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Friday, 31 December 2010

Street Art

The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum in one  of my favourite Galleries to visit and fully deserving of its Best Family Friendly Museum in Britain Award in the Guardian Family Friendly Awards 2010. The Herbert is a light, open contemporary building which shows current temporary exhibitions combined with an excellent collection of post 1900 British Art.

Currently it is the first venue to host a brand new touring exhibition from the Victoria and Albert Museum - Street Art: Contemporary Prints from the V&A. Street art is a diverse, constantly evolving art form, one that moves across the derelict buildings, bus shelters and hoardings of cities around the world. Its roots lie in history, echoing cave paintings and stencilled slogans and images in political campaigning.

The exhibition showcases the work of some of the biggest artists in the street art community such as Banksy, Shepard Fairey, Sickboy, Pure Evil and D*Face. One fascinating aspect of the exhibition is the sense of morality on show through images satirising consumerism and politics, contemplating morality, and questioning rampant individualism.

The Herbert is also particularly good at supplementing the core theme of its main exhibition with other displays and events designed for further exploration of its theme. On this occasion it has commissioned six emerging artists on the UK street scene to decorate its white walls. This  part of the exhibition, Fresh Paint, contains brand new work from Pahnl, SPQR, Lucy McLauchlan, Ben Slow, AsOne and Newso.

While each of these pieces have real strengths I was particularly taken with the faces and branches on the painted cardboard and wood construction which McLauchlan had fitted into a corner of the exhibition as an organic offshoot. McLauchlan combines art deco, psychedelic and childlike motifs to make pieces that are delicate and tender yet engaging and provocative. She hails from Birmingham and I later realised that I had already glimpsed one of her murals returning last Tuesday from seeing Spamalot at the Alex in Birmingham.

To explore another aspect of the street art scene, the Herbert is also showcasing new aerosol art from another Birmingham based graffiti artist, Mohammed Ali. Ali calls his art, AerosolArabic, a unique fusion of urban graffiti art with traditional Arabic Islamic calligraphy and has been working with graffiti in the West Midlands for over fifteen years.

It was after his new-found passion and rediscovery of his faith in Islam, that he began to fuse his graffiti-art with the grace and eloquence of sacred and Islamic script and patterns. He describes his work as, 'taking the best of both worlds.' and bringing back to the forefront principles that are gradually fading away from our modern societies.

He was drawn to the graffiti world from early 80's inspired by the subway art movement, and like many kids living in the UK was involved with the street-painting scene. After studying Multimedia Design at university, he went onto working in the computer-games industry as a designer but soon enough he became disillusioned with using his creative skills for commercial benefit and began creating art for 'mankind's sake'. Graffiti was often a self-glorification of one's identity, the 'tag' being the focus. Mohammed began exploring simple messages which at their heart were words which pointed other than to the 'self'; words with a deeper message that were speaking to the public, and relevant to the wider society.

His art is a unique fusion and celebration of street-art with Arabic Islamic script and patterns. This exhibition includes work on spray painted canvas, video projections and brand new aerosol art along the themes of Freedom, Justice and Equality. Ali has also been pioneering a unique amalgamation of different mediums and artforms - weaving together spoken-word with spraypainted words - and delivering them at auditoriums and public spaces across the UK. At the Herbert, he performed in collaboration with renowned UK spoken-word artists, David J, Indigo Williams and ZK The Poet.

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Mohammed Ali - Breaking Down The Walls.

Evilution



"Civilisation has greatly benefited from man's infinite capacity for research and invention: a capacity that is frequently harnessed for the destruction of others, the full horror of which can manifest itself at any time."

So writes Roy Ray, the artist behind the ongoing Evilution project, a project which is Ray's personal response as an artist to this evil phenomenon and its innocent victims in relation to the times in which he has lived, the people he has met and the events he has witnessed.

For this purpose, he is using constructions, collages, photographs and video together with writings which include those drawn from numerous childhood memories. The first phase of the project focusses on examples for which a single name is synonymous with the mass destruction of innocent lives by the corrupt use of science and technology.

Five panels from this first phase of the project, each measuring 5ft x 2ft, have been on display at Coventry Cathedral throughout 2010 and are "memorials to the millions of innocent men, women and children who became victims of conflict by the corrupt use of science and technology: many because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time or from the wrong country or wrong race." The panels have been exhibited as a group with the title 'Where their footsteps left no trace' and each panel represents a place, the name of which is synonymous with this evil phenomena:

"Every single one of those people meant something to someone and should not be forgotten ... The lowest part of each panel has the common denominator of ash and rubble common to each of these places of Evilution and symbolising the destruction of people and places."

The next phase of the project will deal with the Western Front during the 1914-18 War which destroyed a generation of young men who were the victims of innocence. Regular updates of the Evilution website will deal with future phases and other aspects of the Project, one which is likely to occupy Ray for the forseeable future.

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T Bone Burnett - Earlier Baghdad (The Bounce).

Monday, 27 December 2010

Windows on the world (134)


Shadwell, 2010

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We Are The Fallen - St. John.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Enjoyable, as long as you don't think about the book!

I've enjoyed seeing The Voyage of the Dawn Treader at the cinema today. Welcome respite after the busyness of the Christmas celebrations.

The film raises issues regarding the adaptation of books to screen as much of the original story has been lost in the transition to film, the story's sequencing has altered and new elements have been added to the story. Jeffery Overstreet has written:

"... this is the most enjoyable movie of the series, so long as you don’t think much about the book. Granted, the book was too episodic and meandering to make a great film. They needed to revise the story considerably. But this revision, entertaining as it is, muddles, mangles, and leaves behind many of the book’s most profound moments."

I agree with this assessment. This is an excellent and enjoyable film which works well on its own terms. The story is exciting, the script is well written with particularly subtle use of humour, and the special effects, while often stunning, support the narrative. The acting is particularly strong in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader with the performance of Will Poulter as Eustace being outstanding; something noted in The Telegraph's review:

"It helps that the spotlight falls this time on the two younger and more appealing Pevensie children, Edmund and Lucy – played by Skandar Keynes and Georgie Henley, who are also the more talented actors in the quartet ...

the most arresting new presence on view is that of 17-year-old British actor Will Poulter, still fondly remembered for his comic skills in Son of Rambow. He plays the Pevensies’ obnoxious cousin Eustace Scrubb, and Poulter does not hold back: Eustace dismisses his cousins’ fascination with Narnia, and complains bitterly when he unwillingly becomes involved in the Dawn Treader adventure.

In his endless complaining, Poulter adopts the disgusted tones of an ex-Army officer from 50 years ago, and does it brilliantly. He virtually steals every scene in which he appears; it’s a lucky break for Fox that Eustace takes centre stage in the fourth Narnia story."

