Wikio - Top Blogs - Religion and belief

Thursday, 31 December 2009

Science Fiction reviews

I've been enjoying some Science Fiction post-Christmas in reading Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow and watching James Cameron's Avatar.

The Sparrow is an unusual Science Fiction novel in that its theme is of a crisis of conscience for Emilio Sanchez, its Jesuit central character. It's a well written story, once it gets going, with an engaging central character who is honest about the deficiencies and the inspirations of his faith. The split narrative works well before meshing at the conclusion to bring together the events of the central crisis and the response to it. This central crisis is genuinely shocking although its resolution is probably a little too easy and dealt with too briefly but the novel, as a whole, provides an engaging and challenging exploration of God's presence and guidance in human exploration and suffering.

Avatar has been criticised as a simplistic eco-fable with good indigenous characters lined up against the evil exploitative humans but this is to ignore the conversion of Jake Sully, its central character. This conversion, supported by the other members of his immediate team, is that which is needed by the human race if climate change and peak oil are to be countered and a narrative and world in which we can be immersed, as is possible in watching Avatar, can have an effect in changing consciousness of the issues. For that to be the case, both the narrative and the world created and imagined have to be of sufficient depth for the viewer to become immersed and this seemed to me to be the case with Avatar.

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Woven Hand - The Beautiful Axe.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Community Garden project

The interview which I gave at the Faith and Climate Change Conference for the OU/BBC's Creative Climate project is now on their website.

In part of the interview I talk about the community garden project at St John's Seven Kings, for which we have recently gained funding through London over the Border and the Area 5 & 7 Committees.

The project aims to redevelop the garden around the east end of the church as a community garden in order to encourage local people to use the garden for rest and reflection by introducing: additional seating areas; areas of sensory and remembrance planting; artworks, and community information.

Our more detailed plans are:

1. Additional seating areas - locate benches at the north and south ends of the East Wall and a companion seat at the church end of the remembrance area.

2. Areas of sensory and remembrance planting – create sensory borders around each of the East Wall benches by: use trellis behind the benches to grow climbers such as honeysuckle and winter jasmine; and borders of low growing, scented plants (such as lavender and rosemary) alongside the benches; and create a remembrance area at the far north end of the garden (in front of the Fellowship Room) using slate chips to cover the ground, a low chain link fence to delineate the area, and planting miniature roses and French lavender (in memory of loved ones) within the area.

3. Artworks – introduce a community mosaic or mural along the middle of the East Wall. An artist would be commissioned to design and make the mosaic/mural through community art workshops involving local people (i.e. school, community groups etc.); commission a sculpture for the centre of the remembrance area; and display art posters and/or paintings on the reverse of the noticeboards.

4. Community information – replace the existing noticeboards with new noticeboards in the same or similar locations, one of which would be for community information.

5. Additional plans – remove the border along the Aldborough Road South wall and replace with grass; create a circular border around the holly tree, add a bird bath and feeders, and plant with grasses; plant choisya, hebes, dogwood, ceanothus, spirea, and osteopermum in the East Wall border below the mosaic/mural; narrow and thin the border along the St John’s Road wall and plant a Judas Tree at the corner of St John’s Road and Aldborough Road South; locate an outside tap close to the Fellowship Room porch.

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Creed - Rain.

Faith-based leadership models (5)

Shared leadership

A key aspect of shared leadership is dialogue. Good conversation involves us in cooperating, thinking of each other’s feelings and experiences, and giving each room to talk.

This is an area where faith communities hold considerable resources.

The Inter Faith Network for the UK, for example, has published a Code of Conduct for interfaith dialogue that contains useful lessons for all leaders. Their Code suggests that when “we talk about matters of faith with one another, we need to do so with sensitivity, honesty and straightforwardness. This means:

• recognising that listening as well as speaking is necessary for a genuine conversation;
• being honest about our beliefs and religious allegiances;
• not misrepresenting or disparaging other people's beliefs and practices;
• correcting misunderstanding or misrepresentations not only of our own but also of other faiths whenever we come across them;
• being straightforward about our intentions; and
• accepting that in formal inter faith meetings there is a particular responsibility to ensure that the religious commitment of all those who are present will be respected.”

Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, has written of the way in which the “wisest is not one who knows himself wiser than others: he is one who knows all men have some share of wisdom and is willing to learn from them, for none of us knows all the truth and each of us knows some of it.”

Sacks has written about argument, debate and conversation as being a fundamental aspect of Judaism. He argues that this is because Judaism is “an attempt to do justice to the fact that there is more than one point of view; more than one truth.” He says that we must learn the art of conversation as it is only as we allow our world to be enlarged by others who think and act in radically different ways from us that truth emerges.

The Hindu understanding of pluralism holds similar potential for peaceful coexistence between those holding differing views. Because each of us are different we all approach reality in different ways. Therefore none of us can claim to know absolute truth. On this basis we can simply say, “your ideas and belief suit you and are best for you, mine are fine for my purposes so why threaten or feel threatened by each other?” True leadership therefore involves the humble recognition of the necessary limitations of what we perceive as absolute.

Soul

Deepak Chopra has become recognised as one of the top motivational speakers internationally by seeking to bridge the “technological miracles of the west with the wisdom of the east", principally Hinduism. Chopra argues that leaders are the symbolic soul of an organisation or group. At different times, groups need a parent, protector, ruler, muse or visionary. Successful leaders embody the values for which their group or organisation hungers. Leaders are born as they sense the felt need of the group or organisation.

Great leaders understand lower needs, like the need to feel safe, and meet these but also respond from the higher levels of spirit by understanding that their followers yearn for freedom, love, and spiritual worth. Great leaders, Chopra argues, are in touch with every level of human experience.

Alan Briskin has argued, in The Stirring of Soul in the Workplace, that the soul is a place of union among opposites and, in a world where there is information overload, represents our ability to hold onto the whole and create coherence through relationships with others. Soul “resides in the tension between apparent opposites” and it is in grappling with contradictions that soul is stirred into being. He quotes an ancient Sufi teaching: “You think because you understand one you must understand two, because one and one make two. But you must also understand and.” Briskin points out that the and is the point of overlap that unites in relationship. Caring for the soul, he suggests, involves an appreciation for and.

Doing so involves both dialogue and respect for uncertainty and is the source of creativity within workplaces. Dialogue is important because when we dialogue “we meet at the crossing between the forms of each other’s thought.” Respect for uncertainty is significant because by looking for patterns and attempting to find opportunities in the new patterns that emerge we can recalibrate our own intentions and forge relationships that incorporate randomness rather than condemning it. This does not mean the abandonment of planning and accountability but does involve operating in a richer perspective that tolerates “both a causal connection between events and an appreciation for the dice being thrown.”

