I used an excellent sermon by Rev Dr Steve Griffiths, Rector of the Linton Team Ministry Cambridge, during our annual Bereavement Service at St John's Seven Kings today. The story of Jacob wrestling with God (Genesis 32:22-31) "teaches us that God is with us in our experience of the mystery of grief and that even though we might feel alone, God hears us in our pain and we can know the transformative power of God at work in our lives, even through the darkest hours of our life."
The first OPEN session at St George's Barkingside had spaces for art, conversation, meditation, music, refreshments, snooker and table tennis. After its successful start, OPEN will happen on a fortnightly basis (4.00 - 5.30pm).
After years of campaigning, petitions to the top of government and marches through the streets, the decision most of us were dreading was delivered on Thursday: King George Hospital’s accident and emergency unit and labour ward will close.
Here is a brief summary of the situation in the post Lansley decision on our local NHS from Helen Zammett of the Save KGH campaign.
Health authorities have been quick to seize on the news that Andrew Lansley has accepted the Independent Reconfiguration Panel’s recommendation to adopt Health for North East London’s plan for our local hospital trust to reduce health services at King George Hospital and increase services at Queen’s Hospital Romford ... but it’s not going to happen yet.
The CQC has demanded that before any changes can be made, a lot of work needs to be done to overcome severe failings in the current health service provision. So serious are these concerns to patient safety that the CQC has imposed emergency measures to move planned caesarean sections from Queens to the Homerton in Hackney, Queens has been restricted to 20 births a day and Kings to 7 and women from Essex will have to re-book with Essex hospitals.
When announcing his decision, Andrew Lansley said: “Patient safety and quality of care must be our top priority. I support the CQC’s findings and the decisions taken by the local NHS to support safe care at the Trust. When we can be sure that these decisions have resulted in sustainable improvements in the quality of services for local people, the next set of decisions ... will be implemented.”
Before the Health4NEL’s plan can be implemented, the CQC has told the Trust to develop an action plan to address the 73 recommendations which it has said are needed to ensure a real and sustainable improvement in patient safety and experience. They will then monitor how the plan is applied and progress made before any of Health4NEL’s plan can be activated.
The main problems which will need to be overcome first are:
Maternity is considered the worst concern – poor service culture, staff shortages especially midwives and paediatricians, lack of learning from maternal deaths and incidents, abusive behaviour by some staff to patients and colleagues, lack of leadership by senior management.
A+E unsafe working practices, delays and bottlenecks, struggling to cope with the volume of patients, especially during winter, lack of staff – in July 2011 there was a 31% vacancy of A+E consultants.
Radiology insufficient radiography cover, low standard of work, inappropriate patient facilities due to lack of beds.
Delays in day surgery and radiology treatment affecting the impact of treatment and care.
Staff shortages less than 50% of staff at Queens are permanent, high levels of staff turnover, sickness, recruitment difficulties, high levels of vacancies – in June 2011 there was a 18% vacancy of nurses.
Other problems include poor response to complaints, lack of governance, lack of senior management expertise, lack of education and training, unprofessional behaviour of some staff.
It is unlikely that these problems will be solved quickly. Cynthia Bowyer the Chief Executive of the CQC said: “We have been forcing the Trust to address issues on a short term basis but we have real concerns about safety in the mid to longer term.”
The biggest obstacle to the implementation of the changes is capacity. Health4NEL’s plan is based upon reducing the number of patients at Kings and increasing them at Queens. However, it is clear that Queens is not coping with its current level of patients, so that the CQC supports a recommendation to permanently cap the number of maternal patients admitted to Queens.
This is why the CQC intervened with its emergency measures to reduce the number of maternity patients at Queens now. Maternity capacity levels are now becoming a problem at Whipps Cross and Newham hospitals, which will need to have additional facilities provided to cope with any increase in maternity patients. Queens capacity problems are also evident in A+E, radiology and day surgery.
To compound the problem, the Trust’s workforce strategy for 2010-2015 states: “To achieve the cost reduction plan the Trust anticipates that the headcount will need to reduce by circa 850 FTE (including temporary staff).” The CQC has found an increase in patient throughput. As this staffing reduction is part of Health4NEL’s case for supporting its plan, it shows a fatal flaw in this strategy.