So, as the Telegraph put it, Narnia has got its sparkle back.

One of the narrative elements which is becoming clearer across the filmed series is an emphasis on personal temptation. This is a major theme in both the book and film of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe because of Edmund's betrayal of the others through the influence of the White Witch but the theme continues in the subsequent films with the Peter/Caspian power tensions/temptations in Prince Caspain (an added element to that film) and here in Lucy's temptation to beauty, Edmund's repeat temptation by the White Witch, and Eustace's temptation to riches. Much of this theme is an addition to the stories, although one which is consistent with the Narnian world and history which C. S. Lewis created and also with his own beliefs.

It would seem that this theme has been developed by the filmakers because it offers more visually and dramatically than do the major themes of the second and third books themselves. In Prince Caspain a major theme of the book is that of doubt and belief when Lucy is not believed as she begins to glimpse Aslan leading them on their journey to Caspian. While included in the film, it is not developed in the same way presumably because it is more difficult to visualise and is not a strongly dramatic narrative development.

A related issue occurs with a key scene in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader which is also subject to significant change. The film rightly, as we have already seen, makes the transformation of Eustace a key element in the story. Yet his eventual change is differently conceived from the book. In the book Eustace attempts to tear off his dragon skin but cannot do so in a way that gets to the core of his being and restores him to himself. Only Aslan is able to do so and only with pain. Lewis is here picturing the impossibility of freeing ourselves of our sinful nature without the grace of God, and that being hard won and painful. In the film Aslan achieves this change differently and, although the scene in book is referred to obliquely, in a way which is easier and which does not convey the sense that something integral to Eustace has been torn away. It may well be that cinematic demands dictated this change too, as visuals of Aslan literally sinking his claws into the skin of Eustace's dragon may have been too gory for the PG rating that the film requires if it is to tap its core market.

Both these changes mean that each film loses some of the spiritual depth which the books contain in order that the narrative and visual impact of the films are heightened. As a result, the films are exciting and enjoyable but do not have the same spiritual depths as the books. Lewis never wanted these books filmed because he knew that the technology did not exist to genuinely realise the imaginative world which he had created. Now that that technology does exist, Narnia is able to be brought to visual life. What Lewis may not have anticipated, however, is that the different demands of storytelling in a visual medium would necessitate adaptations and additions to these narratives which alter the spiritual themes explored through those narratives.

To some extent this is the fate of all adaptations and the reason why screenwriters are necessary even for the filming of classic stories. Films are a different medium from books and use different means of telling a story in order to succeed. There is a difficult balance to be struck between the original story and the way in which it can successfully be told in a different medium. The Narnia films are fascinating illustrations of the challenges and compromises from which successful movie adaptations emerge.

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Sinead O'Connor - Only You.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

The Nativity

BBC1's The Nativity was, in my immediate view, one of the very best biblical dramatisations that I have seen because it didn't simply reproduce, in the manner of most Nativity plays, the familiar elements of the story in the forms with which we have become familiar (although it did reproduce these). Instead, because screenwriter Tony Jordan understood both what the story meant in human terms for those caught up in it and what it has come to mean for many of us in terms of salvation history, Jordan was able to movingly dramatise the human cost and challenge of the incarnation.

The changes which Jordan made to the chronology of the stories told in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke and the additions to those stories in terms of fleshing out the back stories and personalities of the central characters worked, not because they were literally true to the way the stories are told in those Gospels, but because they were emotionally and symbolically true to the meaning of the stories. The final stable scene with Mary, Joseph, Jesus, Shepherds and Magi is not accurate biblically and is the stereotypical end to most Nativity plays and yet was deeply moving, in a way that most Nativity plays are not, because we had travelled emotionally with these characters and so shared the impulses which led them to worship this child.

The quality of the writing, characterisation, and acting was exceptionally high in the production, with Tatiana Maslany's portrayal of Mary being the standout performance, but it was Jordan's understanding of the emotional and symbolic heart of the story which made the familiar story with its familiar elements profound and moving all over again.

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John Coltrane - Psalm.

Biblical Art from Wales


Biblical Art from Wales is a fascinating book and DVD Rom which has emerged from the very valuable Imaging the Bible in Wales project of the University of Wales Lampeter. This project (focussed on 1825–1975), analyses the social, political and theological questions raised by Welsh biblical visual culture so that its contribution to the intellectual, artistic and cultural heritage of Wales can be recognized and preserved.

The book showcases the wide variety and range of biblical art found in Wales, much of it little known and explores the significance and influence of the Bible in the visual culture in Wales in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries – from the simplicity of the Nonconformist chapel and the synagogues to the colourful array of stained glass found in many churches and the icons of the Orthodox tradition.
Throughout Wales, the Bible has been interpreted and illustrated in a surprisingly wide range of media: in paint and sculpture, needlework and ceramic, woodcarving and engraving. The illustrations in the book demonstrate how the process of ‘visual exegesis’ was an important feature of religious and cultural life in Wales in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. As well as evaluating the work of particular artists, such as David Jones, John Petts and Ivor Williams, specific examples of Pre-Raphaelite work in Wales and in the artisan visual tradition are also discussed.

The DVD adds a further interpretative dimension. It contains over 600 images and allows the reader to explore further subjects introduced in the book, arranged and structured as seven key representative themes such as 'Word and Image', 'the Bible in the Welsh Landscape', 'Domestic Piety', and so on. Both the book and DVD are supported by an online database of images. From the DVD one can click directly into the online database (which contains over 3,000 images), hosted by the National Library of Wales, to find out more information about the context of individual images.

The book, DVD, and overall project are invaluable simply in documenting the range and variety of artworks engaging with Biblical themes in Wales and demonstrates the profound impact that the Bible has had on British culture. While the work of artists such as John Petts and Ivor Williams, whose work is not well known, is highlighted, there are nevertheless no great discoveries in terms of the originality of the work uncovered and there is a clear tailing off of the quantity of images as the record comes to the contemporary period. This suggests that the impact of the Bible on contemporary Welsh culture has lessened and the book is ambivalent about the future of Biblical art in Wales as a result.

The final paragraph of the book notes that "the culturally-Christian upbringing and biblical education which were once such powerfully formative influences are increasingly outside the experience of younger generations." If this book and project serve as a resource for future generations of artists to tap those influences then they will have been worthwhile indeed.

