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Monday, 29 December 2014

Maciej Hoffman: be free for art


Maciej Hoffman's exhibition for the Limmud Conference 2014 is at the Mead Gallery Warwick until Thursday 1st January 2015.

Maciej writes that 'some achievements of mankind are simultaneously defeats of humanism: sophisticated life-penetrating systems, which can reduce us to be just filled forms in some mysterious registers; special tests and scales for measurement and classification of our intellect and emotions. Our creativity is being used for construction of more perfect and “magnificent” systems of control. The space for what is irrational, imperfect or disordered becomes increasingly narrow.

Freedom leaves us step by step.

What is free of supervision, what is beyond of statistics and classifications, what is the only one real margin of freedom we can use – that’s the creation, that is art.'

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Ritchie Havens - Freedom.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

ArtWay meditation: The Doors of Perception


Having made the initial introduction, I'm very pleased to see that John Espin and Tim Harrold's assemblage The Doors of Perception features as this week's ArtWay meditation.

The assemblage contains four themes which use images of water, a lion's roar, white stones, and stars.

The title is taken from William Blake's statement that 'If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite':

'The title came after the completion of the piece. Doors connect each of the four scenes. Each door leads to somewhere else. Doors to be knocked on and doors to be opened. Jesus said, ‘I am the door,’ the Gateway for the sheep.'

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Dry The River - Everlasting Light.

Politics, nature and spirituality in the songs of Cockburn and Dylan

I'm enjoying the opportunity to do some reading on my post-Christmas break. I've read Michel Faber's brilliant The Fire Gospels and am now well into Bruce Cockburn's fascinating memoir Rumours of Glory.

Cockburn's trajectory as an artist is almost the opposite, although they share many preoccupations, to that of Bob Dylan; as Cockburn begins as a nature mystic before catching the intoxicating poetry of the urban and political.

He writes:

'My songs tend to be triggered by whatever is in front of me, filtered through feeling and imagination. I went looking for humanity in all its guises. I wrote about what I found: the love, the meanness, the artists, the farmers, the juntas; the books, the slums, the palaces; the conflicts, the peace, the music. That's why I don't think of the things I write as "protest" songs. They reflect what I see and how I feel about it. The songs are not ideologically driven. They are meant not as calls to action - though if someone heard one of my songs and was inspired to help the poor or save an ecosystem, all the better - but as an attempt to share my personal response to experience with anyone who feels a resonance, or even someone who doesn't, because life is one long conversation.'

'As a songwriter newly attuned to political subject matter,' he writes that he began to question his 'unexamined notion that art must remain "pure," untainted by the political ... I began to understand that if an artist's job is to distil the human experience into something that can be shared, then the political, as much a part of that experience as God or sex or alienation, deserved to be seen as raw material. The arts contribute significantly to social movements and cultural cohesion.'

Interestingly, Cockburn rates In the Falling Dark, The Charity of Night and Breakfast in New Orleans Dinner in Timbuktu as the records with which he is most satisfied. For me, he really hits his stride with Dancing in the Dragon's Jaws (the masterpiece of his nature mysticism) and Humans (which begins his series of insights into the urban and politics). Stealing Fire and World of Wonders showcase his hard-hitting and informed political reflections, while Nothing but a Burning Light and You've never seen Everything wonderfully merge his earlier and later preoccupations.

Cockburn was dealing with spiritual themes at a time in rock and folk when such things were not fashionable or widely recognised within the work of several of the most significant artists of the day. Lou Adler, who 'dreamed up [for Dylan's Gospel by the Brothers and Sisters) the concept of matching the words and music of Bob Dylan with the majestic, booming voices he had heard in the recording studios - the vocals of the singers who came from the Baptist churches of South Los Angeles to belt out back-up for the big names,' was one of those able to see the spirituality in the songs of Bob Dylan:

'Listening to a lot of his songs, I felt there was a gospel feel to them, both spiritually and lyrically ... I think you can find something spiritual about all of Dylan's lyrics. Certainly something that goes beyond just being a pop song.'

Merry Clayton says, of recording the album, 'We took it to the church. That's how we approached it. Just like we were singing in our choir in our church.' The results, as Jessica Hundley has written, 'are wonderfully cathartic.' 'This is Dylan elevated into a sound huge and shimmering and rich - a chorus of voices lifting up his poetry ... into something close to scripture.'

That was 1969, when the Brothers and Sisters recorded a representative retrospective of Dylan's work from The Times They Are A-Changin' to Nashville Skyline by way of Another Side of Bob DylanBlonde on Blonde, The Basement Tapes and John Wesley Harding. There are many other Dylan tracks from the same period which could be given similar treatment including 'Blowin' In The Wind,' 'A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall,' 'When The Ship Comes In,' 'All I Really Want To Do,' 'Sign On The Cross' and 'I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine,' among many others.

Sid Griffin, writing on 'The Importance of The Basement Tapes,' describes in Biblical terms how the 'beat poetics' of Dylan's political and urban songs 'morphed into whimsy or Biblical-like prophecies'; 'songs derived from old sea shanties, melodic reflections about life's absudities, hard-rockin' and often hilarious fictitious character sketches, musical tributes to past heroes which bordered on pastiche, musical pastiches so authentic they bordered on being tributes, devout spirituals, C&W laments, a new take on blues balladry, and, yes, love in all its guises':

'A year earlier [1966] the singer had been in the middle of an exhausting World Tour ... And then, during a break in the touring, the singer saw a light as bright as Saul witnessed on the road to Damascus when he fell to the ground blinded. Bob Dylan, also temporarily blinded, fell to the ground from a motorcycle and when he healed he had changed his thinking almost as dramatically as Saul did. He too sought a new peace in his life for he'd found a direction home ...

Bob Dylan would now place a new emphasis on family, on his new home and its immediate community, on his personal spirit, and would view Mammon with even greater suspicion that he did before.'

Griffin notes that 'when you look at the song titles on an "Americana" chart in any trade magazine today you are seeing the Basement Tapes' musical grandchildren.'

In 1966 Dylan described the range of music and imagery which he has tapped since: 'Traditional music is based on hexagrams. It comes from legends, bibles, plagues, and it revolves around vegetables and death. ... All these songs about roses growing out of people's brains and lovers who are really geese and swans that turn into angels - they're not going to die. .... I mean, you'd think that the traditional music people could gather from their songs that mystery is a fact, a traditional fact ... In that music is the only true, valid death you can feel today off a record player. ... It has to do with a purity thing. I think its meaninglessness is holy.'

