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Sunday, 31 August 2014

Paying attention to sacraments and epiphanies

Tonight I led the evening service at St Peter's Bradwell with Peter Webb of commission4mission and Café Musica led by Peter Banks, with whom I co-wrote The Secret Chord. 70 - 80 people filled the chapel to participate in a liturgy which celebrated the Arts, view artwork by commission4mission artists, and be led in song by Café Musica. Click here to see photos of the artwork in the Chapel.

Here is the sermon that I preached:

Take a look at Caravaggio's Supper at Emmaus by clicking here and ask yourself three questions: What is central in this picture? How does the artist point us to what is central? Why are those things central?

At the centre of this picture and at the centre of the story it depicts is a very simple and ordinary action; breaking bread or tearing a loaf of bread into two pieces. Although it is a simple and ordinary thing to do, it becomes a very important act when Jesus does it because this is the moment when Jesus’ two disciples realise who he is. They suddenly realise that this stranger who they have been walking with and talking to for hours on the Emmaus Road is actually Jesus himself, risen from the dead. They are amazed and thrilled, shocked and surprised, and we can see that clearly on the faces and in the actions of the disciples as they are portrayed in this painting.

Something very simple and ordinary suddenly becomes full of meaning and significance. This simple, ordinary action opens their eyes so that they can suddenly see Jesus as he really is. That is art in action! Art captures or creates moments when ordinary things are seen as significant.

When our eyes are suddenly opened to see meaning and significance in something that we had previously thought of as simple and ordinary that is called an epiphany. Caravaggio’s painting is a picture of an epiphany occurring for the disciples on the Emmaus Road but it is also an epiphany itself because it brings the story to life in a way that helps us see it afresh, as though we were seeing it for the first time.

The disciples realise it is Jesus when the bread is broken because Jesus at the Last Supper made the breaking of bread and the drinking of wine (the Eucharist) into a sacrament. A sacrament is a visible sign of an inward grace and so it is something more than an epiphany. In a sacramental act there is a connection between the symbolic act and the reality being symbolised, which does not need to occur in an epiphany. So, an epiphany is a realisation or sign of significance, while a sacrament is a visual symbol of an inner change. For Christians the taking of bread and wine into our bodies symbolises the taking of Jesus into our lives. As a result, art (or the visual) can symbolise inner change and be sacramental.

This understanding of epiphany and sacrament is based on the doctrine of the Incarnation; the belief that, in Jesus, God himself became a human being and lived in a particular culture and time. Jesus is an epiphany because he is the visible image of the invisible God. For the Church this has been the primary reason why we have such a strong tradition of figurative art. As Rowan Williams has written, ‘God became truly human in Jesus … And if Jesus was indeed truly human, we can represent his human nature as with any other member of the human race.’ But when we do so ‘we’re not trying to show a humanity apart from divine life, but a humanity soaked through with divine life … We don’t depict just a slice of history when we depict Jesus; we show a life radiating the life and force of God.’

Williams goes on to write that it is when ‘we approach the whole matter in prayer and adoration’ that ‘the image that is made becomes in turn something that in its own way radiates [the] light and force’ of God. He is implying therefore that an important element of prayer is paying attention.

In 2007, the Uffizi Museum in Florence lent Leonardo da Vinci’s The Annunciation to the Tokyo National Museum for three months. More than 10,000 visitors flocked to the museum every day to see the renaissance masterpiece. A number which, when divided by the museum's opening hours, equates to each visitor having about three seconds in front of the painting - barely long enough to say the artist's name, let alone enjoy the subtleties of his work.

By contrast, a well-known art historian, observed as he entered the first room of the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition at the National Gallery, went nose-to-nose with Leonardo's The Musician (1486), and there he stayed for about 10 minutes, rocking backwards and forwards, before moving from side-to-side, and then finally stepping back four paces and eyeing up the small painting from distance. And then he repeated the exercise. Twice.

The 10,000 visitors per day visiting the Tokyo National Museum during those three months wanted to see Leonardo’s Annunciation, but did they really ‘see’ it? They certainly didn’t see it in the same way that the art critic saw Leonardo's Musician.

Art historian Daniel Siedell has said: ‘It is a cliché, but I would suggest that one must approach contemporary art with an open mind … Attending to … details, looking closely, is a useful discipline for us as Christians, who are supposed to see Christ everywhere, especially in the faces of all people. If we dismiss artwork that is strange, unfamiliar, unconventional, if we are inattentive to visual details, how can we be attentive to those around us?’

The Bible is full of encouragement to reflect. The words, reflect, consider, ponder, meditate and examine, crop up everywhere. God encourages us to reflect on everything; his words (2 Timothy 2.7), his great acts (1 Samuel 12.24), his statutes (Psalm 119.95), his miracles (Mark 6.52), Jesus (Hebrews 3.1), God's servants (Job 1.8), the heavens (Psalm 8.3), the plants (Matthew 6.28), the weak (Psalm 41.1), the wicked (Psalm 37.10), oppression (Ecclesiastes 4.1), labour (Ecclesiastes 4.4), the heart (Proverbs 24.12), our troubles (Psalm 9.13), our enemies (Psalm 25.19), our sins (2 Corinthians 13.5). Everything is up for reflection but we are guided by the need to look for the excellent or praiseworthy (Philippians 4.8) and to learn from whatever we see or experience (Proverbs 24.32).

Clearly all this reflection cannot take place just at specific times. Just as we are told to pray always, the implication of the Bible's encouragement to reflection is that we should reflect at all times. We need to make a habit of reflection, a habit of learning from experience and of looking for the excellent things. We can do this by paying prayerful attention to all that is around us – what we see, do and experience. Everything around us can potentially be part of our ongoing conversation with God, part of which is reflection. This is a style of prayer that seems to go back at the very least to the Celtic Christians, who had a sense of the heavenly being found in the earthly, particularly in the ordinary tasks of home and work, together with the sense that every task can be blessed if we see God in it.

