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Saturday, 31 December 2011

Run the Race: New Year's Eve sermon

This year the world’s premier sporting event - the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics – is coming to London and the UK. London is the first city to stage the Olympics three times. There will be 26 different sports, 17,000 athletes competing representing 205 countries. 63,000 will be involved in staging the games. 9 million tickets are expected to be sold with 500,000 people spectating. 20,000 journalists will cover the games so that millions more can avidly follow every huff, puff, spill and saga of the action. 90% of the UK is expected to watch the Games on television.

The image of an athlete is used three times in the New Testament to teach important truths about the Christian life. A New Year in which we can enjoy the Olympics experience is a good time for reminding ourselves of those truths and making them part of our lives as we begin 2012.

In 1 Corinthians 9. 24-27, St Paul wrote: “You've all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You're after one that's gold eternally.


I don't know about you, but I'm running hard for the finish line. I'm giving it everything I've got. No sloppy living for me! I'm staying alert and in top condition. I'm not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself.”

All good athletes train hard, Paul writes, and so should we. What does training involve for Christians? Prayer, bible study and Christian fellowship are all key parts of understanding our faith and growing as Christians. Doing those things can help to underpin effective Christian living. But real Christian living is about significant lifestyle change; eradicating our natural selfishnessness and living more generously – loving God will everything we have and loving our neighbour as ourselves. Doing that takes practice. We have to consciously decide to speak and act differently from how we would naturally. It is only with practice that unselfishness becomes natural to us. That is the kind of training which Paul has in mind for as we seek to live for Christ and like Christ in 2012.

We train hard in order that we can run to win. Athletes run to win an individual gold medal but we run to win eternal life; not as an individual prize but eternal life as Jesus spoke it – the coming in full of God’s kingdom of love, mercy, justice and peace. That is a prize worth winning and that is what our giving, our loving and our living should be fully focussed towards.
That’s what we are encouraged to do by Philippians 3. 12 – 15. The writer of this letter says:

“I've got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward — to Jesus. I'm off and running, and I'm not turning back.

So let's keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision — you'll see it yet! Now that we're on the right track, let's stay on it.”

No distractions, no veering off track; just an absolute focus on the goal which the kingdom of God come on earth as in heaven and the life of Jesus as the pattern and example of what that kingdom looks like when it fully comes.

So we fix our eyes on Jesus, as the text for 2012 at St John's Seven KingsHebrews 12. 1-2, tells us, because he is our example and our goal. He has shown us how to run the race – we follow in his footsteps – and he is our goal because his life shows what the kingdom of God will look like when it comes in full.

This text for 2012 gives us one other athletics image to savour and that is of a full stadium cheering us on as we run our race:

"We are surrounded by a great crowd of witnesses – all those who have borne witness to the truth of Christ before us. All the saints, all the heroes of the Bible, all those who encouraged us in our faith but who are no longer with us; each one is there in the stadium stands yelling and cheering to encourage us to preserve, continue and complete the race that we are running.

Do you see what this means — all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we'd better get on with it. Strip down, start running — and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed — that exhilarating finish in and with God — he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he's there, in the place of honour, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he ploughed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!”

This is what the example provided by those athletes preparing for the 2012 Olympics can teach us. This is what our text for 2012 encourages us to believe and do. To run our race well we need to get rid of all that would distract us or weigh us down, train hard, focus on the example of Jesus and on the goal of the coming kingdom of God, and be encouraged by those who have run before us to run with patient endurance and steady and active persistence the appointed course of the race that is set before us.

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Mavis Staples - Eyes On The Prize.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

History: a poem for the Year of the Bible 2011

At the beginning of Bible Year 2011 I wrote a short story - 'The New Dark Ages' (which can be read by clicking here, here and here) - and, as Bible Year 2011 draws to a close, I have also written the following poem, which took its initial inspiration from the multiplicity of images in George Herbert's 'Prayer I':
History

Fragments of text threaded on a string of meta-narrative,
a bejewelled necklace more desirable than fine gold;
God-breathed words, sweeter than the purest honey,
cutting, like a double-edged sword, to where soul and spirit meet,

judging the thoughts and desires of human hearts;
shaping, as pattern or frame, the believing community;
many voices using differing forms of speech; the result
of editing and re-editing, interpretation and re-interpretation;

record of ongoing dialogue between the human and divine;
centred on The Word of God as homepage to Trinity’s website;
a collage of God, oral and written testimony
to the activity and character of one

whose purpose is ultimately revealed, in the courtroom of history,
as the final purpose of history; His story in ours.
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James MacMillan - Dominus dabit.

Bad As Me


Romans 3. 23

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Paul Merton - The Series.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Windows on the world (176)


London, 2011

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Spocks Beard - Wind At My Back.

Christmas at St John's (2)






This year we sang carols at a local supported housing complex before carol singing on the streets; another new opportunity to open up for us at St John's Seven Kings this year. We raised funds for the Church Urban Fund with our carol singing and at our Nativity and Tree Lighting service, where we also collected presents for children known to Barnardos. Numbers were up on the previous year at all our main Christmas services. Work began on refurbishing our Fellowship Room which will give us level access throughout the whole building.

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Extreme - Peace.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

What can I do for you?