Similarly, Danah Zohar, in SQ: The Ultimate Intelligence, has argued that Spiritual Intelligence (SQ) is our access to and use of meaning, vision and value in the way that we think and the decisions that we make. As such, it is the intelligence that makes us whole and that gives us integrity. SQ is about integrating, understanding and always adapting to new perspectives, Zohar suggests that the following generate a high SQ:

• being flexible – the world is a place of multiple realities, so live in it;
• being self-aware – look inward and don’t be afraid of what you’ll find;
• have a vision and be led by your values;
• use adversity – learn from death, failure and the things you fear;
• be holistic – see the big picture;
• be open to diversity – enjoy difference, like flexibility;
• be your own person – find true faith in your own convictions;
• ask “Why?” – it works for kids!
• reframe – step back and find the broader context;
• practice servant leadership; and
• create conditions for change.

Zohar argues that it is when we are a little uncomfortable that learning and innovation is most likely to occur.

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Henryk Gorecki - Miserere.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Windows on the world (83)

London, 2009

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Sufjan Stevens - Joy To The World.

Congestion and expansion

The latest piece of community action with which I have been involved is a petition opposing the expansion of a local school unless issues of traffic congestion around the school are resolved as part of the expansion process. Last Monday I presented a petition of local residents to the Area 5 Committee and made the following presentation:

"I wish to present a petition from residents of Royal Close, Regent Gardens and Farnham Road opposing the planned expansion of Farnham Green School unless the existing problem of traffic congestion in these three roads at School dropping off and picking up times is resolved as part of the expansion process.

The current level of traffic congestion at school dropping off and picking up times is dangerous for children and residents alike and will be made much worse by expansion. The situation is that Farnham Green School has only one minor access road. At School dropping off and picking up times cars are parked both along one side of Royal Close and Regent Gardens and half on the pavement, half on the road on the other. This leaves only a narrow central lane through which cars are able to move. As a result, the roads become gridlocked and access to and from the estate is severely curtailed. In order that traffic flows at a minimal level, cars will park on double yellow lines and resident’s driveways. The number of cars on pavements also forces parents/carers and children into the road in order to be able to reach the School.

When the traffic flow is only possible in one direction (usually exiting the estate) it is not possible to vehicles to access the estate for a considerable period of time. Were there to be an incident either on the estate or at the School it would be extremely difficult, and at times impossible, for an emergency vehicle to access the estate or School.

The volume of traffic movements in a confined space, the potential for road rage to which this volume of traffic leads, and, most importantly, the lack of access for emergency vehicles to the school, let alone elsewhere on the estate, are all causes of real and immediate concern for residents. These issues will all be exacerbated by expansion unless the problem of traffic congestion is solved by new initiatives.

This issue is well known to the School and Council alike. The School regularly and generally unsuccessfully try to encourage parents to walk or cycle to the School. The Council have in the last year introduced double yellow lines on parts of the road but because these are not policed they are ignored by car users at School dropping off and picking up times.

Despite the School and Council being well aware of this issue, it is our understanding that the plans and expansion budget originally presented to Governors on which they made their decision in favour of expansion did not address the issue of traffic congestion or cost any solutions to the issue.

We understand that the issue of congestion will be considered through consultation and the planning process at a later stage in the development. Our problem with this approach is firstly that a budget for expansion has already been set without consideration of the issue or the costs involved in resolving it and secondly that local authority budgets for 2010 and beyond are anticipated to be exceptionally tight, therefore we question where the additional money needed in order to address this essential issue will come from. From our perspective, the Council’s planning process seems to militate against adequate addressing of an issue that, without being addressed, has the potential to compromise the expansion plans.

We are also concerned about the minimal level of consultation with local residents to date in the planning process. Local residents were not consulted in the first phase of consultation and, in the current second phase, the only information provided to residents is one A4 notice on one of the School gates with the School located in part of the estate to which residents have no reason to go.
I am sure that Council staff will have followed the correct procedures for the planning process but in doing so they appear to have done the absolute minimum necessary and not to have proactively ensured resident’s awareness of the issue. This, it seems to me, is unacceptable from a Council which claims to value community consultation.

We are not opposed to expansion of Farnham Green per se (we recognise the very real issues that the Council are seeking to address through expansion) but we are opposed to expansion without solving the issue of traffic congestion on the estate. We are concerned that, because a budget has been set and costed plans drawn up without any discussion of the issue of traffic congestion and because consultation with residents has to date been minimal in the extreme, that the Council intends driving the expansion plans through without adequately resolving the congestion issues.

I would therefore be grateful for an assurance that this is not the case, a statement of how the issue of traffic congestion in these roads is to be considered, and an indication of where additional funds for solutions may be found."

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Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band - Racing In The Street.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Inspirational stories




This weekend at St Johns Seven Kings we have been hosting Bisoke Balikenga, Provincial Youth and Children's Work Co-ordinator for the Anglican Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is Bisoke's second visit to St John's, as he came once before as part of a youth team brought by our CMS Mission Partner, Judy Acheson. His story since that time, as told in a 2007 article from CMS, is an inspirational one of making an impact in the community by helping young people to thrive in spite of the difficulties brought on by years of war in the DRC:

"Back in 1989 youth ministry in the Diocese of Boga was launched in Bunia. CMS mission partner Judy Acheson was serving as Co–ordinator at the time and was instrumental in the starting of the youth ministry, which was called ‘Agape’. It became a model that was replicated in other dioceses in the DRC.

In 1999, Bisoke Balikenga and his wife Furaha received CMS scholarships to study at Daystar University in Nairobi while the youth ministry in Boga Diocese remained in the hands of other capable leaders such as Jijika Kambonesa. By this time Judy was the Provincial Co–ordinator of Agape. So, although Balikenga and Furaha were away for four–and–a–half years, the youth ministry grew rapidly and it touched many young people’s lives.

Fresh from training, the couple brought in new expertise that helped to sustain the work and to create strategies for further growth, and made all the difference. Balikenga’s qualifications are in Business Administration and Management, and Peace and Reconciliation. Furaha majored in Accounting and also took Community Development.

“First of all, my mind has been opened and I have no fear of making any change in this world, especially in our church. I know how to manage the youth and how to meet their expectations and those of adults. I also know how to reconcile people and how to build peace among people,” says Balikenga.