Other projects documenting (on a less rigorous basis) church commissions within the UK include:
  • Ecclesiart, Art & Christianity Enquiry's (ACE) project to map significant works of Modern (post 1920) and contemporary art in UK churches and cathedrals. ACE hope that the works included so far: stimulate debate about the merits of such works; encourage further nominations from the public as well as a selected panel of publicly-known figures from the worlds of art and religion; demonstrate the variety and richness of the works which are part of a collective ownership; and encourage increased responsibility towards works which may be under-appreciated.   
  • commission4mission's Art Trail for the Barking Episcopal Area which will publicise the extent to which churches in this Area of the Diocese of Chelmsford contain significant art and craft works. Examples of art within the Barking Area's churches include work by significant twentieth century artists such as Eric Gill, Hans Feibusch, John Hutton and John Piper, together with contemporary work by the like of Mark Cazalet, Jane Quail and Henry Shelton.
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Johnny Cash - Down There By The Train.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Of beauty or affirmation

Sam Norton recently posted on the subject of beauty and his post got me thinking about the extent to which beauty can be identified or defined. The proverb, 'Beauty is in the eye of the beholder' suggests that beauty is entirely subjective. Clearly collective ideas of beauty can be formed, yet these can also be iniquitous, as with ’size zero’ in the fashion industry and the way in which that perception of beauty pressurises people into anorexia and bulimia.

One of the fascinating things about contemporary art is the way in which it often finds beauty in the throw-away, the ready-made, the hidden or disregarded e.g. Martin Creed’s Work No. 88 - a crumpled ball of paper. In a culture of detritus, American Beauty screenwriter Alan Ball uncovers heartbreaking beauty in garbage with a scene in which a crummy old plastic bag floats in the wind above a dirty sidewalk.

My friend, Alan Stewart, in his ‘Icons or Eyesores’ presentation on spirituality in contemporary art shows people a photo of a sepia-tinged crucifix. Most people quite like it until they are told that it is ‘Piss Christ’ by Andres Serrano and that the crucifix is submerged in the artist’s urine. Serrano has said that the image is about the commercialisation of religious iconography (a critique of Christian kitsch!) but Alan sees it as a depiction of the incarnation, with God coming into the detritus and waste of human life, and that, it seems to me, is profoundly beautiful.

The incarnation is particularly relevant to this debate because, while in no sense a conventionally beautiful act (see Philippians 2. 6-8), it is the ultimate affirmative act based on the understanding that nothing is lost and everything can be redeemed. For this reason, I think that affirmation is a more helpful concept to us than beauty as, rather than separating out the beautiful from the ugly as in conceptions of beauty, affirmation seeks to see the image of God in all things.

This is the approach of Charles Williams who, in The Descent of the Dove, writes this:

"... the Incarnation ... produces a phrase which is the very maxim of the Affirmative Way: "Not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh but by taking of the manhood into God." And not only of the particular religious Way, but of all progress of all affirmations: it is the actual manhood which is to be carried on, and not the height which is to be brought down. All images are, in their degree to be carried on; mind is never to put off matter; all experience is to be gathered in."

Christine Mary Hearn notes that the Way of Affirmation holds that "God is manifest in many things and can be known through these things" as in Psalm 19. 1: 'the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament his handiwork.' She notes too that it is the way of poets as was the case with Anne Ridler whose "devoted Anglicanism" was inspired by this philosophy found in her friend Charles Williams and the 17th-century poet Thomas Traherne. The Way of Affirmation should have particular resonance for Anglicans as the Genius of Anglicanism (greatly under strain in its present divisions) is its affirmation of both Catholicism and Protestantism.

Philippians 4.8 - "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things" - encourages us to follow the Affirmative Way. No criteria is outlined for these categories, leaving us to interpret them for ourselves, but the assumption is made that if we seek such things we will find them.   

Simone Weil sets out a methodology for the Affirmative Way when she writes that in order "to receive in its naked truth" the object which is to penetrate our mind, "our thought should be empty, waiting, not seeking anything" and that such "absolute unmixed attention is prayer." Such a way of praying underpins much of the contemporary spirituality which draws on perceptions of Celtic Christianity. David Adam, for example, writes that:

“Much of Celtic prayer spoke naturally to God in the working place of life. There was no false division into sacred and secular. God pervaded all and was to be met in their daily work and travels. If our God is to be found only in our churches and our private prayers, we are denuding the world of His reality and our faith of credibility. We need to reveal that our God is in all the world and waits to be discovered there – or, to be more exact, the world is in Him, all is in the heart of God. Our work, our travels, our joys and our sorrows are enfolded in His loving care. We cannot for a moment fall out of the hands of God. Typing pool and workshop, office and factory are all as sacred as the church. The presence of God pervades the work place as much as He does a church sanctuary.” (Power Lines: Celtic Prayers about Work, SPCK, 1992)

Other examples of similar styles of prayer include, Alexander Carmichael’s Carmina Gadelica, a collection of Gaelic prayers and poems collected in the late 19th century, which “abounds with prayers invoking God’s blessing on such routine daily tasks as lighting the fire, milking the cow and preparing for bed.” Many of George Herbert’s poems use everyday imagery (mainly church-based as he was also a priest) and are based on the idea that God is found everywhere within his world. Ray Simpson and Ruth Burgess have provided series of contemporary blessings for everyday life covering computers, exams, parties, pets, cars, meetings, lunchtimes, days off and all sorts of life situations from leaving school and a girl’s first period to divorce, redundancy and mid-life crises.

Martin Wallace sums up this sense of paying prayerful attention to the everyday in order to affirm God's presence in the everyday when he writes: “Just as God walked with Adam in the garden of Eden, so he now walks with us in the streets of the city chatting about the events of the day and the images we see” (City Prayers, The Canterbury Press, 1994). He encourage us to “chat with God in the city, bouncing ideas together with him, between the truths of the Bible and the truths of urban life” and, “as you walk down your street, wait for the lift, or fumble for change at the cash-till … to construct your own prayers of urban imagery.”

Viewed in this way, Work No. 88 and the plastic bag scene from American Beauty are examples of the kind of prayerful attention which characterises the Way of Affirmation.
 
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Van Morrison - In The Garden.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Windows on the world (133)


Seven Kings, 2010

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Carleen Anderson - Don't Look Back In Anger.

Christmas: Giving or Getting?



Today, at St John's Seven Kings, the number of people able to get to our services was understandably affected by the snow which makes the church look beautiful in the early morning light. Nevertheless, those of us there thought about the work of the Children's Society and, using their Christingle resources, the extent to which people are prepared to give up things in order to achieve something else.

We said that giving up things is something that we are all generally prepared to do if it means we can achieve something that we want. Sometimes, the something we achieve is for others but more often it is for ourselves.