The story of Santa Claus begins with a man called Nicholas, who was born during the third century in the village of Patara. At the time the area was Greek and is now on the southern coast of Turkey.
His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus' words to "sell what you own and give the money to the poor," Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships.
Through the centuries many stories have been told of St. Nicholas' life and deeds. These help us understand his extraordinary character and why he is so beloved and revered as protector and helper of those in need.
One story tells of a poor man with three daughters. In those days a young woman's father had to offer prospective husbands something of value — a dowry. The larger the dowry, the better the chance that a young woman would find a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry. This poor man's daughters, without dowries, were therefore destined to be sold into slavery. Mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold appeared in their home providing the needed dowries. The bags of gold, tossed through an open window, are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry. This has led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus, as we call him today.
Sometimes the true meaning of Christmas gets hidden by all the festivities. How many of us, for instance, remembered when we saw Father Christmas at stores and bazaars and schools or while we were hanging up our stocking that he is actually a follower of Jesus. How many of us remembered that he is originally St Nicholas who gave away all he had because Jesus had first given him all he had? Jesus gave himself to us by coming into our world as a baby and growing up to die on the cross as our Saviour. This is what is at the heart of Christmas and so we need to remember that Christmas is about giving to others instead of getting for ourselves.
This year, unusually, a Christmas advert has captured this truth in exactly this way. I’m thinking of the John Lewis advert with a little boy and a present. The background music to the ad – ‘Please, please, please, let me get what I want’ a song written by the Smiths – leads us to believe the boy is desperate to open his presents on Christmas morning but the ‘catch in the throat’ moment that is the ad’s punchline is that he’s actually desperate to give his parents their present from him. So, while, like all ad’s, this ad wants us to buy the company’s products, it is also reminding us that the real joy of Christmas is found in giving rather than getting.  

This Christmas, Bible Society is asking everyone to take part in a new campaign called: ‘What can I do for you?’ To celebrate the birth of Christ, they are asking everyone to take a moment of their time, on 25th December, to offer help – however large or small - to one other person by asking them this simple question and then fulfilling their request.
The answer may be: “peel the potatoes” or “call me more” – it really doesn’t matter. It just means that, for a few moments or more, on the 25th of December, people are given the chance to experience what Jesus meant when he said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive”.

Of course, there’s no need to only ask that question of others on Christmas Day and there are lots of initiatives and groups that can help us. Here are just two others:
If you’d like ideas and reminders regularly about ways of giving to others and living more generously then you could join a group like Generous which is building a global community of people who believe in changing the world for good … one step at a time. Generous is about imagining a different way of living, about innovating, trying new things, believing that things can be better, simpler, more beautiful. Every action unknown to everyone else - from unplugging appliances to dumping bottled water, from sharing your car journey to buying Fair Trade - incrementally shifts history in favour of the planet and its people. The more people who go Generous, the greater their impact.

Acts of Kindness is a project by artist Michael Landy celebrating everyday generosity and compassion on the Tube. Landy’s project invites us to notice acts of kindness however simple and small. The artist explains, ‘Sometimes we tend to assume that you have to be superhuman to be kind, rather than just an ordinary person.’ So, to unsettle that idea, Acts of Kindness catches those little exchanges that are almost too fleeting and mundane to be noticed or remembered. Landy has invited passengers and staff to help by sending stories of kindness that have been seen or that people have been part of on London Underground and he has chosen a selection of the stories to place in Central line stations and trains. Acts of kindness between strangers undermine the idea that we should compete and always strive to be independent. Instead, they’re an acknowledgement of our shared humanity. Landy says, ‘That’s what “kindness” means – we’re kin, we’re of one kind.’
Rachel Rounds, Senior Press Secretary at Bible Society, has said: “The act of giving of ourselves reminds us that we are part of a wider community; it reminds us of the practical outworking of the two greatest commandments - to love God first and then our neighbour. Somewhere in the midst of all the noise, that still small voice may ask us all: What matters most to you?’”
May we all hear that still, small voice this Christmas whether it’s through St Nicholas, the John Lewis ad, ‘What can I do for you?’, generous, Acts of Kindness, or the Christmas story itself.

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Valdemar - What Can I Do For You.

Peace on earth

One of my favourite rock bands is U2 whose lead singer and lyricist, Bono, is a big fan of the Psalms. He has written that a lot of the psalms feel to him like the blues. Man shouting at God - "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me?" – and some of the songs he has written do the same.
In ‘Peace on Earth’ he writes:
“Heaven on Earth, we need it now
I'm sick of all of this hanging around
Sick of sorrow, sick of the pain
I'm sick of hearing again and again
That there's gonna be peace on Earth …
Hear it every Christmas time
But hope and history won't rhyme
So, what's it worth?
This peace on Earth”
It was over 2,000 years ago that that glorious song of old was first sung by angels bending near the earth to touch their harps of gold: "Peace on the earth, good will to men, from heaven's all-gracious King." So where is it? Why hasn’t it come? These are good questions to ask. Good questions to shout at God, just as occurs in the Psalms and in the blues.
While the Psalms and the blues pose questions, our carols may provide some answers. The carol I’ve just quoted, ‘It came upon the midnight clear,’ acknowledges the lack of peace that we find in the world:
“Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;”


But the problem is then put firmly back in our own court:

“And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife
And hear the angels sing.”


The wars we wage throughout our lives drown out the song of the angels and mean that we pay no attention to the peace that the Christ-child came to bring. That is also what our reading from John’s Gospel said:

“The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God …”

We have to recognize and receive him in order to access the peace that he brings, as another carol, ‘Joy to the World,’ says clearly:

“Joy to the World, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,”


So tonight, on this silent, holy night, the questions turn back to us. Are we hushing the noise of our strife sufficiently to hear the song of peace which the angels sing? Are we preparing room in our hearts for Christ to be born or are we like the innkeepers who said, “No room.” Are we recognizing and receiving him into our lives in order to become children of God?

