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Thursday 7 December 2023

Seen&Unseen - Beyond Christmas cards: a guide to the season’s art, past and present

My latest article for Seen&Unseen is a guide to the season’s art, past and present. Traditionally at this time of year “great art comes tumbling through your letterbox” so, in this article, I explore the historic and contemporary art of Christmas:

'Whether you are looking to continue the tradition of sending Christmas cards through the post or will be sending digital greetings to family and friends, looking for, creating or commissioning nativity images that depict Jesus coming in your culture and your time continues to offer a significant way of showing the wonder of the incarnation to others. And, if you do so, while being entirely contemporary, you will also be firmly rooted in art history and church tradition.'

Victoria Emily Jones, who is quoted in the article, has curated two collections of nativity art.: 2011 collection, and 2015 collection. She has also compiled an Advent Slideshow and Devotional for Art & Theology. For more on our collaboration, click here.

My first article for Seen&Unseen was 'Life is more important than art' which reviews the themes of recent art exhibitions that tackle life’s big questions and the roles creators take.

My second article 'Corinne Bailey Rae’s energised and anguished creative journey' explores inspirations in Detroit, Leeds and Ethiopia for Corinne Bailey Rae’s latest album, Black Rainbows, which is an atlas of capacious faith.

My third article was an interview with musician and priest Rev Simpkins in which we discussed how music is an expression of humanity and his faith.


Rev Simpkins - Big Sea.

Wednesday 6 December 2023

Meaning, significance, shape and purpose

Here's the sermon that I shared at St Andrew’s Wickford this morning:

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 (Matthew 15:29-37) 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?


Monday 4 December 2023

Artlyst: The Art Diary November 2023

My December Art Diary for Artlyst 'diary begins with books that would make interesting gifts this Christmas before focusing on our usual eclectic mix of exhibitions that might otherwise be overlooked. Many thanks to all those who have gotten in touch throughout the year to offer thanks for highlighting exhibitions that otherwise might not have crossed their radar, particularly those that engage with spirituality in its many different forms.'

The month there is mention of work by Oisin and Sean Scully, Peter Callesen, Thomas Denny, Aaron Rosen, Shazad Dawood, Michael Cook, Michelle Holmes, Elizabeth Frink, Monica Sjöö, Micah Purnell and exhibitions at Ben Uri Collection, Salisbury Cathedral, Coventry Cathedral, Chappel Galleries, Dorset Museum, Modern Art Oxford, Lamb Gallery, and The Modernist.

My other pieces for Artlyst are:

Interviews -
Monthly diary articles -

Articles/Reviews -


Andy Piercy - 4th Street Room 101.

Sunday 3 December 2023

The crisis of Advent

Here's the sermon I'm sharing at St Catherine's Wickford this morning:

St Catherine’s has stood here in Wickford since 1876. It is a wonderful building that those of us who worship here love and which is greatly appreciated by lots of local people who have come here for many key moments in their family history - weddings, baptisms and funerals.

So, if I was to predict that soon every part of this Church would be torn down so that not one stone would be left standing on another, you would no doubt be shocked (despite the cracks in the building which occurred in 2022). But that is an equivalent to what Jesus said at the beginning of Mark 13. Jesus and his disciples had gone to the Temple in Jerusalem and were leaving when one of the disciples remarked on what a magnificent building the Temple was. Jesus’ response was to predict that it would shortly be completely and utterly destroyed. The Temple, at that time, was central to the whole Jewish faith. What Jesus was saying was that the whole way in which Judaism was practised at that time was going to be destroyed. A whole way of life wiped out. It was a shocking claim about a major crisis.

Mark records this for us because what Jesus predicted actually happened. In AD70 Titus, the adopted son of the Roman emperor Vespasian, “entered Jerusalem, burnt the Temple, destroyed the city and crucified thousands of Jews” (N.T. Wright). For Mark the fulfilment of Jesus’ prophecy, although a disaster for all those caught up in it, was the final vindication of all that Jesus had said and been and done. In that day, he said, people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. In other words, people will realise that Jesus was who he claimed to be, the Messiah. The destruction of the Temple was proof that Jesus had spoken and acted truly.

We know from history that the destruction of the Temple also meant that Christians in Jerusalem had to flee the city and settle in other parts of the world. They took the message of Jesus with them wherever they went. So as a result of this crisis, news about Jesus spread throughout the region and eventually to the whole world. Truly, people saw the power and glory of the Son of Man.

But Jesus also knew what a terrible day that day would be and he prepared those who listened to him for that day. In our Gospel reading today he says that no one will know the exact day or time when this disaster would come but that it would be within their own lifetimes and he teaches them to look for the signs that the day has arrived so that can be ready to flee the city. He tells them to be ever vigilant and watchful so that they recognise when the crisis has come upon them. So, Jesus predicts a crisis, prepares his followers for that crisis and sees that the crisis will lead to the good news about him being understood and believed.

But that was all then. What does this passage say to us now? Well, we all still face crises whether they are personal crises (perhaps caused by crime or redundancy, abuse or family breakdown) or societal (as with global warming, natural disasters, pandemics, riots or war). How should we react and respond to crises?

There is a realism about Jesus’ teaching. Crises will come, he says. We don’t know exactly when and where but we know that we will not go through life and avoid crises. So first, we need to expect crises and look out for the signs that they may be coming. Jesus here retells the story of the master going away and says that we need to be like watchmen always ready for the crisis of the master’s return. As we prepare during Advent to celebrate Christ’s first coming, so we must also always have an eye to the future and Christ’s return to bring his kingdom rule and reign throughout the world. Are we looking expectantly for the crisis of our Master’s return?

