Wikio - Top Blogs - Religion and belief

Friday, 31 August 2007

Painting like praying

The work of Albert Houthuesen will be on show in London as part of the 20/21 British Art Fair to be held at the Royal College of Art from 11 - 16 September.

Houthuesen is a little known and under valued artist but one who was a wonderfully expressive colourist. Among the works that will be on show in this exhibition are many of Houthuesen's sunsets and seascapes. These are simply saturated with intense colour, as sun or sea fill the artist's vision and the world of his canvas. Houthuesen said that:

"It is a wonderful thing when one is in full swing. The brush in your hand takes over and you don’t even know you’re painting. It’s like praying. Gradually I found that I prayed best when I didn’t know I was praying. And I prayed best of all when I was working, because then I didn’t even think about praying. Whilst you are drawing and painting, you really are on your knees. It is an adoration of the miracle of Nature and the very fact that you happen to be alive."

Towards the end of his life Houthuesen was filmed for a BBC documentary called Walk to the Moon. An extract from this documentary can be viewed on Google Video. In the film Albert's humanity and humour can clearly be seen in the face of great fraility through failing health.

Houthuesen, at the age of eight, witnessed the death of his artist-father at the hand of his mother. The following year, he moved with his family from Amsterdam to London. In the 1920’s, he studied with Moore, Hepworth, Burra and Ceri Richards at the Royal College of Art. National collections holding his work include Tate Britain, The British Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum, National Gallery of Wales, and The Ashmolean.

Richard Nathanson, a private Adviser in Impressionist & 20th Century Art and Houthuesen's biographer, will be exhibiting Houthuesen's work at the British Art Fair.

Something old

I've been catching up with some old albums that I missed out on first time around.

The Call are one of my favourite band's but I'd never heard their final album Heaven and Back. Compared with the anguish of some of their work it is a mellow, ruminative affair but none the worse for that. Lead singer and songwriter Michael Been is a great lyricist with the gift of asking simple but profound questions, as in these lines from become america:

"When will the killing stop?
When the last child has dropped?
How long must mothers' tears
rain down on streets of fear?
When will the home we love
mean justice for everyone?
When will America become America?"

Gary Cherone, ex Extreme lead singer, after a brief sojourn with Van Halem that resulted in Van Halem III recorded an excellent album under the moniker of Tribe of Judah. Exit Elvis is industrial rock with heavy riffs, synthesised vocals and some standout melodies. It stands alongside Extreme's Pornograffiti for its ironic expose of the mores of contemporary America. Check out, for example, My Utopia:

"desolatemple sits
high on a pedestal
exalting a royal subjective
postulate piety
me myself idolatry
hallowed be my name
from womb to tomb
the placenta of attention
depravity begotten not made
immaculate presumption
the world revolves around
random points of reference
a pontificate pilot
in a short retort
his theory of relatives
while freedom chooses
autonomy deludes
absolute power corroborates

Less biting and more anthemic is Scott Stapp's The Great Divide. Here the ex Creed lead singer feels able to write more openly about his faith, particularly on the title track where he celebrates the freedom that he has found, through his Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, in escaping the great divide between humanity and God:

"You have ...
wrapped your loving arms 'round me,
and with your love I'll overcome.
You have ...
given unselfishly,
kept me from ...
falling ... falling ...
everywhere but on my knees!

You set me free!
To live my life ...
You became my reason to survive the great divide ...
you set me free!"

Exodus and Athlete

The Times has an interesting article on the success of the film Exodus at the Venice Film Festival. The Margate Exodus is a contemporary re-telling of the Book of Exodus, the story of Moses and his search for the promised land. Exodus is a story about identity and migration, written and directed by filmmaker Penny Woolcock for Channel Four, shot on location in Margate in Kent.

Also in The Times Online is a podcast of Pete Paphides chatting to Athlete about their third album, Beyond The Neighbourhood. Bassplayer Carey Willetts says that the album deals with "all the issues our generation is concerned and confused about ... from war to the environment to falling in love to dealing with death."


On Saturday 8th September, from 10.00am - 12 noon St John's Seven Kings will be organising a STOP THE TRAFFIK awareness event on Seven Kings High Road. Young people will wear banners saying 'I am not for sale' to highlight the issue of people trafficking and we will be encouraging local people to sign the global declaration opposing people trafficking. This event will take place by the traffic lights at the Seven Kings station end of the High Road and anyone who supports this campaign is welcome to join us.

Then on Sunday 9th September the young people at St John's will lead an Evening Service starting at 6.30pm on the theme of STOP THE TRAFFIK. An innovative and exciting service has been planned using DVDs, drama, music and prayer stations to help people reflect on and respond to the campaign to stop people being bought and sold.

Young people at St John's are taking the lead in highlighting the evil of people trafficking. Today one woman, man or child is trafficked every minute. Our events are designed to raise awareness of this issue and to call for changes that will prevent the trade of people, prosecute the traffickers and protect the trafficked.