You’ll probably have heard the slogan of the Dog’s Trust, ‘a dog is for life, not just for Christmas.’ Perhaps we need to adapt that slogan to say, ‘Christ is for life, not just for Christmas’ because it is only when we live as Christ lived that the peace he brings comes in our own lives and also between those we know. It is when we live as Christ lived that we give time and care to those who are housebound or elderly; that we feed those who are hungry, that we provide shelter for those who are homeless, that we open our homes to those who are refugees and asylum seekers. All actions that the churches in Redbridge have taken and are taking as we seek to follow in the footsteps of Christ and to live, however imperfectly, as he lived.

It is when we live as Christ lived that he rules the world with truth and grace and makes the nations prove the glories of his righteousness and the wonders of his love. It is when we live as Christ lived that the new heaven and earth shall own the Prince of Peace, their King, and the whole world send back the song which now the angels sing.

If we are sick of all of the hanging around - sick of sorrow, sick of the pain, sick of hearing again and again that there's gonna be peace on Earth – then we need to prepare room for Christ to be born in our hearts so that we will live as Christ lived and bring peace on earth – to our lives, our friends and family, our community and world.

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U2 - Peace On Earth.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Martin, Richter, Sasnal, Krokatsis and McElheny

John Martin is one of those artists who have enjoyed huge popularity combined with critical opprobrium, both in his own day where he was derided as a 'people's painter' and later where few other artists have been subject to such posthumous extremes of critical fortune, and yet, despite the critical drubbing, have been hugely influential:

'Martin's paintings anticipate biblical epics and disaster, movies and CinemaScope; sci-fi illustrations, concept albums and heavy metal graphics; Spider Man and the avatars of video games. Film directors have acknowledged the immense debt, from DW Griffith to Cecil B DeMille and Roland Emmerich' - The Observer, 25 September 2011

Artists like Martin and, in particular William Blake, must surely be inspirations to all those artists whose creative vision is not fully understood or appreciated within their lifetime.

Gerhard Richter and Wilhelm Sasnal stand in the opposite space as current critical favourites but no less vital for all that. It seems appropriate that both have had major exhibitions which have overlapped in London as, in a visual culture flooded by photographic images, the work of both attests to the continuous spellbinding power of painting. In their work painting is addressed to historical crisis while their use of readymade images explores the nature of appearance and the capacities of vision.

Richter is also fascinated by reflection, both in plain glass and in mirrors. He showed his first Mirror in 1981 but this was a continuation of his work with glass begun with the 4 Panes of Glass in 1967. Richter treats both glass and mirrors as a source of uncertainty and unpredictable visual effects. These are works which are concerned with chance because the images presented change all the time. According to Richter, they 'show something that isn’t there at all, at least not where we see it.'

Playing with reflection is currently a popular activity. Henry Krokatsis’ works are composed solely of the bevelled, faintly ornamental mirrors that were mass-produced and ubiquitous to British suburban interiors between the 1920s and the 1960s. These relics have been reconfigured and expanded to reference the high-status interiors of Europe’s grandest Rococo houses, with their cabinets de glaces and pier mirrors. These works reference minimalism via their geometry, austerity and lack of gesture yet they simultaneously embrace arbitrariness, material history and the narrative reward of subject matter.

Josiah McElheny's The Past Was A Mirage I Had Left Far Behind has transformed Gallery 2 at the Whitechapel Gallery into a hall of mirrors through the use of seven large-scale, mirrored sculptures arranged as multiple reflective screens for displaying reconfigured abstract films. The sculptures refract the projections and reflect the viewer within the work, saturating the gallery in images and light.

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Arcade Fire - Black Mirror.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Windows on the world (175)


Ilford, 2011

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Al Green - Feels Like Christmas.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Christmas at St John's (1)









We had our All-Age Christingle Service and Service of Nine Lessons and Carols by candlelight today at St John's Seven Kings. Also above are photographs from our Youth Group's Christmas Party and our Christmas Bazaar plus our Christmas Tree. During the week we have had both the Aldborough E-Act Free School and Downshall Primary School in church for Christmas shows and assemblies. New opportunities this year have included the link with the Free School and a Carol Service held at a local supported housing complex, which has led on to a monthly service also being requested. Tomorrow will find us carol singing in the parish, while on Tuesday we have our Carol Tea.

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Solomon Burke - Silent Night.

Incarnation

knew what it meant to be born into poverty
knew what it meant to survive genocide
knew what it meant to be forced to live as a refugee
knew what it meant to grow up disadvantaged
knew what it meant to experience the stigma of illegitimacy
knew what it meant to go to school and to learn a trade
knew what it meant to turn to God in prayer, faith and hope
knew what it meant to offer up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears
knew what it meant to be hungry and thirsty
knew what it meant to be tempted and tested
knew what it meant to share food and drink with friends
knew what it meant to be feted and praised
knew what it meant to feel compassion
knew what it meant to meet people’s needs
knew what it meant to be criticised for doing good
knew what it meant to shed tears at the death of a friend
knew what it meant to be questioned and rejected
knew what it meant to wrestle with God
knew what it meant to be arrested and imprisoned
knew what it meant to be put on trial
knew what it meant to be beaten and tortured
knew what it meant to be scarred
knew what it meant to be abandoned by a father
knew what it meant to learn obedience from suffering
knew what it meant to die

Emmanuel – God with us
made like his brothers and sisters in every way
tempted in every way, just as we are
able to sympathize with our weaknesses
Emmanuel - became flesh and blood
moved into our neighbourhood.

God was born as a baby 2,000 years in order that he would not be remote from us but would be one of us. Just as he has come to us, so we can now come to him. As Hebrews 4. 14-16 say: “Now that we know what we have — Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God — let's not let it slip through our fingers. We don't have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He's been through weakness and testing, experienced it all — all but the sin. So let's walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.”

