Wikio - Top Blogs - Religion and belief

Monday, 28 February 2011

Windows on the world (143)

Coventry, 2010


Bruce Springsteen - The Promise.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Spiritual Life: Big Society

This is my Spiritual Life column about the Big Society which was published in yesterday's Ilford Recorder:

Recently I attended a conference on what the Big Society might mean for the Church, where I heard Jon Cruddas, MP for Dagenham and Rainham, state that he is a big fan of the Big Society. As the Big Society is viewed as David Cameron’s big idea this was a surprising statement for a Labour MP to make, so what were some of the factors that led to this position?

He began with his Irish Catholic, working class, Labour background, which gave him a communitarian disposition. Communitarianism is about balancing individual rights with the interests of the community as a whole and it developed, in the twentieth century, from the Catholic Workers Movement. As a result, the Big Society is not new and has a significant Catholic heritage on which we can draw.

Next, was the example that the Church has provided in his constituency during a period of considerable change. There, the Church has played a central role by holding the line in the tensions of change; tensions which saw far-right councillors elected and then defeated in subsequent local elections. The Church in this situation acted as a just institution enabling the release of virtue and supporting human flourishing.

These thoughts about the Big Society provide a viable alternative to the selfishness inherent in our market-led consumerism and the over-heavy control of the ‘nanny’ state. They suggest that there is a different way of living and being socially; that life is more than earning and spending.

That certainly doesn’t mean that all is well now. Where the axe of cuts is currently falling makes the Big Society less likely. People in our community are struggling because of the withdrawal of 'safety nets'; the least well off are paying the price for the recession.

It doesn’t have to be like that, however. Successful community campaigns in this borough show that people of all faiths and none care deeply about what happens to this borough and the likely effects of cuts in Council services. Jon Cruddas quoted Oscar Romero who said, "Aspire not to have more but to be more." Maybe if we all thought like that, the Big Society could become the cornerstone of a new politics and the new centre ground.


Eddie and the Hot Rods - Do Anything You Wanna Do.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Multi-layered meaning

At the launch of the Art Trail for the Barking Episcopal Area last Thursday, Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Chelmsford, described and reflected on a painting by Stanley Spencer, from his Christ in the Wilderness series, entitled The Scorpion. He concluded:

“I do not know what other art form could convey and hold the possibility of converging in so many layers. Not just do the visual arts comment on biblical narrative, but they illuminate it in a way that written or spoken forms cannot, being linear forms. Art opens windows on a set of concepts and ideas and brings them together. These windows offer a fresh perspective onto the faith we share, that other forms simply cannot.”

Multi-layered meaning also features in The Writing on the Wall where Maggi Dawn demonstrates the way in which our culture is built stories or ideas which come from the Bible. One example she uses is that of the series of stories within a story found in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, the result being "a complex mix of stories that reveal human nature, often with a high element of comedy, but also projecting a strong moral theme." For example, Dawn notes that there are three levels to the 'Cook's Tale':

"In the background is the fall of Adam and Eve, who defied God, ate forbidden fruit and were expelled from the garden. The 'Cook's Tale' gives us Perkyn Revelour, who disrespects his master but is ultimately undone by gluttony - surrounded by a shop full of good food, and with every need catered for, he still wants what is not his, and ends up living in poverty with a 'fallen' woman. And the Cook himself begins by challenging Harry Bailly's authority, and ends by having a fall of his own because he too is a glutton and a drunkard."

Modernist Art, Gabriel Josipovici argues in Whatever Happened to Modernism, is art which is aware of such complexities in order to consciously utilise these to explore both the layers and limits of meaning; art which arrives "at a consciousness of its own limits and responsibilities." Josipovici cites Wittgenstein, in one example from the many he uses, "struggling, in the Preface to the Philosophical Investigations, with the conundrum of whether he has written the series of fragments which follow because he is, whether through weakness or because of the temper of the times, not up to writing the kind of large, coherent argument which came naturally to Locke or Kant, or whether he wrote it as a series of fragments because that is precisely what the argument he was trying to put forward demanded."

Stories or art which possess such levels of meaning, consciousness or complexity are, Josipovici argues, sites of contestation. Just as in the series of stories within a story which form the Canterbury Tales and enable comment and debate within and without the story on the character's attempts at entertainment and moralisation, so Josipovici argues, "each artist, each work even, must be judged seperately and in its own terms, within the larger story of which each is a part." He concludes that this means "that argument and disagreement will never end, which is as it should be." "A tradition," he writes, "is a living thing, and each major artist ... leads to its reconfiguration, however minutely."

