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Saturday, 31 May 2008

Windows on the world (1)

Little Gidding, 2008

This is the first in a weekly series of posts of images called Windows on the world. Each image involves a looking through in order to see what is beyond. As such they act as natural icons opening up a window to what can be seen through and not just with the eye.


Michael McDermott - A Wall I Must Climb.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

The curious glasses

The glasses were there on the bench in the park where he regularly sat to eat his lunch and contemplate the world passing him by. He had sat as he normally did without noticing their presence alongside but his hand brushed their frames as he placed his sandwiches beside him in readiness for unwrapping and savouring their flavour.

His choice today had been smoked salmon and cream cheese but his recognition of the unexpected and unfamiliar drew his attention away from his food and toward these glasses abandoned on his lunch bench. They were nothing special to look at, a pair of black steel-rimmed beatle glasses, but they raised questions in his mind. Who was it that had left them? How had they been left – overlooked or discarded? Was someone even now searching for them or negotiating existence with impaired vision for the loss of them?

His curiosity awakened, his hand reached out to grasp them and having grasped to raise them to his face and eyes. What he saw arrested his attention.

His gaze focused initially on a sparrow pecking at crumbs on the tarmac a yard or more from him.

In the blink of his eyelid he saw God’s eyes focused on the sparrow, not one sparrow falling without his notice, sparrows pulling Aphrodite’s chariot, Warbeak and his warrior sparrows, psychopomps carrying spirits from the land of the dead to that of the living, Captain Jack Sparrow of the Black Pearl, London’s house sparrows, the playful intimacy of Lesbia’s pet sparrow pecking her fingers and the elegies of Catallus and Skelton, The Sparrow in Edgware, and the wet-footed sparrow hopping along the veranda.

He saw the sparrow’s feathers and immediately saw the wax of Icarus’ feathered wings melting in the heat of the sun, the US eagle feather law, the feathers of angelic wings …

He tore the glasses from his eyes, placing them on the bench, and then rubbing his eyes as if to establish whether he was awake or dreaming. He could not quite believe what he had just seen. Had these glasses enabled him to see the significance of the sparrow or had he suddenly had a mystic revelation of the inter-connectedness of existence?

He wasn’t sure but knew that his next decision would either answer those questions once and for all or leave him forever questioning the reality of that sudden wonder-filled moment. His hand hesitated over the glasses. Put them on again and would he remove them ever again as he explored the depths of multiple signification? Leave them lying where he found them and would he forever regret his rejection of insight and vision?

His hand grasped the frames and trembling hooked them over his ears and settled them on his nose. His eyes remained closed. Could he open them once more? What would he see when he did so? Curiosity triumphed and his eyes lighted on the grass that butted up again the tarmac and spread before him as a vast expanse of solid green composed of billions on billions of individual blades.

Instantly he saw the rush and sedge families, groundspeople preparing the Wembley pitch for Cup Final day, the unstoppable progress of Bermuda Grass, horses, cows, sheep and goats grazing, Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, suburban lawns and multiple lawn mowers, the covers on Centre Court at Wimbledon and Cliff Richard leading communal singing, a smoking joint, the rough, the fairway and the putting green, all flesh is grass and man’s days are as grass …

Suddenly, a butterfly flew across his field of vision interrupting his train of signification. That moment, he saw the personification of a soul, a flutterby, a butterfly nut, the stomach’s butterflies, a bow tie, a hieroglyphic butterfly, butterfly lovers, a butterfly fairy. He followed the chain reaction of the flutter of the butterfly's wings until it caused …

He was found slumped over on the bench, the glasses remained in place and rigor mortis had left a curious look of wonder inscribed on his now-motionless face. The glasses remained in place together with the look of wonder as the casket lid was secured, prayers were spoken, memories shared, earth scattered and shoveled over the coffin, man and glasses. Each one lowered into the grave, into death.


T-Bone Burnett - The Killer Moon.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Living with other faiths (2)

Dialogue is central to inter faith initiatives and is also a key aspect of scripture and tradition. Jesus is “the self-communication of God,” ‘the Word of God’:

“It all arose out of a conversation, conversation within God, in fact the conversation was God. So God started the discussion, and everything came out of this, and nothing happened without consultation.

This was the life, life that was the light of men, shining in the darkness, a darkness which neither understood nor quenched its creativity.

John, a man sent by God, came to remind people about the nature of the light so that they would observe. He was not the subject under discussion, but the bearer of an invitation to join in.

The subject of the conversation, the original light, came into the world, the world that had arisen out of his willingness to converse. He fleshed out the words but the world did not understand. He came to those who knew the language, but they did not respond. Those who did became a new creation (his children). They read the signs and responded.

These children were born out of sharing in the creative activity of God. They heard the conversation still going on, here, now, and took part, discovering a new way of being people.

To be invited to share in a conversation about the nature of life was for them, a glorious opportunity not to be missed.” (John 1: 1-14)

Jonathan Sacks notes that conversations with God characterise the relationships of those closest to him:

“Abraham says: God, why did you abandon the world? God says to Abraham: Why did you abandon Me? And there then begins that dialogue between Heaven and Earth which has not ceased in 4,000 years. That dialogue in which God and Man find one another.”

“Only thus,” Sacks says, “can we understand the great dialogues between God and Abraham and Moses and Jeremiah and Job.”

Drawing on the philosophical thought of Martin Buber and Emmanuel Levinas, Rowan Williams has written that, “all human identity is constructed through conversations, in one way or another.” First, we have to become aware of someone other than ourselves. Jonathan Sacks says, “we must learn to listen and be prepared to be surprised by others … make ourselves open to their stories, which may profoundly conflict with ours … we must learn the art of conversation, from which truth emerges … by the … process of letting our world be enlarged by the presence of others who think, act, and interpret reality in ways radically different from our own.”

Second, by these conversations we become aware of ourselves. As people, we are not autonomous constructions. Instead, our individual identities are gifted to us by the people, events, stories and histories that we encounter as we go through life. If there was no one and nothing outside of ourselves we would have no reference points in life, no way of knowing what is unique and special about ourselves. In conversations we become aware of how we differ from others and therefore what is unique about ourselves.

