Wikio - Top Blogs - Religion and belief

Monday, 30 June 2008

Advent Art project (2)

The project's planning group have decided on a piece comprising of three 6 x 4' panels of mirrored perspex mounted on wooden backing panels. These will be painted in an abstract design using differing textures and densities of paint to create an effect suggesting a night sky. An unpainted area in the upper right of the third panel (from left to right) will form a star shape. In the bottom left of the first panel will be some silk screened text (possibly the word 'light' in different languages). A line will connect the text with the star.

To complement the creation and display of this piece we plan to organise a Barking Programme session on abstract art and spirituality with a session on the theory of modern art, a look at different styles of abstract art (Rothko, Pollock etc.) and then a time for creating some art either as a joint project or individually. It is likely that this will take place in the context of the Patronal Festival Art exhibition at St John's.


Don McLean - Vincent.

Welcome to Geoff Eze

This is Geoff Eze and I following Geoff's ordination as a Deacon at Chelmsford Cathedral yesterday. Geoff begins his ministry as curate at St John's today and I am greatly looking forward to working with him and his being part of our team at St John's.


Robert Randolph & The Family Band - Going In The Right Direction.

Windows on the world (6)

Seven Kings 2008
The Clash - I Fought The Law.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Prince Caspian

Have been to see Prince Caspian and thought it an excellent meditation on the difficulties and dangers of belief.

The film sees the characters move beyond the separation into camps of the good and bad towards which the allegorical structure of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe leads its characters.

Prince Caspian sees its characters struggling with the nature of belief and destiny, making mistakes but finding strength in adversity. Those who act heroically are often those who are small and ordinary while even enemies are shown to be human and facing their own inner conflicts.

The storytelling is tight and the additions to the book add both to the action and character development. Once again, director Andrew Adamson’s evocation of Narnia is full and compelling but also laced with a mordant humour that brings a down-to-earth realism to this tale of heroism and fantasy.


Regina Spektor - The Call.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Radical Light

Italian Divisionist painters of 1891-1910 suggests fairly estoteric fare and yet this modest exhibition (Radical Light: Italy's Divisionist Painters 1891-1910, National Gallery, 18 June - 7 September 2008 ) yields much that will be of interest both to those who seek to express faith through art and those who are appreciative of art that is expressive and symbolic.

Divisionism, the application of pure colours to canvas in dots, lines or threads, was an expression of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century search for a scientifically based understanding of colour and form. The most well known instance of this search was the Pointillism or Neo-Impressionism of Georges Seurat which initially influenced the Italian Divisionists.

However, the wider search had a strongly spiritual underpinning; one that is revealed in the interest that Paul Sérusier and Gino Severini showed in the writings of the Benedictine painter, Desiderius Lenz, with his insistence on the use of elementary geometric forms in the construction of paintings and also in the cubism of Albert Gleizes who located his scientific formulations for art in the Romanesque Art of the early Middle Ages.

Italian Divisionism also had a strongly spiritual element expressed primarily in symbolist images drawn from Christian iconography but also in the still luminosity of landscapes and the expressive movement of the social realist works. This in turn found its way into the Futurist Art movement which was built, as this exhibition demonstrates, on the achievements of the Italian Divisionists and which, through the work of Gerardo Dottori and Fillia, developed a strong strand of Futurist Sacred Art.

Gaetano Previati sought to develop a contemporary Christian Art which used the Divisionist technique of evoking the luminosity of light through the application of repeated lines of pure colour to suggest the spirituality of his subjects. The exhibition includes his first major work using these motifs entitled Motherhood and depicting a Madonna and child surrounded by angels. This image, which now appears to verge on the sentimental, stirred up considerable controversy when first exhibited at the 1891 Brera Triennale, an exhibition which marked the public debut of Divisionism and Modern Art itself in Italy. Contemporary critics expressed bafflement at the combination of contemporary techniques with a traditional religious image and failed to see the way in which Previati’s evocation of light spiritualised his image of maternal love.

Other Divisionists, such as Giovanni Segantini, also worked with symbolism which was mainly Christian in origin while Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo created realist works which often depicted aspects of Christian ritual and ceremony. The Procession depicts a Catholic procession in his hometown of Volpedo where the bright radiance of the sun envelopes the participants and, as with Previati’s work, creates a spiritual luminescence. The curve which defines the upper part of the painting and the gold border of the canvas recall the format of Quattrocento religious painting and are typical of another means by which the Italian Divisionists commonly create links to the great religious works of Italian art, even when the subject of their work appears entirely secular.

Most of the Italian Divisionists displayed an interest in the great social movements of their day as the unification of Italy resulted in turbulent social and political conditions. Some of the most forceful and vibrant Divisionist paintings are those which depict aspects of the political and social struggles of their day, such as Emilio Longoni’s immense figure of The Orator of the Strike or his poignant Social Contrasts depicting a homeless man observing an affluent couple in a restaurant. In works such as these, divisionist technique is used to created a sense of movement and it is this that is developed by the later Futurists in works such as Carlo Carra’s The Funeral of the Anarchist Galli and Umberto Boccioni’s The City Rises where the intensity of the layered lines of colour suggests the agitation and pace of urban life and social change.

The Italian Divisionists therefore provide contemporary artists with an example of how to be on the cutting edge of society with an art that is both socially engaged and spiritually uplifting.


Lou Reed - Strawman.

Scenes of Redbridge

This photo has been published on the 'Scenes of Redbridge' page of today's Ilford Recorder. The editor writes:
"This interesting picture of Westwood Recreation Ground, Seven Kings was taken by Rev. Jonathan Evens. Rev. Evens, of St John's Church, Aldborough Road South, has captured the spirit of one of the borough's smallest parks - a play area for youngsters, as well as a nature haven."
Inner City - Pennies From Heaven.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Fear or Freedom?

Anglican wrangling about sexuality and authority in the church is missing the big picture about how the relationship between religion and society is changing, says a new book from the think tank Ekklesia to be published next week.