STOP THE TRAFFIK is a global coalition fighting against people trafficking, which is the world’s fastest growing illegal crime. The global declaration says "People trafficking is wrong. I support STOP THE TRAFFIK in its call to: PREVENT THE TRADE OF PEOPLE; PROTECT THE TRAFFICKED; PROSECUTE THE TRAFFICKERS." This Declaration will form part of a global petition to the United Nations and National Governments.

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Eye Play

Eye Play is the current exhibition at the Bankside Gallery. Curated by Bula Chakravarty Agbo, Frank Kiely & Temsu Yanger Longkumer, it is a playground for the latest prints in town.

Rodney Bailey, who will be exhibiting at St John's together with me during our Patronal Festival weekend (5th - 7th October), is also exhibiting at Eye Play.

Eye Play is at the Bankside Gallery until Sunday 9th September. The Gallery is open daily from 11.00am to 6.00pm.

The Clean-Up King Part 3

In the morning the crowd came back. Only this time they didn't just stand and laugh. This time they dropped rubbish, broke the broom, threw away the shovel and tipped over the barrow. They made the children run away, but the clean-up King still went on working. He righted the barrow and, using his hands, refilled it. As he wheeled it away the whole crowd followed him.

When they reached the quarry, and saw where he was going, they all began to shout. "In the pit, in the pit!" Then they all rushed forward and pushed the clean up King into the quarry with his rubbish. He lay on the heap of rubbish, clutching his side, when down came a torrent of cans, bottles, tins and other junk. The crowd were pelting him with rubbish. They did not stop until he was completely covered up and they could not even see one hair on his head.

Back in the city the children sat on the pavement and cried. They had seen it all but there was nothing that they could have done. Suddenly they heard someone speaking to them and it sounded like the clean up King. They looked all around but they couldn't see anyone. "I'm really here," said the King, "it's just that you can't see me anymore." "We can still clear up," he said, " but I will need your help more than ever."

The two children picked up the shovel and went to find the barrow. They started to work while the clean up King told them all about the other beautiful world. When people came to watch they told them what the clean up King had said about the other beautiful world. Most people laughed and said that it was all their imagination but some people joined them and began to help. Then the clean up King would come and speak to them too.

They are all still working now. The junk mountains have got smaller but they are still there. More people have joined them but not enough. They dream of a day when everyone lives in the other beautiful world but they know it won't happen until everyone in the city joins in their clean up. What about you, won't you?

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

masses at the mac

Over the weekend I spent some time at Birmingham's mac, which is the most visited arts centre in the Midlands with over 500,000 visitors a year. This comes as no surprise when you know that at the mac you can enjoy theatre performances, music, comedy, plays for children, literature and poetry events, courses, family shows, films and free exhibitions. All within a mile of Birmingham City Centre and adjoining the open green space of Cannon Hill Park with its nature centre, play areas, café, shop and bar. Both the mac and the park were full of local people on Bank Holiday Monday; a real example of providing art for the masses that other local authorities would do well to follow.

Currently at the mac are three varied exhibitions:
  • Images 31 is the Association of Illustrator’s annual jury-selected illustration award and exhibition. It features the most influential and innovative contemporary British illustration and provides an overview of the wealth and variety of contemporary illustration produced in the UK today, from traditional line drawings to the newest digital techniques by established and new talents of British illustration.
  • Beyond the Page explores how historical miniature painting from the Mughal courts has been transformed into a contemporary art form by a new generation of Pakistani artists. Inspired by the traditional art of miniature painting, eight artists have created stunning contemporary work that reflects their country’s turbulent history and their feelings of national identity.
  • Time tells you is an installation by Rachel Marsden which investigates the ritual of work, our attitudes towards it and the power of the workplace through clocking-in and out machines, cards and hand written text. Viewers are encouraged to engage and participate with the project by ‘clocking-in’ on an installed machine and writing how work makes them feel on a clocking-in card. These cards are then displayed alongside a photographic series of now redundant machines, in order to represent the contrast of what work was then and is now.

Light Pyramid - an ecumenical adventure

At the recent ACE conference I met up with Manfred Richter, a German Lutheran pastor involved with the Kunstdienst der Evangelischen Kirche der Union (Fine Arts Service of the Evangelical Church).

In a recent email, Manfred explained that the Kunstdienst was founded in 1928 in Dresden as the first protestant initiative in favour of contacting modern art and cooperating with contemporary artists. It continues to serve as a platform of meeting for artists from East and West Germany, including international contacts and symposia.

For the millennium the Kunstdienst decided to prepare a special project which would combine different dimensions as a) Contemporary Art in historical Church Architecture; b) Art and liturgy correlated; c) the churches belonging to the different Christian confessional families as an ecumenical sign; d) International horizons at least Europe and Asia, possibly related to the five Continents; and e) Temporary installations according to the liturgical year. Gabriela Nasfeter was invited to be the artist working on the project and she developed the concept of a textile installation involving a fabric pyramid suspended from the ceiling and filled with light.

