its achingly honest best.

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John Berryman - There Sat Down, Once, a Thing on Henry's Heart.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Emotional prayer

The Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, notes that conversations with God characterise the relationships of those closest to him:

“Abraham says: God, why did you abandon the world? God says to Abraham: Why did you abandon Me? And there then begins that dialogue between Heaven and Earth which has not ceased in 4,000 years. That dialogue in which God and Man find one another.”

“Only thus,” Sacks says, “can we understand the great dialogues between God and Abraham and Moses and Jeremiah and Job.”

Many of the great figures in the Bible – Jacob, Samuel, Job, Jeremiah, Jonah, Habakkuk, Jesus, and Paul - seem to have viewed prayer as being more like a constant conversation with God than they did a scheduled time for making requests. But the Psalms are where most of the conversations between people and God are recorded.

Virtually all the Psalms are conversations where it is assumed that the hearer is either God or the people of Israel. Some of the Psalms are actually written as conversations e.g. Psalm 12. In verses 1-4 the Psalmist cries out to God for help, in verses 5-6 God answers and in verses 7-8 the Psalmist responds by expressing confidence in God. Psalm 77 is the record of a similar conversation with God. In verses 1-6 the Psalmist tells us how he cried out to God, in verses 7-9 he tells what he cried out, in verses 10-12 he tells us how God answered his cry, and in verses 13-20 he tells us of his response to God’s answer.

God wants us to be in conversation, in dialogue, in debate, in arguments with him so that we can find him for ourselves and actually embody his characteristics and interests ourselves. The conversations with God that are recorded for us in the Psalms are one’s that involve a whole range of different emotions. That can include complaint and protest as in Psalm 39.

We are often quite restrained in our relationship with God and in our praying. Therefore, we often praise God and say that we will obey or follow him but we rarely argue, protest, complain or question him, at least not publicly. But this approach to prayer is one that a number of Christian poets have picked up and used over the centuries, as in the poems that follow. As you read them you might like to pray the emotions of the poems.

Bitter-sweet

Ah my dear angry Lord,
Since thou dost love, yet strike;
Cast down, yet help afford;
Sure I will do the like.

I will complain, yet praise;
I will bewail, approve:
And all my sour-sweet days
I will lament, and love.

George Herbert

Thou art indeed just, Lord

Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend
With thee; but, sir, so what I plead is just.
Why do sinners’ ways prosper? And why must
Disappointment all I endeavour end?
Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend,
How wouldst thou worse, I wonder, than thou dost
Defeat, thwart me? Oh, the sots and thralls of lust
Do in spare hours more thrive than I that spend,
Sir, life upon thy cause. See, banks and brakes
Now, leavèd how think! Lacèd they are again
With fretty chervil, look, and fresh wind shakes
Them; birds build – but not I build; no, but strain
Time’s eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes.
Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Love (III)

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lacked anything.

A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.

George Herbert

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Kenneth Leighton- Let All The World In Every Corner Sing.

Windows on the world (58)


Seven Kings, 2009


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Oposium - Behind The Rain.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Insignificant beginnings

The Kingdom of God, Jesus says, begins as something small, unregarded, and insignificant (Mark 4. 26-34).

We see this lived out in Jesus’ own life. In human terms his life was small and insignificant, like the mustard seed. His birthplace was described as being least among the clans of Judea. His home town was a place from which no good was known to come. In appearance he was without beauty or majesty, undesired. In his life he was despised and rejected, unrecognised and unesteemed. In his death he was made nothing. An insignificant man who died in a insignificant part of the world.

That ought to have been the end of it but instead it was only the beginning. From that small beginning, Christ’s body – the Church, the gathering of all those who believe in him – has grown so that for many centuries Christianity has been the largest religion in the world; and that remains the case despite secularisation in parts of the Western world.

The Early Church reveals the same pattern to us. Paul wrote to the Christians at Corinth and says, “think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.” He says in this letter that, in the eyes of the world, Christians are foolish and the message of the cross is foolish.

