Wikio - Top Blogs - Religion and belief

Monday, 31 December 2007

Mr Golighty's Holiday

On Paul Trathen's recommendation I have just read Mr Golightly's Holiday by Salley Vickers. In this novel Vickers manages to write convincingly about goodness and happy endings; a very difficult feat to achieve.

Discussion of the comic and tragic is at the heart of the issues explored within the novel with the comic - understood as "a particular slant of vision, one which sees the potential, deep in the core of human affairs, for misfortune's alternative" - predominating. This perspective, which Vickers owes to Northtrop Frye, has synergies with JRR Tolkien's writings on 'eucatastrophes' which characterise fairy tales, myths and the true myth of the Incarnation. Also, in that Vickers believes that the adoption of a comic view of life may in fact encourage the possibility of misfortune's alternative, her ideas resonate with those of Nicholas Mosley when he writes about "a way of thinking which will take account of both the hope and hopelessness, responsibility and helplessness, the good not in spite of but together with the evil” and argues that by speaking, writing and living in this style seeming opposites might be held from a higher point of view and “errors accepted as the purveyors of learning rather than traps.”

Mr Golighty's Holiday was conceived through the device of humanising God (a device that also features in Mr Weston's Good Wine by TF Powys) and culminates in a replaying of Christ's passion (a device also found in Nikos Kazantzakis' Christ Recrucified). Throughout the story is sustained by means of a divine dialogue; a theological theme on which I plan to be blogging in 2008. In this novel the template for this dialogue is the book of Job which Vickers admires because "with all the potential there for a tragedy, by virtue of his unyielding spirit Job refuses to allow his life to become one." In the light of my own recent bereavement, this reflection and this novel speak powerfully.


Lou Reed & Victoria Williams - Tarbelly & Featherfoot.

Friday, 28 December 2007

Benedict for Today

Benedict for Today is a study day with Fr. Dermot Tredget (Benedictine monk at Douai Abbey) that asks what can the founder of Western monasticism teach us about ... balance
...prayer & spirituality
...building community?

This study day, which has been organised by the Contextual Theology Centre, will be at The Royal Foundation of St Katharine on Saturday 2nd February 2008, 10am to 4pm. Cost (including lunch): £15. Discounts available for unwaged & pensioners. To book, please contact Maureen Toms on 020 7791 9782 or by Friday 25th January.


T Bone Burnett - Earlier Baghdad (The Bounce).

Theology in Modern Irish Art

Gesa E. Thiessen's Theology in Modern Irish Art is a fascinating read. The book is divided into four sections with the first summarising the image theologies of Paul Tillich and Horst Schwebel. Tillich was chosen because of his foundational role in the contemporary development of image theologies and Schwebel because of "his extensive examination of abstract art and of the image of Christ in modern art."

Section two summarises the life, thought and work of ten modern Irish artists - Mainie Jellett, Jack Butler Yeats, Louis le Brocquy, Gerald Dillon, Colin Middleton, Patrick Collins, Tony O'Malley, Patrick Scott, Patrick Graham and Patrick Hall. These do not necessarily profess a Christian faith or paint using biblical imagery but all engage with the spiritual through their art and reveal Christian influences in the styles or imagery chosen.

In section three Thiessen analyses three paintings by each of these painters before summarising "the theological currents that are evident in the works as a whole. Thiessen then concludes by exploring issues that arise from her discussion of image theologies, painters and their paintings. These include: "the contemporary situation of pluralism in which the theologian and artist find themselves, consideration of a hermeneutic for a theology through visual art, the vital importance of the imagination in theological and artistic work, and the sensuous nature of art and its implications for a theology based on the image." Throughout the book, Thiessen draws relevant parallels between the perceptions of these painters and their works and themes explored within contemporary theology.

One of the the ideas that is common to several of the artists whom Thiessen discusses is that of being a co-creator with God through identification of the essence of create things. Her description of the method of le Brocquy is typical: "He views the artist as a 'watcher'; who by stirring the surface waits for something to happen until, by way of accident, an image emerges. Le Brocquy points out that he strives for the quidditas, the 'whatness' of things ... it is always a reaching towards essence." Thiessen rightly links this to Gerard Manley Hopkins' idea of 'inscape', "the characteristic form of a species or a thing, an 'objective reality' which exists independent of the beholder." The act of revealing what is already there - which is the task of artists, as several of these artists see it - can be seen as an act of creation. Creation is revelation and vice versa.

In an outline theology of work I have also written about the possibility that we can act as co-creators with God in and through our day-to-day work. The Biblical creation stories in Genesis suggest that God intended humanity for a collaborative task together with him, that of developing the possibilities inherent in his creation. God created humanity in his image i.e. as a creator (Gen. 1. 27). He gave humanity responsibility for the world and all that is in it (Gen. 1. 26-28) and asked humanity to work it and take care of it (Gen. 2. 15). Paul Ballard has maintained that “human beings can enter into a creative partnership with [God] in terms of [our] own powers over creation” and that the “power to work is a God-given power that finds its place in relation to the service of God and man’s place in creation”. The collaborative nature of this work can be seen particularly in the story of Adam naming the animals (Gen. 2. 18-25).

Finally, Thiessen's book is another vivid reminder of the extent to which spirituality characterises both modern and contemporary art despite the common perception of modern and contemporary art as being relentlessly and boringly 'secular'.


Over The Rhine - The Trumpet Child.

Monday, 24 December 2007

Cry of a Tiny Babe

The best Christmas song that I’ve come across is called Cry of a Tiny Babe and was written by the Canadian singer-songwriter, Bruce Cockburn. I think it’s a great song because it captures the very human dilemmas of Jesus’ birth like Mary’s situation of becoming pregnant before her marriage:

"Mary grows a child without the help of a man
Joseph get upset because he doesn't understand
Angel comes to Joseph in a powerful dream
Says "God did this and you're part of his scheme"
Joseph comes to Mary with his hat in his hand
Says "forgive me I thought you'd been with some other man"
She says "what if I had been - but I wasn't anyway and guess what
I felt the baby kick today"

The whole point of God becoming a human being in Jesus is that he would experience human life as we experience it and being born into a tense and confused relationship is the reality of life for many of us.

Bruce Cockburn recognises that Jesus isn’t born into wealth or power but in his birth identifies with ordinary people like us:

"There are others who know about this miracle birth
The humblest of people catch a glimpse of their worth
For it isn't to the palace that the Christ child comes
But to shepherds and street people, hookers and bums
And the message is clear if you've got ears to hear
That forgiveness is given for your guilt and your fear
It's a Christmas gift you don't have to buy
There's a future shining in a baby's eyes"

It seems incredible that this one child born into tense relationships and an ordinary existence could affect human beings in the way that Jesus grew up to do. But that is the reality and the miracle of what happened:

"Like a stone on the surface of a still river
Driving the ripples on forever
Redemption rips through the surface of time
In the cry of a tiny babe"

This Christmas your experience may be of tense relationships or an ordinary mundane existence. But this Christmas may also be your opportunity to catch a glimpse of your own worth and discover that there is a future for you shining in that baby’s eye.


Eternal - I Am Blessed.

The stable door is open

Rowan Williams has an excellent Christmas piece in today's Times that has interesting links with the theme of my Christmas post, Overlooked At Christmas.


Primal Scream - Movin' On Up.

Destruction and resurrection

My Dad's funeral was held on Friday 21st December and was a wonderful celebration of a committed life lived in service of God.