The difference that we see in Jesus and one of the reasons why we still remember and follow him today seeing him as the light of the world, as symbolised by the Christingle candle, is that when he gave something up, he actually gave up everything – his very own life, when he died on the cross – and he did it not to achieve something for himself but instead something for us and for all people, that we might be saved from the wrong things that harm us and our world and become part of God’s family. That is what the red ribbon on the Christingle reminds us of and it is the reason why we are here today and the reason why we love and follow Jesus.

Around this time of year it’s very easy to get distracted by the things we’re hoping to get at Christmas. It’s very easy to think of Christmas itself as a time of getting rather than giving or as a time of giving so that we will get. But we need to remember that, when Jesus was born as a human baby, he gave up everything that he had had previously as God in order to become human and that, when he was a man, he gave up everything once again by dying in order to save us.

Christmas is therefore primarily about giving, not getting. We need to remember that the measure of Christian’s life is not what we get, but what we give, and what we give up for others.

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Jon Boden and Sam Lee - On Christmas Day It Happened So / Lisa Knapp - Coventry Carol.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

The religions of consumerism and Christ

Janice Turner reflects on the false god of consumerism in today's edition of The Times reflecting young protestors on tuition fees and tax breaks are raging against consumerism's broken promises:

"Consumerism, the religion they grew up with, has let them down. The infrastructure of their lives - shiny shopping malls and coffee shops - led them to believe that living standards would keep being upgraded like mobile phones. And since less than half of under-24s are registered to vote, they believed in the power of shopping more heartily than in democracy.

How apt that they will show their political frustration, not just in angry protests, but by withdrawing their consumer support. Student unions are cancelling Vodaphone contracts and encouraging their members to do the same. The young built these companies; they can hurt them too.

As Naomi Klein pointed out in No Logo, brands win us by insinuating themselves into our hearts: a can of Lyle's Golden Syrup makes me feel warm and nostalgic; wearing my one pair of Prada shoes, I feel chic, though, in truth, they're nothing special ...

But those emotional associations matter ..."

A different attack on consumerism comes from comedian Richard Herring, currently touring Christ on a Bike: The Second Coming, who says that how show "is by no means as disrespectful to the Christian myth as all the barefaced commercialism that is going on in suposed celebration." He says that, though he is an atheist, he loves Jesus and thinks he is amazing - "It's just all the people who follow Him who tend to be such idiots. He's like the Fonz in that respect" - and notes that "if our society ran on genuine Christian principles of not judging or stone-throwing and looking after the weakest rather than rewarding the richest, then maybe we'd be better off."

There appear to be more than one artist publicly reconsidering the possibility of faith this Christmas. Tony Jordan, the writer of The Nativity (BBC1 from Monday), interviewed in Christianity says:

"I think I represent a huge swathe of people that say: 'Yeah I believe in God and all that,' but don't tend to do much about it ... It's true to say that I had a faith. I had a faith that wrestled daily with my intellect. I really struggled with God as something I could see and touch and that had some sort of physical presence that I would know if I saw it. But then the more I thought about it, I did find a route through."

For him that involved a discussion with a scientist about dark matter, while researching The Nativity, leading to the thought that this thing without which the laws of physics do not work could be God:

"... I think that whoever God is and whatever God is, it's beyond my comprehension. I can't even get my head around what it must be, or what he must be, I can't do it. And once you understand that, I think it suddenly makes sense. So the story of the Nativity for me, I kind of found I reinforced my faith along the way."

As a result, he says he genuinely hopes that people are converted through the series: "I'd love to think that people are moved enough to believe it, to find faith, but to find the beauty of faith and not to say, 'my denomination is right.'" What he hates about religion is the contrast between the beauty of "faith and religion and the teachings of Christ" - the simplicity of 'let he who is without sin cast the first stone' - and the many people who have been killed in wars over denomination and interpretation.

Andrew Motion is another who is reconsidering. He writes about being in the ambivalent middle, with millions of others, "where faith flickers off-on like a badly wired lamp ... where honest doubt comes and goes, and in so doing keeps alive the argument with and about God."

For him, the catalyst has been a priest; clever, funny and moving, whose talks made him think about things he hadn't thought about for a long time and "then in not quite the same way." This has led to:

"the conviction that my faith is not proof of a God-down Universe in which human beings scurry around trying (or not) to do His bidding. But of a Universe in which the primitive hunger to imagine beyond ourselves is manifested in a series of overlapping stories that give us the possibility and permission to do so. They shape our ambition to think bigger and to live better, and they help to define our place in the scheme of things."

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Jakob Dylan - Nothing But The Whole Wide World

Using the hand you have been dealt

The Rt. Revd. Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Chelmsford, preached on two questions at his Welcome Service for the Barking Episcopal Area on Thursday at Christ Church Wanstead.

The first was, 'how have you used the hand you have been dealt?' which concerned our recognition and use of the unique combination of gifts, experiences and circumstances which has been gifted to us by God. The second was, 'how we have used these with the Church to bless others?'

These are questions of reckoning, which Bishop Stephen suggested may be asked of us on the Day of Judgement but which are concerned firstly with the many and various ways in which we are accepted and blessed by God and then with the way in which we, in turn, bless others.

What he had to say chimed well with his inaugural sermon as Bishop of Chelmsford, when he said:

"You’ll probably hear me say this hundreds of times over the next few years, but let me say it loud: You can go to the Church of England for a lifetime and nobody gives it to you straight. You are loved. You are precious in God’s sight. He has a purpose for your life.


And, together, our task as God’s people in this great diocese is to know and reveal that love which God has for us in Christ. This is my prayer for myself and for our diocese." 

It chimes too with his vision of Christian leadership, as set out in Hit The Ground Kneeling, which "is one that is always drawing more people in, helping them discover their gifts, and constantly expanding and sharing leadership ... The cherishing of the gifts of others – even if they outshine us in their own areas – is a vital gift of leadership."

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Lauryn Hill - His Eye Is On The Sparrow.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Windows on the world (132)


Romford, 2010

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The Tourists - I Only Want To Be With You. 

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Do you want to get well?





This morning at St John's Seven Kings we had our dramatised nativity service which involves a number of the congregation in acting out the Christmas story before this evening having our traditional Nine Lessons and Carols by Candlelight. For the latter, our choir is joined by other local choristers to expand the range of choral pieces they are able to sing. They had an excellent selection of varied pieces which they performed to a very high standard.

Our curate, Geoff Eze, gave the following brief but challenging reflection in the evening service:

Jesus said to a man by a healing pool, ‘Do you want to get well?’. The man who was paralysed had been there for a long time. The writer of John’s Gospel puts the time he was there as 38 years. About 38 years ago VAT was first introduced in this country. It is a form of consumption tax that is placed on some goods that we purchase.

Anyway this man came up with lot of excuses (as to why he did not want to get well). You see the pool he was laying by was believed to have some particular healing qualities. Some angels would come down and stir it up and whoever got in there first would receive the benefits of the healing powers.