All of which can lead us back to the Bible which, as Maggi Dawn notes, tells its stories by moving backwards and forwards between different modes of expression. The form of the Bible is then one of conversation or contestation in the way that is similar to what we have seen of Josipovici's argument. Similarly, Daniel W. Hardy in Wording A Radiance has suggested that the process which generated the scriptures was that of Jesus walking and encountering people. His encounters led to question and answer, conversation and interrogation, where there was no predicting where the conversation would end up.

We are healed, Hardy suggests, as we are "drawn into a process of re-generation that imitates the very process that generates the scriptures." This means being drawn into "an ongoing, open drama of the everyday, in which our contribution to the dialogue and action are shaping the plot." This idea is similar to Josipovici's thought that each major artist leads to the reconfiguration of a living tradition and also to the idea of Tom Wright (see Living the Story) that we live in the Biblical story by improvising our part on the basis of what we know of the story so far and the hints we have of how it will end. Hardy, concludes that we are to be "like Jesus in conversation rather than saying: sign up to my faith statement."


Van Morrison - Saint Dominics Preview.    

Say No to Closure of Seven Kings Park Toilets Campaign

Seven Kings & Newbury Park Residents Association (SKNPRA) are requesting that Redbridge Council reconsider their plans to close under reference: CDS309 the toilets in Seven Kings Park, Aldborough Road South, Newbury Park.

Seven Kings Park is used not just by the residents in Seven Kings and Newbury Park, but also from visitors outside the community as well. Many sports are played in the park with Saturday and Sunday teams playing football and cricket during the summer months, not forgetting the playing of tennis on the courts and Bowls on the green as well. There are additional facilities with the large children’s play area at the far end of the park and the recent NEW Lottery funded Playscape area that is being built for completion early 2011 for children’s use, sited near to the toilets precisely to accommodate the needs of children and parents. Seven Kings Park is a very busy, well used community park.

SKNPRA was recently successful in obtaining funding from Area 5 and 7 Committees to refurbish the bandstand, so that bands can play in the park once more in the summer to attract, entertain residents and their families. The park is greatly used by many of the residents on a daily basis, with dogs being walked by their owners, people playing sport, keep fit walkers and runners alike.

The park is also used by the local schools. Downshall Primary School, in particular, we understand have stated that if the toilets close, then the school children will no longer be able to visit the park to play, learn and explore as the risk is too great that a child may want to go toilet at any time. It seems a great shame that this basic, but necessary facility is proposed to be closed to save money, when its use is a much needed public convenience!

We urge the Leader of the Cabinet, Councillor Keith Prince and Cabinet Member for Highways, Councillor Mrs Michelle Dunn responsible for this budget cut to please think again and to consider how children, senior citizens, families, sports men and women can be deprived of the use of this much needed public convenience. With the Olympics not so far away and obesity levels rising in children and the population at large, it seems unthinkable that the Council are sending out the message that they are discouraging people from using the park and taking exercise by cutting the use of this public toilet facility.

SKNPRA will be staging a protest and collecting petition signatures at the entrance to the park next to the toilets in Seven Kings Park, Aldborough Road South on Saturday 26th February at 10.30am.


King Crimson - Epitaph.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Living the story

From earliest times human beings have told stories. The stories we tell, either explicitly or implicitly, seek to answer questions such as, “How did we get here?”, “Where are we going?”, and “What is the meaning of our existence?” We call these overarching stories metanarratives or worldviews and we live within the meanings which they provide. So, for example, a humanist may tell a story of a universe which comes into being by chance leaving human beings free to create their own meanings for life and society. By contrast, the church is founded on the premise that the creator God decisively calls and forms a people to serve him through the history of Israel and through the work of Jesus Christ to bring about the redemption of the creation.

We must constantly remember that we are a story formed community and that story is what defines our existence. Our story reaches us through the Bible which has been described by the former Bishop of Durham, Tom Wright, as being like a five act play containing the first four acts in full (i.e. 1. Creation, 2. Fall, 3. Israel, 4. Jesus) and the writing of the New Testament as forming the first scene in the fifth act which also gives hints of how the play is supposed to end. We are then called to live in this story improvising our part in the play on the basis of what we know of the story so far and the hints we have of how it will end.