Christians need to be beacons of hope, not signs of decay, it argues, suggesting that the 'conservative versus liberal' stereotype disguises a deeper tension between establishment religion and the Christian message of radical transformation.

Read the full story from Ekklesia here.


Galactic Cowboys - Fear Not.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Exhibitions update

Last week, after a meeting in Central London, I was able to see the following exhibitions which are all well worth visiting:

Swiss-born Daniela Schönbächler lives in Venice and works on the Island of Murano, Italy. Her first solo exhibition in London (at The Riflemaker Gallery) 'The Silent Art of Secrecy' is comprised of paintings in ink on a glass “canvas”, free-standing works which explore an innovative use of glass as well as more traditional painting mediums.

The overall theme uniting all of Schönbächler's work is one of contemplation. Through the experience of her art and its interaction with the ambience inside the gallery, the viewer is offered the opportunity to take silent refuge from the chaos, commotion and confusion of the world outside. Schönbächler's creative point of departure is contrast, out of which she strives to find an inner human equilibrium. In her view, everything in life is based on two opposing forces. Her work explores the tension created by this polarity, resulting in harmony - the culmination of these opposite energies.

Janet Nathan and Helene Fesenmaier were both showing at the Redfern Gallery. Janet Nathan creates coloured constructions in mixed media on wood. Crosses have been a significant feature of her work, although only one, 'Hope Point', features in this exhibition. Helene Fesenmaier's exhibition is entitled 'Lives of the Saints' and draws inspiration from images associated with particular saints and expressed in abstract paintings and sculptures combining found objects.

James Lahey was at Flowers Central with an exhibition entitled 'your imperfect history'. Lahey has written that he is "interested in generating a tension between a flow of oppositions and mediating that tension to sustain a space between my experience and my reflective life." That tension is apparent in an exhibition that uses skulls, mirrors and slogans to explore themes of mortaility.


John Prine - Everything Is Cool.

Increasing participation in Faith Forums

At the request of the Bishop of Barking and the Barking Episcopal Area Regeneration Group, I've recently written some draft guidance intended to encourage Anglican participation in Faith Forums (and other similar inter-faith groups).

Significant opportunities currently exist in the Barking Episcopal Area for us to become involved or extend our involvement in regeneration initiatives (including the Thames Gateway and 2012 Olympics, among others). The route into these opportunities is increasingly via local and regional Faith Forums and these new opportunities for Church involvement exist to a significant extent because of our multi-faith context both in the Barking Episcopal Area and nationally. These opportunities also present us with a challenge; how to be engaged in regeneration and faith forums in a way that is distinctively Christian? My draft paper seeks to suggest some answers to that question and to encourage each of us in the Barking Episcopal Area to make the most of the opportunities that currently exist to be involved in and to influence the regeneration of our Area.

However, before issuing the paper in a final version we are asking those involved in inter-faith groups whether they could discuss the paper and give feedback on the following issues:
  • whether your group feels this guidance strikes the right balance and addresses the right issues to increase participation in Faith Forums from the Anglican Church (and the wider Christian Church, if used ecumenically);
  • whether representatives of faiths other than Christianity in your group would be willing to say why their faith encourages their involvement in inter-faith activity, and whether they would be happy if their statement was included in the final version of our guidance; and
  • whether your group could provide one or two brief stories of the ways in which you engage in inter-faith activity or dialogue, and, again, whether the group would be happy if a selection of such stories were included in the final version of our guidance.

If anyone would be interested in seeing a copy of the draft paper and giving some feedback then please let me know.


Iris DeMent - Let The Mystery Be.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Services after Civil Partnerships

This comes from today's Ekklesia mailing:

"A paper published at the weekend suggests that under the laws of the Church of England clergy have far greater liberty in relationship to services following civil partnerships than has previously been thought.

It comes after a "marriage" of two gay priests, who were already in a civil partnership, was held at a London church, causing controversy and heated debate."

Having looked at this useful paper by Brian Lewis on the Inclusive Church website, I've also noted the link to the open correspondence between Andrew Goddard and Giles Goddard which seems to provide a good introduction to the current debates on the issue of homosexuality.


Tracy Chapman - All That You Have Is Your Soul.

Windows on the world (5)

Westminster 2008

Matthew 10. 24-39

I wonder if you know what the most repeated command given in the Bible is? It’s actually repeated three times in today’s Gospel reading (Matthew 10. 24-39) and is the command, ‘Do not be afraid.’ I'm told that this command is actually found 365 times in the Bible, one for every day of the year. I haven’t checked that out for myself but you can find quite a bit of debate on the internet about whether or not it is the case. Whether that is correct or not, the fact remains that that “Fear not” or “Do not be afraid” is the most frequently repeated command in the Bible.

This seems strange in a passage where Jesus gives lots of reasons why we should be afraid:

  • the effect of his message he says will be division within families (vs 34-36);
  • there are powers abroad in the world which can destroy both body and soul (v 28); and
  • everything that we do, including those things done in absolute secrecy, at some point in the future, will be revealed and no longer be secret.

The world is split Jesus seems to be saying between those who takes God as master and teacher and those who take Beelzebub or the powers of evil as master. No pupil is greater than his teacher, no servant greater than his master, so who we follow and who we serve defines who we are. Those who take up their cross, follow in Jesus’ footsteps and lose their lives for his sake are his disciples; those who do not take up their cross, do not follow in his footsteps and try to gain their own life are not. The divisions will run even through families with sons and fathers, daughters and mothers, daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law all making different choices and being on different sides of this divide.

It all sounds pretty scary to me but Jesus was preparing his disciples for the kind of world they would live in following his resurrection and ascension. A world in which those living in Jerusalem would experience the Roman army destroying the Temple and Jerusalem itself and a world in which those in other parts of the Roman Empire would experience persecution for sharing the good news of Jesus. Transpose these words and that setting into Zimbabwe or Iraq at present and you can glimpse the force and realism with which Jesus is speaking. We are not in those kinds of situations currently, although a combination of recession, peak oil and climate change, could make our experience of life here in the West much more conflicted in future. But, even though we are not in that situation now, the new way that Jesus established of being God’s people still divides opinion and actions. If people genuinely follow his way, the somewhere down the track division is bound to be experienced.