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Rickie Lee Jones - Nobody Knows My Name.

Pop goes the Bible meme

Yesterday, as the 400th anniversary of the translation of the Bible into English drew to its close, Paul Gambaccini picked out some of the 100's of pop songs that have been inspired by the Old and New Testaments in Pop goes the Bible! on Radio 4. The stories, characters and text have led to a huge catalogue of songs ranging from Elvis Presley ('Adam and Evil'), to Bob Dylan (Highway 61 Revisited), Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice ('Joseph' and 'Jesus Christ, Superstar'), The Byrds (Turn! Turn! Turn!), Leonard Cohen ('Hallelujah'), and U2 ('40' and 'Yahweh').
What would be your Top 10 pop songs inspired by the Bible? My starter for 10 is:
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King's X - Faith, Hope, Love.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

It's time to embrace uncertainty

It's time to embrace uncertainty Susanne Moore argues in today's Guardian:
"The world is full of people proclaiming about stuff they don't know much about. My trade depends on it. Pundits, politicians and economists, too, all depend on some kind of bladder-busting meta-analysis to keep us quiet. In fact, they are just winging it ...

What is valued is certainty. What is devalued in such a world is uncertainty. Those who aren't sure are weak. Poor. Faithless. Uncertainty is often worrying and feminised. Real men know real things ...

How weighed down is public life with its emphasis on certainty. How dumbed down is belief. The big divides are not between different beliefs, but the differing degree of certitude in which those beliefs are held.

No one knows. No one has the answers. Uncertainty is where we are. It is to be embraced."

I agree with Moore's basic thesis and recently highlighted another comment piece in the Guardian in which Jenni Russell made similar points and concluded: "We should be more willing to admit that the complexity of the world means those leading us will make mistakes."

However, in this post I want to question the assumptions made here about belief. Moore wrote that "those who most understand the value of uncertainty are scientists," highlighting the comment piece in the Guardian by "the delightful" Jon Butterworth on Tuesday. Butterworth set up a contrast between science and belief: "We should all know that science is a betting system, not a belief system. Near-certainty arises from a morass of uncertainty, it does not drop from heaven gift-wrapped."

Like Richard Dawkins, Butterworth argues that science is superior to belief but they use opposite arguments to reach the same conclusion. Dawkins argues that science is evidence based while belief is not and therefore is uncertain, Butterworth argues that belief is about given certainties while science honestly accepts and values uncertainty. Belief is therefore damned if it does and damned if it doesn't.

The reality is that science works with both - uncertainty and evidence - as also does belief. It is the unnecessary opposing of science and belief in both Dawkins and Butterworth that provides a note of certainty (and therefore falsity) in what they write. Their certitude comes from their belief that scientific knowledge is better than the knowledge which comes through religious belief. This certitude is a belief because it cannot be proved. Therefore, Moore's comment that, "The big divides are not between different beliefs, but the differing degree of certitude in which those beliefs are held," which seems aimed at those holding religious beliefs would also seem applicable to Dawkins and Butterworth. A fuller embrace of uncertainty would seem to understand that, as Polanyi argued, all knowing is ultimately faith-based.

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Sam Phillips - Gimme Some Truth.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Top 10 album listening during 2011 meme

Via Banksyboy, this is my Top 10 of albums that I've got hold of during 2011:
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Dead Rock West - God Help Me.

    Sunday, 11 December 2011

    Windows on the world (174)



    Ilford, 2011

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    Chagall Guevara - I Need Somebody.


    Photographs: St Peter's and OPEN



    Today I've been at St Peter's Aldborough Hatch for their morning service (see sermon) and have been back this evening for their Service of Nine Lessons and Carols with the joint choirs of St John's and St Peter's. In between I've also been to the fourth session of OPEN.





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    This Picture - The Great Tree.

    A new consensus on saving KGH

    Today St John's Seven Kings hosted a meeting of the Save King George Hospital campaign. The following was my contribution to the debate:

    With Andrew Lansley’s decision to make the closure of A&E and Maternity Services at King George Hospital conditional on the Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust achieving the recommendations in the Care Quality Commission’s report, we reach a new and more complex stage in the campaign opposing the Trust’s plans.

    Our consensus to date has been simple and clear; to oppose the closure of A&E and Maternity Services at King George. Now, though, we are also faced with the broader issue of campaigning for a better NHS deal overall for local residents. The two issues are tied together because the closure of A&E and Maternity Services at King George is conditional on the Trust achieving the targets set in the CQC report. Achieving those targets will improve the NHS deal for residents locally but will result in the closure of the services we wish to retain at King George.  

    That seems a Catch 22 situation and there is indeed an element of dark comedy and bleak farce to the decision to close A&E and Maternity Services at King George Hospital. Something that Mike Gapes captured very well in the parliamentary debate he called on the matter. He said:

    “… the [CQC] report makes it clear that although services at King George were reduced over the years, it has not led to efficiency savings. All it has done is reduce the quality of care in a hospital that serves my constituents and those of a number of other MPs. The cost of doing that has not led to improvements in efficiency; on the contrary, it has contributed to the ongoing deficit problems in the dysfunctional trust.

    There we have it. The Secretary of State receives a report from the IRP recommending the endorsement of NHS London’s vision to downgrade services at King George hospital in Ilford. He then receives a report saying that there are two hospitals in the trust, covering 750,000 people in the community in the three boroughs, one of which is doing badly and there are criticisms of the other. He therefore endorses the recommendations to cut the services at the hospital that is doing better, on the aspiration, but with no evidence, that it will lead to a miraculous Stakhanovite improvement in the services at the bigger, supposedly better and more expensive hospital in the long term. You really could not make it up.”

