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Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Gants Hill Art Project (1)










This post is the first in a new series undertaken in collaboration with Fr. Benjamin Wallis, Vicar of St Georges Barkingside. Our project involves photographing and painting the Gants Hill area on a roughly monthly basis during the period of its current regeneration. My photographs will be posted here and our work will also be displayed at St Georges.

There is an open invitation to others to join us and our approach involves conversations with any local people known to us or showing interest in what we are doing while out and about photographing and painting the area.

Today was our first sortie into the area and took in the contrasts of the Gants Hill roundabout and Valentines Park.
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Energy Orchard - Hard Street.

Serpentine & Westbourne Grove






I met up with Alan Stewart on Monday at the Serpentine Gallery for one of our periodic sessions comparing notes on our respective ministries while taking in some art. It was also an opportunity for me to firm up my input to the Everyday Icons day which Alan has been involved in organising.
We began with a coffee under the sinuous and mesmeric Serpentine Pavilion 2009 which provided the opportunity for some great 'Windows on the world' photos (which will feature in coming weeks) and the more descriptive photos above.

From the Serpentine, we walked through Notting Hill to Westbourne Grove where we saw Chair Poetics at England & Co and an exhibition of works from the School of Paris at Hanina Fine Arts.

Ralph Ball and Maxine Naylor use design as a critical, visual discourse to communicate ideas about design, culture and society today. In Chair Poetics ordinary, everyday chairs are reconfigured to ask questions about our relationship to utility, familiarity, obsolescence, sustainability and value. While interesting in their own right, the reconfigured chairs, to my mind, had greater aesthetic values in the photographs that Ball and Naylor had taken of them than in their battered and broken reality.

Hanina Fine Arts write of the School of Paris that:

"From the concentration of radical thought in Paris, after the second World War, a new generation of artists emerged, known as the Jeune École de Paris. These artists came from all over Europe and the vibrant and provocative nature of their work reflected the turmoil of civilisation and sought a renewal of language and aesthetics that would provide expression and orientation to the loss of faith in traditional values within post-war society."

These are artists that in terms of art history are not well known because they pursued abstraction after the Art World's interest had moved on from that movement to the next and subsequent movements. This does not mean though that their explorations of the potential of abstraction were without value making this an exhibition of surprises from artists about which I had read very little. I particularly enjoyed the thick brush strokes of Claude Vernard into which he scraped patterns and over which he splayed lines of pure paint.

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Fleet Foxes - Your Protector.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

MU Craft Evening

Writing with icing



Glass painting


Sugar moulding

Card making

Watercolour painting

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Duke Special - Portrait.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Windows on the world (71)

Walthamstow, 2009
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Switchfoot - Meant To Live.

Friday, 25 September 2009

c4m webpage update (22)

This week on the commission4mission webpage there is a report on the latest meeting of the Faith & Image group (on the theme of Buddhist Art) together information about the next commission4mission exhibition at All Saints Goodmayes as part of their Festival Weekend. The Goodmayes Festival weekend also features some excellent music and will be well worth checking out, as will the other event highlighted this week, the annual 'Big Draw' event at St Marys Woodford.

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Lifehouse - Everything.

Salty Gospel Reflection

My latest Gospel Reflection for the Mission in London's Economy website can be found by clicking here. In it I ask the question, 'What does it mean to be a Christian at work or in society?', and suggest that Jesus' teaching about being like salt provides an answer.

My reflection ends with the following prayer activity taken from Gerard Kelly's Humanifesto: “Take a handful of salt. Rough-grained sea-salt is best, but the refined variety will do. Hold the salt in your hand as you reflect on its power: to preserve from rot, and to bring out the many flavours of food. Ask God to show you how your humanity can be made ‘salty’ in its role on the earth.”

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Shawn McDonald - Pour Out.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Spiritual Life column

Here is the 'Spiritual Life' column that I have written for the current edition of the Ilford Recorder:

St Johns Seven Kings has just produced a new biannual newsletter about the community activities and events happening in the St John's Centre. More than 300 local people each week attend activities organised by a wide range of community groups including, among others, AA, Brownies, Contact Centre, Downshall Pre-School Playgroup, Kumon Maths, Shine Dance School and Slimming World. We have just organised a well-attended Table-Top Sale, are about to host a Coffee Morning with Redbridge Library Services and, over our Patronal Festival weekend at the beginning of October, will be organising a concert, film showing/takeaway event, and a barn dance. Our members are also actively involved in community groups such as the Redbridge Night Shelter, Redbridge Voluntary Care, Seven Kings & Newbury Park Resident's Association and TASK.

St Johns is by no means unique among churches in the range and significance of our community involvements. Earlier this year a report by Tearfund called ‘In the Thick of It’ described the role that local churches are taking around the world in meeting local community needs. Their report pulled together a substantial body of evidence highlighting the value of faith-based organisations in addressing development needs by presenting anecdotal as well as empirical evidence of the contribution that local churches make to the lives of communities. The report states that, as just one example, the Church of England contributes more than 23 million hours of voluntary service per annum.

Churches do this because we are seeking to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, who laid down his life for those who were both his friends and his enemies. On the night before he died he explicitly took on the role of a servant and washed his disciples feet before telling them to do the same for others. Churches have always provided many kinds of community service as a direct result of wanting to follow the example set by Jesus.

These practical contributions to community life often go unremarked by others but if churches were not involved in their local communities then much that is provided through the voluntary sector would not happen. Politicians and secularists sometimes question why faith groups should receive public money for community activities and facilities. The answer is right under their noses, if they were only to look for it. Without the community work of the churches and of other faith groups, the voluntary sector and all it provides would be seriously diminished.



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Moby - In This World.

Of orthodox heretics & pirates

There is a fascinating debate currently underway in the blogosphere on the use that Kester Brewin and Peter Rollins make of the metaphor of 'new heretics' in their attempt to shake the Church out of the bind in which it finds itself. Richard Sudworth initiated the debate at Distinctly Welcoming with the post here which led to comments from Kester Brewin and a substantive post from Peter Rollins on his blog. Richard Sudworth has then responded here and Rollins has made a further response here.

