Wikio - Top Blogs - Religion and belief

Monday, 31 March 2008

Breath on me, breath of God

“Breathe on me, breath of God.
Fill me with life anew,
That I may live as thou dost live
And do what thou woulds’t do.”

This prayer is based on yesterday's Gospel story (John 20. 19-23) of Jesus breathing on the disciples and the disciples receiving the Holy Spirit. The hymn writer takes the picture language of the Holy Spirit being like the breath of God and extends it to all of us so that we pray, “breathe on me, breath of God.”

What is it about breathing that is such a good metaphor for the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives? To think about that question it might be helpful to think consciously about our own breathing for a moment. Try taking some deep breaths now. Breathe in deeply, told it for a moment, and then breathe out. Breathe in, hold, and breathe out. Breathe in, hold, and breathe out.

When we breathe in we draw into our bodies the oxygen that we need for life itself. This is a picture of our taking in and being filled with what we need for life. In the same way the Holy Spirit is the life of God in our lives and comes to fill us with that life. What the Holy Spirit brings to us are all the characteristics and gifts of God. Paul lists the characteristics of God in Galatians - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self-control. He also lists a whole series of different gifts that the Holy Spirit awakens in us; some are natural gifts and some, supernatural. But Paul says that the Spirit gives each of us at least one gift and therefore the Holy Spirit comes to give us the character and creativity of God (1 Corinthians 12. 7). It is this - the character and creativity of God - that we are to draw into our lives in the same way as we draw the oxygen of life into our bodies when we breathe.

We breathe continually. There is no let up in our breathing, at least not until we die. We can live a long time without food, a couple of days without drinking, but life without breath is measured in minutes. So in the same way that we constantly breath, we are to continually draw in the Holy Spirit into our lives. Sometimes Christians speak about being filled with the Holy Spirit as though it is a one-off experience - “have you been filled with the Holy Spirit?” others might ask us. By which they usually mean have you received one of the supernatural gifts of the Spirit. But being filled with the Spirit is not intended to be a one-off experience. The letter to Ephesians encourages us to go on being filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5. 18). The Holy Spirit first comes into our lives as we first give ourselves to him and then we need to continually receive the Spirit on a moment-by-moment basis. For me, this constant receiving seems closely linked to prayer. The letter to Ephesians also says, that we should pray at all times as the Spirit leads (Ephesians 6. 18). God is looking for us to be in constant communication or conversation with him through the Holy Spirit so that we can see him and receive from him wherever we are and whatever we are doing.

As the presence and thoughts of God, the Holy Spirit, are continually breathed into our lives through this constant conversation so we continually see and begin to put into practice the characteristics and creativity of God in our way of life, our lifestyles. The prayer of the hymn writer was: “Breathe on me, breath of God. Fill me with life anew, that I may live as thou dost live and do what thou woulds’t do.” This is also why Jesus can say to the disciples as they receive the Holy Spirit that they can forgive or not forgive sins. When we know and practice God’s characteristics and creativity then we are able to make the kind of decisions that God makes. This is possible because we have started to think and act like God.

However, it is important that we don’t stop there. Breathing is not solely about taking in. We breathe in in order to then breathe out. The pattern of our breathing is taking in and giving out, taking in and giving out, and so it should be in relation to the Holy Spirit. The characteristics and creativity of God cannot only be expressed inwardly. Love, joy, peace etc. cannot be seen unless they are shared. Paul continually emphasises that the gifts of the Spirit are not for our own or the Church’s benefit instead “the Spirit’s presence is shown in some way in each person for the good of all” (1 Corinthians 12. 7). Just as we cannot live if we do not breathe out as well as in, so we will not come alive as Christians unless we give out as well as take in.

There are then to be two constants in our lives. A constant conversation with God in which we draw into our lives his Holy Spirit - his presence, his thoughts, his characteristics and his creativity. This is to be coupled with a constant giving out of his characteristics and his creativity for the good of others so that the Holy Spirit is available for others to draw into their lives too.

Finally, breathing is something so fundamental to life that we do it all the time without thinking about it at all. In the same way, the Holy Spirit comes in order to bring us to the point where living the life of God because you natural to us that we do it intuitively, without having to think about it. But, just like our short time of consciously breathing at the beginning of this sermon, we need to start by consciously living the life of God in order that that life begins to become natural to us.

When this occurs then we will genuinely pray with our lives the hymn writer’s prayer:

“Breathe on me, breath of God.
Fill me with life anew,
That I may live as thou dost live
And do what thou woulds’t do.”


Shawn McDonald - All I Need.

Reactions to the resurrection (1)

“They entered the tomb, where they saw a young man sitting on the right, wearing a white robe - and they were alarmed. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is not here – he has been raised! Look, here is the place where they put him. Now go and give this message to his disciples, including Peter: ‘He is going to Galilee ahead of you; there you will see him, just as he told you.’” So they went out and ran from the tomb, distressed and terrified. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” (Mark 16. 5-8)

To Christians, the resurrection is a wonderful event. One that we have been celebrating since Easter Sunday in hymns such as Jesus lives! and Thine be the glory risen, conquering Son. But to the women who first encountered the resurrection it was anything but wonderful. Instead, it was a shocking, unexpected, fearful experience.

We are often surprised to read that that was their reaction because we are so familiar with the resurrection stories and the idea of resurrection itself. And we wonder why they weren’t instantly grateful to know that their teacher and Lord was alive again. But those people who were there at the time were on unfamiliar and disturbing ground and they were unable initially to see the wonder and glory of what had occurred.

And many people today who are not Christians would react in ways that are similar to the reactions of those women. Many would struggle with the whole idea that someone can rise again from the dead and would view this central Christian belief as a reason for rejecting, rather than accepting, Christianity. In this passage (Mark 15. 42 - 16.8) are, at least, two things that suggest that Jesus did rise from the dead and two things that suggest why his rising is important for us today.

First, the reaction of the women suggests to us that there was nothing in the Judaism of their day that had prepared them for the idea that one person could rise from the dead. They were distressed and fearful, in part, because they had no way of understanding or comprehending what had happened. It was totally outside of any frame of reference that they had.

Most Palestinian Jews at the time believed that God would resurrect the bodies of the dead at the end of the age. When Jesus had spoken to the disciples about his own resurrection, it is probable that they would have understood him to have been meaning that he would rise again as part of this general resurrection at the end of the age. This belief in a general resurrection was not accepted by all Jews. The Sadducees, in particular, argued that there was no resurrection at all. But even where this belief in a general resurrection was held, there was never any thought that one person would rise ahead of everyone else.

The reaction of these women - bewilderment and fear – is entirely consistent with situations where we are confronted by things that are totally outside our way of understanding the world and life itself and which radically challenge beliefs which we had thought were unchallengeable. The idea that one person could rise from the dead was so far outside their understanding of life, death and God that they could not have invented it. And, if they had, then they would not have responded with astonishment and fear because they would have known where the idea had come from and would have wanted to have appeared confident in their claim. You don’t convince anyone by being confused and in hiding. So, instead the reaction of these women suggests that something significant had occurred and that that significant something could only have been the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

The second factor in this story which suggests that Jesus did rise from the dead is the idea that it was women who first discovered his resurrection. The Judaism of their day, like most cultures at that time, was patriarchal. The testimony of women, particularly in a court of law, was either inadmissible or regarded as of lesser value than the testimony of men. If the disciples had wanted to make up a story about Jesus rising from the dead then they certainly wouldn’t have said that it was the women in their group that had discovered his resurrection.

