Wikio - Top Blogs - Religion and belief

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Windows on the world (287)

Barcelona, 2013


Enterprise Club

Ros Southern writes:

"Please do pass on the word about the enterprise club.  This is a unique opportunity to help develop and grow social enterprises and businesses locally :-).

It was great to have Kabir Ahmed from Work Rest and Play this week.  Elaine Freedman is going to lead our session on Tuesday 1st April to share her learning and experience over the ten years she and her husband have run a micro business with Terry being the main product on sale!  They started with no knowledge, have had many ups and downs and are going strong -

Please also like our facebook page sophiahubs7k and follow us on twitter @sophiahubs7k."


Gene Clark - Echoes.

X Factor Jesus fails to get Tfl's vote

The Guardian reports that:

"The artwork shows a bound Jesus being judged by an X-Factor-style jury and for 40 days it will hang over worshippers in the church where Byron was christened. But while the Church of England has welcomed the image, it has led to an unholy row with Transport for London.

TfL has taken exception to the piece by artist Antony Micallef that was scheduled to appear on tube platform posters during Lent, alongside other contemporary art interpretations of the passion of Christ that have been deemed acceptable by the transport authority.

Micallef said he was disappointed by the veto. "I am angry because it is censorship, it is someone taking a quick decision on behalf of someone else and it is silly. It is not offensive. I don't understand why the church said yes and the tube said no."

The black-and-white painting plays with the idea of how Jesus would be judged in 2014, and shows him before a smiling panel of four judges. Instead of Pop Idol on the desk, it says "Kill Your Idol"."

Art Below is presenting an exhibition of 20 artists representations of the Passion of Christ in London’s St. Marylebone’s Parish Church for 40 days, in support of the Missing Tom Fund. The exhibition includes work by commission4mission's Christopher Clack.

The exhibition runs for 40 days to coincide with Lent. The exhibition is open to the public whilst the works are also intended for prayer and meditation within the parish congregation.

To coincide with the exhibition, public arts enterprise Art Below is showcasing some of the 14 works on billboard space throughout the London Underground at stations that have a symbolic link with the theme, including King’s Cross, Marylebone, Marble Arch, St. Paul’s, Angel, Temple and Tower Hill.

6th March – 17th April 2014 St. Marylebone Parish Church Marylebone Road London, NW1 5LT.

‘Stations of the Cross’ is the second exhibition to be curated by Art Below founder Ben Moore to raise proceeds for the Missing Tom Fund. With the support of his family and the Missing People Charity, Moore set up the Missing Tom Fund in 2013 to raise money for the search for his older brother Tom who has been missing for 10 years.


Alexandra Burke - Hallelujah.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Why Do So Many Jewish Artists Like Creating Works for Churches?

Jews have created a startling number of works for churches in the modern era.  Some of the most prominent artists include Jacques Lipchitz, Marc Chagall, Jacob Epstein, Mark Rothko, Louise Nevelson, and Anthony Caro.  In fact, Rothko even declared he would only create work for a church, never a synagogue!  While these artists negotiated their Jewish identities differently, against distinctive Christian backdrops, the tensions that emerged from such engagements yielded fecund results, both artistically and theologically.

In his talk for the Art and Sacred Places AGM, Dr. Aaron Rosen will survey some of the most intriguing Jewish church commissions, including the Nevelson chapel in New York City, the subject of his forthcoming edited book, Religion and Art in the Heart of Modern Manhattan (Ashgate, 2015).  He will also draw on insights from his monograph Imagining Jewish Art (Legenda, 2009) and another forthcoming book, Spirituality in 21st Century Art (Thames and Hudson, 2015).  Dr. Rosen is the Lecturer in Sacred Traditions and the Arts at King’s College London, and formerly taught at Yale, Oxford, and Columbia after receiving his PhD from Cambridge.

Date:  Wednesday 9th April 2014 from 18.00 to 20.00:  Room K0.18 (South Range 3), Building A, Strand Campus, Kings College London, WC2R 2LS.

Dr Rosen's talk will be immediately preceded by the Art and Sacred Places' Annual General Meeting.

The programme for the evening is:
18.00 - 18.15  Annual General Meeting
18.20 - 18.30  Introduction to Dr Aaron Rosen
18.30 - 19.00 Talk by Dr Aaron Rosen
19.00 - 19.30  Questions and Discussion
19.30 - 20.00  Refreshments

All are Welcome. There will be a small charge of £2.50 for members and £5 for non-members.


Ravel - Kaddish for Cello and strings.

The Greek of Toledo - The Time Gatherer

The commemoration of the 4th Centenary of the death of El Greco will be a landmark for the history of both the painter and the town of Toledo; the gathering of works by the artist programmed for 2014 will get together most of his artistic production, coming from all parts of the world. There will be three big exhibitions showing works by the artist, which are the centre of the wide programme of El Greco Year, set mainly in Toledo.

The Greek of Toledo exhibition will present the Cretan painter within his Toledan setting and milieu, as a leading figure in an artistic and cultural scene of trans-national and plural character, always seeking to explain his work within the context of the activities pursued by the artists who worked for Philip II and Philip III in Toledo or in Madrid.

The El Greco and Modern Art exhibition organised by El Prado Museum aims to highlight the important influence that El Greco's work had on the origins of the most radically modern painting approaches, beginning with Édouard Manet and Paul Cézanne. Of special importance is the analysis of El Greco's influence on Picasso and the origins of Cubism, as well as the decisive inspiration that the Cretan artist's work provided to the different Expressionist movements that emerged throughout the twentieth century in Europe and America.

Between Heaven and Earth aims to explore the way the influence of El Greco can be felt in the work of twelve contemporary artists that are currently creating and that are clear witnesses of the influence of his art, still alive in contemporay art.

Those that love El Greco's work are likely to also likely to appreciate The Time Gatherer by Patrick Pye, which is an extended meditation on the work of El Greco: "Here is a critic who can lead you to a deeper appreciation of El Greco precisely because he himself deeply practices what he writes about." "The essay's depth is enhanced by being written by a practising artist, himself, a man of faith who faces, though in a modern context, precisely the same questions that El Greco faced and an artist who has been admiring and pondering El Greco's work over many years."

