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Thursday, 31 July 2008

Support for the Dave Walkers

For the latest on support for Dave Walker in the SPCK/SSG saga and the 'cease and desist' notices sent by Mark Brewer of SSG click here and here. The 'cease and desist' notices, one of which Sam Norton has posted, appear to be attempts to prevent free speech on matters that are on the public record. Dave, and now Sam Norton, need support over these attacks on their right to free speech.


Johnny Cash - I Walk The Line.

Champion's Challenge (3)

Mary Mary - In The Morning.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Champion's Challenge (2)


TBWNN - Amazing Grace.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Covenants of fate & faith

Ruth Gledhill reports that the Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks spoke powerfully at the Lambeth Conference last night and received a five-minute standing ovation. You can download his full text here and Ruth's report on the speech in The Times here.

I find the Chief Rabbi's interpretation of scripture extremely challenging and helpful. This speech is all that one could expect given the depth of his understanding of scripture. It is all the more powerful for being the first occasion a rabbi has addressed a plenary session of the Lambeth Conference and a speech that, rightly, refers to the time when "the word 'Christian' struck fear into Jewish hearts."

The Chief Rabbi spoke, as he had been asked to, about covenant and discovered in that word not only a transformative idea, one that changes us as we think of it, but also a way forward for faith in the 21st century. As a result, we find ourselves better able to answer the question: what is the role of religion in society, even in a secular society like Britain?


Fiddler On The Roof - Sabbath Prayer.

Champion's Challenge (1)

Champion’s Challenge is the name of this year’s Holiday Club at St John's and the focus of our Holiday Club service on the first Sunday in August. What is it all about? Well, the holiday club programme focuses on events from Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, and on sport.

That might seem an odd mixture but it enables us to think about Jesus as our trainer, team-mate and substitute, and as a winner and champion. Through these themes we can discover how Jesus chose, taught and worked alongside his team, took the place of others when punishment was being meted out, but yet won the battle against death and destruction so that he is now the champion for ever!

Those involved with the Holiday Club in whatever way will be putting much of this teaching into practice by working together as team-mates to share the good news about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection with the children attending the club. Doing this is not just a one week activity though but something that should be a year round activity, as our new banners in church seek to remind us.

Since the banners were put in place I have come across, on a number of different occasions, a poem of Teresa of Avila that expresses the message that we hope the banners encapsulate:

Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which to look out
Christ's compassion to the world
Yours are the feet
with which he is to go about doing good;
Yours are the hands
with which he is to bless men now.

May we truly become the hands, feet, eyes and body of Christ in this year’s Holiday Club and, throughout the year, in our families, workplaces, community and church.


World Wide Message Tribe - The Real Thing.

TASK Newsletter No. 9

With schools now shut until September, and many families thinking of taking some time out - or away- we are pleased to present our end of term report after a busy first few months in existence.

To remind you, TASK was formed on January 1 2008, with a clear brief to tackle what many of us saw as a serious decline in the quality of our local facilities; and a determination to get local people involved in putting things right. Central to our belief is that, whilst its easy to complain about what is going wrong, it is more important to put things right. And that solutions to many issues are held by the communityitself.

Since January, we have:
  • strongly promoted Seven Kings, generating a huge amount of publicity on the area, to include lots of easy to implement improvement ideas
  • got the Council to undertake regular local streetscene walkabouts, offering immediate action on dumping, vandalism and graffiti
  • actively encouraged local police team to enforce the 'no drinking' zone around the station, thus cutting the incidence of unsightly public boozing and all its unpleasant side effects
  • successfully opposed applications for new local liquor licences and an attempt to secure extended opening for the Joker pub
  • met, and formed rapport with, new lorry park owners, Swan Housing, to promote a high quality build and strong community facilities on this last major local development site
  • campaigned to put the idea of a new local library back on the top of the political agenda, maybe as part of the upcoming lorry park development
  • built a network of 200 local citizens keen to turn the area around, making us one of the largest community groups in the borough
  • secured huge investment in Seven Kings station, to include new windows, major repainting and two dedicated on-site security officers
  • supported the campaign to keep our Meads Lane post office. Sadly, this is now closed but as we go to press, we hear the Council may still be willing to support and take over those facilities. Fingerscrossed!
  • issued regular newsletters and e-notices, keeping supporters informed of our actions (although we recognise that this has tailed off a bit recently!)
  • backed the campaign to keep the local Ilford swimming pool going until full replacement funding is guaranteed
  • secured more tree planting locally with yet more to come.
All in all, we think its a pretty flying start and are heartened that so many residents have noticed, and commented favourably on, neighbourhood improvements. We are taking a short break and will return in the autumn, when we will hope to seal the deal on the new Library, and will seek funding for a comprehensive and long overdue regeneration of the whole area, which could so easily be a jewel in the borough's crown yet is consistently overlooked as other less disadvantaged areas derive major funding.

Before we go, three short new items:

1) We need help distributing hard copies of our newsletters, and are looking for someone to organise this for us every 3 weeks or so. Please contact Chris at
2) The Council is looking for sites to plant street trees and we are supporting this effort. Please let Ali know at if you are happy to be considered for a footway tree outside your house.
3) Our next streetscene walkabout is scheduled to start at 9 am on Friday 29 August from outside 55 Cameron Road, Seven Kings. We always welcome new faces and hope to see you there.

Enjoy the summer and see you in September!


The Kinks - The Village Green Preservation Society.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Ethics in a global economy

The global economy operates in a multi-faith world which continually raises ethical issues for individuals and organisations.

'Ethics in a global economy' is a seminar which will explore faith perspectives on business ethics, at the level both of the global economy and the individual workplace, through keynote speeches, breakout groups and a panel session.

Designed for all who face ethical issues in their business lives, 'Ethics in a global economy' has been prepared by Faiths in London's Economy (FiLE), a new network working with faith communities to create coordinated faith-community responses to the issues facing London's economy.

Speakers to include: Dr. Edmund Newell, Director of the St Paul's Institute, Saif Ahmad, CEO of Muslim Aid, and Jay Lakhani, Head of the Hindu Academy.