Sometimes life can be full of excuses. Full of ‘what ifs’. We look out on our TV screens and like the man by the pool we lay motionless as the world seem to take its own course. It is like we have no say in the matter. We have seen pictures of our capital decimated by so-called protesters; news stories of more soldiers taken away on far flung battlefields. Closer to home we hear about cuts that are yet to take affect; austerity measures that seem absurdly unfair and we have seen our loved ones pass away and we seem powerless; VAT is due to go up to 20% and West Ham are likely to go down and like the man by the pool all we can seem to do is watch.

Christmas comes around and we are left wondering that all that has changed are that things are not as secure as they were before. Our lives seem that bit more precarious; we are a year older and we might as well just lie by the pool. We come here tonight again to do what we did a year ago wishing for more but essentially hopeless as we sing the same hymns and like the man by the pool wait for someone to push us in.

You see today you may have to ask yourself the question, ‘ Do I want to get well?’. Do I want to be the person who lies by the pool, or do I want these words that we will hear and sing not be so familiar that they breed contempt, but actually plant in me a seed of hope. A hope that resounds like the Angels song to the shepherds and a hope that was like the Star in the East for the Kings. You see Jesus came and gave that man an opportunity to shift, to no longer live for his circumstances but to live with them. The mat on which he lay became the testimony of his life; a reminder of where he had been and a sign of where he was going.

You see God may have come down from heaven to earth but he is not going to change the circumstances that we find ourselves in. Why not? Because he is wanting us to act and join in with him. To reach out our hands to him and more importantly to each other; because we need to look and see if we can, for once, this Christmas actually hear the Angels song in our hearts and feel the heat of hope of the Star of the East. Let not the words we hear and sing tonight be ink on a page, but a chance to ask the question we dare not answer, ‘Do I want to get well?’

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Beverley Knight - Change is Gonna Come.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

commission4mission update



I haven't posted about commission4mission here for sometime but there is lots about which to update. Our latest newsletter can be found here and contains news of recent exhibitions, developments with our collaborative Olympics project Run With The Fire, a profile of installation artist Ally Clarke, and plans for 2011.

Since the newsletter was published we have also received information about the dedication of our third completed commission and have installed our fourth and fifth completed commissions. Our commissions, to date, are therefore as follows:
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Talking Heads - Wild Wild Life.

Jesus - catalyst for and predictor of change

The passage from Isaiah quoted by John the Baptist in Matthew 3. 1-12 portrays him as a roadbuilder. His role is to construct a straight path, by tearing down hillsides and raising up valleys, along which Jesus can walk towards us with nothing to obscure our view of him.

What we are looking at is a changed landscape. The way of life and religion which the people of Israel had known in recent years was shortly to change radically and violently as a result of Jesus’ death and resurrection followed by the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in AD70. The message which John brings seeks to prepare the people of Israel for change on a massive scale with Jesus at the centre of what was to occur.

Is something similar underway in our own day and time through the effects both of the recession and the challenges of peaks in the world’s supply of oil and water? We could be looking at a different political and economic situation globally in a very short space of time. Those who cling to the old ways of doing things – pictured here as the Pharisees and Sadducees – could find themselves swept away in the changes which may be about to come.

Are our eyes on Jesus as we seek to negotiate our way through changing times? Are we keeping our sightlines unobscured so that we can see him clearly and receive his leading and guidance?

Lord Jesus, you were the catalyst for change and the predictor of change for your first disciples. Help us to see you clearly in the challenges and changes of our times that you might also be our Lord and guide today. Amen.

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Lifehouse - Hanging by a Moment.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Windows on the world (131)


Seven Kings, 2009

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Kathy Mattea - Trouble With Angels.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

A Fire In My Belly

Once again Christians are shooting themselves in the foot by seeking to get art which they don't like banned. This time it is the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights who are the culprits having successfully pressurised the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC into removing a video by David Wojnarowicz from their current HIDE/SEEK exhibition.

"A Fire in My Belly," Wojnarowicz's 1987 video, is, in the words of a New York Times editorial, "a moving, anguished reflection on the artist’s impending death from AIDS." The video "shows very quick glimpses of challenging and, at times, disturbing images, including masks, a meatpacking plant, various objects on fire and the artist undressing himself." One of these images features ants crawling over a crucifix and it is this that has drawn "an outraged denunciation from the Catholic League."

There are multiple issues with the action taken by the Catholic League in this instance. First, there is no attempt on their part to engage with the work itself. Their action has been taken in relation to 11 seconds of a four minute video which is intended as a response to the reality of Aids. As such, the theme of the video is not Christ or Christianity and the imagery of the ants and crucifix needs to be understood firstly within the context of the video and its flow of imagery instead of being taken out of context in order to be misinterpreted as an attack on Christianity. Wojnarowicz said that the ants were a metaphor for society. In context, therefore, it would seem that Aids victims are being associated with Christ and experience additional suffering as society swarms all over those who already suffer (something which could be said to be happening all over again as a result of the Catholic League's intervention).

This has been an unfortunate aspect of many Christian protests against works of art. For instance, many Christians tried to prevent the film The Last Temptation of Christ from being made and protested against it once it was made. Central to these protests was the content of the last temptation dream sequence with Jesus marrying and sleeping with Mary Magdalene and later fathering children by Mary and Martha. Yet the whole point of this scene in the film is that it is a temptation which Jesus rejects and that the visible rejection of the temptation makes the necessity of the Jesus’ death all the clearer.

Second, the Catholic League exaggerate and misinterpret for effect in claiming in two of their press notices that the crucifix was being eaten by the ants, which is not the case. A similar case was that of the invective used against Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Rabbi Abraham Hecht, president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America, declared, "Never have we come across such a foul, disgusting, blasphemous film before." Robert E.A. Lee of the Lutheran Council, spoke about "crude and rude mockery, colossal bad taste, profane parody.” Malcolm Muggeridge, without having seen the film, claimed it was “morally without merit and undeniably reprehensible.” While, on the same discussion programme, Mervyn Stockwood, then Bishop of Southwark, declared that the Python’s would get their thirty pieces of silver. But it is difficult now to establish exactly what is was that people were up in arms about as the film patently makes no attempt to satirise Christ.

Third, the Catholic League are claiming that they have a right in US culture for Christianity to be respected and not mocked but, in this instance, the exercise of their right can only be at the expense of the artist's right to self-expression and the right of other US citizens to see the artist's work. In other words the League are calling for their rights to trump those of others. They want rights but only for themselves. A more consistent position is that of gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell who criticised a Scottish court for fining an American Baptist evangelist touring Britain, for telling passers-by in Glasgow city centre: "Homosexuals are deserving of the wrath of God – and so are all other sinners – and they are going to a place called hell."