The book "explores the way in which El Greco's faith and theological vision becomes real in the context of his painting. It is a beautiful essay, continually illuminating about how an artist resolves that fundamental issue of religious painting: how do I represent a reality, a mystery that ultimately transcends all representation? how do I point to, evoke that reality effectively in paint? how have others so resolved it and how can I?"

Pye writes of El Greco's influence on modern art: "The rediscovery of El Greco did not come from Christians, but from the Romantics, the last people who tried to hold sense and sensibility together. Then he was discovered by the Post-impressionists, who were trying to create a new visual language. They saw in him the Old Master who had the greatest sensitivity to real problems of formal language as the artist understands them. It remains for our generation to place him squarely in the tradition of European Christian art."


Vangelis - El Greco.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Tony Benn: Prophets vs Priests

The Guardian has published two excellent pieces (here and here) exploring the Christian influences on the life and thought of Tony Benn:

'He stood in a high-minded tradition that went back to Keir Hardie, co-founder of the Labour party, George Lansbury, its leader in the early 1930s, and the historian RH Tawney, its most important intellectual influence in the early 20th century. It went still further back to Victorian figures such as Thomas Hughes, author of Tom Brown's Schooldays, and Charles Kingsley, author of The Water Babies, and even to the Old Testament. "For Benn," David Powell, an early biographer wrote, "the entire socialist venture is rooted in history, a continuum reaching back in time to its biblical roots".'

Giles Fraser writes: 'His big thing was that the Bible was the story of the battle between the kings (and their priestly lackeys) and the prophets – the priests, in his book, being the establishment baddies and the prophets being the social-justice-seeking goodies. And it's not a bad interpretive lens through which to understand a lot of the Biblical action.

For Benn, the priests were the theological justifiers of monarchy. They cemented the conservative relationship between an eternal and unchanging God and a static social order. The prophets, on the other hand, were a total pain in the arse, forever railing against those who thought that the ceremonies of the temple were more important than the purposes for which the temple existed. He was a bit like Amos: "I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!"'

Benn's understanding is one that Walter Brueggemann has unpacked in greater depth. For example, Sam Norton highlights Brueggemann writing that: “… in 1 Samuel 8, Samuel is in deep dispute with Israel over the function and nature of public leadership. Israel wants a king, in order to be “like the other nations.” Samuel, here the reliable voice of Yahweh, refuses them a king, on the grounds that human kingship is an act of distrust in Yahweh … This interpretive tradition, suspicious of concentrations of power, anticipates that the centralized government is in principle exploitative, usurpatious, and self-serving. We may say that this recognition is fundamental to a biblical critique of power.”

The people of Israel, in the course of the rest of their history, were going to endure many examples of monarchs who were self-serving and who exploited their position and power for their own ends. What God said, through Samuel, would occur did occur on many occasions in the subsequent history of the people of Israel.

But that is not all that this passage or the Bible, as a whole, says on the subject because God and Samuel, despite their misgivings and predictions, all the people of Israel to have what they want. Why do they do this? In part, because there is another, more positive, strand of thinking in the Bible about monarchs. This is the strand which sees David and, initially, his son Solomon as great Kings under whose reign Israel was at the peak of its prosperity and influence.  

Brueggemann notes that the kind of kingship that we see David and initially Solomon exercise: “had the establishment and maintenance of justice as its primary obligation to Yahweh and to Israelite society. This justice, moreover, is distributive justice, congruent with Israel’s covenantal vision, intending the sharing of goods, power, and access with every member of the community, including the poor, powerless, and marginated.”

This is what Brueggemann thinks the Bible sees as key to any form of public leadership: “The claim made is that power – political, economic, military – cannot survive or give prosperity or security, unless public power is administered according to the requirement of justice, justice being understood as attention to the well-being of all members of the community.”

Brueggemann writes about this in terms of the core testimony and the counter testimony. The core testimony is structure legitimating; that is to say it is about order and control – everything in its rightful place and a rightful place for everything. The counter testimony is pain embracing; that is to say it is about hearing and responding to the pain and suffering which is found in existence. The core testimony is “above the fray” while the counter testimony is “in the fray”.

The wonderful thing, it seems to me, about the Christian scriptures is that this debate and dialogue is resolved in favour of the counter testimony. René Girard writes that, in the Gospels, “God himself, the Word become flesh in Jesus, becomes the victim … The New Testament Gospels are the starting point for a new science or knowledge of humanity. This new knowledge begins with faith in Christ the innocent victim, and it becomes the leaven that will work itself out and expand to the point that the concern for victims becomes the absolute value in all societies molded or affected by the spread of Christianity.”

Similarly, Gerd Theissen writes that in the life, teaching and death of Jesus of Nazareth:

“religion takes an unprecedented turn, and becomes instead an agency of healing for the wounded. In the religion of the prophets, and in the religious commitment for which Jesus lived and died, we see the distillation of faith in a God who is on the side of the downtrodden rather than their oppressors, and who seeks to bring a new, supernatural order of justice and peace out of the natural laws of selection and mutation which spell death for the weak and powerless.”

Finally, Rowan Williams says that:

“All human identity is constructed through conversations, in one way or another. The gospel adds the news that, in order to find the pivot of our identity as human beings, there is one inescapable encounter, one all-important conversation into which we must be drawn. This is not just the encounter with God, in a general sense, but the encounter with God made vulnerable, God confronting the systems and exclusions of the human world within that world – so that, among other things, we can connect the encounter with God to those human encounters where we are challenged to listen to the outsider and the victim.”


Billy Bragg - Upfield.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Windows on the world (286)

Barcelona, 2013


Roger McGuinn - You Bowed Down.

The connection between earth and heaven

John’s Gospel is very different from the other three Gospels in the Bible. One of the reasons why, is that there are no parables or stories told in John’s Gospel and, instead of Jesus’ teaching being done through stories, in John’s Gospel his teaching is done through conversations. In this way, John’s Gospel suggests that God wants to enter into conversation with us. God wants to talk with us, to be in dialogue with us, in part because that dialogue can be one which transforms us; just as happened for the Samaritan woman in this story (John 4. 5 - 42).