Light Pyramids were then installed between 2000 and 2002 at churches in Berlin, Paris, Ulm, Wroclaw, London, Jerusalem, Stasbourg, Rotterdam, Istanbul, Armenien and Wismar. The discussions and agreements necessary to enable installations in so many different churches, demoninations and countries led to the formation of significant friendships and partnerships. So much so that Konrad Raiser, then General Secretary of World Council of Churches in Geneva, has referred to the Light Pyramid as “indeed a record of an ecumenical adventure” adding: “The ecumenical movement needs such impetus and inspiration”.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

More 'Christians in the Workplace'

September's issue of The Month includes an article about the Christians in the Workplace resource pack together with details of two sets of two-day courses delivering the ‘Christians in the Workplace’ materials. These will be on Saturdays 15th and 22nd September and Saturdays 3rd and 10th November running 10.00am until 4.00pm at Rawreth parish church (St Nicholas). More information on these days can be found here.

Community bodies 'are more engaging'

Community bodies 'are more engaging' says Northern Rock Foundation.

Community-based organisations add value when delivering services because they are better at engaging with disadvantaged people than statutory organisations, according to new research.

An evaluation of the Northern Rock Foundation’s Money and Jobs grants programme, which helps disadvantaged people increase their assets and income, concludes that “effective community-based organisations are more able to engage with people - when they are often at their lowest points - than are statutory organisations”.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Sacred Art in Malta

One of Marco Cremona's Stations of the Cross at Mellieha Parish Church

Just back from a great holiday in Malta where one of the things I enjoyed was checking out the art on the island. Having read Malta: Six Modern Artists, (Malta University Services, 1991) and Sacred Art in Malta 1890-1960 (Said International Ltd, 1990), I knew that some fascinating work had been done by modern Maltese artists and was looking forward to the chance to see some of that work. Among the highlights for me were visits to the National Museum of Fine Arts, the Cathedral Museum at Mdina and seeing the Stations of the Cross at Mellieha Parish Church and Gozo Cathedral.

In his Agony in the Garden, at the National Museum of Fine Arts, Frank Portelli divides the picture plane in two. In the left half, Christ prays below a silver cup of suffering amidst a disturbance of reds and purples while, in the other half, three disciples sleep in the white heat of a seista sun. Portelli's green Christ, through his acceptance of his purpose, is alive, awake and fertile in a dry and barren landscape. Antoine Camilleri, focused on the crucifixion itself in his construction, Xandru L-Imhabba (Preach Love), which uses a TV aerial for the cross from which a thin but vigorously arching Christ hangs. Willie Apap's Benedizione sets the central figure of Christ in a column of God's light as he blesses the woman who kneels at his feet.

Mdina's Cathedral Museum has a selection of works by Anton Agius which include a wonderful Redemption. Agius carves in olive-wood and here he follows the grain of the wood upwards as a naked Eve stretches up to touch the feet of the crucified Christ (the one who can embrace her as his unashamed Bride). Agius work continues to draw our eyes up the body of Christ to his nailed right hand which is releasing the dove of the Spirit. This work contains the sweep of salvation history within one fluid and organic image.

Many of the pioneers of Modern Art in Malta, despite their open use of Christian imagery, where not initially commssioned for the decoration of Malta's many Churches. However, their pioneering work has now opened doors for current and future generations and I was able to see two examples of the opportunities that are now available in the Stations at Mellieha Parish Church and Gozo Cathedral. At Mellieha, Marco Cremona has carved Stations of the Cross in clay. His Stations are characterised by the expressiveness of his carving, the clarity of his construction and his sense of setting with his choice of clay leading to a rugged construction that mirrors the Maltese landscape. Austin Camilleri makes use of the fluid nature of paint working with drips of paint flowing down his canvas to mirror the downward postures of his characters in a series of Stations emphasising the apparent defeat of hope that is the disciples experience of the death of Christ on Good Friday.

Unfortunately, there seems to be very little either in print or on the web about the innovative sacred art work of Maltese artists. Many publications speak about them purely in regional terms but their work deserves to be much more widely known and appreciated. One site that does make the attempt to survey sacred art in Malta (although its illustrations tend to be of the more conservative examples of contemorary artists' work and it doesn't not include the current generation like Marco Cremona and Austin Camilleri) can be found by clicking here. Other useful lists of Maltese artists can be found here, here and here.

The Clean-Up King - Part 2

When the clean-up King got out onto the streets he found things were worse than he had thought. There were hills of junk and mountains of rubbish. That wasn't all though, then there was the smell. The stink from all that thrown away food, scraps and leftovers, as it rotted and decomposed was terrible. The clean up King held his nose and set to work.

It wasn't long before he had filled his barrow. Outside the city he remembered that there was a great, deep quarry. He wheeled his barrow out of the city gates and along to the quarry. He emptied his barrow and started back again. He hadn't made much difference, the junk mountains looked as high as before, but he dug his shovel in one more time and began to fill up again.