He has stated clearly that: 'Those old songs are my lexicon and my prayer book. You can find all my philosophy in those old songs. Hank Williams singing 'I Saw The Light' or all the Luke The Drifter songs. That would be pretty close to my religion. The rabbis, priests, and ministers all do very well. But my belief system is more rugged and comes more from out of the old spiritual songs than from any of the established religious attempts at overcoming the devil.'

More reflections on the work of Cockburn and Dylan can be found in my co-authored book The Secret Chord.

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Bruce Cockburn - Open.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Windows on the World (323)


Bourbourg, 2014

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Dry The River - New Ceremony.

The 10 albums that I enjoyed most in 2014

Here are the 10 albums (in no particular order) that I've got hold of and enjoyed the most in 2014:

Popular Problems by Leonard Cohen is his best since The Future and, as with that album, deals both explicitly and ambiguously with religious imagery and spiritual reflection: 'Word of Words / And Measure of all Measures / Blessed is the Name / The Name be blessed / Written on my heart / In burning Letters / That's all I know / I cannot read the rest.' ('Born in Chains')

Ricky Ross is in a rich vein of inspiration with The Hipsters in 2012 quickly followed by solo album Trouble Came Looking in 2013 and now A New House. Deacon Blue's best album since under-appreciated classic Whatever You Say, Say Nothing, both albums featuring songs centred on Bethlehem: 'I long to be there / As bright as the sky / At Bethlehem's gate' ('Bethlehem's Gate') and 'You got to go back, gotta go back, gotta go back in time / To Bethlehem / To begin again.' ('Bethlehem begins').

Robert Plant's Lullaby ... and the Ceaseless Roar is a wonderfully original melting pot of blues, country, indie and world influences. Somebody There explores a sense of the sublime: 'When I was a young boy / And time was passing by / Real slow / And all around was wonder / And all around the great unknown / With eyes that slowly opened / I set about the wisdom to know / And living out of language / Before one word I spoke / I heard the call / There is somebody there I know.'

Neil McCormick's initial reaction to U2's Songs of Innocence to me seems fairly accurate: 'I wouldn’t put it on a par with their greatest work - Boy, Joshua Tree, Achtung Baby or even the seamless songs of All That You Can’t Leave Behind ... But ... it certainly does the job it apparently sets out to do, delivering addictive pop rock with hooks, energy, substance and ideas that linger in the mind after you’ve heard them.' 'It is, at heart, a highly personal set of songs' with 'no flag waving anthems, no big social causes.' If there is a moral, he suggests, 'it appears in the coda of Cedarwood Road: “a heart that is broken / is a heart that is open.”'

Dry The River have been described as 'folky gospel music played by a post-punk band' (BBC). Their second album, Alarms in the Heart: 'is bold, expansive, confident and cohesive - an undeniable step up in both diversity and volume from their critically acclaimed debut, Shallow Bed (March 2012). 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."' (Rough Trade)

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' (Filter). Husband and wife team, Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst, both have solo careers, while Trent is also lead singer of The Films. Together they make: '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 Pabst)

The Guardian had an excellent article about the wonderful reissued album Dylan's Gospel: "Conceived by record producer Lou Adler, who admired backing singers so much that he sometimes paid them triple scale, it features 27 vocalists, including [Merry] Clayton, Clydie King, Patrice Holloway, Gloria Jones and Edna Wright, injecting the likes of Chimes of Freedom and Lay Lady Lay with Baptist gusto. It's a righteous, inspiring, beautiful piece of work."

'There are many factors contributing to the uplifting feel of “The Flood and the Mercy,” the second solo effort from ex-Live frontman Ed Kowalczyk. There’s the gently jangling production of Jamie Candiloro; the singer’s spiritual lyrics, rooted in his Christian faith and a synthesis of other beliefs; and the appearance of vocalist Rachael Yamagata and R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck on three tracks: “Supernatural Fire,” “All That I Wanted” and “Holy Water Tears.” (SF Examiner)

'Scott Stapp’s Proof of Life is a poignant snapshot of the artist, showcasing his journey over the past several years. It doesn’t shy away from encountering the dark places that he’s wandered into, acknowledging those missteps nor does it neglect highlighting the faith-filled elements that have helped to draw the artist back into the light. Proof of Life is an insightful and honest record, capturing Stapp at his best lyrically and musically, proving to be a great listen.' (soul-audio)

Linda Perhacs, says Sufjan Stevens, who released The Soul Of All Natural Things on his Asthmatic Kitty label, “has a prophetic voice that speaks beauty and truth with the kind of confidence and hope that has been lost for decades. There is nothing more real in music today.”

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The Brothers & Sisters - I Shall Be Released.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Borne to be born

'Borne to be born' handout with 'Mother and Child' by Jonathan Peter Smith - smithpeterjonathan@yahoo.co.uk

Ever since using a poem about Mary by Malcolm Guite while in Nazareth with the East London Three Faiths Forum, I have been reflecting on the first title given by the Church to Mary, ‘Theotokos,’ which means ‘God-bearer’.

Malcolm Guite says of Mary, ‘Mary has been given many titles down the ages and some Christians have disagreed with one another bitterly about her. But equally, in every age and every church she has been, for many Christians, a sign of hope and an inspiration. Her earliest ‘title’, agreed throughout the church in the first centuries of our faith, before the divisions of East and West, Catholic and Protestant, was Theotokos, which means God-Bearer. She is the prime God-Bearer, bearing for us in time the One who was begotten in eternity, and every Christian after her seeks to become in some small way a God-bearer, one whose ‘yes’ to God means that Christ is made alive and fruitful in the world through our flesh and our daily lives, is born and given to another.’

Mary bears or carries Jesus in her womb for nine months and is also borne or carried by her after his birth, as that is what mothers do with their new born children until they can crawl or walk. The idea that he is borne by her holds lots of potential for word play with the two meanings and spellings of the word. ‘Borne,’ as in carried, and ‘Born,’ as in giving birth. I’ve been trying to play with those words in writing a meditation on this theme which I’ll read to you later.

Once he becomes a man and can no longer be borne or carried himself, Jesus bears or carries us to God the Father by means of his sacrificial death on the cross. So, he is born(e) into the world in order to bear us to God.

In turn, we then bear him to others as he is born in each one of us as we open our lives to him and can then bear, carry or take him to others as our daily lives reveal aspects of his character and love to others. As Teresa of Avila said:

‘Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.’