Finally, in conversations we also become aware of what we have in common with others. Conversation is something that you can only do with someone else. Therefore, Charles Taylor has argued that, opening a conversation is to inaugurate a common action. A conversation is ‘our’ action, something we are both involved in together. In this way, conversation reminds us of those things that “we can only value or enjoy together” and is, as Rowan Williams has said, “an acknowledgement that someone else’s welfare is actually constitutive of my own.”

For these and other reasons the General Synod as long ago as 1981 endorsed the Four Principles of Inter Faith Dialogue agreed ecumenically by the British Council of Churches:
  • Dialogue begins when people meet each other
  • Dialogue depends upon mutual understanding and mutual trust
  • Dialogue makes it possible to share in service to the community
  • Dialogue becomes the medium of authentic witness


Elvis vs JXL - A Little Less Conversation.

Living with other faiths (1)

I've been writing some draft guidance for the Barking Episcopal Area on increasing participation in Faith Forums. As part of this work I've summarised some of the bible study material that I had previously prepared for the CTC resource pack and it now makes a relatively concise two-post series that hopefully will be of some interest:

In answering the question 'Why should churches engage with other faiths?' from scripture and tradition, it is important that we recognise that the contexts in which Israel, Jesus and the Early Church lived and ministered were multi-faith and that encounters with people who were not Jews are generally encounters with people of another faith.

From this perspective, we can then see that:
  • Jesus taught in Luke 10: 25-37 that we are both to be good neighbours to those of other faiths and to receive from those of other faiths. Jesus himself crossed cultural and religious boundaries in order to speak with the Samaritan woman (John 4: 9) and showed understanding both of the cultural and religious boundaries between Jews and Samaritans (John 4: 9 & 10) and of aspects of Samaritan beliefs (John 4: 19 - 24). Jesus recognised great faith in people of other faiths (Matthew 15: 21 – 28 and Luke 7: 1 - 10) and responded to that faith with acts of healing and help.
  • Paul visited the worship places of other faiths (Acts 17: 23), quoted from the writings of other faiths (Acts 17: 28; 1 Corinthians 15: 33; Titus 1: 12), used rhetorical approaches learnt from Greek oratory, and described his approach to those of other faiths as being to become like a Jew to the Jews, like those under the law to those under the law, and like those not under the law to those not under the law (1 Corinthians 9: 19-23).
  • God has revealed himself in the natural world (Acts 14:17), in people's consciences (Romans 2:15) and even in their religiosity, however far removed that may seem from a Judeo-Christian point of view (Acts 17:22-31). God is at work in people of others faiths; acting in their cultures in ways similar to his actions for the people of Israel (Amos 9: 7 and Isaiah 19: 19-25) and enabling the actions of their leaders to be of benefit to the people of Israel (Isaiah 45: 1-6). Similarly, the central message of the story of Jonah is to do with God’s concern for the people of another faith who were the enemies of the people of Israel.


Youssou N'Dour - Africa Remember.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

London to Paris Bike Ride

Andi Thomas is taking part in the London to Paris Bike Ride on 21/07/2008 to raise money for Rejuvenate Worldwide Limited and The Salvation Army and would really welcome your support.
He is raising funds equally to support the work of Rejuvenate Worldwide in the UK and Africa and also The Salvation Army working with 'at risk' young people and families in Birmingham and in particular in Aston.

It's really easy to sponsor him - you can donate online by credit or debit card at the following address: All donations are secure and sent electronically to Rejuvenate Worldwide Limited. If you are a UK taxpayer, Justgiving will automatically reclaim 28% Gift Aid on your behalf, so your donation is worth even more. Please join in supporting Rejuvenate Worldwide Limited and the Salvation Army, both fabulous causes.


The Style Council - The Paris Match.

Albert Herbert RIP

Visionary artist Albert Herbert died on 10th May and obituaries can be found at the Independent and Times websites. He had been associated with the England & Co gallery since 1988, who describe him as "a great friend and inspiring artist who will be very much missed."

Gallery owner Jane England wrote the Independent's obituary and says of Herbert:

"Acknowledged for his powerful and original poetic vision, Herbert continued a metaphysical tradition in British art that extends from William Blake to Cecil Collins. His idiosyncratic, mystical paintings used biblical stories and religious subjects, but were not exclusively Christian in their meaning - religion was his way of revealing "the inner world of the collective mind". These universal narratives were drawn from a myriad sources, from the Bible to Buddhism, as Herbert discovered images from stories depicted by artists for thousands of years, and renewed them in a quintessentially modern way."


Raymond Crooke - Lord Of The Dance.

Redbridge Conversation

The following has come from the Redbridge Faith Forum:

Redbridge Council has just launched the Redbridge Conversation. The Council is asking everyone who lives or works in the Borough to talk about the long-term improvements they want to see, and how the Council should pay for them.

Residents are being invited to take part in discussions and events across the Borough, and on the Council's website. It will be the biggest public consultation the Council has ever run.

The Council is asking members of the Faith Forum to consider hosting a Redbridge Conversation discussion with members of their own faith group. This could be a focus group with around 6-10 people or a presentation for a larger group such as a committee meeting or social gathering. The Council can provide speakers and other resources to make sure people taking part are properly informed and the discussion goes well.

The Council wants to make sure that voices from all parts of the Borough are heard in the Redbridge Conversation, which is why it has asked the Faith Forum for help. The results of the Redbridge Conversation will be sent to Councillors, who will be taking decisions that will shape the Borough's long-term future.

You can find out about all the Council's investment and funding options on Redbridge i, the Council's website.

For an alternative view on the Redbridge Conversation, see this week's Ilford Recorder. However, I would echo the plea of Ali Hai, from TASK, encouraging us to participate to ensure that Seven Kings is put on the map and that our priorities are recorded by the Council. He argues that the chances are that only the loudest voices will be heard and therefore we should play our part in making sure the Council hears the voice of Seven Kings.


