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Friday, 31 August 2012

Exhibition: For His Glory

'For His Glory' is an exhibition of Christian Art being held until 21st September at East Gallery,  29-35 West Ham Lane, Stratford, London E15 4PH (5 mins walk from Stratford Station). The opening hours are: Mon - Fri  8.30 - 6pm and entry is free.
The exhibiting artists write:
"We are seven artists, members of ARC (A Radical Church) in Forest Gate, Newham, London. A church where we keep it SIMPLE, RADICAL and always REAL! We believe we were made by God to be creators, after His own image.  As His children, we have inherited this unique gift that bears the Creator likeness.
The fundamental desire of the Christian artist is not to be a star, but to faithfully serve. A Christian artist may attain stardom outside his community, but it is within the local community that faithful, efficient, and effective service to the body of Christ will be most achieved.
No real ministry happens if the Gospel is not told. The Kingdom is not advanced without the sharing of the Word. Art ministry does not replace Word ministry. We use it to help people to hear God's Word.
We hope you will come and see the small exhibition of our artwork. If you would like to know more about what we do, contact: ARC tel - 020 8555 4245."


Bill Fay - Be At Peace With Yourself.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Miriam Kendrick: Some Things I Thought Of

The Private View for Miriam Kendrick's Some Things I Thought Of - a selection of her varied work including comics and paintings - was held tonight at The Living Room Soho.

Miriam is an artist living and working in Kent. She studied Theology in London and has always worked on a variety of projects. Most recently she has been writing a popular daily comic called ‘Miriam’s Daily Adventures’ which documents her daily life and imaginings. She is also a painter, contributed sessions on comic art at Greenbelt 2012 and was one of the organisers of the 'Run with the Fire' exhibition for the Pentecost Festival.

In addition to viewing Miriam's exquisite bird paintings and witty comic strips, the Private View also featured live music from Luke Bacon. The Living Room Soho is a cafe, performance venue and meeting room in the heart of the West End. Miriam's show is their autumn exhibition.


Luke Bacon - Hope

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

New music

Here are some new albums that I'm looking forward to hearing:

Babel - Mumford & Sons: 'Opening with a blistering banjo intro, the title track is a statement of intent. Marcus Mumford spits, "I know my weakness, know my voice. And I believe in grace and choice'". As the chorus hits, the biblical allusions that inspired the album title kick in.' (NME)

Life Is People - Bill Fay: 'Aside from Fay's plaintive cover of Wilco's Jesus Etc, Life Is People also continues with the lyrical themes established back in 1969-70 ... "They need space to convey," he stresses, "but, in a simple way, biblical prophecy. Not in some extreme or fanatical way but fundamentally, that this world - in the hands of different leaders, competing with each other economically - it can't carry on. It's belief in a change. There's comfort in that. I'm not so sure how you could handle the world if you didn't have that. It's God's world, yet we walk around as if it's ours."' (Mojo)

Tempest - Bob Dylan: 'When Dylan convened his band at Jackson Browne's Groove Masters studios in Santa Monica, he's said it was his intention to make a 'religious' album ... The testing of belief in extreme circumstances is a recurring theme ... the charred landscape that much of Tempest occupies ... a forlorn sort of place, populated by the displaced and the lost, to who Dylan gives poignant voice.' (Uncut)

The Laughing Stalk - Woven Hand: 'The myths of our country are in the songs. The untold stories and gaps in history books are in the songs – our recollection is preserved in this music. Those songs as well as the stories that my parents told me, the bible and the books I read, all this is the foundation of my imagination of America. But I do not see myself as a keeper of tradition. I rather am a craftsman who on a daily basis does what he does best: singing and playing guitar. That’s the only thing I've learned. I am following the music.' (David Eugene Edwards)

The Hipsters - Deacon Blue: 'Judging by the content of this album, which contains such portions of well-bred pop as Stars and the harmony-laden Turn, there's enough creativity left to ensure that few hearing these songs for the first time on the band's 25th Anniversary Tour will be disappointed.' (Mojo)


Bill Fay - Time Of The Last Persecution.