The seminar will take place on Wednesday 29th October 2008, 8.30am – 2.00pm (including breakfast and lunch), St Ethelberga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, 78 Bishopsgate, London EC2N 4AG. Cost: £50.00 (Organisations), £25.00 (Individuals). To book a place call Robina at Faith Regen Foundation on 020 8361 2288.


Matisyahu - King Without A Crown.

The Dark Knight

Philip French's review of The Dark Knight in yesterday's Observer, for me, captured the disturbing issues raised by the film.

French notes that the Joker's:

"objective isn't to aggrandise himself financially or socially. It is to undermine society, to destroy all concepts of conventional morality. He plays people off against each other. He creates social situations (a public choice between blowing up a boatload of convicts or a ship of ordinary citizens, a private one of a man choosing between the death of a son or a wife) that make a mockery of altruism."

By contrast, "the upholders of law and order are a dour collection" and "the film is unquestionably dominated by the Joker." As a result, the jury is out on whether the film's resolution is consistent with what has preceded it and whether the movie is able "to bear the increasing moral weight imposed on it." The sense is of the overwhelming power of evil and its effect on the upholders of law and order as, to confront this menace, "Batman is reduced to torture of the sort Dick Cheney and the CIA have embraced and to a massive extension of public surveillance."

What French does not comment on though is the theme of sacrifice and substitution that runs throughout the film. It is this theme that sets up the possibility of a sequel and which may become the most interesting development emerging from The Dark Knight.


Evanesence - My Immortal.

Windows on the world (10)

Villeréal, 2006
Sixpence None The Richer- I Can Only Breathe Your Name.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

The kingdom of heaven is like ...

“The kingdom of heaven is like this …” That is how many of Jesus’ parables begin and his introduction makes clear that the parables are told not to impart general spiritual truths but to help us recognise the kingdom of heaven when we see it.

In these parables (Matthew 13. 31-33, 44-52) Jesus tells us that the kingdom of heaven is like a seed, a portion of yeast, a hidden treasure, a fine pearl, a fishing net, and a storeroom containing both new and old items. As a result, in this post I’ll be saying that the kingdom of heaven like the growth of the Church, the influence of William Wilberforce, the development of Redbridge Voluntary Care and the Redbridge Night Shelter, providing the St John's Children’s Holiday Club and Community BBQ free of charge, and the diversity of the Anglican Communion.

The parables of the mustard seed and the yeast are both to do with small things that have a big impact. Jesus describes the mustard seed as being the smallest of seeds but it grows to become the biggest of plants; a tree in which birds can make their nests.

The phrase a ‘mustard seed’ has entered our language as a little idea that grows into something bigger and that is of course literally what happened with the Jesus movement itself. It was a relatively small grouping of obscure people that died when its founder, Jesus died, but which, following his resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost grew to become the largest religion in history and also within the world currently.

The story of the yeast gives us a different way of understanding the kingdom of God through a growth that is not just in terms of size but also in terms of influence. The yeast does not become large but its effect in the dough is to cause it to rise. In this story the kingdom of God, although small, is the catalyst for change and development. One example of this would be the work of William Wilberforce and his friends to abolish slavery, something we looked at in last year’s Lent course. There a small number of people inspired by their Christian faith caused a large effect in the world and the lives of those in slavery through their sustained campaigning work over many years. Redbridge Voluntary Care and the Redbridge Night Shelter, both of which grew from small beginnings cradled in churches in this borough (including our own) have grown to become independent organisations contributing more widely to the life of the borough. They, too, are examples of these parables in action.

Next, we read parables in which the kingdom of God needed to be searched out and in which to gain the kingdom of God involved giving everything we have. In these parables the kingdom of God is like a treasure and a fine pearl; both precious and beautiful. How can we understand this aspect of the kingdom? We could say that the kingdom is both precious and beautiful because it is the place where people live as God intended us to live. It is a place of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self-control” (Galatians 5. 22-23). It is a place where there will be “no more death, no more grief or crying or pain” (Revelation 21. 4).

Such a place is indeed worth searching for and giving everything for. In fact, it can only be gained by giving up everything we have. As Jesus said on a number of occasions, “whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it” (Luke 17. 33). We only find and enter the kingdom of God when we give up our selfish grasping after life for ourselves and what we can get out of it. That is why for us to provide a holiday club and community BBQ in the coming week for free is a sign of the kingdom of God. We are not just saying to the local community that we care about the community and want to do things in it and for it but are also modelling a different way of living based on giving what we have to create signs of the kingdom of God in our world and community.

Finally, Jesus tells two parables that show the inclusivity of the kingdom of God. In the parable of the fishing net, the kingdom includes both the good and the bad; while in the parable of the storeroom the kingdom of God contains both the old and the new. You might say, “that’s all well and good but the parable of the fishing net is about the good being kept and the bad thrown away.” You would be right, but it is important to note that that judgement is God’s judgement and is carried out at “the end of the age.” In the meantime good and bad are both in the net together and we don’t know which is which. So, we have to trust God’s future judgement and not attempt to pre-judge people now.

In this parable, and the parable of the weeds, Jesus is commending here the aspect of Anglicanism that, it seems to me, has always been its great strength and glory; its holding together from its inception of ‘catholics’ (with a small ‘c’) and protestants and in more recent centuries its holding together of the diverse streams that have developed within those traditions – anglo-catholicism, evangelicalism, liberalism, the charismatic movement and so on. By holding these things together now we show our humility (in that we know we can’t judge rightly ourselves) and trust in God’s ability to judge rightly (and perhaps surprisingly) in future.

These parables suggest that the kingdom of God has small beginnings but major influence and effects. They suggest that kingdom of God reveals how human life should be lived but requires us to give up our selfish ways of life in order to find it. And they suggest the kingdom of God is found in communities that are inclusive, humble and trusting. The Christian Church and this church of St John’s have at their best been signs of the kingdom of God in the world and this community. The challenge for us is to learn from those good examples of the past and present and continue to do what Jesus did and create signs of the kingdom of God in our own day and time.


Sixpence None The Richer - Melody Of You.