For Furaha, the many needs of women in her community were among the issues at the forefront of her plans following her training. “In Ituri, only five per cent of women have been to primary school, and only one per cent of them have gone to secondary school. My vision is to help the women to learn how to read and write, and to encourage those who want to study, so they’re not seen as just housewives, cooks or mothers. They have to contribute to the development of our society in other ways too,” Furaha says.

Her activities involve encouraging women to gain literacy skills and to start small businesses. She also teaches women how to manage and plan for their homes as well as teach their children God’s word.

The youth ministry has experienced tremendous growth in the various areas of its operation. The evangelism programme reaches out to young people with the Gospel. During holidays there is a programme for the youth that helps to keep them active and to behave responsibly.
There’s also a team, which runs Peace and Reconciliation seminars to help to bring about healing from ethnic clashes and civil strife.

In the Development Section the youth are taught life skills and to start projects and co–operatives in their villages. There’s an agricultural centre, which provides seeds and seedlings. A trainer gives instructions on how to grow them. The centre is also used to give the numerous people raped in the war a new lease on life. They are given seeds to plant, taught God’s word and how to interpret the Bible as well as to read and write.

The youth ministry also runs the “Girl Hope Centre” in Bunia, where 176 women and girls come four times a week to learn various skills including knitting, sewing, reading and writing. It is a trauma–healing centre, which caters for people who suffered greatly in the war: some lost all their property; some were raped; and others received no education.

In the Community Health Section, the youth receive training on HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention. Blood testing is provided so people can know their serostatus. They are taught nutrition and how to take care of their bodies.

Balikenga and Furaha started Hope for Orphan Children in Ituri (HOCI) in 2005 to respond to the problem of parentless children in the Ituri Province, where the town of Bunia is located.
Money was raised to purchase the buildings that now house the ministry. The centre is called “Bunia Children Hope Centre”.

The project aims to help children who are victims of civil war, ethnic killings and HIV/AIDS.
Over 100 children who come to the centre do not have any extended family. They rely on the centre to meet their physical, social and spiritual needs. They do not stay at the centre. Local people have taken them into their homes, providing them with overnight shelter and an evening meal. The centre provides porridge at midday.

Many host families are very poor and unable to feed an extra child. At one point, a local farmers’ association agreed to provide each host family with 10 kg of rice and 5 kg of beans for each orphan once a month, but that service ended in June 2006.

Approximately 200 other children take part in some of the weekend programming, particularly the spiritual–growth and HIV/AIDS training. Funds are limited so most of the HOCI staff do not receive pay. The teachers and counsellors are given a small amount of money to buy soap and sugar each month. They agreed to start work on a voluntary basis on the understanding that the centre would start paying them when funds became available. In the face of such challenges, children and adults alike have learned to look to God for their every need."

Although some of the programmes run by the Agape Youth Department in the Diocese of Boga have changed since that article was written in 2007, as a result of changes to funding, St Johns Seven Kings has continued to fund a post in the Agape Youth Department throughout. Bisoke meanwhile has been appointed as Judy Acheson's successor at Provincial Youth and Children's Work Co-ordinator and has become a CMS Mission Partner through the Timothy Fund, which supports local mission partners who are talented servant leaders only lacking in financial support.
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Steeleye Span - Gaudete.

c4m webpage update (30)

On the commission4mission webpage this week are posts about our new catalogue of artists and the donation of Rosalind Hore's The Baptism of Jesus to St Edmunds Tyseley.

Our newly produced catalogue briefly tells our story and profiles our current artists showcasing the wide range of media and styles which can be commissioned from our artists. The catalogue includes an article on the 'Challenges of Church Art' that I have written, a copy of which is included in this post.

The Baptism of Jesus by Rosalind Hore is to find a permanent home in 2010 at St Edmund's Tyseley. The painting is one that I am donating to the Birmingham-based church as a memorial to my father, Revd. Phil Evens, who spent 10 years in Tyseley as Vicar of St Edmunds.

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Lone Justice - I Found Love.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana

I've recently finished reading the second in Anne Rice's 'Christ the Lord' trilogy of novels, The Road to Cana.

The trilogy's basic premise - a fictional autobiography of Christ - is interesting simply in terms of how to approach the task. In Out of Egypt, which covers Christ's childhood, Rice had apochryphal stories of Jesus' childhood to draw on in addition to the Gospel accounts but here has no source material on which to draw until she reaches the commencement of Christ's ministry. She tackles this absence of source material firstly by developing further the family life setting which she had created through Out of Egypt and secondly by pre-figuration; the idea that Jesus' responses to people and situations in his ministry may have been pre-figured by experiences in his early adulthood. The key gospel story on which Rice draws for her depiction of Christ's early adulthood is that of the woman caught in adultery.

Rice uses both techniques to good effect in The Road to Cana such that she creates a pre-history for Christ which seems consistent both with the Gospel narratives and with the character and personality of Christ which emerges from those narratives. The fictional pre-history of The Road to Cana is also dramatic and engaging; which seems to me to be a considerable achievement.

I wonder how Rice will complete the trilogy as retelling the Gospel narratives is a different challenge from the challenge of filling in the gaps that has been the primary challenge of the first two books. However, the portents are good in the way in which Gospel stories are retold and reused in the final section of The Road to Cana. It will be interesting to see whether the fictional family narrative which Rice has developed through the first two novels then influences or even swamps the retelling of the Gospel narratives. It will also be interesting to see how, as a novelist who is well read in Biblical Criticism with understanding of the differences between the Gospel narratives but who is using in this series a consistent chronological narrative, she deals with the differences between the Gospel narratives.

All these, in addition to the quality of the storytelling, are reasons for reading the existing novels in the trilogy and awaiting with interest its conclusion.

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Delirious? - King Of Fools.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Faith-based leadership models (4)

Humility

Islam discourages the practice of seeking leadership; if a person desires it for power and glory rather than serving the people by implementing the divine laws, he is not fit to occupy it. In a well-known Hadith, the Prophet has said that he who seeks leadership is not fit to assume it.

A Muslim leader should restrain from behaving unjustly — whether to community members, to customers, to suppliers or to anybody else. Muslims believe that a leader with a firm faith (iman) will not get out of responsibility for his actions, and will continuously emphasize good deeds.

In Islam a leader must be kind, compassionate and forgiving towards those whom he leads. A leader must also consult the people before taking a decision but once a decision has been made no weakness is shown and the policy be pursued with single-mindedness of purpose, determination and courage. The leader, however, must first articulate the vision and demonstrate the ability to turn it into action by aligning performance with vision to create a climate of success for the realization of the stated goal.