In that kind of a world what reasons are there for us not to fear? The first reason Jesus gives initially seems strange, as Tom Wright the Bishop of Durham, explains:

“… the first reason he gives (verses 26-27) is that a time will come when everything will be uncovered. Everything that is presently secret will be made known.

Why should that mean they don’t need to be afraid? Lots of people would regard the imminent disclosure of their most private thoughts and words as a further reason to be afraid, not as a reason to throw fear to the winds. Jesus seems to be assuming that what will come to light on that day is the disciples’ loyalty and faith; they will be seen to have followed Israel’s true Messiah, the world’s true Lord. Their patience and perseverance will emerge into the light. What may have looked like obstinacy or even arrogance will at last be seen as what it is, a resolute determination to follow the Lord of life wherever he leads. In other words, truth will out, justice will prevail, and those who have lived with integrity and innocence, despite what the world says about them, will be vindicated. That, rather than a quick God-will-look-after-you message, is what Jesus is ultimately offering.”

Then Jesus goes on to give us what are some of his “most striking promises about the detailed love and care of God, not only for every one of his creatures, but for every hair of their heads.” God is actually “the one that we do not have to fear. Indeed, he is the one we can trust with our lives, our souls, our bodies, everything.” Tom Wright picks up on an important misunderstanding in the way that we often translate and understand Jesus’ words here. In verse 28, the Good News translation of the Bible says that we should be afraid of God “who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” Wright argues that that is a mistranslation of Jesus’ words. It is the powers of evil that can destroy both body and soul in hell. The whole force of Jesus’ argument is actually that God cares for each one of his creatures from the sparrows to human beings knowing us intimately and does not want any of us to perish. “God is the one that we do not have to fear. Indeed, he is the one we can trust with our lives, our souls, our bodies, everything.”

Precisely because God can be trusted with everything, our allegiance to him matters: allegiance to Jesus must come top of every priority list. Comfort comes with challenge but the challenge of Jesus’ sayings, Wright says, is “matched by the remarkable promises he makes to those who accept them and live by them:”

“He will ‘own’ us before his father in heaven. Those who lose their lives will find them.” “You are worth more than a great many sparrows; so rest assured that God knows and cares about the details of your life, even as you face the temptations and dangers which so easily surround you.”

As followers of Jesus, we are bound to expect attacks at all levels. But we also need to learn and trust that the one we are serving is stronger than the strongest opponent we will ever meet.


Emmanuel Jal - Warchild.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Advent Art Project

I am part of a group that is planning an Advent Art project for Redbridge.

Our idea is to create an art work that will form the focal point in our churches for a place of stillness and reflection. The aim is to create a restful space that would enable Christians and non Christians alike to find a space, relax, reflect and be an alternative to the business that the Christmas period brings. It will enable our churches to be opened to the wider public and hopefully mean that they can discover a place of peace and quiet.

We plan to work with screens and mirrors to create an image on the theme of light. This is a symbol that crosses faiths and cultures and therefore should have as wide appeal as possible. Some of the the ideas & associations that were discussed at our first planning meeting include:
  • abstract image moving from dark (edges) to light (centre);
  • Mark Rothko's Housten Chapel & Tate Modern paintings;
  • fragments of stained glass (lit from behind?) - Winchester Cathedral stained glass;
  • use of perspex and glass paint;
  • holes in screens - lit from behind;
  • use of mirrors (possibly fragments) - idea of seeing yourself in the work;
  • tray with water & candle;
  • use of highly polished aluminium film - gives a mirror-like surfavce but can be cut and glued;
  • use of fabrics - glinting threads, silks or other heavy fabrics;
  • use of CDs or stick-on mosaics;
  • central focal point of light surrounded by dark - use of chiaroscuro;
  • use of covered fabrics with multi-layered textures;
  • use of screen printing onto perspex;
  • use of hand or fingerprints to build up an image;
  • use of tie dyes or other fabric dyes;
  • 3-4 6x4 panels (e.g. wood, mdf etc.) or room dividers - creating a triptych effect with large central panel and two smaller side panels.


Beth Rowley - Beautiful Tomorrow.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Heaven in Ordinary

Huw has passed on the following links for John Davies writing on the theme of 'Heaven in Ordinary':

Go to for a Greenbelt article about the theme, to for Davies' wheely bin prayer and to for his main site.

Through looking at these I've also found site for writer/artist/cartoonist Michael Leunig and also for artist Antonia Rolls. Both of which are worth a look and continue the 'Heaven in Ordinary' theme.

This is a theme that is linked to the 'Praying through the Everyday' Quiet Days that I will be leading over the next six months or so. These will be at:


The Innocence Mission - Song AboutTravelling.

Save Our Churches petition

Britain's places of worship provide a vital service to their local communities but are under threat as never before. They need to be saved for the sake of this and future generations.

A petition launched by The Telegraph is calling for:

(i) The government to increase funding for the conservation of places of worship.
(ii) Government grants to be introduced to enable listed places of worship to become focal points for the community.
(iii) Planning restrictions to be introduced to prevent disused listed places of worship being turned into pubs or nightclubs.
(iv) Listed places of worship to remain exempt from paying VAT on repair work.
(v) The government to make it easier for listed places of worship to be adapted for community use.

To add your name to the Save Our Churches campaign,


John Rutter - Gaelic Blessing.

Take Five

The latest Take Five from Micah Challenge is on child health. The fourth Millennium Development Goal (MDG) is to reduce the under-five child mortality rate by two thirds, between 1990 and 2015.

Take Five enables us to get information about this MDG, pray about, take action on it, share a story about it and invite friends to help.

