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Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Discover & explore: Beauty


“Beauty will save the world.” Fyodor Dostoevsky coined the phrase which was later borrowed by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn ‘to set the theme of his Nobel Lecture in 1970.’ Roger Scruton has written extensively about how aesthetics—and beauty in particular—enlarges our vision of humanity, helps us find meaning in our lives, and provides knowledge of our world’s intrinsic values. Most recently, Gregory Wolfe has used the phrase for the title of his recent book, Beauty Will Save the World: Recovering the Human in an Ideological Age, the theme of which is the importance of an aesthetic understanding for sustaining a civilized culture.’

Yet the proverb 'Beauty is in the eye of the beholder' suggests that there is a problem with our understandings of beauty i.e. that our understanding of it entirely subjective. Collective ideas of beauty can be formed, yet these can also be iniquitous, as with ’size zero’ in the fashion industry and the way in which that perception of beauty pressurises people into anorexia and bulimia.

The Guide to the Guildhall Art Gallery’s collection suggests that in many respects the Victorian period has defined our contemporary notions of beauty. It notes that: ‘Victorian painters set out to capture and redefine ideals of female beauty. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, founded in 1848, played a central role in promoting a new canon of beauty … Founder member Dante Gabriel Rossetti coined the term ‘stunner’ to describe enchanting women he met and usually convinced to pose for his paintings. From the 1860s, he embarked on a series of ‘subjectless’ sensual depictions of women … developing a new aesthetic of beauty, exemplified by La Ghirlandata (1873). This new style anticipated the Aesthetic Movement which was characterised by a departure from storytelling and a focus on the ‘Cult of Beauty’, sometimes drawing on religious imagery to convey the power of women’s looks.’

The Bible celebrates human beauty in the Song of Solomon and the beauty of creation in Psalms such as 8 and 19, where the sense that the natural world reflects to glory or beauty of God is celebrated. Ultimately, however, a very different perception of beauty is celebrated in scripture as a result of Christ’s incarnation and crucifixion. This different perception can be found exemplified in the history of Christian Art.

‘The most ancient representations of Jesus in human form can be found in the catacombs of Rome and in the church of Dura Europos, a town on the right bank of the Euphrates. There Jesus is represented as a youthful-looking “good shepherd” … with a round face, … beardless, and with short hair … he wears the upper-class clothes of that time … like a young patrician … The fact that he is made to look handsome is sometimes said to be for apologetic reasons.’

However, under ‘the influence of St. Bernard of Clairvaux and St. Francis of Assisi it was the earthly Jesus in his suffering who captured the attention of the devout … The late Middle Ages were dominated by … [images of] the suffering Christ … the Man of Sorrows, who in his suffering became like us … On the Isenheim altar at Colmar, Matthias Grünewald depicted, in a deeply moving and shocking manner, a hideously tormented man on a cross (finished in ca. 1516), which especially calls to mind … contemporary Latin American counterparts, where in numerous instances the tortured are pictured hanging on a cross.’ (A. Wessels, ‘Images of Jesus’, SCM Press 1990)

As part of my sabbatical art pilgrimage last year I visited churches linked to images of the crucifixion by Albert Servaes, Germaine Richier and Graham Sutherland which viewed Christ’s sacrifice as emblematic of human suffering in conflict and persecution. These were controversial as they challenged sentimental images of Christ and deliberately introduced ugliness into beautiful buildings. Servaes and Richier were both affected by decrees from the holy office which led to the removal of their artworks from the churches for which they had been commissioned. Servaes, with his Stations of the Cross and altarpiece for the Carmelite Chapel in Luithagen and Richier, with her crucifix for the church of Notre-Dame de Toute Grâce at Assy.

Their work, like that of Grünewald and contemporary Latin American artists, demonstrates that the centrality of an instrument of torture – the Cross – to Christianity and the perception of the suffering Christ as despised, rejected and unesteemed challenge the perceptions of beauty that we have inherited from the Victorians. In Christianity, beauty is found in the selfless love of Christ expressed most powerfully in the ugliness of crucifixion.

As a result, Christianity can find common ground with contemporary art which finds beauty in the throw-away, the ready-made, the hidden or disregarded. As just one example, American Beauty screenwriter Alan Ball uncovers heart-breaking beauty in garbage with a scene in which a plastic bag dances as it floats in the wind above a dirty sidewalk. His central character says as he views this scene that this beautiful moment made him aware of an ‘incredibly benevolent force’ behind things that wanted him to know that there is no reason to be afraid, ever.

Charles Williams suggests, in The Descent of the Dove, that the incarnation, because it is not simply about God taking on flesh but also about our humanity being taken into God, is the ultimate affirmative act. This is based on the understanding that nothing is lost and everything can be redeemed. All experience and all images are ultimately to be gathered in to God and, in this sense, the beauty found in the selfless giving of the incarnation and crucifixion really will save the world.

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The Hastings College Choir - Fairest Lord Jesus.

Feast of the Transfiguration: Choral Evensong & Garden Party

St Stephen Walbrook is to hold a Festal Evensong on Thursday 6th August at 6.00pm for the Feast of the Transfiguration. The setting for service, sung by the St Stephen Walbrook Choir, will be Stanford in Bb and the anthem will be 'Jubilate Deo' by Benjamin Britten.

The service will be followed by a Garden Party at which wine and snacks will be served and you are encouraged to bring guests with you. There is no charge for the event but, for purposes of catering, we do need to know if you are coming so please let us know in one of the following ways: by email: send an email to office@ststephenwalbrook.net; by telephone: 020 7626 9000; or by post: The Administrator, St Stephen's Church, 39 Walbrook, London EC4N 8BN.

The choir that sings every Thursday for Eucharist at St Stephen Walbrook is a consort of four professional singers led by Choir Director, Emma Corke. They sing an unaccompanied mass setting, generally of the seventeenth century, and a motet (as well as a congregational hymn). Emma Corke joined the choir of St Stephen's in 1997, becoming Choir Director in 2002. She has also sung with the Oratory Choir and the BBC Singers. Our organist, Joe Sentance has been associated with St Stephen Walbrook since 1987 as well as having been Master of Music at the Chapels Royal, H.M.Tower of London and Director of Music at Sherborne Abbey. 

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Benjamin Britten - Jubilate Deo.


Sunday, 26 July 2015

Lived in squares, painted in circles and loved in triangles

The Observer suggests that this summer bigger crowds than usual are set to travel up the long driveway to see the decorated furniture, flamboyant fabrics and wall paintings of Charleston, the Sussex home once shared by artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, where key scenes in the lavish BBC2 drama Life in Squares were filmed. Also on the tourist trail will be Monks House at nearby Rodmell, where Virginia and Leonard Woolf lived, and Berwick church, which the group decorated at the request of Bishop George Bell.

I visited Berwick Church as part of my sabbatical art pilgrimage and my report of this visit can be read by clicking here. This commission was the first time in the twentieth century in the UK that a modern artist of national standing undertook a complete decorative scheme for an historic rural church. Bell and others involved believed that if the project was successful, 'it would stimulate demand for commissions in churches all over the country to alleviate the plight of many artists.'