In this way, we bear him to others.

So, Christ is carried by Mary, both in her womb and in her arms, in order that he can then carry us to God by means of his death of the cross. Finally, we carry him to others by means of our daily life and witness.

Here are those thoughts expressed in my meditation:

Borne to be born

Hallelujah, God is borne,
Nine months womb carried within his mother,
who as Theotokos bears God
to the unwaiting world which He created.

Hallelujah, God is born.
Hours of hard labour crescendo
as he travels down the birth canal
to be carried in the arms of the mother He created.

Hallelujah, God is borne.
Carried by us to the unwaiting world he created
as we, like Mary, say yes to God
and God is born again in us.

Borne to be born,
Mary bears the infant Christ to a sinful world.
Borne to be born,
Christ bears our sin to God in his body on the cross
bringing us to new birth.
Borne to be born,
we bear Christ in new born lives
as witness to a sinful world.

Are you humbled by the thought that God was born(e) by a human mother? Are you conscious of having been borne by Jesus to God? How are you bearing Christ to others, as his hands, feet, eyes and body in the world today? Are these responses something for which you pray and for which you are thankful today?

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Malcolm Guite - Angels Unawares.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

All-Age Talk - Names of Jesus

Here is my talk for the Nativity & Tree Lighting Service at St John's Seven Kings this year, which I also adapted to use as a Christmas assembly for Downshall Primary School:

Earlier in Advent I had a session with children in an RE class at Little Heath School to talk about Christian values as we see them in Jesus. Following that session the children sent me poems they had written which combined different words to make titles for Jesus which summed up something about him and his values. Among my favourites were 'The King of Kindness', 'The Truth of Giving' and 'The Gift of Happiness'.

I wonder what names or titles you could devise for Jesus which say something about who he is and what he came into our world to do. Each of you should have a sheet of paper with three lists of words on it. I’d like you to look at those lists and combine some of the words to make a new name of title for Jesus. Please talk to the people around about this. You could circle, tick, rewrite or just remember the words that you want to combine and use. Then I’ll ask you to tell us some of the names you have come up with.

[Time for discussion and feedback]

Thank you for sharing those new names and titles for Jesus. They were great and give us lots of ways for thinking about who he is, what he did and what he can mean to us today.

In the Bible we find two special names that were given to Jesus at his birth which are particularly important for understanding and knowing him.

The first is ‘Emmanuel’, which means God with us. Jesus was not just any other human baby, he was God born as a human being. He was God come into our world as an act of solidarity sharing what we experience in life, so we know that he understands and will support us through whatever happens.

The second is Jesus which means ‘The Rescuer’. Jesus was God come into our world to die and rise to new life for us making it possible for us to come through sin and suffering into new beginnings and new life.

The greatest gift you can have this Christmas is to come to know Jesus in these ways. Jesus is God’s gift to the world. Jesus is God’s way of showing and telling that he loves us enough to be with us in every situation and circumstance and to bring us through our experience of sin and suffering into a new start and a new way of living. My prayer is that we don’t simply know the story of Jesus’ birth or even know the meaning, the reason, for his birth, but that we actually receive the gift that God has given to us and know Jesus for ourselves as our Rescuer who is God with us.

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Kate Rusby - Diadem.

Is the heart of the City a proper place to make people think that money and materialism are not everything in life?

Tremendous ambition expressed by the curator of the Guildhall Art Gallery in an article from today's Guardian:

“Poverty has not gone away,” curator Julia Dudkiewicz said. “Is the heart of the City a proper place to make people think a little of social and spiritual issues, that money and materialism are not everything in life? We are going to try.”

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The Black Eyed Peas - Where Is The Love?

Not simply followers of Christ but bearers of his life

The author Frederick Buechner has shared a Christmas article, entitled “Emmanuel,” which was originally solicited then turned down by The New York Times Magazine for being “too theological.” The article was originally published in A Room Called Remember and later in Secrets in the Dark:

'More than anything else perhaps, to dismiss this particular birth as no different in kind from the birth of Socrates, say, or Moses or Gautama Buddha would be to dismiss the quality of life that it has given birth to in an astonishing variety of people over an astonishing period of time. There have been wise ones and simple ones, sophisticated ones and crude ones, respectable ones and disreputable ones. There have been medieval peasants and eighteenth-century aristocrats, nineteenth-century spinsters and twentieth-century dropouts. They need not be mystics or saints or even unusually religious in any formal, institutional sense, and there may never have been any one dramatic moment of conversion in the past that they would point to. But somewhere along the line something deep in them split starwise and they became not simply followers of Christ but bearers of his life. A birth of grace and truth took place within them scarcely less miraculous in its way than the one the Magi traveled all those miles to kneel before.'

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Moving Mountains - Sol Solis.

A Girardian medition on the Nine Lessons

Freshly written and, therefore, too late for this year's Carol Services, here is a poetic meditation which draws on the thinking of René Girard in interpreting the Bible readings traditionally used in services of Nine Lessons and Carols:

Nine Lessons

Genesis 3: 8–19

Hard labour in birth and work, sweat on our brow,
dirt on our hands. Thorns and thistles to prick and sting,
like death from a serpent's tongue,
till we return to the ground,
ashes to dust and dust to ashes.

Genesis 22: 15–18

A sense of sacrifice required;
the death of children appeasing the divine.
An alternative is found - ram caught in thicket,
wool held by thorns. Animals become
the scapegoats for our sins.

Isaiah 9: 2; 6–7

Light in darkness promised
through the hard labour of the birth of a child.
A child bearing peace and goodwill,
bringing justice and righteousness
without end and without measure.

Isaiah 11: 1–3a; 4a; 6–9

A little child leading us to reconciliation.
From nature red in tooth and claw -
survival of the fittest - to peaceful co-existence.
Carnivores to herbivores, the drawing of the sting
from the serpent's tongue.

Luke 1: 26–35; 38

Highly favoured as the Spirit overshadows.
A virgin birth - subverting patriarchy -
of a son who will not marry or have blood offspring.
The saying of 'yes' to God opening
the way of the family of God to one and all.

Luke 2: 1; 3–7

No room for the Lord of life, Prince of peace.
Space shared with animals kept for sustenance;
the sacrifices of existence and forgiveness.
Born into poverty; the struggle for survival
that this child will one day redeem.