In summary the qualities for leadership in Islam are: knowledge and hikmah (wisdom, insight); taqwa (love and fear of Allah); ‘adl (justice) and rahmah (compassion); courage and bravery; shura (mutual consultation); decisiveness and being resolute; eloquence; a spirit of self-sacrifice; and sabr (patience).

Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, has written of the way in which the “wisest is not one who knows himself wiser than others: he is one who knows all men have some share of wisdom and is willing to learn from them, for none of us knows all the truth and each of us knows some of it.”
Sacks has written about argument, debate and conversation as being a fundamental aspect of Judaism. He argues that this is because Judaism is “an attempt to do justice to the fact that there is more than one point of view; more than one truth.” :

“Judaism gives dignity to the multiple perspectives from which we perceive reality and, most importantly, it says that the truth is not only as it appears to God looking down from heaven. Truth is also how it seems to us down here on earth. And the only ways we can handle that are either by having a dialogue and conversation, or by having different perspectives at different times.”

Sacks argues that, “we must learn the art of conversation, from which truth emerges not, as in Socratic dialogues, by the refutation of falsehood but from the quite different process of letting our world be enlarged by the presence of others who think, act, and interpret reality in ways radically different from our own.”

Hinduism contains similar resources for peaceful coexistence between those holding differing views. Jay Lakhani has spoken of the way in which the Hindu understanding of pluralism holds potential for resolving interfaith conflicts. Lakhani suggests that pluralism “says that the same ultimate reality called God can be thought of and approached in different ways.” The difference comes because each of us are different, coming from different backgrounds and inspired by different prophets and scriptures. No religion can claim absolute truth because by making that claim the religion would be claiming to be absolute as God is absolute. Therefore, each religion must always be less than the Absolute. As Hindu teaching states, “At best even the most esoteric religions can only offer a ‘perception of the Absolute’ – but never the Absolute.”

Lakhani suggests that on this basis we can simply say, “Your prophets and scriptures suit you and are best for you, my prophets and scriptures are fine for my purposes so why threaten or feel threatened by each other?” He suggests that true leadership involves the humble recognition of the necessary limitations of what we perceive as absolute.

Service

A servant style of leadership is fundamental to Christian teaching because of the example understood to be set by Jesus Christ in washing the feet of his disciples and in laying down his life for humanity. A servant style of leadership reverses the pyramid of hierarchy in an organisation by suggesting that frontline staff are those who are most important in the organisation (“the first shall be last and the last first”) because they are the people who actually deal with customers and that the role of managers/leaders is to serve these people by properly resourcing them for their work.

For Christians, the primary reason for adopting this style of leadership is that it was the approach of Jesus, the pattern for both his life and death: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” As a result, for Christians there should be a radical rejection of hierarchical power that creates dependence and patronage in favour of a servant style of leadership.

Servant styles of leadership are found in other faith traditions too. From the Buddhist tradition comes the example of the Emperor Aśoka, a great ruler of the Maurya dynasty who lived about 200 years after the Buddha. Initially, like his father before him, Aśoka expanded his kingdom but his sorrow at the slaughter involved in conquest led him, through his understanding of Buddhist beliefs, to turn towards the service of those he governed and to the upholding of their welfare. H.G. Wells wrote, in The Outline of History, that:

“Amidst the tens of thousands of names of monarchs that crowd the pages of history … their majesties and graciousnesses and serenities and royal highnesses and the like, the name Aśoka shines, and shines almost alone, a star.”

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U2 - Peace On Earth (Remix).

Monday, 14 December 2009

Steve Scott dialogues 1 - Nicholas Bourriaud

As a result of an enquiry about commission4mission I've been dialoguing recently with artist and musician Steve Scott. Steve has agreed to samples of our musings being posted here, hopefully in order to initiate wider conversation on the ideas we are discussing.

Our discussions were kicked off by my providing links to information about commission4mission plus links to my Airbrushed from Art History series and posts on the public art projects involving local churches with which I have been involved.

Steve replied with information about the Christian Artist's Networking Association, two of his books (Crying for a Vision and Like a House on Fire) plus the CD from his collaboration with painter Gaylen Stewart some years back consisting of Stewart's paintings and collages and Steve's poetry over sound loops of synthesizers and digitally manipulated birdsong.

Steve also sent a magazine piece from 2007 which drew upon CANA's 2005 conference in Bali for its discussion of the place(s) of the arts in the church and asked whether I was familiar with Nicolas Bourriaud whose Relational Aesthetics appeared in 2002. Steve noted that while he's published more work since, his main claim to fame these days is that he is the Gubelkian Curator of Contemporary Art at Tate Britain. He said that he regards "the overlap of `relational' / `social aesthetic' theories and the public art projects and move towards community regeneration somewhat auspicious."

I responded that I'm aware of Bourriaud without having read any of his books. I'm also interested in relationality and interconnectivity generally and relational aesthetics is clearly in that ball park. More recently Bourriaud has been asking what is relationality and connectivity for; which would seem a question that Christians might well want to answer. I would agree with you that relational aesthetics has interesting connections to public art as Bourriaud talks about "art that allows its audience to exist in the space opened up by it". The idea that "art is a space of images, objects, and human beings" would also have resonance in a Christian sense in terms of the space of participation that worship can offer. All this talk of the space created by art seems to link with your summary of David Summers' book (Real Spaces) while your emphasis, in your Radix article, on the use of art in community transformation would also seem relevant to the idea that the viewer participates in the space opened up by the art and can, in some fashion, complete the work.

When I was corresponding with Richard Davey he argued that relational aesthetics was part of an art world which sees the world as a hyper-real, space of irony - something which is antipathetic to a perspective intrigued by transcendent possibilities. But when Bourriaud asks the 'What for' question - "The question we might raise today is, Connecting people, creating interactive, communicative experience: What for? What does the new kind of contact produce? If you forget the "what for?" I'm afraid you're left with simple Nokia art--producing interpersonal relations for their own sake and never addressing their political aspects" - he doesn't seem to be speaking ironically.

Steve responded with a reference to Bourriaud's `post production' book, the one in which he, sort of `redeems' or at least acquiesces to the idea that we have no privileged or primary relationship with `nature' (contra the Romantic/Modernist perspective) but argues that its all `mediated' and socially constructed. His optimal artist has learned how to surf (as it were) the somewhat constructed nature of things (his paradigms are the computer programmer and the mix and mash turntablist DJ) to make a somewhat fluid globally relatable art.