This conversation takes place by Jacob’s well. Jacob had a vision of a ladder between earth and heaven with angels ascending and descending on the ladder. In conversation with Nathanael (John 1. 51), Jesus has already described himself as the ladder, the connection between earth and heaven and that is what we see happening in practice in the conversation Jesus has with this Samaritan woman.

In this conversation Jesus continually connects every aspect of division between him and the woman and within her own life. For this woman, he brings heaven and earth together. What divisions do I mean? Firstly, there was division between Jews and Samaritans. A history of division going back to the split between the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel and involving the Samaritans building a rival Temple to that in Jerusalem and the Jews tearing down the Samaritan Temple. With that kind of history we can understand why Jews would not use the same cups and bowls as Samaritans.

Then there were divisions of gender. “The rabbis taught that a man should not talk to a woman in the street. Some even refused to acknowledge their wives in public, while certain Pharisees sported bruises from bumping into things when their eyes were shut to avoid looking at a woman!” (R. Burridge, ‘John’, BRF 1998).

Finally, there were divisions of purity. The woman has come to the well during the hottest part of the day, which can only be to avoid others, implying that she was immoral. Later we find out that she has had five husbands, when Jews at that time only permitted marriage to three husbands, and the man with whom she is now living is not her husband.

So this conversation is “a real meeting of opposites – of Jew with Samaritan, a man with a woman, a rabbi with a sinner, the one ‘from above’ confronting the lowest of the low. It sums up all the bitterness of human separation by race, creed, class, sex, profession, status yet Jesus, alone, without even his disciples to protect him, asks her for a drink … this is what it means for him to be the ladder at Jacob’s well, bridging not only the gulf between God and the world, but also all the barriers human beings put between themselves. It was for this reason that God sent his Son into the world, and for this reason there is hope for us all, from modern Samaria on the West Bank to our daily petty differences.”

“As the conversation unfolds … Jesus gently leads her through levels of misunderstanding from the earthly and literal to the heavenly and spiritual.” Jesus begins with the actual situation (being beside a well), an everyday action (drawing water), and with what the woman can give to him (a drink of water). From the everyday, the earthly, the ordinary, he makes connections with the heavenly, the spiritual, by offering life-giving water that will never run out. He is not saying that the two are separate, distinct and different. Instead, he is acting as the connection between the two, bringing them together so that what is heavenly can be seen in what is earthly and vice versa.

There is a contrast throughout this conversation between the old and the new. Jesus is saying that if you drink from Jacob’s well, in other words, if you drink of Jacob’s religion, you will be satisfied temporarily but will thirst again. But whoever drinks of the water Jesus gives will not thirst for all eternity. Jesus’ words, “they will not thirst” literally mean ‘into the new age.’ Jesus brings a new age into the world, in him heaven/eternity are breaking through time and entering into our present moment now. In Jesus heaven and eternity are here now and begin in our lives now as we receive his love, forgiveness, and acceptance into our lives now. “The water which Jesus offers to give is the raw material of himself. It is his human body and mind and spirit; but it is alive with the Spirit of God. What flows out of him for this Samaritan woman, if she has faith, and asks for it, will be water alive with Spirit, and this will activate a similar spring of water and Spirit within herself.” (Verney, ‘Waterinto Wine’, Fount, 1985)

Once she has become captivated by Jesus’ offer, then there is a moment of personal challenge. In speaking about her personal relationships, Jesus “confronts her with herself so that her impurities can be cleaned out and the living waters flow freely.” (Burridge) But we need to understand with love and acceptance with which this challenge comes. Stephen Verney describes it in this way:

Jesus says to her, “You have answered beautifully ‘I have no husband’. For you have had five husbands, and the man you have now is not your husband. In this you have spoken truthfully.” Some years ago I was reading these words with a woman whose marriage had broken up, and she said, “Look! Jesus is complimenting the Samaritan woman.” I had never seen it until that moment. Jesus says to her “You have answered beautifully … you have spoken truthfully.” Your sexual life is chaotic and you have one man after another – that is the reality of how you are in the flesh. But because you have brought this out into the light and recognised it, the reality of god can now enter into the reality of you. , the reality of god can now enter into the reality of you. Our flesh can come alive with Spirit. You are just the very person who is able to receive the living water. The self-righteous cannot receive it, because they do not know that they need it.”

The question the woman then asks about the place to worship God may have been a distraction, a sign that this conversation was getting too close to home for the woman, or it may have been a sincere question about where she should go with her sinful life in order to find God. Jesus says that the place is not important. God’s heavenly future is breaking into our earthly realm now and those who know this, worship in his Spirit and in truth. Jesus then reveals himself as God, the one who connects heaven and earth, the living water, when he uses the Old Testament name of God – I AM who I AM – in saying I AM he, who is talking with you.

The woman has changed through talking with God. “She came to the well in the hottest, quietest part of the day to avoid people – but now she goes to find them and tell them what has happened to her. Now the fact that Jesus knows all she has done is not something to be avoided with a theological hot potato –but the hottest news to be shared – ‘can this really be the Christ?’

The fields are white for harvest Jesus then says to his disciples and this is proved by the many in Sychar who came to believe in Jesus. The fields around us are also white for harvest and people will hear and respond if we are able to learn from the way in which Jesus connects faith with everyday life. He sits with ordinary people, listens and talks with them. He starts with ordinary life, with the things that others have to give and then reveals how the spiritual and heavenly can be seen in the everyday. He is not afraid of challenge, but his challenges come couched in encouragement, understanding and acceptance instead of condemnation. The challenge is to move on, to grow beyond the point that we have reached. This challenge is profoundly life affirming.

We plan for mission because, as Jesus said, the fields are white for harvest. Let us be in conversation with Jesus ourselves through prayer and bible reading. Let us learn from Jesus’ conversations and make connections for others between earth and heaven. Let us begin to reap a harvest.


The Byrds - I Am A Pilgrim. 