After a time people began to notice the clean up King. Some people stopped to watch him, then started to make jokes and laugh. Other people joined them and then there was a crowd all pointing and laughing. Once, when he had just cleared up one space, a man walked out of the crowd and dropped more rubbish onto the clean ground. Everyone in the crowd clapped and cheered. The clean up King kept on working.

When evening came and it became dark and cold the people in the crowd began to drift away until there were only two people left watching the King, a boy and a girl. After a time he noticed them there and called to them to come over. "Why are you doing all this?" they asked. "Sit down here with me," said the clean up King, "and I'll tell you."

He told them about a different world with grass, trees and flowers, animals, birds and fish. A world with deep, rich, beautiful colours where everything was fresh, clean and sparkling. "Oh, if only you could see the glint of the sun shimmering on the river's ripples," he told them and while he told them it seemed as though they could.

"Why don't you help me?" he asked them. "We could get so much more done if you would." They thought for a moment. "People would laugh at us," they said, "our parents wouldn't like it, we'd get dirty, and there's too much anyway, you'll never get it finished!" "Don't worry," said the clean up King, "you start when you're ready", and he got back to work.

The children watched him as he shovelled and brushed by himself. "He could do with some help," they said, "he'll never get through on his own. We could help for an hour or so and then go home." One took the broom and the other the shovel, the King wheeled the barrow and the work moved a little faster.

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Forgiveness at Hope Centre

News from Agape Christian Youth about the women's Peace and Reconciliation seminar that they held recently at their Hope Centre. 67 women attended the seminar with half asking for forgiveness. The impact of the seminar was really high. Agape continue to ask for prayer for their peace and reconciliation work and their plans to do another similar seminar in the villages.

Bisoke, who heads up Agape, is also planning to visit youth groups in the rural areas and wants go with a choir of 20 people including some musicians. He says that they do not have funds for fuel for their car, food etc. but knows that God is the provider. He wants to go to Mungwalu, Makiki, Komanda and Mafifi; all of which are in the forest. is usually worth checking out to keep up-to-date with who is creating about faith when it comes to rock musicians.

Their most recent news item is a link to an interview with Arcade Fire whose latest album, Neon Bible, is a real tour-de-force. Here's one great quote from the interview: "[Neon Bible] is addressing religion in a way that only someone who actually cares about it can. It’s really harsh at times, but from the perspective of someone who thinks it has value.”

Evan Almighty

Interesting interview at with Tom Shadyac, Director of Evan Almighty and Bruce Almighty. Shadyac seems to have the knack of delivering genuinely popular comedy that also says something meaningful theologically. The site also has a useful summary of Shadyac's films.

The Clean-Up King - Part 1

Once upon a time there lived a King who ruled over a great city. A city made up of houses, flats, bungalows and maisonettes which housed lawyers and cleaners, builders and accountants, parents, teachers and children of all shapes, sizes and descriptions. Although each of the King's subjects were so different they all had one thing in common. To a man, woman and child they were all untidy.

Cans, wrappers, carriers, fag ends, bottles and papers were left in a constant stream, like a snails trail, behind each of the cities inhabitants. Their cars pumped out a lethal cocktail that hung in the air like smog and infected their lungs. Their factories pumped more waste which gunged up rivers killing fish and wildlife.

No one appeared to notice, least of all care, with the exception of the King. Tears sprang to his eyes each time he looked out of his palace window and saw the mess that his city was in. He had tried everything he could to get his people to tidy up. He had put up signs, taken out adverts, issued health warnings, recorded startling documentaries and offered rewards but still they would not tidy up.

In the end he decided there was only one thing for it. So, he took off his crown, took off his robe, got up from his throne and walked out of his palace. He found himself a broom, a shovel and a barrow and pushed them down into the city to begin cleaning up by himself.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Presence & Engagement Network

The Presence & Engagement Network is hosted by the Contextual Theology Centre for the Anglican Dioceses of Chelmsford, London, Rochester and Southwark with ecumenical partners.

This is a new group, created in response to the recent report on the church's task in a multi Faith society. The network is for all who train and equip Christians for ministry in multi Faith contexts. The aim is to publicise existing work, and ensure new developments are both well-coordinated and responsive to actual need.

The Network's forum will meet quarterly looking at hopes and plans for the future; hopefully this forum will move around areas and include local input. Funding has been obtained from the dioceses for a two year post to nurture projects, facilitate the Network's forum and develop a website on training and good practice. This funding also includes further development of the Engaging with faith communities materials as resources for parishes and congregations.

Marrying religious experience & ordinary life

Have been skim reading Stanley Spencer's Letters and Writings (Tate, 2001) which I bought at Tate Modern yesterday. As expected, there are some real gems to be found.

Spencer writes of feeling "that the religious experience & the ordinary life circumstances of my life ... needed to be joined together in a kind of marriage in order that their full meaning could be attained."

