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Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Spring Harvest (3)

A couple more reflections on Spring Harvest from friends can be found here and here:
  • "I was pleased to hear the message that we can be real as Christians, allowing ourselves to cry and to laugh, rather than thinking that we need to maintain a facade of being completely sorted."
  • "Quote of the week 'It's logical to be eschatological', though it caused those doing sign language a bit of a headache!"


Chris Tomlin - Everlasting God.

Monday, 28 April 2008

The New Atheism

The New Atheism: Where has it come from and where is it going?
Date: Monday 16 June 2008 Time: 18:45 - 21:00

The God Delusion… God is Not Great… Against all Gods… The End of Faith… Breaking the Spell… Atheism is suddenly fashionable, with new anti-God polemics flying off the shelves. But is there anything new about them? What are the origins of this sudden explosion of atheistic fury and does it have any staying power?

In an evening hosted by Theos, the public theology thinktank, and LICC, John Gray, Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics and author of Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia, will be exploring current anti-theistic sentiments.

Drawing on historical examples, Professor Gray will argue that there is little that is genuinely new in contemporary atheist thinking, which continues to take many of its concepts and categories from theism while denying its debts to Judaism and Christianity. Given its dogmatic character, he argues, contemporary atheism is likely to continue to function as a sect in the broader tradition of western monotheism.

With opportunity for Q&A after the talk, this evening promises to be both an interesting and enlightening exploration of one of the most important trends of recent years.

Please book in advance as entry can’t be guaranteed on the evening. To book a place call LICC on 020 7399 9555 or email

Cost: £7, concessions: £5 (for bookings of 5 people or more). Light refreshments provided.Venue: LICC, Central London, St Peter’s Church, Vere Street, W1G 0DQ.


The Smiths - The Boy With The Thorn In His Side.

A little divine intervention

The Bishop of Barking, who is himself an artist, recently dedicated a series of twelve glass screens in our neighbouring parish of All Saints Goodmayes. These are etchings depicting scenes from the life of Christ designed by local artist Henry Shelton. They include a Madonna and Child, the young Jesus learning his trade as a carpenter and the baptism of Christ. The etchings have won a Diocesan Advisory Committee award for design. Following a conversation with Bishop David about Shelton's work, we have recently arranged to meet up.

After a successful career as a commercial product designer, Shelton's time is now exclusively set aside for his religious paintings. Though as he explains, "it's not easy to make a living as a Christian artist," his dedication to his craft is evidence of a real desire to express his beliefs through his God given talent.

Speaking of his inspiration to paint, he says:

"People often ask me what inspires me to paint a picture. Well, there are many reasons of course and I guess it doesn’t pay to analyse them too closely. I only know that when I stand facing a blank canvass I do hope to find inspiration from somewhere. Usually an idea will come to me when I least expect it and long before I can actually begin painting. All creative people will agree that a good idea can come to you anywhere, any time. But I like to think there may be a little “Divine Intervention” in what I do as my ideas are certainly intended to witness our Christian faith and depict images that will touch us all to the very core of our beliefs."

Examples of Shelton's work can be found at: Epping Studio Galleries Fine Art Ltd. A Church Times article on Shelton's work can be found here.


Arnold Schoenberg - Moses und Aron.

Faith Communities Navigator

Faith Regen Foundation has developed Faith Communities Navigator Training - a new and exciting programme for those wishing to know more about the lives, beliefs and values of the UK’s diverse faith communities.

The training programme is complete with a 175 page professional quality guide published by FRF. The guide is a detailed piece of research which discusses the 9 main faiths in the UK. The content, design and format are all the result of much careful consideration. It has been designed to be entirely complementary to individually commissioned, interactive, engaging and informative training sessions, each of which will be developed with the needs of those being trained in the forefront.

The Faith Community Navigator provides organizations in the public, private and voluntary sector with a comprehensive training, bespoke to best meet their organizational needs.


Youssou N'Dour & Neneh Cherry - 7 Seconds.

Pentecost Festival Promo DVD

Environmentalists: Missing the wood for the trees?

A modest finance proposal

The latest Rethink email bulletin from the Relationships Foundation contains the following modest proposal about relational lessons from the 'credit crunch':

"It is disastrous, from a relational perspective, for a bank which makes a loan to be able to sell on the whole of that loan to other banks. The economic consequences of this taking place on a massive scale are ones which we are all living with at the moment. At the very least, originating banks ought to be required to retain 20% of the risk in relation to the original loan, so that they have sufficient incentive to take proper precautions to see if the borrower can afford to make the repayments. In relation to more complex forms of on-selling, where the repackaged loans have been divided up into different tranches, the originating bank ought to be required to hold on to a greater percentage of the so-called equity tranche, i.e. the riskiest portion of the loans, which bears the highest risk of non-repayment."

Read the whole piece here and blog comments here.

The Flying Lizards - Money (that's What I Want).

Sunday, 27 April 2008

The heart of silence

I loved Van Morrison's BBC4 Session which was broadcast on Friday night. In concert with a wonderfully responsive band he was, mesmerisingly, able to stretch and enliven songs (drawn mainly from his past two albums) which are, in the main, only minor additions to the Morrison canon.

At their best Morrison's songs blend memories, visions, literature and musical genres (blues, folk, jazz, gospel, r&b, soul and pop) in order to take us to a point of silence, a moment of communion, a spiritual core. He has spoken about this in terms of switching off what's referred to as the constant voice: "That's what meditation is supposed to do - turn off the constant voice, all them thoughts you have, y'know, the refrigerator hum, did I leave the lights on? Or, is the dog crossing the street? What about my tax problems? When you switch off all that, that's what I mean by transcendence."

In Summertime in England, for example, the orchestration and vocalising circles the song's core, ebbing and flowing with the movement between ecstasy and silence. Lyrically, we are on a journey from the Lake District through Bristol to Glastonbury picking up on the literary and spiritual references as we travel. We have a companion who could be a human partner or, to quote T S Eliot, "the third who walks always beside you". Our journey ends, or begins afresh, in the Church of St John with a revelation of Jesus as the one who underpins spiritual life. "Can you feel the light in England?" Morrison asks. Have you felt it in Wordsworth, Coleridge, Eliot, Yeats? Have you felt it in memory, in landscape, in church, in drug induced visions, in the gospel music coming through the ether? And, as the music stills and the vocalising pauses, he asks us to touch the silence, the core of revelation. Don't touch, don't question, don't disturb, he pleads, just experience;

"It ain't why, why, why, why, why
It just is."


Van Morrison - Till I Gain Control Again.

Defensiveness vs Justification

This week, in preparing a sermon on today's Gospel reading (John 14. 15-21), I found the material at ‘Girardian Reflections on the Lectionary’ particularly helpful.

Paul J. Nuechterlein highlighted the way in which our whole human way of doing things is infected with the need to justify ourselves with one another, creating conflict and accusation and unjust judgments. Jesus, he writes, came to call us to a whole other way to live and the Paraclete (the Holy Spirit), our Defense Attorney, is there to remind us that we don't need to respond defensively. We don't have to get embroiled in trying to defend ourselves because God has already justified us. This was the basic insight of Martin Luther at the Reformation, when he lifted up justification by grace rather than by works. We are justified before God by sheer gift, through faith in Jesus Christ.

