Wikio - Top Blogs - Religion and belief

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Living Streets award webpage

The Seven Kings and Newbury Park Residents Association (SKNPRA) is congratulated on the Living Streets website for achieving Redbridge’s first Living Streets Neighbourhood Award. We received the award for their work improving the local environment along Aldborough Road South in order to get more people out walking.

The Neighbourhood Award was presented at the Creating Community event in May which included the opening, by the Archdeacon of West Ham, of the community garden at St John's Seven Kings and the presentation of the Living Streets Neighbourhood Award by the Mayor of Redbridge.

Living Streets works with communities to improve local environments and get more people out walking. Groups and individuals who have successfully encouraged walking and promoted safe, vibrant streets and spaces receive awards to acknowledge their creativity, community spirit and hard work.

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The Clark Sisters - You Brought The Sunshine.

The Finance Innovation Lab

The Finance Innovation Lab is an open environment in which people can come together to explore, innovate and evolve the financial system so that it sustains people and planet. You can find a short 5 minute video which explains what the Lab is, why its important and how it works at www.youtube.com/watch?v=NtsliNNH2J8.

There is also a YouTube Channel which includes short interviews with members of the Lab community as well as videos of some of their recent events. These include interviews with Tony Greenham of nef, Ben Dyson from Positive Money, Alice Chapple from Forum for the Future and Lawrence Bloom and a presentation by David Braid of Central St Martins showcasing his maps of the financial system. You can watch these here to find out more: www.youtube.com/user/TheFinanceLab?feature=mhee.

I've joined the Faith and Philosophy Influencing Finance group which is helping to raise awareness and knowledge about 'what is meaningful' in a universal context.   This includes how we can reframe the finance system in its relationship to the wider whole.

This group seeks dialogue with individuals and groups about the model or mantra each holds in mind, and through which we filter our proposals, our actions and our evaluations in financial matters as they affect 'people and the planet' - a basic concern of the whole Finance Innovation Lab.


The fundamental mantra behind all great faith traditions is 'love God and love your Neighbour', a sound bite which readily resonates with seeking to understand the sustainable rhythms of natural law and the appropriate relationships of all the amazing constituents of this planet.

The group explores whether the exploitative use of money in human trading and economic activity hinders the pursuit of a just financial system, which arguably must lie at the focal point of the Finance Lab's collaborative activities.

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Writz - Luxury.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Zion: the embodiment of yearning

Great quote from Laura Barton in today's Guardian as conclusion to a piece about a recent Josh T. Pearson concert. She writes that in her favourite moment in the show, Pearson segued into a cover of the Melodians' song Rivers of Babylon, and restored to it a little of the lyrical grace once stolen by Boney M. This cover version seemed to throw the rest of his performance into a kind of relief, to draw together his own trailing, long-hemmed songs and bind them with this idea of Zion, this embodiment of yearning.

Her reflection on the idea of Zion shows the continued impact of Biblical imagery and ideas today together with an understanding of, in the words of George Herbert, "heaven in ordinairie":

"I thought too about how Zion crops up occasionally in rock'n'roll, in reggae hits and Lauryn Hill songs, as a specific and deliberate reference. "Now the joy of my world is in Zion," Hill sings. But I think we can find it elsewhere, in less obvious places, too: seeping into all those stories of desire and escape and belonging, into all those tales of getting out of town and hitting the road and finding true love, unearthing great passion; into the "wire" and "velvet rims" of Springsteen's Born to Run, or the "honey" of Bob Dylan's I Want You, or Edward Sharpe's plaintive "home is whenever I'm with you"; we find it there, this dirty, commonplace Zion, in all these songs that speak of the great unmeetable yearning of the soul."

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Josh T. Pearson - Sweetheart I Ain't Your Christ.

Andrew Lansley, are you listening?

I've sent the following comment to Andrew Lansley's listening exercise on his NHS reforms:

"I have fundamental concerns about these proposed changes to the NHS and I think Andrew Lansley needs to go back to the drawing board.

For example, I am concerned that proposals to make competition the priority within the NHS would undermine our health service. The NHS should focus on cooperating to provide quality patient care, not on competition. The role of the regulator, "Monitor", should reflect this.

It can be demonstrated that the introduction of competition in the provision of public services, such as the tendering out of Local Authority services, has not led to cost savings, greater efficiencies or improvements in services but instead has resulted in reduced levels of service, waste of resources and increased bureaucracy. The ethos of the 'market' contradicts the ethos of 'public service' and, if introduced, will inevitably erode the government’s “duty to provide” a comprehensive health service.

Dropping this duty would erode the foundations of the NHS and would lead to the 'cherry picking' by private companies of NHS services. Such “cherry picking” must be fully ruled out, and the mechanism for preventing it must be clearly established."

You can send your own comment by clicking here.

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Athlete - Wires.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Bob Dylan: Pilgrim, Dante and Rimbaud

How many roads must a man walk down/Before you call him a man?" was the first of the questions that Bob Dylan posed in 'Blowin' in the Wind'. He didn't know the answer then - it was blowin' in the wind - and he still doesn't - because, for example, in the opening track of Time Out Of Mind, his end of millennium offering, he's still walkin':

"I'm walkin', through streets that are dead
Walkin', walkin' with you in my head
My feet are so tired,
My brain is so wired
And the clouds are weeping." ('Love Sick').

Dylan comes from the tradition of hobo singers (Woody Guthrie) and beat poets (Jack Kerouac) for whom the journey and the documenting of their experience is life itself. When we first meet him singing in his original voice, on Bob Dylan, he's "ramblin' outa the wild West,/Leavin' the towns I love the best ... ''Til I come into New York town" ('Talkin' New York'). At this stage the ramblin', gamblin' hobo is a conscious image worn in homage to Woody Guthrie:

"I'm out here a thousand miles from my home,
Walkin' a road other men have gone down.
I'm seeing your world of people and things,
Your paupers and peasants and princes and kings.

Hey, hey, Woody Guthrie, I wrote you a song ...". ('Song to Woody')

Though he starts out on his journey in imitation of others what he sees on his journey is original, surreal and unjust:

"I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it,
I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it,
I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin',
I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin' ..." ('A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall')

Ahead of him he sees a gathering apocalyptic storm and he resolves to go back out and walk in the shadow of the storm:

"... 'fore the rain starts a-fallin',
I'll walk to the depths of the deepest dark forest,
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty,
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters,
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison,
Where the executioner's face is always well hidden,
Where hunger is ugly, where the souls are forgotten,
Where black is the colour, where none is the number.
And I'll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it,
And reflect from the mountain so that all souls can see it ...".