Luke 2: 8–16

Angelic announcement of peace and goodwill
come in the form of the child found
by night workers, swaddled and lying in a manger.
His mother ponders these things -
annunciation, nativity, incarnation - in her heart.

Matthew 2: 1–12

Star following Magi look for the Prince of Peace
in the heart of power and opulence
only to find him in obscurity and humility.
Gifts given prefigure his divinity and sacrifice, the servant King
who, in birth and death, gives his life for others.

John 1: 1–14

Creative word now created, enfleshed, incarnated.
Divine life flowing in and through this child.
Light in darkness, revealing our passion
for power, position and personal gain.
In poverty, a counterpoint is born - compassion.

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Boris Ord - Adam Lay Ybounden.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Sophia Hub update

Ros Southern writes:

"This is the last email of the year and thanks to you all for such a fascinating and productive 2014. The community development 'asset-based' approach has worked wonders in building such a strong community network of support for and between start-ups in the Borough.

Just in case you've forgotten - Sophia is the goddess of wisdom and our way of working is to find the wisdom in the community and faith communities and then harness it. Simple!

Final bits are:
  • No enterprise club this week.
  • The Tuesday lunchtime enterprise club on 30th December 12.45-2.15 is on the business canvas model which we think is the best one for start-ups to use. Click to find out about it here. Bring and share lunch from 12.15.
  • Advance notice of speaker for Tuesday 5th January 12.45-2.30 is Vic Norman who is a lecturer at Redbridge Institute on business and runs a few very succesful businesses himself. Managing your start-up on line.
  • Thanks to Nicky Das from the plumbing supplies shop for speaking last week at the enterprise club. Very useful.
  • Finally, the wonderful Timebank has got going now with over 60 members, and here is a great and original cartoon strip by local artist Sam Cowan on how wonderful the Timebank is!
Have a great Christmas and New Year.

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the Soil & the Sun - Raised In Glory.

Cartoons 4 Trees

After taking a short course on comics with Sarah Lightman, artist Sam Cowan was hooked! As a keen environmentalist, she paired her love for doodling with her wish to do something constructive on the climate change/ food security front - tasks both done beautifully by trees - and Cartoons 4 Trees was born. One tree is planted in the world for every issue subscribed to.

Click here to see a Timebank cartoon created after the recent Skills Swap organised by the Seven Kings Timebank.

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Bruce Cockburn - If A Tree Falls.

Monday, 22 December 2014

The American South’s major contribution to the world

In a post for The Imaginative Conservative Sean Busick notes that historian Michael O’Brien has called the South’s music Southern culture’s “major contribution” to the world (Rethinking the South: Essays in Intellectual History). In that spirit, he offers some recent Southern albums (and an older box set) as musical suggestions for giving as Christmas presents. 

His list includes: The Secret Sisters, “Put Your Needle Down”; Doc Watson, “Southbound”; Johnny Cash, “Out Among the Stars”; Gram Parsons, “180 Gram”; R.E.M., “MTV Unplugged 1991/2001” and Goodbye, Babylon, an amazing 2003 gospel box set. He also notes that The Civil Wars, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, the Alabama Shakes, and Jason Isbell have all recorded albums worth giving a listen. 

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The Secret Sisters - River Jordan.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

A renewed interest in Biblical epics

The Guardian has been exploring the current phenomenon of a significant number of Biblical films:

'Boxing Day sees the UK release of [Ridley] Scott’s epic Exodus: Gods and Kings, with Christian Bale as Moses. While the Observer called it a “half triumph”, Variety extolled it as “a work of massive, David Lean-like scale – with battle scenes that rival or eclipse Scott’s Gladiator”.'

Exodus follows Noah to which audiences flocked earlier this year with Darren Aronofsky's film taking $320m worldwide and there are a biblical flood of films inspired by the Old and New Testaments coming. 'We may live in a more secular age, but at least a dozen dramas on the epic scale which the Bible – or perhaps producers – seems to demand are in various stages of development':

'British producer David Heyman is developing a film based on Reza Aslan’s bestselling book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, while Paul Verhoeven, the Dutch director, has been working on an adaptation of his own book, Jesus of Nazareth, for five years.

[Ridley Scott] is now planning another biblical drama – a big-budget film about David’s slaying of Goliath.

Warner Bros is also developing a King David project and a third version has cast Jerry Sokoloski, Canada’s tallest man – at 7ft 8in – as the giant. Director Tim Chey was apparently wary of creating a CGI imitation like The Incredible Hulk.

Other films include a version of the hit stage musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat ... Other productions feature some of Britain’s foremost actors. Joseph Fiennes will be seen in Clavius as a centurion ordered by Pontius Pilate to find the missing body of Jesus, and Ben Kingsley will appear as the tyrannical Herod in Mary Mother of Christ, a story of Mary and Joseph as young parents living in precarious times.

Jeffrey Caine, who wrote the Oscar-nominated screenplay for The Constant Gardener, was one of four writers on Scott’s Exodus. Asked about the popularity of biblical stories for film-makers, he said: “It’s largely because they’re terrific stories. They’re perennially popular, like the stories of King Arthur and Robin Hood. You know there’s always going to be an audience for them … Plus they make money.”'

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Sydney Wayser - Belfast Child.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

The buried message of Christianity: power is divested

Giles Fraser has a superb column in today's Guardian exploring the implications of the incarnation. He begins with the American theologian Thomas JJ Altizer's work on Christian atheism:

'Altizer’s account of the Christian God being in a gradual process of divesting himself of His God-ness is a pretty good way of recapturing some of the puzzlement and shock value of the original Christmas story. “He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant,” is how St Paul described the incarnation in a letter to new Christians at Philippi ...

the astonishing assertion of the Christmas story is that the God who comes as a pathetic child is all the more God-like for the total evacuation of power. It’s a birth story at one with what would become the central message of His teaching: the first will be last and the last first. It sounds like a phrase from the French revolution, with the mighty being pulled off their thrones and the weak being held up high. But it’s the buried message of Christianity, extravagantly heralded in the festival we know as Christmas. At Christmas, God becomes a child. Power is divested. Might and right no longer nestle comfortably together.'

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Bruce Cockburn - Cry Of A Tiny Baby.

Windows on the world (322)


France, 2014

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the Soil & the Sun - Are You?

Friday, 19 December 2014

ImageUpdate 2014 Top Ten

'ImageUpdate select an annual Top Ten list from the over one hundred books, films, albums, visual art collections, and even television shows shared in the e-newsletter each year. ImageUpdate strives to direct readers attention to new and emerging artists.