Simon Cake spoke about being one of many "waifs and strays" that Dad and Mum accepted into their family and have supported in many different ways. Ian Inness described the divide in Oxford between town and gown and spoke of the way in which Dad overcame initial suspicion and scepticism on the Barton Estate at someone coming from the academic life of Oxford to begin community work there.

Keith Sinclair, in his sermon based on 2 Corinthians 5. 1-10, spoke of the way in which this passage did not just describe what had happened to Dad since death but also described the pattern of his life. Dad, once he had entered social work, quickly climbed the social and professional ladder but then found his career destroyed when the funding for the Barton Project was cut. Returning to Somerset and starting all over again by retraining for a new career seemed to involve the destruction of all that he had worked for in the first half of his life but without it he would not have had the ministry in the Church of England that he enjoyed in the latter half of his life. Without that destruction there would have been no Aston Community Youth Project, no Voice of the People Trust, no application of Celtic Christianity to urban ministry and none of the ministry that he shared at Aston Parish Church and St Edmund's Tyseley. That rebirth and resurrection prefigures that which Dad now enjoys in the presence of his Lord and Saviour who has welcomed him with the words, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

Dad's obituary is as follows:

Revd. Philip Evens, 1936 - 2007

Revd. Philip Evens, who died aged 71 on 12th December, was a pioneer of community work in the UK who, in later life, applied this knowledge and experience in urban ministry.

Born in 1936, into a North Somerset working class family, he grew up in membership of the Open Brethren. Coming to Higher Education as a mature student, he gained a special honours degree in Sociology at Leicester University and began work as a Social Worker in Somerset. A rapid process of social mobility began when, in 1965, he became the youngest Deputy Children's Officer in the country helping set up a new Children's Department and experimental family advice work projects in Luton.

In 1970 he entered Social Work education by becoming a Lecturer in Applied Social Studies at Oxford University. There he discovered that he did not fit into the rather exclusive network of 'North Oxbridge Society' and so, moved nearer to his ideological 'home' and working class identity, by setting up an Applied Action Research Community Work Project in 1973. Called The Barton Project, after the council estate on which it was based, his experiences and other contributions to the development of community work were published in two books, Community Work: Theory and Practice (1974) and The Barton Project (1976). Both books applied his Christian faith to his work and called for the active involvement of Christians in community work and other public services.

In 1976 this Project lost funding and his job was re-structured away. He returned, somewhat disillusioned, to his roots in Somerset where he became self employed as a landscape gardener setting up his own business. During this major mid-life crisis he, and his family, began worshipping for the first time in the Church of England and he continued, as he had done for many years, to set up and run Christian youth clubs. Involvement in wider aspects of local Anglican ministry led to his 'call' to train for the ordained ministry.

During training at Trinity College Bristol he set up The Voice of the People Trust to sponsor Christian ministry in Urban Priority Areas through community work projects linked to parishes. Work on the Trust was carried out in conjunction with his church ministry firstly, as a curate at Aston Parish Church and then as vicar of St Edmund's Tyesley. The Trust was involved in developing and restructuring several community and youth projects and published Phil’s third book, Despair and Hope in the City, which explored the relevance of community work to urban ministry. The Aston and Newtown Community Youth Project, set up during his curacy, was particularly successful in reaching out to young people on the streets and steering them away from criminal and anti-social activities towards further education, training, employment and faith.

Phil also began to explore and utilise in ministry the riches of the UK’s Celtic Christian heritage. This discovery complemented and assisted the exploration of spirituality already underway at St Edmund's, Tyesley. Celtic-based materials seemed to communicate well in an urban context and a project to study the use of such materials in an urban setting developed, resulting in an M.Phil that was completed during his retirement. He undertook two personal pilgrimages, first, to the island of Lismore and second, a six week ‘pilgrimage of discovery’ which started at Iona, finished at Holy Island and involved travelling and camping in a small diesel van. The Woven Cord programme that he introduced in Tysley saw people respond positively to the principles and practice of Celtic Christianity and transfer to their life style much of its approach to spirituality.

In retirement, he faced periods of ill-health combined with the death of his son Nick when a UN-commissioned plane carrying relief workers crashed in Kosovo. He is survived by his wife Pauline, son Jonathan and daughter Rachel. Throughout his life and ministry he has inspired friends and family members to share his commitment to community work and urban ministry and, as a result, his legacy lives on in many who have entered church, social and youth work as a direct result of his inspiration and support.


Annie Lennox - Into The West.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Our world contracted

Our world has contracted
to a room,
a bed,
a man.
Yet the world continues to spin,
traffic flows,
people sleep, work and eat,
the world and ward continue
their nightly rounds
unaffected by his passing
Progenitor of people
and projects,
of church workers,
social workers,
youth workers.
As he lay
and breathing
we have remembered
and celebrated
this man
that the world
does not know
but who loved,
and challenged
our lives
into being
and becoming.
He lies still,
his life gone.
His memory
and inspiration
live on.


Donnie Eidt - Closer to the Light.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Dorothy L. Sayers - 50th Anniversary

Today is the 50th Anniversary of the death of Dorothy L. Sayers; an anniversary that, given Sayers' importance as a twentieth century Christian dramatist and apologist, is appropriately being commemorated through a number of different events.

Dorothy L. Sayers “was particularly conscious that she was one of a group of Christian writers who were under attack from both radical Christian and agnostic critics.” She wrote of indignation being “reserved for a small group of Anglicans, such as Charles Williams, C. S. Lewis … and, of course, T. S. Eliot …”

Sayers corresponded and met with both Lewis and Williams. Lewis numbered Sayers among the friends or acquaintances that he regularly saw or spoke to. Williams’ “admiration for The Nine Tailors, expressed in rhapsodic terms in a letter to Gollancz," endeared him to Sayers. They met, and enjoyed each other’s company. Like many people, she found his conversation stimulating and inspiring, admiring his novels, his works of criticism and his theological writings. Lewis and Sayers both contributed essays to what became the posthumous volume, Essays Presented to Charles Williams.

Lewis and Sayers both also developed a role as ‘popular theologians’, with Sayers taking part in conferences, giving talks to the Forces, broadcasting, writing letters to the press, and writing many articles.

Eliot, Sayers and Williams shared a common love of, and wrote on, the work of Dante and also all wrote drama for the Canterbury Festival. Sayers’ “interest in Dante was first aroused by Williams … he gave her a new direction to her career.” Sayers and Williams exchanged letters discussing Dante for nine months until Williams’ death in 1945 and “Sayers’ delight in her reading [of Dante] is revealed in these letters more than anywhere else.”

Sayers produced a significant theological statement in The Mind of the Maker which explored the nature of the Trinity through an artists' experience of making. Sayers also wrote a controversial series of radio plays on the life of Christ entitled The Man Born To Be King. Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul by Barbara Reynolds is a fascinating biography.


Bruce Cockburn - Creation Dream.

A spur to work together

This is the text of a letter I sent to the Editor of the Ilford Recorder today:

By allowing the sale of the Seven Kings car and lorry park to a bid with no specific community facilities, against the advice of its own planning brief, and by allowing the Seven Kings Action Plan to gather dust, Redbridge's Cabinet seems to have demonstrated its lack of interest in the concerns and needs of Seven Kings residents.