It is interesting, in this context, that the first known pagan written critique of Christianity builds on the Gospels’ report of women as the first witnesses and proclaimers of Jesus’ resurrection. It is called The True Word and was written by the middle Platonist Celsus in A.D. 175. Celsus claims that a ‘hysterical’ female was the witness to Jesus’ resurrection. To Celcus’ patriarchal mind all women were unreliable witnesses because they were hysterical and as a result, he then discounts the claims of the Gospels about the resurrection.

Both these factors then can give us confidence that the resurrection stories are telling us about actual events because if they weren’t then the Gospel writers would not have written them as they have. If the stories about the resurrection had been made up, then in order to be convincing they would have had men as the first people to discover that the resurrection had occurred and those people discovering the resurrection would be portrayed as entirely confident and clear about what they had seen and heard instead of the portrayal that we actually have, one of confusion and fear.

These are not the only factors which give us confidence that these stories have the ring of truth but they are two that emerge clearly from this account of the resurrection in Mark’s Gospel.


The Call - What's Happened To You?

Friday, 28 March 2008

Faiths in London's Economy (FiLE)

Faiths in London's Economy (FiLE), a Mission in London's Economy (MiLE) practitioner group, has just published a new resource for London's businesses - a Directory of faith-based business organisations and their resources.

The Directory provides information on 18 faith-based business organisations and resources through an alphabetical listing of organisations and a thematic listing of resources. Resources include: business networks; directories; journals; publications; training courses etc. FiLE intends to develop this resource as a one-stop link for business to faith-based business organisations and resources.

FiLE’s objective is to work with faith communities in order to create coordinated faith-community responses to the issues facing London's economy. If you would like to join FiLE please complete this form.


Deacon Blue - Dignity.


outcasting is a new online screening venue for moving image work which is worth checking out. I particularly liked Curiouser & Curiouser in which a creature wanders through a bleak environment finding objects that excite its curiosity.

outcasting has been developed by Michael Cousin, with whom I worked through St Margaret's Barking on the RE:Generation film and photographic project that was part of the Barking Town Centre Artscape.

outcasting aims to freely offer a worldwide audience for filmmakers and a platform for their work. Selected work will be shown in bimonthly Seasons and will then be archived on the site. The first season of films is live and the next season will launch in a few days. So, have a look at outcasting here.


Lou Reed & John Cale - Style It Takes.

FaithAction vacancy

An exciting opportunity has arisen to work with FaithAction. A National Coordinator is required to work at the FaithAction National Office. The role is working closely with the National Executive Director and involves supervision of nine regional offices. Click here for more details.


TBWNN - Take Up The Tempo.

TASK Newsletter update

Here are two late news items from TASK:

1) Please note that the Downshall School table top sale scheduled for March 29 is now cancelled.

2) We are advised by a local resident that there is now an online petition on saving the Seven Kings Meads Lane post office at the Prime Minister's website. We ask that you all take a few seconds to sign it please. It is at


Brian Kennedy - Hollow.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Religion is now a potential ally of radical social change

Seamus Milne's comment in today's Guardian is worth checking out. He argues that militant secularists are becoming apologists for capitalism and war, but that the struggle is within faiths, not against them. Responding to the Archbishop of Canterbury's Easter Day sermon, he suggests that for the future religion can be an ally of radical change and highlights the scope for stronger alliances between the secular left and religious progressives against poverty, capitalism and war.


The Holmes Brothers - What's So Funny About Peace, Love And Understanding?

Judy Acheson's prayer needs

The latest prayer letter from St John's CMS Mission Partner, Judy Acheson, has been published and in it Judy lists the following prayer requests as well as giving an update on progress on the second edition of the book Young people, with God let us rebuild our beautiful country.

Prayer requests:

• Planning the provincial office, the role of each member, possible further training and the finances. I hope that we will be able to meet in Kinshasa with Bisoke and Uchama (his secretary) to discuss all that this involves and how to bring it all about at the end of April.
• Income generating projects in each diocese for the youth department to provide funds for the diocesan youth worker - his salary, travel and running costs of his office.
• Income generating projects for our provincial office so that salaries, rent, travel and office expenses can be paid. I am very concerned that we achieve this so that Bisoke and the team will have some level of independence to plan their own work rather than being dependent on
looking for funds for everything they want to do.
• Further development of our youth leaders' training centre in Mahagi. We have funding for another three years as well as some funding for building. I hope to visit in April. We would like to offer a three-year diploma course in leadership at this centre from 2009. This obviously will involve much hard work in planning the courses and providing adequate buildings and
staff. Please pray that the Ministry of Youth, having officially recognized our training, will fulfill their part by paying the staff and provide certificates at the end of the course.
Book 2:
Fernand continues to travel around the country meeting youth leaders from different churches to introduce book 2. ‘Young people, with God let us rebuild our beautiful country’. He is amazed at the response. In Bas-Congo, students from a teacher-training college in Matadi asked him to hold a special seminar for them in how to use the book! What an opportunity. In Kananga, Kasaï Occidental, the young people were so challenged that they set up a network across the city calling all young people to work through the book and together decide what they can do to change both their own city and have an influence further field! A vicar in Mbuji-Mayi told Fernand when he returned there that the book had totally changed his attitude to women. He
realized that he was being a hypocrite and so went home to ask forgiveness from his wife and daughter for treating them badly as second-class citizens and he said that the family was now very happy.

We do want to say thank you to the churches that have sent CMS money towards this initial training, as well as the trust funds that CMS have found for us. With such a good amount of funding, we can train right round the country and God is truly blessing these seminars.

We still have the revisions to do to this book, following on from the workshop in October. Hopefully we will finish this in April and then present the book again to the Ministry for the final validation. We will then send the manuscript to my friend Yvette in Australia for her to do the graphics and set the pages ready for printing. She makes the book look very professional. We will then hopefully get the book into Lingala, and maybe Swahili. I am also hoping that we can do an
Africa edition in English.

Do pray that the Ministry fulfills their part by finding funding for printing and further training around the country.


Switchfoot - Stars.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Pentecost Festival

The Pentecost Festival (9th - 11th May) will be a massive weekend party in central London with hundreds of free events and high impact performances. A cross-generational, multi-cultural celebration of the Church’s creativity and compassion that will fill hundreds of venues in the nations Capital.

The Big 10 events include: An evening with Tony Campolo & Graham Kendrick; Luv Esther; His Story; Hope Academy; Do you care?; Comedy Superstore; Start Something; Live at the Court; Science & Faith; and the Big Heat Swing Dance.

The Festival Feel is the carnival aspect of the festival with a range of teams and performers on the streets and a variety of events in the squares, the cafes, the bars and the open spaces. Best of all, these events will be free!

Based at at Methodist Central Hall Westminster, Pentecost People is your opportunity to receive teaching and engage with God in worship and prayer. Come and explore Pentecost through the arts, Bible study and teaching. Pentecost People also seeks to equip and resource the church's development. It will be an area where people are welcome to explore the Christian faith, grow in their own understanding and rediscover what Pentecost means for each of us in our lifetime.