David Adam writes that, ‘If our God is to be found only in our churches and our private prayers, we are denuding the world of His reality and our faith of credibility. We need to reveal that our God is in all the world and waits to be discovered there – or, to be more exact, the world is in Him, all is in the heart of God.’

Attending to details in the way Daniel Seidell suggests is the outworking of St Paul’s words in Philippians 4. 8: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things” (Philippians 4. 8). We are called to look for and look at these things as we go through life. This is an excellent approach to bear in mind when also looking at art.

Then, as Rowan Williams writes, visual images will be to us ‘human actions that seek to be open to God’s action’ and which can ‘open a gateway for God.’ If we pay prayerful attention, art can truly be epiphany and sacrament to us.

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Sophia Course


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Marcus Mumford & Justin Hayward-Young - Like A Hurricane.

Windows on the world (307)


Mile End, 2014

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John Tavener - Ikon Of Light.

The whole world is holy ground

"A man named Moses is tending his sheep in the land of Midian when he comes across a burning bush. He moves closer to see more and hears the voice of God, speaking to him about his people and their need to be delivered from the land of Egypt. God tells Moses to take off his sandals, for the ground he is standing on is holy.” (R. Bell, Velvet Elvis, Zondervan, 2005)

Holy Ground is an art installation by Paul Hobbs which includes a collection of shoes and stories from Christians all around the world. The stories are short statements about what it means for each person to believe in Christ in their particular situation. Among those represented are: a thief, a refugee, the despised, the rejected – people who Jesus specially sought out – as well as those who have known great opportunity, wealth and success. There are those who are beautiful, those who are disabled, those struggling to make a living and raise a family, those who have known great loss and tragedy, and those asking the deep questions of life. All have encountered the living God, arriving at a place of holy ground; where they must, metaphorically at least, remove their shoes in acknowledgement of God’s holiness.

Some contributors are persecuted and despised for their faith, yet retain confidence in the living God. Several people need to be anonymous due to the lack of religious freedom in their lands. For others, anonymity allows them to speak more easily. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5/10).

For some the idea of giving up their shoes for this project seemed amusing and culturally odd. For others it was costly to give their only pair of shoes in exchange for another. For some it was an honour to be featured in this way, to have their story told to represent others from their situation. For many, it was an expression of thankfulness to be able to share their stories with others.

At the burning bush, God said to Moses, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3/2-5). Similarly, acknowledging God’s holiness is the beginning of life as a Christian.

What would your story be of metaphorically taking off your sandals in acknowledgement of God’s holiness?

Hobbs goes on to say that “as a believer follows Jesus Christ, he or she finds that this holy God is also a servant king, humbly and lovingly attending to one’s needs, just as when he washed his disciples feet (John 13/3-5).

As testified in many of the stories, Christians are encouraged to bring this gospel to others with “feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6/14-15) and thus they realise the prophecy of Isaiah, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation” (Isaiah 52/7).”

So he “trusts that this collection of shoes and stories will show the rich variety of believers across the world, their strength of faith despite hardship, and their joy in knowing Christ. The collection also demonstrates God’s love to all types of people, and is a testimony of how the gospel has spread - often at great cost - throughout the world over the last two thousand years, and how it is reaching every part of the globe.

Please pray for people like these – many of whom make great sacrifices and take great risks to follow Christ where they live.” In this way he reminds us of those, such as Christians in North Iraq at present, who need our prayers, our giving and our action on their behalf. He says, “I am struck, in looking at these shoes, by Jesus’ words, “Many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Mark 10/31).”

Here is a very different figure; this time a sculpture by the Canadian artist David RobinsonIrena Tippett writes: “Dressed in his finest uniform (suit, tie, pants perfectly pressed) the bronze figure would blend in well with the teeming businessmen of the city. He is tidy. His hair is groomed. Not too young, not too old, he is in his prime, at the top of his game. One expects his head to be held high and it is. Is he, like everyone else, focused on the horizon of his ambition?

Thousands might note in passing that this is no hero, no grand general and no great statesman; in fact the crowds of the morning rush might not find him notable at all. Yet, though in business there is never a minute to spare, allowing him even a moment’s notice would pay off a hundredfold. Would some turn aside and see that he is not rushing as they are? Would anyone take time to look at his hands, to look at his feet?

Bare feet. What has caused this perfectly dressed businessman to humbly remove his shoes? In the stillness of the erect figure, face looking upward, we do not see what he sees but we can perceive a heavenly and personal encounter. Perhaps it is a gesture of repentance that he holds his shoes so lightly?”

These details should bring to mind that “man of another era who similarly, while busy at his workday job, had an encounter which changed his life forever.” As we have heard, “while minding his father-in-law’s sheep in the desert, this man came upon a contradiction: a green bush aflame but not consumed. He could have hastened on his way but for some reason did not.”

“As the story goes, when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, he called to him from out of the bush by name, saying, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”

It is by no means certain that everyone would catch the allusion to Moses’ powerful call in the wilderness or know how in that place he met the living God face to face. Nevertheless, David Robinson’s sculpture speaks clearly. Today, under the bare feet of his everyday man, there is holy ground.

Like Barbra Streisand in her song ‘On Holy Ground’ we’re much more comfortable with the concept of God’s being limited to churches or other sacred spaces. Yet the universal message of the sculpture is clear: the whole world is potentially holy ground. Look how the globe extends beneath those shoeless feet.”

Reflecting on this sculpture Irena Tippett concludes, “So here is the truth: There is no time or place immune to the intrusion (if you will) of the living God. Even in a city strident with buying and selling, God is able to reveal himself to people. And a corollary is this: There is no one immune to an encounter with him. Through Jesus Christ God’s great mercy extends to all who hear his voice.”