We could, he suggests, every day of our lives if we liked have all the joy which Michelangelo's cherubs had of wondering what on earth God was going to create next:

"We could see a man for the first time every time we saw one if we cared to use our imaginative powers which we all possess. I mean with all the freshness & newness of surprise & joy which the cherubs experienced. We could do this by learning to love. Some seem to think that love is a sort of thing that most people go in for; that it makes the 'world go around' or does something equally absurd. But the love I should like to have the pleasure of introducing you to is quite another affair. It is an art, a most difficult & exacting art, & the most sublime of all the arts, because it alone has the power to create, the power to conceive the miraculous, the revealing power ..."

One consequence of this is that "every necessary act performed [such as the washing up at the Beaufort Military Hospital] is like ointment poured forth. Spencer, as he reads St Augustine's confessions, sees that God himself performs such manual acts of service:

"My civilian friend told me to read [St.] Augustine's 'Confession' & in it there is a glorifying God in all his different performances. This struck me very much. 'What art thou, my God ... Most far & yet most near: fairest yet strongest. Fixed yet incomprehensible, unchangeable yet changing all things, never new yet never aged ... Ever busy yet ever at rest. Gathering yet never needing, bearing, filling, guarding, creating, nourishing, perfecting, seeking though thou hast no lack.' And so I thought, 'bearing, filling', coming, going, fetching, carrying, sorting, opening doors, shutting them, carrying tea urns, scrubbing floors, etc. Yes, he was a friend indeed."

Spencer's immediate translation of Augustine's statements about God into his own world of mundane actions reminded me of the following poem that I wrote some time ago:

Slowly becoming aware in the confused, crowded
crush of life of someone serving me. At times
congested by books, people, places to be. At times
hurried, harried and put upon. Times of blind step
by step feeling, times of guilt ridden guilt,
waiting. Times alone, aware. Fun and smiling,
times of failing.

Always someone dusty feet washing, waist-stripped,
kneeling relief. Someone serving me serving, my God!,
my God serving me.

Friday, 10 August 2007

The Christian motifs of Harry Potter

Fascinating to see from the latest of the Bible Society's Newswatch emails that, "Harry Potter creator JK Rowling has told a TV audience that her stories draw on Christian themes and reflect her own ‘struggle’ to ‘keep believing’":

"During a question and answer session on an NBC news magazine in the USA on 29 July, she said that calling Harry Potter ‘the Chosen One’ revealed the series’ ‘religious undertone’. She said ‘it had always been difficult to talk about’ because divulging some of the books’ Christian motifs ‘would give away a lot of what was coming’. Deathly Hallows, published last month, shows Harry visiting his parents’ grave where the headstone bears the inscription ‘The last enemy to be destroyed is death’. The finale features Harry choosing death so that others might live and includes a last battle resulting in death and resurrection. On her own faith, Ms Rowling said she is a Christian but her ‘struggle really is to keep believing’."

Given the ill-informed criticism of the books from many Christians, based on the simplistic equation that writing about witches and wizards equals promoting the occult, it is amazing that Rowling should wish to emphasise this aspect of her work and discuss her faith. Thankfully, Giles Fraser is around to reassure us that not all Christian comment is so simplistic as he gives a resounding vote of approval to Deathly Hallows in his current Church Times column, which should only be read if you have already finished the book!

Global Cities

More on cities as I've been at the Global Cities exhibition in the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern today with my friend Alan Stewart.

Global Cities looks at the changing faces of ten dynamic international cities: Cairo, Istanbul, Johannesburg, London, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Mumbai, São Paulo, Shanghai and Tokyo. Exploring each city through five thematic lenses – speed, size, density, diversity and form – the exhibition draws on data originally assembled for the 10th International Architecture Exhibition at the 2006 Venice Biennale and presents existing films, videos and photographs by more than 20 artists and architects to pose questions about sustainability, public space and social inclusion.

The exhibition demonstrates how vital visual imagery is for understanding both the macro and micro levels of city life. Graphic images and timber constructions were creatively utilised to clearly convey the macro picture of relative diversities and densities between cities in a way that raw statistics simply could not achieve. Andreas Gursky's photos took a wide angle look at the beauty of urban skylines with Los Angeles, in particular, revealing that beauty that Victoria Williams noted in her song Lights.

Video installations in this exhibition tended to focus on the micro. Francis Alÿs led us on a merry dance through the different streetscapes of Central London to the rhythm of the drum stick that he ran along railings, cars, walls etc. as he walked. Huseyin Alptekin focussed in on individual incidents in Istanbul and Bombay setting the diversities of this incidents into play alongside each other much as we could experience in moving from one street to another within a single city. In Peripheral Stories Hala Elkoussy laid the real-life stories of her interviewees over a boundary-blurring journey through their peripheral environments.

Both the expansive and the minute are necessary to our understanding of what cities are and how they develop and this exhibition doesn't just pose questions but provides perspectives from which cities can truly be seen.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

The destiny of the city

I've been reading Kester Brewin's book The Complex Christ (SPCK, 2004) on the recommendation of my friend Huw. For me it has been one of those books which confirm a lot that you had already been thinking about but where someone else instead of you has actually gone and put it all together and said it better than you ever could have done. Plus there are some interesting synergies with Nicholas Mosley's writings including on the actual and metaphorical properties of slime mould!