A plausible plausibility structure (5)

3. Location and resolution of internal problems

Newbigin locates a central dichotomy within a secular scientific plausibility structure. This is the perception that the universe comes into existence entirely as the result of random changes and therefore has no ultimate purpose. But this is a perception that has been formed through a huge amount of purposeful activity on the part of the scientists that have investigated the various laws and processes through which the universe has come to be. As Newbigin states:
“We all engage in purposeful activity, and we judge ourselves and others in terms of success in achieving the purposes that we set before ourselves. Yet we accept as the final product of this purposeful activity a picture of the world from which purpose has been eliminated.”

The alternative - that we engage in purposeful activity because the universe has been created for a purpose by a purposeful God – is, therefore, more consistent with our actual experience than the view that life is inherently purposeless. Nor does this view contradict scientific data. First, scientists express amazement at the extent to which the laws and processes that make up the universe are finely tuned in favour of life. Second, scientists find considerable openness within the structures and processes of the universe which leave “room for the operation of purposeful activity as a factor in evolution”. As a result, Newbigin has written of the way in which “life moves towards its proper completion not automatically by any purely mechanical or organic process but in response to a loving purpose, which draws out and makes actual powers that were otherwise only latent and potential”.

4. Light shed elsewhere

Finally, I wish to suggest that a Christian plausibility structure incorporating the argument from design can shed light in the area of theodicy. John Hick has developed a theodicy based on the belief “that the actual universe, with all its good and evil, exists on the basis of God’s will and receives its meaning from His purpose”. Hick says that “God has ordained a world which contains evil – real evil – as a means to the creation of the infinite good of a Kingdom of Heaven within which His creatures will come as perfected persons to love and serve Him, through a process in which their own free insight and response have been an essential element”. The argument from design – that God, by creating through the laws and processes which bring the universe into being, is at an epistemic distance from humanity enabling a free response to Him - is foundational to such a theodicy.


Newbigin believes that the conflict between two different plausibility structures will not be settled on the basis of logical argument but on the basis of which is seen to offer the widest rationality. His approach meshes with that of Gavin D’Costa which demonstrates the way in which pluralism and inclusivism mask exclusivism, making us all exclusivists. As a result, in speaking of the argument from design in terms of plausibility structures, we are within the context of mission calling for a radical conversion, a paradigm shift, from the dominant Western plausibility structure to a Christian plausibility structure.

The necessity for this shift can be illustrated through two poems of John Berryman. In the first, Berryman’s character, Henry, cannot accept religious and philosophical plausibility structures and finds himself facing madness in a purposeless existence:

Hung by a thread more moments instant Henry’s mind
super-subtle, which he knew blunt & empty & incurious
but when he compared it with his fellows’
finding it keen & full, he didn’t know what to think
apart from typewriters & print & ink.
On the philosophical side

plus religious, he lay at a loss.
Mostly he knew the ones he would not follow
into their burning systems
or polar systems, Wittgenstein being boss,
Augustine general manager. A universal hollow
most of the other seems;

so Henry in twilight is on his own:
marrying, childing, slogging, shelling taxes,
pondering, making.
It’s rained all day. His wife has been away
with genuine difficulty he fought madness
whose breast came close to breaking.

The second finds Berryman again facing the prospect of a purposeless universe but accepting the plausibility of God’s existence and thereby coping with loss:

Ninety percent of the mass of the Universe
(90%!) may be gone in collapsars,
pulseless, lightless, forever – if they exist.
My friends the probability man & I

& his wife the lawyer are taking a country walk
in the flowerless April snow in exactly two hours
and maybe won’t come back. Finite & unbounded
the massive spirals absolutely fly

distinctly apart, by math and observation,
current math, this morning’s telescopes
& inference. My wife is six months gone
so won’t be coming. That mass must be somewhere!

or not? Just barely possible may not
B E anywhere? My Lord, I’m glad we don’t
on x or y depend for Your being there.
I know You are there. The sweat is, I am here.

It is this wider rationality that the Christian plausibility structure provides, offering not just the plausibility of the argument from design but meaning for life itself.


U2 & Daniel Lanois -Falling At Your Feet.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Launch of the Inter-faith framework

On 21st July, FaithAction were present at the launch of the Inter-faith framework at Central Hall in Westminster.

The paper Face to Face and Side by Side: A framework for partnership in our multi faith society, was launched by Rt Hon Hazel Blears MP, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

The three core principles that underpin the Framework are as follows:
  • Partnership: valuing the contributions made by partners and working together to increase their impact
  • Empowerment: people and government, working together to make life better
  • Choice: local communities deciding what works best for them
The framework is built up around four main building blocks. These are:
  • Developing the confidence and skills to ‘bridge’ and ‘link’
  • Shared spaces for interaction
  • Structures and processes which support dialogue and social action
  • Opportunities for learning which build understanding
Hazel Blears said at the launch: “Faith cannot be contained within a building ... There is a role for government, but what works best is when we work together with those committed individuals and organisations sharing our ambitions, energy, expertise and resources to achieve real and positive change within communities."

There are a number of practical steps in the framework. Of particular interest were:
  • £7.5 million to be invested including a:‘Faiths in Action fund’ which will aim to support local activities and initiatives which have direct links to the four building blocks and a programme of investment in Regional Faith Forums for the next three years
  • A cohesion delivery framework to guide local authorities on support dialogue and social action
  • Regional Faith Links will be set up in the English regions by 2011 coordinated by Government Offices providing Local Authority Faith Leads
  • CLG to produce a standardised version of a charter for excellence in public service delivery by faith communities.
Daniel Singleton, National Executive Director of FaithAction supports the framework:

"This Framework has been developed through a wide consultation process and is a demonstration of the benefits of connecting with a broad range of groups. FaithAction welcomes the framework and we note with interest the additional funding to support the work of Faith communities, as well as the efforts that CLG is leading to establish recognisable standards for the field, the charter for excellence.

Face to Face and Side by Side wets the appetite of those of us who want to see further government support for public services and social enterprise lead by Faith Based and Faith Inspired Organisations. It is the Third sector and the Faith Sector in particular which has the greatest reach in to what is commonly termed ‘hard to reach communities’. As service providers FaithAction members are on the front line of giving more people a share and a part to play in society today.”

To get a copy of the framework, go to


Bruce Cockburn - Tokyo.

Re-hearing the Gospel message

Brian McLaren is one of the leading US figures in forward-thinking evangelicalism, post-Christendom approaches to mission and 'the emerging church'. In an address to the Lambeth Conference he said that Christians have to engage the rapid changes of post-modernity, and that cultural sensitivity on issues such as sexuality was a way to re-hear the Gospel message from each other, rather than dividing into factions.