He travels the paths of political protest, urban surrealism, country contentment, gospel conversion and world weary blues. On his journey he: sees "seven breezes a-blowin'" all around the cabin door where victims despair ('Ballad of Hollis Brown'); sees lightning flashing "For the countless confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones an' worse" ('Chimes of Freedom'); surveys 'Desolation Road'; talks truth with a thief as the wind begins to howl ('All Along the Watchtower'); takes shelter from a woman "With silver bracelets on her wrists and flowers in her hair" ('Shelter from the Storm'); feels the Idiot Wind blowing through the buttons on his coat, recognises himself as an idiot and feels so sorry ('Idiot Wind'); finds a pathway to the stars and can't believe he's survived and is still alive ('Where Are You Tonight? Journey Through Deep Heat'); rides the slow train up around the bend ('Slow Train'); is driven out of town into the driving rain because of belief ('I Believe in You'); hears the ancient footsteps join him on his path ('Every Grain of Sand'); feels the Caribbean Winds, fanning desire, bringing him nearer to the fire ('Caribbean Wind'); betrays his commitment, feels the breath of the storm and goes searching for his first love ('Tight Connection to My Heart'); then at the final moment, it's not quite dark yet but:

"The air is getting hotter, there's a rumbling in the skies
I've been wading through the high muddy water
With the heat rising in my eyes.
Everyday your memory grows dimmer.
It don't haunt me, like it did before.
I been walking through the middle of nowhere
Tryin' to get to heaven before they close the door." ('Tryin' To Get To Heaven').

Modern Times is an album that is also drenched in the imagery of journeying: "Gonna get up in the morning walk the hard road down/Some sweet day I'll stand beside my king". Dylan as journeyman, as traveller, is the key insight of the liner notes for Tell Tale Signs where Larry Sloman signs off with a paragraph quoting a myriad of Dylan's lyrics:

"He ain't talking, but he's still walking, heart burning, still yearning. He's trampling through the mud, through the blistering sun, getting damp from the misty rain. He's got his top hat on, ambling along with his cane, stopping to watch all the young men and young women in their bright-coloured clothes cavorting in the park. Despite all the grief and devastation he's seen on his odyssey, his heart isn't weary, it's light and free, bursting all over with affection for all those who sailed with him. Deep down he knows that his loyal and much-loved companions approve of him and share his code. And it's dawn now, the sun beginning to shine down on him and his heart is still in the Highlands, over those hills, far away. But there's a way to get there and if anyone can, he'll figure it out. And in the meantime, he's already there in his mind. That mind decidedly out of time. And we're all that much richer for his journey."

In many ways, this stream of inspiration has involved reworking and rearticulating the classic Dylan song, 'Blind Willie McTell', that was left off Infidels. Predominantly blues-based and extending the blues/folk metaphor of the drifter, Together Through Life finds Dylan's characters rambling through apocalyptic landscapes, experiencing life's hardness, grasping and eulogising love with a wry and sardonic irony wherever they can find it before the change that death will bring.

Dylan has said that:

"Those old songs are my lexicon and my prayer book. You can find all my philosophy in those old songs. Hank Williams singing 'I Saw The Light' or all the Luke The Drifter songs. That would be pretty close to my religion. The rabbis, priests, and ministers all do very well. But my belief system is more rugged and comes more from out of the old spiritual songs than from any of the established religious attempts at overcoming the devil."

This is also the picture of traditional American music conjured up by Bob Dylan in 1966: "Traditional music is based on hexagrams. It comes from legends, bibles, plagues, and it revolves around vegetables and death. ... All these songs about roses growing out of people's brains and lovers who are really geese and swans that turn into angels - they're not going to die. .... I mean, you'd think that the traditional music people could gather from their songs that mystery is a fact, a traditional fact ... In that music is the only true, valid death you can feel today off a record player. ... It has to do with a purity thing. I think its meaninglessness is holy."

Greil Marcus has pointed out that this 'traditional music' - the ancient ballads of mountain music, songs like Buell Kazee's 'East Virginia', Clarence Ashley's 'Coo Coo Bird' or Dock Boggs' 'Country Blues' - are what Dylan and the Band tapped into when recording The Basement Tapes, John Wesley Harding and The Band, music which Marcus describes as a "kaleidoscope of American music". "The "acceptance of death" that Dylan found in "traditional music"", says Marcus, "is simply a singer's insistence on mystery as inseparable from any honest understanding of what life is all about; it is the quiet terror of a man seeking salvation who stares into a void that stares back."

Biblical imagery and apocalyptic frameworks have been a constant within Dylan's work as throughout his career he has written songs that depict the apathy of humanity in the face of the coming apocalypse. What we have in the best of Dylan is a contemporary Pilgrim, Dante or Rimbaud on a compassionate journey, undertaken in the eye of the Apocalypse, to stand with the damned at the heart of the darkness that is twentieth century culture.

From Slow Train Coming onwards he equated the apocalypse with the imminent return of Christ. The return of Christ in judgement is the slow train that is "comin' up around the bend" and in the face of this apocalypse he calls on human beings to wake up and strengthen the things that remain. Similarly, in 'The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar', he sees the apocalypse coming ("Curtain risin' on a new age") but not yet here while the Groom (Christ who awaits his bride, the Church) is still waiting at the altar. In the time that remains he again calls on human beings to arise from our slumber: "Dead man, dead man / When will you arise? / Cobwebs in your mind / Dust upon your eyes" ('Dead Man, Dead Man').

In the light of this thread in Dylan's songs throughout this period, it seems to me to be consistent to read 'Jokerman', from Infidels as another song in this vein; as a song depicting the apathy of humanity in the face of the apocalypse and one which is shot through with apocalyptic imagery drawn from the Book of Revelation. We are the jokermen who laugh, dance and fly but only in the dark of the night (equated with sin and judgement) afraid to come into the revealing light of the Sun/Son.

Jokerman, though, is a greater song that any of those mentioned previously because its depiction of humanity is more nuanced. There is much that is negative: we are born with a snake in both our fists; we rush in where angels fear to tread; our future is full of dread; we are doing no more that keeping one step ahead of the persecutor within; we are going to Sodom and Gomorrah only knowing the law of the jungle (the law of revenge from the Book of Leviticus and Deuteronomy - 'an eye for an eye'). But these negatives are not the whole story as we also experience freedom, dance to the nightingale tune, fly high, walk on the clouds, and are a friend to the martyr. We have an inherent dignity and beauty to which only the greatest of artists such as Michelangelo can do justice. In Jokerman Dylan captures well the Biblical portrait of humanity as made in the image of God but marred by our rejection of God with our potential for beauty and compassion perverted into a selfish search for self-aggrandisement.