Holy Heathen Rhapsody by Pattiann Rogers

Its impossible not to feel reverence when you read Holy Heathen Rhapsody, Pattiann Rogers latest collection. Rogers poems are as variegated as the world they witness, but still controlled, graceful with their details.

Arts & Entertainments by Christopher Beha

Arts & Entertainments is a charming, composed work that, in its best moments, recalls Vonnegut and Kafka. Beha demonstrates the consequences of godless men playing God.

My Brightest Diamond: This Is My Hand

Shara Worden offers herself on this album like wine pouring out to thee, for thee, and in doing so her persona possesses the same astronomical dimensions as any pop stars, but the direction of her work is toward gifting her listeners rather than building an image upon their devotion.

Make Me a Mother by Susanne Antonetta

Antonetta's adoption of a five-month-old Korean boy named Jin is set in the larger context of her dysfunctional family history including the challenges and joys of balancing nurture for her young son and the obligation of taking care of aging parents.

Trying to Get a Sense of Scale by Tim Lowly

This handsomely-printed art book, produced in conjunction with an exhibition of paintings by artist Tim Lowly, not only chronicles a large body of work by a distinguished practitioner, but serves as a profound, poignant journey into the meaning of life, love, identity, and beauty.

I Watched You Disappear by Anya Silver

In I Watched You Disappear, we move with Anya Krugovoy Silver as she touches and wonders the world in her poems: the pain of cancer, heft of ripe fruit, beauty of her sons legs, the heart / like a shattered peony, / musky petal after petal / unpeeling, pealing.

Tailings by Kaethe Schwehn

When she was just twenty-two, Kaethe Schwehn decided to spend the better part of a year at a remote retreat center in the Cascade Mountains known as Holden Village. What makes Tailings, Schwehn's account of this year, so compelling is a trick only the best memoirs can pull off: the doubleness of telling a story from the past through the mind of a gifted writer in the present.

The Soil & the Sun: Meridian

The Soil & the Sun is not shy about variety, nor creating bold, artful confusions of sounds. Neither are they shy about their intentions with the record, telling Paste, Meridian is about life and death, mystery, love, selfishness, God, technocracy, sorrow, the end of the world, and the fate of mankind.

The Red List by Stephen Cushman

Stephen Cushman's The Red List (another name for the Endangered Species List) dives boldly into the modern worlds wide-ranging forms of endangerment. Cushman's journey through 21st century hyper-connection leads reader and speaker through a complex landscape fragmented by anxiety, grief, and uncertainty.

Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson

Social work lit utilizes a public servant as protagonist, a police officer for example or in Henderson's book, a lonely social worker in rural Montana called Pete Snow. Snow spends his days helping broke-down families while his own family has been thrashed and tossed to the wind.

Image donors have built a formerly scrappy upstart organization into a resourceful community where world-class art can be showcased and fostered. And helpful, informative services like ImageUpdate can be provided for free.'

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My Brightest Diamond - Be Brave.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Tattooing God on makeshift lives

'I am tattooing God on their makeshift lives.
My Keystone Cops of disciples, always,
Running absurdly away, or lying ineptly,
Cutting off ears and falling into the water,
These Sancho Panzas must tread my Quixote life,
Dying ridiculous and undignified,
Flayed and stoned and crucified upside down.
They are the dear, the human, the dense, for whom
My message is. That might, had I not touched them,
Have died decent respectable upright deaths in bed.'

I've just come across U. A. Fanthorpe's brilliant poem entitled 'Getting it across'. Rachel Mann makes good use of the poem in discussing the Green Report.

I have a meditation which tiptoes on similar ground to that of Fanthorpe's poem:

unregarded

Birthplace,
least among the clans of Judea.
Home town,
a place from which no good was known to come.
In appearance,
without beauty or majesty, undesired.
In life,
despised and rejected, unrecognised and unesteemed.
In death,
made nothing.
His followers,
not wise, not influential, not noble – fools!

The light of the knowledge of the glory of God
in the bodies and form of human beings.
Light shining
through the gaps and cracks of clay pots.
Light shining
in the unexpected places, despised faces, hidden spaces.
Light shining
in the poor, the mourners, the meek, the hungry.
Light shining
in the merciful, the pure, the peacemakers.
Light shining
in the persecuted, the insulted, the falsely accused.
Light shining
in the lowly, the despised, the nonentities.
Light shining
in weakness and fear and trembling.
Light shining in the foolish followers of the King of Fools.

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Delirious? - King Of Fools.

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely

'Joseph Pearce, who himself has written articles and chapters on the political significance of Tolkien’s work, testified in his book Literary Giants, Literary Catholics, “If much has been written on the religious significance of The Lord of the Rings, less has been written on its political significance—and the little that has been written is often erroneous in its conclusions and ignorant of Tolkien’s intentions…. Much more work is needed in this area, not least because Tolkien stated, implicitly at least, that the political significance of the work was second only to the religious in its importance.”

Several books ably explore how Tolkien’s Catholic faith informed his fiction. None until now have centered on how his passion for liberty and limited government also shaped his work, or how this passion grew directly from his theological vision of man and creation.'

The Hobbit Party, by Jonathan Witt and Jay Wesley Richards, fills this void by examining Tolkien’s exploration of totalitarian power and rings of power.

Witt and Wesley Richards write, in a post at The Imaginative Conservative, that:

'Tolkien’s ring is also used to sound a warning against any grand political plan that depends on unchecked power to get things done. The novel is about many other things, of course, but it is no overstatement to say the temptation posed by the ring conveys the novel’s central political theme—that, as Lord Acton put it, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” So dangerous do the wise leaders among the free peoples of Middle-Earth consider this ring of power that they determine to risk everything in a desperate gambit to destroy the ring rather than using it against their enemy, the evil Sauron ... Tolkien, through faith in the transcendent God, understood the source of true sublimity. He also understood the source of the thirst for power for power’s sake: the desire to make of oneself a god in the place of God.'

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Howard Shore - Minas Morgul.

I find men and women struggling to answer the deepest questions we can ask freeing

'I find men and women struggling to answer the deepest questions we can ask freeing.' So said Bruce Springsteen when interviewed about his tastes in literature. I found this interview via 'The Imaginative Conservative'.