Peter Gabriel & Kate Bush - Don't Give Up.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

God Gave Rock 'N' Roll To You (4)

As Robert Beckford pointed out the history of rock & roll is shot through with divides or splits between sacred and secular, flesh and Spirit but the artists we have thinking about in this series are saying that there are no splits and are bringing these unneccesarily divided concepts back together. They look towards the reconciliation of opposites, towards wholeness and affirmation, but recognise that, although we know of the existence of wholeness because of Christ, we are not yet whole ourselves. Like the characters in Flannery O’Connor’s novels we are, at best, incomplete – even the good, she felt, has a grotesque face, because “in us the good is something under construction.” One band who exemplify this approach to raising issues of faith in their music are U2.

In their songs, U2 celebrate the possibility of becoming one, of building a bridge between the sea and land, of coming home, of going where the streets have no name and, of believing in the Kingdom Come when all the colours will bleed into one. Theirs is a spirituality in which everything can be affirmed because everything can be transformed by grace. But they also affirm the ugliness and failure in our world, and in people like themselves. So, they sing of falling down, of being out of control, of losing their way in the shadows where boy meets man, of falling from the sheer face of love like a fly from a wall. In common with the Psalms, they mourn and rail at the pain and division experienced in the world - Ireland’s bloody Sunday, El Salvador’s bullets in the blue sky and Argentina’s Mother’s of the Disappeared.

In their hands these two poles are not opposed instead, both are embraced. The Edge has said that: "We never did resolve the contradictions … And probably never will. There's even more contradictions now ... but it's a contradiction I'm able to live with". Contradictions that you are able to live with. This is where U2 take us - to an affirmation of both the goodness and fallen-ness of human beings. Into the still centre at the heart of the storm of contradiction to give a different take on reconciliation. Bono echoed the same theme in talking about their albums Achtung Baby and Zooropa: "I decided that the only way was, instead of running away from the contradictions, I should run into them and wrap my arms around them and give 'em a big kiss".

Their song The Fly was written as a phone call from Hell, a description of the world as we know it - in darkness, the stars falling from the sky, the Universe exploded because of one man’s lie. In this dark world we live in the middle of contradictions with much that we’d like to rearrange although often all we achieve is to kill our inspiration and sing about the grief. In performance on the ZooTV tours these contradictions were magnified through the projection of aphorisms onto monitors symbolising the overload of information we receive in an IT age.

This embrace of contradiction reflects our age and challenges it, at one and the same time. U2’s idea is to use the energy of what's going against us - and by that they mean popular culture, commerce, science - to defend ourselves. Rather than resistance in the hippie or punk sense of the word, we try to walk through it, rather than walk away from it. To describe the age can be to challenge it. The job of artists is to describe the problem, the contradictions, "to describe what's going on, describe the attraction, and be generous enough not to wave your finger at it as it’s going by". U2 look for 'diamonds in the dirt', shining, transcendent moments; sex and music as places where you glimpse God. They trawl through the state of confusion that is the contemporary moment - reflecting, mocking, embracing, describing, describing your attraction to it - in order to glimpse God, resist or mock the devil and be a harbinger of grace. To cling to the face of love and shine like a burning star.

“Rock & roll was born in the American South,” writes Bill Flanagan, in his book Written On My Soul: “The whole history of rock & roll could be told in southern accents, from the delta bluesmen and country troubadours to the Baptist gospel singers and Okie folkies.” The contradictions between sacred and secular, flesh and Spirit that Jerry Lee Lewis and Al Green felt and which U2 embrace derive from the American South because, as Flannery O’Connor wrote, the South “is Christ-haunted.” To see the extent to which this is true watch the film Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus in which alt. country singer-songwriter Jim White takes you on a tour of the South as he knows it.

Jim White shows us desperate people with a hell-fire religion and a God who will whup the ass of those prefer the sinful flesh over the Holy Spirit. But here, he claims, you also feel the presence of the Spirit – it’s alive and awake and in the blood of those who live in the South. The musicians that we have thought about in this series have taken this understanding of Christianity, with its divide between flesh and Spirit, secular and sacred, and instead of falling into that divide, as people like Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley did, have used its strengths to speak powerfully about the reality of sin, the holiness of the ordinary and the partial reconciliation of contradictions. In doing so, they have taken the route that T. Bone Burnett signposted of writing more about what you can see by the Light of Christ than about the Light itself.

How have the musicians mentioned in this series made use of the cultural understanding of Christianity that they gained from the American South in their music?

Do you think they have used that cultural heritage to present a more nuanced understanding of Christianity than that that is commonly found in the American South?


U2 - The Fly.

After Sunday

After Sunday is about a way of being the church in and for the world. One of the main challenges for Christians in this age is to help the world to recognise the activity of God in our midst.

Christians don't take God into the world. They discover God actively working there for good through all sorts of people and situations whether Christian or not. God challenges us all to join in with his mission of love to the world.

People of faith recognise that call to partnership and that forms the basis for their faith in action. What does this mean for us in our daily lives? How should we respond to God's call? What does God want us to do at work and in the world and what risks are we expected to take? How do we discern and engage with his purposes? What are the implications for how we relate one to another? After Sunday aims to explore these questions in an open and engaging way.

After Sunday is a project supported by the Diocese of Durham Mission Fund to encourage Christians, at whatever point they are at in their faith journey, to strengthen the connection between their faith and their daily work and life. For more information, click here.


The Staple Singers - When Will We Be Paid.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

The hands & feet of God

A new altar frontal and banners have been introduced at St John's Seven Kings. These have been made by the Church's banner-making group to a design that I prepared.

The frontal and banners are intended to remind us, as the congregation at St John's, that, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we are the body, hands and feet of Christ in our world today. To signify this idea, the altar frontal and two lectern banners feature the outline of a dove, a symbol of the Holy Spirit, each of which contains a photo of the St John's congregation.

On the altar frontal, the influence of the Holy Spirit through the Church congregation is signified in wavy lines which are like sound waves rippling outwards from the image of the dove. Two banners hang on either side of the altar. The first uses a phrase from 1 Corinthians 12. 27 to remind us that 'We are the Body of Christ,' while the second features a contemporary paraphrase in stating that 'We are the hands and feet of God.'