His recent `Altermodernities' at Tate Britain pushed the idea and the theory further and he's arguing for an `aesthetics of diversity' in the shadow of Victor Segalen (traveler/exote). Both positions; the relational aesthetic, and the altermodern are utopian (therefore doomed) but redeemable, Steve thinks, as metaphors for what `we' of the culturally diverse living temple (in which, according to Haggai, the glory of our latter days will exceed the former) can begin to accomplished, be it reformation, revival or renaissance.

Steve also sent a copy of a `relational paradise' paper which critiques Bourriaud in ways that resonated slightly with the way one of the sources (Spiked) quoted in my piece on art and regeneration took on the public art projects /funding in Barking.

I replied that I had skim read the 'relational paradise' paper and thought that Bourriaud's ideas as described in the paper held up more strongly than did the critique.

I gave a couple of 'off-the-top-of-the-head' thoughts in response. First, Bourriaud would initially have been responding to work by artists which seemed to him to be primarily about the exploration of relationships. Relational aesthetics would have begun as description and explanation of such works rather than being a theory which may or may not support Western capitalism. Bourriaud, in his writings over time, may well have developed 'relational aesthetics' into such a theory but I think Svetlichnaja has lost sight of its origins as a explanation of common elements in the works of individual artists.

Second, there would seem to be many resonances between what are essentially 'happenings' which involve the viewer as participant (indeed, which move those who are other than the artist from viewer to participant), the art created by 'relational' artists, and what happens in church services. The Eucharist is a happening which is only completed by the congregation becoming participants and which only has meaning as this occurs. The Eucharist can only proceed if the president receives responses from the congregation to the Eucharistic Prayer and the point and culmination of the Eucharist is when the congregation take the body and blood of Christ into their own bodies. A theological analysis of relationships at this point should conclude that the body of Christ has been both dispersed and gathered among and by the receiving church community. There are significant parallels to the description of Rikrit Tiravanija's shared meal installation in Svetlichnaja's paper.

It is my belief that as Christians we should be seeking to create temporary signs of the Kingdom of God which can be experienced by those in our community but which are only tasters for the fullness of the Kingdom which is yet to come. The Eucharist is the central example of such signs which, as David Jones consistently stated, have to participate in the reality which is being signed in order to have validity and meaning. Again, there would be significant parallels to Bourriaud's idea of an endless succession of actions (or 'space-time elements') in which a temporary collective is formed by means of which fairer social relations are permitted together with more compact ways of living and many different combinations of fertile experience. To critique this on the basis that it does not engage with anger and violence is to wilfully ignore its basis as a response to and reaction away from anger and violence. To create a means by which people experience an alternative to anger and violence would seem a wholly positive action, unless one is wedded to the benefits and emotions generated by anger and violence.

Steve replied: "I would agree with all this and like the fact that it is rooted in Christian mystery rather than the materialist framework that Bourriaud evinces. Bourriaud and co including the Thai artist echo something which is either a foretaste of or evidence of a hunger for something of relationality which is grounded in community (or becomes constituted as `sign' by community response) and also points beyond it and so, yes, in the background is David Jones who is offering the tribal diversites of pre Roman Britain as part of a sacramental re membering and also the late Peter Fuller's lament of the loss of a shared symbolic vocabulary in the arts that faith at one point provided (and the resulting vacuum led to a market driven `international style' and postmodern smorgasboard approach).

The people `spiked plus that critique paper' that try and punch holes in what they perceive as vulnerabilities in the model don't take into consideration the other dimensions of community, those provided by faith and/or signs, and therefore can't see or value what's in front of them."

He agreed that relational aesthetics would have begun as description and explanation of art works rather than being a theory which may or may not support Western capitalism: "Very true. He says as much in interviews. The stuff he wrote grew out of his experience as curator in the 90s. While he is popularly identified with framing the theory I think he would acknowledge that it was more ad hoc (`as you go') and also that there are precedents and parallels elsewhere. There's a Danish Curator, Lars Bang Larsen, who framed a `social aesthetic' and talked about community projects in Copenhagen, for example. Then there's the slightly different `Social Sculpture' of Joseph Beuys and, as we're `this side' of the overarching metanarratives it might be misguided of us to measure Bourriaud's developing theory and praxis in the shadow of an obsolescent social or economic theory.

He noted that rather than developing 'relational aesthetics' into a theory, Bourriaud actually moved on to `post production' and then `altermodernity' as takes on his thinking. But he thought that the drawing of a tentantive or context specific theory based on shared commonalities of case studies and then redeeming it, or re rooting it (as I did) in both community and `Coming Kingdom' soil is the way to go.

Also of interest to Steve at this point was Loraine Leeson's allusion in a recent interview to the profound impact that a conflict resolution workshop (offered in Newham, he thought) had on her approach to art. This seemed to resonate with my last point about alternative responses.

In replying I wondered whether the sense of redeeming a materialist theory or reading of art which we have been discussing doesn't help to do to fill the gap that Fuller laments (the loss of a shared symbolic vocabulary in the arts that faith at one point provided) and whether it links to Lesslie Newbigin's argument that conflict between two views “will not be settled on the basis of logical argument”. Instead “[t]he view will prevail that is seen to offer – both in theory and practice – the widest rationality, the greatest capacity to give meaning to the whole of experience”. I have posted a series on Newbigin's argument here under the heading of 'A plausible plausibility structure'.

I have argued that this wider rationality is what is found in the Bible and in the art of David Jones, T.S. Eliot and Marc Chagall where diverse fragments are linked together to form a whole that is more than the sum of its parts (I've explored this in a series of posts called 'Allusive and elusive' which can be found here). When this is the case, I think that the diversity which characterises postmodernism doesn't have to be viewed purely as a smorgasbord but can be understood as something more integrated - a mega-narrative providing a wider rationality - but without creating an overarching meta-narrative (see here).

Steve noted that Fuller was an atheist, a lapsed believer who had kicked free of what he felt was an unreflective childhood faith. He lamented it a bit in one of the essays included in in `Images of God.' He said that he had had an all too brief chat with Fuller at the Institute of Contemporary Art in 1983. Fuller had been giving a talk with Roger Scruton. Fuller was well on his way `center of left' contra the marxism/sociology of art of the late 60s under John Berger. He was beginning (or perhaps was well into) articulating a bio social aesthetic - Italian thinker Timpanaro - while his critique of postmodernism (as it manifests in the arts) reminded Steve of what he'd read about the broad left approach to those ideas and practices (Fredric Jameson, Christopher Norris) and probably also resonates with where Bourriaud is coming from. Although I thought that Fuller would be upset at some of Bourriaud's choices re: `Altermodern' art.