Springsteen spoke about the way that Flannery O’Connor, James M. Cain, John Cheever, Sherwood Anderson and Jim Thompson contributed greatly to the turn his music took around 1978-82:

'They brought out a sense of geography and the dark strain in my writing, broadened my horizons about what might be accomplished with a pop song and are still the cornerstone literally for what I try to accomplish today ... the short stories of Flannery O’Connor landed hard on me. You could feel within them the unknowability of God, the intangible mysteries of life that confounded her characters, and which I find by my side every day. They contained the dark Gothicness of my childhood and yet made me feel fortunate to sit at the center of this swirling black puzzle, stars reeling overhead, the earth barely beneath us.'

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Bruce Springsteen - Reason To Believe.

Christ overlooked at Christmas

This was the homily that I gave at the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols by Candlelight which we held at St John's Seven Kings last Sunday evening:

It may sound an odd thing to say at a service attended by a large number of people, but Jesus has always been overlooked at Christmas. Think about the Christmas story for a moment; Jesus spent his first night sleeping in an animal’s feeding trough because there was no room for him in the guest room of the home in Bethlehem where his family were staying, the Shepherds needed a fanfare of angels before they knew of his birth, while the Wise Men looked for him in a palace when he was actually to be found in an ordinary home. So it is no surprise that today many people still overlook the person at the heart of Christmas in the busyness of life and Christmas preparations and others overlook him by creating supposedly PC festivals like Winterval.

Jesus has always been overlooked at Christmas but one of the reasons for that is that he came to be one of us, God with us, which is what the name Emmanuel means. Born in an obscure village, working in a carpenter’s shop, never writing a book, never holding an office, never having a family or owning a house, never going to college, never travelling two hundred miles from the place where he was born. He did none of the things we usually associate with greatness. He is God become an ordinary person just like us. And therefore he is easy to overlook.

But just as the Shepherds and Wise Men did seek him out and find him, those who genuinely look for Jesus this Christmas will find him. And if you are prepared to seek him out, you will find that Jesus is the greatest gift that any of us can receive, both at Christmas and any other time in our lives.

As you listen to the story of Jesus’ birth tonight, the story will have meaning as you take it to heart. The 17th century German mystic, Angelus Silesius, warns us:

Though Christ a thousand times
In Bethlehem be born
If he’s not born in thee,
Thou art still forlorn.

If Christ is not born in you as you listen and sing, this time together will be pleasant but not life changing. But if Christ is born in you then the whole story will be transformed. It will become your story. You will be able to say:

Christ born in a stable
is born in me.
Christ accepted by shepherds
accepts me.
Christ receiving the wise men
receives me.
Christ revealed to the nations
be revealed in me.
Christ dwelling in Nazareth
You dwell in me.

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Steve Bell - Magnificat.

Sabbatical art pilgrimage: ArtServe article



The latest article based on my sabbatical art pilgrimage can be found in the Winter edition of ArtServe's magazine. The article, which is entitled 'A Tale of Two Churches', uses the story of commissions at Notre-Dame des Alpes in Le Fayet and Notre-Dame de Toute Grâce on the Plateau d'Assy to explore issues raised by the twentieth century revival in sacred art. Both churches are in the French Alps, they had the same architect, are built in a similar style and are only kilometres apart yet they represent different stages of the twentieth century’s revival of sacred art.

ArtServe promotes and supports the use of creative arts in Christian worship, including music, dance and drama, visual arts, and creative writing. ArtServe magazine is published three times a year. The latest edition also features:
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Martin Smith - Emmanuel.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Enterprise Exchange data


The Seven Kings Sophia Hub played a key role in supporting the delivery of the Enterprise Exchange project recently delivered by London Borough of Redbridge and Vision. We promoted the project widely and offered more intensive support to residents who were at the earliest stages of looking to start a business or social enterprise. Our team were always hugely enthusiastic and passionate about the work they did which fostered a really interesting and dynamic environment for delivering our Enterprise Club in the Enterprise Exchange Hub. Wherever necessary they would always refer residents on to additional support if required but had good working knowledge of what is already available and being offered within the borough.

Through analysing their data, Work Redbridge and Vision found that the majority of Enterprise Exchange members were female and most were aged between 25 and 50. This shows how many people are interested in taking control of their careers at this point of their life. Also, a significant number of members - 41% - were currently trading and 62% come from Redbridge therefore showing that the pop-up hub has been of use to the area as well.

They also asked what type of support people would like to receive from Enterprise Exchange and their data shows that 74% of members would like to receive more networking opportunities. This was closely followed by providing more resources on business support, as well as 1-1 advice.

As a result they plan to hold networking events at Redbridge Central Library - the first date for your diary is Thursday 29th January 2015 at 6pm. This will provide an opportunity to find out more about resources available both at the library and online.

If you have any ideas or suggestions for future events, please email them at businesshub@redbridge.gov.uk and don't forget to also follow them on Twitter @redbridgehub.

On the last day of the pop-up business hub, East London Radio prepared a small segment on Enterprise Exchange in their ‘All In My Business’ radio show. Please take a listen to what the public thought of Enterprise Exchange and you may also notice that some of the members also feature in the show!

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Delirious? - Find Me In The River.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Sophia Hub update

Ros Southern writes:

Our speaker at the enterprise club tomorrow (Tuesday 16th December) at 12.45 is the inspiring entrepreneur Nicky Das of Sathguru Plumbing supplies, just a few paces from St Johns. See what she is going to be talking about and how it will help your start-up business. The shop has been running for 4 years and has a community heart.

Our speaker last week was Rakesh Rootsman Rak. See the 3 big challenges he set start-ups for a sustainable and future-proofed business.

Good news about an expanding green enterprise - Recycles Ilford now added paint to bikes and more expansions being discussed. Read about it here.

Just finished our last 2014 Sophia ACE course (Active Citizens and Entrepreneurs) and its getting better and better. Read about it here. More courses will take place in 2015.

We are proud to have had such a great range of volunteer business speakers in 2014. See the list and their contact details. Thank you all so much.

Don't forget there is a market in Ilford Town Centre on 23rd December. Info here.

Just to let you know there will not be an enterprise club on 23rd but there will be one on 30th. Aidan Ward (Sophia Hubs director) will be presenting a business model that we will be encouraging start-ups to use in 2015 - the business canvas model.

Finally, please pass on the word for Rashida (due to change in business direction) that vastly reduced massage chairs are on offer.