If the Cabinet aren't interested in bringing a community focus and community facilities back to Seven Kings then maybe we, as local people, can do it ourselves. My hope for 2008 is that we will see local residents, local community groups and charities coming together with local faith communities to work out together how we can bring into Seven Kings the community facilities, focus and funding that the Cabinet have rejected.

If we view the Cabinet's rejection of community facilities as a spur to our own working together then we can turn a missed opportunity for Seven Kings into a positive way forward.


Leonard Cohen - Anthem.

Overlooked at Christmas

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 those who are prepared to seek him out, 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 we hear the story of Jesus’ birth this Christmas season, the story will have meaning as we 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 us as we hear the Christmas story and sing Christmas carols, then the Christmas season will be pleasant but not life changing. But if Christ is born in us then the whole story will be transformed. It will become our story. We 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.


The Innocence Mission - Away In A Manger.

Friday, 14 December 2007

Revd. Phil Evens, 1936 - 2007

Revd. Phil Evens, 1936 - 2007
My dad died peacefully on 12th December 2007, aged 71, at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham. As a family, we are very grateful to the staff at the QE (in ITU and ELG B) for the care that they provided for dad and also for their sensitivity towards us. Dad's funeral will be held at Aston Parish Church, Birmingham on Friday 21st December from 11.00am, followed by a family interment. The service will be led by the Rt. Revd. Keith Sinclair, Bishop of Birkenhead. There will be family flowers only but donations can be made to Rejuvenate Worldwide and Headstart Birmingham. Donations can be sent c/o William H. Painter, 398 Yardley Road, South Yardley, Birmingham B25 8LT.

Past Life - Present Mission

Past Life - Present Mission is a booklet summarising my Dad's M.Phil exploring the relevance of Celtic Christianity to urban mission. The M.Phil was his final major piece of writing and, as a family, we are thrilled that the Community of Aidan and Hilda (of which he was a friend) have made Past Life - Present Mission available as a download from their website.

The Community of Aidan and Hilda is a world-wide fellowship whose members seek to live out Christianity as a complete way of life. Being wholly available to the Holy Trinity and to the way of Jesus as revealed in the Bible, they seek to cradle a spirituality for today: weaving together the separated strands of Christianity; healing the land; and resourcing people. In earthing these aims, they draw inspiration from Celtic saints such as Aidan and Hilda.

As well as offering retreats and workshops etc. at the Open Gate on Lindisfarne, the Community organise various activities and events around the UK and internationally. The book 'A Pilgrim's Way', which has recently been published, deals extensively with the Community's history, its Way of Life and its aims.


Show of Hands - Roots.

Order a Cookbook for Christmas!

There's still time to get a copy of the CF Celebrity Cookbook for Christmas!

The Cookbook has lots of nice yummy things to eat suggested by famous people and raises lots of nice yummy funds to help with research into improving treatment for Cystic Fibrosis.

The Cookbook is now also available via its own website, where you can pay online via PayPal, and you don't need a PayPal account to do so. There's also a link to the Cystic Fibrosis Trust website for more info.


PETER CASE - After Hours On Pico Blvd

Monday, 10 December 2007

Lent & Eastertide Schools

The Lent and Eastertide Schools are a collection of education, training and skills events across the Diocese of Chelmsford during Lent and Eastertide each year. Subjects covered are as diverse as art and theology, pastoral care, leading small groups, healing and wholeness and evangelism. The courses are open to anyone.

On this occasion I will be involved in two of the available courses:
  • The Big Picture 2 - How can Christians respond to controversial art: protest or engagement? How have Christian artists expressed their faith through popular culture? How has Christianity influenced popular culture? How does popular culture portray or critique Christianity? These are some of the questions the course will explore using multi media resources with plenty of opportunity for discussion and practical response. Tutors: Revds Philip Ritchie, Jonathan Evens & Paul Trathen. Tuesday Evenings 7.30-9.30pm at St Lawrence, Ninefields, Waltham Abbey. April 15, 22, 29, May 6, 13.
  • Living with Other Faiths - This course helps people explore why we should engage with other faith communities and how we can go about doing so. The course objectives are to identify biblical principles for engaging with other faith communities; to develop an understanding of the beliefs and sensitivity to the practises of other faiths and to consider a range of ways of engaging with other faith communities and to identify particular approaches appropriate to your situation. Tutors: Revd Jonathan Evens & Canon David Driscoll. Friday Mornings 10am-12pm, Cathedral Learning Centre, Chelmsford, April 25 May 2, 9, 16, 23.

Living with other faiths will also happen at St Margaret's Catholic Church, Canning Town on Monday evenings from 7.30-9.30pm - April 14, 21, 28 May 5, 12. The tutors on this occasion will be Revds Sean Connolly & Angus Ritchie.

Among the other courses available will be Let Us Be Human to be led by Revds. Paul Trathen and Sam Norton on Wednesday mornings from 10am-12pm at Diocesan Office, Chelmsford - February 20, 27, March 5, 19. We are all increasingly aware of the debates which have now gained huge momentum around questions of climate change, our ecosystems, and related matters. Some of these debates are about where the evidence points towards human activities contributing to a rapid degradation of the earth’s capacity to sustain life. Other parts of the debate are now starting to address questions about how we might live differently in the light of these realizations, and in mitigation of disaster. The Christian faith has plenty to say about living sustainably and faithfully within God’s created order. How might we put our theology, our big global questions, and our own choices of lifestyle into a constructive dialogue? This short discussion and workshop course will help us in this daunting task.


Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

Girardian reflections

A new website provides an opportunity to understanding the Bible anew through the Mimetic Theory of René Girard. The site contains Girardian reflections on each Sunday's Lectionary readings.


Bruce Springsteen - The River.

Arguments against the evangelical atheists

Click here to read a review of John Lennox's book God's Undertaker. The review was written by Colin Tudge and is an excellent summary of arguments against Hitchens, Dawkins et al: 'the evangelical atheists, shouting from their pulpits'.


Joan Osbourne - One of Us.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Go gently

The lifeforce runs deep within our veins.
After conscious actions become involuntary,
after eyes become unfocused,
after hands become still and lifeless,
the heart still beats and lungs inhale,
breaths are snatched as something precious
and coughs battle secretions
to obtain air.
I pray, let go,
lose life to love life.
I pray, surrender,
from striving, for serving.
I pray, release,
returning, reviving, resting.
I pray, knowing that,
from fisticuffs at Grammar School,
you have been a fighter.
I pray, knowing that
throughout trials and tribulations,
your spirit has stayed strong.
I pray, knowing that
the lifeforce runs deep
in your veins.
I pray, knowing you will not,
go gentle into that bright light.


Cat Stevens - Father and Son.

The Noble Warriors

William Nicholson has said that his Noble Warriors trilogy is about the search for God. As a result, the trilogy has parallels with Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials which could be said to be about the death of God.

Unlike the world Pullman creates - which is governed by The Magisterium, a maelevolent version of the Church - the major power in Nicholson's world in beneficent. The Noble Warriors or Nomana are a relatively small band of handpicked women and men who eschew violence in the service of the All and Only. From their base, the Nom, the Nomana spread throughout the world using mind control to force those using physical violence to lay down their weapons and kneel in surrender.

If you think that there is something contradictory containec within that last description, you would be right, and the trilogy explores issues of the exercise of power through the journeys and experiences of its three central characters, Seeker, Star and Wildman. The central narrative line is of a life lived as an experiment in seeking truth.