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Frédéric Chopin - Concerto pour piano n° 2 (Larghetto).

Joseph Cornell: Aesthetic experience as a manifestation of spirit

'From a basement in New York, Joseph Cornell channelled his limitless imagination into some of the most original art of the 20th century.' 

'Wanderlust at the RA brings together 80 of Cornell’s most remarkable boxes, assemblages, collages and films, some never before seen outside the USA. Entirely self-taught, the independence of Cornell’s creative voice won the admiration of artists from Marcel Duchamp and the Surrealists, to Robert Motherwell and the Abstract Expressionists, with echoes of his work felt in Pop and Minimalist art.

Wanderlust is a long overdue celebration of an incomparable artist, a man the New York Times called “a poet of light; an architect of memory-fractured rooms and a connoisseur of stars, celestial and otherwise.”'

When he was in his twenties, Joseph Cornell learned about Christian Science and became a devout follower of the religion, as he believed it had cured him of recurring stomach ailments.

Richard Vine notes that 'the teachings of Christian Science and membership of the Christian Science church "provided Cornell ... with a clarity essential to his sanity and his art - the certainty, despite everyday trials and confusions, of ultimate cosmic harmony within the all-encompassing Mind of God."'

Sandra Leonard Starr writes that Cornell 'begins with the finite reality of the object, proves the unreality of it and our seeing it as such, and arrives at a statement of aesthetic experience as a manifestation of spirit.'

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Al Green - How Great Thou Art.

Discover & explore: Original & peaceful


Here is a selection of the feedback we have received on the 'Discover & explore' service series at St Stephen Walbrook, which has been organised in partnership with St Martin-in-the-Fields and the Guildhall Art Gallery:
  • Both the songs and the reflection were excellent;
  • Beautiful music; the readings were long and meaty! The whole liturgy was good;
  • Everything about the service;
  • Many things – clear and relevant theme, lively pace & variety & beautiful music. Also friendly welcome; 
  • Very inspiring message and hymns;
  • It was like a little jewel with a number of facets drawing us in and lighting our path;
  • I enjoyed the Taize. The music was beautiful. Everything was so carefully chosen for theme of today;
  • Focus combined with brevity – effective and to the point;
  • Thought provoking. Enjoyed the musical part of the service very much and the reflection;
  • The theme and the length and the timing;
  • Spiritual food in the middle of the day. Lovely choir;
  • Beautiful music, as ever, and wonderful readings. I feel strengthened by it. Thank you;
  • Good music and sermon; 
  • Readings – especially enjoyed the first reading, and the involvement of the excellent readers. Music. Reflection. Opportunity to think/engage with the topic;
  • It’s originality;
  • Each part elided into the next, giving a warm whole;
  • That it had a unifying theme. The choir – especially the Rutter piece. The thoughtprovoking sermon.
  • · All the settings;
  • The Choral Scholars and the music and singing;
  • The music was wonderful. The service was also thoughtful; 
  • All of it - peacefulness;
  • The relevance and resonance of the intercessions.

Thanks to Sonia Solicari we also explored the themes through an excellent guided tour of the Guildhall Art Gallery's Victorian Collection.


All are welcome for the final service in the series which is on Monday (1.10pm - 1.50pm) and is on the theme of Beauty. Click herehereherehere, here and here for reflections from previous services on the themes of faith, home, love, work, imagination and leisure.

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Exhibitions at St Martin-in-the-Fields

About A Strand by Lewis Phillips (until Sunday 9 August) is based on the different extremes of life revolving around one of London’s major streets. The Strand is home to some of the world’s most famous landmarks, The Royal Courts of Justice, The Savoy, Somerset House along with elite restaurants and shops.

It is also home to some of the poorest people in the UK including some of the 5,000 people living homeless on the streets of London. This photographic essay depicts the huge diversity of the area from the high flyers to the poor who use the streets as a sanctuary for survival.

The exhibition subjects have shared their stories of success and struggle through their words and photographs. The project is hard-hitting but there it also shows the triumphs of people digging their way out of drug and alcohol abuse, mental health problems and long term unemployment in order to move on with their lives.

In addition, from the 7 August a stunning exhibition of art and photographs by homeless people who use The Connection’s services will be on display in the Crypt at St Martin’s.

It's a show not to be missed, so come down with friends and family and enjoy an immense range of creative talent on display. Some art will be available for sale and proceeds will support The Connection's services.

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Gavin Bryars Feat. Tom Waits - Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Seeking meaning and significance

This was my sermon for last Thursday's Eucharist at St Stephen Walbrook, which can also be heard on the London Internet Church website:

Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist who is best known for creating a hierarchy of needs. ‘This is a theory of psychological health predicated on fulfilling innate human needs in priority, culminating in self-actualization.’ At the bottom of the hierarchy are the basic needs of human beings; needs for food, water, sleep and sex. Maslow’s model works as a hierarchy because a pressing need must be mostly satisfied before someone will give their attention to the next highest need, which includes our need for our lives to be given meaning and significance.

The stories of the feeding of the four thousand and the five thousand are stories of Jesus meeting the basic needs of the people with him but are also stories about that action having a deeper level of meaning and significance.

The people who were with Jesus had been with him in the wilderness for three days without any significant supplies of food. While some may have brought small supplies of food with them, in essence they had been fasting for much of the time Jesus had been teaching them and, for those of you who have visited the Holy Land, you will know that the Wilderness is unforgiving terrain in which to be without sustenance.

Jesus is concerned for these people and, out of compassion, meets their basic need for food in that testing environment but, just as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs suggests that once our basic needs have been met then our needs for meaning and significance come into play, Jesus’ actions here also have a deeper level of meaning, if we and they are alert to it.

We can see this if we think for a moment about the outline of this story and the extent to which it reminds us of another story. A group of Israelites are in the wilderness and are hungry because they have too little to eat. In response God provides them with bread to eat. That is the outline of the feeding of the four thousand but it is also, in essence, the story of God providing manna in the wilderness to the Israelites when Moses led them from Egypt to the Promised Land. The similarity is deliberate, whether on the part of Jesus or Mark, because through this action Jesus is seen as the new Moses for the people of Israel.

Following the parallels between these two stories through means that the people of Israel are to be seen as being in slavery once again – whether that meant the political oppression of their Roman conquerors or, as St Paul suggests, under the bondage of sin. The Exodus – the salvation of the people of Israel - began with the death of firstborn sons and, in the story of Jesus, our salvation comes through the death of God’s only Son. Jesus leads his people through water – in the original Exodus that was the path through the Red Sea, but, for Jesus’ followers, it is the rite of baptism. They go on a journey through the wilderness – where, as we have seen, they are fed and provided for – and end their journey when they enter the Promised Land – which Jesus spoke about as being the kingdom of God that he initiated but which is still to come in full.