A staff member with the Anglican Communion News Service ( caught up with McLaren for a brief, informal conversation, which Ekklesia have reproduced here. McLaren has also written about his "Lambeth experience" on his website and blog:


King's X - It's Love.

A plausible plausibility structure (4)

Having suggested criteria for a plausible ‘plausibility structure’ in the earlier posts within this series, I propose now to examine the range of design factors that a plausibility structure must address if it is to suggest the plausibility of the argument from design.

1. Inclusion of data without distortion

The plausibility structure that I wish to outline needs to include a wide range of data without distortion from the widest range of disciplines in order to be plausible. Science, both in terms of its assumptions and its methodology, becomes implausible on this basis because it tends towards a reductionist exclusivism. This can be demonstrated by a return to the beginning of these posts and the claim of Hopkins to experience God in and through nature. Science can do nothing with this claim on its own terms except reject, ignore or belittle it. It can only include Hopkins’ claim - perhaps by claiming that religious belief enhances the chances of survival for many human beings - by distorting the data – in this example, by turning Hopkins’ experience into a beneficial illusion. Christianity, however, can include both scientific claims and Hopkins’ claim within its plausibility structure without distortion of either.

In terms of science and design a Christian plausibility structure can posit God as the creator who “chose the laws for bringing this world (and perhaps others) into existence”. Accordingly, Peter Williams has argued that “Evolution does not destroy the design argument, it merely pushes it back a step, from the objects that make up the world, to the substances and processes that make the objects that make up the world!” Now, if God designed the processes that make up the world then it is these that lead to the particularity of self that Hopkins notes in nature – the combination of individual essence with outward form that he calls inscape and which, when responded to by human beings (instress), communicates God.

This aspect of a Christian plausibility structure also enables the embrace of the wide range of paradoxes that increasingly characterise scientific knowledge of the world: determination and randomness; order and chaos; constancy and change; processes of life which inevitably lead to death. In this respect John Polkinghorne has spoken of God as both the “‘ground of the phenomenal order’ and as ‘free origin of contingent events’, the God of necessity and the God of chance, the ground of both being and becoming, the One who is at once reliable and vulnerable”.

2. Simplicity of line

The concept of God as creator of the laws, or substances and processes, that make up the world is a relatively simple explanation for the origins of life and the universe. That this is so, can be more clearly seen when an alternative such the many universes hypothesis is considered. Richard Swinburne has said of this hypothesis:

“To postulate a trillion other universes rather than one God in order to explain the orderliness of the universe, seems the height of irrationality. For the postulation of God is the postulation of one entity of a simple kind … The postulation of the actual existence of an infinite number of worlds, between them exhausting all logical possibilities … is to postulate complexities beyond rational belief.”

Simplicity of concept is not the only benefit of this plausibility structure, however, as it also has a simplicity of storyline. The free evolution of humanity that God has chosen in designing the laws and processes that form the universe provides human beings with a choice about relationship with God. We are free to accept or reject, believe or disbelieve. We have free will due to a separation between God and human beings which John Hick terms, ‘epistemic distance’. This separation is what the Bible calls ‘The Fall’ and it has the effect that human beings tend to exercise their creativity in terms of the bias of biological evolution i.e. in selfish exploitation designed to further survival. This is the human dilemma from which God himself saves us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Through Jesus, human beings can enter relationship with God and freely choose to exercise their creativity within that relationship with God thereby enabling the creation as a whole to reach perfection.


James MacMillan - Kiss On Wood.

Traces du Sacré

Part of my review of Traces du Sacré, the current exhibition at Paris' Centre Pompidou, which appears, presumably in full, in today's Church Times, can be found on the Church Times website by clicking here.

In the review I conclude that:

"Traces du Sacré is a significant exhibition both sociologically and artistically. Sociologically, because it recognises the re-emergence of religion (or decline of irreligion) in the 21st century and artistically, because it re-tells the story of Modern Art through its non-Christian spiritual influences. A fuller re-telling of that story acknowledging and highlighting the very real influences of Christianity on Modern and Contemporary Art still awaits a brave and informed contemporary curator."


The Call - The Walls Came Down.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Yet another Dave Walker

A legal threat has been made against cartoonist Dave Walker by Mark Brewer to force him to take down his reporting and comment about the SPCK bookshop chain’s takeover and management by the Society of Saint Stephen the Great (SSG). As Matt Wardman has pointed out this is about the right to discuss the issue in public and not have anyone try and close down debate by having (or claiming to have) access to a legal sanction that prevents freedom of speech.

Who's Posted about Mark Brewer's Cease and Desist Notice to Dave Walker

  1. St Aidan to Abbey Manor - David Keen - Vicar (Yeovil)

  2. The Wardman Wire - Matt Wardman (audio of BBC interview from 12/2007)

  3. Gentle Wisdom - Peter Kirk

  4. Bishop Alan's Blog - Alan Wilson, Area Bishop of Buckingham

  5. Blogula-Rasa - Ginny (detailed - worth a read)

  6. Metacatholic - Doug Chaplin - Vicar (West Midlands)

  7. Of course, I could be wrong - Madpriest - Priest (somewhere in England)

  8. Seven whole days - Scott Gunn - Parish Priest (Rhode Island) and Lambeth Conference.

  9. Thinking Anglicans - Simon Kershaw - Cambridge, England (likely to follow further press coverage)

  10. The Jewish Blog Network - How to recover deleted pages. Firefox Resurrect Pages add-on.

  11. Lingamish - Blogger Bludgeoned by Bozos - David Ker - Mozambique. Kudos for the cartoon above.

  12. [Update: 23/07/2008] SPCK Watch - Gagging attempts by Mark Brewer - SPCK Watch. (Somewhere in Europe). Whole blog devoted to SPCK saga.

  13. [Update: 23/07/2008] Elizaphanian - We are all Dave Walkers now - Sam Norton, Rector of West Mersea, Essex.
    Suggests that we reposts Dave's ex-posts from Google cache.

  14. [Update: 23/07/2008]Mad Hare - Solidarity post - SPCK/SSG and Dave Walker (New Mexico : United States).