Anyway, one of the passages that particularly struck me was this about our response to cities:

"Christ approached the city in order to become a part of it, to infect it, to plant some seed within it that he hoped would take root and grow, drawing the city toward its fulfilled state: that of the place of divine and human cohabitation. This is not where our cities are now, but it is where they are destined to go. And for this reason we must not give up on them. Difficult as it is going to be, we must not abandon our cities or barricade ourselves into sanitized parts of them. If we are not going to face their troubles and stay around to improve them, who is? We must learn to appreciate that the very fact that there is pain in our cities is why they are so vital. The city is the place where we are forced to meet with and journey with 'the other': the drunkard, the ayslum seeker, the lonely, the homeless; it is a multicultural melting pot - all of humanity is here. So we must stay and celebrate these things and try to make them work because this is what the destiny of the city is: to be a place where we can all live together."

It reminded me of a great song, on We'll Get Over by The Staple Singers, called The Challenge in which they challenge us to live in the ghetto, bridge the gap between us, and cure hearts of hate. I once wrote a children's story called The Clean-Up King that deals with similar ideas which I may well serialise over several blogs in future.

The lights of the city look so good

“What kind of song would you give,
if you had a song to give?
What kind of life would you live,
if you had you a life to live?
Wouldn’t you wanna make something good
that you could look on,
give you lots of pleasure?
Yeah, you would.

What about this thing you gave,
what if it weren’t quite perfect,
what if there was something bad about it?
Wouldn’t you still love it just the same?
Wouldn’t you still care about it?
The lights of the city look so good
almost like somebody thought they would.”

Victoria Williams’ song Lights asks us to put ourselves in God’s shoes for a moment and think how he feels about us, his creation. When we create we want to make something that gives pleasure and so we can imagine that God would have felt something similar in creating us. We know too that there is something not perfect, even bad, about human beings. We only have to think for a brief moment of our propensity for violence and conflict to know that God must feel huge sorrow and disappointment over the way in which we have turned out.

And yet, the song says, we continue to love and care for the things we have made even though they are marred and damaged goods. I have a pottery vase that I made at school and which I have kept for 30+ years. I recently saw an exhibition of pottery in Cambridge by the well-known ceramicist Edmund de Waal. If I compare my vase to de Waal’s pots, my vase looks even worse by comparison. It is a pretty poor excuse for a vase but I still keep it because it is something that I made and for that reason it is important to me.

God continues to love us despite our faults and fallibilities; in fact he loves us so much that he sent Jesus to save us so that we can begin to be re-shaped and our faults and failings can, increasingly, be moulded out of us. For this to happen we need to place ourselves in the hands of the God who loves us and allow him to change us as he will. As Marilyn Baker has sung:

“Jesus, You are changing me
By Your Spirit You're making me like You.
Jesus, You're transforming me
That Your loveliness may be seen in all I do
You are the potter and I am the clay
Help me to be willing to let You have Your way
Jesus, You are changing me
As I let You reign supreme within my heart”

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Public Art event & Art Exhibition

The four drawer cabinet that I shall be customising and decorating

From 1st to 7th October 2007 St John's Seven Kings will stage a public art event and exhibition as part of our Patronal Festival. The public arts event will lead up to the Patronal Festival, running from 1st to 5th October, with the exhibition taking place over the Patronal Festival weekend (5th - 7th October)

For the public arts event I will be customising and decorating a four drawer cabinet in the St John's Parish Centre. This project will involve photomontages, constructions, and paintings to create a piece of conceptual sculpture that will be exhibited at St John's throughout our Patronal Festival weekend. I will be working publically on the piece during the mornings and evenings of 1st to 5th October and there is an open invitation to view the development of the piece and leave comments about the work and the project. Comments can also be left on this blog and, while working on the project, I will aim to update the blog daily with progress on the project. The project will be documented photographically by the artist, Rodney Bailey.

Rodney and I will jointly exhibit paintings in St John's Church and Centre over the Patronal Festival weekend (5th-7th October). The exhibition will also feature the newly created piece of conceptual sculpture. On the evening of Friday 5th October there will be an opening night reception for the exhibition during which Rodney's photographs and public reaction to the public art project will be displayed. I will also perform meditations and display images from my In Between collaboration with my friend, artist and writer, Revd. Alan Stewart.

Rodney trained in Visual Arts and Design and Public Art at Chelsea College. His work is concerned with identity, communication and the difficulties we face in communicating our identity and nature to each other in a respectful and sincere way. In his work he hopes to give the audience an aspect of himself that is normally hidden from view. Rodney works in a variety of media and styles. His work can be viewed in Central London this autumn as part of the Eye Play exhibition at Bankside Gallery from 29th August to 9th September 2007.