What interests me most in this debate is the dialectical basis of Brewin and Rollins' argument i.e. that transgressing the Law or Orthodoxy (as a criminal or heretic) may not simply be an exercise in law breaking for its own ends but may draw out how the Law or Orthodoxy itself is a transgression. Brewin and Rollins argue therefore for the existence of dual or shadow stories and their work on dialectics highlights this as a key but under-appreciated issue for our understanding of the Christian faith and our use of the Bible.

Slavoj Žižek, on whose work Rollins draws significantly, writes in The Monstrosity of Christ of all stories being dual and containing their own counter story whether told or untold. He cites Ernest Hemingway’s Killers as one example of this phenonemon. Killers is a short story which in ten terse pages details the arrival in town of two assassins and the resigned acquiescence of their target – the Swede – to his fate. As Žižek points out this story as told begs the untold tale
behind the enigma of the Swede’s calmness in the face of death. That story is not told by Hemingway, nevertheless we are aware that it must exist and are compelled to imagine what it might be.

When Rollins unpacks Brewin's suggestion that the Somali pirate’s activities may help us to rethink global geopolitics and articulate an alternative vision of where the real problems lie, he is making use of the same argument. He is arguing that there is more than one story at play in the situation surrounding the Somali pirates and that the Western Global Capitalist story:

"in which there is an ‘apolitical’ (conservative politics hidden as such) concentration on subjective violence (the violence done directly by the pirates – kidnapping, beatings, killings etc.) ... masks the political question that these Somali Pirates force us to ask. Yes they are often brutal and violent, but by stealing ships full of Tanks (bound for Kenya) and luxury goods (made often under horrific conditions) we need to go further and make the (non-symmetrical) connection between the subjective violence of the pirates (which should be condemned) and the objective violence of the system that they are directly attacking."

Rollins, through his use of the metaphor of the orthodox heretic, has applied this to the fundamentalist strand of the Church, for example in the post to be found here. Interestingly, it was within conservative Evangelical churches that I first observed this phenomenon, although at the time I would have lacked an explanation for what I was observing.

What I saw however was ministers imposing ethical requirements on members of their congregation in an absolutist fashion i.e. people were told, for example, that their relationships (boyfriend/girlfriend, new relationship following divorce etc.) were opposed to the witness of scripture and that they, therefore, were on the edge of rebelling against God and his word. These warnings were ostensibly given out of love for the individuals; the stated intent was to draw such people back into relationship with God. However, faced with the stark black and white choice between relationship with God and relationship with their chosen partner several of these people left the Church and as far as was known abandoned their faith. The minister's who had issued the warnings then justified their action in terms of the insincerity of the faith of those that had left.

These incidents were not simply about 'heavy shepherding' or hypocrisy on the part of either the ministers or congregation members involved rather they revealed that a dual narrative was in play when these incidents occurred. Actions that were intended to strengthen faith had the effect of undermining it and actions which were intended as loving were perceived by those receiving them as lacking in love. The publicly stated story of loving restoration also had a shadow story which was understood to be conform or leave. It was the shadow story which was understood or felt by those who left to be the real story, in contrast to the story as publicly stated.

The reality of dual narratives in our lives and practices is, it seems to me, something that we are often fearful of admitting within the Church. Instead we often speak and act as though there is only one story, one interpretation of scripture, and one 'pure' motivation for our actions and practices. Brewin and Rollins are among those challenging the naivity and, sometime, hypocrises of this position and, therefore, they receive flak from those with vested interests to defend.

However, there has been for some time an understanding and application of dialectics to biblical criticism and study. For me, the work of Walter Brueggemann stands out in this regard; in particular his suggestion that the Old Testament evidences both a core and counter testimony which are in dialogue with each other which the content and form of scripture. My posts on this and related issues can be found here.

Brueggemann's work is widely appreciated within Evangelicalism as well as elsewhere within the Church, yet it seems that while we can accept a theory of dialectics in relation to our reading of scripture we have yet to fully appreciate or engage with the implications for the way in which we understand ourselves and our ministries. It is on this ground that Brewin and Rollins challenge us and a key part of their challenge, which we often resist, is to acknowledge the existence of dual or shadow stories in our lives and ministries.

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16 Horsepower - Black Soul Choir.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Patronal Festival events


Our Patronal Festival weekend at St Johns Seven Kings is happening from Friday 2nd - Sunday 4th October and includes a really varied and interesting range of events and services:
  • An Evening at the Opera with the Lantern Light Opera Company presenting a selection of Gilbert & Sullivan highlights including songs from ‘The Mikado’, ‘Pirates of Penzance’ and ‘HMS Pinafore.’ Friday 2nd October, 7.30pm. Smart dress requested. You will be welcomed with a free glass of wine. Admission free but a collection for Church funds will be taken during the evening.
  • Coffee, cakes, recycling information (from the Redbridge Recycling Team) and a Free Takeway of books, ornaments, toys and all those things you never knew you needed. Please bring your own bags. Saturday 3rd October, 11.00am. Followed at 11.45am by a free viewing of an inspiring documentary film entitled ‘The Power of Community’ based on the experience of the people of Cuba in overcoming their lack of oil. Here is a lesson for us all to adapt our way of life to reduce our dependency on oil and to care for the environment.
  • Barn Dance – Saturday 3rd October, 7.30pm. Fish/Chicken & Chips supper, Tickets £6.00 (from the Parish Office). Bring your own drink.
  • Patronal Festival services – Sunday 4th October, 10am Patronal Festival Holy Communion (Preacher – Gordon Tarry) & 6.30pm Songs of Praise.
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Leo Brouwer - A Day in November.

Our Community Festival

Councillor Thomas Chan (Mayor of Redbridge), Fr. Benjamin Rutt-Field (Vicar, St Pauls Goodmayes), Mrs Chan, Myself and Gwen Nneji (St Pauls Goodmayes) on the United Churches' stall at the Our Community Festival yesterday.


The United Churches' information stall at yesterday's Our Community Festival.