Tatchell argued: "Shawn Holes is obviously homophobic and should not be insulting people with his anti-gay tirades. He should be challenged and people should protest against his intolerance. However, in a democratic, free society it is wrong to prosecute him. Criminalisation is not appropriate. The price of freedom of speech is that we sometimes have to put up with opinions that are objectionable and offensive. Just as people should have the right to criticise religion, people of faith should have the right to criticise homosexuality. Only incitements to violence should be illegal."

Fourth, this third point reveals that the Catholic League are yearning for a return to a Christendom model where Christianity had power and could both decide and enforce what was acceptable and what was not instead of engaging with the reality and opportunities of a Post-Christendom world. As Simon Barrow has written: "That Christians do not rule others in the way they once did, in the fading Christendom era, does not amount to "persecution". Rather, it is an invitation, in the midst of some pain and adjustment no doubt, to rediscover patterns of church life in a plural society which show the heart of the Christian message to be about embracing others, not isolating ourselves; multiplying hope, not spreading fear; developing peaceableness, not resorting to aggression; and advancing compassion, rather than retreating into defensiveness."

Fifth, to call for an offending item to be banned is to avoid or rule out debate which suggests that the arguments being made do not actually stand up. If the arguments of the Catholic League had substance they should be keen for them to be heard and debated instead of simply trying to close down all debate through censorship of the offending item. The approach of seeking to have an offending item banned actually always has the opposite effect to that intended by making people more interest in seeing the item itself. This is so in this case too, where the co-owner of the PPOW Gallery which represents Wojnarowicz’ estate, Wendy Olsoff told ARTINFO: "The controversy is exposing a lot of new people to the work … It's a lot of young people who are involved with this, new people who don't have experience with activism, but are outraged."

Finally, the League are playing up to the stereotype of Christians as kill-joys forever seeking to prevent others from self-expression. Again, the same was the case in relation to protests against Life of Brian. Eric Idle said that it became clear to the Pythons early on in writing the script that they couldn't make fun of Christ since what he says is very fine but the people around him were hilarious and still are. John Cleese agrees. "What we are is quite clearly making fun of the way people follow religion, but not religion itself.” This was, perhaps, the real reason for those religious protests; it was us being satirised in the film and we weren’t able to laugh at ourselves or to deal with the accusation of unthinking gullibility. Protest and invective as the Church’s response to Life of Brian just seemed to reinforce in many people’s minds those depictions of unthinking gullibility that run throughout the film.

None of this means that Christians cannot protest against depictions of Christ or Christianity which may be offensive to us. What it does mean is that we need to think carefully about when and how we do so. A positive example is the response of much of the Church in the UK to The Da Vinci Code book and film.

Dan Brown uses the same storyline in The Da Vinci Code as appears in the dream sequence in Last Temptation; the idea that Jesus did not die but married and fathered a bloodline which continues to this day. When The Last Temptation of Christ was released this storyline, although it was clearly depicted as false, led to major protests but when The Da Vinci Code was released, although the book (and by implication the film) claim that this storyline is historical fact, similar protests did not occur.

Like Life of Brian, The Da Vinci Code also criticises the behaviour of Christians. Life of Brian portrays the followers of religions as unthinking and gullible and the response of Christians to that film reinforced this stereotype. The Da Vinci Code portrays Christians as scheming hypocrites knowing the truth but covering it up in order to sustain organised religion. But the reaction of Christians to this film did not reinforce that stereotype.

Finally, it seemed that the Church had learnt that the way to counter criticism is not to try to ban or censor it but to engage with it, understand it and accurately counter it. The Da Vinci Code events, bible studies, websites etc. that the Church has used to counter the claims made in The Da Vinci Code have been reasoned arguments based on a real understanding of the issues raised and making use of genuine historical findings and opinion to counter those claims.

Unfortunately, the Catholic League has done the reverse in responding to A Fire in My Belly.

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The Source Featuring Candi Staton - You Got The Love.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Seek the Welfare of the City

"Inspirational"..."great"..."brain and soul food"... these were some of the responses to the Seek the Welfare of the City conference organised by the Greater London Presence and Engagement Network, King's College London and St Mellitus College last week. Many of the talks - including keynote addresses by Bishop Doug Miles and Bishop Richard Chartres, and sessions with Lucy Winkett, Giles Goddard and Russ Rook are online here. Over 250 people attended the event, held at Holy Trinity Brompton and St Paul's Hammersmith, with presentations on the theology and practice of urban ministry.

Earthed in practice this was an opportunity to reflect on urban mission and ministry through a mix of case studies, keynote speaches and panel discussions. The venue for the first day was Holy Trinity Brompton and the keynote speaker Bishop Doug Miles, Koinonia Baptist Church, Baltimore. Panel topics were:- Missional church in practice; Christian Social enterprise - developing sustainable and resilient forms of social welfare provision; Urban spirituality and discipleship - beyond the rural and the monastic.

The venue for day two was St Paul's Hammersmith. Panel topics were Christian social and political engagement in multi-faith contexts and a roundtable and plenary discussion of Christianity and Contemporary Politics: The Conditions and Possibilites of Faithful Witness by Luke Bretherton.

You can follow the conference Twitter feed here. Luke Bretherton's comments summed up the mood of the conference well: "Something rather special emerged as people began to connect outside of stereotypes and listen afresh - together."

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After The Fire - Life In The City.

Monday, 6 December 2010

TASK Newsletter 23

Chris Connelly of TASK writes:

The winter arrived soon after our festive tree this year, adding a distinctly seasonal, and decidedly slippery, feel to our local streetscape.

The situation has improved significantly over the last 24 hours, though, and we hope we can proceed with our final streetscene walkabout of the year this coming Friday, December 10th, starting on the pedestrian island outside Seven Kings railway station at 0900.

The walkabout, started by TASK and now widely used across the borough, does just what it says and involves council staff, police and local residents walking the area and picking up on dumping, graffiti, poor paving, out of order lighting, abandoned cars and all the other things that can make life difficult and miserable for local citizens. In many cases, the walkabout allows for immediate action so do come along and be part of a really positive morning. It only lasts a couple of hours and makes a big difference.

On the same day, the purveyors of local live music, the music lounge, return to the Ilford Sports Club on Cricklefields, High Road, Ilford with an evening of live entertainment including Cheesecloth + Dread Fury playing from 8 - 11.30pm.