Rodney is a District Leader with the Buddhist organisation Soka Gakkai International (which means 'Value Creating Society'). He practices the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin and seeks through SGI to build bridges through dialogue and cultural exchange. An interesting aspect of the collaboration between Rodney and I will be the dialogue between our two sets of beliefs. Rodney's link with St John's is that he is the son of one of the Churchwardens and came to services as a child.

Other events and activities during the St John's Patronal Festival include a coffee morning and quiz night on Saturday 6th October and the Patronal Festival service (10am, with Area Dean Revd. Rosemary Enever) and Choral Evensong (6.30pm, with the combined choirs of St John's and St Peter's Aldborough Hatch) on Sunday 7th October.

The Riddle of Life

Two-Timing Wife Lands Hunk in ____

Mortgage meltdown provokes _____ response

You can find the answers to these and other riddles at the Riddle of Life website.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Update - Fascism has no place on Facebook

Unite Against Fascism's petition has already received support from hundreds of people via its facebook group and email. The petition supports the call by Unite Against Fascism and the National Union of Students for the web-based social networking group Facebook to remove user pages that promote the BNP, stating that it is in contravention of their terms and conditions. This follows the decision by six major firms to withdraw their advertising from the site (First Direct, Vodafone, Virgin Media, the AA, Halifax and the Prudential). Virgin said it had to "protect its brand".

The BNP's pages include inciteful images and comments against the Muslim community, racist cartoons, anti-immigration statements and a link to their website which contains racist, Islamophobic, homophobic material and other fascist propaganda.

Sign up the Unite Against Fascism petition by clicking here and emailing in the petition to - please sign the petition by this Friday if possible (it's ok to continue signing after this date). See the press release from UAF and the NUS here.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Anti-Slavery news

In this month's Reporter there is news of the Mauritanian president's pledge to address slavery in the country, the extension of a project to help repatriate and rehabilitate child camel jockeys trafficked to the United Arab Emirates, and the award of the Wilberforce Medal to Anti-Slavery International by the Wilberforce Lecture Trust in April.

You can also read an interview with James Aguer, Chair of the Dinka Committee in Sudan, who was presented with the 2006 Anti-Slavery Award at a ceremony at London's Chatham House in November, and learn about a recent visit by Anti-Slavery International to Andhra Pradeshin India to investigate the practice of Jogini and to meet the women affected by this traditional form of slavery.

Paradise lost and regained

Norman Adams aimed at being a unifier in his art. "For me, art is about acceptance," he said, "synthesis is more important than analysis". He said that he was "inspired by almost everything - Nature, other artists (mostly old masters) - music, literature, religion" and grew up "beginning to associate art and religion and political thinking as one great thing that had to be dealt with as a whole." He came to view himself as a composer orchestrating forms and colours to create beauty in and out of chaos.

Heightened natural forms and bright passionate colour characterised Adams' work and were, for him, a realisation of Paradise in the idea of 'The Garden'. However the Garden, in Christian belief, is a place from which human beings have been expelled. Adams' painting of the expulsion Where are we going? - which he described as "an angry picture, the harmony fractured, emotions ambiguous, message inconclusive, speculative" - positions a human being precariously between heaven and hell. It is essentially this, the pilgrimage from Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained that Adams paints and which provides a unifying metaphor linking acts of suffering and injustice - the plight of the Iraqui Kurds, the mental torture of electrocution - to the realisation of Paradise. It characterised his work from the Pilgrims Progress murals for St Anselm's, Kennington (1971) to his masterpiece, the Stations of the Cross for St Mary's, Manchester (1995). Here, the Way of the Cross is a journey from death to life where it is "necessary to feel really close to Christ, in a one-to-one relationship".

Adams explained, in his notes on A New Heaven and Earth, the way in which this coming together of suffering and salvation is achieved within a specific painting: "The lower panel depicts The Slough of Despond in which human beings and beasts struggle through the bog. The central panel depicts the great mass of people, displaced like refugees, some of them sheltering in improvised tent-like structures: and in one a nativity is taking place. This painting was partially inspired by recent political happenings, beginning with the plight of the Iraqui Kurds. At the top of this panel, the heavens are seen to be opening, with a glimpse of better things to come. The great display of colourful Angels leads into the upper panel, which is all Angels (rather insect-like and developing from butterflies). The 'open-envelope' shape of the work provides an upward thrust to heaven: the two side panels (depicting the Birth of Adam and Eve, and the Angel of the Resurrection), hold the painting together like two embracing arms."

Adams studied at Harrow School of Art and the Royal College of Art, exhibited widely in the UK since 1950, and was elected a Royal Acedemician in 1972. His work features in the current Birthday exhibition at the Castlegate House Gallery in Cumbria while a retrospective of his work will be held the Northumbria University Gallery from 15 September to 2 November 2007.

Faith in Local Strategic Partnerships?

If you are interested in exploring ways in which faith groups and Churches can engage with local government then this will be an interesting link.