    On this basis, how can the Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust expect to reverse the situation, including delivering a better Maternity and A&E service - with the 25% less staff outlined in the closure plans and a rapid increase in the populations of the boroughs it serves - when the A&E service at Queens Hospital has been found to be approaching collapse by the CQC and large numbers of pregnant women are being diverted away from Queens/King George because existing staff cannot cope? Clearly, there needs to be tight, accurate monitoring of the improvements in service that the trust will claim as they seek to address the CQC targets. Ensuring that that occurs and that claimed improvements are real improvements should, presumably, be part of our campaign in its next phase.

    Essentially, we need a new consensus for our campaign. Do we continue to campaign simply and solely against the closure of A&E and Maternity Services at King George or do we broaden our campaign to include a better NHS deal for our residents? Suggestions, which others have made for doing the latter, include:
     
    1) Asking for a monthly report detailing how the trust is working towards meeting the targets set in the CQC report and holding quarterly meetings to discuss progress.
     
    2) Seeking assurances that the two month deadline for caesarian sections to be brought back into the Trust to prevent women having to travel to Hackney is on track to be met.
     
    3) Ask for A&E temporary closures to be published on the Health for NE London website within 48 hours. 
     
    4) Seeking support for a research study into the mortality rates for people taken to Urgent Care Units who are then transferred to a proper A&E against those who go straight to an A&E.

    So, how to take forward the campaign? That, I suggest, is the key question facing us today. It is also a key question facing us as we reflect on other successful community campaigns in this area as several of the key organisers involved in those campaigns are no longer able to take that work forward as they once did. I’m thinking of the three founder members of TASK particularly. As a result, there is a need to reassess how community campaigns are organised in future: whether we continue with single issue campaigns; whether we utilise local community groups like Resident’s Associations more effectively; whether we join a broader campaigning coalition like London CITIZENS, as Chris Connelly was suggesting before his move. I suggest a meeting be organised in the New Year to explore this issue with all those locally who are concerned to see improved facilities and resources in the local area.

    That is a side issue though to today’s meeting and I hope and anticipate that through the inputs of other speakers we will hear ideas and proposals which can build a new consensus to take this vital campaign, which is about the future of health services in this area, further forward.

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    Kids in Glass Houses - Gold Blood.

    Friday, 9 December 2011

    In the time between times

    We live in the time between the times. That may sound like the opening sentence in a science fiction novel but it is also an important truth for us to understand in this time of Advent when we prepare to remember Christ’s first coming and look forward to Christ’s second coming.

    The things that Jesus did in his ministry on earth - healing people physically, emotionally and spiritually, forgiving sins, including the excluded and raising the dead - were the beginnings of the rule and reign of God on earth. In Jesus’ ministry we see “the signs, the dawning, the budding of the … kingdom” of God. The first coming of Jesus was a demonstration of what the kingdom of God is and will become.
    I say “will become” because history is moving towards a climax with the second coming of Jesus when the kingdom of God will be fully realised on earth and, as the book of Revelation tells us, there will be no more death, no more grief or crying or pain.
    So the Bible speaks about there being two ages, this age and the age to come. Through Jesus, the kingdom of God has broken into this age and when Jesus returns the age to come will begin when the kingdom of God will come on earth as it is in heaven.
    Therefore, we live in the time between the first and second comings of Jesus. In the time between the times, we see signs of God’s kingdom on earth but are still waiting for the full realisation of that kingdom and we are therefore in a similar position to that of John the Baptist (John 1: 6-8, 19-28).