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Music in Lent: Search vs stasis

On Monday 31st March I will be talking at Chelmsford Cathedral about Van Morrison's 'Summertime in England' as part of their Lent Course. In this series five different speakers are talking about different pieces of music that inspire them in their Christian faith. The five meetings all begin at 7.30pm in the North Transept of the Cathedral, and will last around 90 minutes, ending with Compline. Everyone is welcome and there is no need to book in advance.

What I'll be saying will draw on one of the themes (Search vs Stasis) covered in 'The Secret Chord', my book, co-authored with Peter Banks, which is an impassioned study of the role of music in cultural life, written through the prism of Christian belief.

I'll be presenting some of the same material in the Going Deeper Evening Service at St John's Seven Kings tomorrow (6.30pm) and at St Laurence's Barkingside for their Listening to God slot on Sunday 6th April at 6.30pm.


Van Morrison - Summertime In England.

Beyond Airbrushed from Art History: Michael Kenny

Bath Abbey is presenting the sculpture 'The Crucifixx' (1976) by Michael Kenny, one of the most influential British sculptors of the 20th century, in the Abbey’s sanctuary during Lent, until Thursday 24 April.

Alan Garrow, Vicar Theologian at Bath Abbey explains why the piece is so special especially at this time of year:

“Crucifixx looks hurriedly assembled from off-cuts – the scraps of wood remaindered on a workshop floor. To the soldiers who executed Jesus his death was not something that required thought or care – it was just an ugly ‘everyday’ event. Set in the sanctuary of Bath Abbey this ‘ordinary’ object becomes part of a richer and more expansive story. Here, that which was thrown away has become central; that which was temporary has become permanent; that by which humans are torn apart has become the means by which they are restored to wholeness. But, it is too easy to jump to the end of the story. This sculpture holds us in, and makes us wrestle with, a place of desolation and seeming worthlessness.”

Kenny’s ‘The Crucifixx’ is a precursor to the artist's 'Stations of the Cross, 1998-99', a series of drawings completed just before Kenny's death in 1999, and described as one of the finest examples of genuinely religious art within the Christian tradition, made since the Reformation. While 'The Crucifixx' is on display at the Abbey, Kenny's last major series of drawings 'The Stations of the Cross, 1998-99' can be seen at Quest Gallery, Bath.


Over The Rhine - Sacred Ground.

Beyond Airbrushed from Art History: Kjell Nupen

The Guardian's obituary for Kjell Nupen highlights the Church commissions he received towards the end of his career:

"Towards the end of his career he received some spectacular commissions, including the decoration of the church of Søm in Kristiansand (2004). Here a window runs from behind the altar to the entrance wall, splitting the ceiling in two in a blaze of bright abstract forms.

From Darkness to Light, Nupen's name for his creation at Søm, would also be a suitable description for the tall, slender windows that he made in 2010 for the church at Geilo, a mountain resort town between Bergen and Oslo. Blue at the base and yellow at the top, they bathe the polished altar and baptistery, also designed by Nupen, with colour. As the artist put it: "Here one truly paints with light." Together with Nupen's bronze crucifix installed nearby, these works were given the title The Unending Journey, a concept often represented in Nupen's art by the motif of the boat.

Most impressive of all was the Ansgar Chapel in Kristiansand (2008), for which Nupen proposed architectural proportions similar to those ascribed in the First Book of Kings to the Temple of Solomon. While the building itself alludes to the Old Testament, the windows, which run through the ceiling and even the corners of the church, powerfully symbolise the light of the world."


Tom Jones - What Good Am I?

How we free ourselves from our past errors

The Guardian has an excellent piece today using an extract from Desmond Tutu's latest book which describes from his personal experience how difficult but also how necessary forgiveness actually is:

"I realise how difficult the process of forgiving truly is. Intellectually, I know my father caused pain because he himself was in pain. Spiritually, I know my faith tells me my father deserves to be forgiven as God forgives us all. But it is still difficult. The traumas we have witnessed or experienced live on in our memories. Even years later they can cause us fresh pain each time we recall them ...

When we are willing to let down our defences and look honestly at our actions, we find there is a great freedom in asking for forgiveness and great strength in admitting the wrong. It is how we free ourselves from our past errors. It is how we are able to move forward into our future, unfettered by the mistakes we have made."


Elton John - Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word.

Hungary: conflicted engagement of faith and art

In his introduction to the 2002 exhibition A Thousand Years of Christianity in Hungary, Laszlo Cardinal Paskai, Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest, Primate of Hungary, wrote about an open, inclusive engagement with the Arts:

‘Hungarians joined European Christian culture one thousand years ago. The adoption of Christianity entailed a change in our way of life, and the Church played a crucial role in this adjustment. After converting, the once nomadic, pastoral people built churches and monasteries, which were decorated by masters from home and abroad and furnished with beautiful devotional objects crafted by talented artists. Our country warmly welcomed foreigners: Benedictine, Cistercian, and Franciscan monks as well as Italian, German, French and Byzantine missionaries, from whom our people gained knowledge of the Christian beliefs and acquired the power of faith.

The Church not only provided our people with faith, churches, and outstanding historical figures, but also passed on its comprehensive knowledge to us and taught us the art of renewal. Enemy forces may have ravaged our country, but to little effect, for the building of both churches and souls always followed in the wake of destruction. The Catholic Church is a part of our everyday lives; this was the case in the past, in the days of persecution, and today, in a democracy too. Entrusted with the task - as is its mission - of delivering the good news, the Church has made its presence felt in both families and society alike.

Our hope is that this exhibit will provide visitors with a glimpse into the thousand-year history of a country. Our art bears the marks of a people with a unique culture while at the same time reflecting the style of the various periods. You, who have arrived from all parts of the world, whether Catholic or not, will be able to understand the exhibit without having any knowledge of our language. As you view our art, you will recognize its symbolic messages, wonder at its individuality, and discover its similarities to familiar monuments from other Christian countries. The explanation for this is simple: Christianity binds us together. The Church provided the most important setting for one thousand years of interconnections between European and Hungarian art. This cultural link is proof that our nation will be a worthy companion to those integrating into the Europe of the future.’