Thanks Greenbelt

Greenbelt was once again a very rich experience both personally and in terms of the amazing range of arts and inputs that formed the programme. Planning for and delivering that kind of diversity is always a stunning logistical achievement but to continue to deliver in the face of the torrential rain that fell on Saturday and the resulting quagmire was a huge achievement.

The Greenbelt team have thanked the volunteers who worked extra shifts and helped keep the festival going while other events around the country had to bail, plus the Greenbelt Angels, regular givers, who keep the Festival going through thick and thin. The Greenbelt organisers themselves also need to be acknowledged and thanked as well for the great programme, for working out how to keep it running in the rain, and for the new developments introduced this year each of which, it seemed to me, worked very well.


The Proclaimers - Met You.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

My Greenbelt 2012 journal (4)

Monday 27th August
The sense of peace from last night holds for me and my final day is less working issues through and more simply enjoyable, particularly as I catch up with friends from church.

John Schad gave a reading from his novel ‘The Late Walter Benjamin’ that being well dramatised heightened his wonderfully interesting and creative take on Benjamin’s life and writings. ‘We penetrate mystery,’ Benjamin said, ‘only to the degree that we recognize it in the everyday world.’ ‘Every second was the strait gate through which the Messiah might enter’

This was followed Deborah Fielding on reading and writing short stories. Fielding gave us a personal and eclectic presentation with readings of, quotes about, and hints and tips on the writing of short stories. Read other writer’s short stories then just do it were the main messages that emerged. Her chapbooks combine art, design and narrative in one compendium, always a fascinating combination.

Sessions from Anthony Green and Simone Lia enabled me to finally get the exhibition in the Gallery. The initially unrecognised issue for me with this exhibition has been that the organisers have chosen to show work which break two standard lines in regard to contemporary art. The first is that narrative art is merely illustrative and, therefore, second rate. The second is that it is professional suicide for visual art to be explicit about Christian faith. Each of the artists included here, in different ways, are explicitly narrative (often confessional) Christian artists and within the mainstream art world. This is something to be celebrated but shouldn’t solely apply to those who can make it work in the mainstream art world. Instead, artists such as these should be inspiration for others who also aim to be explicitly confessional or narrative Christian artists but do not have similar standing within the mainstream art world. This exhibition may be a helpful development in affording equal understanding and support to these artists as for those whose vision is to address issues of faith through allusion and elusively.

Having recognised this doesn’t ultimately change my reaction to the work itself. Green, as he eloquently explained in his presentation, paints his life as a petit histoire recognising that to do so sanctifies ordinary life. In doing so, as an ex-Slade student, he would seem to be following in the footsteps of Stanley Spencer. It seems to me that Green’s work, wonderful as it undoubtedly is, has similar weaknesses to that of Spencer when the ordinary aspects of life being celebrated are so personal that a family history is required in order to fully appreciate or understand the imagery. Which brings us back to the standard critique of narrative art – which I think can be applied to Green’s Resurrection – that the work does not stand alone but needs literary explanation. Lia’s worm paintings don’t have this problem but, unlike her graphic novels, seem slight and ephemeral as images. Leunig, by contrast, provides a masterclass in single images which are both simply designed and drawn yet possess real pathos and depth.

Green did, in his talk, eloquently and forcefully emphasise the sanctify of ordinary life and each of us as ordinary people. My resolution of my own issues over this weekend has partly been though accepting the value of ordinary ministry and also the tensions and stretch that come from straddling several different areas of ministry with the risk that none are done as well as they might but also with the potentiality for creativity which comes from the attempt. 

Bellowhead, in their headlining set, played with a spirit of wild abandon that was based on disciplined familiarity with each other and their sources and which therefore provided something more than the acts who preceded them could deliver. Aradhna, who I heard again earlier in the day, also, it seems to me, possess this something more that comes from an ability to inhabit and then transcend the spirit of your sources.