The one good thing that has come out of all this is that there is formal recognition of concerns which have been dismissed or ignored in the past.
However, the bad thing that has come about is the adverse publicity about Kings and particularly Queens, which will make future recruitment even more difficult.
Once the Trust has been able to demonstrate to the CQC that it has solved its problems on a sustainable basis, the Health4NEL plan can go ahead ... but are these problems solvable given the rise in population, lack of finance, staffing difficulties? If they are solvable, how long will it take?
OPEN is a fresh expression for Gants Hill and beyond which aims to OPEN the church space, welcoming people into that space to engage with a range of social and creative activities such as art, conversation, dance, games, meditations, music, photography, prayer and refreshments.
In this way, not simply to OPEN the doors of the church to all who come but also to be OPEN and responsive to the interests and abilities of people in what happens within the space. OPEN will be an opportunity to welcome people in Christ’s name and with his free undirecting Spirit, into sacred space but on an OPEN basis without making specific demands or holding specific agendas.
“Popular culture is awash with images and narratives of the apocalypse in various forms. These range from war and acts of terrorism involving “Weapons of Mass Destruction,” to religious, science-fiction, horror and fantasy representations of the “End Times,” depicted in a wide range of media including novels, comics, film, television and video games. They include also “biblically based” presentations, notably the Left Behind series of 12 best-selling novels based on a fundamentalist application of millennialist teachings to the contemporary world.”
“Our ability to recognize apocalyptic is, in our day, often most hindered by the popular, best-selling misunderstandings of biblical witness. Confusing the death-dealing forces that enslave, exploit, and crucify (what our biblical translations sometimes render ‘the world’) for the created world itself, such so-called ‘apocalyptic’ is a negation of this-worldly experience. It tends to view the physical as only fit for burning.”
“In a kind of Gnostic-style-propaganda, creation is deemed a sort of waiting room, irredeemable and best discarded. Confusing redemption for escape, real injustice – political and personal – goes mostly unengaged, and the actual, everyday world gets left behind. In this view, apocalyptic is simply equated with disaster and destruction …”
So, where can we look to find a better understanding of apocalyptic? Leon Morris’Apocalypticis a standard work on apocalyptic writings. In this brief introduction to apocalyptic, Morris brings together the results of a great deal of work that has been done on the subject by himself and others. In a clear and lucid style, he addresses himself to the characteristics of apocalyptic writings, the world from which they arose, and their relations to the gospel.
“In a culture where events concerning Israel were believed to concern the creator god as well, language had to be found which could both refer to events within Israel’s history and invest them with the full significance which, within that worldview, they possessed. One such language … was apocalyptic.”
“the word … denotes a particular form, that of reported vision and (sometimes) its interpretation. Claims are made for these visions; they are divine revelations, disclosing (hence ‘apocalyptic’, from the Greek for ‘revelation’ or ‘disclosure’) states of affairs not ordinarily made known to humans. Sometimes these visions concern the progress of history, more specifically, the history of Israel; sometimes they focus on otherworldly journeys; sometimes they combine both.”
“As a literary genre, ‘apocalyptic’ is a way of investing space-time events with their theological significance; it is actually a way of affirming, not denying, the vital importance of the present continuing space-time order, by denying that evil has the last word in it.”
“the global capitalist system is approaching an apocalyptic zero-point. Its “four riders of the apocalypse” are comprised by the ecological crisis, the consequences of the biogenetic revolution, imbalances within the system itself (problems with intellectual property; forthcoming struggles over raw materials, food and water), and the explosive growth of social divisions and exclusions.”
“… the truth hurts, and we desperately try to avoid it … The first reaction is one of ideological denial: there is no fundamental disorder; the second is exemplified by explosions of anger at the injustices of the new world order; the third involves attempts at bargaining (if we change these here and there, life could go on as before”); when the bargaining fails, depression and withdrawal set in; finally, after passing through this zero-point, the subject no longer perceives the situation as a threat, but as the chance of a new beginning …”
Bob Dylan is a contemporary artist for whom the apocalypse is key to understanding his work and who, like Slavoj Žižekuses the apocalypse as a frame for viewing contemporary events. “Dylan's vision is essentially apocalyptic; again and again he tells of an evil world which is soon to be both punished and replaced tomorrow, perhaps, when the ship comes in” writes Frank Davey in "Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan: Poetry and the Popular Song".