The final verse comes straight from the Book of Revelation and describes the birth of the AntiChrist who will deceive humanity into following him rather than Christ. The accusation and challenge that Dylan puts to us in the final lines of this final verse is that we know exactly what is happening (after all, it has all been prophesied in the Book of Revelation) but we make no response; we are apathetic in the face of the apocalypse. Our lack of response is what is fatal to us because it is only through repentance and turning to Christ that we will be saved from the coming judgement. These final lines are both an accusation and a challenge because, in line with the prophecy of Revelation, Dylan clearly believes that humanity as a whole will be apathetic and non-responsive but they must also be a challenge because, if there is no possibility that any of us will respond, why write the song at all!

In 'Sweetheart Like You', also from Infidels, we see the possibility of response through a wonderfully contemporary depiction of Christ's incarnation. The song is written from the perspective of a misogynist male employee in an all-male workplace that is literally a hell of a place in which to work. To be in here requires the doing of some evil deed, having your own harem, playing till your lips bleed. There's only one step down from here and that's the ironically named "land of permanent bliss."

Into this perverted and prejudiced environment comes a woman, the sweetheart of the song's title. She is a Christ figure; a sinless figure entering into a world of sin and experiencing abuse and betrayal (is "that first kiss" a Judas kiss?) from those she encounters and to whom she holds out the possibility of a different kind of existence. Dylan makes his equation of the woman with Christ explicit by quoting directly from Jesus: "They say in your father's house, there's many mansions" (John 14: 2).

The song's narrator is confused and challenged by her appearance. He wants to dismiss her out of hand and back to his stereotypical role for her - "You know, a woman like you should be at home / That's where you belong / Watching out for someone who loves you true / Who would never do you wrong" - but he can't simply dismiss her as she is really there in front of him and so he begins to wonder, "What's a sweetheart like you doin' in a dump like this?" All the time he asks that question there is the possibility that he may respond to her presence without abuse or dismissal.

In 'I and I' Dylan gives an honest depiction of the difficulties of response (based no doubt on his own inability to keep the moral standards that he seems to have perceived God to have expected of him and which, no doubt, his church at the time expected of him). The central character in this song has taken the untrodden path where the swift don't win the race (Matthew 7: 13 & 14 - "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."). He has looked into justice's beautiful face and yet as we meet him we discover that he has just slept with a strange woman (i.e. he has had sex outside of marriage).

In creation, Dylan sings, we neither honour nor forgive. Instead we take; our nature is the survival of the fittest. When we encounter God, our sinful, selfish human nature encounters the demand for pure perfection - "no man sees my face and lives." 'I and I' is about the difficulty of living between these two poles; of having started out on the untrodden path but then having slipped back. The song is an evocation of the guilt that the protagonist feels; a guilt that forces him to leave the woman, to go out for a walk into the narrow lanes, pushing himself along the darkest part of the road to get himself back on track and then hearing the accepting, forgiving words of Christ in his heart, "I made shoes for everyone, even you, while I still go barefoot."

'I and I' is again set in the context of the apocalypse: "the world could come to an end tonight." The protagonist is responding in the face of the apocalypse. Even though he has sinned he is leaving that sin behind, pushing himself along the road and listening to Christ in his heart. Another song in which the protangonist becomes aware of the coming apocalypse while being in the wrong place is 'Tight Connection To My Heart' (originally recorded during the Infidels session as 'Someone's Got A Hold Of My Heart'). Here the protagonist grabs his coat because feels the breath of the storm that is the apocalypse. He is in the wrong place with the wrong person having valued the wrong things (lulled to sleep in a town without pity where the water runs deep, it's all been a charade, a big joke that he'll remember to forget) and now, when it may be too late, he is searching for his true love (his "first love" - see Revelation 2: 4). His issue has been that he could not commit: "Never could learn to drink that blood / And to call it wine / Never could learn to hold you, love / And to call you mine." Like the foolish virgins, he may be left outside in the cold when the bridegroom arrives because he was not faithful to his true love at the moment of the second coming (Matthew 25: 1 - 13).

It is not possible to understand these songs or Dylan's journey without understanding the biblical material on which they draw. Without this, as is the case in much contemporary cultural comment, the work of art is actively misunderstood. This was the case with reviews of Infidels at the time which used 'Sweetheart Like You' as an example of Dylan's supposed misogeny. So these reviewers were using a song that actually critiques and undercuts misogeny as an example of misogeny itself and this fundamental misunderstanding was the result of a failure to recognise and understand biblical references and imagery.

Happy Birthday, Bob. See also Peter Banks, Malcolm Guite and Philip Ritchie.

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Bob Dylan - Tight Connection To My Heart (Has Anybody Seen My Love?).

Monday, 23 May 2011

Windows on the world (155)


Chester, 2011

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Fleet Foxes - He Doesn't Know Why.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Creating Community event (2)












We enjoyed an excellent day at St John's Seven Kings today with large numbers attending our Creating Community event where the Archdeacon of West Ham opened our community garden, the Seven Kings and Newbury Park Resident's Association were presented with a Living Streets award by the Mayor of Redbridge, a range of community groups provided information about their services and a successful plant and table-top sale was held.

My dedication prayer for the community garden opening is: I dedicate this community garden for the enjoyment of local people and to the glory of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I pray that this garden will be a place of rest, reflection and pleasure for all who use it in future. May your Spirit fill this place enabling people to receive comfort as they remember loved ones and to enjoy the artworks that will be placed here and the beauty of the plants which grow here. May this place also come to be a focus for the local community as groups of local schoolchildren tend it and through the information provided via its noticeboards. May your peace and blessing rest upon it in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Lou Reed et al - Perfect Day.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Fitter for Walking mural







Last night this mural was created on the wall of Downshall Primary School. It is one of a series of outcomes from the work which the Seven Kings and Newbury Park Resident's Association have undertaken in partnership with the Fitter for Walking project.

The artwork was produced by artist Effie Coe from Invisible Dust, an art and environmental science organisation, and children from Downshall Primary School. During workshops with Effie, the children were asked to create their own imaginary visions of the surrounding streets both now (left) and into the future (right). The original drawings in the coloured blocks and the slogans were produced by the children themselves.

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Victoria Williams - Shoes.

Resident's Association AGM

Last night we held the AGM of the Seven Kings and Newbury Park Resident's Association (SKNPRA) with a greatly increased turnout reflecting our increased membership. We heard from the Sergeant of the Seven Kings Safer Neighbourhoods Team and the local Neighbourhood Watch Manager, as a result of which two of our members volunteered to act as co-ordinators for new Neighbourhood Watch schemes in the area. We also agreed to re-establish the Friends of Seven Kings Park group.

In my remarks as chairperson I said: 

"Yesterday I was at the first meeting of a group which will try to bring together churches, community groups, faith groups, residents’ associations, schools, and trades unions into one campaigning body for Redbridge.