The chat with Fuller was all too brief because Steve asked him if he'd heard of Hans Rookmaaker. Yes he had, no he wasn't (a believer), end of story, and very much the end of the conversation.

Another relevant writer that Steve mentioned at this point is Roger Grainger: "I have `Watching for Wings' and `Place like this' on my shelves from way back when but, on a whim, I just googled him and turned up a cornucopia of more recent stuff on drama, liturgy and the like."
I hadn't come across him before but had just been looking at the blurb for 'The Drama of the Rite' which looks very interesting and might connect with some of what we were discussing about the structure of and participation in the Eucharist.

Steve replied: "Amazing. Grainger came across my mind this morning, mainly in the context of his early work in doing theology in a psychological setting and now, latterly, I see a whole bunch of material on healing drama/liturgy and so on reminding me a little bit of the context and function of the Isenheim Altarpiece as described by Andrée Hayum in her book on Grünewald."

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Steve Scott - No Memory of You.

Windows on the world (82)


Gants Hill, 2009

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Deacon Blue - Bethlehems Gate.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Dramatized nativity service

Shepherds discuss the overcrowding in Bethlehem

Gabriel

Gabriel appears to the shepherds

The shepherds kneel before the manger

The wise men before Jesus

Gabriel warns Joseph

Mary's monologue
This morning's service at St John's Seven Kings incorporated a dramatised nativity into the service. The following is Mary's monologue from Act 4:
You know what would have happened if it had been three wise women instead of men, don’t you? They would have asked for directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a stew, and brought nappies and a Moses basket as gifts!

But life rarely works out as you expect or would like. Take your birth as an example. I was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit while I was only pledged to be married to Joseph. His immediate thought was to divorce me and although God has spoken to him as he spoke to me, both you and I face a future of gossip, rumours and insult from those who will think of you as illegitimate.

All this and more I have pondered in my heart. The gifts of the Magi hold portents I think for your future. The bitter perfume of myrrh breathes a life of gathering gloom. I see myself sorrowing and sighing before a stone-cold tomb; death, a sword that pierces my heart.

But I accepted all this when I accepted the challenge that the angel Gabriel brought to me from God. “You will be with child and give birth to a son. The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So, the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; his kingdom will never end.”

That’s you, my little one! For having you, I am more than glad that I said yes to God. “I am the Lord’s servant,” I said, “may it be to me as you have said.” Amen, may it be so. I accept the trauma, the gossip, the exile, the insults; all that I might bear you my love, all that the promised Saviour might come, all that we might be saved from our sins, all that God might be one with us.

So, in peace I pray. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

In this holy night you Jesus, God’s Son, our Saviour, was born in human flesh. Renew your people as your Body, the Body of Christ. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

In this holy night there was no room for you in the inn. Protect with your love those who have no home and all who live in poverty. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

In this holy night I, in the pain of labour, brought you to birth. Hold in your hand all who are in pain or distress. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

In this holy night the angels sang, ‘Peace to God’s people on earth.’ Strengthen all those who work for peace and justice. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

In this holy night shepherds in the field heard glad tidings of great joy. Give grace to all those who share the good news of sins forgiven. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

In this holy time magi came from the east to worship you. Grant to all people everywhere the spirit of adoration. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

As we face exile and live in the shadow of death, look in mercy on all who are powerless and all who pass through death in the hope of your coming kingdom. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

As we share this life of home and family, protect our families, our neighbours and the communities of which we are a part. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me — holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers. Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth to all on whom his favour rests. Amen.

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Bruce Cockburn - Love Loves You Too.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Arts round up






Yesterday I visited Lorenzo Quinn's Equilibrium exhibition at the Halcyon Gallery:

"Having been exhibited on all five continents, Quinn’s works are widely sought after. Major commissions include the United Nations, the Vatican and a sculpture for Bacardi to honour the hometown of its founder in Sitges, Spain. His cultural influence has been recognised in an iconic advert for Absolut Vodka, entitled Absolut Lorenzo, part of a campaign featuring celebrated international artists. Truly international in his outlook and reach he has received wide success in the highly regarded Middle Eastern art market. Highlights include his iconic sculpture Rise Through Education in Doha, Qatar (2005) and a new commission to create an Olympic Tower, to be unveiled in Doha in 2010.

For Equilibrium, Quinn has created 30 new pieces including What Came First?, Love and Home Sweet Home. What Came First? depicts male and female forms, each within an egg-shaped marble hemisphere, displaying the sculptor’s rich figurative symbolism at its finest. The Love series of kinetic sculptures features paired hands, a recurring theme in Quinn’s work, representing the four stages of a relationship. Hypnotic and graceful, the works evoke the hands of strolling lovers. Considered the greatest challenge for an artist depicting the human form, for Quinn hands convey the intimacy of human interaction in a simple, powerful way. In Home Sweet Home, he uses the female form cocooned in barbed wire to represent the claustrophobia and isolation of victims of domestic abuse. Quinn and his wife are active in their work for charities supporting victims of domestic abuse.

Accompanied by his most popular works such as Adam and Eve, Force of Nature and the colossal Hand of God, 'Equilibrium' presents an oeuvre of work mature in style and demonstrative of Quinn’s visceral empathy and technical accomplishment."

Quinn's Give & Take III (see above) is on public display in Berkley Square.

At the Air Gallery I met Paul Hobbs and saw his 'Jubilate!' exhibition. The semi-abstract acrylic paintings in this exhibition are "inspired by natural and architectural forms, and the spaces in between, in creating a visual feast of pattern, colour and movement."

I first came across Paul and his work through an exhibition of his conceptual pieces at the Christian Resources Exhibition and then saw some of the same works at an exhibition in Cambridge. Paul explained that he aims to alternate between these more interactive works and his abstract pieces in terms of the focus of his work and his exhibitions.

Paul also leads workshops in schools, conference centres and churches which are planned to suit a group’s interests, and usually involve a practical exploration of materials and themes used in his own work.

I had arranged to meet another artist, Ally Clarke, at the exhibition; one of several meetings recently with artists as a result of commission4mission. Ally studied Sculpture at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art in Dundee and is inclined to create installation works complimented by photography, drawing, collage and print. Enjoying creative collaborations, she has recently worked with a Sculptor/Performance Artist producing film and performance works. It was to apply her visual art skills within a Physical Theatre Company that initially brought Ally to South East London in ’98 and she has been based in Peckham and Camberwell ever since, currently working as Artist in Residence at the Bradfield Club in Peckham.