The same words could actually be applied to us: none of us are major intellectuals or academics; none of us have major influence or power in terms of work or politics; none of us, so far as I know, were born into the aristocracy. The reality is that wonderful as each of us are, we are not major players on the world stage and that makes us, in human terms, one among millions of other human beings around the world. When we think of ourselves in those terms it easy to see ourselves and what we do as being small and insignificant.

We may not like to think of ourselves as being foolish, as well as insignificant, but that is how Paul describes the Corinthian Christians from the perspective of those considered wise in their culture. It is no different today, Richard Dawkins wrote in The God Delusion that God is a “psychotic delinquent” invented by mad, deluded people and our faith in God is a “process of non-thinking,” “blind trust, in the absence of evidence, even in the teeth of evidence.”

BUT what Jesus demonstrates through his life, death and resurrection and what Paul states in his letter to the Corinthians is that “the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.” The Message, a contemporary paraphrase of the Bible, puts it like this:

“Isn't it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these "nobodies" to expose the hollow pretensions of the "somebodies"? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ.”

What Jesus has done for us, in giving us a clean slate and a fresh start – points forward in history to a time when the whole world will be given a clean slate and a fresh start. In Revelation 21 we are given a wonderful future vision of God making everything new; of God moving into the neighbourhood permanently, joining earth and heaven together, and making his home with us. Wiping every tear from our eyes as death, tears, crying and pain are all gone for good.

Now we don’t have to understand how this happens. Jesus told the story of the man who scattered seed in his field without knowing how the seed grew. Farmers in Jesus’ day didn’t understand the science of how plants grew but they knew that the process of sowing seeds into soil worked and produced corn. It is not necessary to understand in detail the processes of germination and growth in order for the harvest to come.

Jesus is saying something similar to us. Just as we could not have anticipated that an insignificant rabbi for Israel who was killed after only three years of teaching would become the greatest figure in the history of humanity, so we cannot expect to understand in detail God’s plans for the future of the world; how the Kingdom of God will finally and fully come, how the vision of Revelation 21 is to be achieved.

What we do know though is what Jesus has shown us of the Kingdom of God coming through his life, death, resurrection, and through the change that he has made in our lives and those of others that we know. He introduces the Kingdom of God into the world and into our lives. He is the first fruits, the first sign of that coming Kingdom and, because we can trust him, we can trust that the Kingdom will come both more fully in our lives and completely in the new heaven and new earth.

This is not blind faith because, like the farmer, although we do not understand the detail of how the process or plan works, we know that it does work from the evidence of Jesus and from the evidence of his Spirit in the lives of countless Christians throughout history including ourselves.

And because we know that the process or pattern or plan of the small, the insignificant, the foolish being used by God to achieve great change, we can trust that our lives also have meaning and significance as we put our faith into practice in small acts of compassion here and little words of witness there; at home, at home, in church and in the community. We don’t know what God will cause to grow from these actions and words but we trust that they will take root and grow because that is the pattern that we, and Christians throughout Church history, have observed in practice.

So: “Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don't see many of "the brightest and the best" among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn't it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these "nobodies" to expose the hollow pretensions of the "somebodies"? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ.”

unregarded

Birthplace,
least among the clans of Judea.
Home town,
a place from which no good was known to come.
In appearance,
without beauty or majesty, undesired.
In life,
despised and rejected, unrecognised and unesteemed.
In death,
made nothing.
His followers,
not wise, not influential, not noble – fools!

The light of the knowledge of the glory of God
in the bodies and form of human beings.
Light shining
through the gaps and cracks of clay pots.
Light shining
in the unexpected places, despised faces, hidden spaces.
Light shining
in the poor, the mourners, the meek, the hungry.
Light shining
in the merciful, the pure, the peacemakers.
Light shining
in the persecuted, the insulted, the falsely accused.
Light shining
in the lowly, the despised, the nonentities.
Light shining
in weakness and fear and trembling.
Light shining
in the foolish followers of the King of Fools.

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MOYA BRENNAN - No Scenes of Stately Majesty.