Any more for any more?

Photo frontal

The new altar frontal and banners at St John's are featured in a short piece in this month's edition of The Month, the newspaper for the Diocese of Chelmsford. To see the piece, click here.


Mike Peters - Strength.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Windows on the world (9)

Stapleford Tawney, 2008


Lyle Lovett - In My Own Mind.

Weeds, Wheat & Unity

This sermon from the Three Minute Theologian, who has the Lambeth Conference happening within his parish, is worth a read. The sermon is on the same theme as my sermon post, The parable of the wheat and weeds.


Patty Loveless - God Will But I Won't.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

I'm Not There

I'm Not There is a fascinating bio-pic based on different phases of Bob Dylan's life and music. The acting and writing is consistently excellent and the premise, that Dylan has consistently confounded people's expectations of him by reinventing himself, fits well with the trajectory of his career and much that he has said or written about himself.

Our culture generally encourages individuals to look inside themselves and find their 'real' persona. Dylan has done the reverse by adopting different personas. The film argues that he has done this to escape from the expectations placed on him at different stages of his career; others have argued that it was to avoid revealing the truth about his origins. This could appear insincere and yet he seems to genuinely live out each persona for the period that he inhabits it.

The new persona is adopted to escape the expectations generated by the former persona and therefore, although he is control by continually keeping ahead of his audience, there is also a sense of being out of control by being in flight from people's expectations. Another approach to sincerity might be to ask whether, the earlier personas are simply discarded or integrated. In this way, his life could be seen as a developing patchwork or mosaic of the personas or masks that have been worn. Does this, I wonder, mirror his Theme Time Radio Hour which is also a patchwork or mosaic of different music grouped around a particular theme?

The most undeveloped section of the film is the 'Christian' period which is portrayed as a reaction to the 'voice of his generation' Dylan. On the special features, it is also talked about as an escape from his Jewish heritage. The Pastor John figure is portrayed as inhabiting that persona in his sermon and a great performance of Pressing On but there is a greater sense of what this persona appears to be in reaction to than what it means to inhabit it (partly because this part of the story is simply not given the space and time afforded to the other personas).

Portraying it simply as a period also overlooks the sense in which Dylan's art is fundamentally informed by the Bible throughout his career. Biblical imagery and apocalyptic frameworks are a constant within Dylan's work and not something restricted to a 'Christian' period, as portrayed here.


Bob Dylan - Pressing On.

The parable of the wheat and weeds

The parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matthew 13. 24-30, 36-43) divides people into weeds and wheat. So, who are the weeds and who are the wheat? Our natural tendency as human beings is to want to know and to assume that we are in the wheat camp rather than the weeds camp.

More worryingly, our natural tendency as human beings is probably to try to identify those who are different from us and attempt to weed them out of our community. That is what we call scapegoating and, interestingly, it is a human tendency that the French cultural critic, Rene Girard, suggests is gradually unmasked and exposed by the Bible. Firstly, because the people of Israel sacrifice animals as scapegoats instead of other human beings (as happened in the nations around them at that time) and then as God himself, in Jesus, becomes the ultimate scapegoat bringing an end to the need for any further scapegoating. “Jesus’ ‘strategy’ as the ambassador from a loving, non-violent Father is to expose and render ineffective the scapegoat process so that the true face of God may be known … in the scapegoat, or Lamb of God, not the face of a persecuting deity.”

We can probably all think of times and places in our society where scapegoating occurs, not least in the election campaigns of the British National Party. But there is a very real sense in which identifying those who are different from us and attempting to weed them out is going on within our community, the Anglican Communion, at present in the controversies over sexuality and women bishops.

Whichever side of those arguments we stand on, we need to beware of the arguments made by those at the extremes which would seek to rid us of those who don’t agree with their position because Jesus, in this story, says that it is not our job to pull up the weeds from the field.

It is not our job partly because, if we were to try, we would pull up the wheat with the weeds. In other words, we do not know, as we look around our church, the Anglican Communion, or our society, who are the wheat and who are the weeds.

It is God who “searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts” we are told in 1 Chronicles 28. 9 can see what goes on in our hearts, he knows “the secrets of our hearts,” says Psalm 44 and this is because it is God who created our inmost beings and formed us in our mothers’ wombs says Psalm 139.

Therefore, it is for God, not us, to make that judgement in his way and in his time. Jesus warns us that it we judge others, we ourselves will be judged by the same measure we use on others (Matthew 7. 1&2). Again, he is saying to us that it is God’s place to judge, not ours, and, even, that we are likely to be surprised by the judgements that God makes at the end of time. Sometimes, Jesus says, as in Matthew 7. 21-23, that those who appear to be the most religious are actually those who are among the weeds.

So, it is not our job to judge but God’s and he will do so in his way and his time. What we need to do is to trust that that is so and we do this by allowing the weeds to grow together with the wheat. In other words, Jesus is commending here the aspect of Anglicanism that, it seems to me, has always been its great strength and glory; its holding together from its inception of ‘catholics’ (with a small ‘c’) and protestants and in more recent centuries its holding together of the diverse streams that have developed within those traditions – anglo-catholicism, evangelicalism, liberalism, the charismatic movement and so on. To hold these things together is, it seems to me, to show absolute trust in God’s ultimate judgement because we are allowing the wheat and the weeds to grow together.

Rowan Williams, in the opening session of the Lambeth Conference, encouraged the bishops and archbishops present to “find the trust in God and one another that will give us the energy to change in the way God wants us to change.” That is, he said, “the most important thing we can pray for, the energy to change as God wants us to change individually and as a Communion.” But it is trust in God and one another, he says, that will give us this energy.

Why is that? Well, if all our energy is going into pulling up what we think are weeds then our energies are not going into what makes for fruitfulness. Our responsibility is not to be monitors and judges of others but to allow our energies to flow into developing the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. This won’t happen if we are forever distracted by try to spot and root out weeds but if we trust God to sort out the weeds in his way and time then we can focus on the thinks that contribute to fruitfulness. As many have said going into the Lambeth Conference, there are actually far more pressing and significant issues in our world which we need to urgently address than the debates with which we are currently engaged over gender and sexuality.