We are very grateful to the banner-making group for their time and skill in preparing this new set of banners and frontal. Their work is not simply decorative but is also a vibrant symbol of the kind of Church that God wants us to be. The photograph included in the outline of the dove shows our diverse congregation here at St John's and it is through our diversity of gifts, personalities, cultures and networks that the Holy Spirit works to empower us together to do the things that Jesus did; serving, praying, teaching, healing and, ultimately sacrificing himself for others. These banners are, therefore, an encouragement because they say that God is at work in and through us but are also a challenge as they call us to become more like Jesus in the things we do together in and for our local community.


Bruce Springsteen - We Shall Overcome.

Retail therapy

Just back from Lakeside. Not my usual haunt but I enjoyed a bit of retail therapy after what has been a fairly draining start to the week for various reasons. Came home with Candi Staton's His Hands, Springsteen's Seeger Sessions and Peter Gabriel's Hit; all from the Border's sale.

While in Waterstone's, I was skimming through the Lion Companion to Christian Art when I can across references to four artists - Charles Milcendeau, Henry Simon, Ben Boutin, and Rémy Le Guillerm - which, although uncited, can, I think, only have been gained via my review of Humour et Critique dans l'art d'aujord'hui published in Art & Christianity 48. The artists are not among those who would normally appear in a survey of modern Christian Art as, with the exception of Henry Simon (a regional, as opposed to a national or internationally artist), they do not have major bodies of religious works or commissions. In addition, the works described in the book by these artists are those highlighted in my review and the details given about the works and artists are similar to those in the review.

While the Companion seems to be a generally comprehensive survey of visual arts created by artists regularly using Christian imagery or gaining Church commisions, I was surprised by the relative absence of acknowledgement given to those playing key roles in the visual art produced as part of the French Catholic Revival. Little mention seemed to be made of the works and influence of Maurice Denis and Albert Gleizes or of the artistic circle that gathered around Jacques Maritain.


Candi Staton - His Hands.

Movie meme

I was tagged by Sam for the following meme:

1. One movie that made you laugh
The Purple Rose of Cairo

2. One movie that made you cry
A Walk to Remember

3. One movie you loved when you were a child
The Sword in the Stone

4. One movie you’ve seen more than once
Wings of Desire

5. One movie you loved, but were embarrassed to admit it
The Parent Trap (1998)

6. One movie you hated
Dirty Dancing

7. One movie that scared you
I am Legend

8. One movie that bored you
Masked and Anonymous

9. One movie that made you happy
The Fisher King

10. One movie that made you miserable
The Purple Rose of Cairo

11. One movie you weren’t brave enough to see
The Last Temptation of Christ (at the time it came out)

12. One movie character you’ve fallen in love with
Julie Vignon in Three Colours Blue

13. The last movie you saw

14. The next movie you hope to see
Prince Caspian


Zbigniew Preisner - Song for the Unification of Europe.

Phil's treehouse

Good to see that Philip Ritchie has joined his fellow 'Big Picture' tutors on blogspot. Previously blogging as lawnmower reflections, Philip's new blog is entitled Phil's treehouse. The name for the blog was suggested by his daughter and the picture on the header is the view from the treehouse which he began building in 2006. One of Philip's first posts on his new blog is on the wonderful Emmylou Harris album, Wrecking Ball.


Emmylou Harris & Daniel Lanois - Orphan Girl and Blackhawk.

Reform of care & support system

FaithAction report that Helen Steele of the Department of Health has written to them to discuss reform of the care and support system.

Reform of the care and support system will affect every adult in society and the DoH are keen to engage with as many people as possible and take the time to listen to what people have to say.

The DoH have asked FaithAction to raise the profile of this debate, both nationally and locally through the many networks that the FaithAction membership form and will be feeding them resources to gather views next month. Until then, they have uploaded Baroness Jane Campbell's recent speech to the resources section of their website for consideration.


Michael McDermott - Mess Of Things.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

God Gave Rock 'N' Roll To You (3)

Through his soundtrack to the film O Brother, Where Art Thou and the subsequent Down From The Mountain concert and film, T. Bone Burnett has played apart in a resurgence of interest in the country and bluegrass music of the American South.

One tradition that he has highlighted has been the Appalachian country death songs; gothic backwoods ballads of mortality and disaster. The Violent Femmes are one band that have taken this tradition and who have used it to confront their audience with the reality of sin. In the words of Flannery O’Connor: “to the hard of hearing you shout and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures.”

At one point in his career, T. Bone Burnett found that his songs critiquing society were being misunderstood by people who thought he was simply pointing the finger at others. Because he believed that any discussion of morality has to begin with oneself he switched many of his songs from the second to the first person. So, instead of singing, “He couldn’t help but notice her,” he would now sing, “I couldn’t help but notice her.” To reinforce the point he later wrote a song entitled The Criminal Under My Own Hat. David Eugene Edwards, lead singer with Sixteen Horsepower, sums up this approach when he says that his songs are all about the fact that we are all in trouble, that we all need a Saviour.

In her novels Flannery O’Connor also wrote about the way in which the holy interpenetrates this world and affects it and the group of musicians we are considering has also made use of this way of communicating faith. In her song Holy Spirit, Victoria Williams writes about experiencing the Holy Spirit in very ordinary situations and through very ordinary people. For Victoria Williams, the Holy Spirit is what makes you laugh, makes you cry, makes your heart go ping and it can be found anywhere - on a mountain top, ‘neath the stars, in a churchyard and even in some bars. Another band finding the Spirit or face of Jesus in a bar are Over The Rhine.

You never know just what on earth you'll find in the faces of a stranger or in the dark and weary corners of a mind because, here and there, when you least expect it you can see the Saviour's face. The holy interpenetrates our world and affects it but often we are not looking all that close and cannot see, so artists like Victoria Williams, Over The Rhine and Flannery O’Connor create little epiphanies that reveal Christ for us in the ordinary experiences of life.

How do you think non-Christians hearing these songs from mainstream bands on mainstream record labels would respond to them?


Mark Olson & the Creekdippers - Poor G.W.