During the meeting it was said that power is the ability to act. On that basis Seven Kings and Newbury Park Resident’s Association has been a powerful group this year and in past year’s. As you will hear in the report to be given shortly by our Secretary, Audrey Shorer, we have acted on a wide range of issues and have been successful in bringing new resources into the area and in changing Council policy.

People often say, and even more so in a time of recession, that we can’t make a difference, we can’t change anything around us, that we have no power. SKNPRA and other community groups in this area are demonstrating that that is not true. We can make a difference. By working this year with the Fitter for Working project we have succeeded in making a number of small improvements which add up to a significant improvement in the local area; even in a time of cuts, getting Council money spent on a new bench and repairs to the bandstand! By working together with other groups, such as TASK and the campaign to save King George’s Hospital, we are also contributing to larger-scale changes; seeing a new library opened, an existing library saved; and, hopefully, A and E and Maternity Services retained at King Georges Hospital. Taking a series of small actions and joining together with other groups to make our voices heard does have an impact and can lead to significant improvements. And that is what we have seen demonstrated this year.

Audrey Shorer gave the Secretary’s report outlining our main areas of work over the past year:

"This has been quite a busy year for us with some successes and some disappointments.

We were pleased to be involved with the opening of the new Library in Seven Kings in July. Also in July we teamed up with Tom Platt on the Art Trail Walk as part of our Fitter for Walking project. This led to two street cleaning exercises teamed up with the Redbridge Cleansing Dept along Aldborough Road South.

Several other improvements have been made as part of the Fitter for Walking project including a seat at the junction of Aldborough Road South and Brook Rd, Cycle rail planters at St Johns Church and plans for a mural on the dull wall of Downshall Primary School.

We would like to thank Tom Platt for all his support and advice on these improvements.

We were able to convince Area 5 and 7 of the need to repair and repaint the bandstand in Seven Kings Park which has been done. We hope you will all come to see it when St John’s church have their Praise in the Park event on the 3rd July, picnic at 2pm, praise at 3pm.

We were disappointed that despite our petitions, letters and presentations to Redbridge Cabinet over the closure of the toilets in Seven Kings Park, this still went ahead. But all is not lost as we are negotiating with Area 5 and 7 to fund the re-opening from their budget.

Our other disappointment was the sudden news in March that Downshall Centre was to be converted to an Independent school in September regardless of all the community groups that use the centre. Members of your committee attended many meetings and made presentations to Redbridge Council and to the management of the proposed school.

We understand that those groups which use the centre in the evenings can continue to do so but the daytime users like the lunch club will have to find other venues.

We also joined in the protest meetings regarding the threat to KGH A and E and Maternity Depts. where Jonathan spoke emphatically against the closures. We await the decision of the Health Minister.

We have continued to report faults to Highways and Cleansing where necessary and these have been dealt with. We keep in contact with TASK and Newbury Park Neighbourhood Watch.

Two dates for you to put in your diaries. One is this Saturday 21st at 10.30 when the St John’s Church Community Garden is officially opened by the Archdeacon of West Ham and attended by the Mayor and Mayoress elect, followed by a table top and plant sale.

The second is the annual Community Festival on Sept 18th at Barley Lane Recreation ground with fun and information for all the family."

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Neil Young - Walk With Me.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

World War 1 War Memorial updated





In 2006 one of our young people at St. John’s Seven Kings, Sara James, together with two friends, won first prize out of 1000 students who had entered a TV competition in Channel 4’s Lost Generation season. Entries were open to students aged 11-16, working in groups of three or five to create a short project about World War One.

Sara, with her friends Rebecca Smith and Zeenat Pelaria, decided to adopt the war memorial dedicated to those who lost their lives in the First World War from St. John’s. The three 14 year olds represented the Chadwell Heath Foundation School and were up against GCSE students from the best private and grammar schools from all over England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.


Initially they obtained information from historical research of St. John’s. They then compared the names on our War Memorial with a photograph of the church football team from a few years before the war (above) and found that several of the names matched. They were able to obtain more information on the internet using sites such as the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, 1837 Online and the Western Front Association in order to find out more about some of those who had died.
Their competition entry, along with all the others, was judged by a panel of historians, writers, teachers and others involved in Channel 4’s history programmes. They won a ClipBank History Library worth £700 for their school’s history department, which will enable everyone to obtain further wide-ranging historical materials about the two World Wars. There was also a VIP trip for Sara’s class of around 30 students, along with some humanities teachers, to the Imperial War Museum in London.

As a result of their research featuring on our website we were contacted by the family of Charles Brooks Smith, in the football photo, and his brother Frederick Allam Smith. Both had been killed during WW1, Charles Brooks Smith at the Somme no less, but their names had not be included on the War Memorial. Their family, therefore, asked whether their names could be added to the Memorial and today that happened with the letter cutting being undertaken by Mark Tremaine of Woodenyou

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The Call - War Weary World.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Is the Art world anti-Christian?

Tyler Green's interesting and perceptive 'Art and Life' piece in the April edition of Modern Painters asked the question 'Is the Art World anti-Christian?' By doing so, Green followed the current trend in mainstream Art magazines to discuss the relationship between Art and Christianity without then taking the next step and giving significant examples of active modern or contemporary engagement between Christianity and the visual arts (see my post on the Art and Religion edition of frieze). Green ultimately presents only part of the story while arriving at the accurate conclusion that, while certainly not being anti-Christian, the art world seems ambivalent, conflicted or indifferent to Christian engagement with contemporary art:

"Given that the American people are conflicted about religion, it shouldn’t be a surprise that our artists and art institutions are too. As I worked on this column, I searched and searched for scholarly museum exhibitions that chronicle how today’s artists examine religion. I couldn’t find a single one. The only curator or critic I could find who has addressed religion in contemporary art in depth is James Elkins, who teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Elkins’s 2004 book "On the Strange Place of Religion in Contemporary Art" didn’t exactly kick off a flurry of discourse. Take that as another indicator of the art world’s indifference toward religion." 

Green's article focussed particularly on the way in which museums display their collections of Christian art making some astute observations along the way. The changing approaches to this issue that Scott Schafer speaks about in the article are not only a current phenomenon. For example, the latest edition of 'Art and Christianity' includes a review of A Place for Meaning: Art, Faith and Museum Culture which "reads like a thoughtful how-to: how to display, explain and make relevant religious art to a wide museum constituency." The book's reviewer Ena Heller writes of having had to address the same issues of how to educate a secular or multi-faith public without alienating the community of the faithful when she was, in the early 2000s, "struggling to articulate a vision and a realistic strategy" for the Museum of Biblical Art in New York. Heller wrote in 2004’s Reluctant Partners: Art and Religion in Dialogue that recent years had witnessed an increased dialogue, through both exhibitions and publications, and that "museums are ideally positioned to advance this dialogue, as they bridge the worlds of religion, art, and scholarship." Such work, however, is generally under-reported.