Additional prayer points include:
  • Give thanks for the recent progress made in many countries to reduce child mortality rates. For example, the implementation of community health worker programmes in Bangladesh has had a very positive effect on child health.
  • Pray for prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) care and support to reach more pregnant women, so that babies are protected from contracting the virus at birth.
  • Lift up in prayer the millions of children suffering with illnesses like measles, diarrhoea and TB which are so easily prevented or treated in richer countries. Pray for an increase in International Aid from the G8 to tackle this crucial issue.
  • Pray for all of the world leaders in attendance at the 2008 G8 Summit, including UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, that they will resolve to fulfil their commitments to combating extreme poverty - and issue a detailed timetable indicating how they plan to do so.

Martyn Joseph - This Fragile World.

Tooth of Crime

This is from ImageUpdate:

Fresh off producing Raising Sand, the celebrated collaboration between Allison Krauss and Robert Plant, T Bone Burnett has just released his most recent solo effort, Tooth of Crime.

Both otherworldly and immediate, the album's origins stretch back to 1996 when the songs - in partial form - first appeared as the soundtrack to a staging of Sam Shepard's play of the same name. Shepard's Tooth of Crime (1972), an unconventional musical fantasy, is a "tale about an aging rock star surviving in a spiritually bankrupt world where entertainment and warfare go hand in hand." Of the play, The New York Times wrote: "A fascinating, even brilliant work. It is bracingly insightful on the ephemerality and corrupting powers of stardom."

With the help of Sam Phillips, Marc Ribot, and Jim Keltner, Burnett creates a soundscape equivalent to Shepard's desolate text. "These songs came together like a broken mirror," Burnett says, "and you get a bunch of shards and start putting them together and create a lot of different angles. That's this group of songs, this process." Like shards of glass, then, the songs draw blood: "People tell me I look like hell / Well I am hell" begins the opening track, "Anything I Say Can and Will Be Used Against You."

Sam Phillips's sultry vocals join the mix on "Dope Island": "We lived outside the law / We struck with wild desire / We blinded all we saw / We made the sun our fire." After a searing montage of sounds and forsaken locales - from the Beatle-esque "Kill Zone" to the Dylan-like "Here Come the Philistines" - the album ends with "Sweet Lullaby," written by Burnett and Shepard: "Time is quit / Look it in the eye / In blood we sit / In dark we die / Don't blink now / Sweet lullaby."

If the music and lyrics of Tooth of Crime seem bleak it's because they are - they're the broken pieces of a world in which faith in God is almost extinguished. In many ways it's a world not so far removed from our own, one in which humanity has nearly stopped imaging a Creator by reflecting merely the self. Shepard's play has been called prophetic, and that might be said of Burnett's soundtrack as well. Whatever the final verdict, it seems an important album, a warning regarding where things are, where they might be headed.

For more information, click here.


Tooth of Crime from Syracuse University

Monday, 16 June 2008

News from Boga Diocese

News from Boga Diocese in the Democratic Republic of Congo sent by Bishop Isingoma (who will be visiting St John's from 5th-8th July):

Overall the security in Boga Diocese has improved dramatically in the past 15 months, but on 6th February Bukiringi, 20km north of Boga on the road to Bunia, was attacked by a group of militia, which looted homes and the Health Centre. The population fled into the surrounding bush, and almost 300 people walked to Boga, where they were welcomed and given shelter.

Nurse Kule, with his wife Tauka who works as mid-wife at the health centre, reported that almost all the equipment from the health centre was taken: bicycle, medicines,18 mattresses, fridge, and other equipment. Only the microscope was safe! In addition their own personal possessions and those of other families in the village were looted, as well as a huge stock of food – 80 sacks of groundnuts which the population had laboured so hard to produce.

This comes towards the end of dry season so food stocks were low anyway. Thankfully homes were not burnt down or destroyed. 5 days later the army retook the village, but it has taken several more weeks till the population felt confident to start to return and rebuild their lives – yet again!

Bp Isingoma writes: Is this the last step of the war? That is our prayer: but fighters’ attitude doesn’t inspire durable peace. Kule and Tauka wrote afterwards: Despite this destruction, we are determined to continue the reconstruction and organisation of the Bukiringi Health Centre so that it may be a model centre in the whole of the health zone and Diocese of Boga!

Please pray for these courageous and dedicated health workers, as they seek to serve the very needy population in Bukiringi and its surrounding villages, and re-establish the health centre; pray also for the church and its leaders in Bukiringi and the wider population.


Neema Gospel Singers - Amani Imepotea.

Windows on the world (4)

Boyden Gate, 2008
The Smiths - Ask.

Sociality & spirituality - reassociating the Arts & the Church (3)

Viewed in this context, Bell’s achievement can be seen as typical of the period rather than as a special case. All the features of Bell’s re-association of the Church and the Arts can be seen amplified in the flowering of Catholic culture that occurred in France during the same period.

A focus on contemporaneity and commissions for the best contemporary artists is what drove Couturier and Régamey, as it did Bell and Hussey. Bell was not an arts theoretician in the way that Denis, Gleizes, Maritain and Couturier were but those aspects of re-associating Church and the Arts that he consistently emphasised in speeches and writings accord closely which the emphases found in their writings.

Sociality pervades the many networks and communities that formed around individuals and movements in Europe, as with Bell’s gatherings and friendships. Finally, spirituality underpins the artistic and theological principles propounded within their communities by Maritain, Lenz and Gleizes, as with Bell’s view that the Arts could address the spiritual poverty he saw in contemporary society.

These aspects of the early twentieth century flowering of Catholic culture and of the sight of artistic giants in the Anglican Church remain fundamental for a continuing contemporary associating of the Church and the Arts. Commissioning the best contemporary artists remains, at best, only the beginning for a more fruitful engagement, still to be fully realised, that through networks invokes the discussion, demonstration and development of both sociality and spirituality.


Leonard Cohen - If It Be Your Will.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Faith still matters

We live - we are often told - in a secular age. Yet we also live in an age in which human affairs are influenced as never before by religion. From international terrorism to the multicultural society on our doorstep, our lives are affected every day by what people believe about the divine.