So let us do what Archbishop Rowan has suggested and pray for the energy to change as God wants us to change individually and as a Communion. Let us pray using the Lambeth Conference prayer:

Pour down upon us, O God, the gifts of your Holy Spirit, that we and those who are part of the Lambeth Conference may be filled with wisdom and understanding. May we know at work within us that creative energy and vision which belong to our humanity, made in your image and redeemed by your love, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Al Green - Let's Stay Together.

'Searchlight' visit

Here are a selection of photos from yesterday's St John's social at 'Searchlight'.


Steve Arrington - Dancing In The Key Of Life.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Inter-faith framework

This comes from FaithAction's newsletter:

Next Monday, the Rt Hon Hazel Blears MP will launch the Inter-faith framework at Central Hall in Westminster.

Hazel Blears, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, plans to develop a framework for inter-faith dialogue and social action that will become an intrinsic part of the way that public authorities work with communities. This follows the Prime Minister stating that he would like to see stronger inter faith dialogue where people find the common ground that exists between different religions and communities in the UK and the creation of local inter faith councils in every community.

The launch comes as a result of the Communities and Local Government consultation ‘“Face-to-Face and Side-by-Side”: A Framework for inter-faith dialogue and social action’. This report states that inter faith dialogue and social action can help to build positive relationships and break down barriers between people from different backgrounds, and that faith communities clearly have a valuable role to play as part of wider efforts to build cohesion and resilience within communities to extremism in all its forms.

The aim of the government is to enable faith communities to interact in two ways, Side by Side and Face to Face. The government defines them as follows:
  • Face to face – Where the faith communities have a dialogue regarding their communities and values.
  • Side by Side – where different faith communities can work together to deal with community change and extremism.

Holmes Brothers - I Saw The Light.

Friday, 18 July 2008

A plausible plausibility structure (3)

In the remainder of these posts I shall argue that the argument from design is convincing when it is understood within a plausible ‘plausibility structure’ and to this end I shall identify criteria for such a structure and the range of design factors that such a structure needs to accommodate.

Newbigin argues that conflict between two views “will not be settled on the basis of logical argument”. Instead “[t]he view will prevail that is seen to offer – both in theory and practice – the widest rationality, the greatest capacity to give meaning to the whole of experience”. How can we judge which plausibility structures deliver this breadth of rationality? I want to suggest that we can use the same criteria as are used in vindicating a hypothesis. Tom Wright has explained how a hypothesis gains its own vindication:

“… by showing how its essentially simple line works out in detail, and by showing, conversely, how the manifold details fit within it. It helps, too, if one can show that the strengths of other scholarly hypotheses are retained, and the weaknesses eliminated … The hypothesis must be explored as a hypothesis. Its vindication will come, like that of all hypotheses, in its inclusion of data without distortion; in its essential simplicity of line; and in its ability to shed light elsewhere.”

Next, I wish to develop the aspect of Wright’s criteria that deals with fitting in the manifold details (while retaining the strengths of other hypotheses but eliminating their weaknesses) by use of the notion of dialectic developed by Alasdair MacIntyre. This has three features:

“First, it involves the learning of a second language, which we learn to speak almost as fluently as our own. Otherwise, we are always in danger of assimilating difference and otherness, imaging that the Other can be understood purely within our own terms of reference. We must be intellectually well-prepared to engage with other traditions and practices. Second, it involves locating the internal problems within that tradition, by that tradition’s own standards and criteria, and showing why those problems and the questions they seek to address are possibly irresolvable within those traditions on their own terms. Traditionally this is called “apologetics”. Third, it requires that our tradition is able to address both the lacunae within the other tradition and more satisfactorily resolve the problems that exercised that tradition.”

By these means a wide range of data can be included without distortion and light shed elsewhere.

Olivier Messiaen - Transports de Joie.

YBAs & Christianity

Another brief thought that occurs in reflecting on last night's presentations and discussion concerns the use of Christian imagery and narrative by conceptual artists such as the YBAs, Damien Hirst, Mark Wallinger, Chris Ofili and Sam Taylor-Wood. I said about this that we have moved from the illustration of Christian doctrine and story (from the Early Church onward) to its use as a critique of contemporary life including politics and culture.

This I think is what such artists are generally doing with Christian imagery and narrative. But the interesting aspect is the extent to which they understand the imagery, narratives and doctrines correctly and then use this understanding in their critique of different aspects of human being and doing.

For me, this is an encouragement. We tend to think that, although Christian doctrine, imagery and narratives have permeated Western culture in the past, that permeation is now being irretrievably lost. Here are artists, however, who are not creating from the perspective of Christian belief but who, nevertheless, understand Christian doctrines, images and narratives and work with those 'Christian' understandings in the way they use these doctrines, images and narratives to critique contemporary life. Maybe our culture actually retains more of its Christian heritage than we tend to give it credit for?


The Velvet Underground & Nico - I'll Be Your Mirror.

Words & images

Last night I gave what was a highly summarised and heavily generalised talk on Christian Art. I felt very inadequate attempting to summarise the whole of Christian Art and to say something (anything!) meaningful about the huge variety of issues and approaches contained within it. I then felt even more inadequate answering questions afterwards (something I'm not particularly good at anyway) as the topic was so broad that the questions could have been on almost anything!

Anyway, the evening was fascinating. For me, primarily because it emphasised the different approaches often taken towards art in Christianity from those in Judaism and Islam. Graham Dixon from Faith & Image did remind us that for about 1,000 years all Christians did not represent God the Father and, therefore, shared with Judaism and Islam at that time the sense that God is beyond representation. However, representation has been consistently significant within Christian Art mainly, as I argued, because of the Incarnation; although representation does not have to mean realism.

The result has been that the Christian tradition has been broader and more liberal than the Jewish or Islamic traditions when it comes to use of visual imagery. This was reinforced for me in the questions and comments made after the presentations, where those speaking often seemed to make a words good, images bad distinction. A perceptive question, that followed comment along these lines, was whether words distract us from God. It was ultimately this question that prompted the following reflections from me.

There seem to me to be several issues with the distinction words good, images bad which the broader Christian approach on this issue has on the whole avoided. Having said that, I am, of course, well aware that Christianity has its own history of both destroying and renouncing images.