    John lived in the time before Jesus began his ministry and spent his life looking out for and pointing people towards Jesus. Therefore, John can give us ideas about the way in which we should live as we look out for and point people towards the kingdom of God and Jesus’ second coming.
    The first thing that we can see from John’s witness is that we should point people to Jesus and not to ourselves. In verses 19-21, John is asked whether he is the Messiah, Elijah, or the Prophet. Each time he answers, “I am not”. John’s “I am not” is in deliberate contrast to Jesus who, throughout, this Gospel says, “I am” because I AM is actually the name of God - I AM WHO I AM (the name that God used of himself when he spoke to Moses from the burning bush).
    Archbishop William Temple wrote that John is here giving us an example for our own witness because he is saying, “Never mind who I am; listen to what I say and look at the person that I point you towards.” If ever our witness begins to be to ourselves or to make ourselves very prominent something is going wrong with it. It is not ourselves but our witness for which we want to claim attention. As Paul writes, “We preach not ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” In this time between the times, our lives and our words need to point others away from ourselves and towards Jesus.
    Next, John describes himself and his role by quoting from the prophet Isaiah: “I am the voice of someone shouting in the desert; Make a straight path for the Lord to travel.” John is quoting the beginning of Isaiah 40 which says:
    “A voice cries out, “Prepare in the wilderness a road for the Lord! Clear the way in the desert for our God! Fill every valley; level every mountain. The hills will become a plain, and the rough country will be made smooth. Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed and all mankind will see it. The Lord himself has promised this.”
    John was in the wilderness which was also the place where the Israelites had been before they entered the Promised Land. The wilderness is the place of waiting, of preparation, for the promise of God to be fulfilled. John’s job in this place of preparation sounds like a major building project - fill every valley, level every mountain, make the hills a plain and the rough country smooth. And when this has been done then the glory of the Lord will be seen by everyone. So, John’s job was to call people to remove barriers to all people everywhere seeing Jesus for themselves.
    The task that God had given to the Jewish people was to be a light to the Gentiles, to reveal the glory of God to all people. Jerusalem and its Temple was supposed to become a place to which the nations would stream to learn from God. Instead the Temple became a symbol of Jewish identity with all sorts of people excluded from worship at the Temple unless they conformed to the detailed requirements of the Mosaic Law. The Temple and the worship in it actually prevented the free access to God’s word that God wanted to see for people of all nations. Therefore, John is calling for all those barriers to God to be removed and torn down so that people can clearly see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
    In the time between the times we need to do the same. To identify those things in our society that prevent people from seeing Jesus and call for their removal. I’m thinking, for example, of the consumerism and individualism in our society that lead people to live as though all that matters is themselves and their own pleasure. A few years ago an American ambassador to UN food agencies in Rome found a novel way to do that this week by consigning most of his black tie evening guests to a freezing tent with only rice to eat. Tony Hall invited guests at his walled residence to pick a card from a hat and, while those who drew one card were ushered inside for a candlelit meal, he joined the unlucky others outside. By doing this he gave people a shock demonstration of what it is like for the 60% of the world’s 6 billion people who struggle to eat.  Hall told his Times interviewer that he was prompted in his quest to bring world hunger to people’s attention both by what he has seen firsthand in Ethiopia and by Isaiah 58.6, where God says: “The kind of fasting I want is this: Remove the chains of oppression and the yoke of injustice, and let the oppressed go free.”
    Finally, John is questioned about the reason why he baptises people. John’s baptism was one of “repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. Those who were baptised by John were people who agreed with him that the people of Israel had lost their way and were not fulfilling God’s plan for their nation. John’s baptism prepared them to recognise Jesus who would faithfully carry out God’s plan for the salvation of all peoples. In the time between the times we need to do the same, to call people away from our society’s obsession with consuming more and more goods in order to bolster our own fragile egos and help people turn towards Jesus’ way of giving to others in order to see signs in our day of the kingdom of God.
    Like John the Baptist we live in a time of preparation for the coming of something greater than what we know. Like him, we need to point people, not to ourselves, but to Jesus. Like him, we need to call for the removal of all barriers to people seeing Jesus for themselves. And like him, we need to help people repent for lives and a society that ignores God’s purpose and plan for our lives and turn back to God. As we learn from John, like him, we can create signs in our time of that something greater for which we wait. We can create signs of the kingdom of God which is here now but which will fully come when Jesus comes again.

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    Florence + the Machine - What The Water Gave Me.

    Thursday, 8 December 2011

    Spiritual Life - Creativity

    This is my latest Spiritual Life column for the Ilford Recorder:


    I read this poem last Saturday at the Private View for an exhibition I have organized throughout December at the Tokarska Gallery in Walthamstow. It suggests that we understand ourselves and the world as we make things or make things happen; in other words as we use our God-given ability to create. The art we have included in this exhibition offers us that kind of understanding through their expression of creativity.

    Earlier in that same week I had been at the 15th Anniversary Assembly of TELCO, The East London Communities Organisation, where the phase ‘mark your mark’ was also being used. TELCO has made its mark with successful campaigns for a London Living Wage. Last Wednesday, they celebrated jobs gained by local people through their London 2012 Jobs initiative.

    A 61 year old lady who had experienced periods of homelessness and who had thought she would never work again was among those who had gained jobs. Our creativity has been given to us by God to make that kind of mark on our communities and on the lives of others; as well as also being for the marks we make when we paint or write.

    The key thing is to make a start in some way, to begin to use our latent God-given creativity. In Church recently, many of us have been reading Jesus’ story of the talents in which he makes the same point; don’t sit on your gifts and talents, instead make a start to make your mark!

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    Radiohead - No Surprises.

    Monday, 5 December 2011

    Windows on the world (173)


    London, 2011

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    Carleen Anderson - True Spirit.

    Sunday, 4 December 2011

    Going downhill very quickly!


    Loved this selection of one liners from the very wonderful Milton Jones when I was watching a repeat of Mock the Week recently.
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    Milton Jones - Work.

    Appropriate public thanksgiving?

    The exhibition of Mexican miracle paintings at the Wellcome Collection (Infinitas Gracias) got me reflecting on the differences between Latin Catholic expressions of faith and those of Western Protestantism.
    Usually commissioned from local artists by the petitioner, votive paintings tell immediate and intensely personal stories, from domestic dramas to revolutionary violence, through which a markedly human history of communities and their culture can be read. The votives are intimate records of the tumultuous dramas of everyday life - lightning strikes, gunfights, motor accidents, ill-health and false imprisonment - in which saintly intervention was believed to have led to survival and reprieve.

    Votives are gestures of thanksgiving, examples of public gratitude for survival, something that we don't do well in the Western Church where public memorials are either reserved for the wealthy or are controversial when they reflect popular culture. Thousands of these small paintings line the walls of Mexican churches. This, again, would seem to be something that we value in other cultures but which consider as anathema in our own Western churches where minimalism rules and the naïve is undervalued.

    The regulations governing churchyards and churches (including the otherwise excellent new guidelines from the Church Buildings Council) would seem to specifically exclude from our churches any local expression of the type of art which is being celebrated through Infinitas Gracias. It may be worth the CBC, DACs and other bodies concerned with the upkeep of churchyards and churches to consider how they would respond to requests for naïve or folk art should these arise.

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    Bob Dylan - Senor (Tales Of Yankee Power).