James Alison emphasised the way in which the Holy Spirit brings into creative presence the person of Jesus through our loving imitation as his disciples. It is not that the Holy Spirit is simply a substitute presence, acting instead of Jesus, but instead it is that all of Jesus' creative activity is made alive in the creative activity of us, his disciples. The Spirit reminds us of Jesus (John 14. 26) to bring about the possibility of acting creatively in imitation of Jesus. And this is the sense of the peace which Jesus leaves with us, his disciples; the peace that comes from knowing we are justified by God and which enables us to act without defensiveness in order to bring peace into being in our relationships, homes, communities and workplaces.


Alfred Schnittke - Choir Concerto.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Two difficulties multiplied

In Art and Scholasticism Jacques Maritain writes that Christian art is not impossible but is:

"difficult, doubly difficult - fourfold difficult, because it is difficult to be an artist and very difficult to be a Christian, and because the total difficulty is not simply the sum but the product of these two difficulties multiplied by one another: for it is the difficulty of harmonizing two absolutes."

He says that the "difficulty becomes tremendous when the entire age lives far from Christ, for the artist is greatly dependent upon the spirit of his time" and then asks "whether courage has ever been lacking on earth."

'Two difficulties multiplied' would, I think, make a great title for a survey of modern and contemporary Christian Art. Maritain, and his wife Raïssa, helped generate that courage in many artists, musicians, poets and writers. Jean-Luc Barré writes that:

"They invented "a style of full freedom in the faith," based on friendship, on "person-to-person influence," on chance encounters, "what each one brings, in the depths of his heart, from his coming and going in a house where he was loved, from the peace of God that he felt there, but of which he had no idea ..." What took place there [in Thomistic Study circles at the Maritain's home in Meuden] was derived from no institution and hearkened back to no known model, and became the target of multiple conversions and a prey of just as many qui pro quo's and misunderstandings."


Erik Satie - Gymnopedia No 1.

chris gollon: station to station

Bishop says "Vote for ONE human race on 1st May"

The following is a statement which the Bishop of Barking is issuing for use in his Episcopal Area (and beyond) requesting that it be read out in churches this Sunday. Please feel free to pass it to ecumenical colleagues.

Bishop says "Vote for ONE human race on 1st May"

The Bishop of Barking is urging all church members and people of goodwill to vote on 1st May in the London and local authority elections. The Right Reverend David Hawkins says "It is a Christian duty to vote, not least in these elections where as little as 5% for the British National Party could give the BNP a seat on the London Assembly. Whoever else we vote for we must stop racist politics making gains in London and elsewhere."

The BNP has 47 local councillors across the country, including 12 in Barking and Dagenham and 6 in Epping Forest District. The Bishop has been working with churches and others across London (and Essex) to respond to the BNP. A joint paper between the Bishop and the Churches Racial Justice Network articulates a strong and informed response to racist politics, "based on the Christian belief that all people are created as ONE race, the human race."

Clergy across London have joined the Bishop in urging Londoners not to vote BNP in the coming elections. Revd Stephen Sichel is Vicar of St Matthew’s Brixton. He voted for a motion on racist political parties in the Diocese of Southwark’s Synod which mandated all churches "to ensure respect for all citizens is part of the contribution made by churches to local dialogue".

The BNP constitution states that it "stands for the preservation of the national and ethnic character of the British people and is wholly opposed to any form of racial integration".

Parish priests in Bethnal Green, Walthamstow, Ilford, Hackney, Islington and elsewhere have also supported the Bishop’s call for people to vote for ONE human race. Fr Alan Green Vicar of St John’s Bethnal Green said “I rejoice in the rich cultural diversity of our community. I hope people of faith will vote for those who are committed to London remaining a city where many cultures work together for the common good.”

Other church leaders across the UK have also been urging the faithful to vote for parties which are not racist. In Birmingham, church and other faith leaders are on record for having said "voting for or supporting a political party that offers racist policies is like spitting in the face of God".

“Each vote for the BNP," says the Bishop of Barking, "will put into reverse the patient, strategic work of healthy, race relations and social integration that is developing in our London Boroughs, Essex and else where in the country. We are members of one human race. We must vote for it the ballot box on 1st May.


For enquiries about the Bishop's Response Group to the BNP"contact: Fr Steven Saxby – 020 8520 3854;


Love Music Hate Racism - concert visuals.

The most rapturous activity

I was in Chelmsford today for the start of the Eastertide Living with other faiths course, which got off to a very positive start, and picked up, second hand, a book on the Hungarian ceramacist, Margit Kovács.

Kovács was born in Győr and a permanent exhibition of her works can be found in the town. She trained in Munich under Karl Killer was influenced by the religious pathos of his work. Her own work treats many religious themes in a style that was influenced by both Byzantine and folk art.
Kovács was part of a movement in Hungarian art that saw religious and hiostorical appearing more frequently from the 1920s onwards. She herself had many significant ecclesiastical commissions including the portals of the Saint Emeric Church of Győr (1939-1940) and the Stations of the Cross at the St Ladislaus Church of Hollóháza.

Reviewers felt that her religious pieces were "imbued with the piety that pervades works by old masters." She appreciated "the human dramas of the Bible" and projected "her own problems and emotional crises" in religious themes. Ilona Pataky-Brestyánszky wrote that Kovács "created for herself a poetic mode of expression with brightly coloured lavish decorations; with nervous, sensitive, undulating, whirling lines; with new rhythm and symbols and with a new mysticism."

Kovács understood her work in Biblical terms saying that "Clay is my daily bread, my joy and my sorrow. At first touch, it became an organic part of my life. And ever since, this material, making its way through my bloodstream, whirls me to heights of delight and, at times, plunges me into the valley of despair." Handling clay was, for her, "the most rapturous activity" and she felt that ceramics served ornamentation, beauty and joy. It's aim, she said, "can only be, and has to be, to express good cheer and joy within the possibilities of the medium."


Erkki-Sven Tüür - Architectonics VII.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Be Humankind

Oxfam have revamped their website making it easier to find all the different things we can do to 'Be Humankind.'

As they say, there’s strength in numbers so why not add your name to the roll call of people who refuse to sit back and do nothing.

Here are their current list of actions:


Veljo Tormis - How Can I Recognize My Home?

Monday, 21 April 2008

Banned Stations of the Cross

I've been reading Jacques Maritain's Art and Scholasticism which includes an appendix describing the banning, by the Roman Catholic Church, of Stations of the Cross created by the Belgian artist Albert Servaes. Servaes played a significant role in a renewed interest in ecclesiastical art in Belgium. This renewal also had links to the revival of religious art in France in which Maurice Denis played a significant role.

Maritain's comments can be read, together with background information on Servaes, at this blog - idle speculations: The Banning of the Stations of the Cross.

Servaes' banned Stations are reproduced in Ecce Homo: Contemplating the Way of Love together with meditations by Titus Brandsma. The publisher's state that:

"Albert Servaes (1883-1966) is the leading representative of Expressionism in Belgian painting. Here we have a great piece of Flemish art matched with the spiritual thoughts of Brandsma. Titus meditating on the passion of the Lord, and calling attention to the place of the cross in prayer. These meditations on the passion stand wholly in this tradition of the vivid use of the imagination in order to evoke the reality of Jesus' sufferings. The details of his thoughts are determined by the artist's black on sepia drawings and are completely understood only by reference to them. No doubt the grim expressionist statement of the theme brought home with extra force to Titus' mind the frightful nature of the crucifixion."


Sofia Gubaidulina - Seven Words.

World Day of Prayer for Zimbabwe

From Bob Stumbles, Chancellor - The Anglican Diocese of Harare, via the Anglican Communion News Service:

"A desperate cry from the hearts of Zimbabwe screams across the world. It calls upon all Christians of every denomination in every nation to focus their prayers, in churches, halls, homes or elsewhere, on Sunday 27th April, 2008 on the critical situation in Zimbabwe, a nation in dire distress and teetering on the brink of human disaster.