This positive engagement between faith and art would seem to have been reversed (defensive and exclusive) if recent reports like Hari Kunzru’s article in The New Yorker claiming that across Hungary the cultural scene is now in a state of crisis are correct:

‘The current Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, has rebranded Fidesz, once a liberal youth party (with the vintage countercultural slogan "Don’t trust anyone over thirty-five") as a right-wing Christian nationalist organization. After Fidesz won a large majority in national elections in 2010, Orbán set about remaking the country, changing the constitution in ways that observers allege have removed important checks on the power of government … The new constitution "recognizes the role of Christianity in preserving nationhood," and art that is deemed blasphemous or "anti-national" is now the target of a full-blown campaign of suppression … In the art world, an organization called the Hungarian Academy of Arts (M.M.A.), founded as a private association in 1992, has recently been made into a public body and given control of the lion’s share of the national cultural budget. They will now select the directors of museums and administer prizes … The eighty-year-old head of the M.M.A., György Fekete, has said that, in addition to artistic excellence, "unambiguous national sentiment" is required for membership in his organization … He has pledged to prevent blasphemy in state institutions, citing an exhibition at the Mucsarnok called "What Is It To Be Hungarian?" (which had sections on "stereotypes" and "conflicts"), as an example of the kind of show that will no longer be presented. In a TV interview, he stated that Hungary is "built on Christian culture; there is no need for constant, perpetual provocation."

Kunzru quotes George Szirtes as saying, "the country I have loved and admired … every part of it is being dismantled and banished." In an article for the Guardian Szirtes wrote: "Hungary has produced great artists, musicians, architects, film directors and writers. Some of them are still alive. The government wishes to cut them out of the heart of culture"

Some of these great artists have, in the modern period, contributed to the earlier more open and inclusive engagement between faith and art:

From the 1880s Bertalan Székely started to paint murals. His most famous murals can be found in Matthias Church, in the Cathedral of Pécs, in the Budapest Opera, and in the Kecskemét Town Hall. A whole generation of painters can be found among his students, including Béla Iványi-Grünwald, János Vaszary, Aladár Körösfõi-Kriesch and Sándor Nagy.

The Gödöllõ Colony of Artists, outside Budapest, became attractive for artists and Hungarian Art Nouveau in the first two decades of the 20th century, as a rival of the Nagybánya Colony of Artists and later the Kecskemét Colony of Artists. The Gödöllõ colony's spirit was composed of Tolstoyan and Christian-Anarchist ideas which had come to them via the philosopher Henrik Jenõ Schmitt in Diód. The members of the Gödöllo Colony of Artists also took the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood as an ideal to follow, as well as the earlier 'model', the Nazarenes. Of all the artists’ colonies inspired by the ideals of John Ruskin and William Morris, the one at Gödöllo came closest to fulfilling Arts and Crafts principles.

Aladar Körösfoi-Kriesch, the leading figure at Gödöllo, wrote On Ruskin and the English Pre-Raphaelites, in which he outlined the role the artist should play in reforming society. Körösfoi-Kriesch (painter, sculptor - ceramics, applied artist and illustrator) and other founders of the Gödöllo colony strongly believed that making and using handcrafted folk objects had a transforming power in people’s lives. The colony's Golden Age was ended with Körösfõi's death in 1920, although Sándor Nagy and the Remsey family mantained it.

Sándor Nagy worked with Körösfõi-Kriesch on the mural paintings in Temesvár seminary (today Timiõoara, Romania, demolished), but he painted in Gödöllõ alone after Körösfõi's death including symbolic frescoes on religious subject matters. He painted frescos in Csorna (1942-43, demolished) and in Budapest (Refectory and chapel of St. Imre Parish Church, Budapest; Regnum Marianum, Budapest; Pacsirtamezõ, Magyarok Nagyasszonya Church; Chapel of the Maglódi Hospital, 1932), but his masterpiece is the Pesterzsébet St. Elisabeth Church (1937-1941).

The Gödöllo Colony of Artists was also influenced by Symbolism as well as Art Nouveau, Plein-air and late Romanticism. Symbolism became elemental in the oeuvres of Lajos Gulácsy and Tivadar Kosztka Csontváry. János Vaszary's painting entitled Golden Age and István Csók's Biblical topics and subjects taken from Asia and from 'dark Symbolism' are also linked to Symbolism.

Through Károly Ferenczy the Nagybánya Colony of Artists was able to change the nature of Hungarian painting. His religious experience of nature and lyrical sensibility inspired huge compositions under the influence of his experiences at Nagybánya. This experience was deeper and more complicated than could be rendered with a simple natural motif or the cutting out of the view. This is why the otherwise atheist Ferenczy chose biblical themes. These lost their historical approach and became the instruments that rendered the experience of nature for the artist. Sermon on the Mount begins a series of paintings in this new style. It was followed by several visionary scenes, which were dominated by deep tones, colours appearing among green nuances: The Three Magi, Joseph sold into Slavery by his Brothers, Isaac's sacrifice. The experience was evoked by nature, but the simple view was transcribed into a vision by Ferenczy and in this way he transcended the describing naturalism. The inner emotional world and the view are bound together in these pictures.

János Schadl studied under Károly Ferenczy at the Budapest Academy of Fine Arts for two years. Breaking off his studies, he joined the circle of the Activists and worked in a spirit shared with the artists of the avant-garde periodical MA. His rapturous devotion and pious enthusiasm sometimes tinted his religious Expressionism and Cubistic form construction with a naive but highly unique hue. His symbolic biblical compositions and Cubistic townscapes elevated his art of the 1910s and 1920s to a higher level.