The parallels are plenteous and very close as the people of Jesus’ day were intended to view him as the new Moses. At this deeper level of meaning and significance it is possible, from this one action, to understand the whole of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

God is also at work in our lives to bring and to reveal meaning, purpose, shape and significance to our lives too, if we are alert to this deeper level of life and our not solely focused on the meeting of our basic needs. We all have a need and a desire for there to be more to our lives than simply the survival of the fittest; the scramble to meet our basic needs. As Maslow’s hierarchy of needs recognises, when we are in genuine need and poverty, it is very difficult to think about anything else other than survival. But, when we are in the fortunate position of having our basic needs met, we have the time and space and inclination to look around us to see the way in which God can bring meaning, significance and purpose into our lives; with that purpose including the development of a compassion, like that of Jesus, which sees the needs of those whose basic needs are not being met and responds to that by sharing at least some of what we have.

Your life is not simply about having enough to survive; the meeting of your basic needs. God wants you to see a deeper level of meaning, significance, shape and purpose to your life. Are you open to see the meaning and significance that he brings or does a focus of getting prevent you from seeing and receiving what he is already giving?

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Delirious? - Now is the Time.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Windows on the world (350)


London, 2015

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Michael McDermott - A Wall I Must Climb.

Armageddon: Mariano Chelo

Rather late in the day, as the exhibition is over, but here is my review of Armageddon at ArtMoorHouse:

Armageddon has begun in the City of London. The countdown to Apocalypse is over and an existential explosion has covered the ground floor walls of Moor House in Moorgate.

Mariano Chelo, from Bosa in Sardinia, is an abstract, installation and performance artist who founded MAP (Movementi Artistici Periferici), a gallery/workshop where he has exhibited his own and other artists’ works. While he has shown work internationally, this is his first solo show in the UK. In his work Chelo has journeyed from traditional beginnings – landscapes, still life and figure studies – through a period of collaboration with advertising agencies - as he abandoned painting for photography and graphic design in the 1980s – to the extravagant expressionism of his current abstractions and action painting performances.

Armageddon features paintings formed out of darkness. Beginning with inky blacks swirled and dripped and covered in the sheen and shimmer of varnish, these are works exploring the emotions of an underworld – physical or personal, in which a limited palette of colours, under pressure, boil and churn to rise in spurts and splurges of volcanic red. ‘Illusione Russo’ is split by a jet-black crevice from which beautiful surges of fiery oranges and reds flow to fill the canvas. ‘Confusamente Russo’ and ‘Russo’ fill their canvasses with the flicker and flare of flame.

Fire is, therefore, one motif Chelo uses for the experience of personal and social Armageddon. Water is another. Biblical motifs underpin much musing generally on apocalypse and Chelo, while not foregrounding Biblical references, certainly has images of deluge and flood within his frame. ‘Oblivion’, in particular, evokes - in blues, blacks and whites - the submerging of our world and consciousness. He ends the show more peacefully, using blacks, greys and whites, by depicting the stillness of the sea in evocative works (‘Mare’ and ‘Mare II’) which divide at the horizon as we are enveloped in darkness by the setting of the sun.

Chelo maintains a balance throughout between the personal, the natural and the social in these works. It could be personal and cultural apocalypse that we are viewing. At times, his shapes suggest cityscapes or caverns yet, here too, our perceptions can be both of physical chaos and of the collapse of our interior world. As the exhibition catalogue suggests, this sequence of images is a migration ‘through a deep dark sea’, ‘a “passage” towards the unexplored, a metaphor to express our inability to fully know the result of our quests.’

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Extreme - Politicalamity.

Sabbatical art pilgrimage: Latest ArtWay report

My latest Church of the Month report for ArtWay focuses on Notre-Dame de Toute Grâce, Plateau d’Assy. 'Planned as a showcase for the value of modern church commissions, the Dominican-inspired church of Notre-Dame de Toute Grâce in Plateau d’Assy (or Assy), France, elicited diverse reactions of praise and condemnation when it was consecrated in August 1950. Many hoped it would set off a renaissance of sacred art in Europe, but others disapproved strongly of its commissioning of secular artists.'

This Church of the Month report follows on from others about Aylesford Priory, Canterbury Cathedral, Chapel of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, Hem, Chelmsford Cathedral, Lumen, Notre Dame du Léman, Romont, Sint Martinuskerk Latem, St Aidan of LindisfarneSt Alban Romford and St Mary the Virgin, Downe, as well as earlier reports of visits to sites associated with Marian Bohusz-Szyszko, Marc Chagall, Jean Cocteau, Antoni Gaudi and Henri Matisse.

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Paramore - Ain't It Fun.

Update: Sophia Hub Redbridge

Ros Southern writes:

'Hi there,

Please do come to our Timebank social and induction on Tuesday evening - 28th. Info here. It's going to be very enjoyable plus very practical.

The Ilford community market from 2-8th August is definitely worth booking a stall! Fantastic trading opportunity. Info here

There's a business adviser at Ilford Library (open to all Redbridge of course) every Wednesday. Must be booked. Info here.

There will be an enterprise club on Tuesday but I have not found a speaker! Keep the date and I will update you. Info on enterprise club here. Get in touch if you have a suggestion.

A Redbridge social enterprise Inspired By Sports are having a launch of a new arm a clothing range - read the Director Jeffrey Nkrumah's blog here .

A Redbridge arts/events start-up Kim Judge has opened a fantastic art exhibition in the Cauliflower pub. She plans to find spaces all around the borough for local artists. Info here.

Our Director Aidan Ward has written a blog about what Sophia Hubs means by 'economic community development'. Please read it! You can find out what makes us tick and get excited by the vision! :)

My campaign for Independent retailer month seems to have come to nothing but there's still time to take an Indie Selfie! Click here if you want to help a campaign take off in the last week!

I am currently looking for contacts and opportunities to support start-ups in Hainault area. If you want to help or have ideas please do get in touch.

And don't forget it's the Chambers breakfast this coming Tuesday. Info here

More guest bloggers always welcome.

Best wishes,

Ros Southern
Coordinator, Sophia Hubs Seven Kings
M: 07707 460309 T: 0208 590 2568 (answerphone)
ros.southern@sophiahubs.com'

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Blondie - Union City Blue.

Start:Stop - Pastors to our colleagues and customers.


Bible reading: John 10. 1-10

“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

Meditation

Security issues and dealing with thefts are often a standard part of doing ministry in churches. The theft of lead from roofs has at times been a constant worry and a recent press article covered the finding of a stash of items taken from churches, many of which could not be traced back to their original location. In this reading, Jesus could almost have been a PCSO giving us security advice with this story which is, as usual with Jesus, drawn from the working life of his own day.

The sheepfold was the place of safety for the sheep; a place of rest during the darkness of the night where intentions could be disguised and thieves were at work. In the light of the day when people could be seen for what they were, there was no need to remain in the safety of the sheepfold and the sheep would follow their shepherd out from the fold to pasture.

In the course of John 10, Jesus describes himself both as the way in to the safety of the sheepfold and as the shepherd that the sheep know and trust to take them out to pasture. Jesus has the best interests of the sheep at heart providing safety and pasture in contrast to the thieves who come only to steal, kill and destroy. So, this is a pastoral story about providing pastoral care.