Finally, for the Global Day of Prayer the nation is invited to come to Millwall Football stadium to pray and to worship. Last year, on Pentecost Sunday 2007, London’s churches brought together thousands joining ½ billion people around the world in prayer for London, the UK and the nations: a global day of prayer. On the afternoon of May 11th 2008 the Pentecost Festival will climax with a similar faith-building finale, standing with the Global Day of Prayer. Worship will be led by All Souls Orchestra, Graham Kendrick, Psalm Drummers and Dance Team, Godfrey Birtill, Noel Robinson, Geraldine Latty, Dave Bilbrough, Muyiwa, Greenjade and many more. For the latest information and tickets click here.


Lifehouse - Everything.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008


The Harbour Lights sing that, because Christ has brought alive all our brave tomorrows and rolled the stone away, so we should live this life without letting it slip away. The meditation and song that follow are intended to help us reflect on how and where resurrection (coming alive to life) can occur in our lives:

i come alive (by Jonathan Evens)

When I stand in snow on a mountain slope viewing a cobalt lake,
I come alive.
When the morning mist forms a white sea on the Somerset levels, islanding trees,
I come alive.
When my daughter nestles up and hugs me tight,
I come alive.
When my wife and I lie, skin touching, sweat mingling in the heat of summer and passion,
I come alive.
When a friend listens with understanding and without advising,
I come alive.
When I sing and dance in the echoes of an empty Church,
I come alive.
When words cannot express Your praise and I sing in tongues,
I come alive.
When I hear the rustle of angel’s wings above me in the eaves,
I come alive.

I come alive to endurance
when I see a hesitant smile form on the face of the Big Issue seller.
I come alive to pain
when I hear a friend’s story of depression and unanswered pleading.
I come alive to patience
when I see a husband answer again the question from his alzheimered wife.
I come alive to injustice
when the Metro contrasts Big Mac obesity lawsuits with African famine victims.
I come alive to suffering
when I see Sutherland’s Crucifixion and read Endo’s Silence.
I come alive to grief
when I remember the aircraft shattered and scattered across Kosovan heights.

I come alive
when I am touched and see and hear
the beautiful or broken, the passionate or poor.
The mystery or madness
of the Other in which God
meets and greets me
and calls forth the response
that is love.

Resurrection (by The Harbour Lights)

"If someone could bring alive
All our brave tomorrows
And roll the stone away
So let us live this life
For this is time we borrow
Don’t let it slip away

Awaken from the Winter
To the colours of the Spring
Keep your heart wide open
So you do not miss a thing
For all the birds are singing
It’s time for resurrection
It’s time for letting go
Of all the things that might have been
For living out your promises
And dusting off your dreams
Time for you to fly again time for resurrection

How easily we forget
The grace with which we started
How quickly we become
Tied up and locked away
Bound by our own frustrations
Till all our senses numb"

In a time of silent reflection think about moments in your life when you have come alive and thank God for each moment.


Dave Bainbridge & David Fitxgerald - Open My Eyes.

TASK Newsletter 6

Hello again. We are proud to present our regular fortnighly round up on what is new where we are, and make our usual request that once you have read it, that you please pass it on to someone you know who might like to become a TASK supporter.

Meads Lane Post Office: still time to object

The campaign continues to save this pivital community lifeline, as time runs out on the formal consultation period which concludes on April 2.

We are asking all our supporters to take just a few minutes to send an email, make a call or write a letter to register our concerns about the loss of this facility, run so ably for so long by post master David Shah and his family.

Main points you might want to make include:

  • the centrality of the service to local people, especially the elderly and mobility limited, plus the extra value offered through David's exemplary customer service and extensive language skills which are so additionally helpful in our diverse community;
  • the technical error in the Post Office assessment of sites suggesting Meads Lane post office is not on a bus route. In fact, it is actually on a hail and ride route and therefore has a stop potential immediately outside its door, thus offering unbeatable access. Side roads also offer good additional parking options;
  • the site actually runs at a profit, with a socially useful school uniform concession attached that would itself be under threat if the post office were to close;
  • there is no direct bus service to the nearest alternative venue on the High Road, necessitating up to a half hour walk and/ or an expensive cab ride for most needy customers. Even for those with cars, parking is deeply difficult at the busy High Road site.

The consultation contacts are as follows:

  • online at click on public consultation under the network change programme;
  • by email at;
  • by phone at 08457 22 33 44;
  • by snail mail at Anita Turner, Network Development manager, c/o national Consultation Team, FREEPOST CONSULTATION TEAM.

TASK have also taken up the issue with relevant Redbridge Council Cabinet member Cllr Keith Prince, urging that the Council considers taking over branches like Meads Lane, following the example of Essex County Council, which has excited huge interest in terms of its plans to use post offices to promote Council services and effectively operate as a local community based neighbourhood office. Given its profitable status, extending this lifeline to Meads Lane would operate as a negligible charge on the public purse, whilst potentially offering an accessible new Council service point with brilliant customer care. Cllr Prince has agreed to consider this idea and we will be chasing him as the deadline looms.

Finally, on the Post Office issue, we were sad to see that Ilford South MP Mike Gapes voted to support the Government's Post Office closure programme in last week's parliamentary debate.

Allotments threat: not quite all over yet

Previous TASK newsletters have talked of a receding threat to the Council's proposed allotment sale programme, which includes local sites in Seven Kings and neighbouring Goodmayes.

This is undoubtedly good news, but the local allotment society have asked us to point out the threat is not entirely over and that all concerned locals should use the upcoming 'Big Conversation' public consultation on Council services to finally kill off all talk of disposing of any allotment sites. Full details of the 'Big Conversation' will be announced shortly and will feature prominently in future TASK newsletters.

Meanwhile, if you are thinking of taking up an allotment please contact the Seven KIngs and Goodmayes Allotment Society, who would be delighted to talk to you and confirm they have just a few plots left. See their website at or ring 020 8 553 3739 after working hours

Spring streetscene walkabout: new date announced

Now scheduled for Friday April 25 starting at 9am outside Seven Kings railway station. This regular walkabout with Council officers allows immediate action on broken paving, out of action lamps, graffiti and dumping, ensuring that some of our everyday issues get shared, discussed and sorted. Fast.

The walk will start around the Seven Kings health centre and can address any other hotspots supporters wish to identify. Please email Ali at with your ideas and/ or offer to take part in the walkabout

Greening the area: more trees now promised following lobbying by TASK

We were joined on the last streetscene walk in early March by one of the Council's tree officers, who after a detailed conversation with Ali, is now investigating planting more trees along the High Road and local side streets. Apparently, there is some caution from some local residents having a tree sited outside their house, so If you have an interest in hosting one near you, please let us know and we can pass this on and get any planting started quicker. Contact Ali at

Is it the last post for the British Legion?

Rumours reach us that property developers have been sniffing around the British Legion clubhouse on Durban Road, with talk of unfeasibly low bids for the building itself and an interest in possible new house building here. This follows attempted tree cutting earlier this year on empty property next to the very same clubhouse, which was only stopped as concerned residents took urgent action by contacting the police and the Council tree department.

We are advised that the Legion have turned down a derisory initial offer, but will be monitoring developments in this area closely.

Anyone who knows anything is urged to contact us at

Next public meeting scheduled for May

After the success of the first open TASK meeting in early March, we are planning another session in early May, with plans to invite Swan Housing-owners and developers of the High Road car/lorry park- and Council officers responsible for the future of the swimming pool, which looks set to close in December with no clear costed plan to replace it.