Peter Shorer at the Seven Kings & Newbury Park Resident's Association information stall.

Audrey Shorer telling the Redbridge Carnival Queen about SK&NPRA.

Chris Connelly & Ali Hai on the TASK stall.
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Curtis Mayfield - It's All Right.

Windows on the world (70)

Villamartin, 2008

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The Style Council - Long Hot Summer.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Everyday Icons

We all know and recognise without thinking images and icons around us - from film and rock stars to shop logos and brand names - and now computer icons too. They are all around us and are so much part of our every day and everyday existence we never really think about them and the amount of ‘space’ they take up.

Sometimes we need help to clear away the clutter and image that presses in on every side and look with new eyes at all that we see and do. 'Everyday Icons' is a day organised by the Diocesan Initiative on Spirituality in the St Albans Diocese designed to provide just that, new ways of seeing and new ways of understanding all that forms part of modern day living.

Looking to the rich heritage that is ours, the workshops call on ancient traditions - from monastic to Celtic - to help us discover meaning in our every day and everyday life. At the end of the day, we want people to go away with tools for the journey that will inform and enhance the spiritual journey - the journey with God.

Brian Draper is the keynote speaker. He will be known to many from ’Thought for the Day’ as well as being a well regarded figure in the theological world where he has done much work to explore the interface between contemporary culture and Christianity.

I will be running a workshop called 'Stop! Don’t de-clutter it all: Praying through the everyday'. This will explore what we can do with all the ‘stuff’ that we find at the bottom of our handbags, briefcases or pockets? Keys, receipts, paperclips and more can be used as the basis for prayer. This workshop will help you find out how!

Everyday Icons: Finding God in everyday life is happening on Saturday 17th October 2009 from 10am - 3pm at All Saints Church & Richard Hale School, Hertford.

Worship will be by broken, a growing alternative worship community on the edge of London. broken are a community of people from a variety of backgrounds seeking to express and explore a 21st century spirituality rooted in the christian tradition. They gather at St Mary’s, East Barnet on the second Sunday of each month at 7pm and usually round off the evening with a drink before folk go their separate ways. They are an inclusive community, believing that unity can be found in diversity, that the sacred is sometimes found in the profane, and that life and light are to be discovered in that which is broken.

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alternative worship images.

Revelations of Divine Love


Meditation on Revelations of Divine Love of Julian of Norwich (1985 - 1988) by Alan Oldfield at St Gabriel's Conference Centre Ditchingham, Wednesday 16th September 2009

We enter
the painting
on the right
in shadow;
the shadow of
Mother Julian
on the wall
of her cell.
Constraining
rectangles
frame her
for us,
standing at
her reading desk
looking out
into her field
of vision.
Red and
white tiles
circumscribe
her cell-space,
as skyblue
walls
suggest
the infinite
breadth
of her visions.
One
painted panel
contains
her cell,
a further
three,
her visions.
16 screens
correspond
to 16
showings
set
side-by-side
like
theatre sets;
God's purposes
played out
on the stage
of history.
A tall,
thin
white
candle
levitates above
the tiled floor
illuminating
Julian's cell;
a 2D image
at its apex
becoming 3D
at its base.
The first of
several
optical
illusions;
what we
think
we see
never being
all
we see.
Julian looks
back
to her 16
showings
and we
follow
her gaze
to be
taken
back
to the
cross.
Sombre shades
and tones
conceal
a crown
of thorns,
an empty
cross
and barren
land.
Suffering
indicated
through
absence and
the shadow
of death.
Beyond
the cross,
the resurrected
Christ;
his winding
cloths
now worn
around
his waist,
spilling
before him
like the train
of a bride
rides behind.
A red band
rings him,
a cross-
shaped scar
upon his
breast,
head bowed,
palms held
to bless
those ministering
and receiving
at the
altar
below.
Behind
his head
the stage-set
of time
opens
revealing
'three heavens'
of infinite
eternity.
Beyond
him still
the vision of
the hazelnut
painted
planet-like
in a galaxies'
swirl;
planet or nut,
mass or pinprick,
all
will be well
and
all manner
of thing
be well -
the resurrection
initiates it!
So, finally,
the cross
wrapped
in the winding
sheets
of the grave
waiting
for release,
the sheets
becoming
the waved
flag of
vistory
at the return
when
the resurrection
of all
restores all
to wellness
and
the vision of
the hazelnut
come
to pass.
For now,
vision
extends beyond
the painting,
beyond the
showings,
beyond ...
where there
is shadow,
the shadow
of God,
revealing
the limits
of all our
imaging.
God is
beyond
the partial
and imcomplete
images
we construct.
The shadow
is God
waiting
in the wings
for the
moment of
reunion
when
we shall see
and know
fully
even
as we are
fully
seen
and known.

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Lifehouse - Whatever It Takes.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Windows on the world (69)


Hyde Hall, 2009
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Extreme - Stop The World.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Airbrushed from Art History (13)

The expressive element in art, Paul Tillich believed, was able to represent directly the ultimate (i.e. “an original encounter with reality below its surface”) and, as a result, is “adequate to express religious meaning directly, both through the medium of secular and through the medium of traditional religious subject matter.”

The reason for this situation Tillich wrote was easy to find:

“The expressive element in a style implies a radical transformation of the ordinarily experienced reality by using elements of it in a way that does not exist in the ordinarily encountered reality. Expression disrupts the naturally given appearance of things … That which is expressed is the “dimension of depth” in the encountered reality, the ground or abyss in which everything is rooted.”

For Tillich this explained two important facts:

“the dominance of the expressive element in the style of all periods in which great religious art has been created and the directly religious effect of a style which is under the predominance of the expressive element, even if no material from any of the religious traditions is used.”

Therefore, he wrote in 1957, that “the rediscovery of the expressive element in art since about 1900 is a decisive event for the relation of religion and the visual arts” as it “has made religious art again possible.” The “predominance of the expressive style in contemporary art” did not mean that we already had a great religious art but did provide “a chance for the rebirth of religious art.”