American Pastor Rob Bell makes a similar point: "Moses has been tending his sheep in this region for forty years. How many times has he passed by this spot? How many times has he stood in this exact place? And now God tells him the ground is holy?

Has the ground been holy the whole time and Moses is just becoming aware of it for the first time?

Do you and I walk on holy ground all the time, but we are moving so fast and returning so many calls and writing so many emails and having such long lists to get done that we miss it?" (R. Bell, Velvet Elvis, Zondervan, 2005)

One of my favourite quote comes from David Adam. You will no doubt have heard me use it before, but it bears repeating: “If our God is to be found only in our churches and our private prayers, we are denuding the world of His reality and our faith of credibility. We need to reveal that our God is in all the world and waits to be discovered there – or, to be more exact, the world is in Him, all is in the heart of God. Our work, our travels, our joys and our sorrows are enfolded in His loving care. We cannot for a moment fall out of the hands of God. Typing pool and workshop, office and factory are all as sacred as the church. The presence of God pervades the work place as much as He does a church sanctuary.” (Power Lines: Celtic Prayers about Work, SPCK, 1992)

So, in the words of Woody Guthrie:

“Take off, take off your shoes
This place you’re standing, it’s holy ground
Take off, take off your shoes
The spot you’re standing, its holy ground

These words I heard in my burning bush
This place you’re standing, it’s holy ground
I heard my fiery voice speak to me
This spot you’re standing, it’s holy ground

That spot is holy holy ground
That place you stand it’s holy ground
This place you tread, it’s holy ground
God made this place his holy ground

Take off your shoes and pray
The ground you walk it’s holy ground
Take off your shoes and pray
The ground you walk it’s holy ground

Every spot on earth I trapse around
Every spot I walk it’s holy ground
Every spot on earth I trapse around
Every spot I walk it’s holy ground

Every spot it’s holy ground
Every little inch it’s holy ground
Every grain of dirt it’s holy ground
Every spot I walk it’s holy ground”

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The Klezmatics - Holy Ground.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

The Frontier Zone: a new arts colony in Wisbech

For three weeks in September, the historic market town of Wisbech will become home to the first resident artists of the Arts Colony – a partnership project, initiated and hosted by the Christian mission St Peter’s Lodge and curated by the Cambridge artist-led organisation Aid & Abet.

Artists Paul Johnson, Anna Chrystal Stephens and poet Lois Williams have been selected from an open call. They will research and develop new work alongside Aid & Abet’s curators, David Kefford and Sarah Evans, both practising artists who will also be in residence during the period. ”St Peter’s Lodge were looking for an artists’ group to curate from an artist’s perspective,” says Kefford. “They felt that we’d have an empathy with the resident artists.”

Kefford explains that the residency idea stems from the vision of Arts Colony artistic director Father Paul West, who is the local priest at St Peter and St Paul Parish Church. “He’s been wanting to set up an arts colony in the town, based on the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire in the United States and the Nida Art Colony of the Vilnius Academy of Arts in Lithuania. Artists can spend time in Wisbech like a retreat, in a slightly monastic setting.”

Wisbech has a history of accommodating unconventional and pioneering thought – it is the birthplace of the liberal anarchist William Godwin, slave trade abolitionists Thomas and John Clarkson, and the social reformer and National Trust co-founder Octavia Hill. Fittingly, Aid & Abet’s curatorial concept for the pilot Arts Colony residency invites the artists to respond to ‘the theme of The Frontier Zone – a transitional space offering the psychological sense of unlimited opportunity, the shedding of restraints, or working towards new knowledge.’

An expanded studio

The three artists were selected through an open call, which invited them to consider Wisbech as an expanded studio, propose projects ‘that reflect the changing demographic of the town’s communities’ and demonstrate an interest in socially-engaged practice. Each proposal will bring the artists into dialogue with the wider community, and the works, whilst artistically independent, contribute to the Wisbech 2020 Vision plan to revitalise the market town.

Paul Johnson will be exploring the artefacts in the Wisbech and Fenlands Museum as well as working on ideas for a solo exhibition at Focal Point Gallery, Southend-on-Sea. Anna Chrystal Stephens will further her research on living strategies by focusing on Godwin as ‘the first modern philosopher to explore anarchism’. Lois Williams, inspired by the town’s historic figures and thinkers, will collaborate with Wisbech residents to create a map that considers sites of ‘ordinary purpose’.

Kefford describes the approach to each residency as non-prescriptive and open-ended. “We want to try and raise awareness of what the artists are doing, so we’re not putting too much pressure to have outcomes, but we want audiences to get involved.”

Over the course of the residency the artists will have access to the peaceful grounds of the Lodge and the massive, rambling space of The Wisbech Social Institute and Community Space, while on 9 September they will be giving a public talk at Wisbech Castle. The project is funded by Arts Council England and Cambridge County Council, with partnership support from St Peter and St Paul’s Church, The Wisbech and Fenlands Museum, The Wisbech Social Club and Institute and Metal Peterborough.

Kefford is looking to see how the changing socio-economic nature of Wisbech and the integration of its new Eastern European communities might positively influence the future direction of the Arts Colony. “We want it to be an internationally recognised colony; partnering with other residencies on exchange programmes, and connecting with Eastern European countries is an interesting way that it could develop.”

As for the future, Kefford sees longterm potential in the exploratory and pioneering processes that the first residents will take in charting this frontier zone. “It’s a sense of moving into the unknown,” he says. “You don’t know what will happen but it’s really exciting.”

The Arts Colony Residency: The Frontier Zone will take place from 6 September to 28 September. Follow the artists’ developments on The Frontier Zone blog.

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Hiss Golden Messenger - Devotion.