Dates, start times and a venue- all ideas and offers are welcome- will be confirmed in our next issue

Downshall School table Top sale: Saturday 29 March from 1000-1200

All those with some time on saturday morning are encouraged to spend a few minutes- and some money- at this fundraising event for a popular local school, which offers the chance of a good bargain. Entrance is on Meads Lane

That's it, folks! Please keep us posted of your local news stories and upcoming charity events, which we will happily list for you for free, by emailing Next issue is out w/b 7 April.


The Housemartins - Build.

Review of 'Christians in the Workplace'

Paul Trathen sent me this helpful review of the Christians in the Workplace resource pack that we have both had a hand in preparing. The review comes from the national newsletter/gazette that Joanna Cox produces for Adult Educators etc in Church of England Dioceses around the country:

"A resource pack Christians in the Workplace - see for more details, and how to get hold of it. The pack includes leaders' notes and resources, outline suggestions for different ways in which the material might be used, handouts for participants and a CD-Rom contain course material. Experienced group leaders committed to the topic will find this a fascinating and stimulating mine of ideas / resources / references. It's not really material to hand 'cold' to everyone to use straight, and I suspect that others unfamiliar with the issues or with adult education group practice could struggle (Chelmsford are offering leader training /familiarisation within the diocese, which sounds useful). My sense is that this would be likely to be valued most by a group wanting some serious thoughtful engagement, who would rejoice in something that manages to avoid being patronising."


King's X - Shot of Love.

Monday, 24 March 2008

There were giants in those days (4)

Finally, their emphasis on relationality. They chose to explore aspects of coinherence and relationality at a time when progress was achieved through specialisation and when World Wars were undermining belief in human brotherhood. Relationality, however, was fundamental to their vision enabling them to explore the links between past, present and future within works that aimed at being holistic and reconciliatory.

Eliot’s Four Quartets ends with our arrival at the place of our beginning but, for the first time, with knowledge of the place itself. This knowledge is of unity:

“A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.”

This knowledge is also that of the eldila in Lewis’ Perelandra:

“In the plan of the Great Dance plans without number interlock, and each movement becomes in its season the breaking into flower of the whole design to which all else had been directed. Thus each is equally at the centre and none are there by being equals, some by giving place and some by receiving it, the small things by their smallness and the great by their greatness, and all the patterns linked and looped together by the unions of a kneeling with a sceptred love. Blessed be He!”

In this aspect of their thought, these artists were ahead of their time. Now, with the growth of the global village, globalisation, the international community and the world-wide web, inter-connectivity is a ‘live’ issue. Moynagh describes globalisation as involving “the interlocking of nations so that they begin to form a single unit” and argues that as “[p]eople across the globe are becoming connected in new ways … this will transform our lives … [providing] fresh opportunities to be in touch with others”. “New networks will give rise to a new society”. This optimism is echoed by Susan Greenfield. She predicts that as we communicate and learn through new technologies, “we won’t see ourselves as individuals any more”. Instead, “[w]e will be a living web”, “more networked and connected, less separate”. This change will come because “when people learn predominantly in visual form from screens, they won’t think in linear ways, but in “hypertext”, free-associating between ideas in the same way information is accessed on the web".

Jones provides a theological underpinning for a ‘hypertext’ approach to knowledge. Jones believes that objects, images and words accrue meanings over the years that are more than the object as object or image as image. This is the idea of the signifier and the signified that is found in semiotics. All things, therefore, including human beings and other living creatures are signs re-presenting something else in another form. Recessive signs which re-present this multiple signification are what Jones aims to create in works such as The Anathemata and Aphrodite in Aulis. Maritain suggests that it is multiple signification that creates joy or delight in a work of art:

“the more there is of knowledge, or of things presented to the understanding, the vaster will be the possibility of joy; this is why Art, in so far as ordered to Beauty, does not, at least when its object permits, stop at forms or at colours, nor at sounds, nor at words taken in themselves and as things, but it takes them also as making known other things than themselves, that is to say as signs. And the thing signified may itself be a sign in turn, and the more the work of art is laden with significance … the vaster and the richer and the higher will be the possibility of joy and beauty”.

For Jones such signification is the essence of a Christianity, which has, at its heart, the re-presenting of Christ under the form of bread and wine. When the sign is the thing signified what you have is incarnation, the union of the natural and the supernatural.

This same correspondence is also found in the work of Williams. He argues that the supernatural and, ultimately, God himself, is known “through images within the natural”. At its best this is the Beatrician moment, when “one can know himself to be … in Love; one can have a sense of living within the beloved”, of imaging and participating in the “supernatural fact of coinherence”. “All things,” Williams suggests, “are held together by correspondence, image with image, movement with movement. Without that there could be no relation and therefore no truth. It’s our business – especially yours and mine – to take up the power of relation”.

Once we have seen that we live from others, then Williams suggests that we are able to live for others through mutuality, reciprocity and exchange. “At the root of the physical nature of man,” he wrote, “lie exchange of liking, substitution, inherence. The nature of man which is so expressed in the physical world is expressed after the same manner, only more fully, in the mental and spiritual”.

Again, the Incarnation is key. Williams says that Jesus, “preferred to shape himself within the womb, to become hereditary, to owe to humanity the flesh he divinitized by the same principle – ‘not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of the Manhood into God.’ By an act of substitution he reconciled the natural world with the world of the kingdom of heaven, sensuality with substance. He restored substitution and co- inherence everywhere; up and down the ladder of that great substitution all our lesser substitutions run; within that sublime co-inherence all our lesser co-inherences inhere”.

For Williams, exchange has economic and political implications as well as ecclesiastical and personal. Similarly, Sayers argues that “… the Church, as a Christian society, is concerned … to sanctify humanity … the whole of humanity”. “She must,” Sayers argues, “include within her sacraments all arts, all letters, all labour and all learning … she stands committed to the assertion that all human activity, whether of spirit, mind or body, is potentially good – not negatively, by repression, but positively, and as an act of worship. Further, she must include a proper reverence for the earth and for all material things; because these also are the body of the living God”.

This is so Sayers believes because “the Trinitarian structure which can be shown to exist in the mind of man and in all his works is, in fact, the integral structure of the universe, and corresponds, not by pictorial imagery but by a necessary uniformity of substance, with the nature of God, in Whom all that is exists”. Therefore, all human making follows this Trinitarian, coinherent, inter-connected pattern:

“First: there is the Creative Idea; passionless, timeless, beholding the whole work complete at once, the end in the beginning; and this is the image of the Father.

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

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

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

Through recessive signification, the Way of Affirmation, the Beatrician moment and the Trinitarian patterning of making, a theological basis for inter-connextivity and the networked society can be formed which holds the potential for the Church to “join up the fragments of society” in the way that Sayers and these other artists envisaged.

In our day, people like Moynagh through The Tomorrow Project, Michael Schluter of The Relationships Foundation, and Christian Schumacher of Work Structuring Ltd. are developing policy and practice on the basis of these ideas while the likes of Walter Brueggemann and Mark Oakley in speaking respectively of funding the counter-imagination and the collage of God are taking our theological understanding of relationality further. While seeking to understand and build on the work of such thinkers and practitioners we should not neglect or under-estimate the extent to which the artists considered in this series can fund the counter-imagination of the Church as it builds a collage of God for the 21st century.