Living the story in this way is something that artists and writers have done throughout Church history and continue to do today. For example, the art historian and curator Daniel A. Siedell has noted that: “the Bible … is a dynamic and powerful cultural artefact, a library of powerful stories, within which we in the western tradition have lived and breathed and have had our being. And for centuries it has been the engine that drove art and literature.”

As a result, in Living the Story we will be examining a selection of mainly contemporary uses of the Bible and the Christian story in popular culture and considering whether or not they can be said to be 'living the story’. We plan to cover film, music, novels, poetry and visual arts. Living the Story runs at the Diocesan Office, Chelmsford on Friday mornings from 10am-12pm on March 4,11,18, 25 and April 1.


Athlete - Chances

Monday, 21 February 2011

Windows on the world (142)

Chester, 2011


Laura Marling - Rambling Man.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Prayer - Service

Yesterday I agreed with my Spiritual Director that I will begin a new series of posts. I will be trying to write and post a weekly prayer. Each prayer will be an opportunity for me to reflect on my reading, experiences and/or preaching during that week.

This is the first prayer in the series which has been written for use tomorrow at the Redbridge deanery welcome service for Bishop Stephen. I was asked to write a prayer on the theme of service for Monish Balaji, one of our young people at St John's Seven Kings, to read during the service. The prayer is based on themes and phrases taken from Bishop Stephen's writings and sermons.

Lord Jesus we, your motley band of muddled and broken humanity, are the inheritors of the great vocation which you shared with your first disciples. We are the ones who are called to share the light of Christ today and shine with that light in our own lives. You long for us to be ‘salt’ and ‘light’ in our world as we bless our communities by serving them as you have served us.

Enable us to be a church that is gospel centred, servant hearted and mission focused; a church that connects with every person and every community. Enable us to see how we can serve the people with whom we have contact in such a way that the gospel becomes intriguing, challenging and appealing to them. Enable us to get inside the shoes of other people so that they can be welcomed and accompanied at every point of their faith journey. Enable us to enable others to do their very best and to achieve their fullest potential. Enable us to become a household of peace and joy where true and lasting values are held, taught and celebrated.

Lord Jesus, as we are enabled by you to serve others, may we build the kingdom of your love where a new humanity is revealed and your reordering of the world is celebrated and shared. Amen.


Graham Kendrick - The Servant King.

Creativity in Harlow

I spent a very creative afternoon with Ally Clarke and Robert Enoch in Harlow on Monday discussing ideas for art initiatives through commission4mission with St Paul's Harlow and St Mary's Little Parndon in the autumn.

St Paul's Harlow is a modernist church designed by Humphrys and Hurst which features a mosaic by John Piper, on the theme of the Emmaus Road, that was Piper's first mosaic. St Paul's is, as a result, one of the churches which features in the Art Trail for the Barking Episcopal Area which is being launched tomorrow. Both churches provide wonderful spaces for further artistic interventions.


Mumford and Sons - Lover Of The Light.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Saving Goodmayes Library

TASK has been active over the past month in generating a community campaign which has resulted in Redbridge Council withdrawing its controversial plan to close Goodmayes Library. This is how the story was reported by Sarah Cosgrove of the Ilford Recorder:

'Cabinet Member for Leisure, Sue Nolan told The Recorder she has decided to withdraw the budget option to close Goodmayes Library, in Goodmayes Lane.

"I have attended a number of meetings to discuss our budget proposals and as with last year I have listened to the community, I believe that there are alternative ways of providing the services in Goodmayes Library and I now look to the community to help deliver this valued service," she said.

"There has been much talk about how we should provide the service in a different way and we are talking to other neighbouring Boroughs in relation to shared services but would welcome any initiatives that the community would also like me to consider."'

The fact that Cllr Sue Nolan has withdrawn her proposal to close Goodmayes Library is important but it was also important not count our chickens yet, so a group opposing the closure still handed in to tonight's Cabinet meeting a massive petition, tallying nearly 6,000 signatures as a record of our strength of opposition. Speeches made by our group covered the personal and community benefits of the current services, inadequacies in the closure case, and, in my remarks, proposals for a more strategic and engaged approach to involving the voluntary and community sector in future.