As we have noted Green writes of being unable to find scholarly museum exhibitions that chronicle how today’s artists examine religion and of James Elkins being the only curator or critic who has addressed religion in contemporary art in depth. Again, he is right in terms of what features on the radar of the mainstream art world but again there is much that is significant which goes under-reported. Periodic exhibitions chronicling how contemporary artists have examined religion have been held such as Beyond Belief: Modern Art and the Religious Imagination (Australia), Perceptions of the Spirit in 20th-Century American Art and The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890–1985 (US), Prophecy and Vision (UK), and Traces du Sacré (France). While such exhibitions have been few and far between they indicate that there is a largely untold story of Christian engagement with the development of Modern Art which includes:

  • the work of Adams, Aitchison, Barlach, Bazaine, Bernard, Boyd, Camilleri, Chircop, Cingria, Cocteau, Collins, Congdon, Denis, Desvallieres, Dottori, Feibusch, Filla, Finster, French, Gill, Gleizes, Herbert, Hone, Jellett, Jones, Kalleya, Kurelek, Manessier, Mehoffer, Minne, Morgan, Nesterov, Nolde, Piper, Previati, Rohlfs, Rouault, Serusier, Servaes, Severini, Smith, Spencer, Souza, Sutherland, Toorop, van de Woestyne, Van Rees, Verkade, Vrubel, among others;
  • the writings of Christian philosophers and theologians who engaged specifically with the visual arts such as Hans Urs Von Balthazar, Jane and John Dillenberger, Jacques Maritain, Hans Rookmaaker, Calvin Seervald, Mark Taylor, Paul Tillich, and Nicholas Wolterstorff, among others;
  • the commissioning of contemporary artists to create work for churches that was initiated in France by Couturier and Regamy (Assy, Ronchamp, Vence), in Britain by Bell and Hussey (St Matthews Northampton and Chichester Cathedral) and by Bogucki during the Sacrum period in Poland; and
  • the building of modern churches - see, for example, Contemporary Church Architecture by Heathcote and Moffatt or Architectural Guide to Christian Sacred Buildings in Europe Since 1950: From Aalto to Zumthor by Stock.
Such engagement continues into the contemporary scene with:
  • the work of artists such as: Breninger, Cazalet, Fujimura, Hawkinson, Howson, Kenton Webb, Nowosielski, Rollins and KOS, Spackman and Westerfrölke;
  • exhibitions organised by the Wallspace Gallery which over its four year lifespan essentially surveyed the diversity of contemporary religious engagement with the arts including shows with Chapman Brothers, Douglas Camp, Hirst, Pacheco, Taylor-Wood, iconographers, visionary artists, and contemporary artists commissioned by churches;
  • exhibitions/events such as: Crucible, a review of British sculpture held at Gloucester Cathedral; Enrique Martínez Celaya's recent The Crossing project at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine; and the King James Bible Bash in the recent London Word festival; and
  • a continuing stream of church commissions for contemporary artists including Cox, Emin, Gormley, Houshiary and Plensa, among others.
There is then much Christian engagement with Art that mainstream Art magazines could cover, critique and debate. While there are undoubtedly significant issues with the forms of engagement through which Christians engage with the Arts, it does seem to be the case that the ambivalence, conflicts or indifference that Green notes in the mainstream Art world also contribute to this lack of coverage.

Following on from Green's article, could Modern Painters break the mould by featuring or surveying the kind of work noted above, demonstrating that there is actually more to the art world's engagement with Christianity than ambivalence, conflict or indifference?

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The Innocence Mission - You Chase the Light.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Launch of Arthritis Self-Help Network (London)

Last night I was at the launch of Arthritis Self-Help Network (ASNet) as a charity at Chigwell Hall.

ASNet began life as a support group for those with rheumatoid arthritis at King George Hospital in 2000. Over the years ASNet has grown to deliver many different projects such as Creative Writing, Evening Therapy Sessions, a day out for the housebound in partnership with Redbridge Voluntary Care, GP Education days, 6 week course called ‘Living Life Differently with Arthritis’, and Pain Management Sessions.

With ASNet's launch as a charity there have also come further new developments including a website containing film interviews with members (which can also be seen on http://www.humanrightstv.com/) and a contract to become part of the ‘Enabled 4 Growth’ programme run by the Leonard Cheshire Disability. This programme is designed to help new charities in all areas that are relevant for good practice and growth as well as teaching them how to become financially secure.

ASNet's founder, Diane Wynne-Fitzgerald says the time is right for ASNet because:

"Whatever the cause of disempowerment of people living with disability, in the twenty-first century we surely cannot pliantly accept such low social standards. Cases have to be made, positions adopted and followed through but most importantly the community must be empowered and supported practically. This is exactly why this charity is so important, at its core is the need to assist people to find their own powers, gain their own solutions and be in control of their own lives."

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 Monsters of Folk - The Right Place.

Monday, 16 May 2011

The Bible: Backward and forward influences

For T. S. Eliot, Malcolm Guite writes (in Faith, Hope and Poetry), "there was a sense in which all poetry is contemporary" as what is written now "is not only influenced by what has been written in the past but in itself modifies the way we read the poetry of the past."

Guite gives as example:

"a powerful moment in The Waste Land when Eliot describes London commuters walking mechanically in a great dull crowd all looking down and seeming to breathe in unison and he says: ‘So many, I had not thought death had undone so many.’ When I first read this poem I felt this line simply as a poetic insight into the ‘nightmare life-in-death’ that modern living had imposed upon ‘lost’ souls, but later I came to read Carey’s great nineteenth-century translation of Dante’s Inferno and came to his harrowing description of his first sight of the dead, the crowd of souls in Limbo who had just drifted through life neither struggling to the heights of real virtue nor sinking to the depths of real depravity. Looking on them in horror as they trudge in step together endlessly round and round in a circle, Dante exclaims, ‘… I should n’ere / Have thought that death so many had despoiled’."

Guite then asks, "what happens at such a moment of echo and allusion, congruence and connection?" His answer is that:

"At one level I am remembering The Waste Land and suddenly realising that Eliot had been alluding to Dante and seeing what a brilliant thing it was to compare the rush-hour crowd to the crowds in Limbo. But at another level, at the level of the effect that Dante’s poem is having on me now, it is Dante who is alluding to Eliot, Dante who is brilliantly comparing the crowds in limbo with the London rush hour! There is a profound sense in which, after Eliot, Dante’s poem is changed forever. Each poem subtly modifies all the poems with which it is connected running backwards and forwards through time across the great web of Poetry itself."