Faith in LSPs? the experience of Faith community representatives on Local Strategic Partnerships analyses how faith communities are involved in Local Strategic Partnerships.

Saturday, 4 August 2007

Fascism has no place on Facebook

Unite Against Fascism and the National Union of Students are calling on the web-based social networking group Facebook to remove user pages that belong to the BNP, stating that it is in contravention of their terms and conditions.

This follows the decision by Vodafone and First Direct to have adverts removed from the site which were posted on BNP group pages. These pages include inciteful images and comments against the Muslim community, racist cartoons, anti-immigration statements and a link to their website which contains racist, Islamophobic, homophobic material and other fascist propaganda.

Sign up to the petition by clicking here.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Love & Light

Just found images from the Love & Light public arts event that I was involved in organising at St Margaret's Barking on the website of the VJs, SDNA, who created the artwork. To see the images click here, find Media and watch the showreel.

SDNA, British and Italian creatives Ben Foot and Valentina Floris, are two of London's leading digital artists and VJ's (visual jockeys). They have created visuals live in a number of fashionable clubs such as 93 Feet East and Cargo as well as staging some memorable interactive sets for theatres and performances at Riverside Studios, Camden Lock, the Victoria and Albert Museum and a Russian island in the Baltic Sea!

In February 2005 St Margaret's Barking become the centrepiece of a public art performance entitled Love & Light. SDNA filmed and digitally animated both members of the congregation and the surrounding flora and wildlife, setting them within delicate moving imagery before projecting them onto the windows of the church. People arriving at the churchyard's gatehouse (the Curfew Tower) were reminded of the churchyard's importance as a green space at the heart of a concrete jungle as they were greeted by the sight of the churchyard's squirrels filling the window of the Curfew Tower's chapel.

Moving through the Tower into the churchyard, the church itself was a blaze of light and colour, filled with flowers and wildlife and people. Its stained glass, including Jesus among the elders, the Last Supper, the crucifixion and the ascension, was all brightly lit and clearly visible in all its delicate colours. Alongside, projected onto the clear windows of the church, were moving images of the local body of Christ at St Margaret's - dancing mums, waving ladies, an eight piece dance group, the verger and curate racing each other up the Church Tower, an imaginary teenage rock band, and a number of other spinning, walking, waving, smiling members of the congregation. This piece, rightly entitled Abbey Happy, was the church at play. To see photos from the event click here.

Preserving our heritage

9,800 people recently signed a petition asking the Prime Minister to "Arrange for the cost of repairs to Church of England church buildings to be reimbursed to help preserve our archeological & historic heritage for the future." The Prime Minister's Office has responded to that petition and you can view their response here.

What are the 21st century's social evils?

Julia Unwin, Director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, launched the JRF's inquiry into modern social evils with a speech at the RSA in which she identified what she views as major modern social evils. Her list included: affluence; avarice; alienation and anger (and associated violence). She argued that these social evils can be addressed by the concepts of dignity, solidarity and civility. You can read her speech in full here and contribute your own views on modern social evils here.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Peace and reconciliation

The joy of reconciliation - Rev Barozi showing his delight at being back amongst the Ngiti. Chief Akobi from Gety said, "Now I know that the war between Hema and Ngiti is over."

Judy Acheson, the St John's CMS Mission Partner, has been doing wonderful work in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Agape Christian Youth, the Youth Department that she established in the Anglican Diocese of Boga, has been undertaking Peace and Reconciliation work in that Diocese since the end of the civil and tribal wars in the Congo. She writes: "I have just written the first year's report [of the Peace and Reconciliation project] and was thrilled with what has happened. Soldiers saw the reconciliation and listened to the messages given so that they in their turn repented of their part in the war; looting, raping and killing. As a result 16 Chaplains from 13th Brigade attended a training workshop. The army has asked the youth department to continue to work with them and other chaplains from other brigades.

Rev. Babote was teaching in Mafifi when a young man threw himself at Babote's feet asking for forgiveness because he had looted all his belongings and abducted his daughter. Babote put into practice his teaching and forgave that man in front of everyone and then invited him to his house. During the Synod in Boga, Rev Barozi, the team leader for this project was talking to the clergy. The Holy Spirit moved in their hearts and many repented of involvement in one way or another in the conflict. They repented and asked that in future Hemas be sent to work with the Ngitis and vice versa. So many testimonies of lives totally changed. Please pray as there is much still to be done."

Modern social evils

The latest FaithAction e-newsletter has information about an interesting consultation on modern social evils.

NewStart magazine reports that an investigation into modern social evils has been launched by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation more than 100 years after its founder first began to explore early 20th century ills. The investigation will incorporate the views of schoolchildren, congregations in various places of worship and ex-offenders to see how much has changed since philanthropist and social reformer Joseph Rowntree first attempted to address issues such as poverty, drugs, drinking and gambling.

You can give your views on what you think are today’s social evils - the social problems that cause the most damage to UK society as a whole, or the most misery to its people - by following this link and completing a short online form.