The peace created by the Nomana comes under threat from forces seeking temporal power through physical force manipulated by spirits seeking eternal life. The journeys of Seeker, Star and Wildman begin as they seek to counter these forces but the journey of Seeker goes further and deeper into the nature of power, peace and, ultimately, of God.

Through its many twists and turns, Nicholson's plotline opens out into a pantheistic resolution. The All and Only is not where he is thought to be - a parallel experience to the death of God in His Dark Materials - and is not constrained but is all around, in all and with all, if only all could see and understand that all are gods ourselves.

Unlike Pullman's world where the Magisterium is clearly evil and God is to be killed, Nicholson does not set up a simple good versus evil paradigm. Here, Seeker needs to understand the limitations of the Nomana, whom he loves, in order to reach the story's resolution. How he will do so keeps the reader turning the pages as Nicholson's plotline (as one would expect from a someone with his screenwriter's experience) is the strongest element in the style and structure of the trilogy.

The Noble Warriors is a trilogy that stands alongside His Dark Materials, in the shadow of The Lord of the Rings, as a well constructed, page turning exploration of issues of power, love and the search for God.


Percy Sledge - Bring It On Home To Me.

Why 'Christian Voice' are wrong

I was pleased to see that the High Court decided not to allow a prosecution against BBC Director-General Mark Thompson for blasphemy to go ahead. I have two main reasons for this position.

First, the history of Christian protest against controversial works of art has tended to involve a complete inability to engage with the works themselves on their own terms. This can be clearly seen in the reaction of Christian Voice to Jerry Springer: The Opera. Their response shows no understanding of the artistic reasons why Jesus appears in this musical while the judges were able to clearly pinpoint the reason in saying that the musical was not aimed at Christianity but was a parody of the chat-show genre.

The target of satire in the show is the kind of reality TV exemplified by the Jerry Springer show and the argument of the show is that such TV degrades human beings. The appearance of Jesus in the musical is a kind of back-handed compliment, as the writers are essentially saying that even someone as wonderful as Jesus would only be allowed to appear on Jerry Springer, the TV show, if he was coming out and dressed in a nappy. The appearance of Jesus in the musical is then entirely consistent with the focus of the show's satire.

I, for one, support that focus and think that many other Christians would too. The protests against the show, however, show no attempt to engage with this focus or with the issues it raises. This refusal to engage with the work and the issues raised by the work also characterises past protests against films such as Life of Brian and The Last Temptation of Christ. A much more effective engagement with Jerry Springer: The Opera would be to say that we support the show's attack on the degradation of human beings inherent in much reality TV, we understand how the portrayal of Jesus in the show adds to the satire directed at reality TV but also ask the writers and those involved with the show to understand that the hurt caused to us when we see our Lord and Saviour depicted as he is shown in the show. Such an approach would show a real engagement with the show at the same time as expressing the hurt that many Christians understandably feel over the portrayal of Jesus contained within it.

Second, this attempt to invoke the blasphemy laws highlights the continuing difficulty that the Church has in shaking free of Christendom. Jonathan Bartley highlights this issue in his article, Unlearning Christendom and Attitudes to Power, in the current edition of The Bible in TransMission. There he writes, that: "In Christendom Christians enjoyed many privileges. In post-Christendom they are one community amongst many. As religious pluralism develops, the Church’s remaining privileges will be increasingly unjustifiable. Their absurdities will become more evident. The calls for governments to address them will become louder."

The blasphemy laws are a case in point and the British Humanist Association has rightly pointed this out: "The blasphemy laws in the UK – which protect Christian beliefs – are clearly contrary to the principle of free speech and probably contrary to human rights laws which protect freedom of expression, and that must include the right to criticise beliefs, religious or otherwise. The blasphemy laws are anomalies in the context of our increasingly diverse and increasingly non-religious society. The UK’s law seeks to protect people and their rights to their beliefs, but not to protect the beliefs themselves." If, as I argued in an earlier post, we need a level playing field in the award of Government tenders that allows faith-based organisations and secular organisations the same freedom to deliver, then equally the Church needs to renounce privileges gained in an earlier age that create an unequal playing field. As Bartley says, "As churches lose these privileges Christians may appear to have far more integrity in their political actions."


Sam Cooke - A Change Is Gonna Come.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Paperless Christmas

Created by Martin Wroe, Luke Halls and Malcolm Doney, is an Advent Calendar of videos for your pre Christmas delight and delectation. Well worth checking out!


Bruce Cockburn - Joy To The World.

Climate Change Conference

One of the most vital moments in global climate change negotiations arrived this week. The UN Climate Change Conference in Bali is only three days old and already a momentous decision has been made by the new Australian Prime Minister.

On Monday, John Rudd endorsed the Kyoto Protocol as one of his first acts in office, leaving the US as the only developed country yet to back the treaty. Please take a moment to thank God for this encouraging step.

Over the next fortnight governments from more than 190 nations must set aside their differences and create a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. It needs to be strong enough to keep temperature rises under 2°C, as the Kyoto targets only last until 2012.

For many of us in the West the effects of climate change lie in the future, but for the world's poorest people that suffering is happening now.

Please pray for the conference, you'll find prayer points here.


Jackson Browne - Lives In The Balance.

Marking time

Blue aprons, washed hands,
mouth swabs, aloe vera gel,
saturated host on tongue.
Distressed coughing, suctioned secretions,
palliative care, eyes opening,
final goodbyes with each leave taking.
Thinking-of-you cards, past memories,
kisses, night prayers.
Moments of time,
marking time passing
in the slow movement of decline
towards your passing on.


Lamb - Gorecki.

The livesimply challenge

The livesimply challenge was issued at St John's Advent lunch last Sunday:

God calls us to look hard at our lifestyles and to choose to life simply, sustainably and in solidarity with people who are poor. In this way we can help create a world in which human dignity is respected and everyone can reach their full potential. This would be true progress, worth much more than economic growth alone.

Take the livesimply challenge: reflecting on the challenge and your response. Take your time answering these questions for yourself. Try one or two at a time and come back to the questions when you are ready. These are suggestions for personal reflection, so there are no 'correct' answers!

1. What is good about my life at the moment? What do I enjoy most?

2. Which areas of my life would I like to change?

3. What do I spend most of my time doing? Is this the right priority for me at the moment?

4. What do I spend most of my money on? Is this the right priority for me at the moment?

5. How did I decide my priorities when thinking about questions 3 and 4? Is my faith part of my decision making?

6. Have I got too much of anything? Or just enough? How do I decide how much is enough?

7. If I decided to live more simply, would I be in a position to share more of what I have? Is there one thing I could share more of - money, time, skills, resources?

8. Am I living sustainably? Will future generations be pleased about the way I took care of the earth? How much of the world's resources am I using every day (e.g. car, heating, water, flights)? How much of that is essential?

9. What sort of person would I be if I reached the full human potential God wants for me? Would I like to become that person? If so, what steps should I take?

10. What sort of world do I want to live in and to help create?

11. To help create that world what changes am I ready to make to my life? Are these changes different from the ones I listed in answer to question 2? What changes do I really want?

A prayer of love

Love incarnate - You changed our world forever. You dwelt with the poor and raised the humble high.

Love come in - Change our hearts this Christmas. Challenge our consumerism and fill us with Your love.

Love reach out - Change our world forever. Bring life to the poor and freedom to the oppressed.

In Your precious name, Jesus. Amen.


The Neville Brothers - Bird on a Wire.