Robert Randolph & The Family Band- Deliver Me.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

My God! my God serving me

“Christ Jesus … had equal status with God but didn't think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn't claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death — and the worst kind of death at that — a crucifixion.” (Philippians 2. 6-8, The Message)

God became a slave, a servant of human beings, of us. Just think about that for a moment, think about the implications. Our creator, the designer of creation, the artist of the galaxies, the one who sustains life, the one to whom we owe everything, especially our very lives themselves becomes our servant and washes our feet.

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.

How does God serve us? “He lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death — and the worst kind of death at that — a crucifixion.”

He died for us! While we were still sinners, while we were in rebellion against him, while we were still shaking our fists in his face and demanding our right to do as we wanted when we wanted, Christ died for us. “God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him ... when we were at our worst, we were put on friendly terms with God by the sacrificial death of his Son.” (Romans 5. 6, 8b, The Message)

And this God, who serves us by dying us, calls us to serve others and love others as he has served and loved us; how could we do anything less, how could we say no to this man, to this God, to Jesus?

“Thorns on his head spear in his side
Yet it was a heartache that made him cry
He gave his life so you would understand
Is there any way you could say no to this man?

If Christ himself were standing here
Face full of glory and eyes full of tears
And he held out his arms and his nail printed hands
Is there any way you could say no to this man?

How could you look in his tear stained eyes
Knowing it's you he's thinking of?
Could you tell him you're not ready to give him your life?
Could you say you don't think you need his love?

Jesus is here with his arms open wide
You can see him with your heart if you'll stop looking with your eyes
He's left it up to you, he's done all that he can
Is there any way you could say no to this man?

How could you look in his tear stained eyes
Knowing it's you he's thinking of?
Could you tell him you're not ready to give him your life?
Could you say you don't think you need his love?

Thorns on his head your life in his hands
Is there any way you could say no to this man?
Is there any way you could say no to this man?”

(Julie Miller - How Could You Say No? written by Mickey Cates)

"Do you understand what I have done to you? You address me as 'Teacher' and 'Master,' and rightly so. That is what I am. So if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other's feet. I've laid down a pattern for you. What I've done, you do. I'm only pointing out the obvious. A servant is not ranked above his master; an employee doesn't give orders to the employer. If you understand what I'm telling you, act like it — and live a blessed life … Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other." (John 13. 12b-17, 34-35, The Message)


Zeela Mac - u and me.

Hertford stns in Church Times

Ilford Recorder article on my involvement in 'Hertford stns'

Click here to see my article on Hertford stns which has been published by the Church Times. In the article I conclude that the Stations of the Cross come alive when we see something of ourselves in Christ’s Passion. Each Station and its accompanying meditation is designed to help viewers draw out the significance of what happens, both for Christ and for the artist and themselves. That opportunity has been offered both by the preparation of Hertford stns at its Lenten workshops, and by its Holy Week display and pilgrimage. Hertford stns can be viewed at All Saints’, Hertford, on Holy Saturday between 10.00am and 2.00pm.


U2 - A Day Without Me.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Hertford stns

Station 4 - Jesus meets his mother

you bore me
so that I
can bear the world
on my shoulders.

you birthed me
so that I
can give birth
to God’s children.

you sheltered me
so that others
can find shelter
under my wing.

you carried me
so that I
can carry others
into heaven’s kingdom
on earth.

you bore me,
birthed me,
sheltered me,
carried me,
to release me
and give me
in broken pieces
to the world.

in a little while
you will not see me
and your heart
will break.

in a little while
you will see me
and the shattered
shards of your heart
will be gathered up
and restored.

Station 7 - Jesus falls the second time

Gravity pulls at your head.
Sweating blood,
whether this cup can be taken from you.
Not your will, God’s will.

Gravity pulls at your shoulders.
Red raw,
wicked wood
splintering in lacerations.
Weight of wood pressing down.

Gravity pulls at your legs
having walked
the length and breath of the country,
having knelt
in prayer in Gethsemene,
having stood
while beaten and whipped.

Gravity pulls you down.

Station 9 - Jesus falls the third time

Falling …
when chained
when whipped
when bearing a cross

Falling …
through weakness
through tiredness
through failure

Falling …
when pushed
when pulled
when mocked

Falling …
from prestige
from riches
from grace

Falling …
by stumbling
by tripping
by leaping

Falling …
into sin
into poverty
into depravity

Falling …
into the grave
into debt
into grace

Falling …
through time
through space
through eternity

Falling …
in love

Falling …
the arms of God

Falling …


Station 11 - Jesus is nailed to the cross

What holds you here?
The cruel nails
driven into wrists and feet?
Armed guards
ringing the base of your cross?
The crowd
mocking your purpose and pain?
The exhaustion
of a battered and beaten victim?
A willed commitment
to a loving, reconciling purpose?

Station 13 - Jesus is taken down from the cross

And a sword pierced her heart,
as the whip flayed his back,
as the cross made him fall,
as the nails pierced his wrists and feet,
as the spear pierced his side,
as she held the limp, lifeless adult body
she had once held, as a newborn babe, to her breast.


John Coltrane- A Love Supreme Part 4 (Psalm).

Monday, 17 March 2008

From Russia

From Russia is an exhibition about international relations. Titled From Russia, presumably because all the paintings on show come from Russian museums, it is famously the exhibition that was almost ‘not from Russia’ because of the worsening state of Anglo-Russian relations in the political fallout from the murder of Alexander Litvinenko. The exhibition itself tells a story of the effect that Modern Art developed primarily in Paris had on the art of Russia, culminating, through the work of Kandinsky and Malevich, in Russian artists temporarily leading the newest avant-garde movements. As a result the exhibition could have been titled ‘From Paris,’ as that is the main direction of the influence traced.

Although the exhibition has been publicised as a blockbuster show crammed with Modern masterpieces, it is actually an exhibition of greater variation and contrasts that the pre-publicity would have us believe. True, major works by Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Bonnard, Picasso, Matisse, Chagall, Kandinsky and Malevich are all being shown in this country for the first time and that is reason enough in itself to make a visit to this exhibition a priority. But alongside this retelling of the standard history of Modern Western Art movements, is another interesting and less well-known story; the development of Modern Art within Russia itself.

Curators are continually seeking new ways of retelling the story of Modern Art because of its box-office cache; in this instance by the exploration of its influence on national and regional art. This is pragmatic postmodernism; as the telling of a national art-story enables the showing of The Dance which in turn guarantees queues at the ticket office. While getting the crowds in is an essential element in planning a major exhibition, this does not mean that telling the national art-story is simply a hook on which to hang modern masterpieces. In this case, as in last year’s Piety and Pragmatism exhibition at the Estorick, a fascinating story emerges in which spirituality plays a significant role.

The brooding figure of Leo Tolstoy barefoot painted by Ilya Repin stands at the entrance to this exhibition. Repin was heavily influenced by Tolstoy’s treatise What is Art? in which Tolstoy argued that the task of art was advocacy of moral virtue and Repin’s image of the writer as prophet signals a contrast between the serious moral and spiritual content of Russian Art at the turn of the nineteenth century and the joie-de-vivre of French Impressionism with its light celebrations of the bourgeoisie at play. The story here is of the way in which Modern Russian Art comes to dress itself in the clothes of Modernism without losing its spiritual soul and thereby, in the expressive abstraction of Kandinsky and the minimalist abstraction of Malevich, for a short period leads the Modernist stampede towards new artistic movements.