Dylan's manifesto for his work is 'A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall'; a song about walking through a world which is surreal and unjust and singing what he sees:
"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' ..."
This is a song which has been interpreted as dealing with events that were contemporary to the time such as the Cuban missile crisis and, more generally, the threat of a nuclear holocaust. That may well be so, but I think a more straightforward interpretation and one that is closer to what the lyrics actually say is to see it as a statement by Dylan of what he is trying to do in and through his work. In the song he walks through a surreal and unjust world, ahead of him he sees a gathering apocalyptic storm and he resolves to walk in the shadow of the storm and sing out what he sees:
"... '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 ...".
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.
Over the course of his career Dylan has travelled 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'); comes in “from the wilderness” to receive shelter from the storm 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, 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')."
Apocalyptic change in Dylan's work can be understood as generational confict, Cold War conflicts, nuclear holocaust, Civil Rights struggles, the imminent return of Christ, and more. The generic message throughout is that apocalyptic change is coming and we need to think where we stand in relation to it. That message is as relevant today in terms of economic meltdown, climate change or peak oil, as to the Second Coming, whether imminent or not.
David Dark, drawing on the writings of N. T. Wright, argues in ‘Everyday Apocalypse’ that:
"We apparently have the word "apocalypse" all wrong. In its root meaning, it's not about destruction or fortune-telling; it's about revealing. It's what James Joyce calls an epiphany - the moment you realize that all your so-called love for the young lady, all your professions, all your dreams, and all your efforts to get her to notice you were the exercise of an unkind and obsessive vanity. It wasn't about her at all. It was all about you. The real world, within which you've lived and moved and had your being, has unveiled itself. It's starting to come to you. You aren't who you made yourself out to be. An apocalypse has just occurred, or a revelation, if you prefer."
“Joyce … said that he intended Dubliners "to betray the soul of that hemiplegia or paralysis which many consider a city “... Joyce therefore conceived this work as a sequence of fifteen epiphanies “… which were written to let Irish people take “one good look at themselves in his nicely polished looking-glass.”
Similarly, Walker Percy wrote about there being two stages in non-Christian audiences becoming aware of grace. First, an experience of awakening in which a character in a novel (and through that character, the audience) sees the inadequacy of the life that he or she has been leading. This is a moment of epiphany or revelation about themselves; an everyday apocalypse in which they either realise their depravity or their potential for grace.
Thinking along similar lines Flannery O’Connor wrote that “the novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make these appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural.” Such an experience may then lead on to the second stage of hearing and responding to the grace of God in Christ.
In the American South, there is a tradition of Appalachian country death songs; gothic backwoods ballads of mortality and disaster. The Violent Femmes took that tradition and used it in Country Death Song to confront their audience with an epiphany of the reality, ugliness and consequences of sin.
This song leads us to a place of realization about the abhorrence and reality of sin and its consequences. Possibly, even to a place of acknowledging that the story could be about us. We all have that potential in us; for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.
Flannery O’Conner wrote that “the novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make these appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural.” In that situation she said, you have to make your vision apparent by shock and that is what the Violent Femmes did.
Members of St John's Seven Kings took part today in the 'Give A Bible' Bible Year 2011 initiative in the Diocese of Chelmsford to encourage Church members in the
Diocese to bring a Bible to church on Bible Sunday with the
intention of subsequently giving it to a neighbour, work colleague or friend.
This initiative was inspired by a 90-year-old lady in the Havering area who,
when she was given a Bible by her parish church, said: “It's been too long since
a Bible was in this home.” It is hoped that this 'Give a Bible' initiative might
place a Bible back in many other homes.
At St John's, members chose a range of different translations and versions
of the Bible to give away to work colleagues, grandchildren, relatives and
friends. These included a Polish translation for one work colleague. Several St
John's members also bought a children's storyteller version of the Bible to give
to Downshall Primary School for future use in their RE lessons.