T. S. Eliot Festival

Yesterday was spent at the second annual T. S. Eliot Festival held at Ferrar House, Little Gidding. The day’s programme began with the annual Little Gidding Lecture, delivered by Peter Stanford, the authorised biographer of C. Day-Lewis. Titled On Not Saying Everything, the talk examined poetry’s role in capturing religious experience. The festival’s Keynote Speaker was Ingrid Soren, also known as the writer Rosamund Richardson. Fresh from the International Symposium in Florence, Soren delivered her paper We are Born with the Dead - Dante and Eliot: A Conversation. The day concluded with an evening reading by the acclaimed poet, Sean O’Brien, the recipient of both the 2007 T. S. Eliot Prize and the 2007 Forward Poetry Prize.

More to come on the programme itself but for now here are photos of Little Gidding Church, Oundle School Jazz Band and Sean O'Brien.


The Blue Aeroplanes - Jacket Hangs.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Pleshey photos

I've been at Pleshey, the Diocesan Retreat House, for much of this week on the second part of a course to become a training incumbent. While there I took the photos above. More photos (including more from Pleshey) plus additional paintings will be found shortly as new items on my Artisans pages at Veritasse.
While there, Sam Norton gave an ad-hoc talk on peak oil which was both fascinating and chilling. The global crisis that is peak oil and a Christian response has been the topic of many of Sam's blogs. A useful introduction can be found here and Sam's more in-depth materials here. I will be reading these in more depth myself and recommend others to do so as well.

Iona - Matthew the Man.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

If you have the Bible in one hand, what is in the other?

Yesterday I was at Chelmsford Cathedral for a clergy synod during which David Ford, Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge, spoke on the theme: 'If you have the Bible in one hand, what is in the other?' (Post your answers below!)

It was a useful morning with several helpful insights on ways of reading scripture wisely. David Ford's talk has been well summarised by Sam Norton on his blog, so click here to have a read.


The Call - I Still Believe.

Monday, 12 May 2008

God Gave Rock 'N' Roll To You (2)

Bob Dylan is an example of a Rock musician going in the opposite direction to Al Green and Larry Norman. After his conversion to Christianity he continued recording and performing initially releasing albums that explicitly named the name of Jesus before more successfully integrating his faith into art to write songs that view the world from an end times/apocalyptic perspective.

Jokerman is a song depicting the apathy of humanity in the face of the apocalypse. We are the jokermen of the song’s title who laugh, dance and fly but only in the dark of the night afraid to come into the revealing light of the Son of God. The final verse comes straight from the Book of Revelation and describes the birth of the Anti-Christ who will deceive humanity into following him rather than Christ. The accusation and challenge that Dylan puts to us in the final lines of this final verse is that, even though we know exactly what will happen (it has all been prophesied in the Book of Revelation), we make no response; we are apathetic in the face of the apocalypse.

Our lack of response is what is fatal to us because it is only through repentance and turning to Christ that we will be saved from the coming judgement. Without naming the name of Jesus, Dylan captures well the Biblical portrait of humanity as made in the image of God but marred by our rejection of God which perverts our potential for beauty and compassion into a selfish search for self-aggrandisement.

T. Bone Burnette is a Southern musician who got his first major break playing in the band for Dylan’s Rolling Thunder tour and has gone on to have a successful recording and production career. It is Burnette who said that he “learned early on that if you believe Jesus is the Light of the World there are two kinds of song you can write – you can write songs about the light or about what you might see by the light.” Al Green gave up his secular recording career in order to sing about the light while Larry Norman and Bob Dylan in the songs I have mentioned have aimed to sing more about what you might see by the light.

Flannery O’Connor, a Southern Gothic novelist, said 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." Burnette has written a number of witty, erudite and critically acclaimed songs that address the distortions about which O’Connor wrote. In Hefner & Disney, a short story set to music, Burnette turns our understanding of the stories we tell ourselves on their head and claims that in our sentimentality and sensuality we are all dupes of the wicked King who wants to rob the children of their dreams.

If you were going to write songs about what you can see by the Light of Christ what might you write about?


Bob Dylan - Jokerman.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

1 cafe, 2 exhibitions & a coincidence

We've been into London today sampling the Visual Art exhibitions in the Pentecost Festival. We started with the Social Issues & Our Response photographic display at the Cafe Eterno in Covent Garden where the above photos were taken.

This is a modest but varied exhibition including scenes from SOULINTHECITY, a Compassion project, Hertford stns (my contribution) and a Miss Pole Dancing competition. Active response is contrasted with the enduring challenge of sin and the efficacy of our responses questioned.

While enjoying a healthy and appetising lunch at the Cafe, we opened up a leaflet about a performance at the Cafe from the previous night only to find a photo and write up of our good friend Mandy Stone. Mandy had given her testimony at the Cafe following a performance of Does The Shoe Fit? What a coincidence that we had both had a link with the Cafe over the same weekend!

From there I went to Westminster Central Hall for the Gifts exhibition that was a part of Pentecost People. Here I found a much more varied exhibition than I had anticipated including installations, ceramics, photographics and both abstract and representational paintings. The exhibition had been curated by Alison Lilley Berrett using artists linked to the Ark T Centre in Cowley, Oxford. The Art T Centre is a creative arts project opened in 1997 at the initiative of a church and a group of artists committed to creating space for the arts. It believes that creativity through the arts can allow people to discover new things about themselves and others and so unlock the potential for change. The Centre has six resident artists who, as well as developing their own work, provide workshops enabling others to discover their creativity sometimes for the first time.

Sue-Jane Mott's ceramic installations instantly attracted the eye. 130 ceramic bottle forms were shaped to form a pathway symbolising our life journeys while 24 Golden Bowls drew on the image from Revelation of 24 elders offering golden bowls symbolising prayers to God. From their exterior Mott's bowls looked like fragile papier-mache constructions composed of written prayers but, with their shining metallic interiors, were solid constructions, that gleamed in the light of the room.

Clay Sinclair paints backwards in acrylics onto perspex and the results are vibrant, primal images laced with humour and questioning what we see. Alison Lilley Berrett also works in an abstract expressionist style creating meditative images reflective of core Christian themes of love, life, breath. Tim Steward's work, while popular and ubiquitous at Christian festivals, is only pleasantly decorative in its weaving of enlongated charismatic figures into abstract backdrops. Finally, Kate Cunningham had created a photographic series of still lifes that used contrasts of light and dark to explore communion and crucifixion.