Oh, and if you want some delicious. home made chutneys and Caribbean sauces for Christmas pressies, Lynette will have supplies at the enterprise club tomorrow. :-)

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The Jam - In The City.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Alistair John Gordon

Nigel Halliday writes on 'An Advent candle' by Alistair John Gordon in this week's Artway visual meditation.

Gordon is artist-in-residence and Gallery Manager for Husk, a café and creative space in Limehouse in East London , that has a heart for community, contemporary art and excellent coffee. This year he began as course leader for Critical and Professional Studies, a part time postgraduate course at Leith School of Art in Edinburgh . He is co-founder and director of Morphē Arts, a mentoring charity for graduate artists. He was awarded first prize in the most recent Shoosmiths Art Prize and has been selected for several other awards including the Threadneedle Prize and at Oriel Davies Gallery, Beep 2014 and The Open West 2014. He was commissioned to mark the 180th anniversary of the London City Mission. The resultant work The feet of those was a collection of small canvases each reproducing a pair of shoes, to represent both the loving labour and the diversity of LCM’s workers. It was exhibited at the Nunnery Gallery, Bow, London (September–October, 2014). His paintings are represented by the London gallery, Bearspace, where he recently held a solo exhibition.

Gordon writes:

'Notions of authenticity and illusion lie at the heart of my artistic enquiry. I find myself looking for evidence of ‘the real thing’. I look for evidence of the artists process before and after a work is completed. Artists materials such as masking tape and paper are rendered in paint to appear as taped or pinned on a wooden surface, a practice that refers to a specific form of illusionism that proliferated in 17th century Northern Europe called quodlibet (what you will). As Jean Baudrillard wrote in The System of Objects: “We are fascinated by what has been created…because the moment of creation cannot be reproduced.”'

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Curtis Mayfield - We The People Who Are Darker Than Blue.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Dementia Awareness


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Sam Phillips - I Need Love.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

The last film in The Hobbit trilogy is by far the best because it shares the elegiac mythic qualities of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. After watching the first film in the trilogy, I criticised Peter Jackson for his decision to tell the story of The Hobbit as a prelude to The Lord of the Rings rather than as a story in its own right. That decision gave an uncertain quality to the first film with the film makers unsure as to whether to emphasise the lighter nature of The Hobbit itself or to continue the mythic feel of The Lord of the Rings. In this final film, there is no such uncertainty and the elegiac nature of the film fits the content closely with its theme of the seductions of wealth and power.

As Peter Bradshaw wrote in The Guardian:

'Peter Jackson has pulled it off. He has successfully concluded his outrageously steroidal inflation of Tolkien’s Hobbit into a triple-decker Middle Earth saga equivalent to the Rings trilogy, and made it something terrifically exciting and spectacular, genial and rousing, with all the cheerful spirit of Saturday morning pictures. And if poor, bemused little Bilbo Baggins now looks a bit lost on this newly enlarged action-fantasy canvas – well, he raises his game as well, leavening the mix with some unexpectedly engaging and likable drama. The Battle of the Five Armies is at least as weighty as The Return of the King. It packs a huge chain-mailed punch and lands a resounding mythic stonk. But it’s less conceited, more accessible and it makes do with just the one ending.'

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Billy Boyd - The Last Goodbye.

Windows on the world (321)


France, 2014

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Leonard Cohen - My Oh My.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Vigil remembrance


Here is the remembrance presentation from Wednesday's Vigil Service for victims of knife crime at St John's Seven Kings.

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Take That - Rule The World.

Christian Aid Partnership Project sermon



Israel and Palestine are places of contrasts. Three of the world’s religions claim holy ancestry here. Christians, Jews and Muslims worship alongside one another as signposts which point to church, mosque and synagogue in Acco or Acre indicate. The view of the skyline in Nazareth shows the dome of the Greek Roman Catholic Church alongside the minaret of the White Mosque. Both claim to be built on the site of the original synagogue in Nazareth. In Hebron, at the Tombs of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, a mosque and synagogue are located within the same building.

All of this worship is centred on Jerusalem and on the Old City in particular. Jews worship at the Western Wall, the remains of the Temple built by Herod, Christians walk in the footsteps of Jesus on the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Muslims pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount.

All this was occurring during our recent visit to the Holy Land made as part of a tour organised by the East London Three Faiths Forum. However, as we travelled we were also inevitably aware of various signs of tensions between the faiths and tensions within the faiths such as, for example, the ladder on a ledge outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre left where it is as it cannot be moved without the agreement of all the denominations represented in this church.

Bullet holes in street signs indicated past conflicts, as did war memorials and live mines in the Golan Heights. There were armoured vehicles outside our hotel in Jerusalem and at the Tombs of the Patriarchs in Hebron. A missile launcher was located above the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem and soldiers were on the streets in the Old City and in Hebron.

To reach Bethlehem we passed through the security wall or separation barrier which Israel began building in 2002 to cut itself off from the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This was justified as a response to violence and has stopped most of the suicide bombings which were then occurring regularly. The barrier has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis facing the Palestinian people, has annexed land and divided communities but, most of all, has come to symbolise the divide between the two peoples at the heart of the Middle East crisis.

Movement within – and in and out of – the West Bank is controlled by 540 Israeli checkpoints, roadblocks, earth mounds and gates, plus an average 100 ‘flying checkpoints’ on Palestinian roads every week. Checkpoints, roadblocks, the separation barrier, earth mounds and a Kafkaesque permit system are the daily reality for Palestinians. The Gaza Strip is largely cut off, while obstacles in the West Bank have created isolated enclaves that sever economic ties, separate communities and deny Palestinians access to some fifty per cent of the land.

In the West Bank, illegal Israeli settlements take up Palestinian land and water resources and create restrictions on movement that impede Palestinian access to education, healthcare and employment, as well as restricting the economy – all contributing to poverty.

In Acco we saw these ‘Not for Sale’ signs in an Arab area of the City. Our guide explained that the Orthodox buy homes in Arab or secular Israeli areas and then begin to impose the Mosaic Law in ways that eventually force the original occupiers of the area to move out. Arab and secular Israeli’s have, therefore, begun making agreements in their communities not to sell to Orthodox families.

At least 65 per cent of Palestinians were living below the poverty line in 2007, compared to 54 per cent in 2005 and 20 per cent in 1998. As we walked through the Old City in Hebron relative levels of poverty were clear when compared with similar markets elsewhere.