In the tension of the now and not yet,
between order and disintegration,
between anarchy and regimentation,
in between, the broken middle,
the crack where the light gets in,
is the edge of chaos where life evolves,
where change occurs not free of cost –
ragged edges, blind alleys, the snake in Eden –
evolution into consciousness, falling up.

The edge of chaos
is order and disorder,
movement and stasis,
unity and fragmentation,
paradox and mystery
bringing change, development,
creativity, growth and mutation.


Aradhna - Namaste Saté.

My Greenbelt 2012 journal (3)

Sunday 26th August

Instead of the Greenbelt communion I go to St Bartholomew Nympsfield for their Patronal Festival where the 60 strong congregation is made up of locals and retreatants from Erdington at the Marist Retreat Centre in the village. Diana Crook preaches an impactful sermon equating the training and dedication of the Paralympians with that of the disciples, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, St Bartholomew, and ourselves. Jesus’ question to us – ‘Do you want to go?’ is a liberating one. We follow because we choose to and want to. This is a message which I need to hear.

Lila Dance are perplexing – something vigorous and fascinating is happening but, like Mister Jones, I have to confess I don’t know what it is. Peterson Toscana, in line with Jesus’ parables, is deliberately raising more questions than answers. He mixes his own story told as a sequence of prayers with the retelling of several Bible stories. These, while amusing and different, are not as funny or radical as I’d expected from the advance notices and I’m left rather underwhelmed. The session is titled 'Jesus had two daddies' though and that got me thinking about the phrase 'The unorthodox Jesus'. So much of the debate on controversial issues in the Church seems to revolve around different understandings of orthodoxy but Jesus was unorthodox - right from the start, as Toscana noted, growing up in a family set-up that was very far from being a nuclear family. 

I revisit the Gallery and appreciate a little more fully the comic book/strip focus of this show. Leunig is whimsical and wise while Smith is clear and challenging. Green remains opaquely personal while Lia has innocent humour.

Things pick up at mainstage with a great set of sensitive folk songs from Roddy Woomble and a barnstorming set from the Proclaimers. Roddy Woomble’s ‘Work Like You Can’ strikes me as a celebration of ordinary existence, something I need affirmed currently, while the Proclaimers sang:

“Thought that God had failed me
Thought my prayers were useless
Thought that he would never give the chance for me to praise him

Thought the book was written
Thought the game had ended
Thought the song was sung and I could never sing another

Thought my faith was misplaced
Thought my back was broken
Broken by a weight that I was never fit to carry

Thought I knew this city
Thought I knew all about it
And then one night I went to Morningside and you were waiting

I met you.”

Following that inspiration, I experience a measure of peace via the Taize Service and Aradhna in Eden and write the following:

Absence is not void.
Absence fills vacuum with live memory;
a present aching.

Silence is not still.
Silence simply tunes our hearing to other sounds;
noise abounds.

Peace is not passive.
Peace requires active relations,
if hands are to be shaken.

Do not a-void absence.
Hear the sounds of silence.
Actively create peace.


Roddy Woomble - Work Like You Can.

My Greenbelt 2012 journal (2)

Saturday 25th August
A hot shower, cooked breakfast and good conversation at the Rectory where I staying provide a great beginning to a day that will see torrential showers and the resulting quagmire.

John Polkinghorne highlighted the particularity of our universe by means of the specific conditions which created carbon. The universe was pregnant with rich potentiality and possibility from the very beginning but in very short spaces of time finely tuned chemical reactions were required for life to emerge; slight differences would have meant that the carbon necessary for life could not have developed. At the opposite extreme, a very large universe is required for life to emerge and our universe is sufficiently large. The particular conditions for life met within our universe point to a fine tuning of the laws of nature - creation. This is an enduring condition with new things coming into being under particular circumstances at the edge of chaos where life is neither too ordered or too haphazard. This is the snake in Eden – evolution comes at a cost; ragged edges and blind alleys. Creation has to exist at a distance from the Creator for free will to genuinely operate. Therefore, the mutation of cells at the edge of chaos has a shadow side; cells can mutate in ways that are malignant (cancerous) as well as benign. This is the inevitable cost of a world able to make itself through an evolving chemistry of life.