Rosheen Browning is an artist that works to visualise text with spiritual depth. This could be poetry, quotes or bible. She uses found (and hoarded!) papers and fabrics alongside traditional drawing tools such as pen or pencil. Colour and texture are very important to her and says that she "paints with paper, if you like." She has a background in Graphic Design and is a qualified Art Teacher.

The Henningham Family Press are David and Ping Henningham who have an ongoing programme of performance events and books that they publish and distribute. They collaborate with artists and writers they know to make small editions of books made to last in every sense. They also run seminars and events from their home and other places. Their books have been acquired by several important collections, including University College London, Chelsea College of Art, and the Tate.

Jonathan Bentall aims to paint the numinous. He writes that his aim is:

"a hinted sense of otherness expressed through perceptual imagery. It’s an outcome of meditative/contemplative experience rather than pre-conceived form, and the endeavour is leaning toward the creation of work which seeks to reference the interconnectedness between spiritual and physical dimensions. In terms of pictorial language I’m fascinated by what has been termed the inward and the outward aesthetic. Through the outer manipulation of paint I’m looking for an inner weight to begin to establish its presence; a weight which does not completely abandon reference to our sensual experience of space/time, yet also points elsewhere. I am interested in exploring the invisible, inner core of a painting in the tradition of the mystics."

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Thea Gilmore - Red, White and Black.

Tamil Carol Service

Some of the congregation

Dr. Winston Solomon

Children's Choir

Children's Choir

Grace & Solomon Benjamin
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Thea Gilmore - That'll Be Christmas.



Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Gants Hill Arts Project (4)











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Billy Bragg - Jerusalem.

The paradox of death

When we grieve, we can feel a whole mix of different emotions at different times – anger, sadness, love, guilt and numbness. So we can probably identify easily with the writer of Lamentations (Lamentations 3. 17-26, 31-33) when he talks on the one hand of being deprived of peace, afflicted and bitter, but, on the other hand, talks about the faithfulness of God and waiting quietly for salvation.

Henry Scott Holland, a Canon of St Pauls Cathedral to whom the poem ‘Death is not the end’ is credited, said something similar in the sermon from which the poem is taken. In this sermon Holland 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.

How can we do this? Well, like any of us, I can only talk from my own experience. My younger brother, Nick Evens, died on 11th November 1999 in a plane crash in Kosovo. He was on a UN commissioned plane taking relief workers into Kosovo to work on reconstructing the country following the conflict there. Nick was part of Tearfund’s Disaster Response Team. He had been in Kosovo working with Kosovan villagers to rebuild homes, had returned home for a short break, and was returning to continue work on the rebuilding programme.

The plane went off course as it neared Pristina Airport and crashed in nearby mountains. I remember taking a phone call from my parents who had been notified that contact had been lost with the plane and feeling absolutely unable to accept or comprehend the news. This was something that simply could not be happening.

My father and I were flown to Rome by Tearfund to wait for news together with the families of the other 23 people who died in the crash. After a few days we were flown to Kosovo to see the crash site for ourselves. On arrival at Pristina Airport we were loaded into helicopters and flown the short distance into the mountains and over the site of the wreckage. This was the worst moment for each one of us. As we saw the small pieces of the plane strewn over the mountainside we knew exactly what had happened to our loved ones and were faced full-on with the reality of their death.

When we returned to Pristina Airport, some refreshments had been organised for us in a tent and members of Tearfund who had worked with Nick had travelled to the Airport to be with us. We sat and listened as they told us about the effect that Nick had had on the Kosovan people with whom he had worked and also on other members of the team as they had valued his friendship, support and advice. As they talked, the tears flowed; theirs and ours and, I believe, God’s as he was with us at the time enabling us to express our grief. But, as they talked, I also had a growing sense that Nick had gone into God’s presence and had been welcomed with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” In that moment I glimpsed something of the glory into which Nick had entered and that glimpse continues to sustain and strengthen me in my loss.

Over subsequent days, I heard many more stories of the way in which Nick’s life had influenced others and over the years since I had seen the way in which the inspiration he provided has led others to continue the work that he began. Young people whose lives were turned around through the youth project that Nick worked for have continued his youth work and his charitable work in Uganda while Nick’s involvement with Tearfund inspired another member of our family to join their Disaster Response Team. In these ways, the stories about Nick that begun to be told at Pristina Airport have continued to be told and in the telling my sense that Nick has been welcomed into glory has grown.

Out of the paradox of pain of grief and the assurance of Nick’s life continuing in God’s presence, I wrote this poem about Nick and Christ:

No, Lord, no. This word I will not hear.
No, Lord, no. This word I cannot bear.

My brother’s body lies on the stones strewn mountainside,
my mind alert to realities it cannot admit.
His body lifeless, broken by Kosovan heights,
my body alive to the stabbing pain of his loss.
My blood racing in my veins,
My heart pounding like a jack hammer,
My tears gusting like gale lashed squalls,
My tongue spilling out the word, no.

You gave up all, becoming a no-thing.
You offered up all, giving your life.
You spoke the word, forsaken.
You lived the offering, sacrifice.
On your flayed back was the torture instrument carried.
On your forehead was the round of razors rammed.
In the place of your skull was the pain of the iron piercings.
In place of life immortal was the path of the damned.
In place of Man, you placed yourself.
In place of God, my brother lives.

At the foot of the mountain is the telling of tales,
stories recounted of the one who is gone.
In the mountain’s shadow tales told are bitter-sweet,
memories recover the one who is gone.
To speak of the dead is bitter.
The telling of takes amplifies loss.
To speak of the dead is sweet.
The telling of tales confirms love.

Yes, Lord, yes. This word I will hear.
Yes, Lord, yes. This word I will bear.

My experience of grief suggests that it is as we cry out in our grief that God meets with us. He is alongside us through his Spirit and will speak for us in groans that words cannot express. We should not be afraid of tears, of memories, of stories, they are an expression of the love we feel. But as we share our grief together we may catch a glimpse of the glory that waits to be revealed to us and into which our loved ones have entered and that glimpse can sustain us as we re-enter our everyday lives.

My experience of grief suggests that it is as we cry out in our grief that God meets with us. He is alongside us through his Spirit and will speak for us in groans that words cannot express. We should not be afraid of tears, of memories, of stories, they are an expression of the love we feel. But as we share our grief with others we can also catch a glimpse of the glory that waits to be revealed to us and into which our loved ones have entered and that glimpse will sustain us as we deal with grief in our everyday lives.