Gyula Derkovits drew the theme of his Last Supper from the Bible, and placed the human figures, forced into rectangular forms, in front of an arcaded landscape rendered in expressionist style. The early Derkovits artworks bear the footprints of the cubo-expressionism of the 1910s, while the use of bluish-reddish colours and the cubistic form creation show the influence of [Janos] Kmetty's art. Kmetty's rigorously symmetrical picture entitled Sermon on the Mount depicts a biblical story as well. Pécs Artist Circle member Henrik Stefán's painting titled The Samaritan also draws its theme from the Bible. This New Testament parable inspired a number of other contemporary artists: from among the neo-classicist youths who had visited Nagybánya, Dávid Jándi and Vince Korda worked out their own adaptations of the story, and there are also pictures carrying this same theme from Ernõ Jeges who had worked in the Bicske colony of artists and from one of the most outstanding representatives of Croatian neo-classicism, Sava Sumanovic, as well.

A pupil of Gyula Rudnay, István Csók and János Vaszary at the Budapest Academy of Fine Arts between 1924 and 1926, Vladimir Szabó finished his studies with Ágoston Benkhard some ten years later. In 1931-1934 he was on scholarship to Rome, which left its imprint on his choice of religious subjects, in the precision of drawing and the richness in realistic detail. Yet his painting cannot be labelled realistic in that realism was only one component of his pictures based on a profound insight into human character. His interest in visionary ideals played just as great a role in his work as his flair for the grotesque, not to mention his vein of story-telling.

Lajos Vajda was a pupil of István Csók at the Budapest Academy of Fine Arrts and also worked in Lajos Kassák's workshop. In 1930-1934 he lived in Paris where he got acquainted with Surrealism as well as the oustanding works of the Russian Realist film. The two influences prompted him to create his dramatic photo-montages of the great cataclysms of mankind, war, hunger, armed violence and abject misery. At home he lived alterately in Budapest and Szentendre, but also spent much time in Szigetmonostor, collecting folklore motives. He wanted to immerse himself in ancient cultures and this ambition was bolstered by the icons of the Serbian churches of Szentendre and by folk art. He incorporated the simple objects of everyday life as well as Hungarian and Jewish religious motifs into his pictures. He developed his style which he labelled "constructive-surrealistic schematics" from this assemblage of motives. He superimposed motifs drawn with a single linear sweep, presenting symbolic-spiritual contents viewed from above, in an ethereal floating manner. His icons and icon-like self-portraits were also made around this time and serve as timeless representations of faith and perseverance.

After studies in the Art Academy of Prague, Béla Kontuly studied with István Réti in Budapest. In 1928-1930 he was on scholarship to Rome. His style was shaped by the New Objectivity of Novecento both on the canvas and in mural painting. He decorated several churches and ecclesiastic buildings, while, in small-scale genres, his portraits deserve attention.

The extraordinary versatility of Béla Kondor who studied painting and graphic art at the Academy of Fine Arts is apparent in the fact that apart from using various graphic techniques he made paintings, wrote poetry and prose, explored new methods in photography and was an excellent organist. Besides integrating avant-garde trends, his art was able to build on the great traditions of the past in such a way that the stylistic, thematic and iconographic motifs were actually merged in a unique system of expression guided by the sovereign instructions of the artist. He rendered new interpretation to common symbols in his efforts to provide answers to the challenges of the age, in an art that created a personal mythology. Flying and soaring are common themes for Kondor, and these contributed to the creation of symbols appearing in the form of insects (Wasp King, 1963), birds and flying structures (The Artificial Cricket's Take-Off, 1960). He changed the symbols of classic and Christian mythology into the sources of ambivalent notions. The angels, the cherubs, the geniuses of creation and destruction are the strangest figures of the Kondor-iconography. His angel figures, his saints and biblical heroes reveal the Good-Evil polarity in man by exploring the temptation of man. In his pictures of Christ he is preoccupied with the contemporary message of the crucifixion (Iron-sheet Corpus, 1964; Christ on the Cross, 1971). The changing face of man existing in this earthly sphere and the tragic roles played in the 'human comedy' are often displayed in contrast with the angels of the celestial sphere, by flashing up ambiguous interpretations and ambivalent meanings. The key to the interpretation of his self-portrait series (Somebody's Self-portrait) showing a disharmony built on asymmetry, is the attitude of facing the irrational. Of his wall-pictures, his panel painting placed in Margaret Island, Budapest (1968) depicting the legend of Saint Margaret is his most harmonic work of art. His monumental oil painting entitled 'Procession of the Saints into Town' (1972) considered to be a pinnacle in his oeuvre was also one designed to be a wall-piece, however it eventually ended up in a museum, because the party that had ordered the painting rejected it. This work of art that offers a variety of interpretations to the spectator and reflects the grotesque and tragic view of history and philosophising world perception of the artist accompanied by ironical half-tones, can be regarded as a synthesis of Kondor's art.

Barna Basilides began his studies in graphics at the Hungarian National School of Applied Arts in 1920 before going on to secure a diploma at the Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts in 1925, in which year he also departed on a study tour of Italy. That is when the Society of Spiritual Artists, of which he was a founding member, was formed.

Works such as the Antique Legend, Moses, Genius and Golgotha, prepared during the last period of his creative career, show that Jenõ Kerényi turned towards the world of myths and legends, and themes from the Bible. The dramatic and tense sensation found in these works was produced by a deep sense of thought, vibrant forms, and a torn formulation of the surfaces of the works.

From the thirties onwards professional respect for both the expertise and talent of Pál C. Molnár led to a string of prizes (Monza, Warsaw, Milan, Padua, Rome) and commissions (a winged altar in the church at Városmajor, another in Battony, panel pictures in the Golf Hotel, a fresco in St Ann's Church, an altar fresco in the Farkasrét Cemetery chapel, and so on). He became the embodiment of the intellectual movement known later as the School of Rome, and continued his activity in church art after the war (his most important work in this art-form was the winged altar in the parish church of the Inner City in Pest, 1948), as well as producing many secular panel paintings (portraits, scenes with horses, landscapes etc.), in a style awash with increasingly bizarre and surreal features.

In 1958 Édition Labergerie published the Jerusalem Bible with more than a thousand of Endre Bálint's illustrations, and this helped him in developing his typical late artistic style. From 1959 onward he painted one after the other his most valued paintings, including the Miraculous Fishing (1960), the Dream in the Public Park (1960), I Walked Here Sometime I-II. (1960). These works of art can be classified as the representatives of late surrealism. In them familiar recollection-fragment clichés of nostalgia-imbued childhood and the past, all positioned in never-seen internal landscapes are mingled according to the 'logic' of human dreaming and remembrance with unknown, mysterious and often frightening figures and shapes, in order to become players of a story for which there are no human words to express.