Maggi Dawn has noted in The Writing on the Wall a similarity between the middle style of Dante which moves between different modes of expression and the way "the Bible tells its stories, moving backwards and forwards between primitive and sophisticated forms, and covering a wide range of genres, again conforming to Dante’s ideal of an unmediated accessibility to God." Dawn uses the standard image of a small library to describe the diversity within which this movement occurs: "It’s stories are not laid out chronologically, and it is the work of so many different authors, in different genres and from different times, that although it seems like a book it would be more apt to call it a small library." Other helpful images for this diversity of form and content include Mike Riddell’s description of the Bible as "a collection of bits" assembled to form God’s home page or Mark Oakley’s more poetic image of the Bible as "the best example of a collage of God that we have".

Similarly, Gabriel Josipovici, in The Book of God, quotes James Barr’s comment "about the Bible needing to be thought of not so much as a book but as a cave or cupboard in which a miscellany of scrolls has been crammed." He notes that "many modernist works might well be described as more like cupboards or caves crammed with scrolls than like carefully plotted nineteenth-century novels or even fairy stories and romances." As a result, a "generation which has experienced Ulysses and The Waste Land (to say nothing of Butor’s Mobile and Perec’s La vie mode d’emploi)" should be to view this image of the Bible positively more easily than would a generation "whose idea of a book and a unity was a novel by Balzac or George Eliot."

One key aspect of what Josipovici is referring to is the modernist generations’ ability to recognise the diversity of scripture and to note the significance of the movement backwards and forwards within its form that Dawn mentions which also has synergies with the way in which contemporary poems subtly modify all the poems with which they are connected running backwards and forwards through time across the great web of Poetry itself.

Josipovici has described how this effect occurs within scripture. The Bible works, he argues, "by way of minimal units laid alongside each other, the narrative being built up by slotting these together where necessary":

"This is an extraordinarily simple and an extraordinarily flexible system, which can lead from what could almost be described as shorthand to rich elaboration ... a narrative which can spend nine chapters getting from the Creation to Noah and his descendents, or else cover the ground in just four verses, as in Chronicles: ‘Adam, Sheth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalaleel, Jered, Henoch, Methusalah, Lamech, Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth’ (1 Chron. 1: 1-4)."

Each new element or unit "helps to bring into focus prior elements which we would have overlooked had we not been alerted to them by what follows" but, because the events are laid out alongside each other without comment, "we are never allowed to know whether the pattern we see emerging at one point is the true pattern."

As a result, he concludes that "the Hebrew Bible … chose not to stay with the fulfilment of man’s desires but with the reality of what happens to us in life. We all long in our daily lives for an end to uncertainty, to the need for decisions and choices, with the concomitant feeling that the choices we have made may have been the wrong ones. Yet we also know that life will not provide such an end, that we will always be enmeshed in uncertainty. What is extraordinary is that a sacred book should dramatize this, rather than be the one place where we are given what we desire. But that is precisely what the Hebrew Bible does …"

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Bob Dylan - Where Are You Tonight? (Journey Through Deep Heat).

Windows on the world (154)


Chester, 2011

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Noah and the Whale - Tonight's The Kind Of Night.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Taste of Religion

Next month I will be speaking at Taste of Religion, a special event organised by the Employers Forum of Belief and KPMG which will cover religious festivals.

Many of the world’s religions have different foods associated with them – for religious, cultural and traditional reasons. For example, Jews eat unleavened bread at Passover, Christians eat fish on Fridays. Delegates will be able to network over lunch with the different tastes from five religions - Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam and Sikhism.

There will be presentations from Rabbi Dr Naftali BrawerKhola Hasan, Shaunaka Rishi Das, Dr Satinder SinghSimon Webley and myself.

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Matisyahu - One Day.

TASK Newsletter 26

Chris Connelly writes:

Welcome to a bumper edition of our regular TASK e-letter.

Creating Community event- May 21

The very friendly and outward looking St John's Church at the junction with Aldborough Road and St. John's Road plays a major role in the life of our local community, hosting many activities and clubs in addition to its own internal faith programme. Next Saturday, May 21, sees its annual spring plant and table top sale, which this year forms part of a bigger celebration, Creating Community, to include the opening of their new community garden and the unveiling of an exciting mural executed by the pupils at Downshall Primary School.

It is all part of an award winning partnership project between the church, the Seven Kings and Newbury Park Residents' Association and Living Streets, the national charity formerly known as the Pedestrians' Association, which has seen some investment in public seating, an art walk and attempts to clean up the footways around the church and along Aldborough Road South.

It promises to be a feelgood morning and one TASK is proud to support so do come along, grab a bargain and be part of the fun. It all kicks off at 1030 and runs until around 1330.

Redbridge Green Picnic-June 5

Sadly, another well established local event, the biannual Redbridge Green Fair, the closest the borough gets to an alternative festival event, normally scheduled for the late May Bank Holiday weekend will not happen
this year because of a shortage of people to make it happen . Organisers are, however, promoting a smaller event on Sunday June 5, national Big Lunch Day, from 12-4pm with a picnic on Melbourne Fields at Valentines Park. The idea is that families and groups of friends pitch up with some food and drink to share an afternoon together with some games, live music courtesy of local musicians and food related displays . Here's hoping it goes well and that the Green Fair proper can return next year.

Top author event at Goodmayes Library: May 25

The recent author event at the Seven Kings Library saw Sagheer Afzal, the man behind the comic novel, The Reluctant Mullah draw a small but deeply appreciative crowd for a very funny routine.

Our recently saved Goodmayes Library is next up, playing host to the author of the acclaimed Costa Award shortlisted novel Coconut Unlimited, Nikesh Shukla on May 25. Tickets are just £2.50 and can be booked online at www.redbridge.gov.uk/bam.

Allotment clean up gets musical: be part of the big push on May 19

As food prices soar its little surprise that public demand for allotments is at a generational high, and it is good to see our local allotment society bringing abandoned plots back into use on Vicarage Lane. Thursday 19 May sees a massive push to progress ground clearance with a mass clean up with music from 4-8pm, organised in partnership with Orange Rockcorp, a national scheme linking community work to free concert tickets. To take part, and to get to hear a free concert for a little bit of digging, you need to register
at http://www.orangerockcorps.co.uk/.

June TASK meeting

TASK meet again at 7pm on Tuesday June 7 at our usual venue, Gizem Bakers on the High Road, Seven Kings. All supporters are welcome at a meeting that will agree the issues that will form our main focus for the next year. Have your say on the night or email suggestions to this address.

Goodmayes Park Extension: referred to Scrutiny

Last time we alerted supporters to the Redbridge Council Cabinet plan to lease the nearby Goodmayes Park Extension to a private sports club on a controversial 99 year lease for a peppercorn rent. This has now been
referred to Council's Scrutiny Committee, allowing for further investigation of all aspects of the proposal, dates for which we will advise you on as we know.