As a result, The Independent is currently running an excellent series on the world's great religions. Saturday's Independent came with the first part of an Encyclopedia of Religion, which included an interesting introductory article by John Bowker, and an article by Tony Blair on his faith foundation.

Blair rightly states the obvious but still contested fact that:

"... however much some people may dislike it, ... faith still matters to billions of people around the world. Even in the West, which in many places now has only a tenuous connection with its religious traditions, millions of people still believe. In most other parts of the world, religions are growing. Faith provides a structure for people's lives, values to guide their behaviour and aspirations and ideals which endow their existence with meaning. It is a force which in countless different ways motivates people to do good, though sometimes, it is true, motivates them to do great harm.

So we shall not fully understand what drives countless individuals and the many different communities they make up if we do not understand religion in its various manifestations."

Bowker concludes that:

"... religion should be taken far more seriously by those who are taking political or economic decisions - not just because religions and religious people can be so dangerous, but also because religions are a massively important resource for good. Religions can lead to wicked and destructive evils, but equally religions have the power to contest evil, to raise up the wrecked and desolate from their despair and to commit themselves to the renewal of the earth."


Moby - Natural Blues.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Praying the Kingdom

'Praying the Kingdom' is a Quiet Day with Canon David Driscoll (Executive Officer for Mission in London's Economy). A day of Ignatian meditation based on Charles Elliott's book 'Praying the Kingdom: Towards a Political Spirituality'.

All are welcome on Saturday 14th June, 10.00am to 3.00pm at St John the Evangelist, St John's Road, Seven Kings, Ilford IG2 7BB. Please bring a packed lunch or be prepared to use local shops for lunch. Morning Prayer is at 9.00am, if you are able to come early.

Praying the Kingdom: Towards a Political Spirituality. Charles Elliott. London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1985. It is normal, when taking in the reality and enormity of structural injustice in our world, to feel both guilty and powerless. Elliott demonstrates how these negative feelings can become creative starting points for a spirituality which enacts the coming Kingdom of God. He develops a series of meditative exercises in which we learn to combine imaginatively our stories with careful readings of Scripture narratives and poetry. Praying individually and corporately—especially in a Eucharistic context—allows us to speak more clearly what is in our hearts and allows God to give us a new vision of his work in the world, empowering us to join him in it.


Arvo Part - Spiegel im Spiegel.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Sociality & spirituality - reassociating the Arts & the Church (2)

Bell’s achievement, complemented and continued as it was by Walter Hussey, set the standard for Anglican engagement with the Arts but needs to be set in this context of the remarkable flowering of Christian culture that also occurred across Europe in the same period. Three recent exhibitions – Maurice Denis: Earthly Paradise, Piety and Pragmatism: Spirituality in Futurist Art and From Russia have shed new light on this phenomenon.

France incubated a flowering of Catholic culture which developed firstly through a literary revival spearheaded by the development of the Modern Catholic Novel. The movement blossomed when fervent young Catholics like Émile Bernard, Paul Sérusier, Maurice Denis and Georges Rouault played key roles in the development of Post-Impressionism, the Nabis, and Fauvism. Denis founded the Ateliers de l’Art Sacré or Studios of Sacred Art and went on to exert a particular influence on the development of religious art in Belgium, Italy and Switzerland. Denis became a major reference among Russian Symbolist painters within which the expression of a Russian Orthodox spirituality was most apparent. In the expressive abstraction of Kandinsky and the minimalist abstraction of Malevich, Russian spirituality for a short period led the Modernist stampede towards new artistic movements.

A later recruit to the Nabis, Jan Verkade, linked both Denis and Sérusier with the Beuron monastery in Southern Germany where Father Desiderius Lenz was the Benedictine theorist anticipating ideas associated with twentieth-century art. Sérusier and Denis were joined by Alexei von Jawlensky and Alphonse Mucha in admiring the theories of the Beuron School, while Verkade became an artist-monk at Beuron. Religious themes also featured strongly in the work of German Expressionist artists such as Emil Nolde and Christian Rohlfs.

Rouault helped theologian Jacques Maritain with the formulation of the ideas published in 1920 as Art and Scholasticism and, at their home in Meudon, Jacques and Raissa Maritain created a Thomistic study circle that influenced an increasing number of artists, writers, philosophers and theologians. Maritain played a significant role in the conversion to Catholicism of the futurist Gino Severini, the Dadaist Otto Van Rees and abstract art promoter Michel Seuphor.

Through Severini’s contact with the Futurist Fillia, Maritain’s movement for a renewal of sacred art influenced the development of Futurist Sacred Art while Severini, himself, left a legacy of sacred art in Swiss churches. In England, those involved with the establishment at Ditchling of the Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic, a Catholic community of work, faith and domestic life which included Desmond Chute, Eric Gill, David Jones and Hilary Pepler, were strongly influenced by Maritain.

A further Catholic artistic community formed around the cubist artist Albert Gleizes who tutored an international selection of artists and was hailed by some as having laid out the principles for a renewal of religious art. Two of Gleizes’ pupils, Evie Hone and Mainie Jellett, played a significant role in introducing Modern Art to Ireland and in produced a major body of Irish sacred art.

From the Ateliers d’Art Sacré came the Dominican, Father Marie-Alan Couturier, with a mission to revive Christian art by appealing to the independent masters of his time. Churches, he argued, should commission the very best artists available, and not quibble over the artists' beliefs.

Couturier put this belief into practice by attracting major artists such as Fernand Léger, Georges Braque, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, Jacques Lipchitz and others for the decoration of a new church of Assy in the south of France before going on to work with Matisse on the chapel for the Dominican nuns at Vence. In the years which followed, with Father Pie Régamey in the pages of the journal Art Sacré, he explained and further encouraged the breakthrough of twentieth century art that had been initiated in the decoration of Assy and Vence.


Robert Plant & Alison Krauss - Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us.

Take Action for domestic workers in the Philippines

From Anti-Slavery International:

Domestic workers in the Philippines, the vast majority of whom are women and girls,
are not given the same protections as other workers under labour laws and work in other people's homes hidden from public view. This leaves them particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, and many are the victims of forced labour. Many domestic workers migrate from rural areas to the cities and are vulnerable to trafficking, as well as to debt bondage.