Marta Jakobovits is a professional ceramic artist, educated at the Academy for Visual Arts from Cluj. She got her doctorate degree (DLA – Doctor of Liberal Arts) at the University of Arts and Design in Budapest. She works as a free-lanced artist and gives lectures about ceramics and paper-art at universities as invited artist. She is member of different professional organisations: Romanian Artists Union, the Barabas Miklos Guild, the Hungarian Artists Union, the Christian Artists Europe, Rotterdam, the European Academy of Culture and the Arts from Rotterdam. She has works in museums in Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and in private and public collections from different countries. Beside her one-man-shows she had participated at a lot of international and national exhibitions, symposiums and conferences in Germany, France, Holland, Hungary, Poland, Croatia, Slovakia, Romania, Italy, Canada, Finland and Japan.


Zoltán Kodály - Psalmus Hungaricus.

Lyfe-long discipleship

Interesting session on Christian Nurture today at St John's Seven Kings which was led by Rob Hare, the lyfe and Bible Engagement Manager at the Bible Society.

Lyfe was developed with Renovaré (founded by Richard J Foster, author of Celebration of Discipline) to help people discover a deeper life with God through Scripture and spiritual practices. Lyfe provides small group sessions, events and other useful resources to help people discover a deeper life with God. Lyfe helps people to grow holistically and to experience a transforming relationship with God through Scripture and spiritual practices that have inspired and sustained Christians throughout the centuries. Information about lyfe small group sessions, retreats and conferences can be found at

As well as Rob Hare's thoughts on discipleship and sampling of a lyfe session, Vernon Ross helped us reflect on discipleship as both the goal of and the foundation for mission and ministry.


David Grant - Life.  

Friday, 21 March 2014

Enterprise Club

Here's the latest message from Ros Southern about the Sophia Hub Enterprise Club:

"We had a great time last week with Geoff Hill and Bev Stratton.  Here's a very brief report: 

This Tuesday will be led by Kabir Ahmed of Work Rest and Play.  He has extensive business experience and his new Ilford based company Work Rest and Play is a social enterprise supporting youth work.  Here is more information on the blog: 

The enterprise club is open to anyone who has a business idea that you want support with.  We are particularly interested in businesses that meet local and social need but we like to support all entrepreneurs.

Anytime from 1 onwards with the main programme from 1.45 - 3.30.  Plenty of networking opportunities and people on hand to help your business. Please forward this to others so that this local network can expand!

Hope to see you on Tuesday."


Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Beyond Airbrushed from Art History: The Laudato Corde Art Gallery

The Laudato Corde Art Gallery presents the excellent works of the Croatian sacral art of the 20th and 21st century. Their holdings comprise the works of Ivo Dulcic, Djuro Seder, Zlatko Sulentic, Josip Biffel, Vasilije Jordan, Vladimir Blazanovic, Josip Botteri, Kuzma Kovacic, Vladimir Meglic, Tomislav Buntak, as well as others renowned artists.

Ivo Dulcic was one of the few (and first post-war) painters in Croatian painting who constantly nurtured religious themes (paintings with religious themes) ... His first noticed work on the subject was a fresco of Christ the King in the Church of Our Lady of Health in Split (1959). His work on church stained glass is particularly significant because he brought almost revolutionary novelties in this area, sometimes provoking protests from representatives of the Church. His numerous works in this technique are in the churches in: Zagreb (St. Francis and Our Lady of Lourdes), then in Dubrovnik (Dominican monastery), Sarajevo, Kresevo (St. Catherine at the Franciscan monastery), Bugojno and Essen (Croatian Catholic Church mission, 1966).


Bap Kennedy - Please Return To Jesus.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Windows on the world (285)

Barcelona, 2013


Gene Clark - No Other.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

I come alive

Samuel Beckett’s great play, Waiting for Godot, features two tramps who spend the whole play doing nothing except waiting for Godot, who of course never arrives. For Beckett, to wait for Godot is the equivalent of believing in God, both are a waste of time. So Beckett in his plays is describing a world without God and what an unremittingly harsh and despairing place it is. In another of his plays, Endgame, two of his characters spend the whole play living in rubbish bins and the last speech in the play sums up Beckett’s sense of what a world without God is like in these words: “all he knows is hunger, and cold, and death to crown it all.”

The philosopher Bertrand Russell once wrote: “That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end that they were achieving; that his origin, his hopes and fears, his loves and beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins - all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy that rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation be safely built.”

“Only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation be safely built.” Russell, like Beckett, is saying that life without God is despair. If we are here by accident, if we are shortly  going to die without there being an afterlife and if whatever we achieve in our short life will also be destroyed soon after our death, then a life without God offers us no hope just unyielding despair. Life without God is the equivalent of living in a rubbish bin or of spending everyday pointlessly waiting for someone who does not arrive.

Jesus said to Nicodemus that no one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again (John 3. 1 - 21). He went on to explain that a person is first born physically of human parents. In our physical, material existence we do not have to believe in God. We have a genuine choice, we can grow up choosing to believe only in the material world around us and in our own powers or we can encounter God and grow in relationship with him. The world in which we live can point us to God but it does not provide us with absolute proof of his existence. Therefore, we are free to choose. Although, as we have just seen, to believe only in material existence is not all that it is often cracked up to be!

For us to believe in God, to believe that both the material and the spiritual exist and are intertwined, involves us in coming alive to the spiritual. It therefore involves a second birth, an awakening to the reality of the spiritual as well as to the reality of the physical. The physical things around us are easy to believe in because we can see and touch them. The spiritual, though, is like the wind - it can’t be seen, although it can be experienced and felt. It is not immediately apparent in the way that physical realities are and so we have a free choice about whether or not we respond to the signs of the Spirit in our world and when we do we are coming alive, being born again, to the spiritual in our world.