I said:

"It is excellent news that the proposal to close Goodmayes Library has been withdrawn and that Councillor Nolan is now looking to look to the community to help deliver this valued service. However, that, by itself, is not sufficient if we are to learn lessons from the way in which the process of reviewing the budget proposals has been handled to date. Simply to wait for community proposals and initiatives is insufficient because it results in a piecemeal approach to the issues and their solutions.

What is needed is a strategic approach to engaging with and involving the voluntary and community sector as part of a positive approach to the Government’s Big Society agenda, which can also encompass the immediate issue of how to find savings in the Council’s overall budget.

I suggest that taking a strategic approach to the issue would involve a comprehensive and detailed consultation with all voluntary and community sector organisations in the borough to audit their facilities and services and to seek ideas on the types and forms of community involvement which could preserve services and deliver cost savings. In addition to the possibility of services run by voluntary and community organisations, options could also include location of services in existing community building and increased use of volunteers, among other options. To undertake this kind of consultation would result in far more useful outcomes for addressing the current budget challenges than the pseudo-consultation which is the Redbridge Conversation and which tells the Council nothing substantial in terms of how to address the issue practically and creatively.

Such a strategic approach would also identify the real impacts of the cuts proposed. Cuts proposed by one Council department regularly impact on the work of other departments without these effects being identified and the real cost of the proposals is therefore not considered in decisions made. One example is the decision to close the Aldborough Road South toilets which impact on the playscheme in Seven Kings Park and on use of the playscheme by children from Downshall Primary School. The playscheme is a wonderful addition to the Park and the children at Downshall School have been consulted in its design but if the toilets are closed Downshall School will be unable to take groups of children to the Park and playscheme. This is a hidden impact as far as the paper assessing the budget proposals has been concerned because the proposals have not been developed or assessed strategically.

The strategic review, for which I am calling, will result in a more informed set of proposals and should become a standard part of the proposal development process in future."

The Style Council - Walls Come Tumbling Down!

Windows on the world (141)

Harlow, 2011


The Velvet Underground - Sunday Morning.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Save King George Hospital campaign

Following this morning's services, there was a planning meeting held at St Paul's Goodmayes for The Save King George Hospital campaign. The campaign is a multi-party, multi-faith campaign to persuade Andrew Lansley, the Secretary of State for Health to stop the closure of A&E and maternity services at King George Hospital, Ilford.

Proposals to close vital services at Redbridge's only hospital have been approved. There will be no A&E and no maternity services provided resulting in a reduction in beds from 400 to 50. This means that most people who live in Redbridge will have to go to Queen's Hospital Romford. The effect will be:
  • much longer travel times to get to a hospital, especially important for ambulances to get to A&E. Queen's Hospital Romford is 4½ miles from King George Hospital in Goodmayes along the A12, the worst A road in Britain;
  • Queens Hospital will serve 700,000 people while inner London hospitals will each serve an average of just over 200,000;
  • one hospital (Queens) will serve three boroughs, while the inner London boroughs will each have their own hospital;
  • Queens will be unable to cope as this is already the case with ambulances frequently turned away because the hospital is full;
  • no baby will be born in future in a Redbridge hospital;
  • Redbridge will lose its maternity service while Barking has a new maternity unit;
  • Redbridge will no longer have a major hospital while Barking and Dagenham will each get a community hospital.
This information comes from the campaign which is organising a public meeting, to be addressed by Iain Duncan Smith MP, Ken Livingstone, other faith and community speakers, at Ilford Town Hall on Friday 8th April, 6.00pm, at Ilford Town Hall.


Sham 69 - Angels With Dirty Faces.

SOLID Remix 2011

A sold out SOLID Remix took place at Chelmsford Cathedral on Friday and featured inflatables, communion and sung worship.

The youth group from St John's Seven Kings were there for the event which, this year, was based around times in Jesus’ life when he came into contact with food. The venue was set up into four different zones, and in each of these zones there was the opportunity to get physical, be creative, sample some food, and gain some spiritual input either through multimedia experiences, storytelling or reflection. The young people travelled around these zones, following in Jesus’ footsteps, which was the 2011 theme taken from 1 Peter 2:21. In the middle of the evening, everyone came together to share a meal and join together in worship and communion. There were also additional opportunities for those who preferred to do a graffiti workshop or take part in a lyricist lounge.

SOLID exists to support the on-going work of children and youth leaders across Essex, East London and the wider area by providing quality events that Christian young people can bring their un-churched friends to.