Thurrock Art Trail


Tim Harrold is lead facilitator of this year's Thurrock Art Trail (ThAT). He writes that he's involved because he is an artist and because he believes that 'art can be helpful in transforming a community and building community at a social level.' He quotes J. John: 'Creativity has been built into every one of us: it is part of our design. Each of us lives less of the life God intended for us when we choose not to live out the creative gifts God gave us.' Tim says, 'We are all creations of the Creator, created in His image, to be creative! Remember, the first person in the Bible to be described as having been filled by the Holy Spirit was an artist - Bezalel, who worked on the Tabernacle.'

ThAT takes place from 6 to 21 September 2014. Four local churches are involved:
Tim notes that there are a whole host of Christians involved, obviously in the aforementioned venues, but also in others. These include:
He says, that there are no doubt many others that he doesn't know about!.

At the Showcase event on the evening of Friday 19 September, among those performing are former worship leader at Grays Baptists, Gareth Marsh (aka Sensation Smith, band) and former Stanford Boiler Roomer Steve Lawton (contemporary spoke word). There is also a comedian and a local choir, Funky Voices, appearing. To book, go to https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-backstage-centre -autumn-showcase-tickets-12014582941

The eye in the ThAT logo represents observation, imagination and creation.

The full list of ThAT's venues, dates and times...

1. Well House Gallery

Saturday 6 to Sunday 21 Sept.
High Road
Horndon on the Hill
SS17 8LF
Monday to Friday 10am-4pm (closed 12-1pm)
Saturday 10am-5pm (closed 12-1pm)
Sunday 3-6pm
http://www.wellhousegallery.co.uk

2. Studio 19

Barry Andrews with Paul Harrison
Saturday 6 to Monday 8
Friday 12 & Saturday 13
Monday 15
Friday 19 to Sunday 21 Sept.
5 Ash Walk
South Ockendon
RM15 6TY
11am-4pm daily
http://www.barryandrews.co.uk/

3. Art & Photography Show

School Arts & photography by Rebecca Street
Saturday 6 to Friday 12 Sept.
Grays Methodist Church
Lodge Lane
Grays
RM17 5PU

4. Expressions of the Soul

The paintings of Christian Squibb, Itan Deterville & Rowena Wright
Saturday 6 to Friday 19 Sept. (except Sunday)
Thameside Complex foyer gallery
Orsett Road
Grays
RM17 5DX

5. Craft Candy Jewellery Show

Saturday 6 & Sunday 7
Tuesday 9 to Saturday 13 Sept.
148 London Road
Grays
RM17 5YD
Saturday 10am-5pm
Sunday 10am-4pm
then 10am-5pm daily
Yarn Bombing will be on display at High House Production Park, Purfleet, from the Monday 8 Sept.

6. Realist Urban Landscapes

Paul Harrison with Barry Andrews
Saturday 6 to Sunday 21 Sept.
19 Mayflower Close
South Ockendon
RM15 6HZ
10am to 6pm daily
Viewing by arrnagement - please see brochure
http://www.facebook.com/PSHFA

7. Swan Song

The Dacha Group at The Swan Gallery
Sunday 7 to Monday 22 Sept.
The Swan
High Road
Horndon on the Hill
SS17 8LD
Pub opening times

8. Art at St Mary’s

Saturday 13 Sept.
St Mary’s Church
High Road
North Stifford
RM16 5UE
10am-4pm

9. Mucking Marvels

Wildlife & Landscape paintings, Multimedia Timeline & Wildlife Photography
Saturday 13 to Sunday 21 Sept.
including Wildlife Photography workshop on 10am-1pm Saturday 20 September - Booking Essential (see brochure)
Essex Wildlife Trust
Thurrock Thameside Nature Park
Cory Environmental Trust Visitor Centre
Mucking Wharf Road
Mucking
Stanford-le-Hope
SS17 0RN
9am to 5pm daily

10. GPC Arts & Crafts

Thursday 18 & Saturday 20 Sept.
Gateway People's Centre
2 High Street
Stanford le Hope
SS17 OEY
10am -2pm both days

11. High House Artists

ENAS Open Studios
Friday 19 to Sunday 21 Sept.
High House Artists’ Studios
off Purfleet Bypass
Purfleet
RM19 1AS
Friday 10am-5pm
Pop-Up Gallery at Backstage Centre 6-7.30pm
+ Open Vision Showcase 7.30pm
Saturday 11am-4pm
Sunday 11am-4pm

12. Purfleet Local Art & Photography

Saturday 20 & Sunday 21 Sept.
St Stephen's Church
London Road
Purfleet
RM19 1QD
Saturday 10am-4pm
Sunday 1-4pm

13. Ron Contemporary Gallery Projects

Saturday 20 & Sunday 21 Sept.
95 Victoria Avenue
Grays
RM16 2RN
11am-6pm

See lots more information on all the above, groups and individual artists onhttp://www.thurrockarts.com.

Tim's collaborative piece with John Espin (see http://timharrold.tumblr.com) called The Doors of Perception, which has been commisioned by ENAS (Essex Network of Artists' Studios), will be on display at an exhibition called Traces at Hadleigh Old Fire Station art studios and gallery (on the A13 giratory section, postcode SS7 2PA) 1-14 September 2014. See also http://essexstudios.org.uk/events-list.

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Shovels & Rope - Gasoline.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

New music

Dry The River have been described as 'folky gospel music played by a post-punk band.' Their second album, Alarms in the Heart, was released through Transgressive Records on Monday:

'Produced by Charlie Hugall (Florence and The Machine, Ed Sheeran), Paul Savage (Mogwai, Franz Ferdinand) and Peter Miles (We Are The Ocean, Futures, The King Blues) and with arrangements and strings from Valgeir Sigurosson (Sigur Ros, Bjork), the resulting 10-track album is bold, expansive, confident and cohesive - an undeniable step up in both diversity and volume from their critically acclaimed debut, Shallow Bed (March 2012).