Redbridge Citizens: a new community alliance

London Citizens, the inspirational campaign group behind some great ideas like the safe haven scheme for youth affected by knife crime and the London Living Wage have been working across much of east London for 20 years and are now looking to develop a cross community alliance here in Redbridge.

They are holding an initial session on Wednesday May 18 from 6-8pm at the Kenneth More Theatre, to which TASK have been invited, to build relationships between local leaders and share interests and concerns. If you would like to attend with TASK, please email me. If you are part of another faith or campaign or community group interested in getting involved in this meeting, then please contact Sheilla Patel at London Citizens on sheilla.patel@cof.org.uk. For more on Citizens themselves, go to http://www.londoncitizens.org.uk/.

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The Script - For The First Time.

Paper, poetry and praise


Rosheen Browning is an emerging artist who works to visualise text with spiritual depth. This could be poetry, quotes or bible. She uses found papers and fabrics alongside traditional drawing tools, printing techniques and Photoshop. Colour and texture are very important to her. She says that she paints with paper. She has a background in Graphic Design and is a qualified Art Teacher.


Rosheen will be presenting her first solo show Paper, Poetry and Praise, a diverse and thought-provoking mix of drawings prints and collage inspired by her personal encounters with creation and creator, at Nucleus Gallery from 28 May - 2 June. Exhibition preview/meet the artist: Friday 27 May 2011, 6-8pm. Nucleus Gallery is part of the Nucleus Arts Centre complex and can be found between Trafalgar Centre Inshops and Reload Menswear, diagonally opposite Iceland, at 272 High Street, Chatham, Kent ME4 4BP.

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Candi Staton - Mercy Now.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Christianity and consumerism

This week I visited the Christian Resources Exhibition (CRE) for the first time in a few years. It is an odd experience as, while, practically, a very useful opportunity to see a wide range of suppliers and products, it makes transparent the extent to which Christianity is immersed in capitalism at the same time that this reality is resolutely ignored.

The exhibition features well over 300 suppliers each with a product to sell yet this is not written about or spoken of as a commercial event instead it is described as an exhibition providing everything needed to resource, equip and empower the Church. In this way, the commercial nature of the event is disguised by the use of spiritual language to describe what occurs.

CRE also provides "practical and resourcing seminars" and workshops, together with opportunities to "enjoy the very best in Christian theatre and music" but again each are provided by those who have products to sell in the main exhibition. Unless you are willing to separate the presentations and performances from the product placement, this produces some odd disjunctions. So, Stuart Townend began leading worship by saying that this was time out from viewing cassocks to worship God. Yet, if worship is holistic, then viewing cassocks is as much worship as is singing songs, as, perhaps, is selling product which was, after all, among the reasons Townend was there as his most recent album was being heavily promoted in the main exhibition with a huge advert on the Kingsway stand featuring his face.

This is not intended as an attack on CRE or Townend (we'll be singing at least one of his songs tomorrow at St John's Seven Kings) but simply as an observation that we tend not, as a Church, to actively acknowledge the extent to which we imitate the consumerist Capitalist culture of which we are part. Now I would fully acknowledge that I am as complicit in this as the next person having chosen to work within existing structures and needing many of the suppliers and products at CRE in order to do mission and ministry at St John's Seven Kings. My main complaint is that we don't honestly acknowledge the reality of what we are doing but instead dress it up in spiritual language and, in fact, seem to need to do this in order to sell the products which we are promoting.

There are several implications. First, that we cannot truly provide an alternative to consumerism when we are so enmeshed in it ourselves. Second, that much of what we then promote is safe, rather than radical, at least in part because that is what sells. It was interesting to note that none of the groups involved in emerging church appeared to be represented at CRE and that those who are seen as representatives for that movement, which seeks to work at least to some extent outside of mainstream Christian structures and culture, were not being heavily promoted by those who were there at CRE. Having said that such groups are still implicated usually having their own product to sell albeit via other channels.

Can we escape the dilemma? Possibly not, or not fully, being part of a consumerist culture but the debate about the extent to which we may or may not cannot really start until we honestly acknowledge that the extent to which we participate in consumerism.

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The Jam - In The Crowd.

Community Garden





Lots more work was done this morning on the community garden at St John's Seven Kings to ensure that the garden is ready to be officially opened next Saturday by the Archdeacon of West Ham.

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Robert Randolph and the Family Band - If I Had My Way.

Gospel music: influence and imitation

Here are two very different takes on different aspects of Gospel music:

Rejoice and Shout is billed as the definitive history of Gospel music - some of the most emotional and powerful music in the world, and the foundation of the blues, country and rock n' roll.

The PR says that, "Packed with evocative photos, rare audio, recordings, stirring film appearances and TV performances, REJOICE AND SHOUT is a jubilant journey through the 200 year musical history of African-American Christianity. Culled from hundreds of hours of music, REJOICE AND SHOUT features interviews and performances from the most celebrated voices in gospel music, including: Smokey Robinson, Mavis Staples and the Staple Singers, Mahalia Jackson, Clara Ward, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Andrae Crouch, The Blind Boys of Alabama, the Selvey Family, Darrel Petties and many more."

Rejoice and Shout traces the evolution of Gospel through its many musical styles - the spirituals and early hymns, the four-part harmony-based quartets, the integration of blues and swing into Gospel, the emergence of Soul, and the blending of Rap and Hip Hop elements. Gospel music walks in step with the story of African-American culture - slavery, hardscrabble rural existence and plantation work, the exodus to major cities, the Depression, World War II, civil rights and empowerment. Rejoice and Shout connects the history of African-American culture with Gospel as it first impacted popular culture at large.

By contrast, here's an extract from Joel Heng Hartse's book Sects, Love, and Rock & Roll, which also features in a Christianity Today article, and which tells the story of another form of Gospel Music:

"The history of Christian music basically goes like this: rock and roll (which was created possibly by Bill Haley and the Comets, maybe by Elvis, probably by the Beatles) is conceived, born, and begins to mature sometime between 1950 and 1960.

At some point, rock bands stop being polite young men in matching suits and become drug-addled, free-loving, infrequent bath-taking hippies, and the music gets more interesting. The hippies realize that taking tons of acid has not actually made their lives quantifiably better and become disillusioned; some of them become lawyers, but some find Christianity to be a more satisfying alternative, establishing a kind of counter-counterculture called the Jesus Movement. These people (also called Jesus Freaks) are still hippies, but with less drugs and sex and more Jesus. More Jesus, in fact, than a lot of churches, who (the Jesus Freaks think) are too focused on rules and rituals and not enough on the joy of the Lord. Converts though they are, these emerging Jesus rockers are not keen on stodgy church music (it's part of the problem), and so they keep playing rock and roll, but—and this is key—they do not go back to the politeness and the matching suits. They keep their beards and torn jeans, and the Jesus Freaks start touring churches with their bands. Other Christians start to realize that (a) these people seem pretty legit, faith-wise, and (b) kids seem to like this kind of music.