Let the cry for help touch your heart and mind. Let it move you to do what you can immediately to ensure this Day of Prayer takes place in your country and neighbourhood. Please pass on this message right now to all the churches and Christian organisations known to you and to the media as well as to everyone anxious to rescue Zimbabwe from violence, the concealing and juggling of election results, deceit, oppression and corruption, and to bring about righteousness, joy, peace, compassion, honesty, justice, democracy and freedom from fear and want.

May a continual strong stream of prayer and supplication flow up to theLord on behalf of all the people on this Day of Prayer, exhorting His divine intervention throughout the nation. "It is by making the truth publicly known that we recommend ourselves to the honest judgment of mankind in the sight of God." (2 Corinthians 4:2)

Some advice to Zimbabweans: "Who so putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe." (Proverbs 29:25). "Stand fast, and do not let yourselves be caught again in the yoke of slavery." (Galatians 5:1). "Make no mistake, you cannot cheat God."(Galatians 6:7). "Do not be overcome by evil but overcame evil with good"(Romans 12:21)."


Ben Harper - Welcome To The Cruel World.

Hope & Youth

Young people from St John's Seven Kings led an innovative Deanery Youth Service on Sunday with the theme of 'Hope'.

The service was in a 'cafe' style with people sitting around tables sharing food, drink and conversation. Clips from the film Freedom Writers led into discussion about what brings hope to hopeless people and ways in which churches can be signs of hope in their communities. People made and flew paper aeroplanes to symbolise the way in which hope enables people to rise above their circumstances. Information was shared about Hope 2008, a year of prayer and activities communicating the Christian Gospel through words and actions which aims to create a lasting legacy of both physical and spiritual change in the lives of communities and individuals.

Young people in the Deanery and at St John's are an inspiration to us in the way that they lead us into new styles of worship and challenge us to share our faith in words and actions in our community. This service gave us a vision of how our churches can bless our local communities through acts of kindness and witness.


Delirious? - Did You Hear The Mountains Tremble?

Arrival, expanse & privilege

Where we live says quite a lot about the sort of people we are and the kind of relationships we have. Do we value the place where we were born or did we want to move away from it? Have we remained close to our wider family or are we independent of them? Have we a transient lifestyle by choice or necessity? Have we been able to choose where we live or have circumstances dictated that to us? Are our homes places of welcome to others or castles where we protect ourselves from the world?

Jesus told his disciples on the night before he died that he was going away from them to prepare a place for them to live – a dwelling place for them (John 14. 1-14). He gave them the picture of living in God’s house, all of them there together but each with their own specifically prepared room. This was a picture of the way in which, in future, they were going to live in God.

Jesus said that they would not be able to go with him as he left them. That was because he was going to the cross and only he, through his sinless death, could cross the divide between God and humanity and restore the relationship between us. That is why he is able to say that he is the way to the Father. No one else was able to bridge that gap by means of their death, only Jesus.

But when he came back to the disciples after death, through the resurrection, the way back to God from the dark paths of sin was now wide open and the disciples together with each one of us can now go in. The great opportunity that Jesus has opened up for us is that, despite our sin, we can live with God now, dwell in him throughout our lives, and also into eternity.

What is it like to live with God? First, it is a place without worry or fear. It is a place of arrival. Saint Augustine said, our hearts are restless till they find their rest in thee. And this is because it is a place where we are valued for who we are. Jesus spoke about going to prepare a specific place specifically for us and this is a way of saying that God knows us and loves us as we are. We can picture it in terms of rooms in our own homes. We put our mark on our rooms filling them with objects and decorations that reflect who we are and what is important to us. In a similar way, God is saying that he welcomes into him, into his presence the unique people that we are, you and I.

And that leads us on to the next characteristic of living with God which is expanse. Jesus says that there are many rooms in his Father’s house, so it is expansive and needs to be because it is open to all – people of every race, language, colour, creed, gender, sexuality, class, nation, whatever. There is room for all. Living with God is about acceptance – we can stop searching and rest because we have been found, we are accepted and loved as the unique person that each of us is and we are part of a wider worldwide family that can encompass us all.

But living with God is not the end of the story. There is more because God also comes to live with us. In verse 11 we hear Jesus says that he is in the Father (he lives or dwells in God as we now can) and that the Father lives in him. And this is what can happen to us too. In the second half of chapter 14 Jesus speaks about the Holy Spirit coming to stay with us (v16). Then he says that he himself will be in us (v20) and finally in verse 23 he says that both he and the Father will live with us.

This is the incredible news that is central to Christianity. Not only can we live in God but himself comes and lives in us. We are in him and he is in us. Think about the wonder and privilege of it for a moment. Think of how you would feel if the person you most admire in the world lived with you – whether that’s David Beckham, Julia Roberts, the Queen, Nelson Mandela or whoever. We know that that is unlikely to happen but the reality of our lives and faith is that the God who created the universe and who saved humanity wants to live in your life.

What would you do if that person that you most admire was coming to your home? I bet you would have a massive spring clean and get your house looking just as you would ideally like to have it looking. Shouldn’t we do the same because God is living in our lives? The Bible talks about our bodies being a temple of God’s Holy Spirit – in other words, a place where God lives - and because God lives in us then we should keep our bodies healthy and pure. But not just our bodies, our minds and feelings and actions too. Because we have the huge privilege of having the creator of the universe, the saviour of humanity living in us we need to clean up our act, get on with that spring cleaning and make our lives the sort of place that is fit for a King.

So there is both challenge and the comfort in our Gospel reading today. The way is open for us to live in God and receive his love and acceptance and for God to live with us which means acting to clean up mess that there is in all our lives. Where are you living currently? Have you come to live in God or would you like to take that step? And how does God feel about living in you? Are there things that you need to change about the home that you are providing for God?


Blessid Union of Souls - Home.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Religion & rationality

Sam Norton flagged up an interesting post by Chris Dillow on the Left, Religion and Rationality. Dillow makes some helpful observations that feed in to the debate about the place of religion in public life (see, for example, the following posts - 1, 2, 3, 4). These include the need for "an institutional framework in order to direct the fallible human mind towards the proper growth of knowledge"; the legitimation of power through appeals to reason; the need for shared presuppositions in reasoned debate; and the inability of reason to answer the question, "What is a good life?"


Big Audio Dynamite - E = MC2.

What are today's social evils?

What are today's social evils?

People feel a deep sense of unease about some of the changes shaping British society, according to the consultation on modern-day social evils carried out by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Individualism, greed, a decline of community and a decline of values were among the social evils that worried participants most. In addition, people also identified:

More information, and the opportunity to share views, is available at


Aztec Camera - Good Morning Britain.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Spring Harvest (2)

I was interested to find that, as in my blog reviewing Spring Harvest, Dave Walker had also noted a number of significant changes at Spring Harvest in his Church Times blog. Walker found a less dogmatic branch of Christianity to the one he remembered from previous visits.

A couple of examples that stuck in his mind included:
  • Other religions. When asked about people of other faiths in a 'heaven and hell' question and answer session the reply from the speaker surprised me with its inclusiveness. Something along the lines of "I don't know. But I think God will be more merciful than we expect him to be" (not an actual quote) "We will not regret God's decision" (an actual quote).
  • Opinions about hell. Universalism, or at least 'restorative punishment' is mentioned in the Spring Harvest notes as being an alternative to eternal conscious torment or annihilation. Of the three options eternal conscious torment seemed to be the least favoured (so to speak) by the people at the front.
  • He felt there was a greater willingness to leave questions unanswered, criticise past failings within the Evangelical movement and allow non-literal understandings of certain Bible passages.