Firstly, images do have power and influence and this can be negative as well as positive. But so do words and, therefore, the distinction should not be words rather than images but examination of the positive or negative content of both. Second, in the Christian tradition 'the' Word is Christ, God as a human being, able to be seen, heard, touched, smelt and (even) tasted (when kissed by his mother or Judas, for example). In Christianity the 'Word' is visual and therefore the two should not be opposed. Finally, a word is not the reality which it describes (this is demonstrated by different words in different languages described the same reality); instead words re-present reality in a different form (i.e. language) and therefore, at base, do precisely the same thing as images (this is, of course, leaving to one side the argument that reality is formed by our perceptions).

As a result, there is a marvellous breadth to Christianity in this area of human thinking and acting. Christianity contains both the via negativa, which renounces images in order to find God, and the via positiva, which affirms images in order to find God. This, it seems to me, is wonderful and, in the context of this meeting, seemed a clear distinctive of Christianity.

To be fair, it was also pointed out in the questions and comments afterwards, from a Jewish perspective, that the third commendment does not have to be understood as prohibiting images per se but instead as prohibiting the worship of images. This is a distinction that Christianity has sought to maintain during the history of Christian Art (not always successfully) and could form a shared and much more positive understanding of images across the three Abrahamic faiths.


John Tavener - The Lamb.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Faith & Image

Last night, together with Henry Shelton, I met up with Mark Lewis, Chair of the Faith & Image group based at St Mary's Woodford. In his day job, Mark is Programme Leader in Teaching & Learning / Silversmithing & Jewellery at the Sir John Cass Department of Art, Media and Design, London Metropolitan University.

Mark explained that FAIM is a forum for all who are interested in art and spirituality. The group is both ecumenical and inter-faith, and seeks to gain insight and understanding from all art forms, all traditions and cultures. Mark has written that Thomas Aquinas' saying, 'Man cannot understand without image,' has become "a dictum for twenty-first century culture." "We live," he writes:

"in an age where the visual is central to the way our world functions at every level. Images do indeed provide understanding and cut across cultural boundaries, saying things that words never can."

FAIM has had a fascinating programme of artist/audiovisual presentations, lectures and visits, in addition to publishing a journal. The group is currently reviewing its future programme and approach but its next event will be a guided visit to the National Gallery.

Henry and I outlined our plans for creating a Christian Art Society to encourage the commissioning and placing of contemporary Christian Art in churches, as a means of fundraising for charities. We also spoke about the Advent Art project initiated by John Brown plus the art exhibition and workshop to be held during the St John's Patronal Festival. We agreed to liaise and share ideas on events and activities for FAIM and the Art Society.

From the discussions and meetings that Henry and I have had in the Barking Episcopal Area to do with contemporary Christian Art, there seems to be a coming together of people and groups which could result in some very creative initiatives in the future. So, watch this space!


Emmylou Harris - The Maker.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Prayer for Lambeth

A prayer from the Evangelical Alliance at the start of the Lambeth Conference:

Dear Lord,

We repent of all that we have done that has failed to communicate in word or deed the love of Christ.

We confess that, at times, the cause of the gospel of Jesus Christ has not remained central in our proclamation and practice and we pray for your help in returning to the primacy of that gospel.

We pray for all those attending the Lambeth Conference and ask that their discussions and deliberations may be characterised, above all, with the grace and compassion of Jesus Christ.

We pray that as they focus on issues of global justice, evangelism, discipleship, the Bible and the future of the Anglican Communion that they will be able to hear your voice guiding and uniting them in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We pray also for those Anglicans who have chosen not to attend, that they may know your wisdom as they seek how best to remain faithful to your gospel in the context of the Anglican Communion.

We pray for the Archbishop of Canterbury and ask for your especial blessing on him that he might be able to unite all Anglicans around your truth and your grace embodied in Jesus Christ.

We acknowledge our utter dependency on you for all of this, conscious of our own failings and weaknesses, and with a desire to see your gospel faithfully proclaimed throughout the world.

We pray all of this in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Ekklesia have made the following comment on the EA's statement and prayer:

"The body which seeks to provide an umbrella for Evangelical Christians in the UK has criticised some Evangelicals for seeking to define who can or cannot be considered an Evangelical in terms that are 'too narrow'.

The statement from the Evangelical Alliance, which comes at the start of the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops, also expressed its concern about the tone of the discussions concerning sexuality amongst Anglicans.

Many Evangelicals with the Anglican Communion hold a 'conservative' position on homosexuality. Others, however, some known as 'open' Evangelicals, consider that it is in line with their faith for gay priests and bishops to be appointed.

Previously there have been divisions within Evangelicalism over issues of sexuality.

One Evangelical group, the Courage Trust, which started out seeking to 'heal' Lesbian and Gay Christians twenty years ago, ended up changing its position after studying the Bible and working with Gay and Lesbian people. It now seeks to affirm and support Lesbian and Gay Christians. The Courage Trust was however subsequently told to leave the Evangelical Alliance, after the Alliance considered its position to be incompatible with Evangelicalism.

The latest statement however may indicate that the Evangelical Alliance may be shifting to a more tolerant position which accepts Evangelicals who hold differing views on homosexuality as its members."


Sam Phillips - I Need Love. "I need God, not the political Church."

Advent art project (3)

Last night the project planning group selected the above image as the concept sketch (produced by Henry Shelton) we will work from in creating the Advent installation. The installation will comprise of three panels of mirrored perspex mounted on wooden backing panels and will be displayed in a selection of Redbridge churches during Advent. One of the key concepts of the artwork is that people will become a part of the installation by viewing themselves in its mirrored surfaces.
Our aim is that the installation will form the focal point in churches creating a place of stillness and reflection that will enable Christians and non Christians alike to find a space to relax and reflect. In this way, we hope to be an alternative to the business and busyness that the Christmas period brings and to enable our churches to be opened to a wider public during this period. Scatter cushions, candles and music will be used to create a contemplative environment around the installation.

We also plan to hold an art workshop on Saturday 4th October ( 11.00am – 3.00pm ) at St John’s Seven Kings. This will be a Barking Programme event (cost £10, bookings via John Brown) and will form part of the St John’s Patronal Festival activities. The workshop will include input on approaches to abstract art, time and materials for participants to create their own work of art, viewing of the Advent art installation and the St John’s Patronal Festival art exhibition.