The staging posts on this journey are both beautiful and mysterious. Mikhail Nestorov’s The Murdered Tsarevich Dmitry is a poignant lament for the lost spiritual soul of Russia. Mikhail Vrubel’s Six-Winged Seraph is a masterpiece of expressionist painting creating a Symbolist image designed to arouse Russian spirits from the trivia of the everyday to contemplation of the sublime. Nikolai Roerich’s landscapes, saturated with colour harmonies and represented here by Kissing the Earth, are meditations on the universality of the Russian soul. Natalia Goncharova’s naïve and monumental Peasants derive from a nine-part composition based on the Gospels celebrating the spirituality of the Russian people. Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, in his Virgin of Tender Mercy to Evil Hearts, responds to the horrors of the First World War with a Virgin who looks on us the viewer with a tenderness borne of her own experience of suffering through the birth and death of Christ, as depicted in blue dream-like cubist images behind her. A similar combination of sorrow and strength through spirituality also pervades Marc Chagall’s The Red Jew. These are paintings as prophecy, increasingly using the techniques of Modernism, to address the Russian soul and a strong contrast to other works which draw more closely on the French-influenced exploration of form and colour that initially appeared free of such existential angst.

In the exhibition’s final room, this sense of artists calling out to a spirituality held in check finally finds release in the differing abstractions of Kandinsky and Malevich. Kandinsky abstracts from the folk art and fairy tales that featured in the art of Goncharova and Chagall to create paintings such as Composition VII on which colour explodes along lines of spiritual force. Malevich, by contrast, pares his imagery and colour down to black on white, shape on background. He spoke of his Black Cross as an icon of the new time and hung it across the corners of a room in the space traditionally reserved for an icon in a home. His black shapes represent the weight and substance of humanity in the weightlessness and void of the universe.

In the exhibition’s catalogue Yevgenia Petrova writes, of Malevich, “the quest for one of the 20th century’s most innovative creators for new themes and a new artistic language had its source in the realm of his religious notions.” This sense that Modernism was fed, in part, by “religious notions” is one that is only recently beginning to be explored and acknowledged in exhibitions such as Piety and Pragmatism and now From Russia. In this exhibition, the phenomenon is dealt with as being a purely Russian characteristic despite the influence of the Nabi's and, in particular Maurice Denis, on the French art that was purchased by the two principal Russian collectors, Sergei Shchukin and Ivan Morozov. The role of Denis and other Nabi's in developing a modern French sacred art is therefore overlooked and the opportunity to explore links between l'Art Sacré and Russian spirituality missed.

If one of the legacies of From Russia were to be a more widespread re-examination of the influence of spirituality on Modernism, then the impact of this exhibition could potentially equate to that which the legendary collections of French art assembled by Shchukin and Morozov, which form the heart of From Russia, had on the Russian art of their own day.


Rachmaninoff Vespers - Rejoice, O Virgin.

There were giants in those days (3)

Given the significance of these artists and the support they received from the churches, why this implication of failure? Why was their impact not greater? There are, of course, many cultural, organisational and sociological factors that would need to be part of a comprehensive answer to those questions. Many of which are broader and more significant that the artists under discussion here, but in the remainder of this series of blogs I wish to explore three factors that are closely connected with these artists in particular.

First, the looseness of their groupings. The Anglican and Roman Catholic groupings essentially progressed down different tracks. The Roman Catholic grouping, for example, forming out of the Arts and Crafts movement, holding more left-wing political views and being underpinned by art theories and theologies from France, particularly those of Maurice Denis, Jacques Maritain and Maurice de la Taille. Within the Anglican groupings, Lewis and Eliot were poles apart in terms of their literary criticism and approaches while within the Roman Catholic grouping the common splits endemic to communities ensued, leading to Gill’s departure for Wales. As a result, these giants never achieved the level of group cohesion envisioned by Eliot in ‘The Idea of a Christian Society’.

Second, the extent to which they opposed the zeitgeist. Although, radicals for their time in the forms of their art they were nevertheless traditionalists in terms of content. Norbert Frye’s summary of Eliot’s social criticism is applicable to most, if not all, of the artists we are considering here and brings out the extent to which they were opposed to the most significant developments of their age. Frye says of Eliot that:

“He is uniformly opposed to theories of progress that invoke the authority of evolution, and contemptuous of writers who attempt to popularise a progressive view, like H. G. Wells. The “disintegration” of Europe began soon after Dante’s time; a “diminution” of all aspects of culture has afflicted Europe since Queen Anne; the nineteenth century was an age of progressive “degradation”; in the last fifty years [of Eliot’s life] evidence of “decline” are visible in every department of human activity”.

This decline includes the development of nation states and religious sects, the specialisation of knowledge and the mechanisation of work. It can be summed up as “the disintegration of Christendom, the decay of a common belief and a common culture”. The impact of these artists, however cohesive they could have been as a group, was always likely to be limited if their opposition to the zeitgeist was so fundamental and their positions ones that could easily be dismissed by their opponents as ‘conservative’, ‘traditional’ or ‘backward-looking’.


Olivier Messaien - Louange a l'eternite de Jesus.

Campaigning for Meads Lane Post Office

Have just sent the following to the National Consultation Team for Post Office®:

Dear Anita Turner,

I am emailing, as part of the public consultation on the London Area Plan, to object to your plans to close the Meads Lane Post Office in Seven Kings.

Having viewed your map of Post Offices in the locality and the criteria to which you are working in making decisions as to which Post Offices across London are to close, the basis on which Meads Lane has been selected for possible closure seems clear as it is ringed by other Post Offices, two of which are within 1 mile of Meads Lane. However, the reality on the ground for local people is very different from the simplistic and blunt instruments that are your criteria and measurements.

The Meads Lane Post Office is an efficient, profitable, well run, community-orientated business (with a second valuable community business - the sale of school uniforms - also provided from the same location). It is located on a well-used bus route (364) and although, as noted in your Branch Access Report, there is no bus stop close by, this is solely because the 364 operates on a hail and ride basis along Meads Lane meaning that access by bus is actually better than where fixed bus stops are in place. In addition, there is roadside parking available in all the surrounding roads.

The situations at the next nearest Post Offices are very different. As noted in the Branch Access Report, there is no direct bus service between Meads Lane and either of the Post Offices within 1 mile of the Meads Lane branch. This means that the only transport options are bike, car, on foot or taxi. For many elderly residents and for some disabled residents walking or cycling 0.6 or more miles will not be an option and for this group car or taxi will be the only feasible option. The roads surrounding the Seven Kings High Road Post Office are all in a controlled parking zone and the car park which the Branch Access Report notes as being 50 yards from the branch has been sold by Redbridge Council for the construction of housing meaning that these parking spaces will shortly be lost to the public. Parking at the Silverdale Parade branch is even more limited due to its being on a red route. The comment in the Branch Access Report about limited roadside parking being available nearby is therefore disingenuous as what parking is available is either exceptionally limited or some distance from the branch.

As a result, access to the Meads Lane branch is actually considerably better than at either the Seven Kings High Road or Silverdale Parade branches. This is not reflected in the Branch Access Report because a decision has been taken to only consider access in relation to those branches not considered for closure. This represents a fundamental lack of fairness in the way in which this consultation has been structured. If the Branch Access Report were to compare access to branches within a radius of 1 mile then it would be clear that Meads Lane offers good and better access than the High Road and Silverdale Parade branches.