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Aretha Franklin - Precious Lord.

Windows on the world (81)


London, 2009
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Maria McKee - I Can't Make It Alone.

Faith-based leadership models (3)

Equality

Sikh philosophy (Sikhi) is a “comprehensive philiosophy ranging from religious, social, cultural, economic, scientific to political thoughts” articulated by Guru Nanak in the late 1440s. Guru Nanak “taught the unity of all existence, the equality of all human beings, the diversity of life and opinions, the acceptance of pluralism and the sanctity of human life.” He considered that “human life is fulfilled by searching for the ultimate ‘truth’ through the rubble of false mirrors and to be a Sikh is, therefore, to be a learner, student or seeker of truth. In this search for truth the Guru dismissed the worship of idols, dogma and ritual as delusions masking the real search and dismissed caste and divine rulers as oppressive human inventions.

In 1699 the tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh provided an initiation service or baptism for those choosing to accept and live by Sikhi. He then submitted himself to the first five who, through this baptism, became Amritdhari Sikhs or Khalsa. The Khalsa “became an organised people in South Asia who destroyed the system of hierarchical orders making every human being equal in power and dignity.” The Khalsa also “removed the notion of divine intermediaries giving humans confidence in their own collective divinity.”

Similarly, Bahá’ís seek to work towards:

• equality of opportunity for men and women;
• elimination of prejudice of all kinds;
• universal compulsory education;
• a universal auxiliary language;
• abolition of extremities of poverty and wealth through international legislation; and
• the establishment of universal peace by a world government which will have international courts and military.

Ethics

The idea of leadership by moral force is widespread in many religions, but is particularly central to the Confucian ideal of government. Leaders should be honest, moral, and virtuous people, who will not take bribes or act corruptly. Because people look up to leaders as role models, they should set a good example for others.

An example of a faith-based organisation applying this approach in their mission statement is the MATS School of Business and IT (a Post Graduate School of Excellence of the Jain Group of Institutions) which strives to “foster an intellectual and ethical environment in which both spirit and skill will thrive so as to impart high quality education, training and consultancy services, with a global outlook and human values.”

The Jewish Association for Business Ethics (JABE) exists to encourage high standards of integrity in business and professional conduct by promoting and teaching the Jewish ethical approach to business and to contribute to the debate in wider society. JABE also aims to promote awareness and understanding in the Jewish Community of Jewish teachings and traditions in business.

The European Baha'i Business Forum (EBBF) plays a similar role for the Bahá'í community by being an association of women and men involved in business and management who are exploring ways and means of applying Bahá'í ethical and social teachings to issues arising out of their business activities. EBBF aims promote the following core Bahá'í values and principles:

• ethical business practices;
• the social responsibility of business;
• stewardship of the earth's resources;
• partnership of women and men in all fields of endeavour;
• the need for a new paradigm of work;
• non-adversarial decision making based on consultation; and
• application of spiritual principles to economic problems.

Buddhists are encouraged to work hard and to be industrious but to earn money through righteous means (right livelihood). This means that no ethical or religious principles should be violated through the work done and the work should benefit both the individual and society. Right Livelihood is the fifth aspect of the Eightfold Path and has two main elements. The first is a negative aspect, deriving from the principles of non-violence, of not engaging in work involving weapons, meat, intoxicants (e.g. alcohol), poisons (e.g. drugs) or trade in living beings (animals or human beings). The second is a positive aspect, deriving from principles of simplicity, of using technologies that are in harmony with the natural environment and its resources to produce no more than an adequate range of material goods.

Islamic moral character requires that leaders emphasize the following five key parameters of Islamic behavior: justice; trust; righteousness; the struggle towards self-improvement; and promise keeping. A Muslim leader is expected to be just, behave righteously, strive towards self improvement, and never break his word. He is to consult with others, especially in areas where he is not competent. Islam stresses consultation in all affairs. A leader is expected to bear adversity patiently, and remain forever humble.

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Bruce Springsteen - We Shall Overcome.

Bus Stop Nativity


This Christmas, a specially commissioned painting of the nativity, set in a freezing bus shelter, is being displayed at selected bus shelters across the UK. The painting is by Royal Academy Gold medal winner, Andrew Gadd and depicts the holy family, with halos, in a dark bus shelter. The shepherds and wise men are replaced with fellow passengers waiting for a bus. Some are watching the nativity intently; others appear oblivious and are checking the bus timetable and flagging down a bus.

This bus shelter image reminds us that, in the words of the literary critic, Eric Auerbach, ‘Christ has not come as a hero and king but as a human being of the lowest social station. His first disciples were fishermen and artisans. He moved in the everyday milieu of humble folk. He talked with publicans and fallen women, the poor and the sick and children’.

It reminds us ultimately that Jesus was born to be Emmanuel – God with us. That is what the incarnation, “the union of the human and the divine in the life of a humble Jewish carpenter,” is all about. As John 1. 14 says, in the contemporary translation of the Bible called The Message: “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood.”

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

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

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

Look out for the image of the bus stop nativity or look it up online at http://www.churchads.org.uk/2009/index.html. A bus stop is a place that all of us go to. We are there, included in the image. Are we among those who are watching the nativity intently or are we oblivious, checking the bus timetable and flagging down a bus? What does it mean to us that God has become flesh and blood and has moved into our neighbourhood?
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Joan Osborne - One Of Us.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

The Wave (2)






























Tearfund report that:

"An estimated 50,000 people dressed in blue, encircling Parliament and calling on the government to take action for a strong climate deal, isn't an everyday sight.

But it was an inspiring one. So was 3,000 Christians praising and worshipping our God of justice in Central Hall, Westminster and the thousands who took to the streets of Glasgow and Belfast.

Today, Christians from around the UK came together to act justly and march humbly for God and for His poorest and most vulnerable children across the world, already suffering the effects of a changing climate.

Changing the world is a long process that requires perseverance, grace and the power of God's Holy Spirit. But it can also be fun! If you made it out today, we hope you had a fantastic time surrounded by people passionate about justice. And if you couldn't be there but prayed for The Wave, thank you.

Click here for pictures and coverage from the day and to find yourself in the sea of blue. If you were there we'd also love to hear from you - tell us how you got on at campaigning@tearfund.org.

Next stop, Copenhagen! Get ready for updates from the two weeks of climate talks and keep praying for a strong and fair deal."

Click here for more photos from the St Johns Seven Kings group at The Wave.

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Ben Harper - Better Way.