All these different versions of the Bible were brought to St John's for
Bible Sunday where the following prayer was prayed before the Bibles were given
This is a Bible – filled with stories of
people who have encountered God. Those people are our people. Their stories are
our stories. We share these stories so that others will live in these stories
with us. We read these stories because we want to remember who God is, who we
are and what we believe, so that we will know how to live today. May God’s
abundance uphold us and those to whom we give Bibles. May God’s love instruct us
and those to whom we give Bibles. May God’s dream motivate us and those to whom
we give Bibles. May the Scriptures be made real in our lives and theirs today
and in the days to come. God is with us. Amen.
Our other Bible Year 2011 activities have included an Art Competition for
children and young people illustrating Bible stories on the theme of hope and
HISstory, a session led by Redbridge Area Dean Paul Harcourt, which outlined the
big story of salvation told by the Bible. These events and activities have
underlined the significance of the Bible for us and for our culture and have
inspired us to share the Bible, and the story it tells, more fully with
Storytelling has been around as long as human language. Storytelling is what makes us human. Our ancestors probably gathered around the evening fires and expressed their fears, their beliefs and their heroism through oral narratives. This long tradition of storytelling is still evident in ancient cultures such as the Australian Aborigines. Community storytelling offered the security of explanation; how life and its many forms began and why things happen, as well as entertainment and enchantment. Communities were strengthened and maintained through stories that connected the present, the past and the future.
So, from earliest times human beings have told stories and the stories we tell commonly seek, either explicitly or implicitly, 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.
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. To give another example, the theologian Stanley Hauerwas says: “The story of modernity is the story that you should have no story except the story you chose when you had no story. We call that freedom. But as Christians we believe that we are creatures born into a story that we haven’t chosen.”
Christians are “a people who have been formed by a story that provides them with the skills for negotiating the danger of this existence, trusting in God’s promise of redemption.” In other words, 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 as Christians. This is something that we can see occurring in Nehemiah 8. 1-12, which is one of the rare and exciting public readings of the Scriptures found in the Bible. It shows how inseparable the Bible was from the lifeline of the people. In Nehemiah 8 the people of Israel recognise that the scripture is central to their lifeline and their identity. In fact, it is inseparable from their story. It is their story. The New Testament then shows us that this is true for all of us, Jew or Gentile, who choose to live in relationship with God.
The people in Nehemiah’s day would usually have been very reluctant to have men and women gathering together in an act of worship. Even more so children – even those old enough to understand were likely to have been excluded. But what happened in the square that day was a remarkable and radical worship event. Men, women and children all recognised that, through the Scriptures, God had something transforming to say to them. No one should read the Bible without finding themselves in it. The Bible speaks to all kinds of people, whatever their status, and in all types of situations. If we allow God to speak, he will do – whoever we are! The Bible speaks across gender – to men and women, to everyone old enough to understand – to children too!
What is the story of which we are part? Tom Wright has described the Bible as being like a five act play containing the first four acts in full (i.e. Act 1. Creation, Act 2. Fall, Act 3. Israel, and Act 4. Jesus): "The writing of the New Testament ... would then form the first scene in the fifth act, and would simultaneously give hints (Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 15, parts of the Apocalypse) of how the play is supposed to end ...”
“The church would then live under the 'authority' of the extant story, being required to offer an improvisatory performance of the final act as it leads up to and anticipates the intended conclusion ... the task of Act 5 ... is to reflect on, draw out, and implement the significance of the first four Acts, more specifically, of Act 4 in the light of Acts 1-3 ... Faithful improvisation in the present time requires patient and careful puzzling over what has gone before, including the attempt to understand what the nature of the claims made in, and for, the fourth Act really amount to."
Wright concludes that he is proposing "a notion of "authority" which is ... vested ... in the creator god himself, and this god's story with the world, seen as focused on the story of Israel and thence on the story of Jesus, as told and retold in the Old and New Testaments, and as still requiring completion."
The book of Nehemiah is the story of the people of Israel returning to Jerusalem following exile. After some 70 years of exile in Babylon, many of the people had returned to Jerusalem but all was not well. Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem to lead the people in rebuilding of the walls of the city; dealing with corruption and inequality; boosting morale; carrying out a meticulous census; reforming and re-establishing the priesthood and completing the settlement of land. Scripture was deeply at work driving these reforms. Nehemiah’s social and economic reforms, for example, were guided by the book of Deuteronomy’s restrictions on usury and his anger about indentured slavery was based firmly on the Levitical Laws. God’s Word had so shaped the minds and standards of Nehemiah and Ezra that its deep influence became a basis for social and economic reform.