The confiscation of land, the expansion of Israeli settlements and the building of the separation barrier all create facts of the ground which exacerbate poverty and undermine the whole notion of a viable Palestinian state.

Our tour of the Holy Land ended at Yad Vashem. Established in 1953, as the world center for documentation, research, education and commemoration of the Holocaust, Yad Vashem safeguards the memory of the past and imparts its meaning for future generations.

The Holocaust was the murder by Nazi Germany of six million Jews. While the Nazi persecution of the Jews began in 1933, the mass murder was committed during World War II. It took the Germans and their accomplices four and a half years to murder six million Jews. Most of the Jews of Europe were dead by 1945. A civilization that had flourished for almost 2,000 years was no more.

The survivors, dazed, emaciated, bereaved beyond measure, gathered the remnants of their vitality and the remaining sparks of their humanity, and rebuilt. They never meted out justice to their tormentors – for what justice could ever be achieved after such a crime? Rather, they turned to rebuilding: new families forever under the shadow of those absent; new life stories, forever warped by the wounds; new communities, forever haunted by the loss. As a quote displayed at Yad Veshem states, ‘From among the horror grew another morality, another love, another compassion. These grew wild – no one gave them a name.’

So, just as we must denounce the sufferings of the Holocaust, we must also denounce the sufferings for Palestinians which have followed the political response to the Holocaust, the establishment of the state of Israel.

As a group of Christians, Jews and Muslims travelling harmoniously to tour our holy sites together, the East London Three Faiths Forum is a sign that peace and understanding across the faiths can be achieved. We pray therefore not for Arab or Jew, for Palestinian or Israeli, but pray rather for ourselves, that we might not divide them in our prayers but keep them both together in our hearts.

Christian Aid has been working with the poorest people in the region since the early 1950s, when they first provided help to Palestinian refugees. Today they are working with more than 20 Israeli and Palestinian organisations to protect human rights, access to services and resources, and to build peace based on justice for all.

This includes a project which has provided Palestinian families with video cameras, as well as surveillance cameras for those under threat from the settlers breaking into their homes and physically and verbally abusing them. To protect one family, a Christian Aid partner built a metal ‘cage’ around their home to protect them from physical abuse. The mother says; ‘The camera makes life better for us, it stops the settlers. For example, if I film them, they are more careful, or they run away.’

In Lebanon and the West Bank, there are approximately 500,000 people living with disabilities. Practical difficulties, discrimination and outdated attitudes towards people with disabilities prevent them from fully participating in society and the workplace. The Christian Aid partnership project which we have been supporting here at St John's Seven Kings, delivered in partnership with the Lebanese Physically Handicapped Union (LPHU) and the East Jerusalem YMCA, is directly benefiting 30,000 people living in Lebanon and the West Bank over its three-year lifetime. Its wider impact will improve prospects for many thousands more and continue to make a difference into the future. The money we are donating to this project helps to: provide training and careers guidance for people living with disabilities; improve job prospects for people living with disabilities; improve working conditions, including workplace adaptation; increase awareness of issues people living with disabilities face – particularly among employers; and improve the laws that protect the rights of people living with disabilities. The EU is match funding this project three times over – meaning that the £5,000 we are raising will transform into £20,000 for people living with disabilities in Lebanon and the West Bank. Today was our final opportunity at St John's Seven Kings to give towards this project.

The Palestinian-Israeli situation today shows the futility of violence, where endless repression and resistance feed off each other. As Banksy's powerful images in Bethlehem suggest, in the Middle East the dove of peace has to wear a bullet-proof vest. From this cycle of repression and violence, conflict and provocation, come the bitter fruits of poverty. Action – including the support of projects like the Christian Aid partnership project - is urgently needed to break this cycle of diminishing hope.

As Naim Ateek, director of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre in Jerusalem, has said: ‘Both nations must “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God”. Once those biblical demands of justice have been satisfied, a good measure of peace will be achieved. The result will then be a new and deeper security enjoyed by all throughout the land.’ So may we pray, as Psalm 122 encourages us, for the peace of Jerusalem, recognizing its impact throughout Israel and Palestine and on all who view it as a holy city.

A prayer for justice and peace in the land of the Holy One: Living Lord, ignite in us a passion for justice and a yearning to right all wrong. Strengthen us to work for peace in the land we call Holy: for peace among Jew, Christian and Muslim, for reconciliation between communities, for harmony between faiths. Inspire us to act with the urgency of your quickening fire, for blessed are the peacemakers they shall be called the children of God. (Ramani Leathard, Trustee, Amos Trust)

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Windows on the world (320)


France, 2014

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Tom Petty - Learnin' To Fly.

Christmas message

I write this having just returned from the Holy Land (as part of a trip organised by the East London Three Faiths Forum) and, therefore, having recently visited Bethlehem.

To reach Bethlehem today it is necessary to pass through the separation wall which the Israeli Government erected in 2002 between Israel and the West Bank. The Israeli West Bank barrier is a 400-mile long network of high walls, electronic fences, gates and trenches which Israel claims has stopped suicide bombings and the Palestinian's claim has annexed large tracts of land.

A Christmas card depicts the Holy Family unable to reach Bethlehem because they have been stopped by this wall, while a Nativity set has been produced with the wall running through it separating wise men and camels from the crib. Although tourists and pilgrims continue to visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in their thousands on a daily basis, it seems that we have not heard the message which the angels sang before Jesus’ birth of peace on earth.

Steve Turner's poem ‘History Lesson’ says:

‘History repeats itself.
Has to.
No-one listens.’

It is one thing to celebrate Christmas and another to visit Bethlehem itself but what really matters is to hear the song of peace that the angels sang announcing Jesus’ birth as the Prince of Peace. He came, through his death on the cross, to remove walls of separation between human beings and to return all people to relationship with God. It is only when we know this peace, which passes understanding, in our hearts, minds and relationships that we have truly taken on board the Christmas message.

Jesus, through his birth, life, death and resurrection, calls us to be peacemakers. It is, therefore, appropriate that St John’s Seven Kings has been fundraising over the past two years for a Christian Aid Partnership Project which supports people living with disabilities in Lebanon and the West Bank through new employment or business opportunities. These are provided by the Lebanese Physically Handicapped Union and the East Jerusalem YMCA. This project seeks to work across divisions to provide help to those most in need and we need a final fundraising push this Christmas to complete our support of this project.

It may be that contributing to this project will be your way of hearing afresh the Christmas message of peace on earth.

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Steve Bell - Magnificat.