Gifts revealed a diversity and energy that I had not expected to find in an exhibition at what is at base an evangelical Christian festival. This is, therefore, an exhibition of encouragement for the future and a sign of the value of artists grouping together for mutual support, critique and development.

For posts on other aspects of the Pentecost Festival see Dave Walker's Church Times blog by clicking here and here.


onehundredhours - King Of Every Heart.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Ask your MEP to act on trade deals

Tearfund has joined with the Trade Justice Movement to ask us to write to our MEP to call for fairer trade deals before it’s too late – the future of 750 million people could depend on it.

MEPs may have the opportunity to influence these deals over the next few weeks and months.
Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) are unfair trade deals the European Commission is trying to force on poor African, Caribbean and Pacific countries. These deals could hurt livelihoods, jobs and the environment in these countries.

MEPs hold the European Commission to account and so can demand that its President, Commissioner Barroso, re-opens negotiations with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries. Everyone has several MEPs that represent your region. Click here to find out the key MEPs TearFund have identified as being of critical importance on this issue.

We can use their letter writing tool to create a ready made letter to send to our MEPs in Brussels, or copy the text below into an e-mail message and e-mail them at the addresses provided. Click here for the letter writing tool.


Ben Harper & Blind Boys Of Alabama - I Shall Not Walk Alone.

Eric Bibb

I've been enjoying Eric Bibb's latest offering this week. Warm, upbeat and positive, Bibb effortlessly pulls off the difficult job of writing genuinely celebratory music by merging blues, soul and gospel. As such, he continues a trail pioneered by the Staple Singers.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

God Gave Rock 'N' Roll To You (1)

Rock and pop music, in large part, emerged out of the Church. Its early stars, like the ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ of Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley, drew on a shared background of Spirituals, Gospel, the charismata of Southern Pentecostalism and all faced anxiety over their decision to substitute secular words and movements for sacred songs and mannerisms.

This beginning, which was felt as a betrayal of sacred music by those involved and by the Churches that judged them has meant that, for the most part, Christian churches have been hostile to the music that young people choose to listen to, and the music industry has responded with equal hostility, believing that any song with 'Jesus' in the title will sink without trace. Robert Beckford made that argument in a Channel 4 programme shown a couple of Christmasses ago and to ground his argument pointed to the drug culture and Eastern religions that characterised Flower Power in the 60s, the influence of Satanism in Heavy Metal, Black Metal and Shock Rock, the commitment of many hip hop artists to the Nation of Islam and the way in which the Christian Right in the US has sought to censor many such artists since the 1980s.

That programme ended with Beckford giving an impassioned plea for the Church to effectively engage with popular culture. That is something I endorse at the same time as being amazed by the extent to which Beckford’s argument overlooked many significant figures in Rock and Pop who have sought to express their faith through their music. If you watched God Gave Rock And Roll To You you would have come away with the impression that apart from Cliff Richard, Kanye West, and Matisyahu, the Hasidic reggae star, no one else in the history of Rock and Pop has ever dared to challenge the concensus that Religion and Rock and Roll do not mix.

The reality is far more complicated and in this series of posts I'm going to highlight some of the people that Beckford overlooked in order to think about ways in which the good news of Christianity has been expressed in popular culture by musicians drawing on the influence of musical traditions from the American South.

But first, here are two stories that would seem to back up Beckford’s thesis. The soul star Al Green is one of those who has felt the tension between flesh and Spirit, secular and sacred. He left a multi-million dollar career to sing Gospel and, in the film The Gospel According To Al Green, explains that he was moved by the Spirit to do so.

When Al Green is moved by the Spirit it leads him to leave his so-called ‘secular’ recording career to sing Gospel and to pastor a Church. His decision frees him to sing exclusively about the light that he has found in Jesus Christ and to preach the Gospel as he does so. Because of his past career and because he continues to sing his old hits he is able to continue to sing to people outside the church as well as to those in the Church but for many who, like Al Green, want to sing exclusively about the light that they have found in Jesus that opportunity is not extended and they make their living in Christian Contemporary Music (CCM) singing mainly to the already converted.

Larry Norman is often thought of as one of the founding figures of CCM but actually began his career recording for mainstream record labels and singing songs that named the name of Jesus and critiqued the society in which he lived. As a pioneer in writing Rock music explicitly from the perspective of a Christian, he attracted criticism from the Church and from the record industry with critics claiming that he was “too rock and roll for the Church and too religious for the rock and rollers.”

Eventually, the pressure from the record companies became too much and he launched his own record label which played an important role in establishing the separate strand of music that we now know as CCM. However, while he was recording for mainstream labels he wrote many songs that were not simply about the light of Christ but also about what you can see by the light. An example is the song Nightmare#71 from So Long Ago The Garden which uses a dream format to speak a prophetic warning to Western society that is still relevant even though it was first released in 1973.

Is the sacred/secular divide found in these two stories inevitable? Why/Why not?


Al Green - I Love You.

Sculptures confronting war

The latest email from Ekklesia highlights an installation of sculptures responding to the horrors of war, particularly the ongoing war in Iraq, which is on display at Union Theological Seminary in New York City until 16 May 2008. It is the work of priest and artist Thomas Faulkner.

The War Series is placed in public spaces throughout the seminary's campus (Broadway and 121st Street in Manhattan). Faulkner's work confronts the challenging issues of violence, torture, and the legacy of suffering from continuing conflicts.

The creator of the installation has maintained a dual vocation as a priest and sculptor since his ordination in 1974. Prior to ordination he directed the youth programme for St Ann’s Episcopal Church in the South Bronx; co-founded and directed Sanctuary, a crisis counseling and drug-education program in Boston; and participated in Operation Crossroads Africa in the Central African Republic.

As a priest, he directed the Diocese of New York's Peace and Disarmament Programme in the 1980s, and has served on the boards of Bauen Art Camp and the Episcopal Church and Visual Arts. Faulkner currently serves as vicar of Christ Church in Sparkill, New York.