All work is to some extent pastoral. Even when we are not in the specifically caring professions, we still have a pastoral responsibility towards colleagues, team members, partners etc. So, are we legit or are we thieves? In other words, is our work focused on the nurture and care of those with whom we have contact or are we out to fleece them?

Prayer

Jesus, you are the good Shepherd leading us to pasture; may we seek to nurture those in our care. May our conversation be positive and uplifting. May we provide prompts, encouragement and ideas for personal development and change. May we encourage others in the use and development of their skills and abilities.

Focus our work on the nurture and care of those with whom we have contact. Make us pastors to our colleagues and customers.

Jesus, you are the way in to safety and salvation; may we seek to protect those in our care. May we do all we can to create secure environments in our workplaces from concern for health and safety to openness and honesty which enables others to voice what they are thinking and feeling.

Focus our work on the nurture and care of those with whom we have contact. Make us pastors to our colleagues and customers.

Jesus, you give to us life in all its fullness; may our work enhance the lives of others. Make us more aware of those for whom we work, their needs and services we provide to them. Make us those who provide services with a high level of customer care which maintains good relations.

Focus our work on the nurture and care of those with whom we have contact. Make us pastors to our colleagues and customers.

Blessing

Giving and receiving nurture and care, creating safe spaces, maintaining good relations and receiving life in all its fullness. May those blessings of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, rest upon you and remain with you always. Amen.

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Luxury - To You Who Gave Me Hope And Were My Light.


Discover & explore: Leisure


The recent announcement in the Budget of plans to allow larger stores to open for longer on Sundays by giving local authorities powers to relax national law on Sunday trading has reignited debate about the place of rest in what has become a 24-7 society.

Witold Rybczynski suggests, in his book Waiting for the Weekend, that there is conceptual confusion in our society about what leisure is. ‘Leisure,’ he suggests, is the most misunderstood word in our vocabulary. Kathleen Norris has said that we are ‘free,’ it seems, to have anything but a nurturing leisure. We know this because ‘I have so little time,’ is our frequently heard lament.

Paul Heintzman, in his book on Leisure and Spirituality, has described how: ‘In preindustrial societies, time was viewed cyclically; that is, time was rooted in the rhythms of the natural world. People’s lives revolved around sunrise and sunset, the change of seasons, and the planting and harvesting of crops. They were unlikely to separate work and leisure within their daily life, and the demands of work were often lightened by songs and storytelling … As a result, notions of work and leisure blended together.

The Industrial Revolution (1760–1830), however, changed everything … Work was situated in space at the factory and structured in time as the worker had to be at the work place at a certain time to perform work duties. Facilitated by the development of clocks, work could be assigned to specific times, and work time could be measured precisely. Time began to be viewed mechanically, and this linear notion of time began to influence and change people’s understanding of leisure. Time away from work was free of the often unpleasant demands of the workspace, so it was called “free time.”’

The Guildhall Art Gallery’s Guide to its Collection adds to this picture that ‘Prior to the nineteenth century, the concept of leisure had been reserved for the aristocracy.’ The Victorian period ‘saw an unprecedented upsurge in leisure pursuits among all classes of society. This ‘Leisure Revolution’ was possible due to the increased availability of some disposable income and free time.’ Paintings in the Guildhall Art Gallery depict some of these newly accessible activities such as pubs, music hall, public parks, sports clubs, museums, day trip to the seaside and boating plus country walking expeditions.

Giles Fraser, in a piece responding to the Budget announcement, argues that these developments have resulted in shopping having now become our leisure experience par excellence and, more than that, our religion. In counteracting that development he suggests going back to Biblical understandings of rest. Paul Heintzman agrees and quotes a textbook of leisure education which notes that ‘the church has many thousands of years’ experience in helping people from all social strata find life and find it more abundantly.’

Our reading from Hebrews states that ‘a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labours as God did from his.’ While Psalm 23 promises the restoration our soul in green pastures and beside still waters leading to our dwelling in the house of the Lord our whole life long. The principle of Sabbath rest is reflective of the Old Testament idea of a rhythm to life which supports a view of leisure as non-work time or activity that refreshes and restores, while the concept of rest as being reflective of the quality of life offered in Jesus Christ provides support for the view of leisure as a state-of-being. Josef Pieper, a twentieth-century Roman Catholic theologian and philosopher has defined leisure as “a mental and spiritual attitude . . . a condition of the soul . . . a receptive attitude of mind, a contemplative attitude” in his book Leisure: The Basis of Culture.

However, we also need to consider Biblical understandings of rest in relation to society and not just as individuals. Giles Fraser explains that in the Bible ‘the seventh day of the week corresponded to the seventh day of creation, when God rested – and from this derives: 1) rest on the seventh day; 2) rest for the land on the seventh year …; and 3) the forgiveness of all debts – the jubilee – on the seventh times seventh year.’ This last is the big one, he writes, ‘the so-called “year of the Lord’s favour”. It’s what the Jubilee Debt Campaign referred back to when it called for the eradication of developing-world debt. It’s also what Jesus refers to in his very first sermon: “I come to bring good news to the poor, freedom to the captive … and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

‘The jubilee is not debt-restructuring. It’s out-and-out, full-on debt forgiveness.’ Jesus appropriates this concept to himself and his ministry, saying that it is fulfilled through his life, ministry, death and resurrection. He gives us a vision of a world in which the forgiveness and rest which he makes available extends across the whole of human society. This is the Sabbath rest which is still to come and connects to the Isaiah vision of a future society that we explored in relation to the theme of Home.

In the meantime, Leland Ryken has helpfully written in Redeeming the Time: A Christian Approach to Work and Leisure, that ‘All leisure . . . is a gift from God that, when used wisely, “provides rest, relaxation, enjoyment, and physical and psychic health. It allows people to recover the distinctly human values, to build relationships, to strengthen family ties, and to put themselves in touch with the world and nature. Leisure can lead to wholeness, gratitude, self-expression, self-fulfilment, creativity, personal growth, and a sense of achievement. So leisure should be valued and not despised.’

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W.H. Davies - Leisure.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Sculpture in the City 2015

The popular public art exhibition, Sculpture in the City, returns this summer with a selection of contemporary art pieces in and around the Square Mile.

Sculpture in the City is a unique collaboration between the City of London Corporation (the elected body which looks after the Square Mile global business district around St Paul’s), local businesses and the art world, providing the opportunity to engage new audiences with established and emerging contemporary artists.

Set amongst London's iconic architectural landmarks, such as the Gherkin by Norman Foster and the Lloyd’s building by Richard Rogers, this open air exhibition draws visitors into the City transforming the EC3 insurance area. Watch CNN's short film or the Sculpture in the City 2014 film for an overview of the project.

The exhibition includes works from internationally renowned artists: Ekkehard Altenburger (Germany); Bruce Beasley (USA); Adam Chodzko (UK); Laura Ford (UK); Damien Hirst (UK); Shan Hur (Korea); Folkert de Jong (Netherlands); Sigalit Landau (Israel); Kris Martin (Belgium); Keita Miyazaki (Japan); Tomoaki Suzuki (Japan); Xavier Veilhan (France); and Ai Weiwei (China).