For some years now, a Domestic Workers Bill known popularly as Batas Kasambahay, which affords protection to all domestic workers, has been stalled by Presidential impeachment proceedings and various other delays. Its enactment would be a vital step in addressing the abuse and exploitation of domestic workers in the Philippines .

Please click here to urge the President of the Philippines , Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, to prioritise the passage of this Bill and ensure it passes without further delay.

You can read background information on this action here.


Special AKA - Free Nelson Mandela.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Sociality & spirituality - reassociating the Arts & the Church (1)

The life of Bishop George Bell is shortly to be celebrated at a Chichester-based conference marking the 50th Anniversary of his death. Entitled Art, Politics and Church: Celebrating George Bell the conference highlights the three major concerns of his ministry. These concerns came together in his drive to re-associate the Church and the Arts, which he viewed as “an effective protection against barbarism, whether the barbarism was Nazism, materialism or any other threat to civilization.”

A.N. Wilson has written that there were artistic giants in the Anglican Church in the first half of the twentieth century and this was certainly true of the artists with whom Bell had contact. As Dean of Canterbury, where he initiated a revival of religious drama, he was involved in commissioning works by T.S. Eliot, Christopher Fry, Gustav Holst, John Masefield, Dorothy L. Sayers and Charles Williams. While, as Bishop of Chichester, he initiated the use of modern works of art to invigorate and beautify the cathedral leading over time to the commissioning of works by Marc Chagall, Cecil Collins, Hans Feibusch, John Piper and Graham Sutherland, among others. Bell’s approach to re-associating the Arts could be summed up as structures, statements, sociality and spirituality.

Bell commissioned drama, music and visual art, put structures in place (e.g. the Sussex Churches Art Council and its ‘Pictures in Churches Loan Scheme’) to support a wider commissioning of artists, placed his trust in the vision of artists when they encountered opposition and he was called on to adjudicate on commissions and strongly supported the appointment of Walter Hussey as Dean of Chichester Cathedral to take forward the commissioning programme he had initiated there. Sociality was demonstrated through the meetings of artists and clergy that he organized (which involved, among others, Eliot, Feibusch, Henry Moore, Piper, Sayers and Williams) and his personal and pastoral care for émigré-artists such as Feibusch, who with Bell’s support became the pre-eminent twentieth century Church muralist in the UK.

The end result, in Bell’s view, was spirituality. He stated, in his enthronement address, “Whether it be music or painting or drama, sculpture or architecture or any other form of art, there is an instinctive sympathy between all of these and the worship of God.” Artists, he argued, could help the Church consider “our conception alike of the character of Christian worship and of the forms in which the Christian teaching may be proclaimed.”

Bell was not an arts theoretician but in his enthronement address and in his introduction to the catalogue for ‘Pictures in Churches Loan Scheme’ pleaded for the Church to trust contemporary artists and allow them to paint in their natural idiom. The 1944 meeting he organized to re-awaken the relationship between contemporary artists and the Church stated that the Church should use artists fearlessly and that artists need not necessarily be a Christian in order to be used by the Church.


Gustav Holst - This Have I Done For My True Love.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Stop the global food crisis

The following comes from Oxfam:

Global food prices are soaring and are now at record levels. And the world's poorest people are suffering the most. Use your voice here to help make a difference.

For poor people, who typically spend 50-80 per cent of their income on food, spiralling prices are spelling disaster as basic foods become increasingly unaffordable.

We've already seen food riots in Mexico, Egypt, Tanzania and Senegal - and they're not alone.
Oxfam has joined Avaaz and GCAP in calling for world leaders to take emergency action, and make longer-term reforms, to end this crisis.

Add your name by signing the petition, and join the call for governments to prevent the world’s most vulnerable people from further suffering.


Tinariwen - Amassakoul.

Windows on the World (3)

Worth Abbey, 2007


Johnny Cash - Hurt.

Language as sacrament

The Image website now includes a new opportunity to listen to poetry, beginning with poems recorded by Scott Cairns at the 2007 Glen Workshop.

Someone once said that "a poem should not mean but be." Scott Cairns prefers to have it both ways. He's long believed that poetry should not merely refer to a prior event or experience, but should make meaning in real time through the sacramental power of words. We think he's onto something.

Also worth checking out on the site is an essay on 'Language as sacrament in the New Testament' by Franz Wright, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of a dozen poetry collections. In searing and musical language, his poems articulate the agony and uncertainty of belief, with touches of wry humor.

Here, in a surprising and vulnerable essay, he considers the language of the gospels, especially the Gospel of John. Like many of us, he grew up hearing the words of Jesus so often that they were in danger of losing their power, and like many of us, longed to hear them again in a way that felt new. “I wanted to experience these words again naïvely, personally, literally, as if I had never heard them before,” he writes. It isn’t easy for a poet—a master of the nuances of language—to learn to read naïvely, but this essay demonstrates an act of spiritual discipline that allowed Wright to do just that.


James Macmillan - Seven Last Words FromThe Cross, Part III.

Mixed blessings

The following prayer was adapted by a Tearfund worker from a prayer by St Francis of Assisi and closes the meditation entitled 'Mixed Blessings' which can be found by clicking here:

‘May God bless us with discomfort... at easy answers and half truths, and superficial relationships, so that we may live deep within our hearts.

May God bless us with anger… at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people, so that we may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless us with tears…to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that we may reach out our hands to comfort them, and turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless us with enough foolishness…. to believe that we can make a difference in this world, so that we can to what others claim cannot be done.



Taize - Veni sancte spiritus.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Church water bills petition

Changes in water charging structures in a number of regions mean that churches are beginning to be charged on the same scale as businesses, leading to large (for example, 1300%) increases in annual water bills.

There is an online government petition that you can use to register your concern - - which petitions the Prime Minister to instruct water companies to return to charging churches as charities rather than as business premises. Please think about signing the petition and ask anyone else who you would feel appropriate.