    Saturday, 3 December 2011

    Beyond 'Airbrushed from Art History' (10)

    Fr. Roy Mathew Thottam, a Jesuit artist-priest in Kerala, suggests that the role of Christian artists in India has changed :

    "There was a time in the Church when the written Bible was not available to the people. The themes were depicted through paintings, so that common people could understand the Bible and Church teachings.

    In modern times, artists deal not so much with the description of the Bible but are more concerned with the interpretation of the Word. They take the ‘word’, reflect and meditate on it, and explain or interpret according to the socio-cultural reality they live in, according to each one’s experience of God."

    He calls his own artistic search a "pilgrimage, journeying through the interior world, lives of the people, and the reality I live in. It is to do with a spiritual quest. In fact, every art is spiritual; it is something like meditation."

    Angelo da Fonseca and Alfred D. Thomas made serious efforts during the 1930's to find Indian roots for Christian painting in India. They sought to create authentic Indian images of Christ retaining the universalities of Christ. Christ was often portrayed in Indian clothes, as talking to typical Indian villagers and set in typical Indian landscape.

    Several outstanding modern Indian painters, such as Jamini Roy, Ravi Varma, Nandalal Bose and M. Reddeppa Naidu, while not Christians, nevertheless painted pictures of Jesus or chose Christian themes in order to portray the nature and predicament of humanity in society. As a former student of the Madras Christian College, K. C. S. Paniker was familiar with the Bible and when he wanted to depict suffering and pain he chose to paint Christ.

    Alphonso Doss writes in his article ‘The Image of Christ in Indian Art’:

    "Mr. S. Dhanapal and Mr. P.V. Janakiram made bronze and metal sculptures depicting the image of Jesus in 1962 - 65. "Christ carrying the cross" was a popular composition done by S. Dhanapal in bronze which was selected for a National Academy award in 1962. The other sculpture named "Christ carrying the cross" is a group sculpture, in which Christ carrying the cross with his followers depict and express grief and sorrow. In both these sculptures one can see the face and the figuration following Indian contemporary style of expression. The eyes and elongated face of Christ convey a deep sense pf compassion and tolerance which are the characteristic portrayal of Christ ...

    Internationally reputed sculptor P.V. Janakiram, aged 72, disciple of K.C.S. Panicker and S. Dhanapal has also been influenced by the suffering of Jesus Christ. He made several figures of Christ, Madonna, Crucifixion conveying the Christian spirit in his work. The most striking one is the sculpture showing Christ stretching his hands expressing love, unity done in copper sheet metal. Welding is employed to fix the copper rod to suggest hair and beard. The whole sculpture is oxidized except the centre area where the brass sheet is welded in the front portion on which decorative elements are found with geometric pattern to beautify the sculpture."

    Francis Newton Souza, born in the Portuguese colony of Goa to Indian parents, was brought up as a strict Catholic. In 1949, having become a well-established artist in India, he moved to Britain. After six difficult years living in London, he began to build a considerable reputation as a writer and painter. Souza was the first of India's modern painters to achieve high recognition in the West. His work is in major museum collections around the world including the Tate. As with those mentioned above images of Christ form an important strand within his work.


    Among modern and contemporary Indian painters who are Christians are the following, whose work commonly addresses experiences of mixed religious backgrounds and has more recently led to the Indian Christian Art Association and Indian Christian Artists Forum:

    Dr. Jyoti Sahi studied art at the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts and gained a Doctorate in Divinity from Serampore College. Over the years he has taught art at various institutions and centres in India and worked free lance, at the Kurisumala Ashram with Dom Bede Griffiths and Laurie Baker, designing works for Indian Churches. Coming from a mixed religious background having Hindu and Christian roots, Jyoti has spent the last forty years trying to see how it is possible to bridge/integrate these religious and cultural divides through art. He is particularly interested in the relation of Christian symbols and stories to the sacred images that are found in other faith traditions, particularly in the Indian tradition. As an artist, he has been actively involved with various non governmental groups in India concerned with social change.

    Frank Wesley was born in Azamgarh, U.P., India in December 1923 into a fifth generation Christian family. His first art exhibition was in 1935. He studied at the government school of Arts and Crafts in Lucknow from 1943 to 1948 . Further studies included four years at the Kyoto Art University in Japan (1954-58) and two years at the Art Institute of Chicago (1958-60). His work has been internationally recognised. He designed the urn for Mahatma Ghandhi's ashes. Five of his paintings were included in the 1950 Holy Year Exhibition at the Vatican. "The Blue Madonna" was used as the first UNICEF Christmas card. In 1973, he emigrated to Australia with his family. He continued to paint prolifically until his death in 2002. In 1993 Naomi Wray published "Frank Wesley: Exploring faith with a brush", (Auckland, Pace publishing), a book that explores Frank's Christian painting.

    Ashrafi S. Bhagat writes in
    ‘Of light, signs and symbols’ that:

    "Within the terrain of the Madras Movement internationally acclaimed Alphonso [Doss] is a familiar name. An alumnus of the Government College of Arts and Crafts, he taught painting there and retired as a principal in 1997 ... His depth of knowledge of Christianity in tandem with the philosophy of Hinduism and Buddhism posits him as an artist who can traverse freely across both spheres with these symbols to contextualise his works within a cultural milieu marking it as individual and universal as well. Though his concepts and ideologies transcend the national boundaries to be almost global, there is in Alphonso's works a strong hint of the nativist agenda that was engined by K.C.S. Paniker in the early 60s to establish the face of the Madras Movement within the larger framework of the national milieu."