Second, we need to prepare for crises by being good stewards. Jesus, in the story of the master going away, said that the servants were left in charge. We know from the parable of the talents what that involves, the servants are to care for and use all that has been entrusted to them so that when the master returns his estate has grown and developed. God has entrusted us with this world, with those people who are our family, friends and colleagues, with money and possessions, and with our gifts and talents and abilities. All these we are to use for his praise and glory as a way of giving back to God in praise and thanksgiving for all he has given to us. How will we seek to do so this Advent?

Finally, in crises God is revealed. At some point in the future each of us will meet with God and be asked to account for the use we have made of all that God has given to us. Each Advent points us towards that moment. How will we stand in that moment of crisis? 

But in every crisis that we face God is alongside us and wishes to be known as the one who strengthens and supports us; the one who brings us through. Just as the good news about Jesus went out from Jerusalem as a result of the destruction of the Temple, so in each crisis that we face God wishes to bring good for us and for others. As Paul says, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” May it be so for each one of us this Advent. Amen.


St Martin's Voices - Advent Calendar.

Saturday 2 December 2023

'Leviathan' - Salisbury Cathedral

Leviathan is an exhibition by Shezad Dawood at Salisbury Cathedral which explores the interaction between migration, mental health, and climate change through thought-provoking paintings, textiles, video and sculpture. The magnificent setting of Salisbury Cathedral and Chapter House offers a contemplative space to reflect upon worldwide issues and ethical questions, something Dawood’s work seeks to encourage.

Where do we go now? is the title of a poignant sculpture placed within the 1215 Magna Carta exhibition space. It presents sailors on a small boat encountering a whale, representing the State. The whale threatens to destroy the vessel and prompts the sailors to throw a barrel overboard to distract it, representing their labour. Where do we go now? encourages visitors to consider the legacy of Magna Carta and the rights and freedoms of refugees.

Dawood’s short films, displayed in two of the Cathedral’s chapels, are set in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest and explore the ways in which all beings and the earth are connected. The artist writes: “We need to have empathy not just for other people living in our world but also for the vast array of animal and plant life who are victims of the way we treat our world.”

A central part of the exhibition is a collection of textile paintings hung along the Cathedral’s grand nave. The paintings depict personal possessions recovered from the seabed after a refugee ship was foundered, such as photographs and a passport. They are tribute to lives lost and those that were saved, prompting visitors to consider how we can find new reserves of empathy and think about ourselves as one humanity.

The Cathedral is also bursting with art in various forms: painting, sculpture, architecture, textiles and more. This includes their unique font designed by renowned British water sculptor William Pye and Barbara Hepworth's Construction (Crucifixion).


John Tavener - The Whale.

Windows on the world (453)

Salisbury, 2023


David Eugene Edwards - Through The Lattice.


Tuesday 28 November 2023

When Jesus Met Hippies

Many books have been written on the Jesus People movement in the US, but what about its impact in the UK? 'When Jesus Met Hippies' by Andrew Whitman explores how this counter-cultural movement of Christians found its own expression in the UK, reshaping the lives of individuals along with the life and mission of the new and existing churches across the nation.

By discovering the interaction between different characters and groups from across the Atlantic, experience an immersive retelling of the successes and failures that led to an enduring legacy. How did this new breed of Christians radically live out their faith and evangelise the youth of the UK in the 1960s and '70s? And how might it inspire fresh revival in the different yet equally chaotic era we live in today?

The book explores:

  • the context of revival in the USA from the 1967 “Summer of Love” onwards
  • the back-drop culture of the UK in the so-called “swinging sixties”/“permissive society”
  • my own story and how Jesus broke into my life in his grace and truth
  • prominent groups like the Jesus Family (“Lonesome Stone”), Jesus Army and Jesus Liberation Front
  • emergent Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) and its impact on us in the UK, especially early worship-leaders
  • the link between the Jesus People and the burgeoning charismatic movement
  • events across the UK like the Nationwide Festival Of Light, Spree ’73, Come Together.
  • whether there was actually a full-blown revival here in the UK or not
  • musicians like troubadour Larry Norman and the long-lasting Greenbelt Festival
  • new churches like Chuck Smith’s Calvary Chapel and John Wimber’s Vineyard Fellowship (including Lonnie Frisbee and Alpha), and Bill Johnson’s Bethel
  • cult groups that surfaced, like the flirty-fishing Children Of God with their ‘Mo Letters’
  • ministries that reached out to druggies, bikers, hippies, that came out of, or were parallel to, the Jesus People
  • the cross-carrying Baptist preacher Arthur Blessitt preaching the length and breadth of the UK
  • whether there is evidence of another Jesus People Movement in the USA today or not
Whitman was born in 1953. University introduced him to a hippy lifestyle, but in 1971, his siblings embraced Christianity. Drawn to a Christian rock musical in 1973, he found faith for himself. After a transformative encounter with Jesus, he immersed himself in the Bible and fellowship. His journey led to involvement in Campus Crusade for Christ, forming a Christian rock band, and ultimately, lifelong ministry.

See also my posts on The Jesus Rock Revolution and the Jesus MovementGospel music: influence and imitationLooking down the wrong end of a telescopeRock gets Religion and Larry Norman.


Out Of Darkness - On Solid Rock.