Tillich thought that, looking at painting and sculpture, we found that under this predominance of the expressive style over the first fifty years of the twentieth century, “the attempts to re-create religious art have led mostly to a rediscovery of the symbols in which the negativity of man’s predicament is expressed.” So, the “symbol of the Cross has become the subject matter of many works of art – often in the style that is represented by Picasso’sGuernica”” and that this is the “Protestant element in the present situation.” Tillich considered ‘Guernica’ to be the outstanding example of “an artistic expression of the human predicament in our period” and, as such, “a great Protestant painting.”

Tillich’s views are based on much that is standard art criticism, although the conclusions he draws from them are less so. Horst Uhr in Masterpieces of German Expressionism at the Detroit Institute of Arts, for example, states that:

German Expressionism was less a unified style than an attitude, a state of mind that in the early years of the twentieth century existed among young artists in a number of different places – in Dresden, Berlin and Munich, as well as in various cities in the Rhineland and Northern Germany. Profoundly critical of the materialism of modern life, these artists probed man’s spiritual condition in search of a new harmonious relationship between him and his environment … they were less concerned with resemblance than with artistic vision, and sought to penetrate appearances in order to lay bare what they perceived to be the inner essence of things.”

Uhr notes that the “term expressionism and the concept of self-expression in art, however, originated not in Germany but in France.” In particular, in the atelier of Gustave Moreau, one of the chief proponents of Symbolism, who encouraged “his students to express themselves according to their individual sensibilities” and from whose atelier came the key artists in the group which came to be known as the Fauves.

Most prominent among these were Henri Matisse and Georges Rouault. Sarah Whitfield, in George Rouault: The Early Years 1903 – 1920, writes that:

“In one sense Rouault’s aims were not dissimilar from those of Matisse … [as] he identified art with expression … When Rouault compiled his replies to the Mercure de France questionnaire in 1905, he ended by saying: ‘Art, the art I aspire to, will be the most profound, the most complete, the most moving expression of what man feels when he finds himself face to face with himself and with humanity’ … Compare that to the crucial paragraph of Matisse’s ‘Notes of a painter’ published in La Grande Revue some three years later, in December 1908, which begins: ‘What I am after, after all, is expression’, and ends with the celebrated declaration: ‘Expression, for me, does not reside in passions glowing in a human face or manifested by violent movement. The entire arrangement of my picture is expressive: the place occupied by the figures, the empty spaces around them, the proportions, everything has its share.’

Rouault, like Matisse, was unable to distinguish between his feelings about life and his way of translating them into paint, which is why both painters give great weight to the word ‘expression’. But, whereas Matisse assimilates the human presence into the overall composition, makes it subordinate, Rouault puts it in charge. In this sense it could be said of him that his means of expression are the exact opposite of Matisse’s in that they do, most emphatically, ‘reside in passions glowing in a human face’. The wretchedness that emanates from the colossal head of The Accused, or the furious indignation exploding from the eyes and the mouth of The Speaker, or the heavy bloated stare of Monsieur X, enforce the point that the key image in Rouault’s art is the human head …

Like Van Gogh, Ensor, Munch, Kirchner, Beckmann and Dix, all painters who have been labeled expressionist or Expressionist, Rouault belongs to the ranks of the artists who have in them something of the preacher. They appeal to the spectator by making him a witness to human fraility and suffering. The Expressionist painter, or indeed the Expressionist writer, selects characters who can be counted upon to elicit a powerful emotional response, hence the choice of anonymous archetypes invariably picked from society’s outcasts, such as ‘the whore’, ‘the drinker’ and ‘the accused’.”

William Dyrness contends, Rouault: A Vision of Suffering and Salvation, that “Rouault’s faith was the personal and emotional expression of his painful vision of human depravity and suffering. It was an emotional refuge rather than a reasoned apologetic. And it was precisely this lived-through quality of his faith that gave his paintings their tender, sympathetic profundity.” In his book Dryness examines the themes that we have already heard preoccupied Rouault with prostitutes, clowns, judges, the poor and miserable “painted as penetrating types of the misery of human existence” but with grace also seen as “divine meaning is given to human life by the continuing passion of Jesus Christ.”

Uhr notes, that of “the French, only Georges Rouault revealed in his work a comparably serious, indeed tragic, view of life” to that of German Expressionism:

“Evident in the art of many Expressionists and their associates is a … disenchantment with material values and sympathy for the alientated and downtrodden, often combined with an idealistic plea for the transformation of the existing social order. This informs the proletarian themes of Kollwitz, the joyless dancers of Heckel, and Kirchner’s anxiety-ridden city views, inhabited by men and women whose stylish appearance is matched only by their soulless indifference to each other.

Accompanying the Expressionist criticism of modern industrialized society was a conscious effort to become uncivilized, a yearning for an unspoiled form of existence originating in Neitzsche’s vision of a Dionysian return to the wellsprings of nature …

as the open countryside became an antidote to urban life for the Expressionists, they increasingly invested nature with a transcendental significance reminiscent of the nineteenth-century German Romantic tradition … Kirchner’s coastal landscapes from Fehmarn and grandiose mountain views from Switzerland are … subjective projections of empathy with the mysterious forces of nature, as are Nolde’s luminous seascapes and flower pictures from the north German plain. Marc and Klee also developed pictorial parallels to the rhythm they perceived flowing through all of nature. While the former found accord between living beings and their environment in his animal pictures, the latter combined colour and form into poetic metaphors of the very processes of organic growth …

Interestingly, many Expressionists were drawn to religious subjects at various points in their careers, motivated not by any conventionally orthodox considerations, but by the sense of disaffection which, according to Worringer, had given rise to Gothic art. For Nolde, biblical themes offered a refuge from rational existence, and Ernst Barlach’s religious imagery stemmed from an intense longing for a new relationship between man and God. Especially during the bitter years of World War I and the period following immediately thereafter, when questions of life and death touched millions and – if humanity were to survive – man’s spiritual re-orientation became more urgent than ever, themes of guilt and atonement through suffering took on a universal significance. In Christ’s Passion, Beckmann found a surrogate for his own anguish. Schmidt-Rottluff, Pechstein, and Christian Rohlfs turned to the Old and New Testaments in search of symbols with which to express their sympathy for their fellowmen.”