Gavin Bryars - Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet.

Severini & the Catholic Renaissance

I've recently skim read Gino Severini's The Life of a Painter which both tells the story of his development as a (futurist and cubist) artist and gives fascinating insights into the development of Modern Art, principally in Paris, throughout the early part of the twentieth century.

Severini reconverted to Catholicism in the 1920s. He claims that his thinking on this decision began prior to the conversions of the poets Jean Cocteau and Pierre Reverdy and before meetings with Maurice Denis and Jacques Maritain. He highlights the writings of the Benedictine Desideratus Lenz as an influence of the direction of his work but not his conversion. The most significant influence on his decision seems to have been the Abbé Sarraute who Severini met at Denis' home and who conducted the Severini's marriage ceremony.

Severini was, therefore, a part of the French Catholic Renaissance, in which Denis and Maritain played major roles. Severini says of Maritain that he "effected the transformation of a number of somewhat atheist poets into Christian artists, chief among them Jean Cocteau, who was baptised in Maritain's private chapel in Meudon."

Maritain played a part in the next stage of Severini's career by suggesting that the Swiss painter Alexandre Cingria visit Severini and encourage him to enter a competition for the decoration of a Church in the Fribourg Canton of Switzerland. Severini did so, won the competition and went on to work on several Swiss churches over the latter period of his career. So much so, that Denis spoke of him as "the most famous decorator of Swiss churches."

Cingria who, together with Denis dreamed of "creating a movement of rebirth of religious art in France and in all Catholic countries", could also lay claim to that status, as the Groupe de Saint-Luc et Saint-Maurice which he founded, built, restored and decorated more than 70 churches in Switzerland during the interwar years.

Severini also played a part in the development of a Futurist Sacred Art. Between 1928 and 1930 the futurist artist Fillia spent time in Paris with Severini. During this time he also saw Severini's work in the Swiss churches of Semsales and La Roche. The end of 1930 then saw a decisive reorientation of Fillia's work towards sacred art which culminated in 1931 with the publication of the 'Manifesto of Futurist Sacred Art' on the occasion of the International Exhibition of Modern Christian Sacred Art in Padua, which had a Futurist section of twenty two works by thirteen artists.


Tom Waits - Hang On St. Christopher.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Honest, impassioned dialogue

Just back from a very interesting meeting of the East London Three Faiths Forum in which Bishop Michael Nazir Ali spoke on faith in a plural community at the Ilford Islamic Centre.

Hopefully, I'll be able to post a summary before too long of the Bishop's speech from the notes I took but this post is just some of my initial reactions to that speech and the impassioned debate that followed.

The Bishop argued strongly for accountability, integration, reciprocity, a recognition of plurality, and government by consent in addressing and expressing faith within plural communities. He argued that the British approach to multiculturalism and tolerance had led to a benign neglect of minority ethnic communities. He was challenged strongly about his comments regarding 'no go' areas with many of those responding to his speech arguing that such comments were irresponsible and inflammatory when Muslim communities felt under threat as a minority community in Britain and when Western Christian armies were fighting in Muslim countries. The Bishop held his ground on this issue saying that he had spoken not about the Muslim community as a whole but only of the actions of extremists which in some circumstances had led to Christian converts from Islam in Britain requiring police protection. He argued that the Muslim community needed to acknowledge and work to counter extremism within its own community.

The Bishop's speech itself was well received by those present although some of those responding thought that the comments the Bishop had made in the press about no go areas and the veil were not appropriate expressions of the views he had shared in the speech. The debate following the speech was impassioned but honest and the evening was a positive experience of dialogue with both the Ilford Islamic Centre and the Bishop needing to be acknowledged for their openness to engage in that dialogue.

I felt that the dialogue would have been enhanced by a greater acknowledgement of the sense of threat and hurt felt felt by the Muslim community at the military actions of the West in Muslim countries while continuing to hold the line on the suffering experienced by some Christians within some Muslim states or communities. I think too that, at the same time that the call is made for Muslim communities to deal with the extremists in their midst, it is also important for the Christian community to clearly condemn those such as 'The Christian Council of Great Britain', who are extremists promoting the racist views of the BNP under a Christian banner. The Church, as a whole, has been clear about its opposition to the views of the BNP and their associates (see the Bishop of Durham's recent statement, for example) but an acknowledgement of the need for such statements from the Church is not often made in the context of a call for the Muslim community to acknowledge and deal with extremists in their midst. That connection was not made tonight, although a comment relating to this issue was made.

The East London Three Faiths Forum has been a positive forum for disalogue between the Abrahamic faiths and this meeting, despite its controversial billing and impassioned debate, was another valuable opportunity for honest dialogue to occur.


Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Peter Gabriel - Signal To Noise.

Society still needs religion

This comes from the Anglican News Service (Rowan's lecture - click here - is well worth reading in full):

The Archbishop of Canterbury gave a lecture in which he acknowledges the rise in interest in spirituality, particularly in the Western World, but underlines the crucial role traditional religious allegiance continues to play in a genuinely plural society. Dr William's lecture entitled "The Spiritual and the Religious: is the territory changing?", is the third in a series "Faith and Life in Britain" being given at Westminster Cathedral.

Acknowledging the contribution that increased spiritual awareness can make to social and corporate life, Dr. Williams argues for the continued relevance of traditional religious commitment in developing and sustaining some of the deepest resources needed in a responsible plural society."When the great German philosopher Jurgen Habermas acknowledged some years ago in debate with the then Cardinal Ratzinger that traditional religion offered necessary resources to the construction of social reason and just practice, he was paving the way for some such approach on the part of secular government. There is an implicit acknowledgement, it seems, that what religious affiliation of a classical kind offers is not to be reduced just to an enhanced sense of the transcendent or of the interconnection of all things."

Dr Williams argues that religion is in fact: " of the most potent allies possible for genuine pluralism - that is, for a social and political culture that is consistently against coercion and institutionalised inequality and is committed to serious public debate about common good. Spiritual capital alone, in the sense of a heightened acknowledgement especially among politicians, businessmen and administrators of dimensions to human flourishing beyond profit and material security, is helpful but is not well equipped to ask the most basic questions about the legitimacy of various aspects of the prevailing global system. The traditional forms of religious affiliations, in proposing an 'imagined society', realised in some fashion in the practices of faith, are better resourced for such questions.

"The challenge for those "who adhere to revealed faith" but do not wish simply to be absorbed into an uncritical post-religious culture focused on "the autonomous self and its choices" was to rediscover what "the great Anglican Benedictine scholar Gregory Dix meant by describing Christians as a new 'species', homo eucharisticus, a humanity defined in its Eucharistic practice ... 'The unleavened bread of sincerity and truth' is the gift of the Easter Gospel, we are told in the liturgy; 'Lord, evermore give us this bread' (Jn 6.34)."


Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds - There She Goes My Beautiful World.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Hope not Hate

Most Churches shy away from instructing people on how to vote but the Church of England in the Barking Episcopal Area has recently been working with the racial justice team of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland and the Methodist Church to produce guidance for our congregations on exploring a Christian response to far-right political parties including the BNP. At tonight's Redbridge & Epping Forest TOGETHER rally, I shared some of the key messages from that guidance:

"Most churches are agreed that the racist policies and fascist philosophy of the British National Party are incompatible with Christian faith. In addition to being a racist party, the BNP belong to a fascist political tradition which has sought to do away with democracy and personal / collective freedom, both of which must be at the heart of any political system compatible with Christianity.
Many denominations and Christian leaders have expressed their concern about and their opposition to far-right political parties:
  • The Church of England “believes that voting for and/or supporting a political party that offers racist policies is incompatible with Christian discipleship.”
  • “The Methodist Church expects members of the Methodist Church to practice and promote racial justice and inclusion, and reject any political parties that attempt to stir up racial hatred and fear of asylum seekers.”
  • The United Reformed Church affirms “that membership of or support for organizations such as the BNP is incompatible with Christian discipleship.”
  • The Baptist Union of Great Britain “encourages full voting participation in local, national and European elections, but urges people not to vote for candidates who promote, give assent to, or are associated with racist policies.”
  • The Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales has said that “All political parties have a responsibility to be clear and unequivocal in their refusal to collude with racism.”
  • The African and Caribbean Evangelical Alliance states that “The BNP may present its election message as ‘Christian’, but as it is based on the divisive and racist agenda inherent to that party, it is clearly out of step with the message of freedom and belonging that is central to the Christian faith.”
One trend that is causing great alarm among churches is the tactic of presenting a racist agenda as “Christian.” This has been done explicitly by an organization called “The Christian Council of Great Britain” led by BNP member Robert West. We are deeply concerned that such people are appropriating Christian language and symbols for policies that are the very opposite of Christian values.

The response of Churches to the BNP is based on the Christian belief that all people are created as one race, the human race. The Christian view is that all people are made in the image of God and this leads us to a vision of a just community where people of all backgrounds live together in equality. The BNP, and organisations such as The Christian Council of Great Britain, clearly reject that vision and so, as Christian churches, we oppose the racist policies and fascist philosophy of the BNP stating clearly that they are incompatible with Christian faith and calling on all Church members to use their vote for democracy and against the BNP. "

The key message from the rally was the importance of turnout in the election. There is a real risk of the BNP gains Assembly seats but doing so will be harder the higher the turnout in the election. It is vital that as many people as possible exercise their democratic right and vote against the BNP.


Curtis Mayfield - We Gotta Have Peace.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

River Grace

The following comes from the latest Image Update:

Makoto Fujimura, a highly-regarded New York visual artist and founder of International Arts Movement, has just published a slim book, River Grace, which is based on an essay Image proudly published in its Tenth Anniversary Issue (#22).

The story Fujimura tells in the essay is multi-layered and dense with resonances: among other things, it is about the ancient tradition of Nihonga painting, his struggle to balance the competing claims of art and family life, the nature of vocation, his conversion to Christianity, the poetry of William Blake, and the relationship between art and faith.

At the center of the essay, and gracing the cover of the book, is his masterful painting, Twin Rivers of Tamagawa. The painting itself ties all of the essay's strands together. The images of trees, rivers, and bridges represent Fujimuras spiritual journey toward Christian faith. Bridges unite things that are separated; the flowing river is a metaphor of our journey through life. Gold and silver, applied in thin sheets according to the method of Nihonga, struggle for supremacy. As Fujimura notes, silver is the symbol of death, and a reminder of the betrayal of Judas, whereas gold is the color of heaven. The gold at the top of the painting represents the New Jerusalem.

Fujimura makes a powerful argument for art by citing the passage in the Gospels when Mary anoints the head of Christ with expensive perfume. He sees this as a warrant for art: something apparently luxurious and useless which somehow becomes an essential gesture of our humanity. The only earthly possession Christ wore on the Cross was the very aroma of the perfume Mary poured upon him.

Rather than reading the essay in Image, we strongly recommend that you get this book for the extras it offers, including several other color art reproductions and an appendix on Nihonga painting. There's even a special limited edition of the book available in a hand-crafted box made in Japan. All proceeds from the volume go to benefit IAM.


Sam Bush - The River's Gonna Run.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Broken Open

Check out more on Hope at the Deanery Youth Service on Sunday 20th April, 6.30pm at St John the Evangelist, St John's Road, Seven Kings, Ilford, IG2 7BB.

Hope - Deanery Youth Service


Switchfoot - Only Hope/Dare You To Move.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Modern Catholic novels

I'm currently reading Marian Crowe's Aiming at Heaven, Getting the Earth which is an excellent analysis of four contemporary Catholic novelists - Alice Thomas Ellis, David Lodge, Sara Maitland and Piers Paul Read - demonstrating that the demise of the Catholic novel has not yet occurred in the UK, at least.

Crowe also provides a useful summary of the beginnings of the Modern Catholic Novel in the French Catholic Renaissance. She writes:

"An impressive number of intellectuals and cultural figures followed the same pattern as Barbey d'Aurevilly. Having abandoned their childhood faith and become atheists in their youth, they reconverted to Catholicism in their adulthood. Among them were Paul Claudel, who wrote poetry and plays stressing sacrifice, chivalry and nobility; Léon Bloy, whose novels expressing the doctrine of the communion of the saints called attention to the poor as an integral part of that communion and depicted poverty as both a social evil and source of santification; and Charles Péguy, an early socialist, who, like Bloy, stressed the importance of the poor and seemed to embody the best ideals of both the republican and religious traditions of France. Bloy's novels made a strong critique of the hypocrisy and materialism of many nominal Catholics, a theme that would be repeated in future Catholic novels. Jacques Maritain, who was raised as a liberal Protestant, converted to Catholicism under the influence of Bloy and interpreted the philosophy and theology of St Thomas Aquinas for the modern world. These converts were leading figures in the revitalized Catholicism of the early twentieth century ..."

Crowe then describes the work of François Mauriac and Georges Bernanos, the greatest novelists of the French Catholic Renaissance, before surveying the work of Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene and Muriel Spark to give the background in the UK for the contemporary Catholic novels of the four novelists analysed in this book.

All of which is useful preparation for the Big Picture 2, a Diocese of Chelmsford Eastertide course which starts this Tuesday evening in Waltham Forest and in which I share the leadership with Philip Ritchie and Paul Trathen. How can Christians respond to controversial art: protest or engagement? How have Christian artists expressed their faith through popular culture? How has Christianity influenced popular culture? How does popular culture portray or critique Christianity? These are some of the questions the course will explore using multi media resources with plenty of opportunity for discussion and practical response.

In one of my sessions I use the thoughts of US Catholic novelists, Flannery O'Connor and Walker Percy, to introduce ideas on how to communicate Christianity in popular culture. O’Connor wrote that:

“When you can assume your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal means of taking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock – to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.”

The problem as O’Connor sees it is that non-Christians do not recognise as sin those things that Christians view as sin. The whole concept of sin itself may be anathema to those who are not Christians and they may accept as completely normal things that Christians view as sinful. So she wrote that “the novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make these appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural.” In order to make things which seem normal to many appear as sinful to your audience you need to use the shock tactics of distortion and exaggeration, crisis and catastrophe.

Percy writes about there being two stages in non-Christian audiences becoming aware of grace. First, there is an experience of awakening in which a character in a novel (and through that character, the audience) sees the inadequacy of the life that he or she has been leading. This is a moment of epiphany or revelation about themselves; a moment in which they either realise their depravity or their potential for grace. This is what O’Connor was talking about when she said that the job of the Christian novelist is to help the audience see activity that they regard as normal as a distortion. Such an experience may then lead on to the second stage of hearing and responding to the grace of God in Christ.