Cheesecloth are an early 70's covers band with a difference celebrating some refreshing tracks from that great era of rock music, tracks that remain classics but that are less frequently heard these days, from the likes of McGuiness-Flint, Badfinger, Family and loads more great bands. Totally accessible music whether you know the originals or not! Dread Fury features the talents of Graeme Browne, compelling soulful vocalist, creative songwriter and guitarist, augmented with bass and tabla drums. Dread Fury has recently completed his new 5-track EP entitled 'The Dread Furious EP'. It costs just £4 admission and runs at Ilford Sports Club, The Pavilion, Cricklefield Stadium, 486 High Road, Ilford, IG1 1UE.

The week after, on Tuesday December 14th, we will be holding our final TASK supporters gathering of the year, between 7-8pm when we will look back at our achievements and share some festive food and drink. We are hoping to hold the session in the new Seven Kings Library, the campaign for the return of which was initiated by TASK and supported by politicians of all persuasions including our three local ward councillors.

As we write, issues of local crime and policing attract attention, with some concerns expressed about the visibility of our local police team and the return of regular, hardcore public drinking - and possibly drug taking- outside the railway station. Further concerns relate to the unavailability of the Safer Neighbourhood Team over a number of weekends. TASK will be pursuing these matters as a matter of urgency with local police managers, on the basis we are strong supporters of the police and effective police; and that concerns are best shared and resolved to avoid simmering discontent. Keep reading. We are also pursuing an interest in joining our local police panel from a number of supporters via the Rev Jonathan Evens.

Finally, for now, TASK recently attended the annual assembly of The East London Community Organisation, part of Citizens UK, Britain's largest community alliance. The group is currently hoping to work with local groups in Redbridge, to bring on new community leaders and develop the power of community politics in the borough, and certainly, first impressions from the huge, 600 strong meeting in Walthamstow were enormously positive, with a diverse range of groupings from four boroughs coming together to demonstrate
the strength of collective 'people power'.

For those interested, here is a short summary I wrote the day after:

"On a dark autumn evening, with an icy chill in the air, the magnificent backdrop of Walthamstow Assembly Hall played host to one of the largest public gatherings I can remember in years as east enders of all ages, backgrounds and faiths made their way singly, or as part of larger groups, and by bus, train, bike or on foot into the warmth of the hall for an evening of unique community politics courtesy of London Citizens.

The two hour live event, involving over 600 people, combined music, laughter, pageant , praise, affirmation, spectacle and anger in a uniquely uplifting demonstration of people power in one place, somehow colliding the spirit of a big old revivalist public meeting with elements of a game show, peoples jury and talent contest in the weirdest club mix , albeit one which- and this is the key point- had the power to inspire, anger, excite, and ultimately organise us on the basis that working together we are stronger than just operating in our own smaller, separate worlds.

And there were plenty of big, real stories to prove the point, from the presence of UEL bosses, on the same shared stage as cleaners, students and teachers, having literally just signed up to the living wage; through to the live quizzing of top Olympic officials and government representatives. Let’s be honest, this organisation can bend the ear of the powerful and has clout. Which totally matters if we are to realise the promise of 2012.

And to prove the point, and to show that there all our battles are not won, we were left with a challenge. To ensure that the Olympic marathon happens here on our streets leading in to the Olympic site, rather than through the sanitised, west end tourist route proposed.

So, there’s the hook. Your heard it here first. Watch this space for more on what has the potential to become a massive crossover campaign for 2011.

Meanwhile, I just feel pleased to have been part of something big, something positive and something real. Like so many of the attendees last night, coming for a repeat visit, I’ll be back."

Enough for now. Hope to see you on the walkabout and at the supporters meeting.

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Show of Hands - Arrogance Ignorance And Greed.

Book of Christmas

Yesterday, in our service of Peace and Justice Reflections for Advent at St John's Seven Kings which focussed on Christian Aid's Trace the Tax campaign, we listened to 'Book of Christmas', a track from Thea Gilmore's Strange Communion album. Over an instrumental background Thea recites lines taken from Louis MacNeice's poem, Autumn Journal, which include the following:

There was a star in the east.
Magi in their turbans brought their luxury toys
in homage to a child born to capsize their values,
wreck their equipoise.
A smell of hay like peace in the dark stable,
not peace however but a sword
to cut the gordian knot of self-interest,
the fool-proof golden cord,
for Christ walked in where philosophers tread
but armed with more than folly
making the smooth place rough
and knocking the heads of church and state together.
In honour we have taken over the pagan feast of saturnalia
for our annual treat,
letting the belly have its say,
ignoring the spirit whilst we eat.
and conscience still goes crying through the desert
with sackcloth round his loins.
A week to Christmas,
Hark the Herald Angels beg for copper coins

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Thea Gilmore - Listen ... The Snow Is Falling.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Tamil Carols






Last night St John's Seven Kings hosted the 32nd Tamil Carols celebrating the birth of Jesus by sharing love, peace and joy with family and friends at the start of the Christmas season. As always the service involved contributions from members of the large number of families attending before a meal was enjoyed together, to which each family also contributed.

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Sufjan Stevens - O come, O come Emmanuel.  

Friday, 3 December 2010

Lights of Advent







Here are photos from our Lights of Advent event at St John's Seven Kings where we serve mulled wine and mince pies to passers by while giving out information about our Christmas services and activities. Our Christmas leaflet this year has the following meditation and information:

still
be still
be still and know
God
born
still God
still man
still born
still born among us
God
in flesh appearing
defenceless
helpless
needing us
all-knowing
un-knowing
all present
confined in space
a child
God child
incarnate
incarnate still
be still
be still and know
(written by Revd. Alan Stewart)


Saturday 4th, 6.00pm - Tamil Carol Service

Sunday 5th, 10.00am - Peace and Justice Advent Reflections Service

Sunday 12th, 10.00am - Dramatised Nativity Service and 6.30pm Service of Nine Lessons and Carols by Candlelight - traditional carols and readings

Sunday 19th, 10.00am - All-age Christingle Service - a colourful service of music and light (collection for The Children’s Society) and 6.30pm Service of Nine Lessons and Carols at St Peter’s Aldborough Hatch

Monday 20th, 7.00pm - Carol Singing around the Parish - wrap up warm. Collecting for Haven House Hospice.