Good Charlotte - The River.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Upcoming exhibitions

Here are two exhibitions that I'm planing to visit before too long:
  • Following a journey that embraces the entire history of art in the 20th century, from Casper David Friedrich to Kandinsky, from Malevich to Picasso and from Barnett Newman to Bill Viola, Traces du Sacré at the Centre Pompidou investigates the way in which art continues to demonstrate, often in unexpected forms, a vision that goes beyond the ordinariness of things and how, in a completely secular world, it remains the secular outlet for an irrepressible need for spirituality.

  • In Reunited:Gwen John, Mère Poussepin and the Catholic Church at Birmingham's Barber Institute, the Barber’s own version of Gwen John's portrait of Mère Poussepin —one of the most popular paintings in the collection — is reunited with other versions of the picture. These are complemented by a series of drawings showing women, orphans and schoolgirls in church, as well as sketches of nuns, priests and a cardinal — and even the Pope himself. With loans from Amgueddfa Cymru — National Museum Wales, Tate and Southampton City Art Gallery, it explores the development of the artist’s portrayal of single female figures, the growing importance of her drawings from 1910 onwards, and the inextricable links between her work and her new faith.


Love - andmoreagain.

A catalyst for change

Imagine for a moment what it would have been like to be Matthew, the tax collector (Matthew 9. 9-13, 18-26). Tom Wright suggests that you would sit day-by-day in a hot little booth waiting for travelers to pay the toll as they passed from one province to the next, just like people do today at the Dartford Crossing. Just like today people didn’t enjoy paying tolls in order to continue on their journey, and it wouldn’t have been much fun for you either. On top of that, those who come to the toll booth and those in the villager or town where you live were constantly angry with you. Angry, because you were collaborating with the hated authorities and angry, because you were making extra money for yourself by collecting too much. As a result, tax collectors like you are lumped together with ‘sinners’ and ‘outcasts’ in the places where you live and work. And this goes on day by day, year by year for most of your life.

Then think what it would be like to have a young prophet with a spring in his step and God’s kingdom in his heart coming past one day and simply asking you to follow him. How would that feel? Well, we are told in the story itself because when it says that Matthew responded by getting up and following Jesus, a resurrection word is used that means he arose, not just physically but emotionally and spiritually as well. The act of getting up was for Matthew an entry into a completely new way of life. It was a coming alive all over again, a resurrection.

Each of these three stories is a story of resurrection. Jesus touches the lives of Matthew, the woman who had suffered from severe bleeding, and the dead girl in ways that transformed their existence and brought them back to life. For Matthew, his work was a dead end. For the woman who touched Jesus, her illness meant that her life-blood was literally draining away and, in the case, of the Official’s daughter, the girl was quite literally dead!

And these stories raise the same questions for us. Are there places in our lives where we are at a dead end? Are there things in our lives that drain the life-blood from us? And are there areas of our lives where we feel dead, as though life itself has come to an end for us?

Jesus brings the life of God into all that was dead about these people’s lives. He is the catalyst for change. His arrival on the scene brings the opportunity for hope and faith and so we see Matthew getting up, leaving his work but not his friends, and following Jesus. We see the Jewish official coming to Jesus believing that his daughter will live and we see the woman with severe bleeding reaching out to touch the very edge of Jesus’ cloak believing that if she can only touch his cloak she will get well.

Jesus’ arrival and presence are the catalyst and opportunity for change and for the faith that life can be different, can be better than it is now. How will you respond to Jesus today? We are in the presence of Christ continually, how will we respond? Will we ask for his help, reach out to touch his life, and get up to follow him this morning? He is with us and his presence can be the catalyst for our change in our lives and communities. What change is it that we need to see?

Jesus becomes a catalyst for change because he crosses boundaries. Each of these three people was an outcast in some way: Matthew was a hated collaborator and the woman and girl were because they were considered ritually unclean. By touching a dead body and by being touched by an ‘unclean’ woman, Jesus would have become doubly ‘unclean’ and should have had to bathe himself and his clothes and wait until the next day before resuming normal social contact. But instead of becoming contaminated himself, Jesus’ touch brought the opportunity for change, for health and life. People asked, ‘Why is Jesus eating with outcasts, with tax collectors and sinners?’, and the answer was the same; that by crossing those boundaries he brought the opportunity for change. His work was not to protect himself from ‘outcasts’ or those considered ‘unclean’ but to bring the possibility of change into the lives of such people by crossing the barriers that kept other people out.

It was into this way of life – the crossing of boundaries in order to bring the possibility of change – that Matthew was called. Jesus called him to be a disciple. In other words, someone who sat at the teacher’s feet to hear his words and who followed the teacher everywhere to see his actions in order to learn what to say and do himself. As followers of Christ, we have the same calling; to see what Jesus does and get involved ourselves. As such we need to ask ourselves, ‘Who are the people considered as ‘outcasts’ or ‘unclean’ in our workplaces, communities and nation?’ We need to know because, if we are to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, those are the very people with whom we should be meeting, eating, and seeking transformation. We need to ask ourselves, ‘What are the boundaries and barriers separating people from others?’ We need to know because those are the boundaries and barriers which we need to cross in order to bring the possibility of change?

And so, these stories bring us both the possibility and the challenge of change. What are the dead-ends and dead aspects of our lives that need to be brought back to life? What are the boundaries that we can cross to bring the possibility of change to those who our outcasts in our day and time?

Let us pray: Lord Jesus, you were despised and rejected by human beings, so we bring before you the needs of those who are despised and overlooked in our world, including ourselves. You value all and call us to put aside our sinful tendency to scapegoat and ignore others in order that we see what is unique and especially valuable both in those who are other than us and also in ourselves. Amen.


Runrig - Tear Down These Walls.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Library campaign is front-page news

TASK's library campaign made it onto the front page of the Ilford Recorder this week. A meeting between TASK members, Swan Housing and the council has raised the possibility of a library being housed in the development that Swan plan to build on the Seven KIngs lorry and car park.