In its fifth year, Sculpture in the City aims to enhance our urban environment with cutting-edge contemporary works from leading artists sited in both busy thoroughfares and quieter, green spaces.

Where can I see the artworks? View this location map of the artworks. What other sculpture can I see in the City? Discover more public art and memorials in the Square Mile and click here to find out about modern art which can be seen in the City's churches (including work by Patrick Heron, Damien Hirst, Henry Moore, Bill Viola and others).

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Lovin' Spoonful - Summer In The City.

Start:Stop - We can do little things for God



Start your day by stopping to reflect for 10 minutes. Every Tuesday morning there is a rolling programme of work-based reflections at St Stephen Walbrook (39 Walbrook, London EC4N 8BN). Every 15 minutes between 7.30am and 9.15am, a 10 minute session of reflection begins. These sessions include bible passages, meditations, music, prayers, readings and silence. Drop in on your way into work to start your day by stopping to reflect for 10 minutes.

Here is today's reflection:

Bible reading

‘Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.’ (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Meditation

Brother Lawrence was a member of the Carmelite Order in France during the 17th Century. He spent most of his life in the kitchen or mending shoes, but became a great spiritual guide. He saw God in the mundane tasks he carried out in the priory kitchen. Daily life for him was an ongoing conversation with God. He wrote: 'we need only to recognize God intimately present with us, to address ourselves to Him every moment.'

Brother Lawrence said:

‘Men invent means and methods of coming at God's love, they learn rules and set up devices to remind them of that love, and it seems like a world of trouble to bring oneself into the consciousness of God's presence. Yet it might be so simple. Is it not quicker and easier just to do our common business wholly for the love of him?’

‘The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquillity as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.’

‘Nor is it needful that we should have great things to do. . . We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.’

'We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.'

George Herbert’s poem ‘The Elixir’ (also sung as the hymn ‘Teach me my God and king in all things thee to see’) teaches us that, with these attitudes, drudgery is made divine. A servant who sweeps a room for love of God ‘makes that and the action fine.’ He claims that this attitude and approach:

‘is the famous stone
That turneth all to gold:
For that which God doth touch and own
Cannot for less be told.’

Prayer
Lord God, steer us away from means, methods, rules and devices for reminding us of Your love and presence with us. Instead, give us a simple desire to do our common business wholly for love of You.

Bring us into a consciousness of Your presence, as we do our common business wholly for the love of You.

May we see that times of business need not differ from times of prayer, as we need only to recognize God intimately present with us to address ourselves to Him every moment.

Bring us into a consciousness of Your presence, as we do our common business wholly for the love of You.

May we not become weary of doing little things for the love of You, recognizing that You regard not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.

Bring us into a consciousness of Your presence, as we do our common business wholly for the love of You.

Teach us to see You in all things, give thanks in all circumstances and rejoice at all times, as we pray constantly through the actions of our common business.

Bring us into a consciousness of Your presence, as we do our common business wholly for the love of You.

Rejoicing always, praying without ceasing, giving thanks in all circumstances. Doing little things and our common business for love of God. Recognising God in every moment and seeing Him in all things. May those blessings of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, rest upon us and remain with us always. Amen.

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Monday, 13 July 2015

Discover & explore: Imagination


A.N. Wilson has written that, in the first half of the twentieth century, there were artistic giants in the Anglican Church. He was thinking people such as T.S. Eliot, C.S. Lewis and Dorothy L. Sayers.

Sayers, best known for her fictional detective Lord Peter Wimsey, was also, like C.S. Lewis, a popular Christian apologist. Her most interesting apologetic work is perhaps The Mind of the Maker (1941) where she explores the creative act itself in the Trinitarian terms of Idea (Father), Energy (Son), and Power (Spirit):

“For every work [or act] of creation is threefold, an earthly trinity to match the heavenly.

First, [not in time, but merely in order of enumeration] there is the Creative Idea, passionless, timeless, beholding the whole work complete at once, the end in the beginning: and this is the image of the Father.

Second, there is the Creative Energy [or Activity] begotten of that idea, working in time from the beginning to the end, with sweat and passion, being incarnate in the bonds of matter: and this is the image of the Word.

Third, there is the Creative Power, the meaning of the work and its response in the lively soul: and this is the image of the indwelling Spirit.

And these three are one, each equally in itself the whole work, whereof none can exist without other: and this is the image of the Trinity.”

If the relationships within the Trinity provide the model for our creativity as human beings, this suggests that our creativity itself comes from God. Sayers remarks in the book that the one thing we know for sure about God at the point that he makes humanity in his own image is that he is creative: “The characteristic common to God and man, is … the desire and ability to make things.”

God is the ultimate creator, who created from nothing. Sayers quotes Nikolai Berdyaev approvingly when he says, "God created the world by imagination" and we get an insight into God’s imaginative work of creation through the passage from Job (38. 4 - 21). As those made in the image of God, we are sub-creators, able to, as Sayers puts it, "rearrange the unalterable and indestructible units of matter in the universe and build them up into new forms."

These ideas, which see human creativity and the creative act itself as being formed and framed by God, lead us to view art and the imagination as a gift from God. Max Lieberman & Michael McFadden note that the:

“idea of the artist as instrument of the divine, or acting with divine inspiration, has been an archetypal theme espoused by great artists attempting to express the processes of their work. Kahlil Gibran, the great 20th century mystic poet and artist touched on two of the metaphors of antiquity, to describe the process of an artist's creation in writing, "Am I a harp that the hand of the almighty may touch me or a flute that this breath may pass through me?" Gibran perhaps unconsciously, refers to the Ancient Greek metaphor of the Aeolian Harp and the Hindu myth of Lord Krishna's flute … The Aeolian Harp represents the artist, whose finely tuned and sensitive soul responds to the divine breeze of the Holy Spirit as it blows through the strings, turning what is invisible and intangible to most, into beautiful enchanting music to move the minds and hearts of those who might be otherwise insensitive to the movement of this divine force … The artist is similarly conceived as a musical instrument in an Ancient Hindu myth … The great artist is conceived as the hollowed-out instrument of God, emptied of egoism and selfish desire, and thus able to transmit the experience of their union with the divine through the enchanting "music" of their artwork.

Some years ago I encountered the same idea in a book called Written In My Soul, a series of interviews with some of the most well-known singer-songwriters from the 1950s onward, where I was struck by the extent to which these great artists – Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Van Morrison and others – felt that their songs were given to them in moments of revelation, that their songs were already written and ‘came through them as though radio receivers – without much conscious effort or direction.’ More recently, the singer-songwriter Bill Fay has released a track called ‘Who is the Sender?’ in which he asserts that his songs are delivered to him by the unknown sender. Songs aren't written, but found. "Music gives," he says, and he is a grateful receiver.