The first track from the album to be unveiled, Gethsemane, uncovers the spiritual heart of the record, delivering a Buckley-esque narrative: "Excavating down you'd find the drowning and the drowned /And then there's us, babe."'

Swimmin’ Time, the new album from Shovels & Rope, came out on August 26th: 'Thrilling music rooted in old country with touches of blues and gospel, that can’t help but remind you of Jack and Meg and Johnny and June.' The first Shovels & Rope album, O’ Be Joyful, is 'a delightful combination of knee-slapping, bordering-on-gospel folk tracks and bluesy guitar-driven rock.' Husband and wife team, Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst, both have solo careers, while Trent is also lead singer of The Films.

MC Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger says of their latest album, 'Lateness of Dancers', 'I'm interested in our thresholds, and how we convince ourselves to surpass them. Lateness is an album that continues my search for a spiritual home and a position on faith, and reckons with what our obligations are to others and to ourselves" ('Uncut', October 2014).

Ed Ochs wrote of Bob Carpenter, whose sole album Silent Passage, has been re-released: 'Bob was a prophet. His songs are meditations. Certainly he wrote his songs but they were given to him. His music came from the source, in his case a spiritual teacher who gave him a most unusual gift: the vision and the voice to express the inexpressible. He was just a regular guy until he opened his mouth and began to sing. Then, oh Lordy! There was no place to hide, nowhere to go, nothing to do but close your eyes and fly away!' Carpenter died in 1995 and 'the last decade of his life was spent in religious devotion.' 'He joined a Buddhist monastery shortly before his death.'

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Dry The River - Gethsemene.

Sophia Hub update

In her latest update on our Sophia Hub Ros Southern writes:

"On Thursday - 28th - we have our second Timebank training event - An Introduction to Twitter. This means that a member of our community with a skill to share, this time Rev Jonathan Evens, will volunteer his time and others can come along and 'spend' or 'donate' their hour to the Timebank. We are excited that this new Redbridge currency is starting to circulate. This is open to everyone in Redbridge, not just start-ups. It's from 2-3pm. If you are already a member of the Timebank, please email to let us know you want a place. If you are not a member, you can sign up here, email or ring if you need help, or turn up at 1pm on Thursday and we will start off your registration process. Everyone gets 5 hours credit for signing up! More information here.

If you have any Timebank questions - please just ring me or email the team on sevenkingstimebank@sophiahubs.com. For info on last week's Introduction to Facebook training - click here.

On Saturday 30th, there is a visit to Woodgrange market at Forest Gate to see how they set up their thriving pop up market. Join Dawayne Williams, Seven Kings Town Centre manager and others - all welcome. Meet at 12.55 and we are catching the 13.06 train. Very exciting! Hope to see you. More information here.

This week Ilford business FP Comms is running free marketing advice all week for businesses and some ticketed evening sessions. Info here. Tickets are reduced to £10 if you use the Sophia Hubs code - contact me on 
ros.southern@sophiahubs.com for details.

Forward notice - our lunchtime enterprise club re-starts on Tuesday 2nd September. It is an extended and special session on the Map of Meaning, led by Sue Howard. 12.15 - 2.45. This is mainly targetted at helping start-ups to run your business in line with the meaning the business has for you - a more holistic approach. I can reserve places for established businesses if the session is not fully booked. Please email to reserve a place. More info here.

We are partnering with Forest Recycling Project to promote re-using paint and other environmental business opportunities in the borough. If you want free paint for you group (or even for your personal use) please get in touch. More info here.

Finally thanks so much to Terry Freedman for leading an interesting session on e-safety for business last week. More info here.

As always, all this information is on my blog if the links don't work: www.sophiahubs7k.wordpress.com.

Please feel free to pass on this email and get other's to sign up. If you have information you want me to pass on, please get in touch."

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Shovels and Rope - Tell The Truth.

Dementia Friendly Churches

While at Greenbelt, I attended a session run by Livability and the Alzheimer's Society about Dementia Friendly Churches and, as a result, am now officially a Dementia Friend.

The Dementia Friendly Churches Initiative offers a range of services / resources to support churches to become more accessible and inclusive for people with dementia and their carers.

Dementia Friendly Churches Initiative offers a number of services:
  • An audit to assess how dementia friendly your church currently is and develop an action plan.
  • Mentoring – on-going mentoring and advice for your church or organisation.
  • A one off ‘Dementia Friends’ training session for your church or organisation.
  • A four part series of training/workshops for your church/ organisation.
 

Dementia is a disease which impairs people’s ability to remember, think and make choices. Globally, Dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, is one of the biggest global public health challenges facing our generation. Today, over 35 million people worldwide currently live with the condition and this number is expected to double by 2030 and more than triple by 2050 to 115 million. In the UK alone, it currently affects 800,000 people and that number is expected to double in the next 30 years.

Tackling Dementia has been a key priority for the current Government; in 2012 Prime Minister, David Cameron launched the Dementia Challenge – an ambitious three year programme designed to make a real difference to people with dementia and their carers. One of the aims of the challenge, in partnership with the Alzheimer’s Society, is to recruit and train 1 million volunteers ‘Dementia friends’ to support people with dementia by 2015. Livability is working alongside the Alzheimer’s Society help achieve this outcome by equipping members of churches and Christian organisations to become dementia friends.

Livability is part of the Dementia Action Alliance, a national membership body comprising over 900 organisations committed to transforming the quality of life of people living with dementia in the UK and the millions of people who care for them. Livability is also a member of the Civil Society and Voluntary Agencies Sub-group for the Prime Minister’s Dementia Challenge Committee.

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Love - Old Man.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Arts Centre Group: Cliff Richard statement

In the light of the current allegations against Cliff Richard, the Chair of the Arts Centre Group has made the following statement:

'We would like to express our thanks to Sir Cliff Richard, founder member and Patron of Arts Centre Group. We know Cliff to be a man of integrity and honour, truth and faith who sought throughout the height of his career to be guided by and accountable to men of wisdom and strong faith.