TASK member Chris Connelley said: "It is a long runner, but direct contact with Swan was made last week. We are now having very amicable discussions with the community and Swan Housing."

To sign the TASK petition for a library in Seven Kings, click here.


Bruce Cockburn - Dream Like Mine.

New MiLE Gospel Reflection

My latest Gospel Reflection for the Mission in London's Economy website can be found by clicking here. The Gospel reading is Matthew 9. 9-13, 18-26 and the reflection ends with the following prayer:

Lord Jesus, you were despised and rejected by human beings, so we bring before you the needs of those who are despised and overlooked in our world. You value all and call us to put aside our sinful tendency to scapegoat and ignore others in order that we see what is unique and especially valuable in those who are other than us. Amen.


Good Charlotte - Lifestyles Of The Rich & Famous.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Windows on the world (2)

Villereal, 2006

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Sermon - Genesis 6. 9-22, 7. 24

How would you feel if you were called by God to build an ark? That is what happens to Congressman Evan Baxter in the film Evan Almighty. Although the film is a comedy, it has a serious point; that there are environmental issues in our world that could lead to a similar crisis and which might need a similar response. There are people in the UK today who are doing the equivalent of building an ark to protect themselves and others against a coming crisis. They are those who are building Transition Towns.

Totnes was the UK’s first Transition Initiative, that is, a community in a process of imagining and creating a future that addresses the twin challenges of diminishing oil and gas supplies and climate change, and creates the kind of community that we would all want to be part of. Transition Town Totnes believes that only by involving all - residents, businesses, public bodies, community organisations and schools – will they come up with the most innovative, effective and practical ideas, and have the energy and skills to carry them out. Our future has the potential to be more rewarding, abundant and enjoyable than today, and by working together they believe the collective enthusiasm and genius of communities can be unleashed to make this transition.

Transition Towns have a two-fold mission:
  • To explore and then follow pathways of practical actions that will reduce our carbon emissions and dependence on fossil fuels.
  • To build the town's resilience, that is, its ability to withstand shocks from the outside, through being more self reliant in areas such as food, energy, health care, jobs and economics.

Why are Transition Towns needed? Well, this was the headline in ‘The Independent’ on Friday, 23 May just before I went on holiday - 'Is the world about to be running on empty?' The article goes on to explain that the world uses about 87 million barrels of oil a day. Demand is growing but the supply of oil has peaked. "The high-priced energy environment is being driven by the fact that demand has outstripped supply," President George Bush's Energy Secretary, Samuel Bodman, has told the US Congress. "We have sopped up all the available spare oil production capacity in the system ... and there is no silver bullet that will immediately solve our energy challenges or drastically reduce costs at the gas pump."

In Britain, the price of petrol has risen to an average of 114p for a litre of unleaded – £5.15 per gallon. energy bills are rising for households across the globe, hitting the poorest the hardest. Airlines which once limited fare increases to temporary "fuel surcharges" are now raising ticket prices. Manufacturers are putting up the price of goods to compensate for higher energy bills at their factories.

“The two toughest challenges facing humankind at the start of this 21st century are Climate Change and Peak Oil. The former is well documented and very visible in the media.” Peak Oil, however, the idea that our supply of oil has peaked and we are leaving the era of cheap, plentiful fuel, has remained under the radar for most people. ”Yet Peak Oil, heralding the era of ever-declining fossil fuel availability, may well challenge the economic and social stability that is essential if we are to mitigate the threats posed by Climate Change.”

The consequences are fairly obvious. Transport will become very expensive - commuting will need to be communal (electric rail) or non-existent (car pools to begin with). Food will become very expensive - unless we set up local co-operatives where will our food come from? Heating will become very expensive – a gas peak is also imminent and this will lead to much more house sharing. Electricity will become very expensive – what effect will this have on our labour saving devices? Hence the need for Transition Towns.

I’ve become aware of these issues and ideas through Sam Norton, Rector of Mersea Island, who has included comprehensive information and presentations on his blog. Sam argues firstly that we have made economic growth into an idol in our society. Just as the earth was corrupt and full of violence in Noah’s day, the same can and should by the church be said of our world today. We need to stand up and say something against the idols of the age. We need to change what it is we value and look to what gives quality of life, what actually allows for human flourishing, rather than simply repeating the economic cycle.

"Economic growth in our society now has negative marginal utility," to use the jargon of economists. What that means is that as we grow a little bit bigger in terms of the economy and of money, our actual quality of life has become less. Statistics show that our quality of life peaked in the late 60's, early '70's. The quality of life for the people living in this country has got worse ever since, even those who are materially better off. Despite our knowledge of these statistics, we remain wedded to growth. For example, think how often politicians mouth the platitudes of needing to preserve growth and do so because they are reflecting the desires and preferences of us, the voting population.

Then, in the words of the theologian, Stanley Hauerwas, "We would like a church that again asserts that God not nations rules the world, that the boundaries of God's kingdom transcend those of Caesar and that the main political task of the church is the formation of people who see clearly the cost of discipleship and are willing to pay the price". The church community, Sam argues, is called to be distinct. We are called to be salt in the world, we are called to be the yeast in the bread, we are called to be the light shining on a hill, and when we simply become absorbed into the world and indistinguishable from the world then we are fit only to be trodden underfoot and discarded. We are called to show to the world what a different sort of community can be like and thereby draw people to it.

In Acts 2. 40 – 47 we read of the early church living together in a way that mirrors that of a transition town. Are we, as Christians, being called to live in a way that mirrors a transition town? Are we being called by God to become contemporary Noah’s and build an ark fit for the coming crisis? To do so at St John’s would link our concerns for peace and justice with our commitment to the local community in a way that could be both distinctively Christian and a clear alternative to contemporary culture. Think about it and let me know whether this is something that we could explore further together.

As we reflect on whether that is a challenge we could accept, let us take away one further question, again from Stanley Hauerwas: What sort of community would we have to be in order to be the sort of people who live by our convictions?


U2 - Window In The Skies.