Uhr writes that:

“During World War I religious subjects occupied Rohlfs’s imagination again and again and virtually dominated his graphic output … his biblical paintings and prints provided him not only with a spiritual refuge from the distressing events of the time but also a means to translate his compassion for his fellowmen into universal symbols of human suffering and redemption. Entirely in keeping with Rohlfs’s warm and gentle personality, however, nowhere in these works is there a sign of bitterness, hatred or anger. Only rarely are such Old Testament subjects as the Flood or the Expulsion from Paradise allowed to interrupt the sequence of more conciliatory themes, like the Return of the Prodigal Son, a paradigmatic motif of love and forgiveness Rohlfs treated repeatedly during these years in paintings, drawings, and prints.”

Rohlfs has been encouraged by Emil Nolde to paint with greater expressive force and Nolde was also an artist who, as Felicity Lunn writes in Emil Nolde, “regarded his religious works as central to his art” saying that “he experienced both a greater struggle and a more intense pleasure in the making of them than in any other area of his subject matter”:

“The group of paintings that Nolde made in 1909, in particular The Last Supper and Pentecost, demonstrate the artist’s attempts to portray Christian themes “with spiritual content and innerness” through a radical stylistic change … “the transformation from optical external charm to an experienced inner value”, asserted Nolde in his autobiography …

The momentum that began with these two paintings continued for three years until 1912, a period in which 24 works were produced, including The Life of Christ, stories from the New Testament, particularly events from the life of Christ and their effect on others, miracles He performed and parables …

The tour de force of Nolde’s religious painting, if not of his entire artistic output, is the nine-part work The Life of Christ. The idea of making a polyptych first came to Nolde in 1912 when he happened to place next to each other three religious paintings from the previous year. The remaining six were painted in 1912, and due to a change in Nolde’s approach during this period the polyptych is stylistically heterogeneous …

At the time Nolde was painting The Life of Christ he was experiencing great stress, caused partly by the serious illness of his wife, Ada, but also by emotional extremes of despair and optimism. The spirituality that radiates from the biblical figures in Pentecost and The Last Supper seems to have been replaced here by exaggerated, almost caricatured features often distorted by aggression and anger. Nolde was currently plagued by doubts concerning Christianity …

The third period of Nolde’s religious painting came in 1915, following his return from the Southern Seas, and was accompanied by a dramatic simplification of both form and colour. One of the most important of the seven paintings he made on religious themes was Entombment … Nolde described the work as “the most beautiful … that I was able to produce for a long time … a painting handled in light silver blue, opposite yellowish gold, and in terms of content in inner religious feeling.” Other paintings made in the same year, such as Legend: Saint Simeon and the Woman and The Tribute Money are also characterized by simpler structures, gentler and more lyrical than the passion of earlier work. Although reduced in palette, the colours are saturated and intense.”

Nolde’s religious works were recognized as significant by his supporters but “in contrast, however, were the reactions of more academic artists on the one hand, and the Church and the general public on the other.” His “religious paintings were accused of being “destructive and vandalising” and full of “clumsiness and brutality” as well as “mockery and blasphemy” and, as a result, were on several occasions removed from exhibitions. Eventually The Life of Christ was prominently displayed in the Nazi organized ‘Degenerate Art’ exhibition which sought to hold the work of many of the Expressionists and other Modernist artists up to ridicule but instead drew large and fascinated crowds.

The reaction of the Church to Nolde’s work was typical institutionally (although not, as we have seen, of a theologian like Tillich) of its response to most of the artists we have mentioned here. Dryness notes that “Waldemar George, in the October-December, 1937, issue of La Renaissance, wondered aloud why the Church had so ignored Rouault.” An answer came in an article written by Pére Couturier in the review L’Art Sacré. Couturier argued that Rouault placed “material objects in the way of spiritual appreciation” as his “dark and fierce style sometimes blurred the profundity.” Couturier was arguing that modern art revived “deeper values at the expense of secondary factors such as literal realism” and later was able to assist in windows by Rouault being incorporated in the scheme of works for the Church at Assy.

Possibly the most infamous rejection of expressionist works in a Church setting was the commission in 1919 of Stations of the Cross by Albert Servaes for the church of the Discalced Carmelites in Luythagen, a suburb of Antwerp. When they were hung, they caused such an uproar that, despite there being support from many including Father Titus Brandsma who wrote articles about and meditations on the Stations, the Roman authorities ordered them removed from the chapel. The Stations were eventually purchased by a private collector and passed through several hands before being presented to Koningshoeven Abbey in Tilburg where they were hung in the cloister as a “work of art.” Their story, and those of Servaes and Brandsma, are well told in Ecce Homo.

More positive responses to the work of Expressionist artists can, happily, be found in the UK through the welcome afforded Ernst Blensdorf and Hans Feibusch, both fleeing Nazi prejudice and denigration of their work. Feibusch found a great patron and friend in George Bell, Bishop of Chichester, and went on to become probably the greatest muralist of his day (including the decoration of many churches) while also producing easel paintings, gouaches, drawings, lithographs and sculpture. Feibusch was a prodigious artist of great passion and energy.

Blensdorf too received support from Bell’s initiatives but settled in Somerset where “the beauty and availability of Somerset Elmwood persuaded and enabled him to develop a whole new style of simple, flowing shapes.” His Centenary Exhibition catalogue records sculptures for Hanham Methodist Church Bristol, Long Ashton Church Bristol, Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, Salisbury Cathedral, St Edward’s Catholic Church Chandlers Ford, St Johns Glastonbury, and St Marys Bruton. He “believed in using art to express the artist’s emotional responses and spiritual values” and “his most frequent motifs were the family, women, Biblical themes, dancers, seabirds or birds of prey, all moulded into shape by an extraordinarily complete mental grasp of three-dimensional form.”