This is not, however, the approach that the consultation has taken. Instead, access has only been considered in relation to branches that would be accessed if those branches proposed for closure were to be closed. This represents a bias in the consultation process towards the plans on which Post Office® are consulting. As a result, I am copying this email to Pat McFadden, Minister for Employment Relations & Postal Affairs, to ask his view on the biased way in which information is being presented and manipulated in this consultation and to call for a fair consultation that presents and contrasts all of the access information for all of the current branches.

It is particularly sad that this local Post Office is on the list for proposed closure since David Shah and his team work so very hard to build exceptional links with their customers and the wider community through the provision of a top quality and highly personal service. For many locals, this Post Office is a real lifeline. Through their knowledge of several languages, the staff team are able to assist those for whom English is a second language to access Post Office services. David Shah and his team also run a School Uniforms business from the same store; this is a valuable local facility, not replicated in the locality, which might also close were the Post Office to close. As a result, two valuable local facilities could be lost through the closure of this Post Office. Meads Lane is a meeting place for local people with those who are elderly, in particular, often arriving before opening hours in order to meet friends. In addition, David is well known locally for his significant charitable work.

All these factors combine to make the Meads Lane Post Office a major asset in the local community and, were it to close, one that would leave significant gaps in community facilities locally. One of my parishioners is Kathleen Perry, an osteoarthritis sufferer who is 66. She says the closure of Meads Lane branch will leave her, and other less mobile people in the area, stranded. She views your plans for closure as ridiculous. Kathy is one of more than a thousand people from the local community (including those at St John's Seven Kings) who have signed a petition opposing the closure of the Meads Lane branch.

The business and access case for closure of the Meads Lane Post Office has not be made by the information presented in the Business Access Report as crucial information is absent and branches are not compared on a like-for-like basis making the consultation both flawed and biased. For all these reasons I call for Meads Lane Post Office to remain as valued branch in the London Post Office network and a much-valued community business and service.

Yours sincerely,

Revd. Jonathan Evens
Vicar, St John The Evangelist Seven Kings

Anyone wishing to campaign to save the Meads Lane Post Office should view the consultation documents here and email Anita Turner at .


The Jam - In The City.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Jesus: subverting our expectations

The BBC’s latest recreation of the story of Jesus’ Passion hits our screens tonight and I for one would encourage you to watch it. The Passion is the retelling of the last week of Jesus's life from three different viewpoints: the religious authorities, the Romans and Jesus himself.

It has already come in for criticism from Revd. Giles Fraser, who is Team Rector of Putney and a regular columnist for both The Guardian and the Church Times. Fraser’s criticism is that the Jesus portrayed in The Passion is nice but dull. The BBC, he claims, has created an “inoffensive Liberal Democrat Jesus: Nick Clegg with a beard.”

“As with the Lib Dems,” he says, “it's a bit tricky to know why anybody would follow this BBC Jesus. He's nice enough, of course. Pretty. Inclusive. Spiritual. Kind. Yet from a believer's perspective this interpretation damns the saviour of the world with faint praise. Following his BBC makeover Jesus is transformed into a sympathetic male nurse preaching the gospel of equal opportunities … Any moment you expect him to announce that he wants to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. As a consequence, the political, polemical Jesus is spiritualised into oblivion.”

You can make up your own minds tonight, but Fraser’s comments are particularly appropriate to the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Why? Because the people who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem were worshipping the Jesus that they wanted to see rather than the Jesus that was actually coming to them.

They worshipped him as the Messiah coming on a warhorse to lead an uprising that would rid them of their hated Roman oppressors. Instead, Jesus came in humility riding on a donkey to die in order to gain forgiveness both for them and their hated Roman oppressors.

A few days later he turned the expectations of his disciples upside down when he chose to wash their feet. The disciples thought of Jesus as their rabbi at whose feet they sat to learn but, by becoming their servant in washing their feet, Jesus showed them that the true teacher is the one who serves others.

When the people came to understood the sort of person and Messiah that Jesus actually was, their cries of worship turned to cries of crucify. Do we do the same by worshipping a Jesus that we feel comfortable with rather than engaging with the Jesus who always turns our expectations of himself upside down?

The real Jesus challenges us as he forgives us, subverts our expectations as he serves us, turns our world upside down as he saves us. This Holy Week are we prepared to welcome and worship Jesus as he really is, not as we would like him to be?

As Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote:

"Be adored among men,
God, three-numberèd form;
Wring thy rebel, dogged in den,
Man’s malice, with wrecking and storm.
Beyond saying sweet, past telling of tongue,
Thou art lightning and love, I found it, a winter and warm;
Father and fondler of heart thou hast wrung:
Hast thy dark descending and most art merciful then.

With an anvil-ding
And with fire in him forge thy will
Or rather, rather then, stealing as Spring
Through him, melt him but master him still:
Whether at once, as once at a crash Paul,
Or as Austin, a lingering-out sweet skill,
Make mercy in all of us, out of us all
Mastery, but be adored, but be adored King."

(The Wreck of the Deutschland)


The Innocence Mission - Brotherhood of Man.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

The atheist delusion

I've been getting The Guardian for the last few days because of their series on modern poets but then discovered that today's edition had the added incentive of an article by John Gray on religion. Gray's article is a stunning attack on the evangelical atheism of Dawkins, Hitchens and Dennett including such gems as these:

"... The mass political movements of the 20th century were vehicles for myths inherited from religion, and it is no accident that religion is reviving now that these movements have collapsed. The current hostility to religion is a reaction against this turnabout. Secularisation is in retreat, and the result is the appearance of an evangelical type of atheism not seen since Victorian times.

As in the past, this is a type of atheism that mirrors the faith it rejects. Philip Pullman's Northern Lights - a subtly allusive, multilayered allegory, recently adapted into a Hollywood blockbuster, The Golden Compass - is a good example. Pullman's parable concerns far more than the dangers of authoritarianism. The issues it raises are essentially religious, and it is deeply indebted to the faith it attacks. Pullman has stated that his atheism was formed in the Anglican tradition, and there are many echoes of Milton and Blake in his work. His largest debt to this tradition is the notion of free will. The central thread of the story is the assertion of free will against faith. The young heroine Lyra Belacqua sets out to thwart the Magisterium - Pullman's metaphor for Christianity - because it aims to deprive humans of their ability to choose their own course in life, which she believes would destroy what is most human in them. But the idea of free will that informs liberal notions of personal autonomy is biblical in origin (think of the Genesis story). The belief that exercising free will is part of being human is a legacy of faith, and like most varieties of atheism today, Pullman's is a derivative of Christianity.

Zealous atheism renews some of the worst features of Christianity and Islam. Just as much as these religions, it is a project of universal conversion. Evangelical atheists never doubt that human life can be transformed if everyone accepts their view of things, and they are certain that one way of living - their own, suitably embellished - is right for everybody. To be sure, atheism need not be a missionary creed of this kind. It is entirely reasonable to have no religious beliefs, and yet be friendly to religion. It is a funny sort of humanism that condemns an impulse that is peculiarly human. Yet that is what evangelical atheists do when they demonise religion."

"Science is the best tool we have for forming reliable beliefs about the world, but it does not differ from religion by revealing a bare truth that religions veil in dreams. Both science and religion are systems of symbols that serve human needs - in the case of science, for prediction and control. Religions have served many purposes, but at bottom they answer to a need for meaning that is met by myth rather than explanation. A great deal of modern thought consists of secular myths - hollowed-out religious narratives translated into pseudo-science."