Roadside Artscape

In Monday's Guardian Germaine Greer was bewailing the lack of roadside art in the UK. However, if she would really like to see examples of roadside art with an international reputation in the UK then she should take the step of visiting Barking & Dagenham.

Through the innovative work of the Council's Arts Services department their Artscape programme along the A13 and around Barking Town Centre has resulted in at least two excellent roadside pieces; 'Holding Pattern' and 'The Lighted Lady of Barking' plus one other that has entered local folklore as 'Madonna's Bra'.


Paul Simon - The Boy in the Bubble.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Glimpses of Tomorrow

The latest issue of The Tomorrow Bulletin from The Tomorrow Project can be found by clicking here. This issue features an article asking 'Will people give up on Democracy?' based on their online database GLIMPSES of tomorrow.


King Crimson - Epitaph.

The Golden Compass

The Bible Society's Newswatch email reports that The Golden Compass, the film version of part 1 of Philip Pullman’s bestselling His Dark Materials trilogy, is provoking very mixed reactions from church organisations.

On the eve of the film’s release (5/12) the Catholic League in the USA has condemned the movie for promoting atheism and for its tyrannical ‘God’ figure. Closer to home, however, Evangelicals Now counsels parents to ‘watch the movie with [their children] and then talk through the issues raised’. The Church of Scotland’s Mission and Discipleship Council go further, commenting that the film ‘provides a golden opportunity to stimulate discussion on a wide range of moral and spiritual issues’. It sees Lyra, the central character, as ‘one of the powerless who turns out to be a saint’ and says the film invites discussion on ‘human purpose and destiny, the abuse of power, the making of choices and the meaning of life’. The Church will distribute a resource to churches across Scotland.

It is good to see that, on balance, Church responses suggest engagement with the issues raised by the Philip Pullman's books and the film version. One thing that is often missed in the discussion of Pullman's attack on organised religion and the death of the 'god' figure in the book, is the extent to which there is a spirituality that informs the book.

That spirituality is primarily Blakean with the book's 'god' figure resembling Blake's 'Nobodaddy', the old stereotype of God as an old punishing father in the sky (which in Blake's mythology also equates to the image of reason). Against the elevation of reason as a set of universal principles Blake (in an anticipation of post-modernism) "celebrated ‘minute particulars’; the ‘lineaments’ of bodies, and his works of art favoured bounding lines and distinct forms. He privileged difference over identity, becoming over being, the body over reason, and energy over states. Blake engraved his positive images of the spirit and gave them dynamic and sexually different bodies. He did not believe in generalities (‘One law for the lion & ox is oppression), and he insisted that the tyranny of reason could only be overcome though the dynamism of conflict and contraries: ‘without contraries there is no progession’."

The god figure that dies in His Dark Materials can be understood as a Nobodaddy figure whose opens the way to the Republic of Heaven. For Pullman, this is a vision of all that is good in the world including all that is good in the Church. It involves, he says, "all the best qualities of things. We mustn’t shut anything out. If the Church has told us, for example, that forgiving our enemies is good, and if that seems to be a good thing to do, we must do it. If, on the other hand, those who struggled against the Church have shown us that free enquiry and unfettered scientific exploration is good – and I believe that they have – then we must hold this up as a good as well.
Whatever we can find that we feel to be good – and not just feel but can see with the accumulated wisdom that we have as we grow up, and read about history and learn from our own experiences and so on – wherever they come from, and whoever taught them in the first place, let’s use them and do whatever we can do to make the world a little bit better."

Pullman set out his debt to Blake in an New Statesman article from last year where he outines what is basically a humanist re-interpretation of aspects of Blake's mythology.

It should also be noted that there is no place for Jesus in the Magisterium (the Church that features in His Dark Materials). This is something that Rowan Williams notes in the public conversations he had with Pullman in 2003/04. In those interviews, and in an interview published in Margaret Barker's An Extraordinary Gathering of Angels, Pullman is fundamentally positive about the person of Jesus: "in the context of this notion of wisdom that works secretly and quietly, not in the great courts and palaces of the earth, but among ordinary people and so on." "The liberating angels," he feels, "continue to work in secret, by inspiring great human teachers like Jesus." It has also been little remarked that Lyra makes a Christ-like journey to bring those who have died from the land of the dead.

One of the reasons why Pullman is interesting as an author is that he goes where his story takes him even if this leaves him puzzled from the perspectives of his personal beliefs (which seem basically agnostic although veering towards support for several of the political positions taken by the British Humanist Association). It is this willingness to follow the story, as well as his fascination with Blake and Milton, that seems to open up space for a sense of spirituality in the trilogy. This sense emerges from the fascinating interview that he gave to Third Way when he discusses the relationship between Mary Malone, Lyra and Will. Mary Malone is the Satan figure in the trilogy who leads Lyra and Will to a fall into grace. As such, she is the closest to a representation of Pullman's views in the book and yet Pullman allows the story to involve the separation of Lyra and Will in a way that is, in effect, a renunciation of Malone's understanding. Pullman felt that this was essential for the story but is puzzled as to what it means. Clearly, though, it opens up the possibility of understanding aspects of the story in a way that differs from Pullman's own understanding and which could involve a spirituality that differs from the materiality that Pullman, as humanist rather than author, tends to invoke.


Rush - A Farewell To Kings.

Church action to extend democracy

As if to demonstrate the efficacy of the views in my earlier post, click here to read a news story from Ekklesia on the way Church Action on Poverty are working with the Department for Communities and Local Government to extend democracy to all.


Don McLean - American Pie.

'Quality & Equality' seeks to exclude faiths

An important debate is currently underway in the public arena about the extent to which religious organisations should be involved in the delivery of public services.

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has published a study called Quality and Equality on the contracting out of public services to religious organisations. It is being supported by the Trades Union Congress and its conclusions have been endorsed by public figures including Lord Warner, former minister at the Department of Health.

The report’s findings demonstrate, says its authors, that there is no evidence that religious organisations offer any distinctive benefits to the supply and provision of public services. Indeed they suggest that the government’s policy objective of expanding the role of religious organisations within the public services runs the risk of lowering standards, increasing inequalities, introducing ‘parallel services’ and damaging social cohesion.

Simon Barrow, co-director of the religious think tank Ekklesia, has rightly commented that religious organisations "share with the authors of this report a concern for comprehensive equalities and quality in public service provision" and that there are "real problems and questions in the public service arena which need addressing urgently." As a result, the report deserves to be read with an open mind as a "part of an important and growing debate."

However, it should be recognised that Quality and Equality does not approach the involvement of religious organisations in the delivery of Government services with an open mind. Malcolm Duncan, Leader of Faithworks, has rightly pointed out that in this report the BHA has "fallen into accusatory and exclusive language" and "attempts to consign faith to the edge of society, attacking and misrepresenting who we are and our motivation for what we do."

Duncan points out that there are thousands of projects and groups in the faith sector that already do what the BHA are recommending in their report but that, instead of acknowledging this fact, the language of the report "caricatures the faith sector, assuming the worst of us rather than acknowledging the best."

FaithAction, of which Faithworks is a partner together with Faith Regen Foundation and Lifeline, will be showcasing some of the excellent services that faith groups provide to the whole of society at their forthcoming conference, Money Well Spent, and through their new website (to go live over the next few weeks). These initiatives show that faith-based organisations tender for public money to deliver services that are needed in society with inclusivity and that this public money is not used to further religious objectives.