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Tribe of Judah - Thanks for Nothing.

c4m webpage update (21)

This week's posts on the commission4mission webpage give the opportunity to sample Henry Shelton's current Stations of the Cross exhibition at St Barnabas Walthamstow and to find out about the work of Peter Webb in original commissions and community artworks at St Marys Woodford.

Regarding the Shelton Stations, Revd. Steven Saxby writes:

"I have been given permission by contemporary artist Henry Shelton to negotiate terms with any church interested in purchasing his Stations of the Cross, currently on temporary exhibition here at St Barnabas and previously displayed in York Minster. Henry and I are very keen to find these wonderful contemporary and spiritually engaging paintings a permanent home in a proper church context.

You can find information about and photos of some of the Stations via http://commissionformission.blogspot.com/2009_09_01_archive.html. St Barnabas already has a splendid set of Arts and Crafts Stations. We realise that not every church would be happy to display the non-Biblical Stations and would be willing to sell the set excluding these. Henry is also open to painting a final Station of the Resurrection for any church which would want this as the final Station.

The link above also contains information about Commission4Mission which several of us in Chelmsford Diocese have founded as a means of encouraging the commissioning of art and its benefits in furthering the mission of the church. The organisation was in part founded to raise money for a children's hospice. Experience is several places suggests that in return for some record within the church, all sorts of people are willing to give generously for the purchasing of art in memory of loved ones. We are seeking around £300 for each painting, half of which will go to charity. The paintings have a much higher commercial value. We are also open to negotiating a lower price and of suggesting ways of raising funds for the purchase.

If you, or anyone you know, might be interested, please let me know. The paintings are on display here till the end of September for anyone who would like to come and see them. I trust that the Stations will be a tremendous aid to some church in its devotion to our Lord and in its mission to the world."

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James Macmillan - Seven Words from the Cross Part III.

Success in Seven Kings Library campaign

It's a case of good news not taking the front page while bad news does but our community campaign in Seven Kings, led by TASK, for a static library in the area has been successful, as has been reported this week in a small Ilford Recorder story this week.

The Council's Cabinet have approved funding for a temporary static library, in the order of £200,000. They have a short list of locations for this library, primarily along Seven Kings High Road and are aiming to have the library open by Christmas. Additionally, longer-term plans are being developed to locate a swimming pool, fitness centre, one-stop Council shop, and library on the Seven Kings Lorry Park site.

Cllr Weinberg, the Cabinet member for Leisure, has been reported as saying:

"I would like nothing better than for it to open by the end of this calendar year but that is not in our hands - it's down to legal processes etcetera. If we can make it a Christmas present, then all the better."

Cllr Weinberg was Leader of the Council last year when TASK's petition calling for a static Library and signed by over 2,000 local residents was presented to the Council at a time when Cabinet was discussing an initial report on the possibility of a static Library in Seven Kings. At that time Cabinet dismissed the possibility claiming lack of funds. Our campaign continued, political change occurred within the Council, and Seven Kings is to have a static Library again after 17 years without. What a difference a year can make in politics!

A working group consisting of Council officers, local councillors, members of TASK and the wider community, will now meet regularly to progress the development of the new library and will work together to ensure the new facility is works well for the community.

Ali Hai, from TASK, has said:

“The people of Seven Kings are delighted with the news that after a long hard struggle lasting almost 18 years, a static library will again be located in the area of Seven Kings. The library will be a highly valuable asset in a community where there are limited community spaces and where the rapidly increasing, diverse and ageing population have ever greater needs for basic quality public services such as a library in close vicinity.

We hope the coming of this library will also be the long awaited start of the journey towards regenerating this key area in Ilford South and that it will form the catalysis of positive change across the South of the Borough. We are very grateful to politicians from all parties who supported the plans for the new Seven Kings library and to the Council officers who will hopefully deliver this library to us in time for a Christmas opening.”

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

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Airbrushed from Art History (12) An addendum

Last weeks Church Times had an interesting article highlighting the support of Anglican clergy other than Walter Hussey for contemporary art over a similar period to that of Hussey.

The article focused primarily on the friendship between John Piper and Revd. Dr. Victor Kenna but also mentioned the role of Moelwyn Mer­chant, a parish priest, academic, and sculptor. Piper wrote that “Kenna . . . had a lasting and import­ant influence on my life, combining as he did (and alas so few clergymen do) an understanding of the author­ity of the Church and the authority of form in paintings and sculpture.”

Stephen Laird writes in the article that "Kenna’s influential association with John Piper was to span 50 years. Nevertheless, the significance of their friendship has never been in­vestigated fully by art historians, or recognised by the Church." It has only now come to light as a result of Frances Spalding’s biography of John and Myfanwy Piper (John Piper, Myfanwy Piper: Lives in art) which is being published this month.

From his obituary in The Independent comes the following about Moelwyn Merchant: "Having achieved an international reputation as Shakespeare scholar and art critic, he became Chancellor of Salisbury. There he caused a stir in the Close by accepting from his friend Barbara Hepworth the gift of a large bronze Crucifixion which he controversially had placed near the door of the cathedral. To him it was an important expression of faith by a major contemporary artist; to some conservative Salisbury residents, it was threatening and sacrilegious. Again, he relished the debate.

He took up sculpture himself in his sixties and demonstrated an instinctive sense of form which was the envy of many a trained artist. He had some 30 one-man exhibitions, dominated by his trademark challenging figures precariously balanced. In his sculpture, as in other aspects of his life, he delighted in living near the edge, in querying received wisdom, in elegantly probing the limits of orthodoxy.

As his physical strength began to wane, Merchant returned to creative writing and published no fewer than 11 volumes of prose and poetry over his final decade. Full of energy and endlessly creative, he was a constant source of ideas and insights, one of those enriching beings who make you see things in a different, clearer light."

To these can also be added Bernard Walke for his relationship with the Newlyn Artists. He persuaded Harold Knight, Norman and Alethea Garstin, Gladys Hynes, Ernest and Dod Procter and others to decorate St Hilarys Marazion.