The universe is expanding and cooling; the eventual result will be its end in futility and decay. “The more I understand the universe, the more it seems pointless,” says Stephen Weinberg. Christianity speaks, however, of the faithfulness of the Creator and a destiny after death. Continuity and discontinuity is therefore implied. The constantly changing atoms of our bodies carry the information, pattern or structure of our character and memories. This pattern is the real person and could be preserved in the divine mind to be resurrected in the different matter of a future different body and world. New matter transformed from the old. Jesus’ resurrection is the seed event for this possibility and sacraments are occasions when the veil between this world and the next is thinned.

Based on this I write:

In the tension of the now and not yet,
between order and disintegration,
between anarchy and regimentation,
in between, the broken middle,
the crack where the light gets in,
is the edge of chaos where life evolves,
where change occurs not free of cost –
ragged edges, blind alleys, the snake in Eden –
evolution into consciousness, falling up.

Diarmaid MacCulloch spoke about his attempt to show the wider public the importance of Church history by reshaping the way the story is told. Christianity is a personality cult as Jesus is the one constant in the diversity of the faith. Christians tell stories about Jesus in which audacious claims are made about his divinity and continuing presence. The Bible is a diverse library of books. The ideas at the heart of all world religions are flexible and change as the religions mutate and change to survive.

Christianity has unstable roots are it has two different sources; Judaism and Hellenism. Judaism speaks of a passionate, angry God while the Greeks spoke of a perfect, unchanging God. The first four centuries of Christianity are trying to reconcile these two dichotomies. Christianity, therefore, is essentially a question. A key moment is this debate comes with the Council of Calcedon in 451CE. The compromise worked out there has come to characterise Roman Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox expressions of the faith but at the time it was a disaster as it was not accepted by two-thirds of the Church. It was only because of the growth of Islam and its later development of a missionary aspect which caused the fading of the influence and ideas of that two-thirds Church which had rejected Calcedon. This was historical accident which could easily have been different if the influence of the Church of the East had been maintained. Historically, it is clear that the Church has always been diverse.

McCulloch was asked about accessible Early Church histories and didn’t provide much in the way of ideas but could have pointed to the excellent Video Timeline Project by Tim Hull at St John’s Nottingham which was being promoted in G-Source.

The rains came while Pádraig Ó Tuama, who seems to be the unofficial poet laureate of Greenbelt, was entertaining us with lengthy comedic introductions to the short depressive ‘Reading from the Book of Exile’ poems (his description). There were more poetic songs from Bruce Cockburn in an unplugged session at the Big Top. “I’m thinking ‘bout eternity. Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me,” lines from ‘Wondering where the Lions are’, which could sum up the GB12 content thus far.

My own poem seems to have reached what may be a realised final form:

There is no culmination, no end to need or greed,
no resolution - the need to dim the lights never ceases.
Your people age and fail and demand unless I cry,
‘No more, no more,’ and die. When will the culmination come?
When needs are met? When work ceases? When demands are done?
Always more, more, more. Human selfishness calls love without limits
into being –the tap of love turned full on – ever-flowing.

No end, no culmination, no resolution.
Take up the cross, become the host;
continually broken, consumed and re-membered.


Pádraig Ó Tuama - Readings from the Book of Exile.