"The way ahead," Duncan says, "is not to dismiss faith, but to embrace it whilst at the same time celebrating the rights and responsibilities of humanists and secularists."

The difference between Duncan's comments and those of the BHA is that Duncan is calling for a level playing field in the commissioning of public services and in the vital link between public benefit and the use of public funds while the BHA are calling for secular services, which by virtue of being 'secular' (i.e. non-religious) would exclude religious organisations from involvement in delivery.

Hanne Stinson, BHA Chief Executive, has explicitly stated that the BHA have published Quality and Equality to make clear their position "that the most fair and most inclusive services – for service users of all faiths and none – are secular services." As the BHA state on their website they are an organisation which devotes much of its time to campaigning and lobbying on behalf of everyone who considers themselves to be a humanist or holds similar views. As a result, its reports and pronouncements cannot be received as unbiased or objective.

This reality is made clear by the statement, again on their website, that humanists make "decisions on the evidence rather than on the basis of religious doctrines." Again, this is a biased perception of their position which ignores the extent to which all human knowledge is based on faith (as has been demonstrated by Michael Polyani) and that humanism (like all religions) is a worldview based on unprovable assumptions that are held by its adherents as a matter of belief not fact. Humanism needs to be understood, not as a separate evidence-based secular position able to judge subjective religions, but as part of the 'faiths' sector because it is itself a set of beliefs. Interestingly and accurately, this is how humanism seems to be understood within religious discrimination legislation and is something that humanists have tacitly acknowledged when they have sought to join local SACREs and Faith Forums.

As Faithworks have argued: "The BHA are calling for faith to be removed from public services in a roundabout way – that’s not just wrong, it is misguided, dangerous and will doom communities to poorer services. Faith groups have a valuable contribution to make and that contribution is not only at the heart of social and welfare provision, it is at the heart of a healthy and balanced society."


Pink Floyd - Bike.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Introducing Advent

Tamil Children's Choir

St John's has held several events and services this weekend introducing Advent for our wider community.

On Friday evening for our 'Lights of Advent' event we set up three gazebos in the Church garden and hung Christmas lights from them before serving mulled wine, mince pies and roasted chestnuts to passers-by. Our aim was to bring some Christmas cheer to our area at the beginning of Advent and to invite people to our Advent and Christmas services and events. We were restricted somewhat by the weather but despite the rain we went ahead and in the dry periods a number of people joined us for refreshments while others took our Christmas leaflets as they hurried home.

The 29th annual Tamil Carol Service was held at St John's on Saturday. Organised by church members, Winston and Shalini Solomon, this service is a nine lessons and carols in Tamil and English interspersed with musical items and followed by a shared meal. People travelled from across London and the South East to fill the church and enjoy contributions from a children's choir and The Crusader's singing group.

Our Advent Sunday service included the lighting of Advent candles and the introduction of our Advent song. This service was followed by an Advent austerity lunch, organised by our Peace & Justice group, with time for prayer, reflection and discussion on the theme of consequences. In this time we thought about the consequences of what we say, do and buy and of what we don't say, do or buy; how small changes to our lifestyles can have knock-on effects for our planet. Finally, in the evening, we shared with other churches locally in the annual Seven Kings Fellowship of Churches Advent Service which this year was held at St Teresa's Newbury Park.

Advent is a special time of preparation for Christians and at St John's we are seeking to do that by reflecting on the consequences of what we do and say and by taking Christmas cheer into all communities within our parish. We want to come to celebrate Christmas by remembering the true meaning of the festive season. All our Advent events and services are designed to get us thinking about the reason Jesus was born; that we should become part of the change that Jesus began and which our world needs to see. As a result, we ended our Advent lunch with the following promise of re-commitment:

We have begun a journey together. We have begun to ask ourselves questions about the way we live. We have begun to ask whether we are truly following Christ's example and to make difficult decisions in the light of our answers to these questions. Now we ask for courage to continue our journey. Lord Jesus, teach us the joy of having less and being more. Lord, grant us the courage to transform our lives and to follow your example. Lord Jesus, show us how to pray and to praise. Lord, grant us the courage to transform our lives and to follow your example. Lord Jesus, may we learn from you how to live more simply and more generously. Lord, grant us the courage to transform our lives and to follow your example.


Judy Mowatt - Joseph.

Listen to Seven Kings residents

In advance of the Redbridge Council Cabinet meeting on Monday 3rd December which is scheduled to include discussion of the Seven Kings Lorry park sale and in support of those who will gather to speak in the public part of that meeting, I ask the Cabinet to give serious consideration to the following:

1. In the course of the year that I have now been Vicar at St John's Seven Kings, many local people have expressed a desire to see a community focus return to Seven Kings and the High Road in particular. The Lifeline bid, through its mix of new health, leisure and retail services, would provide that community focus and is supported by 86% of Seven Kings residents. This bears out the anecdotal impression I have gained in my first year of ministry here. The Lifeline bid therefore has strong local support and significant benefits for the community.

2. The planning brief for the lorry park made much of the importance of community development gain for any activity on site but the Lifeline bid, through its mix of new health, leisure and retail services which support the new housing that is also included, seems to be the only one which seriously addresses this aspect of the planning brief. Cabinet should consider lessons from regeneration schemes elsewhere in the country which demonstrate that holistic, integrated solutions are needed in order to build community. In other words, simply building new homes without development of the local and community infrastructure fails to create community. The Lifeline bid should be supported because it meets this aspect of the planning brief which will also vital in the long-term success of any initiative involving housing on the site.

3. Lifeline have offered a strong cash bid in addition to the obvious community gains outlined above. Their £13.2m package (initial cash offering of £4m, buildings to be given to the Council adding another £3.7m and additional community facilities costed at £5.5m) would bring a mixed use development to the area. including creating full and part time jobs. In terms of both net economic benefit and added value, the Lifeline bid must therefore exceed any housing-only bids; including that of Swan Housing, which appears to offer only an additional six housing units to those in the Lifeline bid while only netting the Council £7.7m.

I have worked previously with Lifeline on inter-faith and training initiatives in Barking and Dagenham and can commend their effectiveness in delivery and in community engagement. I, therefore, have no hesitation in commending their bid to the Cabinet for the reasons outlined above.

On Friday, at the Community Cohesion conference held at the Town Hall, the Leader of the Council stated that community cohesion is good in Redbridge because the different groups in the borough listen to each other. However, in Seven Kings local people do not feel that they are being heard; little of the Seven Kings Action Plan has yet been implemented, residents have consistently have a long-running preference for a new library to replace the old 'sold off' library at the other end of the High Road; and 86% of residents consulted expressed a preference for the community facilities included in the Lifeline bid. Because decisions on the bids for the Lorry Park sale have been referred back to Cabinet, you now have an opportunity to make the Leader's words reality and show that Redbridge really is a listening local authority by listening to and acting on the preference expressed by Seven Kings residents for community facilities to feature strongly in a multi-use package on the Lorry Park site.


Bob Marley & The Wailers - Concrete Jungle.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

The promise of journeying

Thank you all so much for your prayers and concern.

We heard on Thursday that the hospital do not expect Dad to see out the coming week. As a result I am shortly going to Birmingham to spend Dad's final days with him. I'm expecting then to stay in Birmingham to make arrangements for and to hold Dad's funeral.

All of our family would be grateful for your continued prayers that we will be open to the Spirit, exude humble strength, celebrate life emergent, and find the promise of journeying.