What O’Connor and Percy both seem to suggest is that their characters and their audience cannot see the grace of God without the first stage of becoming aware of the inadequacy of the current lives.


Woven Hand - Tin Finger.

Church hustings for London Mayor

More can be found on the Church hustings for London Mayor at Ekklesia. Of the six minority candidates standing for election as London mayor, only the one standing on an explicitly Christian ticket has been invited to attend the main hustings event for churches in central London.

I've written the following for Pilgrimage, the St John's magazine, on approaches to voting:

On 1st May Londoners will elect a new Mayor and London Assembly. There are 10 Mayoral candidates, 153 Assembly Member candidates and 20 different political parties taking part in the contest. So how should you vote as a Christian?

The first thing to say is that we should all vote. A lot of cynicism exists about politics in the UK but we have the fundamental human right of a democratic vote, something that people in other parts of the world risk their lives to gain or use, and we should not waste the opportunity we have to contribute to the democratic process.

After all, we have something to contribute and share because Christianity engages with and has something to say on all the major issues facing our society and world - environmental degradation; international poverty; health and the NHS; education and schools; defence, foreign affairs and terrorism; crime, law and order; race, asylum and immigration; Europe and the EU; the economy; pensions; and transport.

However, the Bible and Church tradition does not provide a set of political policies that we can simply adopt, instead Biblical and Church approaches to issues over the centuries can help us formulate a series of principles against which we might evaluate party manifestos and promises. We need to think and pray through the issues, ask questions that matter to us, and reflect on our own priorities and what we understand to be the priorities emerging from the Bible and Church tradition, both for ourselves and for the society in which we live.

We won’t all agree; which is why Christians can be found in all the main political parties. It is also an issue with parties that aim to present a Christian voice – in this election Christian Choice are taking this approach and encouraging Churches and their members to support them. This approach suggests that there is agreement on key issues and policies on those issues among Christians and agreement that we have to tackle those issues in our own way and not in partnership with others (as happens when Christians are members of other parties). But that agreement does not exist. However, leaflets about Christian Choice are available in the Church lounge so you can make up your own mind.

I cannot tell you how to vote but I do encourage to vote and try to think about the issues and the parties in terms of your understanding of the Bible and Church tradition before you do vote.

One thing that does seem clear to me however is that we should oppose prejudice and any party, such as the BNP, which seeks to exploit or stir up prejudice among voters and within our communities. That is why I have been happy to accept an invitation to speak at the Redbridge & Epping TOGETHER rally at the Town Hall which encourages people to vote in favour of democracy and against the BNP.

Ultimately, voting is not easy, as it demands a difficult prioritisation of issues, or appealing, when the options available may fail to inspire allegiance. But it remains an important privilege and responsibility for those who live in a democracy, and if Christians can engage with the issues seriously, vote wisely and provide an antidote to consumer politics, democracy will be healthier for it.


The Charlatans - Blank Heart, Blank Mind.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Berryman & Hopkins

An interesting essay concerning Gerard Manley Hopkins' influence on John Berryman can be found here:

"On the surface, any linkage between Hopkins and Berryman seems strange. On the one hand, there is Hopkins - Jesuit priest, Classics scholar, largely unknown by readers and critics during his lifetime, dutiful, frail, an outsider, possibly homosexual, dead of consumption at age 44. Conversely, Berryman was the sodden, sexually obsessed poet who became as famous as America allows its poets to be and who in 1972 committed suicide by leaping from a bridge into the faculty parking lot at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis (he apparently planned to kill himself by symbolically jumping into the Mississippi River, which divides the United States east and west, but alas badly misjudged his last leap of faith or faithlessness).

Yet there is connection here. For one thing, both Hopkins and Berryman were converts to Roman Catholicism, and both strove mightily to fulfil their religious convictions - Hopkins as priest-teacher, Berryman as the willing but out-of-control alcoholic pilgrim. Both also spent some of the last years of their lives in Ireland. Hopkins, of course, living and dying at University College in Dublin."

Edward Hirsh commented that:

"In his last books Berryman spoke with unadorned directness and a certain exhibitionist glee in his wayward past. He wrote religious poems, such as "Eleven Addresses to the Lord" and "Opus Dei," in which he put himself "under new management" by embracing a "God of rescue." One felt him standing, guilt-ridden and amazed, before the eternal.

He also wrote needy, grief-stricken poems that one still returns to late at night. Such lyrics as "He Resigns," "Henry by Night," and "Henry's Understanding" have a terrifying clarity and simplicity. They have a dark vulnerability and honesty, a wounded splendor."

The first of Berryman's wonderful Eleven Addresses to the Lord can be read here.


Lloyd Cole & The Commotions - Brand New Friend.

Mayoral Election Hustings 23 April, 2008

The Evangelical Alliance and Premier Radio (who will be recording the proceedings), with support from the London Churches Group, have organised a Mayoral Election Hustings at St Martin-in-the-Fields from 6 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday 23 April 2008 (St George’s Day).

The organisers plan to use the occasion to present the church in London and how churches are active in their communities, as well as giving church members the opportunity to engage with the Mayoral candidates. It will help a lot St Martin’s can be filled for this Hustings!

The event will start promptly at 6 p.m. at St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square , on Wednesday 23 April. Doors will open at 5 p.m. and attenders will be given a card and encouraged to contribute a question to the candidates. Cards with questions will then be collected and sorted to ensure a spread of topics and a manageable number. These questions will probably be asked by the Chair, though space may be left towards the end of the Hustings for spontaneous questions from the floor.

In general, they expect that each of the candidates (Labour, Liberal Democrat, Conservative, Green and Christian Party) will be given an opportunity to respond succintly to each question. At the beginning of the Hustings each candidate will be invited to make an opening statement on what they think makes a good city. Candidates have been yold that this was a key question for the Commission on Urban Life and Faith in its report in May 2006 Faithful Cities, which covers many of the issues which concern the churches in London.


Shawn McDonald - Gravity.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Spring Harvest

Spring Harvest is coming of age. In terms of James Fowler’s Stages of Faith it stands between stages four and five, where what was once unquestioned is now subjected to critical scrutiny and a "bigger picture" is glimpsed which makes room both for mystery and a new sense of justice.

Over the past three years Spring Harvest has been redefining itself through its ongoing theme of One God, One Church and this year, One Hope. As illustration of this ongoing redefinition, here is a selection of things said and done around the Skegness site in Week 3:

  • Recognition of hypocrisy within Evangelicalism - “There has been something of the Pharisee about us; we have been protective of our theology and selective in our targets.”
  • Revised understandings of scripture i.e. “Scripture is reticent on the mechanics of the atonement but profoundly insistent on its reality”; “Taking the Bible seriously does not mean taking the Bible literally”; and revised understandings of hell ruling out eternal conscious torment.
  • Importance of facing issues of inclusivity in the Church i.e. an apology to those people with disabilities who have been told by their church that they don’t have the faith to be healed or that they must have unconfessed sin in their lives because they have not been healed; and stories of being on reality TV alongside a representative of a gay and lesbian group to oppose a fundamentalist group claiming that “God hates fags”.
  • Need to be real about faith - “raw and real in prayer”; dangers of self-congratulatory or romantic worship.
  • Respect for the great world religions. No ‘no-go’ areas in interfaith, relationships can be built with side by side conversations on issues of the common good and intra-faith conversations on issues of belief.
  • The Kingdom of God is about rehumanising the dehumanized and involves God in renewal of the whole world therefore salvation is not just about me and my sins but also about the overthrow of oppression.