MIA, the artist who work we were exhibiting at St Stephen Walbrook at the beginning of this service series, has identified similar words of Paul Klee as describing her own creative process: “Everything around me dissolves and interesting works emerge as if of their own accord. My hand is entirely the instrument of a distant sphere. It isnʼt my head that is working, but something else, something higher, something somewhere more remote. I must have great friends out there – obscure, but also brilliant - and theyʼre all very good to me.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was in a similar moment of inspiration while writing Kubla Khan. He wrote: “In the summer of the year 1797, the Author, then in ill health, had retired to a lonely farm house between Porlock and Linton, on the Exmoor confines of Somerset and Devonshire. In consequence of a slight indisposition, an anodyne had been prescribed, from the effects of which he fell asleep in his chair at the moment that he was reading the following sentence, or words of the same substance, in 'Purchas's Pilgrimes:' 'Here the Khan Kubla commanded a palace to be built, and a stately garden thereunto: and thus ten miles of fertile ground were inclosed with a wall.'

The Author continued for about three hours in a profound sleep, at least of the external senses, during which time he has the most vivid confidence, that he could not have composed less than from two to three hundred lines; if that indeed can be called composition in which all the images rose up before him as things, with a parallel production of the correspondent expressions, without any sensation or consciousness of effort. On awakening he appeared to himself to have a distinct recollection of the whole, and taking his pen, ink, and paper, instantly and eagerly wrote down the lines that are here preserved. At this moment he was unfortunately called out by a person on business from Porlock, and detained by him above an hour, and on his return to his room, found, to his no small surprise and mortification, that though he still retained some vague and dim recollection of the general purport of the vision, yet, with the exception of some eight or ten scattered lines and images, all the rest had passed away like the images on the surface of a stream into which a stone had been cast, but, alas! without the after restoration of the latter.”

The gift of imagination is one given in moments of inspiration which cannot be repeated. Such experiences can be described as experiences of the Holy Spirit inspiring or coming on the artist. Certainly that has been my experience both in creating and preaching. I will often reflect or meditate on an experience, a song, an image, a Bible passage, by putting it in my mind, carrying it around in my mind over several days or weeks, reminding myself of it from time to time and just generally living with it for a period of time and when I do that then I find that, at some unexpected moment, a new thought or idea or image will come to me that makes sense or takes forward the experience or song or image or passage on which I had been reflecting. To my mind that is the Spirit coming and making connections, bringing clarity, making sense.

That was also Coleridge’s understanding of imagination. He was part of the Victorian Romantic movement, which features in the Guildhall Art Gallery’s collection, where visualising the distant past and opening up worlds of imaginative possibility offered “much needed escapism from the harsh realities of everyday life.” For Coleridge, though, imagination is the intuitive, unitive faculty in us that sees the whole behind the parts; the one and the many. Where reason analyses and reduces into parts, imagination puts the parts together into a whole and takes us to the hidden metaphysical unity behind multiplicity. For Coleridge, as for Sayers, this is not simply “much needed escapism from the harsh realities of everyday life” but instead “a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I Am.”

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John Rutter - Look At The World.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Cley 15: Marvellous in Ordinary


Cley 15: Marvellous in Ordinary
is chosen by this year's guest curator, the wonderful Meryl Doney.

Cley 15 is an open submission contemporary art exhibition in and around the village of Cley-next-the-Sea in North Norfolk

The exhibition will be open daily 10am-5.30pm from Thursday 2 July to Sunday 2 August 2015,showing work by 52 artists including paintings, sculptures, textiles, ceramics and installations in five locations: St Margaret's Church, the beach, Norfolk Wildlife Trust Visitor Centre, Crabpot Bookshop and Cley Windmill on the coast road

Cley 15 is a unique opportunity for Norfolk-based artists to make and exhibit site-specific work and for visitors to see new, and original work set in the fabulous landscape of the North Norfolk marshes and coastline.

To see the artists click here. For a map of locations click here. For the curator's introduction click here, for events and workshops.

The title Marvellous in Ordinary was taken from a description of the work of the late, great Margaret Mellis. Her driftwood collages are the primary inspiration for the title – though it also carries more ancient echoes of George Herbert’s 17th century poem Prayer (I). Mellis died in 2009, but one of her iconic works - Bogman - is able to be presented in the church.

Click here to read my post about Cley 14.

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Gordon Gano - Oh Wonder.

Grappling with the differences between what we hear and what we see

It is interesting to compare the response to Soundscapes at the National Gallery with reviews of the Richter/Pärt collaboration at the Manchester international festival.

Laura Cumming thinks that, in Soundscapes, 'sound ... is working against art' and Jonathan Jones says that 'great paintings do not need the emotional prompt of music and sounds to make them come alive' but, by contrast, Stephen Pritchard thinks that Richter's paintings 'don’t truly come into their own until you hear Pärt’s response to them.'

Cumming writes: 'Soundscapes is the worst idea the National Gallery has come up with in almost 200 years. It is feeble, pusillanimous, apologetic and, even in its resolute wrong-headedness, lacks all ambition. Invite a sound artist to compose a work in response to a masterpiece from the collection and you might expect something original, given all the precedents in music alone, from Rachmaninov’s Isle of the Dead and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition to Philip Glass’s piano portrait of Chuck Close. But instead this show feels more like the ambient soundtrack on a pair of National Trust headphones ...

Anyone can (many people do) walk around the National Gallery listening to their own private music. I can imagine how it might focus the mind or block out the buzz of other lives. But paintings create their own soundscapes, which may arrive in the form of wordless thoughts.

Sound here is working against art. Instead of seducing people into staying longer with a painting, concentrating harder, noticing more, it is limiting our free response by filling the gallery with sounds that one has to make an effort to ignore. And this does no favours to the living or the dead.'

By contrast Pritchard writes that Richter's paintings 'are wonderful creations; the deeply subtle Double Grey reflecting the streaked reds, greys, greens and blues of the Birkenau set. And yet they don’t truly come into their own until you hear Pärt’s response to them.

His piece, entitled Drei Hirtenkinder aus Fatima, is sung at intervals throughout the day. On preview afternoon last week there was no warning of its start; the singers of the Estonian choir Vox Clamantis mingled with the crowd and simply sang where they stood – an electrifying moment. It’s vintage Pärt; at first it could be a gentle, lilting folk-song as old as time but it unfolds into a multi-layered, densely harmonised acclamation of alleluia, which both triumphs over the horrors of Birkenau and bestows a profound nobility on the victims of that terrible place.'

Why is one art/music collaboration perceived to succeed when another does not? Adrian Searle suggests that the difference lies in the grappling, which goes on in the Richter/Pärt collaboration, between the differences between what we hear and what we see, what we are told and what we experience with our senses, what is mediated and what hits us directly':

'Pärt’s singers repeat the same song, seven times in succession. Every time it sounds different. Richter’s four grey diptychs, hanging opposite the Birkenau panels, play a further formal game of similarity and difference (the paint hidden from us on the reverse of glass sheets). The grey, paired panels are alike one another, but no two greys are the same, though each pair of panels has one lighter, one darker sheet. Comparisons between the different pairs are difficult to make, and shift according to where we stand, the ambient lighting and time of day. They are filled with murky reflections. Similarly, listening to Pärt’s music, we sense differences in the rendition, even though exact comparisons are difficult.'