As a sculptor, Faulkner has done installations throughout the United States. His Stations of the Cross project was most recently installed at the Church of Our Saviour, San Gabriel, California.
His work has been reviewed in major art periodicals, newspapers and on radio. Faulkner lives in New York City with his wife, the Rev Brenda Husson, rector of St. James Church, and their young son.


Gorecki - Symphony No. 3 (Sorrowful Songs): Lento e Largo.

Spiritual Life column

The following has been published as the 'Spiritual Life' column in today's Ilford Recorder:

Why do people feel so sad in the twenty-first century? Why do people feel so bad in the very age when, more than any other age, we have succeeded in satisfying our needs and making over the world for our own use? Why is it that a person riding on the tube from Redbridge to Central London, whose needs and drives are satisfied, who has a good home, loving partner and family, good job, and enjoys unprecedented cultural and recreational facilities, often feels bad without knowing why?

Why is it that the only news we will buy or watch is bad news? Why is the good life which people have achieved in the West in the twenty-first century so bad that only news of world catastrophes, assassinations, plane crashes, mass murders can divert us from the sadness of an ordinary morning? Why is it that the satisfying of our needs results in waste, pollution, and inequities which contain the seeds of our own destruction?

Why do we continue across the world with an orgy of war, murder, torture, and self destruction unparalleled in history? Why are we so much better at destroying buildings and then rebuilding them than in keeping them from being destroyed in the first place? Why are we a species that wages war against our own species? Why do we constantly need someone else on which to pin the blame?

Why does so much great art and so many great lifestyles come from circumstances of oppression? Why is it that altruism and self-sacrifice exist in a world that, we are told, evolved through the survival of the fittest? Why does scientific research indicate that those committed to a religious faith enjoy greater levels of well being, show greater levels of trust, and are more likely to volunteer than those without? Why is it that science can answer questions of how things occur but not questions of why things occur? Why has secularism not destroyed religion?

(Adapted from questions posed originally by Walker Percy and Philip Yancey)


Marvin Gaye - What's Going On? / What's Happening, Brother?

Scaremongering & scapegoating

The following is my response to Richard Barnbrook's comments in last week's Ilford Recorder about St John's Seven Kings which was sent to Chris Carter, the editor of the Ilford Recorder, but has not been published:

In his comments about St John’s Seven Kings in last week's Recorder, Richard Barnbrook was up to his usual tricks of scaremongering and scapegoating. The reality is very different from his insinuations. St John’s has been a multi-racial congregation for many years and my predecessor Gordon Tarry, who was here for 13 years, has also spoken publically in opposition to the policies and views of far-right organisations such as the BNP. We remain a vibrant, welcoming parish that by our very existence demonstrates the prejudice inherent in the policies of the BNP. The choice facing our communities is stark; to welcome and enjoy the diversity that is, albeit imperfectly, represented by the worshipping community at St John’s or to choose the hatred of others that characterises the policies of the far-right and the scaremongering of Richard Barnbrook.


Gospel workshop - Shackles.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Updated artwork

I have recently updated my Artisan pages at the Veritasse website to show additional photographs and paintings for purchase through this site.

I now have seven pages of photographs and paintings including photographs from the Hertford stns project and a recent landscape series taken at Boyden Wood. Sin, the photograph selected for the Pentecost Festival photographic display, can also be seen and purchased.

I am also involved in several exciting arts projects currently in the planning stage including: a Patronal Festival exhibition at St John's; an Advent art installation for Redbridge churches; and an artists forum with Henry Shelton. I'll post more information about each of these as they take shape.


Willard Grant Conspiracy - Beyond The Shore.

TASK Newsletter No. 8

The TASK e-newsletter is back after a few weeks out for the protracted Easter school holidays, and as ever, there is a deal to report.

United 'save our Ilford pool' campaign is launched: TASK sign up as key supporters

With closedown pencilled in for December, and with no firm commitment or planning in place for any rebuilding of a replacement pool, concern grows that this could be yet another disappearing local service in the south of the borough if we do not act now. Accordingly, a coalition has just been formed linking professional swimming interest groups like the Redbridge Swimmers Association, schoolusers and more general campaign groups like us. The aim is to inform the wider public of the risks, influence the planning of, and timeline for, the new pool and maybe look at extending the existing pool's life until money is found to guarantee a new one, thus avoiding both the loss of a crucial amenity and the potential for hideous overload at the borough's single other pool at Barkingside. A petition is now doing the rounds and as ever, we ask supporters to sign up and then share it with friends and family. We will post a return date in our next newsletter.

Also, we are looking for volunteers to take an active role in this new united pool campaign. Please identify yourself to Chris in the firstinstance - if you have email or by post at 31Bradford Road if not - and he will put you in touch.

Streetscene walkabout: gruesome health centre shocker!

April 25 saw our latest local streetscene walk, when TASK supporters join council officials on a 'show and tell' trek around some of the area's various trouble spots, identifying action required around dumping,graffiti and other streetscene violations. Everyone involved noted the evident general improvements along the High Road, focusing our attention this time on the area around the Seven Kings Health Centre and the High Road itself, which we think now invites similar urgent action. The steps area by the health centre presented itself as the most obvious candidate for our attention, with clear signs of dumping, graffiti and general dereliction in a locale used by many locals as a cut-through to nearby residential streets. Officers will be taking up the issue in the first instance with management staff at the health centre, who are ultimately responsible for the upkeep of this facility. The hope is that by taking concentrated action now, the next streetscene walk in June will show marked and permanent improvement. Watch this space.

Clean up extra

On a related theme, Peggy sends us a link from a feature seen on a recent BBC TV 'The One Show" - We could do this! Who is interested?
Library campaign: now back up and running after local elections

Over the last few months, we have been collecting names for our 'bring a library back to Seven Kings' petition, which we had hoped to present to full Council. This action has been delayed by the recent Mayoral and Greater London Assembly Elections, which have seen councillors fully engaged in doorstep campaigning. Now the election is over we will be talking to them about best approaches to progress this. A report back on the Library issue also comes to Area Committee 5 in June. See our next newsletter for more details.