A death
takes the wind from our sails
the petrol from our tank
the spring from our step
if we are wise
we reflect
in the silence
we may not connect
with anything
but, as we arise –
as we must,
it is what our loved one
would want –
we believe that
peace will come
God is near by
and hears our cry
and that
life goes on.


Daniel Lanois - The Maker.

Friday, 30 November 2007

Let The Slave

I meant to post this extract from William Blake's America on 28th November, the 250th Anniversary of his birth, but forgot to do it. Paul Trathen reminded me on retreat of just how great these words are:

'The morning comes, the night decays, the watchmen leave their stations;
The grave is burst, the spices shed, the linen wrappèd up;
The bones of death, the cov'ring clay, the sinews shrunk and dry'd
Reviving shake, inspiring move, breathing, awakening,
Spring like redeemèd captives, when their bonds and bars are burst
Let the slave grinding at the mill run out into the field,
Let him look up into the heavens and laugh in the bright air;
Let the enchainèd soul, shut up in darkness and in sighing,
Whose face has never seen a smile in thirty weary years,
Rise and look out; his chains are loose, his dungeon doors are open;
And let his wife and children return from the oppressor's scourge.
They look behind at every step, and believe it is a dream,
Singing: "The Sun has left his blackness, and has found a fresher morning,
And the fair Moon rejoices in the clear and cloudless night;
For Empire is no more, and now the Lion and Wolf shall cease." '

Van Morrison sings a version of the above combined with The Price of Experience (taken from The Four Zoas) on A Sense of Wonder:

What is the price of experience? Do men buy it for a song?
Or wisdom for a dance in the street? No, it is bought with the price
Of all a man hath, his house, his wife, his children.
Wisdom is sold in the desolate market where none come to buy,
And in the wither'd field where the farmer plows for bread in vain.

It is an easy thing to triumph in the summer's sun
And in the vintage and to sing on the waggon loaded with corn.
It is an easy thing to talk of prudence to the afflicted,
To speak the laws of prudence to the houseless wanderer,
To listen to the hungry raven's cry in wintry season
When the red blood is fill'd with wine and with the marrow of lambs.

It is an easy thing to laugh at wrathful elements,
To hear the dog howl at the wintry door, the ox in the slaughterhouse moan;
To see a god on every wind and a blessing on every blast;
To hear sounds of love in the thunder-storm that destroys our enemies' house;
To rejoice in the blight that covers his field, and the sickness that cuts off his children,
While our olive and vine sing and laugh round our door, and our children bring fruits and flowers.

Then the groan and the dolour are quite forgotten, and the slave grinding at the mill,
And the captive in chains, and the poor in the prison, and the soldier in the field
When the shatter'd bone hath laid him groaning among the happier dead.
It is an easy thing to rejoice in the tents of prosperity:
Thus could I sing and thus rejoice: but it is not so with me.


Joni Mitchell - Hejira.

Public Art and Churches: ideas for involvement

Love & Light


Graffiti mural

The Cabinet of Sin and Salvation

In the four years that I have been ordained I have had the opportunity to be involved in four church-based public arts projects that in different ways have involved the local and church community in the art. This article, which has just been published in the Veritasse Artisan's newsletter, briefly describes these projects in the hope that they will stimulate ideas for other ways of doing public art through and in churches.

Love & Light

Visual Jockeys, SDNA, filmed people from the congregation and community and then digitally enhanced these images before projecting the images onto the windows, roof and tower of the church. This project, which SDNA called Abbey Happy, turned St Margaret’s Barking into a temporary artwork that was a blaze of light and colour with moving images showing the diversity of the church’s congregation. The project was part of an evenings’ art trail, called Love & Light in the Town Centre which highlighted, through projections, significant heritage buildings in Barking. The project was organised by the local council through their Arts Services department and funded by the Arts Council.


Michael Cousin was commissioned by the local council to produce a film and photographic exhibition in collaboration with the community. When he thought about where to go to find groups of local people, he realised that local churches were one of the best places to go. Michael interviewed several people from St Margaret’s about their experience of living in Barking. From these, and other interviews, he created a film called RE:Generation which is a recording of personal anecdotes, memories and views on change, past and present with a view to reflecting on all our futures in a borough currently undergoing large scale redevelopment and change. This film was shown in St Margaret’s as part of an exhibition by Michael Cousin called Memento which featured places and personal events, from days past, as recorded by our community in their personal photo albums, alongside images of how those places and people are now.

Graffiti mural

Under the banner of SOULINTHECITY St Margaret’s Barking has been involving young people in the Arts through workshops in Fashion Design and Graffiti Art. These workshops culminated in the creation of a graffiti mural on the blank wall of a local park. This project involved many local youngsters, teaching them can-control and design skills while also learning about the history of hip hop culture. The names of all those taking part in the workshop and enhancing their own local environment were recorded in the mural. Graffiti Artist AKS who led the workshop that produced the mural stressed that the work carried a Christian message as the words included in it - "one, heart, soul, unity, community and together" - reflected the essence of SOULINTHECITY and showed that there is "no conflict between hip hop values and Christian values."

The Cabinet of Sin and Salvation

The most recent project came after I had moved to St John’s Seven Kings. There I customised and decorated a four drawer cabinet as a public arts project carried out over the course of one week in the lounge of the Parish Centre. The resulting conceptual sculpture, The Cabinet of Sin and Salvation, included constructions, paintings and photomontages and was exhibited as part of the Visual Dialogue art exhibition that was held in the church over our Patronal Festival weekend. As I worked on the project I invited users of the centre to comment on the work as it developed. I also documented the project photographically and posted daily blogs about the project here. The project generated considerable interest and comment locally and was featured in the Church Times and the local press.

Public Art projects – benefits

The projects I have been involved in have encouraged our congregations because they have been able to contribute to the project and see their contribution in the finished artwork. They have raised the profile of the two churches locally because the projects have each made very visual stories that the local press wanted to feature. Finally, the projects have either brought people into church to see the project/exhibition or they have taken the church out into the community, as with the Graffiti mural, and left something of benefit to the community created through the church and community working together.

Public Art projects - tips

Here are a few suggestions of things to do that might result in a public arts project:

  • Find out if your local council has an Arts Services department or a local Arts Council. Get to know them and support the projects they commission.

  • Talk to local artists to see if they have ideas for ways of involving local people in arts projects.

  • Offer your church building as a venue for projects, workshops or exhibitions.

  • Apply for funding to commission artists or run arts workshops.

  • Get together with other local churches to organise art activities that benefit the local community.


U2 & Daniel Lanois - Falling At Your Feet.

Advent & Christmas @ St John's

At Christmas we, like the Wise Men, can go on a journey in search of the Christ-child. Instead of being guided by a star we are guided by the Bible as we hear from the prophets who prepared people for Jesus’ birth and from the Gospel writers who recorded his birth.

The Wise Men did not find Jesus where they expected to. They went to a palace but he was not to be found there. Instead he was found in obscurity, in the home of working people. The Wise Men were surprised by Jesus’ birth but worshipped him nonetheless and I hope that will be our experience this Christmas as we listen to the familiar story and sing the familiar carols.

In the familiarity, may we not miss the surprise that the child we come to find is in fact God himself. In Jesus, God has moved into our neighbourhood, entered our world and come to be with us by becoming one of us. The God, who created by saying "Let there be ...", became a baby who had to be taught to speak. The one on whom the universe depends became dependent on a human mother for milk. God could be dropped or hurt or harmed or left unchanged or left unfed or just left. In Jesus, God became weak, wordless, vulnerable and dependent.