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Lord, disarm violence and begin with me

Last year a poster for the children’s Horrible Histories stage tour attracted protests from parents. Horrible Histories, as many of you will know, describes itself as 'history with the nasty bits left in.' It is a series which has inspired millions of children to discover history because the books have ‘got ALL the yucky bits and foul facts that other books leave out.’

The posters, advertising the 'Barmy Britain' tour, featured a big picture of an executioner holding an axe and a bloody head and were labelled as being in 'shockingly bad taste' by furious parents in the wake of the beheading of Western hostages by ISIS militants. A father-of-two from Chelmsford, said: 'The posters are shocking in light of the recent events in the news and in really bad taste. The pictures are meant to be showing events in history, but sadly beheadings are still going on and are all too real.’ Neal Foster, director and producer of the show, said: 'It is unfortunate and we are sympathetic to anyone who is offended by the poster, but it was designed in July 2013, a long time before these recent incidents came to attention.’

These responses were interesting because they seem to suggest that as long as the nasty events of history are kept firmly in the past we can enjoy history with all the foul facts left in but as soon as those same events feature in our present we have a problem with showing and viewing them.

I wonder whether the same holds true for similarly violent Biblical stories such as today’s Gospel reading about the beheading of John the Baptist. This and other similar stories, such as that of Judith and Holofernes, have inspired graphic and gruesome images by great artists such as Botticello, Caravaggio, Guercino and Veronese, among others.

A recent visit to St Martin’s by Merchant Taylor’s School Choir to lead Choral Evensong coincided with a lengthy Old Testament reading in which Samson killed large numbers of Philistines, tortured animals and slept with a prostitute. How do we understand such passages? Should they be censored, as happened to the ‘Barmy Britain’ posters? Do we find the blood and gore attractive, repulsive, or are we immune to it?

The recent BBC1 drama A Song for Jenny focused on Jenny’s mother, Julie Nicholson, an ordained priest who quit her position because she could not forgive the suicide bomber who murdered her daughter. Sam Wollaston wrote in his review that the drama shows ‘the aftershocks of the blast – the tearing apart of the bond between a mother and daughter criminally prematurely, as well as of an underground carriage … It’s about the damage it does to other relationships, Julie’s with her husband, Julie’s with God. She too is not just a Christian, she’s a priest. But there is no forgiveness, there’s anger. Plus a desperate bleak emptiness that no faith, or family or friends can fill. And, though she never actually uses the word, it’s about hatred’.

In last Sunday's Radio 4 worship from St Martin-in-the-Fields, Barbara Brown Taylor spoke about ‘those who keep deciding not to hate the haters, who keep risking the fatal wound of love and teaching others to do the same—because that is how we prepare the ground around us to receive the seeds of heaven when they come.’ Our Autumn Lecture Series will explore both these perspectives reflecting on how faith can become both the cause and perpetrator of conflict and persecution, and also the victim. God can often appear impotent in the face of violence but is also perceived, in the Old Testament in particular, as the perpetrator of violence.

The first thing I want to say in the light of all this is that the Bible does not give us a sanitised version of violence. If anything, the reverse is the case and the Bible can easily be seen, like the Horrible Histories, as full of blood and gore. There is realism in our Scriptures about nature, and human nature in particular, being red in tooth and claw. This realism sees each one of us as having the potential for violence, whether we ascribe that to sin or the survival of the fittest. As studies examining complicity in the Holocaust tend to show, those involved were not monsters, ‘beasts or aliens’ and the overwhelming brutality involved appeared to arise easily ‘in the context of 1930s Germany, with its background of economic depression, political disenchantment and frustrated nationalist sentiment’. This suggests that we are all actually at different points on the same continuum between peace and violence and the saying, 'there, but for the grace of God, go I' carries a profound truth about which we need to be honest and repentant.

Our complicity with violence often leads us to make God over in our own violent image. Bob Dylan described this tendency well in the song ‘With God on our Side’. We begin with the belief that the land that we live in has God on its side and from there we interpret every change and challenge in our history as indicating that God is truly on our side. This, as Dylan notes in the 5th verse, can lead to the confusions of changing sides in war and peace. So, during the Second World War we believed that the German nation did not have God on their side but once the War ended and there was reconstruction with the German nation becoming our allies that changed and they now had God on their side, despite all that had previously occurred during the war.

Our human tendency to believe that God is on our side pervades the Old Testament and can be described as the core testimony about God. As this core testimony sees God as being on our side, it legitimizes and justifies our national interests. In this way of thinking our enemies are God's enemies and we petition him in prayer to smite and destroy those who are our and, therefore, also his enemies.

Also found in the Old Testament, however, is a counter testimony which, at times, can seem overwhelmed or submerged by the core testimony but which is, nevertheless, a thread running throughout scripture. The counter testimony says that God, rather than being about power and rather than being on the side of those in power, is actually most concerned about those who are crushed by the power-mongers of this world; those who are victims, those who are poor, those who are powerless, those who are excluded, those who are scapegoats.

These two testimonies about God are both present throughout the Bible with the core testimony often appearing dominant. But, we believe, at a particular point in human history God himself entered human history in the person of Jesus in order to show us in actions and words just what God is actually like. In Jesus, the counter testimony becomes prominent as Jesus lives, teaches, dies and rises not only as an example of compassion toward those who are victims, excluded and scapegoated but also becomes a victim, becomes excluded, becomes a scapegoat himself. When God is revealed in human history it is as a victim of violence, not as a perpetrator of violence.

God's revelation in Jesus continues a subversion of the human story of violence that actually began in the Old Testament. René Girard suggests that the story of Cain and Abel reveals the way in which we consistently act as human beings. We desire something that is possessed by someone else and become disturbed through our longing for what we don’t have. We resolve our disturbance by creating a scapegoat of the person or people who appear to have or prevent us from having what it is we desire. When the scapegoat is killed we can gain what we desire and also release the sense of disturbance that we feel.

This is what we see acted out in the story of Herodias and Salome. The privileges that Herodias and Salome enjoy seem to be threatened and they identify John the Baptist as the threat to their continued enjoyment of their desires. John is therefore scapegoated and killed to remove their sense of threat.

This pattern becomes expressed in religions involving human sacrifices as scapegoats to appease their gods. It is out of such religions that Abraham is called to form a people who do not sacrifice other human beings, but instead use animals as their scapegoats and sacrifices. Jesus is later born into this people who have subverted the existing practice of scapegoating and he further subverts this practice because, as he is crucified, God becomes the scapegoat that is killed.

The crucifixion is, therefore, the logical outcome of the incarnation. To use the language of our Vicar, Sam Well's, Nazareth Manifesto, God is not simply for victims. God is with victims, because God is a victim. God is not simply for the excluded. God is with the excluded, because God is excluded. God is not simply for those who are scapegoated. God is with scapegoats, because God is a scapegoat. When God is scapegoated, there is no longer any god to appease and the necessity for scapegoating is superceded, subverted and eradicated.