Some things, of course, have not changed. Worship remains upbeat, uptempo and uplifting. There are moments of reflection, often when some sort of response is called for, but emotions are quickly lifted or whipped up once again. Dance, drama and painting are also fully utilised in worship with the drama during this week being particularly apposite.

Spring Harvesters continue to love an emotional appeal and, as a result, took to first-time Big Top speaker Andy Caldwell who became so caught up in the passion of the moment that he forgot the third point of his sermon which, as a good Baptist, he had earlier promised to us. No one else seemed to notice or mind, least of all the hundreds who knelt on the creaking boards of the Big Top to renew their sense of astonishment at the Son of God.

Caldwell was clearly being groomed in the standard style for Spring Harvest sermons; the after-dinner sermon which aims to combine humorous anecdotes with punchy bible-based points. Jeff Lucas is the star performer when it comes to the after-dinner sermon and he did not disappoint on the final evening with stories and delivery equivalent to a stand-up comic combined with direct and poignant teaching drawn directly from the passage. In this case, the story of Jesus turning water into wine which afforded great scope for reflecting on humour as a symbol of joy, including a quote from the Pope on the subject.

The Anglican input was particularly marked this year with the Bishop of Willesden, Pete Broadbent, delivering the daily Bible expositions and the Bishop of Durham, Tom Wright, lecturing, preaching and in late night discussion. Pete Broadbent moved rather ploddingly through the Isianic Servant songs and, although he outlined the exilic background of these passages, seemed to miss a trick by choosing not to make the link to the situation of the post-Christendom church. Instead, we were asked to think mainly in terms of other generic experiences of exile like migration or a house move.

Tom Wright, however, was a whirlwind of Biblical connections as he explored the centrality of Christ to creation and the impact of his crucifixion and resurrection on the coming of the Kingdom of God. In his lecture and sermon he gave a vision of a Kingdom that overthrows the oppressors to bring forgiveness and wholeness to all. This vision was received with spontaneous applause but to what extent it was fully grasped was unclear from the late night q&a where the questions asked – Christian political parties, belief in a fiery hell, cremation versus burial - were mainly peripheral to the content of his talks. My question about his use of the five act play as a way of imaging salvation history drew from him an image for the work of the Kingdom which still lies ahead; that of the jazz musician listening deeply to the structure of the music in order to improvise his or her individual contribution.

Wright’s image could stand as an appropriate metaphor for Spring Harvest itself as it seeks to equip the Church in a way that is open, compassionate, humorous, self-deprecating, passionate, transforming, uplifting and evangelical.


Albert Ayler.

TASK Newsletter 7

Hello again, another fortnight has passed and here is TASK's latest round up of local news, which we would ask you to read and then share with at least one other person so we can extend our coverage as far as possible.

A new Seven Kings library: the campaign hots up

We are now in receipt of early returns of our library petition and ask anyone with outstanding forms to get them back to us at 31 Bradford Road, Seven Kings as soon as possible so we can collate numbers and organise next steps. Our hope is that we can complete this by the end of the month, allowing for forms to come back from some local shops and schools, which are now closed for their Spring holidays. Under new legislation, if a petition has more than 250 names - which we have already easily achieved - it is a legal requirement for the Council's Cabinet to make a direct response to the issue raised, so the obvious issue is for us to book speaking rights at an upcoming Cabinet meeting in May - we are checking dates - and make the case strongly in public. We also hope our local councillors will be on hand to support and reinforce the case.

The campaign was launched with an open letter from Chris in last weeks' 'Ilford Recorder' inviting as rapid a response to the opening of a new library here as in Clayhall, which got a new library facility last year without any public interest and in the face of low mobile library use. As he said in his letter, if they get one quickly without any obvious local interest or campaign, why is that nothing is happening here, where we have had a continuous demand over many years. The letter also invited Cllr Ronnie Barden, the Cabinet member for the arts, to meet with us to discuss this at an early date. As we go to press, we still await his response.

Zebra crossing now installed outside Downshall school

Following a long campaign by parents and school governors at Downshall Primary school on Meads Lane, concerned at traffic volume and safe access to the school, a new zebra crossing has been placed outside the school. Whilst this is helpful news, school governors are still concerned about the exceptional traffic volume on Meads Lane, which has been substantially enhanced since the closure of Downshall Avenue a couple of years ago. This controversial decision is seen as aiding the residents of a small street - interestingly including the incoming Redbridge Mayor - to the disadvantage of the wider population, whilst blocking the most appropriate route heading towards Aldborough Road to go north. The issue comes up again at Area Committee 5 on Monday 14 April, held at Barley Lane school, starting at 7.15pm. This is the regular local forum for people to have their say on Council related matters, involving council staff and local councillors from Seven Kings as well as neighbouring Goodmayes and Chadwell Heath wards.

Yobs are history, say police

Local police are confident they have cracked the back of local yobs, and feel that there is the option to move onto new activity according to a recent piece in the local press. TASK welcome all local improvements, and recognise a decline in some local issues like aerial graffiti, but caution against complacency. We are still aware of too many yellow crime scene notices around the station - recognised by the Council's own Licensing Strategy as a crime hotspot - and worry that with lighter nights and warmer weather, public drinking around the station exit and Joker pub will continue to be a hazard.

Our advice to the safer neighbourhood team is to keep watching and keep visible on our streets as often as possible, especially since we are advised the team is now operating at full strength after some team sickness. Please keep them - and us - aware of any issues where you are in order that any response can be speedy and effective. If the situation is turned around, as is claimed, it is imperative we keep it that way.

TASK leafleting: time for a final push on the High Road

Thanks to our brilliant supporter base, we have now completed leafleting in most areas apart from the long roads off the High Road. With this in mind, we are going to do another big group publicity drop on Sunday May 11, starting at 1400 outside the railway station. If you can help with this for an hour or so, please contact Chris at If you cannot make this date, but still want to help us complete our leaflet drop, you can still sign up to do a drop in your own time by making the same contact.

Local street scene walkabout: make a date

This regular activity involving local citizens, councillors and council officials designed to pick up on, and take action to address street scene issues like dumping and dereliction, next takes place on Friday April 25 from 09.00. Please contact Ali at if you want to be part of the group. A warm welcome is guaranteed to all newcomers.

Local photos from yesteryear

A sense of its local history is important to any area and one idea we are currently looking at is mounting an exhibition of local images from the past during the autumn so newer residents get a sense of what it used to be like here, and longstanding residents can share their memories from yesteryear. Our hope is that this will be interesting in itself, as well as helping to make links, and further enhance understanding and respect, between different parts of our diverse and ever changing community, so anyone with photographs, letters or local memorabilia they are willing to share is asked to make contact with us explaining what resources they have to offer but sending nothing direct at present. We will report back on progress with this in future issues of the newsletter.

Meads Lane Post office: it's a waiting game

The national consultation period on post office closures is now over, and local postmaster David Shah- and all the other affected traders- nervously await details of their fate. We are saddened that Redbridge Council seem to have discounted the idea of taking over some of these sites as local service outposts, an idea being actively pursued by around 150 more imaginative local authorities nationwide.

New play space on Vicarage Lane: maybe

For a year or so now a local campaign group has been working up ideas for a new play space on unused allotment land on Vicarage Lane, near the junction with Mundon Gardens. This would allow for desperately needed and high quality open play space in an area that has been massively over-developed over the last decade, following the closure of the old Plessey Siemans factory and development of at least three sets of high volume new apartments, many units of which are rented to families with children despite having decidedly zero or very limited garden and play space. Redbridge Council has just been awarded £1m funding for enhancing play facilities and our hope is much is that much of it is spent here. Find out more at a public meeting on this scheduled for Wednesday 30 April at Canon Palmer School starting at 7,30pm.