Tuesday 21st, 2.00pm - Carol Tea – Mothers’ Union (All are welcome)

Christmas Eve
Friday 24th, 5.00pm - All-age Nativity Service - dressing up and tree lighting - fun for all. Bring a present to leave under the tree for children helped by Barnados. Collection to the Haven House Hospice.
11.30pm First Holy Communion of Christmas

Christmas Day
Saturday 25th, 8.00am - Holy Communion - Book of Common Prayer; and 10.00am Christmas All-age Holy Communion - children, bring a gift you have received to show others

New Years Eve
Friday 31st, 11.30pm - Watchnight Service - welcoming the New Year in prayer and reflection

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Robbie Robertson - Shine Your Light.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Vision of God's reordering of the world

Along with many others in the Diocese of Chelmsford, I've been looking forward to the arrival of the new Bishop of Chelmsford, Stephen Cottrell. His inaugural sermon and other materials introducing him to the Diocese illustrate why we are excited about the possibilities for the Diocese under his leadership:

"God has called us to build the kingdom of his love where a new humanity is revealed and made available. And, if I can borrow for a moment the phrase of the hour, the ‘Big Society’ was always our idea first. It is this vision of God's new community and God’s reordering of the world that brought me into the Church in the first place; and it is this vision that sustains me. And it is this - and this only - that we will joyfully seek and celebrate together while I am your bishop ...

Jesus says that his Church must be ‘salt’ and ‘light’. And let me remind you that here salt does not mean you are supposed to be like the little sprinkling over your chips to make them taste a bit nicer. It is preservative. This is what Jesus means; like a piece of salted cod - you stop it from rotting. This is what Jesus longs his Church to be: a household of peace and joy where true and lasting values are held, taught and celebrated.

And light. We are supposed to be light; light that shines in the darkness. Light that reveals the way. Light that dispels fear. Jesus says that we, his people, are supposed to be ‘a city set on a hill ’ receiving and radiating the light of Christ.

So, brothers and sisters, who are we - gathered in the midst of this Cathedral today; this motley band of muddled and broken humanity? We are the inheritors of a great vocation. We are the ones who are called to share the light of Christ today and shine with that light in our own lives.

This is what Basil Jellicoe did in the slums of London. This is what William Temple taught. This is what countless Christian people are doing every day in the diocese. And it is to this that we recommit ourselves: nothing less than the beauty of the Gospel and the building of God’s kingdom here."

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The Alarm - Presence of Love.

Celebrating Christmas confidently

In response to the seasonal flurry of stories about Christmas which attract the familiar words 'political correctness gone mad!', the Christian Muslim Forum have circulated some little-known facts about Christmas, Christians and Muslims:
  • 'Winterval' was not intended as a replacement for Christmas.
  • Christians celebrating Christmas do not offend people of other faiths.
  • Many, many Muslims in this country were educated at Christian (mostly Church of England) schools in this country or elsewhere.
  • Muslims are baffled when they read and hear that Christmas is being “banned” and replaced with something else to avoid offending Muslims.
  • Both Christians and Muslims in the UK are concerned that a key religious festival is overly commercialised.
Their Christmas Statement can be found by clicking here and includes the following:

"Over the past few years there has been concern about the secularisation or de-Christianisation of certain religious festivals.In particular,concerns that local authorities decided to rename Christmas.In fact,this was not the case,although stories persist of Christmas ‘being banned ’.Some have suggested that Christmas, celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ and wishing people ‘Merry Christmas’ offends members of other religious traditions.

As Muslims and Christians together we are wholeheartedly committed to the recognition of Christian festivals. Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus and we wish this significant part of the Christian heritage of this country to remain an acknowledged part of national life. We believe that the only beneficiaries of a declining Christian presence in public life are those committed to a totally non-religious standpoint. We value the presence of clear institutional markers within society of the reality and mystery of God in public life, rather than its absence.

We believe that our open and democratic society should promote freedom and expression of religion in the public space rather than restrict it ... We believe that downplaying the celebration of religious festivals promotes frustration, alienation and even anger within religious communities. Such negative approaches devalue religion and undermine the positive contributions that faith communities bring to society.

We also rejoice in the contribution and value of all religious communities in our country – Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and others. It is important for the integrity of all religious traditions that we recognise the centrality of their major festivals. In our diverse society we need to foster a mature and healthy outlook which recognizes this country’s Christian heritage as well as the important part that other religious traditions play within our culture."

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U2 - Peace On Earth / Walk On.

Support for artistic flight and future grace

In the absence of an Association of Scholars of Christianity in the History of Art (ASCHA) website that actually works, Stoneworks has helpfully provided more information on this newly formed professional organization that seeks to redress the tendency in much of recent scholarship to ignore or minimize the influence of Christianity on the arts.

A report on ASCHA's inaugural symposium in Paris can be found by clicking here. The art space in which the symposium met is a venue for the arts which seeks to support and encourage the arts and artists regardless of their faith affiliation by providing a space at an enviable address at a reasonable cost to the artists for performance of music and poetry, the mounting of art exhibitions, as well as meetings like the symposium.

Also seeking to support artists in expressing their Christian faith in the face of a lack of understanding of the resulting art is New York based artist Makoto Fujimura, who has recently published a letter to young artists in which he writes of the ability to learn to fly as artists as 'future grace' citing C. S. Lewis to describe an artist's early development - "while the wings are just beginning to grow, when ... the lumps on the shoulders…give ... an awkward appearance”:

"What if Lewis is right, and you are destined to “fly”? What if our awkwardness, and our uniqueness points to the potential of the person we are meant to become? In order to learn to fly, you need to be patient, and ready to experience many failures; we need an environment where we can fail often, but you also need opportunities to peer into the wonders and mysteries of the vista of the world to come. Since many, including those in the institutions of the schools or churches, will not understand, you may have to create “fellowship” yourself. Do not be surprised by their rejections ...

Even if you are not cognizant of a grace reality, you can still create in the possibility of future grace. That takes faith to do, but if you can do that, you will be joining so many artists of the past who wrestled deeply with faith, doubt, poverty, rejection, longing and yet chose to create. Know that the author of creativity longs for you to barge in, break open the gift you have been saving; he will not only receive you, he can bring you purpose behind the battle, and rebuke those who reject you. Mary’s oil was the only thing Jesus wore to the cross. He was stripped of everything else, but art can sometimes endure even torture. A friend of mine said that in the aroma of Christ, Mary’s oil mixed with Christ’s blood and sweat, there are da Vincis and Bachs floating about. He will bring your art, music and dance to the darkness of death, and into the resurrection of the third day ...

Growth comes by understanding how limited you are. Learning to use your wings means learning the discipline as a means to grace. Give yourself boundaries and goals; start with small things, like having a small table dedicated to your poems. Emily Dickinson wrote her poems on a small 18 inch by 18 inch desk in her room in Amherst. Do not put anything other than your poems, though, on that area. Guard against the world invading your boundaries. Learning to paint, play the piano, or dance has much to do with keeping your self-set boundaries, otherwise you will not own your craft. We are each given unique wings with unique particulars of how to use our wings; no one else can fly for you. You have to jump off the edge, and spread your wings."

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Mumford and Sons - Roll Away Your Stone.