For God to become a human being and ultimately die for our sins, was inherently risky. What it made possible, though, was for our humanness to become part of who God is. God comes alongside us as someone who understands all that we know and experience. What Jesus did was total identification with us and the result is that we can be totally identified with God. God came into our human nature in order that we might return to God and to his nature.

This Christmas may we reflect on both the risk and the reward. May we seek after God's nature and ask ourselves what we will risk in future as thanks that Jesus became God with us. I wish you a joyful and peaceful Christmas, and all God's best for 2008.

Advent & Christmas @ St John's Seven Kings, 2007

* Saturday 1st 6.00pm Tamil Carol Service
* Sunday 2nd 6.30pm Advent Carol Service at St Teresa’s Newbury Park - Seven Kings Fellowship of Churches
* Friday 7th 6.30-7.30pm Carol Singing outside Newbury Park Sainsbury’s
* Sunday 16th 10.00am All-age Christingle Service - a colourful service of music & light
6.30pm Service of Nine Lessons and Carols by Candlelight - traditional carols and readings
* Tuesday 18th 7.00pm Carol Singing around the Parish - wrap up warm
* Friday 21st 2.00pm Carol Tea – Mothers’ Union (All are welcome)
* Sunday 23rd 10.00am Reflections of Christmas Holy Communion - poems, readings and songs
* Monday 24th 5.00pm All-age Nativity Service - dressing up, carols, fun for all
11.30pm First Holy Communion of Christmas
* Tuesday 25th 8.00am Holy Communion - Book of Common Prayer
10.00am Christmas All-age Holy Communion - children, bring a gift you have received to show others
* Monday 31st 11.30pm Watchnight Communion Service - welcoming the New Year in prayer and reflection


Larry Norman - Sweet Sweet Song of Salvation.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Christmas exhibitions

The Christmas season traditionally brings with it several exhibitions focused on Christian imagery and stories and this year sees two particularly interesting examples.

Epiphany at Wallspace showcases contemporary Iconographers working in Britain. This is a uniquely beautiful exhibition with an ambience and setting that supports worship of the reality to which each icon is a window. I was particularly drawn to the work of Dr Stéphané René who practises Coptic Icongraphy. The Contemporary Coptic style is a refreshing alternative to the more familiar styles which is both more stylised and lively in its composition and colours.

At the Chappel Galleries 'The Life of Christ' is shortly to be depicted in ninety-one etchings by Francis Hoyland. These prints were originally commissioned by Aimee and Monroe Price, a well known American art historian and her lawyer husband. One complete edition is in the Print Room at the British Museum where a selection from it was exhibited. On receiving the prints into the British Museum’s Print Room Anthony Griffiths, Head of Prints and Drawings wrote. “It is a most extraordinary and impressive achievement and we are very glad to have it in the department as one of the major monuments of British print making in recent times."


Mark Olson - The Salvation Blues.

Transnormal Skiperoo

Jim White writes songs that could have been sung by the characters who people the stories of Flannery O'Connor. Like the characters in Flannery O’Connor’s novels we are, at best, incomplete – even the good, she felt, has a grotesque face, because “in us the good is something under construction.” The holy interpenetrates our world but we also see in life distortions which are repugnant to it and the problem for the novelist with Christian concerns is to make these appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural.

Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus, the film about the American South that Jim White narrated, has this double sense of the holy in the grotesque and the grotesque in the holy. The film shows desperate people with a hell-fire religion and a God who will whup the ass of those prefer the sinful flesh over the Holy Spirit but, at the same time, you also feel the presence of the Spirit; alive and awake and in the blood of those who live in the South.

Transnormal Skiperoo takes us into the same locale. both musically and lyrically. Take Me Away a boy, who appears to be mentally disturbed, steps into the path of an oncoming train crying, "Take me away." As he does so he sees a stranger calling him in the voice of an old friend. White deliberately leaves us pondering the significance of the stranger and of the boy's cry to be taken away.

In A Town Called Amen he laments our lost innocence and in Blindly We Go reflects on our inability to penetrate the mystery of life. At one turn a plywood Superman becomes a symbol for our inability to achieve our dreams but at another pieces of heaven can be seen in "photographs of you and me."

Jim White is, I think, the pre-eminent bard for the postmodern Christian but he achieves this by going back in time to the old-time religion of the American South and the mystery and manners of Flannery O'Connor's stories and characters.


Vigilantes of Love - Resplendent.

The CF Celebrity Cookbook

Dear all

Nearly 3 years ago, Rachel and the children had a really good idea to raise funds for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust. Partly because diet is really important in CF, they thought we could write letters to famous people and ask them for a recipe, and then we could put the recipes we got into a book, to sell and raise money.

Well, to cut a long story short, we did it! "The CF Celebrity Cookbook" came back from the printers 10 days ago, and we have already sold over 400 copies!! It is in full colour, with recipes from all sorts of people, including Gordon Brown, Rowan Atkinson, Ian McKellen, Ellen McArthur, and Andrew Flintoff!

We were really fortunate in getting a designer friend to do us the layout and design for free, and Dave's firm and others have helped with the printing costs - all of which means that ALL of the £5 cover price goes straight to the CF Trust.

If you would like to buy a copy, either: let us know when you can pop in and get one, and we'll put one (or more than one!) on one side for you, or if you would like one posted to you, then please send a cheque payable to "DS and RJL Alcock" for £5.76, with your name and address, to: CF Celebrity Cookbook, c/o Anthony Collins Solicitors, 134 Edmund Street, Birmingham B3 2ES.

£5 covers the cost of the book and 76p is the actual cost of postage and packing. All funds we receive go into a separate bank account, set up just to process the recipe book. Dave's work have been really helpful and have agreed to process letters and sending out for us.

Please help us raise more money for research into CF. If we sell all our copies, we'll raise over £6000!

Thank you.

David, Rachel, Charlie, John and Louisa


The Style Council - Walls Come Tumbling Down.

At Last the 1948 Show - The Four Yorkshiremen Sketch

Monday, 26 November 2007

Workplace Gospel reflections

From the beginning of Advent the website for Mission in London's Economy (MiLE) will have a weekly reflection on the Sunday Gospel reading read in many churches which use the Common Lectionary. The reflection will be written from a work perspective and will be particularly suitable for a Monday morning following the weekend.

MiLE was started in 2005 as an independent ecumenical Christian organisation covering the 32 London Boroughs and the City of London.

It has set itself the following objectives:

1. To co-ordinate the churches’ interventions in discussion of London’s economy.

2. To respond on behalf of the churches to consultation exercises on London’s economy.

3. To support workplace chaplains ministering within London’s economy.

4. To support Christians working in the institutions of London’s economy.

5. To educate churches in the issues facing London’s economy so that they might be able to respond appropriately.

6. To work with other faith communities in order to create co-ordinated faith community responses to the issues facing London’s economy.

Practitioner Groups have been set up to further these objectives, the first two being covered by a single group.

MiLE was conscious right from the very beginning that their website was an essential tool in resourcing individuals Christians seeking to relate Christian faith to daily work, as well as making contact with other groups and organisations with a particular interest in this area, and of course with the churches. Their weekly Gospel reflections are the latest initiative to develop their website in this way. They would be very pleased to receive responses ( on how the weekly reflections could be improved in the future.


Morrissey - Every Day Is Like Sunday.