My Greenbelt 2012 journal (1)

Friday 24th August

I arrive at Greenbelt this year feeling frustrated due to the relentless nature of ministry combined with a sense that my ministry was not delivering all that it could – perhaps wanting more than I or the situations can deliver, perhaps that I am operating across too many fronts. I had left home later than anticipated, as usual trying to cover all bases at the last minute and then feeling frustrated that I’m behind schedule. On the way I toy with the phrase, ‘When will the culmination come?’, as I’m driving and begin to express some of what I’m feeling in some initial unsatisfactory lines of poetry:

There is no end, no culmination, no completion - like an ever
flowing stream or a cat which never tires of stroking, your people
age and fail and demand unless I cry, ‘No more, no more,’ and die.
When will the culmination come? When needs are met?
When work ceases? When demands are done? There is always more
therefore no respite, rest or resolution. Where is joy - where am I –
in sacrifice and self-giving?

I arrive and the fluid, flowing lines of Aradhna’s Soul Space worship wash over me while trying to absorb the complexities of the programme. Beyond hearing Bruce Cockburn tonight, there are few must attends for me this year. I decide to wander and experience the site initially but can’t settle to absorb and take anything in. Even viewing the Gallery – Michael Leunig, Simone Lia, Si Smith and Anthony Green – I can’t initially connect despite the obvious accessibility and humour of much of the work. Instead I go to see friends in G-Source and the Marketplace where I receive encouraging news on Near Neighbours, info about a South London exhibition, news of a friend’s family and changes to 12Baskets’ operation (the publisher of my 'Mark of the Cross' meditations).

Then comes an awesome gig from Bruce Cockburn who makes his solo acoustic chime and ring with rhythm and lead. There is no sense here that a solo artist cannot command and fill the main stage. He plays a good selection of early to mid career openers before moving on to a selection from Small Source of Comfort. The crowd call for early ‘Christian’ songs but Cockburn can pull great material from the hat of any period. He talks about no pictures of God being possible before singing ‘Boundless’. ‘You can call me Rose’ is both a highlight and, he says, a gift. The standout line for me and, perhaps, one with personal spiritual significance is, ‘If I loose my grip, will I take flight?’

My poem is perhaps beginning to clarify and now looks like this:

There is no culmination, no end
to need or greed, no resolution.
The need for someone to dim the lights
never ceases. Human selfishness
calls out for love without limits;
love as an ever flowing stream,
the tap turned full on.


Bruce Cockburn - Strange Waters.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Fearfully and wonderfully made

Today I gave a funeral address based on aspects of creativity and making:

There’s a song called ‘Lights’ by one of my favourite singers, Victoria Williams, in which she reflects on the experience of making things. Whatever you are making, she sings, “you wanna make something good,” something that you can look on that will give you lots of pleasure. But then she reflects on what happens when this thing you’ve made turns out wrong in some way, not quite perfect, and she says that you still love it just the same because it is some thing that you made.

Those of us who make things ourselves – whether it’s dresses or rocking horses or whatever – will probably know that feeling. The maker knows where the flaws are in the things she or he has made. Others might not be able to spot them but we know and it bothers us but what we’ve made may well be wonderful nevertheless.

In the song, Victoria Williams likens this experience to that of God and his creation, human beings. Psalm 139 tells us that we are created by God, fearfully and wonderfully made, and we are wonderful as a result.

That was true of ____ and you loved the wonderful person – fearfully and wonderfully made – that she was. In our prayers, we have been thanking God for making her the way he did; for giving her the gifts and talents that he did – her needlework skills in particular but, more so even than those, the way in which she showed her love for each one of you.

The reading from Wisdom 11. 24 - 25 then reminds, like Victoria Williams’ song, that God loves everything – everyone – that he has made. As a result, the Christian hope is that, in God, all he has made lasts and endures and continues. That is the hope that I wish to share with you today. Just as you will always treasure the wedding dresses ____ made or the rocking horses ________ has made, so God also keeps and treasures those he has made, including ____.