One of the core objectives for SOLID is to be ‘local’, creating a sense that everyone you meet at the events are from your locality. For young people this is particularly important in generating a sense of ‘SOLIDarity’ – they are not the only young person who goes to church in Essex! It’s also important to small church groups, to be able to take your young people to a quality event that is ‘local’.


Split Level - The Things I Do.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

The DNA of the western imagination

Daniel A. Siedell's latest post gives clues as to some of the directions Philip Ritchie, Paul Trathen and I are planning to go in with the Living the Story course we are currently planning. Siedell's post is based on a biblical reading of the work of artist Enrique Martínez Celaya:

"First, it argues that the Bible's influence does not have to be embodied in a self-conscious way, as a form of meditation or reflection on particular biblical themes. If the Bible is the DNA of the western imagination, as such critics as George Steiner, Northrop Frye, and Andrew Delbanco suggest,then it should be present in some way in the work of an artist such Martínez Celaya, who is deeply formed by the western literary tradition, not only as a reader but as a writer of poetry and prose ... Second, the exhibition argues that the Bible can function as a provocative and enriching critical tool, which can expand rather than limit the experience of art ...

The Bible is a rich resource for critical practice. But for use in this context, it needs to be liberated from the believers, who fear that its authority or infallability as God's word is undermined if it approached as literature. For them, art, literature, music, film, and theatre should function as Bible studies and devotional exercise in paint, sound, word, and image. Far from protecting it, this literalistic approach to "Biblical art" weakens its power, restricting its use to quoting chapter and verse in support of dogma and theology. This makes the Bible boring and obscures the fact that it is a dynamic and powerful cultural artifact, a library of powerful stories, within which we in the western tradition have lived and breathed and have had our being. And for centuries it has been the engine that drove art and literature ...

to recognize and acknowledge such biblical resonances and influences for western culture risks opening up a pandora's box that secularists have long tried to keep shut: that modernity emerged from and has lived off the  creative capital of the Judeo-Christian tradition, including its theology, as it was embodied in the Renaissance humanism and the Reformation. Recent books by scholars Michael Allen Gillespie (The Theological Origins of Modernity) and Bruce Hoslinger (The Premodern Condition) have revealed this more clearly. The paucity and shallowness of contemporary art criticism, which oscillates between journalism, marketing, and obscure pseudo-theory, might be ameliorated through a rediscovery of the literary treasures of the Bible, treasures that have seduced the greatest minds and artists throughout modernity (and postmodernity)."


Willard Grant Conspiracy - Fare Thee Well.

Living the Story / Writing on the Wall

I spent part of yesterday planning Living the Story, the Lent course I'm running as part of the Diocesan Lent and Eastertide programme together with Philip Ritchie and Paul Trathen.

We've taken as our starting point Tom Wright's description of the Bible as being like a five act play containing the first four acts in full (i.e. 1. Creation, 2. Fall, 3. Israel, 4. Jesus) and the writing of the New Testament as forming the first scene in the fifth act which also giving hints of how the play is supposed to end. We are then called to live in this story improvising our part in the play on the basis of what we know of the story so far and the hints we have of how it will end.

Living the Story in this way is something that Christian artists and writers have tried to do throughout Church history and continue to do today. So in this course we will be examining a selection of contemporary uses of the Bible and the Christian story in popular culture and considering whether or not they can be said to be 'living the story’. We plan to cover film, music, novels, poetry and visual arts.

Also included in the Lent and Eastertide programme and covering similar ground are two sessions by Maggi Dawn based on her book The Writing on the Wall.

2011 is the 400th anniversary of the publication of The King James Version of the Bible. But just how well do we understand the Bible, and its relationship to our culture? Maggi Dawn, author of The Writing on the Wall, will show how art, music, poetry, sculpture and film have been influenced by the Bible far more than we usually realize. But the arts do more than merely illustrate bible stories and characters: they also open up possibilities for interpretation.

This day will open up some of the theological and devotional adventures that become possible when the riches of the Bible are recognized within the world of the arts, and offer all kinds of inspiration, for teaching, preaching and personal spiritual growth.

The Writing on the Wall is on Saturday March 26th at Chelmsford Cathedral Centre and Saturday May 7th at St Margaret’s Church, Barking. Both are from 10am – 4pm.

For details about dates, times and venues of courses go to Lent Schools 2011 and Eastertide Schools 2011 for the full programme. Contact details for booking at Lent and Easter schools 2011.


Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Brompton Oratory.

Friday, 11 February 2011

National Marriage Week display

This week is National Marriage Week and our Mothers' Union Branch have created their annual display in the St John's Centre. This year the centrepoint of the display is one of my wedding photos as this year Christine and I are celebrating our 25th Wedding Anniversary.


The Style Council - You're The Best Thing.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Windows on the world (140)

Coventry, 2010


Gerald Finzi - How Soon Hath Time.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Launch of new Art Trail for the Barking Episcopal Area

“For centuries the Arts have been an important medium through which public communication of the faith has taken place and the Church has had a lengthy and happy marriage with the Arts” (Bishop of Barking).

Work has just been finalised on a new Art Trail which has been initiated by commission4mission and hopes to raise awareness of some of the rich and diverse range of modern and contemporary arts and crafts from the last 100 years within 36 churches in the Barking Episcopal area. These significant works of art collectively represent a major contribution to the legacy of the church as an important commissioner of art; through this new art trail, it is hoped to increase interest and stimulate engagement with the visual arts in the service of contemporary Christian faith.

The deep relationship between the church and the arts continued to be fruitful throughout the Twentieth century in the Barking Episcopal Area with the contributions of significant artists such as Eric Gill, Hans Feibusch, John Hutton and John Piper. In recent years, churches have continued to commission work by many important artists such as Mark Cazalet, Jane Quail and Henry Shelton together with other emerging artists who are now coming to prominence.

The visual arts can contribute to the mission of the church by speaking eloquently of the Christian faith; providing a reason for people to visit a church; making a link between churches and local organisations and providing a focus around which local people can come together for a shared activity. For these, and other, reasons there are more than 30 churches in the Barking Episcopal Area which have significant artworks on show and which are included on the Art Trail.

A leaflet documenting the Art Trail , which has been researched and developed by commission4mission member, artist and Fine Arts lecturer, Mark Lewis, will publicise the Trail and provide information about the featured artists and churches.

The Art Trail for the Barking Episcopal Area is to be launched at St Pauls Goodmayes on Thursday 17th February at 12.00 noon by the Bishops of Chelmsford and Barking. You are invited to join them for the launch reception. Please RSVP to or 020 8599 2170.


John Tavener - Song of the Angel.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Favourite music for worship meme

I haven't been tagged for this meme (yet!) but found it via Banksboy as part of an interesting reflection by Kathryn Rose on the CCM praise songs we have trouble with meme, so thought I would try it anyway. Kathryn's questions are:  
  1. What is your favourite piece of music for congregational singing? Why?
  2. What is your favourite piece of music for performance by a group of specialist musicians within a liturgical context? This might be a worship band or a cathedral choir or just a very snazzy organist or something else entirely, but the point is that it is not congregational singing and it is live music in liturgy.
  3. What is your favourite piece of music which makes you think about God to listen to outside of your place of worship? Why? This could be secular music.
  4. What is one thing you like about the music at your usual place of worship? Have you told the musicians about this lately?
1. Currently this would John Bell and Graham Maule’s deeply satisfying hymn ‘Will You Come and Follow Me?’ which sets challenging, thought-provoking lyrics to a well known, upbeat, and very singable traditional tune. John Vincent says that the hymn gives us hints of what discipleship can mean by taking its cues from the following of the first disciples and goes on to make the following points about the song's content:
  • "Unpredictable journey. ‘Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?’ Jesus is on a journey. Disciples go with him. Where Jesus goes depends on his sense of mission. When everyone wants him to stay, he says, ‘Let’s go somewhere else.’ It’s unpredictable. So discipleship is uncertain, open-ended.
  • Unpredictable company. ‘Will you let my love be shown, will you let my name be known?’ Jesus is a people person; out on the streets. Disciples have to make friends with those he makes friends with – publicans, outcasts, lepers, people outside legal society.
  • Alternative community. ‘Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare?’ Jesus is excluded from Church: his synagogue does not want him. Jesus creates a new Community, unrecognised and ridiculed by most people.
  • Pouring out. ‘Will you let the blinded see … will you set the prisoners free?’ Jesus transforms homes into sanctuaries, sows’ ears into satin purses, and victims into partners, as he ‘pours himself’ out to others.
  • Political ministry. ‘Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around?’ Jesus opposes enemies of the common people. Jesus pioneers and practises an alternative society which begins to change everything around it."
2.  'Freedom Samba' by the Late, Late Service from God in the Flesh. The Late, Late Service was an experimental Christian Community based in Glasgow which began in the 1990s using a mix of ambient, electronic and world music styles in their worship. 'Freedom Samba' is an exceptionally joyful dance track; lyrics and music move symbiotically to its samba rhythms while remaining eminently singable by a congregation through its call and response structure.