We wish you to know Cliff that we appreciate you and are praying for the Lord to guide you and sustain you. We thank you that your efforts have been fundamental in the setting up, development and longevity of our 43 year old organisation.

Without Sir Cliff, Arts Centre Group would not be what it is today, an ever evolving Group with members who are both Christians and professional artists.

This scripture is what the Lord led me to in relation to this situation - 1 Peter 3: 14 - 17.'

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David Grant - Keep It Together.

Grete Refsum: Easter Installation

In an interesting article on the ArtWay website, Grete Refsum describes the installation that she created in Nøtterøy parish church (county Vestfold, Norway) during Easter 2014.

Part I, Skje din vilje, was laid out before Palm Sunday and used broken wine bottles, a substantial part of which were altar wine bottles from the Cathedral of Oslo. The installation took its point of departure from the Lord’s Prayer, with the words ’Thy will be done’. This phrase was written on the floor under the pulpit in broken glass from wine bottles.

Part II, I Am, was laid on Holy Saturday. The congregation collected transparent recycled glass during Lent that was then used for the work. Part II takes its point of departure in the oldest definition of the concept of God in the Bible, where God is revealed to Moses and says: ’I am who I am.’ This phrase stands out in a circle of broken glass as absence of material.

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Adrian Snell - Gethsemene.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Sabbatical art pilgrimage: Abbaye de la Fille-Dieu, Romont










I would concur, especially after arriving at l’Abbaye de la Fille Dieu in time for a memorable service of Vespers followed by silent contemplation in the still onset of darkness falling. Tomas Mikulas, the architect on the restoration of this Cistercian Abbey, has stated that the overall goal of the restoration was to offer both nuns and visitors an ‘atmosphere conducive to meditation and prayer.’  Mikulas suggests that it is the ‘warm and vibrant atmosphere’ created by Clarke’s windows ‘with the changing light of day’ that ‘makes a decisive contribution’ to the space and to the restoration as a whole.

Being unable to take photographs during the service or in the silence which followed I returned the next day and therefore experienced the space both in the fading light of eventide and in the blaze of the early morning’s sunshine. As a result, I was able to experience at first hand the transformation of which Clarke speaks in the changing light of the building that Mikulas describes.

There are several reasons why this is a surprising outcome in this context. First, as Charlotte Cripps has written, early on in his career Clarke realised that he had to ‘shake off the ecclesiastical image’ of stained glass ‘if he was going to make any impact in the medium’: ‘When I started working in the medium of stained glass, it was a dying art. I knew from a very early age that the future of the medium would only be assured if it had an application in public buildings and was not limited to ecclesiastical architecture. I looked for opportunities in all kinds of public buildings and declined opportunities in the church. I fought for that and continue to fight for that. It's a lifelong pilgrimage’.

Instead, since the early 1970s, Clarke has: ‘worked on over two hundred stained glass projects in collaboration with some of the world’s most prominent architects and artists. Some of Clarke’s most notable “art-in-architecture” projects include: ... the stained glass and painting for Apax Partners Headquarters in London, UK; stained glass for the Pyramid of Peace in Astana, Kazakhstan (with Foster and Partners); the design for the Great South Window at Ascot’s New Grandstand in Ascot, UK; the façade for Pfizer Inc. in New York, USA; a suite of 26 stained glass and mosaic ceilings for Norte Shopping in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and the design for stained glass in Chep Lap Kok Airport (with Foster and Partners) in Hong Kong, China’.

Not only then do we have an artist who has actively declined ecclesiastical commissions but within the Abbey a group of nuns actively opposed Clarke’s designs on the basis that they were too colourful for a Cistercian chapel. This group was concerned that the strong presence of the windows would overpower the building and that the colour of the windows would reduce the visibility of the murals (dating from the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries) which have been preserved through the restoration.

Mikulas insisted on Clarke and was supported by the Abbess, Mother Hortense Berthet, who ‘loved and encouraged’ the stained glass project. Mikulas writes that she was always far-sighted and, where others could be entrenched behind their ‘achievements and habits,’ she would always ‘promote and encourage projects and renewal’. In this instance, the choice of the artist was not made ​​on the basis of a competition but began with visits that the nuns had with various artists. Alongside these contacts, the nuns were accompanied by a small working group, consisting of two architects (A. Page, T. Mikulas), Stefan Trümpler from the Vitrocentre Romont and Canon Gerard Pfulg from Freiburg.

The restoration work here, including Clarke’s windows, provides an object lesson in such projects due to the depth of understanding of the history and context developed by Mikulas, initially in a thesis written in 1986, and the sensitivity of both his designs and their realisation. Mikulas has written about the restoration in terms of the significance of the site, the complexity of the issues involved and the human encounters it has spawned. For him it has been a creative and human adventure; one involving listening, collaboration and perseverance in the service of a historic monument and a contemporary community of nuns. Ultimately, this has meant searching for the presence of Christ and the acceptance of others in the great Cistercian Trappist tradition.

Mikulus sought to work within the framework provided by the Venice Charter of 1964. His overall goal was the creation of a new and coherent building which was respectful of the buildings’ history while also servicing its use as a place of worship. The concept Mikulas developed was therefore based on several key assumptions which seek to balance contemporary use with past history. These included:

  • history seen as a process in time which cannot be fixed in a particular period in the life of a building; 
  • restoration involves choices because it is not possible to fully conservation all contributions which have been made to a building throughout the course of its history
  • the cultural function of the building (in this case, worship) affects its architectural treatment and the choices made during restoration; 
  • a building is not only an historical story in stone but also evidence of creative artistic design in the choices made by earlier generations; and 
  • restoration will therefore engage more with some layers of the history of the building than others, and will always result in a new and original condition for the building. 