This is the reality in which Christianity calls us to live. A world beyond Horrible Histories, beyond scapegoating, beyond victimisation and beyond exclusion. A world in which the mechanisms for justifying and acting out our violent desires have been dismantled and rendered null and void. A world, as Barbara Brown Taylor said, in which we ‘keep deciding not to hate the haters, … keep risking the fatal wound of love and teaching others to do the same — because that is how we prepare the ground around us to receive the seeds of heaven when they come’.

‘Violence did not surprise Jesus. He was prepared for it, and he tried to prepare his followers as well but few of them had ears to hear.’ ‘Even before the violent had come for him, he knew what had happened to God’s messengers in the past: silenced, exiled, outlawed, killed …Then King Herod threw John the Baptist in prison … and Jesus had to say it all over again: expect violence; prepare for it; never underestimate the harm it can do.’

Are we similarly prepared? Do we know ‘the power to resist the deadly force of violence’ by doing what Jesus taught and practised: ‘turn the cheek, pray for the persecutor, love the enemy, welcome the stranger. In everything do to others as you would have them do to you.’ Are we willing, like John the Baptist and Jesus, to be prophets who can see and name what does not belong with us and can shine the light of God’s truth in the night-time of fear and oppression?

If we do then our prayer must be: Lord, disarm violence and begin with me. As Barbara Brown Taylor noted last week, ‘Sometimes [the power to resist the deadly force of violence] actually works to disarm the violence in others, which is why we know the names of Gandhi, Tutu, and King. But that is not its main purpose. Its main purpose is to disarm the violence in us, so that we do not join the other team.’

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Sinead O'Connor - Make Me A Channel Of Your Peace.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

St Lawrence Jewry: Exhibitions and Music Festival

Southbank Mosaics summer exhibition at St Lawrence Jewry Church celebrates ‘London Skylines’ alongside other mosaic works created by Southbank Mosaics in-house artists. This exhibition ends Sunday 20th September 2015. Alongside the mosaics Katrina Bradley is exhibiting a series of her photographs. As well as working in the church office, Katrina is a wonderful photographer.

It has been a tradition at St Lawrence Jewry that they hold a summer festival of some significance. This is unusual in the City of London in that many churches ‘shut up shop’ for the month of August. Every 1.00pm lunch time during the month they will host a concert for the pleasure of those who continue to work throughout the summer season. As usual, there will be an emphasis on younger artists, giving them a chance to perform in the beautiful setting and to experience the joy of working in such a fine acoustic.

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Verter Trio - William Lloyd Webber Fantasy Trio.

Competition & consumerism: The Darwinian narrative of strife

Competition and consumerism are the mantras of Capitalism. Both are critiqued effectively in comment pieces in today's Guardian:

Chibundu Onuzo - '[Namwali] Serpell’s decision points to an arena where it is even more futile to compete: life. Increasingly our existence on this planet is framed as a struggle – for jobs, resources: for oil, water, land.

This Darwinian narrative of strife continues at an individual level. I am not yet halfway through my twenties, and already I am fatigued by the way the world is determined to frame my life. Someone always has more money, a better job, more vibrant social life, more attractive postcode. I am forever to be in competition with this ever elusive someone who is always a stride ahead, their shadow darkening my progress.

At a concert I attended recently, the MC asked who was dissatisfied with their life. More than half of the audience put up their hands. We live in perpetual fear that we have missed out, that just across the road from us, someone is getting more out of life. I watch my friends and family go through the rigmarole of finding school places, assiduously comparing which Ofsted report is more outstanding than the other. No matter how good the school, someone’s child is always in one that is better. Extracurricular clubs and classes thrive, not because of any love for dance or drama, but because one’s children must not fall behind, one’s toddler must begin to make their way through the jungle gym of life. Slowly but steadily, we are banishing contentment from the world.

As individuals respond to this meta-story of competition, we become discontent in a world where there is enough space for everyone to go at their own pace. Serpell said in her acceptance speech: “We don’t want to compete. We all want to be honoured.” There can be no winners as long as life continues to be depicted as a competition. We will all lose.'

Giles Fraser - 'How quaint, sniggers the Tory business minster, Anna Soubry, on the Today programme. Before we were liberated to spend our Sundays down at the shopping mall, “Sunday was the most miserable day of the week,” she says. And there you have the Tory business philosophy in one. In fact, it’s not a philosophy, it’s a dogmatic theology. For nothing, absolutely nothing, must get in the way of shopping and our ever increasing productivity. Instead of all those tedious family gatherings, we should be out there buying more things we don’t need with money we don’t have. A day of rest? God, no! We must be turning those wheels of finance, building those pyramids, getting into more debt.

A strict monotheist, Soubry wants us to worship the god of finance on a Sunday. All other gods must be smashed, smeared, ridiculed. Only the god of money deserves our true and unquestioning obedience. Well, I do wish she’d stop ramming her religion down our throats. I don’t want to be more productive.'

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The Clash - Lost In The Supermarket.

Artists must make people think

The creative spirit of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is currently being celebrated in the exhibition Beauté Congo – 1926-2015 – Congo Kitoko presented at the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in Paris.

Taking as its point of departure the birth of modern painting in the Congo in the 1920s, this ambitious exhibition traces almost a century of the country’s artistic production. While specifically focusing on painting, it includes music, sculpture, photography, and comics, providing the public with the unique opportunity to discover the diverse and vibrant art scene of the region.

Among those whose work features in the exhibition are Bodo Pambu and Chéri Samba:

'Bodo Pambu was one of the founders and key proponents along with Moke and Chéri Samba of what has come to be known as the Zaïre school of popular painting. Their works state vigorously and candidly their belief in their capacity to create art that could change the course of history.

Camille-Pierre Bodo chose to paint anything and describe everything that he had seen and experienced. His works then successively became chronicles, pamphlets, manifestos, demands or advice. His objectives were not selfish: he was a popular painter. One of Bodo's main themes was the “Ndoki Zoba” (sorcery) and the aim of these paintings was to advise on abandoning the practice of sorcery.

He dealt with symbolic or fantasy subject matter, with a strange imagination that was fed by his dreams. “I express everything that happens to me, so that I am no longer focused on specifically African topics and can address myself to the entire world.” The titles of his works: River of Delights, Ignorance, or Love, the Source of Life, perfectly echo his beliefs and his aesthetic aims.'

'Chéri Samba was a founding member of the “Popular painting” school along with Pierre Bodo, his paintings exposing everyday life in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital city, Kinshasa. His representative, often fantastical paintings incorporate graphic narrative and figures with text and word bubbles that address forefront social and political issues, including AIDS, social inequity, and corruption. Starting in the 1980s, Samba began to portray himself frequently and literally in his works, taking on a direct role as the reporter of his ideas and personal story. “I appeal to people’s consciences,” he says. “Artists must make people think.”' 

He concluded, 'I believe everyone in earth has a mission and I believe that God gave me the tools to paint and speak my messages through my paintings.'

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Adorons L'Eternel - Yahveh Okumama.