All this led up to the public reading of God’s Word in our passage today. Despite all that had been achieved, the people knew that something was still missing. It was as though all their efforts for a better society, and the relative stability and prosperity they were starting to experience, revealed a gaping spiritual void which still existed. So when they met in the public square, they asked Ezra to read God’s Word.
Having achieved so much, they could easily have rested on their laurels. But amazingly, they – not Nehemiah – asked for the scriptures to be read. Nehemiah had enforced many reforms, but the people themselves felt the need to hear God’s Word.
It seems clear from our text that more is needed in a nation than real or relative wealth and security. We still need spiritual values guiding all aspects of our lives. This was the challenge for William Wilberforce. Years after Wesley’s great revival in Britain, Wilberforce
was still moved in 1797 to write and distribute his book, A Practical View of Real Christianity, to revive Christian values in all areas of life – in what he described as a ‘reformation of manners’. In the same way, our commitment to God’s Word should lead us to apply ourselves to ways in which we may prayerfully lead people to revive or discover a thirst for the Bible and how it applies to our lives today.
That is how we live in the story today. Let’s end with a story as a practical example. At a trauma workshop in the Democratic Republic of Congo, people displaced by civil war listened to a dramatised reading of Lamentations 5. As they heard the story of the Israelites’
invasion by the Babylonians, they said, ‘This is our story! We had a beautiful land and we lost it. Now we can’t get to our fields. It’s too dangerous.’ A Bible Society trainer who helped lead the programme said these Congolese people ‘felt so similar to the people of Jerusalem’ and realised for the first time that it was acceptable to cry out to God in their pain and grief.
The Bible was never meant to be an alternative telephone directory. It’s far more interested in transformation than in passing on important information. But in order to transform, it really needs to be understood. It is the comprehension that makes all the difference so that we are able to see how we can be part of and live in the big story that the Bible tells.
I was very encouraged to read the interview in Wednesday's Guardian with Chris White MP regarding his private members' bill – which has cross-party support and is expected to become law before next summer – that will require public bodies to take into account "social value" whenever they put a contract out to tender.
I fully support the following statements made in the interview and am greatly encouraged to finally hear these issues being raised in Parliament:
" ... public services commissioning ... tends – with rare exceptions – to favour the provider that can offer the cheapest price, or raise most capital to underpin its bid, an outcome that may have become even more pronounced since the deep spending cuts imposed on public bodies over the past year.
Contracting usually works to the advantage of big organisations with deep pockets and finely honed expertise in the art of bidding, says White. Financial muscle often trumps quality, innovation and the wider needs of the local community.
The bill effectively recognises that while it is often small, locally-based social enterprises that strive to build added social value into everything they do, the financial imperatives of contracting – and the design of contracting frameworks – means those smaller outfits often do not even qualify to be able to put in a bid ...
The bill will require public bodies to look beyond the conventional balance sheet when they contract, he says. "What we are trying to achieve is [a realisation that] it is not all about bottom-line cost.
"The key to the bill is talking about social value, which is not about that one discrete line of a budget, it's about so many other things that are extra to that budget. It's not about the cheapest good or service, but what is going to do something for the community. What's going to take people out of unemployment? What's going to be more responsive to local people's needs?" he says."
"FILM is an eleven-minute silent 35mm looped film projected onto a monolith standing 13 metres tall at the end of a darkened Turbine Hall ... FILM ... takes the appearance of a filmstrip with sprocket holes exposed onto the emulsion. The layering of imagery also conjures the transparency of a strip of celluloid, giving the appearance of being able to see through the screen itself to the wall of the Turbine Hall behind it. Playing with the distinctive architectural character of the east wall, FILM has the rhythm and metre of a visual poem. Images, some familiar from Dean’s previous works, such as lightning, trees and seascapes, juxtapose with panels of colour and interact with the grid structure of the wall. The resulting piece is a montage of black and white, colour and hand tinted images, including allusions to surrealist art, a Mondrian painting, and the mountains of René Daumal’s novel MountAnalogue and the Paramount Studio logo."