Entering by the south door and turning eastwards, one comes to a picture of St Joan of Arc, painted by Annie Walke, which formed the reredos to an Altar to St Joan. The pictures on the chancel stalls either side were painted by Harold Knight, Gladys Hynes, Ernest Procter, Dod Procter, and Annie Walke and depict scenes from the lives of Cornish Saints. Those on the priest's stalls represent, on the south St Hilery, and on the north the dedication of the church by the Abbot and monks of St Michael's Mount. The pictures on the pulpit, the work of Ernest Procter, represent legends connected with St Neot, St Kevin and St Mawes. The reredos of The Lady Chapel represents the house of the Visitation and was painted by Ernest Proctor. A large crucifix on the north wall is the work of Phyllis Yglesias, a memorial to Canon F Rogers of Truro Cathedral who died in the parish in 1928. West of the crucifix there used to be an altar to St Francis. The reredos, still in position was painted by Roger Fry. In the south west corner of the church there is the reredos, painted by Ernest Procter, of an Altar of the Dead, built in memory of Gerard Collier who during world was one sought to find a way of peace for the world.

Walke faced opposition both for the way in which he went about this redecoration of the church and for his Catholicism. Complaints were made, court action taken, and finally the church was despoiled by protesters, who smashed the altars and other ornaments and left the church in a sad and barren state.

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Beach Boys - I Just Wasn't Made For These Times.

Monday, 7 September 2009

For the benefit of others

The tradition of celebrating a harvest festival in schools or churches as we know it today began fairly recently in historical terms when, in 1843, the Revd. Robert Hawker invited his Cornish parishioners to a special thanksgiving service at Morwenstow church. Celebrations of the harvest season, however, date back many hundreds of years and whole communities, over the centuries, have been united by the growing and harvesting of food.

As we celebrate our Harvest Festival at St Johns Seven Kings this month in 2009 we could ask ourselves what unites our community in Seven Kings today. Our first reaction may be sceptical and cynical; that our community is now so diverse and different that there is nothing that unites us. I talked at our Annual Parochial Church Meeting about population changes in our locality and the challenges that these pose to churches in this borough and some may have thought that I was reflecting a similar scepticism and cynicism about our community.

That could not be further from the way that I think about the challenges we face as church and community from the diversity in our borough. I think that it is part of our Christian witness to find and contribute to ways of uniting our diverse community and that to do this is a sign that the kingdom of God is for all peoples everywhere. Sometimes I hear people talk as though the Church community should come first and the wider community second. But that is to think like the world in which people consistently put themselves and their needs first. Instead the Church is to be, in the words of Archbishop William Temple, the one organisation that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.

As we provide a venue for a wide range of community groups, as we host TASK meetings and contribute to the Seven Kings & Newbury Park Residents Association, as we deliver our own activities for the wider community, as we show care and interest to our neighbours and as we carry out our work tasks across London, we are regularly bringing different people and groups together in ways that would not otherwise be the case.

Our involvement in local campaigns for improved community facilities – library, park etc – is beginning to bear fruit. Attention is beginning to be paid to Seven Kings and its community in a way that was not previously the case. Local people and the local authority are more aware that this church and others are a key part of the local community both for the local facilities that we provide and the way in which we are able to bring people of different backgrounds and races together. We are seeking to build on this awareness with our plans to promote the Church Centre and its activities (Church and Community) more widely and to develop our garden area as a community garden.

We are aware too that aspects of what we are doing are controversial for some and have sought to find ways of talking about this and other controversial issues in the Church and community through our ‘Dealing with disagreement’ series (which has itself had a measure of controversy). We may not fully like or agree with this direction for St Johns – it may be different from and a challenge to what we have been used to – but we need to find ways of talking about this together, of supporting one another and the church as we move into a challenging and uncertain future, of continuing to seek and to find ways to unite our diverse community, and to do all this in the name of God who continues, as our text for 2009 reminds, to provide what we need even in challenging and uncertain times:

“The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the LORD will answer them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys, I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs.” Isaiah 41. 17-18.

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Al Green: Simply Beautiful.

Windows on the world (68)


Hyde Hall, 2009
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David Grant - The Anxious Edge.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Closing the gap between beliefs and actions

Simone Weil was a French Jewess who, in the opinion of Malcolm Muggeridge, was the most luminous intelligence of the twentieth century and who was reckoned by others to have had the most powerful mind of those in her generation. She was a Marxist who experienced Christ taking possession of her. Throughout her life she sought to close the gap between her beliefs and her life.

After completing her studies, instead of becoming an academic, as those with her abilities were expected to do, she began working on the production line of a factory to identify with working people. She later fought in the Spanish Civil War, worked on the land during World War II. Each of these decisions and actions affected her health and her life later ended because, while in hospital in England, she would only eat what those in the Resistance were able to eat and, as a result, starved herself to death. She has been an inspiration to many, partly for his writings but also for the committed, and even extreme, way in which she attempted to eliminate the gap between what she believed and how she lived.

That gap is there for all of us, which is one reason why it is so important that the letter from James, of which we have heard an extract this morning, is included in the Bible. James argues that if we allow the gap between what we believe and what we do to grow too great, then our faith is dead:

“Dear friends, do you think you'll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, "Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!" and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you?” “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2. 14-17)

This letter is arguing that we must consistently re-examine the gap between what we believe and what we do in our lives because our tendency as human beings is to say the right things and then do something completely different. Our tendency can even be to deceive ourselves about the way that we live our lives. Church can be used as part of that process of deception so that, for example, we might subconsciously think that by coming to church – praying the confession, reciting the creed and so on – we have done our Christian duty and can therefore relax and be ourselves for the rest of the week before coming to church again to, in a sense, baptise our hypocrisy once again.

Now, don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying that this is a particular fault of people here at St Johns but I am saying that it is something that applies to some extent to all Christians. At the end of the day, we generally aren’t prepared to do what Simone Weil did and die for our beliefs. Some sort of gap always exists between the demands that our faith makes of us and what we are prepared to do. That what the letter of James points out and that is perhaps what Jesus was testing out in our Gospel reading when he was so awkward with the Phoenician women. What he discovered by way of his unhelpful and discouraging responses was that her faith was not just words but was real.