3. 'Credo' by Arvo Pärt. This is music which takes the listener on an emotional faith journey beginning with a confident fanfare of belief but then descending into the dissonant chaos of doubt before emerging into a more hestitant state of trust which opens out into contemplative silence. This is music to pray along with as you inhabit the emotional states conjured by this composition.

4. I like those occasions, such as Nine Lessons and Carols, when our choir joins with neighbouring choirs to lead our worship. This is because: doing so cements relationships across parish boundaries; a wider and more demanding programme of pieces is made possible; and they rise to the challenge with passages of real beauty. I do compliment them on their selections and performances after such services.


Arvo Pärt - Credo (2/2).

Saturday, 5 February 2011

The CCM Praise Songs we have trouble with Meme

I was tagged for this meme by Sam who, unusually, seems to have bottled it. The rules are: Please try to name ONE (I know, there are so many to choose from) CCM praise song that you find unbearable and at least 2-3 reasons why, pointing to specific lyrics if you must.

I'm going for a song choice that will no doubt be controversial as it is the song that fans of Delirious? chose to send to No. 4 in the singles chart last year as part of the band's swansong. Martin Smith can write a great lyric - Deeper is evidence of that - but History Maker is far from being among his best:

Is it true today that when people pray

Cloudless skies will break
Kings and queens will shake
Yes it's true and I believe it
I'm living for you

Is it true today that when people pray
We'll see dead men rise
And the blind set free
Yes it's true and I believe it
I'm living for you

I'm gonna be a history maker in this land
I'm gonna be a speaker of truth to all mankind
I'm gonna stand, I'm gonna run
Into your arms, into your arms again
Into your arms, into your arms again

Well it's true today that when people stand
With the fire of God, and the truth in hand
We'll see miracles, we'll see angels sing
We'll see broken hearts making history
Yes it's true and I believe it
We're living for you

History Maker, it seems to me, is a classic example of hyperbole. It is full of those things that we think we ought to want to see as Christians - the dead rising, miracles, angels singing - but generally don't actually experience literally (although we love hearing stories of these things happening to others) and which, because we fixate on supernatural experience, then lead us to overlook or dismiss the miracle of life itself and the hard graft of compassion in the here and now.

History actually demonstrates that those who make a stand are as likely to be crushed as they are to see miracles and angels singing but this song doesn't deal in those kinds of paradoxes or realities and only inhabits an optimistic triumphalism. The comparison with Deeper is instructive as that lyric does deal in contrasts. Deeper contains the same yearning for God as History Maker but with a greater sense of reliance on God for any kind of achievement. History Maker is full of I's. In other words its focus is on me - what I'm gonna do, what I'm gonna be, what I'm gonna achieve - and it's attempt at reliance on God (running into the arms of God) is ambiguous at best and disconnected from the rest of the lyric at worst.

More than this though, much of the song makes little or no sense. How does a cloudless sky break or a broken heart make history? The blind set free conflates recovery of sight for the blind and set the oppressed free (Luke 4. 18) in a phrase that is either meaningless or offensive. I'm gonna stand, I'm gonna run - well, which is it to be? Ultimately, these are emotive phrases with little or no substance to them.

If you are reading this, you're tagged. 

Delirious? - Deeper.

Friday, 4 February 2011

International Quiz Night

We had a packed Hall at St John's Seven Kings last Saturday for our shared International Quiz Night with St Paul's Goodmayes. With excellent quiz masters and a great turnout, this event was a real success. Over the past two years our two churches have begun sharing the organisation of three joint events per year: a joint social event, a Palm Sunday procession between the two churches, and an annual Praise in the Park event at the bandstand in Seven Kings Park. 


The Waterboys - Spirit.


Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Community Audit outcomes

In March of last year Seven Kings & Newbury Park Resident's Association (SKNPRA), in partnership with the Fitter for Walking project, undertook a community audit of Aldborough Road South, a key road in Seven Kings linking the High Road and Eastern Avenue via Seven Kings Park.