In the end the view which prevailed was that modern windows could bring a new dimension to the building which could unify the fragments retained from previous phases of the building’s life, in particular to showcase the murals from the fourteen, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, while also ensuring optimal lighting conditions for the building’s liturgical uses. Clarke’s ‘practice is built upon using light to explore the essential link between art and architecture’, so the composition of the windows aims to ‘recognize the spatial and formal structure of the building, its rhythms, its highlights.’ Clarke has used richly textured opaque glass painted with either ceramic or matte paint and often acid etched to create diffuse effects even in low or artificial light.

The windows use a regular grid of consistent colours over which more amorphous, fluid coloured shapes are placed. The dynamic contrasts that derive from this superimposition are inspired by the natural world where, Clarke suggests, we find many examples; ivy leaves on a trellis, birds flying against a background of buildings, spilt water on a pavement. When these juxtapositions occur, the grid is dramatized, the free forms take their place and an amazing balance is created. The oculus reverses this format with a grid on plain glass superimposed by a dove form. The non-figurative design of each window has been considered not only as its own design but also as ‘part of an overall composition, with its own highlights, axis and rhythm. Trümpler has written that the colour of the windows refers to the path of movement of the sun, ‘from the mystical and blue morning in the sanctuary, to warm tones in the nave’ later in the day. In this way, the stained glass creates ‘an atmosphere of a highly relevant "spiritual" nature’.

Clarke is part of a significant movement within contemporary ecclesiastical commissions involving the commissioning of abstract windows which create shafts of ever-changing colour that fall within the space to provide a atmosphere which is mystical and spiritual. This move from storytelling in stained glass by means of narrative figuration (the Biblia pauperum, exemplified in the twentieth century by the figurative windows of Marc Chagall) to the creation of spiritual space using abstract colour (as pioneered by Jean Bazaine and Alfred Manessier) has occurred, primarily, in France. The concept of stained glass architecture - of a light-filled architectural unit – that we find, for example, in the baptistery at Sacré-Cœur in Audincourt or the Chapelle Sainte-Thérèse-de-l'Enfant-Jésus et de la Sainte-Face in Hem is an attempt to create spiritual space - a sense of prayer and a glimpse of heaven – through the play of light and colour within the building. In the past churches were centres for the drama of the visual - the drama and spectacle of the liturgy combined with the visual narrative of scripture in stained glass. Now people find their visual stimulation elsewhere - through the media primarily – and, as a result, churches have become centres for the opposite of visual stimulation e.g. centres of visual contemplation, where narrative is less essential than ambience and atmosphere.

At Vespers in l’Abbaye de la Fille Dieu there was a powerful sense of being caught up in a heavenly space and the great corporate song of heaven as the wondrous harmonies of unified plainsong responses combined with the mystical light of Clarke’s windows.

Since l’Abbaye de la Fille Dieu Clarke has taken on other ecclesiastical commissions at Linköping Cathedral, Sweden, and the Papal Chapel at the Apostolic Nunciature, London. He say, ‘Now I'm able to call the shots more. Churches only call on me if they want me to do something challenging and exciting. As a consequence, with a long history behind me of substantial secular and public works, I feel now that I can re-engage occasionally, working in the church and giving it my best on a level that it deserves and I demand’. Additionally, by commissioning an artist like Clarke who understands stained glass and ecclesiastical contexts but does not profess a faith himself, the Church is continuing the tradition begun by Marie-Alain Couturier and Walter Hussey of commissioning contemporary ‘masters’.

Stained glass can transform the way we feel when we enter a building like l‘Abbaye de la Fille Dieu is, as Clarke has said, because of the sense of beauty and sublimity that such art brings: "I think there is an extremely powerful argument to be made today for art to actually bring beauty and something of the sublime into the banality of mundane experience. So often now, art is limiting of that kind of encounter. I believe people respond to beauty both in nature and in art. When it involves the passage of light, it is uplifting in a way that is incomparable".

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Elbow - This Blue World.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Sale of the Century: Privatisation sucks

Review in the Saturday Guardian had an excellent article by James Meek on privatisation entitled 'Sale of the Century'. Among the highlights of its arguments were these:

'Privatisation failed to turn Britain into a nation of small shareholders. Before Thatcher came to power, almost 40% of the shares in British companies were held by individuals. By 1981, it was less than 30%. By the time she died in 2013, it had slumped to under 12%. What is significant about this is not only that Thatcher and her chancellor Nigel Lawson's vision of a shareholding democracy failed to come to pass through privatisation, but that it undermines the justification for the way the companies were taken out of public ownership.'

'There are many forms of private ownership. The department store chain John Lewis, an unsubsidised commercial firm in a fiercely competitive market, is owned by its employees. The Nationwide Building Society, an unsubsidised commercial firm in a fiercely competitive market, is owned by its members. The Guardian Media Group, an unsubsidised commercial firm in a fiercely competitive market, is owned by a trust set up to support its journalistic values and protect it from hostile takeover. And so on. None of the many alternatives to stock market flotation were put up for discussion by either side: it was either shareholder capitalism or the nationalised status quo.'

'Privatisation failed to demonstrate the case made by the privatisers that private companies are always more competent than state-owned ones – that private bosses, chasing the carrot of bonuses and dodging the stick of bankruptcy, will always do better than their state-employed counterparts. Through euphemisms such as "wealth creation" and "enjoying the rewards of success" Thatcher and her allies have promoted the notion that greed on the part of a private executive elite is the chief and sufficient engine of prosperity for all. The result has been 35 years of denigration of the concept of duty and public service, as well as a squalid ideal of all work as something that shouldn't be cared about for its own sake, but only for the money it brings.'

'What the story of the latter years of the NHS shows is that the most powerful market force eating away at the core of the welfare state is not so much capitalism as consumer capitalism – the convergence of desires between the users of a public service and the private companies providing it when the companies use the skills of marketing to give users a sense of dissatisfaction and peer disadvantage.'
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The Clash - Lost In The Supermarket.