One way in which we are able to re-examine our lives and the extent to which we still need to marry up our faith and our lives is through Stewardship. In thinking about Stewardship we think about the way in which we use our time and talents for God, the extent that we give financially towards God’s work plus our involvement in the community and our care of the environment. Stewardship is about going through the self-examination process of which I have been speaking together and seeing what results. Let us pray for good results as each of us re-examine our lives and actions to ensure that our faith is not dead because it continues to result in action.

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Philip Bailey - I Am Gold.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

c4m webpage update (20)

This week on the commission4mission webpage we have stories about the dedication of our first completed commission and about the opening of our current exhibition.

Our first completed commission, two paintings by Henry Shelton, was dedicated on Tuesday 1st September as part of the dedication by the Rt. Revd. David Hawkins (Bishop of Barking and Patron of Commission For Mission), Rt. Revd. Mgr. David Manson (Vicar General, Brentwood Diocese) and Revd. Roy Jackson (Superintendent Minister, Romford Methodist Circuit) of the new St Luke's Chapel at Queen's Hospital, Romford.

A set of Henry Shelton's Stations of the Cross are currently on show at St Barnabas Walthamstow as part of the E17 Art Trail. Steven Saxby writes about how thrilled he is to have them displayed at St Barnabas.

At the Greenbelt Festival there was much talk about eradicating the gap between what we believe and how we act. So it has been encouraging to return from a Festival celebrating the creativity of the Arts to these two specific expressions of that God-given creativity that commission4mission has incubated and brought to birth.

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Pierce Pettis - Grandmother's Song.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Olympic Village site visit

The Velodrome

Stadium entrance

The Aquatics Centre

The Aquatics Centre

View towards Docklands

Waiting for the bus

Entering the site

The International Broadcast Centre / Main Press Centre

Olympic Stadium

Olympic Village
Today I was part of the visit to the Olympic Village site organised by the London & South East Region of the Industrial Mission Association. We met in Stratford to join the bus and, led by our informative tour guide Victoria, were taken on an hour-long journey around the whole site.
After our visit we went to St Pauls Stratford, where Revd. Kevin Woolmer is Chaplain to the Construction Workers for the New Stratford City Shopping Centre and the Construction Workforce of the London 2012 Olympics. There we were led in a theological reflection on our visit by Fr. Dermot Tredget of Douai Abbey.
We thought initially about the complexity of relations between the large number of stakeholders involved and the difficulty of ensuring that all stakeholders can properly be heard.
We looked at several biblical texts (1 Corinthians 9. 24-27, 2 Timothy 2. 5, 2 Timothy 4. 7, and Hebrews 12. 1) which helped us reflect on the pressure that the organisers and athletes are under to succeed. Several of these passages, although not all, commend competing and completing as more important than winning and one commends competing within the rules (particularly relevant in the light of bloodgate and the recent football fines and bans on clubs and players perceived to have cheated).
We noted that, in her article A Hymn to Life: The Sports Theology of Pope John Paul II, Connie Lasher writes that, "Pope John Paul II speaks of sport as a school of human virtue that ennobles the individual and becomes a vehicle of friendship and social interaction on the part of athletes and spectators." Sport has the potential to enrich and develop people but can bring perils as well as promises.
Small group discussions then resulted in the following reflections:
  • the Olympics is elitist and the poor won't be there (e.g. no cheap tickets for locals);
  • the legacy should be the priority and a part of this could include community organising to ensure that the community is recognised and heard as a stakeholder;
  • the chaplain's role is a prophetic speaking to the structures of the organisations involved as much as it is pastoral with those working in the organisations;
  • chaplaincy involves continual negotiation as the parameters within which they work constantly change on a huge project such as this;
  • effective pastoral work among workers generates a feed upwards so that, for example, one construction company specifically sought out the chaplain to arrange specific dates and times for visits to their site as a result of hearing from their staff of the benefit felt in having the chaplain visit.
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Mark Heard - Lonely Moon.

Greenbelt diary (5)

Adrienne Chaplin had a go at defining art in her session exploring why we should bother with art. She did acknowledge the difficulties of definitions but suggested that what artists do is to make sense of the world as it appears and feels to us. So that good art teaches us to see, hear, sense and feel better; articulates the way we experience life as felt. Or, perhaps, as Richard Harries puts it in his introduction to Forms of Transcendence: The Art of Roger Wagner (a book I bought at the Festival and read in the queue for The Rising) "every work of art is a deeply felt response to life seen in a particular way."

The most interesting idea which Chaplin posited was that of the importance of touch. Touch, she suggested, is the foundation of the senses. Touch is the first and last sense for us in birth and death, sensations via our skin cannot be avoided or eradicated, and touch is the basis of many lingual metaphors such as tough, smooth, prickly, warm etc.

I saw the Cloud of Witness installation and Gethsemene data projection but wasn't impressed or moved by either. I enjoyed Meryl Doney's guided tour of the Visionaries exhibition where I caught up with Martin Wilson and heard a little about the photographic project he had worked on at this year's Festival to be shown at next years.

Martyn Joseph conversed and performed with three emerging and engaging artists in The Rising and then with poet and lyricist Stewart Henderson. Humourous and profound by turn and in tandem, this was a performance littered with lingual brilliance. At the end they took questions from the audience which led both to state why Greenbelt is so important to them. As for many who go, the combination of friendships, art, questions, and challenge make it 'church' for them (for a similar statement from a punter, click here for a post by Steve Lawson).

While waiting for Athlete I made what for me this year was a rare foray over to the Performance Cafe but was rewarded by a short but sweet set from Sister Jones. Their folk/r&b style was fused with gospel lyricism to great effect and in a seemingly effortless fashion.

Athlete played a great gig but are in need of some U2-style reinvention. The new album, Black Swan, has more light and shade than Beyond the Neighbourhood but both are locked into the anthemic template of the excellent Tourist without tapping into the originality of Vehicles and Animals. Maybe they need to take their own advice and make some magical mistakes. Despite this, they sent me home on a high with the sense that it will be alright and that hope is never light years away.

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Athlete - Black Swan Song.