    Joy Elamkunnapuzha drew an original design for Christ the Guru in 1977 and V. Balan executed it in mosaic style on the facade of the Chapel at Dharmaram College in Bangalore, India: "Christ is presented as a yogi in meditation under the sacred peepal tree. He is seated in padmaasanam, the lotus posture. The calm and compassionate look on the face depicts the image of the ideal guru , spiritual teacher, in the Indian scriptures. The hand gestures show jnaanamudra, the sign of imparting knowledge and wisdom that dispel darkness (the Sanskrit term guru is a combination of gu, "darkness," and ru, "that which dispels"). The red color on the hands and feet shows the nail marks from crucifixion. They are the signs that St. Thomas, the Apostle of India insisted on as proof of Jesus's resurrection (Jn 20: 24-29). The equal-armed cross is presented in the form of a flower. The flame represents both Christ and the devotee alike; it is a reminder of two complementary sayings of Jesus: "I am the light of the world" (Jn 8:12) and "You are the light of the world" (Mt 5: 14). The two halves of a coconut, often placed at the forefront during religious rituals in India, is a symbol of self-sacrifice. The chalice with bread and grapes represents the sacrificial gift of Jesus in the holy Eucharist."

    Alle G. Hoekema writes, in a
    review of The Poor Man’s Bible, that:

    "Dr. P. Solomon Raj, a Lutheran theologian and creative artist from India … became a school teacher, then studied theology at Gurukul, Madras, served as a minister and as a student chaplain and after that fulfilled a wide range of positions in India, at Selly Oak, Birmingham UK and other countries before settling down again in his own country. In the meantime he published his PhD dissertation in Birmingham and was active in the Asian Christian Arts Association. Since a number of years he is the spiritual father of the St. Luke’s Lalitkala Ashram in Vijayawada, Andra Pradesh.

    In the 1950s he discovered his gift as an artist, first specializing in linocuts and wood block printing (black and white, later coloured ones as well) and then also in designing batiks, and — though to a lesser extent — acryl paintings. Serving in the field of modern mass communication as a means of propagating the Gospel, he discovered the possibilities of using visual art in explaining the biblical narratives. Most of the art works which he published in separate booklets and books are accompanied by brief, often surprising, poetical meditations which remind one of the work of Rabindranath Tagore and others.

    In an unpublished paper Solomon Raj himself speaks about the prophetic role of the Christian artist. Like prophets, the artist is an instrument of inspiration, a visionary and fore-teller who uses symbolic language. And, ‘he is aware of the problems in the society in which he lives, he speaks the vocabulary and the idiom of his time and he wakes up people of his day to some of the things that agitate his mind.’"

    US-based Goan painter-scholar
    Jose Pereira has said that he sees himself "as a product of two traditions: one is the Latin-Christian tradition and the other is the Indian Hindu tradition." In order to bring to expression these traditions, he says he has had to do extensive research. In 2010 paintings by Pereira depicting Hindu Lord Shiva dancing with six naked maidens and Krishna in sexual ecstasy in the midst of several women were withdrawn from an exhibition of Pereira’s paintings at The Xavier Centre of Historical Research in Goa following threats by Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (Hindu Awareness Forum) to decapitate the 89-year-old painter.

    In 2006
    Edwin Parmar turned a huge canvas into a monumental work of art in which Christ, Hindu gods and Indian traditions blend. He got the idea for this larger-than-life painting from a question: "What would be Christ's life if he had been born in an Indian village?" Parmar found his answer in a synthesis of Indian and western cultures. Thus, in his painting Mary wears a sari and Hindu God Rama interacts with Christ.

    Susheila Williams "is the president of the Indian Christian art association. She is also the founder secretary of the Chitrakala academy in Coimbatore. The Indian Christian art association is an association of Christian artists in India. This association conducts workshops and organizes exhibitions of paintings. It also brings out a quarterly news letter called ‘Pratima’. Mrs. Williams founded the Chitrakala academy, in coimbatore in the year 1978 and from its inception this artists association has been functioning well. She underwent her training in New Delhi under Mr. Anand Micheal from the Michigan University. She travels extensively and participates in art exhibitions at the national and international level."

    She "specializes in oil painting and terracotta sculptures. Her oil painting titled ‘THE SAMARITAN WOMEN’ adorns the pope’s official residence at Vatican. Some of her theme paintings on UNITY IN DIVERSITY have found its way into posters thus ensuring that the message has effectively reached the society. Her speciality is in using Christian themes in the Indian context so that the message of the scriptures is understandable and acceptable by the community."

    The Catholic Bishop’s Conference of India reported in 2010 that:

    "A group of leading Christian artists in India under the initiative of the CBCI Commission for Social Communications has established a national network called the
    Indian Christian Artists Forum. Artist priest Dr. Paul Kattukaran of Trichur Archdiocese, has been appointed as the national coordinator for the Forum. Fifteen renowned artists from various parts of the country attended the first meeting of the Christian artists in India convened by the CBCI Commission at the CPCI Centre, Bangalore, August 4.

    Those who attended the meeting included renowned artists and theologian Jyoti Sahi, Chennai based artist and former principal of Madras College of Fine Arts Mr. Alphonso Doss, former director of Bharat Bhavan, Bhopal, and well known sculptor
    Robin David, Bangalore-based artist C.F. John, artist Edwin Parmar, Ahmedabad, Sr.Vincy, Bongaigaon, Assam, Fr. Roy M. Thottam SJ, Kochi and others.

    The Forum is intended to bring together Christian artists from different parts of the country to foster greater collaboration and professional support and exchange. It intends to promote study and appreciation of Christian art among various sections of the people- clergy, religious and laity in the church, and the wider society in India, and to encourage a deeper understanding, appreciation and application of Indian Christian art in theology, liturgy and architecture in the Church in India."
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    George Harrison - My Sweet Lord.