Here are some of the things in my life that have made me come alive to the spiritual:

When I stand in snow on a mountain slope viewing a cobalt lake,
I come alive.
When the morning mist forms a white sea on the Somerset levels, islanding trees,
I come alive.
When my daughter nestles up and hugs me tight,
I come alive.
When my wife and I lie, skin touching, sweat mingling in the heat of summer and passion,
I come alive.
When a friend listens with understanding and without advising,
I come alive.
When I sing and dance in the echoes of an empty Church,
I come alive.
When words cannot express Your praise and I sing in tongues,
I come alive.
When I hear the rustle of angel’s wings above me in the eaves,
I come alive.

I come alive to endurance
when I see a hesitant smile form on the face of the Big Issue seller.
I come alive to pain
when I hear a friend’s story of depression and unanswered pleading.
I come alive to patience
when I see a husband answer again the question from his alzheimered wife.
I come alive to injustice
when the Metro contrasts Big Mac obesity lawsuits with African famine victims.
I come alive to suffering
when I see Sutherland’s Crucifixion and read Endo’s Silence.
I come alive to grief
when I remember the aircraft shattered and scattered across Kosovan heights.

I come alive
when I am touched and see and hear
the beautiful or broken, the passionate or poor.
The mystery or madness
of the Other in which God
meets and greets me
and calls forth the response
that is love.

I wonder what it is that makes you come alive to the spiritual in life. Jesus comes into our world to bring us to life. To wake us up from the despair of living only in the physical and material. He does this, firstly by showing us what life is like when it is lived as God intended and secondly, by the threatened response that we as human beings make to him. To see someone genuinely living by the Spirit is scary, it turns our understanding of life upside down. We often respond to people who live life differently to us by attacking them and that is what we did with Jesus. We focused on the physical, we nailed his hands and feet to a cross of wood. As Moses lifted up the bronze snake in the wilderness, just so was the Son of Man lifted up. We thought that by killing him physically we were doing away with the threat he posed to our material way of life.

But God is greater than our materialism and he loves us too much for that to be the end and so he raised his Son from death that we might be saved from material existence and come alive to the Spirit of God himself.

We have a choice - the unyielding despair of a rubbish bin existence or the freedom of life in the Spirit. Which will it be for you? Have you come alive to the spiritual in life? And, if you have, have you gone on coming alive to the spiritual on a day by day basis by looking out for all that God’s Spirit is doing in our world and getting involved?


Peter, Paul & Mary - Light One Candle.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Enterprise Club

Ros Southern writes:

'Thanks so much to Francesca Fenn for taking our session last week on how she set up her family business. I have started a blog and put a very small article - what do you think?!  

This Tuesday Geoff Hill is leading the Enterprise Club session on business planning.  He is Chair of the Redbridge Chamber of Commerce.  He is being joined by Beverly Stratton who is the Town Centres Manager in Redbridge and BIDs Manager (Business Improvement Districts) and is highly experienced in helping local businesses find local solutions to local problems. They will be with us between 2 and 3pm.

Programme for Tuesday 19th March:

Arrivals any time from 1
1.45 - update from start-ups on any progression made this week or any issues they faced
2-3 business planning with Geoff and small group discussions
3 - 3.30 - support to start-ups from local business people that come along
3.30 - plenary and feedback on goals start ups can set for the next week.
4 - 5  further networking.

Please do pass this opportunity on to others you may know who want to start a business or would like to be part of a local network. 

Thanks as always to those that are supporting the enterprise club by bringing their time and skills to share.'

See also and 


Pete Seeger - We Shall Overcome.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Martin Creed: What's the point of it?

'St Augustine wrote: "How many common things are trodden underfoot which, if examined carefully, awaken our astonishment?"Augustine clearly did not have Martin Creed's screwed sheet of paper or lump of Blu-Tack stuck to a wall in view when he wrote those words, and Creed would not choose a religious frame of reference for his work; but there is, nevertheless, value in relating Augustine's thought to Creed's work.'

This is the introduction to my review of Martin Creed's Hayward Gallery retrospective 'What's the point of it?' which appears today in the Church Times. The review outlines how Creed's work opens our eyes to see afresh the common things around us.


Martin Creed - I Like Things.

Karamsar Gurdwara visit

Yesterday I took a group of ordinands from the North Thames Ministerial Training Course at St Mellitus College on a visit to the Karamsar Gurdwara in Ilford.

The Gurdwara building was originally a Labour Hall which, in the early 1990’s, was acquired and converted into a Gurdwara by the local Sikh community under the guidance of Sant Partap Singh. Initially a single storey building with a prayer hall (Darbar) in the front and the community kitchen (Langar) towards the rear, the Gurdwara enjoyed tremendous success by catering to the spiritual and emotional needs of the community and soon outgrew the existing facilities. 

In 1998 a project was started to build a newly designed Gurdwara. The culmination of this effort is the magnificent Gurdwara now standing in place of the old Labour Hall. It was officially opened in April 2005 to coincide with Vaisakhi celebrations – commemorating the birth of the Khalsa Panth.

The building gracefully combines traditional sikh and mughlai designs with modern western architecture. Its façade and distinctive domes are perhaps its most striking features. Carved entirely from pink sandstone in Rajasthan-India, it was shipped to the UK and reassembled in-situ. The foyer is a grand and simple space with a skylight bringing in natural light all the way from the third floor. It has prayer halls on the first and second floors with the Langar hall on the ground floor. The interior is all white and uncomplicated.  

Our guide to the Gurdwara was Lakhvir Singh Bhui, who shared stories about the Gurus with us as well as information about Sikh beliefs and practices. It was a very interesting visit for us all and everyone was impressed with the hospitality and welcome. 
For anyone wanting to find out more about interfaith engagement the national and Greater London Presence & Engagement sites are the best first ports of call - and
The training materials I have prepared for parishes on Living with other faiths can be downloaded from the Greater London PEN site -
Information about interfaith initiatives in our parish can be found at: Sophia Hub (multi-faith social enterprise project) -; and Scriptural Reasoning Group -


Noel Paul Stookey - One And Many.