"Dawkins makes much of the oppression perpetrated by religion, which is real enough. He gives less attention to the fact that some of the worst atrocities of modern times were committed by regimes that claimed scientific sanction for their crimes. Nazi "scientific racism" and Soviet "dialectical materialism" reduced the unfathomable complexity of human lives to the deadly simplicity of a scientific formula. In each case, the science was bogus, but it was accepted as genuine at the time, and not only in the regimes in question. Science is as liable to be used for inhumane purposes as any other human institution. Indeed, given the enormous authority science enjoys, the risk of it being used in this way is greater."

"Victorian poet Matthew Arnold wrote of believers being left bereft as the tide of faith ebbs away. Today secular faith is ebbing, and it is the apostles of unbelief who are left stranded on the beach."


T Bone Burnett - Earlier Baghdad (The Bounce).

Arts in Religious & Theological Studies

I've just received a complimentary copy of the current edition of ARTS journal which includes my review of Rowena Loverance's Christian Art (incidentally, it's interesting to discover where your blogs later end up - technorati search enables this; this blog was noted at Iconia, while my series on Maltese Sacred Art was picked up at Wired Malta).

The Arts in Religious and Theological Studies (ARTS) is the journal of The Society for the Arts in Religious and Theological Studies published by the theology and arts program of United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. Edited by Wilson Yates and Kimberly Vrudny, the journal treats broadly the intersections between theology and the arts. I met Wilson Yates at last year's ACE International Conference (briefly reviewed in ARTS) and have recently come across him again in the pages of John Dillenberger's From Fallow Fields To Hallowed Halls which I've read since Dillenberger's death.

This edition of ARTS has an excellent article entitled 'Reimagining Religious Art' by Virginia Maksymowicz, a sculptor from Philadelphia, reflecting on responses to the Stations of the Cross she created for St Thomas Episcopal Church, Lancaster and responding to a quote from James Elkins which claims that "the word 'religion' is a toxin in serious talk about art."


Septimus - Jesus Loves Me.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Imaginative space & the empathy of God

Station 6: Jesus meets Veronica by Rachel Doragh

Station 8: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem by Al Gray

Station 14: Jesus is laid in the tomb by Anthony Fenwick

Hertford stns combines Stations of the Cross painted by local artists with six Stations created through art workshops held in Lent organised by Hertford & District Churches Together. During Holy Week the complete set of Stations will be sited either in different places of worship throughout the town or in public, civic and outdoor locations enabling people to make a pilgrimage from station to station with accompanying meditations to aid their spiritual journey.

Having been involved in writing meditations for this latter project, I asked several of the artists involved what it was about the Stations of the Cross that made them so amenable to re-interpretation and re-presentation.

For illustrator Al Gray, the Stations provide a “breakdown of the main event in the Christian faith; the Creator laying down his life for his creation.” “That's a big thing,” he says, “and to look at it piece by piece is helpful in understanding it.” As a result, he was hopeful that the project would “cause people to reflect on Christ's passage to the cross and what was involved in him making that sacrifice.”

For Revd. Alan Stewart, Priest-in-Charge of St Andrew's Hertford, one of the artists providing Stations and the overall co-ordinator for the project, this is the raison d’etre of the Stations as each station combined with its accompanying prayer and reflection is “designed to help us meditate upon the significance of what happens; both for Christ and for ourselves; the lengths that His love has gone to and our response to that love.”

Similarly, Rachel Doragh, the artist for the sixth Station ‘Jesus meets Veronica’, said that she hoped that for those who see the Stations there would be at least one that “touches something within them, that brings something new and alive.” “I'd hope,” she said “that people who see them could walk away changed in some way even if it's just that a new channel of thought has been opened up.” Both Gray and Doragh thought that the project would “bring people together creatively.”

Anthony Fenwick, who had provided a pre-existing piece - a diptych in acrylic on board - for the fourteenth station 'Jesus being laid in the tomb' was hopeful “that others may see something of themselves in the Stations.” This was a wish shared by Stewart who hoped that project “helps people of any faith or none to discover something of the empathy of God; that their story, their pain and sorrow and doubt and frustration have been and are being shared by God.” In his view, the “Stations of the Cross reflect a journey which often mirrors our own personal journeys.”

Stewart was “also looking forward to hearing the myriad of interpretations that folk will make about the art as they see a familiar story through new lens.” He felt strongly that the project should “use both secular and sacred spaces to exhibit the Stations - some in quiet reflective spaces, others in crowded public spaces.” He “loved the idea that someone might just stumble upon a piece and want to discover more” as “each station demands that you stop and wait with it.”

It was for this reason that Doragh wanted to be a part of the project. She said that: “The concept of using an ancient tradition of the church and reinterpreting it for today, taking it outside of the church and having it interact with contemporary culture is in my mind a very exciting interaction. I like the idea of bringing something deep and spiritual and intensely meaningful and re-presenting it in a way that will open up all that is in it to a new audience or bring a new way of seeing to an existing audience.”

She thought that the public nature of the Hertford stns project expanded the concept of 'worshippers'. That, in itself, was an attraction but the project also challenges “a narrow view of worship - taking it outside of any one traditional worship space, into other churches and public spaces.” Doragh thinks that “there is a lot on offer to those who take this challenge - a new way into something enduring, not a new concept but a fresh look at it and hopefully a look at it that will lead people into worship.”

As an artist, she feels: “It is great to be given the opportunity and privilege to explore the themes of the stations and to be able to express myself in worship through the creation of an artwork. Just as God is the creator and we are created in his image, being creative is, for me, part of being who I am created to be. Being able to contribute to this project allows me to pull together my exploration of faith and an attempt to live and understand that in today's world.”

The Stations of the Cross, it would seem, are amenable to artistic re-interpretation and re-presentation because the story of Christ’s passion is a story with which we can identify and in which we can see reflected something of our own life journey. It is this that leads an artist like Chris Gollon to “to increase the emotional potential” by “using his own son as the model for Jesus” or for Ghislaine Howard “to situate her painting of The Empty Tomb in the reality of the lived experience” of rough sleepers.

The significance of the Stations is, as Stewart stated, both in what happens to Christ and what happens to us and the Lenten art workshops in Hertford brought this powerfully home to participants. The workshop I attended began with reflections on Jesus taking up the cross and then led into the sharing of words describing those things Jesus took up on our behalf as he took on our humanity and took up the cross. These were listed on flipchart and we then each chose a word to engrave on a large wooden cross using a nail. For some this initially felt sacrilegious – an act of vandalism on the central symbol of Christianity – but discussion of these feelings led to an understanding of the offence of the cross and the sense that those things taken up by Christ on our behalf had been engraved in his flesh.

This very visceral engagement with the experience of the Stations had also been a significant aspect of creating the first Station. That week’s workshop had involved discussion of the charges made against Jesus before each person chose a charge, created a collage based on that charge and then drove a nail through their collage securing it to a block of wood. The experience of driving the nail into the wood was as much part of the emotional and creative experience of the Station as was the creation of the collage. Each person's wood block and charge was then arranged to form the shape of a crucifix.

Participants in these workshops found themselves in the ‘imagination space’ of which Aishan Yu has spoken and which the Stations of the Cross, whether figurative or conceptual, can open up when the artist “helps people of any faith or none to discover something of the empathy of God” through the mirror of our own personal journeys.


Sufjan Stevens - Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.