"Gerhard Richter: Panorama is a major retrospective exhibition that groups together significant moments of his remarkable career. Since the 1960s, Gerhard Richter has immersed himself in a rich and varied exploration of painting. Gerhard Richter: Panorama highlights the full extent of the artist's work, which has encompassed a diverse range of techniques and ideas. It includes realist paintings based on photographs, colourful gestural abstractions such as the squeegee paintings, portraits, subtle landscapes and history paintings."
"Infinitas Gracias features over 100 votive paintings drawn from five collections held by museums in and around Mexico City and two sanctuaries located in mining communities in the Bajío region to the north: the city of Guanajuato and the distant mountain town of Real de Catorce. Together with images, news reports, photographs, devotional artefacts, film and interviews, the exhibition illustrates the depth of the votive tradition in Mexico."
"Charmed Life features some 400 amulets, selected by Felicity Powell from Henry Wellcome's vast collection, which will be exhibited encircled by ten works by the artist. The amulets, ranging from simple coins to meticulously carved shells and from dead animals to elaborately fashioned notes, are from a collection within a collection, amassed by the banker and obsessive folklorist Edward Lovett."
"Felicity Powell works in white wax in low relief on the backs of mirrors. Her figurative imagery is full of subtle and macabre humour. The heads she has modelled are always in the process of change, each is infused with metamorphic potential: growing antlers, extruding tentacles or coiffed with spaghetti; as though the known phyla have been infiltrated by subversive and impish genes. The images have the wonder and strangeness of exhibits from a cabinet of curiosities."
Magdy William, a student under the late Dr. Isaac Fanous, the founder of the school of modern Coptic painting and the initiator of the modern renaissance in Coptic art, has been one of the world’s premier Coptic icon artists for several decades. In addition to his work beautifying countless churches throughout Egypt and around the world, he has held solo exhibitions in Europe and Australia. His next major European exhibition will be in Norway in 2012 where over three hundred of his icons will be exhibited in three cities simultaneously. His studio is located along the Nile in Maadi at the Coptic Orthodox Church of St. George.
His current exhibition, The Eternal Eye, opened today at St John’s Maadi, the international Episcopal Church in southern Cairo founded in 1931. The icons being exhibited range in theme from the Biblical stories in Egypt to Coptic saints. This is an exhibition that reflects the desire to see the establishment of a new Egyptian society, in the wake of the January 25 Revolution, that inherently respects and honours religious diversity. The objective of the exhibition is to encourage a better understanding of Egypt’s indigenous Christian community, the historic Coptic Orthodox Church, which constitutes up to 10% of the population and traces its heritage back to the first century. This significant indigenous Christian presence in Egypt plays a critical role in enabling all faiths to coexist in harmony.
Retablos are votive paintings that give thanks for prayers answered. This tradition came to Mexico five centuries ago with the Catholic Spanish. For two centuries retablos have been painted onto small metal sheets by neighbourhood retableros. Mexican painter Frida Kahlo had an extensive collection of retablos. Artist Alfredo Vilchis Roque picked up on this tradition of telling a simple, dramatic story with a figurative scene and written commentary. He has been painting for 20 years, and his paintings are based on stories that have been told to him.
Alfredo is a lively man, full of himself, and proud of the work he has been doing for the last 23 years, bringing history and people's stories to painted form while keeping the tradition of retablo and ex-Voto making alive. He begins work with a pencil drawing showing the basic layout - simple and not very detailed. From this he paints the final piece in oil on sheet metal called lamina.
I got to see InSpiration, the faith zone in Westfield Stratford City today. Designed as a worship and prayer area and also as a quiet space, InSpiration is a facility which is being used by people of all faiths and none. Located on the 3rd floor near the Food Court, it has an open area used for collective activities and a smaller area with armchairs and tables for private prayer, quiet time, one-on-one conversations and small groups. Volunteers from local churches staff the facility in a variety of time slots and a chaplain, Rev. Julia Murphy, is also located there on a part-time basis. InSpiration is open 11am to 7pm Mondays to Saturdays, and 11am to 5pm on Sundays. Christian services are held daily in the space.