This is where things get sketchy and where you should ask someone who was alive before 1980, but somehow a collusion of churches, businessmen, parachurch organizations, rock bands, and musicians gets together and establishes some Christian record labels. These labels are fairly small and independent, but in the 1980s, a lot of people start buying records from them, the economic gears get moving, and soon something large enough to be called a "Christian music industry" exists, both in a "mainstream" or wholesome, money-making, and authority-approved form, and in an "underground" or youth-oriented, not particularly money-making, and suspiciously authority-unfriendly form.

By the beginning of the 1990s, Christian music of all genres and proclivities is beginning to melt into one glorious spectacle of noise, faith, money, and culture — all lines save the one that separates "Christian" from "secular" are blurred. You start to see Christian records in regular record stores (but not many), and "Christian bookstores" that once sold only Bibles and cross necklaces are now stocking Christian heavy metal and gangsta rap albums. There are Christian fake-indie labels pouring money into records by great bands, Christian indie labels with no money putting out bad records, and vice versa. Grunge rebel songs and ballads about chastity are played one after the other on Christian radio. Metrosexual Christian pop singers open for nu-metal Christian rock bands. Everyone is buying records and Christian bands fight their way to the upper third of the Billboard charts. This all lasts for most of the decade, until the turn of the century when everyone stops buying CDs, the Christian indie rock bands get fed up with the profit-driven audience pandering (sometimes referred to as the "Jesus Per Minute" rule) and pull up stakes and decide to try their luck in "the world," and the Christian industry consolidates itself, musically, by focusing on artists who sound like Coldplay and U2: epic e-bowed guitars, soaring choruses, and lyrics, loud in the mix, about wonder and worship."

It may be a simple and overly generalised comment but one story would seem to of a musical style that impacts and inspires other musical styles and the other essentially a story of a musical style which imitates other musical styles. The difference comes because the former is rooted in a particular culture and is the legitimate expression of that culture while the latter attempts to put on culture, like fashion, not in order to live that culture but connect or communicate with it.

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Blind Boys of Alabama - Amazing Grace.

The ethics and limits of atheistic evolution

On Tuesday I heard Anna Robbins (Senior Lecturer in Theology and Contemporary Culture, London School of Theology) speak at the Christian Resources Exhibition on Using the Bible in Ethics.

As an example of the application of the Bible in ethics, Anna contrasted the ethical implications of the Christian story of creation (as opposed to Creationism) with those of the story of atheistic evolution, which she argued is the current dominant story told in Western culture.

Atheistic evolution, she suggested, sees the development of life as a closed system requiring no external divine intervention in which the purpose of life is the transmission of genes through procreation. The ethical implications of this story then lead, she argued, to the sexualisation of our culture, something which can be seen, for example, in the lyrics of the Top 5 downloads (currently in the UK - 1. Where Them Girls At (feat. Nicki Minaj and Flo Rida) David Guetta; 2. The Lazy Song Bruno Mars; 3. Party Rock Anthem (feat. Lauren Bennet and GoonRock) LMFAO; 4. Give Me Everything (feat. Ne-Yo, Afrojack and Nayer) Pitbull; 5. Beautiful People (feat. Benny Benassi) Chris Brown) and the premature sexualisation of children through such things as retailers selling items of clothing inappropriate for the age they're targeting, sexually provocative music videos and newsagents stocking lads' mags in the eyeline of toddlers, among other examples.

I've preached on this theme on several occasions, particularly at baptisms, mixing the following poem by Steve Turner, the understanding of the 'world' which Stephen Verney argues is found in John's Gospel, and Switchfoot's New Way To Be Human:

"These are your first lessons in living.
To begin we drag you head-first from your shelter,
away from your food, from your warmth.
We cut you apart from your only known friend.
We take you and beat you until strange gases
rush your lungs and pain jerks your frame.
These are your first lessons in living.
They will stand you in good stead."

In this poem life is portrayed as something hard and painful. It says that we are being born into a world where, if we don’t look out for ourselves, we will dragged from everything we enjoy and beaten up. And it says that our first lessons in living when we emerge from our mother’s womb, the placenta is cut and the nurse strikes us on the back to get us breathing are important lessons for us in survival. The lesson to learn is that in a world like this we need to put ourselves first, we need to look after No. 1, otherwise someone else will take what we have and hurt us in the process. It is what scientists describe when they talk about us having selfish genes which get us ready to live in a world that is about the survival of the fittest.

John the Baptist talks about this way of understanding life when he says that Jesus is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”. The word used for ‘world’ means a way of life centred on our egocentricity. In this way of life “the ruling principle is the dictator ME”. My ego is all-important. The world revolves around me, my needs and my wishes. I do what I want when I want and to whom I want. When society is organised like that people spend all their time competing with each other, manipulating each other and trying to control each other. It’s called the survival of the fittest and it is what scientists say the world we are born into is like.

John the Baptist says that that is a sinful way of life and that Jesus came to take it away. Jesus shows us a new way of being human. His way of being human can be summed up in the words of John 15: 13, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends”. He looks at all of us, at all human beings, and says, “You are my friends”. Jesus allowed his own life to end so that all people could know what it is like to really live. Not to live in the old, selfish, self-centred way of being human but to live in his new way of being human, loving God with all our being and loving our neighbours as ourselves.

Similarly, in a recent post I used the recent Royal Wedding as an example of the way in which the language of what Robbins calls atheistic evolution is inadequate to capture our experience of the relationality of love:

"Instead of being about the mutual celebrations of love and affection which we saw between the couple themselves and also between the people of this country and the royal family, on the basis of measurable scientific knowledge what occurred Friday simply becomes about the survival of the fittest through the passing on of selfish genes in procreation. Our experiences of love and faith cannot be adequately captured through the language of scientific measurement. Instead, we need the languages of belief and imagination to give voice to what we truly experience of love and faith. As the Bishop of London said in his sermon, 'Faith and committed relationships offer a door into the mystery of spiritual life.'”

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Switchfoot - New Way To Be Human.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Will she say, "Yes!"


During Maggi Dawn's Writing on the Wall session last Saturday, the idea was mentioned that there may have been earlier Annunciations to other women but that Mary was the first to say, "Yes." This reminded me of the montage above, which I created for the Cabinet of Sin and Salvation. It is based on the idea, which I first heard in a lecture by Eamon Duffy, that all the key Old Testament figures were watching from heaven during the Annunciation willing Mary to say "Yes." 

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Fleet Foxes - The Shrine/An Argument.