Station improvements: new windows now installed

The ongoing programme of station improvement continues, and eagle eyed commuters will have noticed the installation of smart new upper walkway windows behind the builders hoardings. Flower beds have also been turned over for planting, with the full schedule of works due to be completed by the time the schools break for the summer. All the work has been prompted by sustained local efforts to getoperator 'national express' to recognise the years of neglect that have seen Seven Kings decline from an award-winning station in the 1960s to its current sorry state. Special thanks are due to Ali for all his hardwork.

Leafleting: give us an hour

Our next regular leaflet drop is on Sunday 11 May at 1400, starting outside Seven Kings station. If you can offer an hour, that will hopefully allow us to complete leafleting each and every road locally. Please let us know if you can attend so we can gauge numbers of leaflets required. If you'd like to help us leaflet but cannot do Sunday, then please let us know and we can drop you off materials to do your own road at a time of your choice.

Meads Lane post office: its going to close!

Some truly sad news as we go to press. The consultation exercise is now over and there is no reprieve for David Shah and the team at the local post office, which will now close unless the borough steps in. More next time.

That's it for now. We will be back during week beginning 19 May with more news and local stories, including an update on the lorry park development.


Vigilantes of Love - Resplendent.

Everyday heroes

FaithAction are looking with interest at the ‘Everyday Hero’ awards that the OTS in the Cabinet Office are funding and are keen to directly nominate people to them. They are seeking suggestions from all of their members as to who should win the ‘Everyday Hero’ awards.

You can nominate someone from your own project or from a project you have seen making an impact in your own community. Everyday Heroes are community activists, volunteers and campaigners, givers and carers, public service workers or good neighbours. The eligibility is very open, they are just keen that their short list is not those who would usually appear on such awards lists and do not receive such acclaim that they readily deserve.

For more information on how to nominate your everyday hero through FaithAction, please visit

FaithAction are also keen to get your input on some of the wider issues that they are currently tackling. They want to ensure they are carrying an accurate voice for the sector and so shall be launching a number of online forums to follow the threads of discussion that began at the Money Well Spent conference.

They are asking for help by giving your opinions to help them carry the genuine message from each of the regions across the country. The first forum they have launched is simply asking the question: ‘What are the barriers faced by faith-based organisations when engaging in the commissioning process?’

They are keen to hear your experiences and suggestions and hope that participants will shape the discussions themselves. Your voice can be heard by contributing at:


Eric Bibb - Shingle By Shingle.

Pentecost, photographs & social issues

I have a photograph due to be exhibited in the Pentecost Festival photographic display being presented by Alison Whitlock photography at the Cafe Eterno, 34 Neal Street, Covent Garden, WC2H 9PS.

The display reflects on 'Social Issues and Our Response'. My photo, entitled Sin, was taken during one of the Lent Art workshops that formed part of the Hertford stns art project and, in which, artworks for six of the Stations of the Cross were prepared. In this photo a workshop participant is scratching the word 'sin' onto a wooden cross.

This workshop session, which produced Station 2: Jesus takes up his cross, 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 when he went to the cross. Each participant then chose a word to engrave on a large wooden cross using a nail. This very visceral engagement with the experience of this Station was intentionally a significant aspect of creating the artwork. The experience of defacing the cross with graffiti describing the human failings which took Jesus to the cross was as much part of the emotional and creative experience of the Station as was the creation of the artwork itself.


U2 - Tomorrow.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Cafe Night photos

HOPE not Hate

Nick Lowles' assessment (on the HOPE not Hate site) of the national and London results makes for an interesting read. In relation to London he says this:

"So the BNP has one person on the London Assembly.

If someone had offered us this two days ago, coupled with a net gain of just ten councillors across the country, we would have jumped at it. The media's one-sided obsession with immigration and migration and in particular the BBC's and Channel Four's fascination with the anniversary of Enoch Powell, together with the obvious collapse in support for Labour, meant we entered polling day fearing the worst. Even the BNP was predicting 40 new councillors and three on the London Assembly.

That they didn't achieve this was down to the hard work of literally thousands of activists across London and the rest of the country. We have never had so many people involved in the anti-BNP campaign before. Against the odds, both political and climatic, decent people took to the streets and campaigned for HOPE not hate.

We suffered a few defeats but overall we held back the BNP, and in many areas we actually reduced their vote.

Even in London, their biggest prize, we succeeded. In 2004 the BNP polled 4.8%, just missing out on a seat by 0.2%. In the same election UKIP polled over 8%. Since 2004 the BNP has grown significantly in outer East London and generally become a household brand. With the collapse of UKIP we really believed that the BNP were on course for two, if not three, seats.

In the end they just got one. They polled 5.4%, hardly increasing their share of the vote. Obviously, the BNP getting anyone elected is bad but we can all be proud that we helped keep them to just that. Indeed, for much of the day we actually thought there was a chance that we were going to stop them altogether."


Mary Mary - Can't Give Up Now.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Dark Materials?

Philip Ritchie has an interesting post which summarises an article in which the His Dark Materials series is seen as a concerted attempt to deconstruct and reverse the meaning of the Christian story. My view is that despite Pullman's expressed intention there is more of Christian spirituality in the story than one would expect precisely because Pullman is a novelist first and a polemicist second. Philip thinks that many Christians seem ill equipped to engage in these discussions because of their own lack of knowledge and understanding of the Christian story.

I was discussing with Philip today how the second and third films could continue the story without linking the Church more specifically to the Magisterium and so it has been interesting to read Pullman's own comment on this issue in an online interview:

"As for the "Authority" business, I've always made it clear that theocracy - the political exercise of religious authority, which is what the Magisterium in the story embodies - is a special example of the regrettable tendency of humankind to believe in "one size fits all" answers: to cling to the extreme of dogmatic fundamentalism whether religious or not. In fact (and I've pointed this out too many times to go through it all again) the purest example of theocracy in the twentieth century was Soviet Russia. So I have no problem with the way the film has put the emphasis; it could hardly have done otherwise."


Rush - Farewell To Kings.

Lancaster Unity link

Good to see that turn-out in the London Mayoral election has been high. Yesterday's Ilford Recorder reported my speech to the Redbridge & Epping Forest TOGETHER rally which led to some interesting information and comment on the Lancaster Unity blog, which can be found here.


Mavis Staples - 99 & 1/2.