The findings of the Community Audit formed a report which was presented to the Area 5 and Area 7 committees. The Community Audit report highlighted issues of traffic speeds, pavement parking, damaged paving, renewal of signage, litter, and seating in public areas along Aldborough Road South. In it we called for greater enforcement of the 20mph speed limit; traffic calming measures; a review of parking in the whole area; and additional signage to local amenities.

Since that point SKNPRA and the Fitter for Walking project have been negotiating with the local authority and other groups to implement a number of the recommendations from the report. First, the Fitter for Walking project supported the development of a Community Garden at St John's Seven Kings by purchasing two plantlocks (planters to which bikes can be locked) and also funded leaflets publicising the Church Art Trail for which Aldborough Road South is one of three main link roads. 

Next, through Redbridge Council's Street Cleansing service, a major clean-up of Aldborough Road South was organised which saw large amounts of rubbish removed from front gardens and SKNPRA members, with the support of Cllr Bellwood, the Fitter for Walking project and the Newbury Safer Neighbourhood Team (SNT), assisting with litter picking to ensure a full clean-up of the area.

Just tonight Area 7 agreed their part in funding, together with Area 5, the repair and renovation of the bandstand in Seven Kings Park, as a result of a funding application made by SKNPRA. The bandstand is a valued community facility which had fallen into disrepair in recent years and its restoration will signal that Seven Kings Park is not being neglected, even in a time of severe budget constraints.

In addition, following a request from SKNPRA, Redbridge Council have ordered a new bench for installation near the Aldborough Road South shops. The Fitter for Walking project have arranged with Newbury SNT for a speed gun to be used in Aldborough Road South by Downshall Primary School. The project is also beginning to do walking initiatives with the School and it seems likely that a mural may be painted on the blank school wall in Aldborough Road South, all as recommended in our Community Audit of the road.

SKNPRA and St John's Seven Kings will be organising a community event, in the community garden at St John's, on Saturday 21st May to celebrate these achievements, open the community garden, provide community information, promote gardening, and hold a Plant and Table-top sale.

Mark Kennedy, Membership Officer for SKNPRA said, "Our aim has always been to work closely with residents in both the areas we represent, together with community groups, council departments and other independent agencies from time to time to achieve one aim which is to actively to improve the communities we live in. The improvements in Aldborough Road South resulting from our Community Audit are our latest initiative to get our hands dirty to improve the road and area for all resident's benefit. We are always on the look out for new members to join our association as the more members we represent the more we can achieve with people giving us their views and support to make the community a better place to live in for all to enjoy."
Paul Weller - Broken Stones.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Fragmented stories and reflected peace

Yesterday I set up two installations for the annual conference of the Barking Episcopal Area Team which was held at the Royal Foundation of St Katherine.

One was the Advent Art Installation (entitled here, Reflected peace) which, through the initiative of Revd. John Brown, toured Redbridge churches during Advent 2008 and is a tryptich of painted mirrored perspex. The sombre colours and rectangular voids of this abstract artwork may recall works by Mark Rothko which hang in Tate Modern. Rothko’s later paintings have often been understood as depictions of the absence of God and the darkness of the world; an impression reinforced by Rothko’s suicide on the day that the Tate received those paintings.

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

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

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

The second installation, entitled Broken journey, fragmented story, features two discarded church noticeboards containing images and meditations from a sequence of Stations of the Cross and Resurrection which have been displayed, with omissions, in a random pattern which disrupts the agreed linear sequence of the Passion journey and narrative.

The Gospel story is rarely able to be told fully and in the way in which we might ideally wish to do so. What effect does this have on us, on those who hear the story told, and on the story itself? Is a story told in fragments disconnected and incoherent or do the fragments and omissions enable new insights and connections to be made? How does this disruption of the usual sequence and story of the ‘Stations’ make us feel? What thoughts or reflections does it prompt? What, if anything, does it illustrate about the fragmented nature of our telling of the Christian story or the Gospel message in our culture and time?
These were apposite questions to pose at a conference on Facing the future – Becoming the Church of 2016-2020. The Reflected peace installation has now been installed at St Paul's Goodmayes in readiness for the launch of the Art Trail for the Barking Episcopal Area on Thursday 17th February.


16 Horsepower - For Heaven's Sake.

Windows on the world (139)

Coventry, 2010