Greenbelt Festival: Saturday



























Yesterday I enjoyed a day at Greenbelt seeing the Festival in its new setting at Boughton House. The new venue comes with different opportunities for layout, programming and artworks.

The Allotment Gallery is Greenbelt’s garden shed and is playing host to around 20 artists throughout the weekend, each exhibiting their work in their own two-hour slot. Six artists have also created temporary sculptural, performance and installation works for the grounds of Boughton House. I also briefly heard Beth Rowley, Martyn Joseph, Hope & Social, Levi Hummon, Dizraeli and the Small Gods, and The Travelling Band

The highlights for me (in addition to the friends I met up with) were the seminars I attended. I caught the end of Nadia Bolz-Weber's talk, heard Linda Woodhead talk on 'The Crisis of Religion in the UK,' Brian McLaren on 'What will Religion become?' and a panel session on 'Can we reimagine marriage?' (see post here).

Linda Woodhead said that crises are tipping points requiring decisions. A crisis in a fever is the moment at which the fever breaks. 

Society and Christianity have generally been on different tracks in recent years. Historic forms of Christianity are generally in decline and opposition to the growing liberalism of society is part of the reason for this decline. New forms of religion are increasing. The current social context is the second demographic transition, where the birth rate falls below the mortality rate. The first demographic transition was focused around the nuclear family but in the second, population declines, the marriage rate drops and there is a rise in divorce and cohabitation, meaning that the nuclear family unit is no longer the norm. there is a growth of affluence and education combined with the impact of greater equality for women. These are unprecedented historical changes. 

These changes go hand in hand with a growth in liberalism - defined as personal freedom - which is the opposite of authoritarianism and paternalism. Each generation is becoming more liberal. However, religious groups contain a higher proportion of the 'moral majority'. The leadership of churches is generally more conservative than there members meaning that a values gap exists between leaders and members. Overall belief in God is declining but not at the extent that participation in organised religion is declining. There is an active spirituality which is not expressed within the established churches.  Research in Kendal found 126 kinds of alternative spirituality; largely hidden and led by women. 

There seems to be no correlation between church tradition and growth or decline. Mini or maxi does best when it comes to Church. Midi (congregations of 50 - 120) is in trouble. Occasional events such as festivals also do well. The established churches do have adavantages which could be used more effectively; these include occasional offices, chaplaincy, schools, cathedral services, heritage. Of Fresh Expressions, Messy Church seems most effective. Churches need to give people voice, choice and participation. Choice requires branding. Variety is essential because of the diversity within society. religion needs to be presented as a whole-life resource.

Alternative ways of funding religion can be identified. People will pay for alternative spiritualities. A membership model, like that of the National Trust, could be used. In countries where a Church Tax exists, people who don't attend contribute because they want the Church to provide a resource in society. Where a congregational model of funding is used, the Church becomes controlled by conservatism.

Brian MacLaren also spoke about the challenges of our current context, in particular the challenges that all religions face regarding the planet, poverty and peace. He argued that the Faiths will need to collaborate to address these challenges. We need people prepared to do in our own age what the founders of our faiths did in their own age, rather than simply repeating what they said. The key question in a pluralistic world is what benefits do religions bring to non-members. Religions say different things in response to different problems; they are all answering different questions. We need to bring the treasures from our faith and shares these with people of other faiths, as they do the same with us. We need to rub up against those who are different from us in order to experience disruption and to be converted all over again.

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Hope & Social - The Big Wide.      

Mission Weekend follow-up: Lyfe Course


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Vivky Beeching - Needing You.

Windows on the world (306)


Mile End, 2014

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Albert Ayler - Spirits.

Sophia Hub update

This coming  Tuesday, 26th August, Bev Stratton will be our speaker at 7.00pm for the Sophia Hub's Enterprise Club. The evening enterprise club session will run from 7.00 - 9.00pm with plenty of opportunity for networking, informal mentoring and peer support.
The topic is customer service.  Bev is highly experienced in supporting businesses and has proposed this topic which is relevant to start-ups, however smallBev says: 'Many of us have been on the receiving end of bad customer service and in these difficult times customers are more ‘savvy’ than before and are looking for not only greater value for money, but a better quality service as well. What separates a successful business from the unsuccessful is a quality customer service model.'
Bev has worked for the Redbridge Council for 31 years and for 26 of those years has worked closely with business as a Business Development Officer, and for the past ten years as the borough’s Town Centres and BIDs Development Manager. She will provide a few tips on how to create a quality customer service model for your business.
We are also offering our 2nd training session run by a Timebank member. I will lead an hour on an introduction to Twitter - Thursday 28th August, 2pm – 3pm, at St John’s Church. Bring your laptop or tablet or smart phone if you have one (and if you know how it works) – we have wifi. Alternatively you can use/share one of our laptops or just listen in.
I am donating my time and so will earn our Timebank currency of 2 hours (1 for prep, 1 for the session).  Those that attend will donate their Timebank currency (1 hour each).  The ‘money’ we make will be used for things like ‘paying’ to the volunteers for their time in running the Timebank, ‘paying’ other venues to run future sessions, ‘paying’ a member to design a Timebank flyer etc.
Please note – all the transactions need to take place through the Timebank and you need to be a Timebank member.  It’s easy.  Click on the Timebank website on the blue square on the right.
If you are not a member we can help you join up beforehand or if you come at 1pm we can register you before the session – but please let us know you are coming  You will need an email account.  We can help you with this if you don’t have one.  Please contact us.
Timebank members – please click on the offer and send us an email to say you want to come. The offer has been posted on the website.
The Seven Kings Timebank team (7KTB) on sevenkingstimebankteam@sophiahubs.com or Ros on 07707 460309 or 0208 590 2568.
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John Coltrane - My Favourite Things.