That is it, folks. We are back in three weeks time - slightly longer than usual to account for school holidays! - during w/b 28 April. See you then.


The Kinks - Waterloo Sunset.

Friday, 11 April 2008

New MiLE Gospel Reflection

My latest Gospel Reflection for MiLE can be read by clicking here. It is a work-based reflection on Sunday's Gospel reading from John 10. 1-10.


After the Fire - Laser Love.

Friday, 4 April 2008

BNP targetting May elections

Just received the following from Unite:

The BNP is targeting the May elections. The BNP could get elected to the London Assembly as they require only 5% of the vote. In the previous London elections the BNP polled 4.9%.

Once again the BNP were exposed this week. Nick Eriksen, the second candidate on the BNP list, has withdrawn his candidacy after he was exposed for writing sexist, racist and offensive comments on a blog in which he uses the name "Sir John Bull". Eriksen was also a former Conservative councillor in Southwark. Here are some quotes from this blog:
  • In one post ('RAPE: LIES, LIES, LIES', 24th August 2005), Eriksen says: "I've never really understood why so many men have allowed themselves to be brainwashed by the feminazi myth machine into believing that rape is such a serious crime."
  • "..the South Africans will never stage a proper World Cup, how could they? It's a black country."
  • "What a ridiculous fuss was made about the so-called 'monkey noises' directed against the English football team's black players by Spanish supporters recently." (Right Now! December 2004-January 2005).
Every leaflet, every event and activity made a difference and helped stop the BNP in London last time. The majority of Londoners are anti-racist and anti-fascist. The majority must make their voice heard.

The Style Council - Walls Come Tumbling Down.

I Count Week of Action

This week has been a Week of Action organised by I Count, the campaign of the Stop Climate Chaos coalition. Hundreds of groups and individuals from across the country have taken action together for a stronger Climate Change Bill. The week of action will keep the pressure on local MPs to make the UK’s Climate Change Bill count.

Take action & influence your MP

Many MPs have yet to stand up in support of the suggested amendments to the Bill. Please join in the Week of Action and make contact with your MP to push for their support: Write to your MP.

Please pray:
  • Give thanks for the Government annoucement that annual milestones will be included in the Climate Change Bill.
  • Please keep praying for the remaining two amendments - for the inclusion of aviation and shipping emissions and for a commitment to 80% cuts by 2050.
  • Pray for the millions of people already affected by climate change, that they may have hope and the means to adapt to the changing climate.


Athlete - Halflight.

Rogation Sunday / Industrial Sunday / MiLE Sunday

Sunday April 27th is known in some Christian traditions as Rogation Sunday when prayers are said for the planting of the crops in preparation for Harvest. More recently it has been called Industrial Sunday when the focus has been on all those in any kind of work, paid or unpaid, and those seeking work. This is an opportunity to offer to God our daily work of all kinds.

Mission in London's Economy has prepared Readings, Hymns, Prayers, Brief Issue Papers for use in worship on Rogation Sunday or at any time of the year. As well as worship material there are brief papers on some of the issues that are affecting the economy of our city.

Due to our having to wait on copyright consent from two or three publishers, we hope the material will be on the website at least two to three weeks before Rogation Sunday. The MiLE website address is, and our email address is - we will respond to any queries you may have, as speedily as possible.

Mission in London’s Economy is an independent, ecumenical and London wide organisation. This material has been drawn up by one of its groups whose task is to educate the churches in issues facing London’ economy so that we might respond appropriately.


The Staple Singers - When Will We Be Paid?

The Jubilee Centre

The Jubilee Centre have redesigned their website to enable visitors to explore their resources and different spheres of interest more effectively. The new website also includes a blog, where they will be commenting regularly on stories in the news and reports of social trends. This serves as a forum for discussion and debate where visitors can engage with the issues, with the Centre, and with each other. Join the discussion by leaving a comment through the Engage! section of their website.

Also worth checking out is the website of their sister organisation, the Relationships Foundation. Both have a particular focus on relational living.


Elvis Costello - Indoor Fireworks.

A great Catholic, writer and man

G. K. Chesterton was a Renaissance Man. A well established journalist and reviewer by the age of twenty one, he went on to publish biographies, literary and art criticism, essays, history, nonsense verse, novels, poetry, and to illustrate his verse.

Chesterton was a major influence on the shape of Christian writing in the twentieth century. He provided a model for the engaged and engaging journalist (to be followed by the likes of Malcolm Muggeridge and Tom Davies). Engaged because of the breadth of topics to which he jointly applied his pen and his faith. Engaging because of the good-humoured wit that characterised his satire and sugared the tough arguments that he doled out.

It was this combination that first caught the attention of C. S. Lewis. In Surprised by Joy Lewis makes it clear how much Chesterton's writings and, in particular The Everlasting Man (a history of mankind's spiritual progress - "[I] saw the whole Christian outline of history set out in a form that seemed to me to make sense", said Lewis), helped him become a Christian. He then took Chesterton for a model in many of his own attitudes to his faith, particularly in his combative approach to apologetics.

Another Inkling, Charles Williams, was influenced by Chesterton in his early poetry while an early novel War in Heaven draws on both The Man Who Was Thursday in its treatment of the supernatural and on Chesterton's detective priest Father Brown in the character of the Archdeacon. W. H. Auden wrote that Chesterton's Greybeards at Play "contains some of the best pure nonsense verse in English, and the author's illustrations are equally good". A whole string of topical versifying satirists - Nigel Forde, Stewart Henderson, Adrian Plass, Steve Turner - have followed in Chesterton's train down through the century.

He was criticised of course for his use of humour in explaining and defending orthodox Christianity. His defence was that fun and seriousness were not opposites and that whether "a man preaches his gospel grotesquely or gravely is merely like the question of whether he preaches it in prose or verse. Chesterton's humour and invention was not, as Lewis noted, gratuitous but integral to his argument - "humour which is not in any way separable from the argument but is rather (as Aristotle would say) the 'bloom' on dialectic itself". He particularly valued the way in which use of the grotesque tends “to touch the nerve of surprise and thus to draw attention to the intrinsically miraculous character of the object itself”. As an example he gave the impact of seeing St Paul’s Cathedral upside down. The effect would be that we should “look at it more than we have done all the centuries during which it has rested on its foundations”. It is, he thought, the “supreme function of the philosopher of the grotesque to make the world stand on its head that people may look at it”.

Chesterton's imagination enabled him to understand and explain aspects of Christianity which for many had seemed impossible or naive or impossibly naive. In his biography of Saint Francis of Assisi he memorably characterised Francis as the Court Fool of the King of Paradise, who sees the world upside down and cannot see the wood for the trees. As he explores these phrases we begin to understand the way in which conversion turns our life and life itself upside down (or, as we now see from God's perspective not man's, the right way up) so that a nobleman becomes a fool (for Christ), the son of a prosperous merchant who is provided for in every way become dependent on God, and sees every part of God's creation as an individual character and brother, even the trees. In understanding Francis and his actions Chesterton inadvertently explains the inversions, metamorphoses, defiance’s of gravity and fabulous zoo of Marc Chagall's art which, like Chesterton, is imaginatively revealing the spiritual reality experienced by the likes of Francis of Assisi.

For all these qualities Chesterton fully deserves the praise awarded him by Lewis - "A great Roman Catholic, a great writer, and a great man."


Kathleen Battle & Branford Marsalis - Come Sunday.