Victoria Williams - Lights.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Logos as Word and Conversation

A significant number of my posts have been on conversation as a theological theme and as a frame for understanding both the content and structure of the Bible. Many of these posts have referred to a translation/paraphrase of the Prologue to John's Gospel which I came across in a Methodist report entitled Time to Talk of God.

I've now found on David Moore's website more information about how this translation came about. During a Radio 4 conversation (2001) about the history of humanism in European thought, the discussion moved to the work of Erasmus, who in 1516 produced his own translation of the New Testament in which he translated ‘Logos’ in John’s Gospel not as ’Word’ but as ‘Conversation’. Although at the time this was an acceptable translation, the weight of popular usage gives an impression of sole correctness of ‘logos’ as ‘word’! Moore's friend Clive Scott heard that radio programme and Moore urged him to produce a translation of John 1 with Erasmus in mind.

Clive Scott writes:

"I can hear some people saying that this is a paraphrase and not a translation. But I would dispute that. A paraphrase in this context is a 'filling out' of the traditional interpretation (translation) to try and cope with the transition from the Greek of the traditional interpretation into English.

But this is not what I have attempted to do here. I have taken the premise that logos is to be understood as 'conversation' and then listened to the Greek in the light of that. It puts a different slant on everything. If the original readers heard 'conversation', what would they then go on to hear? Now put that into English. That is translation.

The first translators into English heard the Church Fathers (and their Greek Philosophy), and put that into English, most translations, if not all, build on that.
We value the translation “Logos as Word”, because that dealt with the Jewish/Greek listening. The two translations need to be heard in stereo!"


Talking Heads - Once In A Lifetime.

Reaching Beyond

Today I visited the Reaching Beyond exhibition at Bow Road Methodist Church and met Richard Smith, one of the artists and organisers.

Reaching Beyond is an exhibition celebrating the human spirit reaching beyond the mundane both through endeavour and an openness to something transcendent. The exhibition's title is intentionally open to a wide range of interpretation and the work shown by the 19 artists included invites those who see it to think afresh, and reach beyond their assumptions. The range of media and styles featured is also correspondingly broad with fabrics, icons, mosaics, paintings and sculptures all included. The recent renovation of the church makes it, among other things, an excellent exhibition space. The sculptures set on the exterior provide an arresting beginning to the show and certainly drew other visitors  into the building over the course of my visit.

Richard Smith is one half of Smith and Moore (the other being David Moore). The pair have been friends and colleagues since 1966, and have been creating sculptures together since 1994. In their art they explore/question/challenge serious matters with humour, levity and a touch of incredulity. They bring to this their experience of living and working within poor communities, political and social engagement, and reflection on theology. David is a Methodist minister and runs Colloquy, an art and theology project which is part of the Methodist Church, from which the idea for the exhibition grew. Richard has had a varied career, ranging from research in physical chemistry to community development and management, with illustrating having been taken in along the way.

From early 2012 Smith and Moore sent their small, sturdy sculpture, the Visitor, on an uncharted journey via churches and other organisations through five London boroughs (Greenwich, Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest). People seeing the Visitor on its journey sent in photographs and notes of what happen, all of which are posted on the project's website and have been used in the exhibition along with the Visitor itself.

Other particularly strong work in the exhibition includes: Aaron Distler's abstract ‘Fire Drawings’ (using paper which has been treated and burnt to create extraordinary effects contained within frames which are themselves part of the work); Robert Koenig's monumental wood figures symbolising the artist’s ancestors as part of a search for ancestral and sculptural roots; Jean Lamb, an Anglican Priest living in Nottingham, who is a woodcarver in the storytelling tradition and is showing two casts from Stations of the Holocaust which follow the path of Christ to the Cross, each one including in the background images from the record of the Jewish holocaust during the Second World War; and Santiago Bell, a brilliant artist, educator, political activist and thinker imprisoned and tortured by the Pinochet regime in the 1970s, who expressed his insights and reflected on his experience in finely carved, imaginative, wooden constructions, such as Age of Emptiness.


After The Fire - Joy.