Emmylou Harris - Here I Am.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

St John's photos on 'The Times' blog

Ruth Gledhill, the religious correspondent for The Times is compiling photos of the British Church doing its Benedectine duty with grace by offering the hospitality of dioceses around the UK to visiting bishops.

Two photos from Bishop Isingoma's visit to St John's have been included in her compilation of photos and these can be seen by clicking here.


Sounds Of Blackness - Hold On (Change Is Comin').

Lambeth's Cartoonist in residence

For those interested in keeping up with the various goings on at the Lambeth Conference (both serious and humourous) then Dave Walker's Church Times blog promises to be a good way of keeping up with what is going down.

He'll be at Canterbury in his 'Cartoonist in residence' role which will commence on Wednesday and plans to post a Lambeth Diary the blog - the conference as seen from his special drawing tent.

His most recent blog includes reactions and responses to Gene Robinson's sermon last Sunday plus a link to a video of the sermon in full.


Leonard Cohen - Bird On A Wire.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Windows on the world (8)

Chelmsford, 2008


Larry Norman - Weight Of The World.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

A plausible plausibility structure (2)

One of the reasons why Darwin’s hypothesis, in particular, seemed so conclusive in its destruction of the argument from design was that it was a scientific hypothesis and science was to become, in the West, modernity’s replacement for religion - its meta-narrative. Western thought and society came to develop a split between public ‘facts’ and private ‘values’ based on the scientific methodology of experiment through observation and measurement. Modernist Western cultures have assumed that statements of what we have called ‘facts’ are either true or false and that, “[w]e argue, experiment, carry out tests, and compare results, until we finally agree on what the facts are: … [then] we expect all reasonable people to accept them”.

We can see this in the language that is used to describe the impact of Darwin’s hypothesis. For example, Southgate argues that, “It refuted, virtually at a stroke, the notion that creatures had been individually designed by God, and hence any suggestion that one could argue directly from the ingenuity of their design, or the exquisite nature of their adaptation to their environment, to point to the existence or the ingenuity of such a Being”. To use phrases such as “refuted, virtually at a stroke” and “any suggestion” of a hypothesis suggests that the hypothesis is not being understood as a possible explanation among many but as the explanation and, therefore, a fact.

What this distinction between ‘facts’ and ‘values’ masks is the extent to which scientific knowledge (as indeed all knowledge) is faith knowledge. Scientific methodology is based on assumptions that cannot be examined scientifically, reflects the perspective of the observer in experiment and observation and utilises metaphor and worldview in creating hypotheses. In this respect, Lesslie Newbigin highlights the work of Michael Polyani who argues that “the time has come for a shift in the balance between faith and doubt in the whole enterprise of understanding, a recognition that doubt – though always an essential ingredient – is always secondary and that faith is fundamental. His book [Personal Knowledge, 1958] is a massive attempt to demonstrate that all knowledge of reality rests upon faith commitments which cannot be demonstrated but are held by communities whose “conviviality” is a necessary factor in the enterprise of knowing”.

These faith commitments form ‘plausibility structures’ or ‘worldviews’ and it is on the basis of these structures that we now, in a post-modern world, can speak of knowledge. As a result, I wish to consider the argument from design within a completely different frame of reference. To no longer talk in terms of a self-contained ‘proof’ of God’s existence or non-existence on the basis of design or chance, as scientists and theologians from the 17th to the 20th centuries have tended to do. Instead, to talk in terms of ‘plausibility’. To do so means, to no longer content ourselves with particular, isolated aspects of knowledge but with a wider, more unitive, structure of knowledge or view of the world.


Extreme - Stop The World.

Pictures of Salvation

In our first two 'Going Deeper' evening services at St John's, where we have a more in-depth talk or presentation combined with discussion and questions and set within the context of worship, we have used paintings from different periods of church history to unpack different models for understanding the atonement.

The paintings we have considered ranged from a mosaic found in the Archiepiscopal Chapel in Ravenna of Christ stands on a Lion and a Serpent to Marc Chagall's White Crucifixion. The paintings have helped us consider the Christus Victor, Satisfaction, Moral Influence, Penal Substitution, Crucified God, Reconciliation and Scapegoat models.

The upshot has been to realise that the Bible uses many different images to describe what Jesus achieved for us through his death and resurrection. As a result, the salvation that Jesus has brought to us has a depth and a multiplicity of meanings and we can revel in, savour and explore the whole range of meanings that this one pivotal act can have for each one of us.


Tribe of Judah - Suffering Servant.

Parable of the Sower

There is something strange about this very familiar parable (Matthew 13. 1-9, 18-23); something that does not make sense from the point of view of an efficient farmer. Jesus says in the verses between those used for today's Gospel reading that the parables, the stories he tells, are not easy to understand and there is an aspect of this parable that doesn’t seem to make sense from a farming point of view.

What I am thinking of is the indiscriminate nature of the way the sower sows the seed. The sower scatters the seed on the path, on the rocky ground and among the thorn bushes, as well as in the good soil. Any farmer would know that the seed falling on the path, on the rocky ground and among the thorn bushes is going to be wasted because it is not going to grow well and yet the sower goes ahead regardless. What sort of farmer wastes two-thirds of the seed like that?

Was it because the sower was uninformed about the principles of farming or unconcerned about the harvest? Perhaps, instead, the actions of the sower are telling us something significant about the nature of God.

The seed was sown indiscriminately, even recklessly. Those places that were known to be poor places for seed to grow were nevertheless given the opportunity for seeds to take root. Doesn’t this suggest to us the indiscriminate and reckless nature of God’s love for all? The seed is the Word of the Kingdom and the Word, John’s Gospel tells us is Jesus himself.

So Jesus himself, this parable, seems to suggest is being scattered throughout the world (perhaps in and through the Body of Christ, the Church). Some parts of the Body of Christ find themselves in areas like the path where the seed seems to be snatched away almost as soon as it is sown. That may seem a little like our experience in a culture where people seem resistant towards Christian faith and the media revel in sensationalising the debates that go on within the Church.

Other parts of the Body of Christ are in areas like the rocky ground where it is hard for the seed to take root and grow. We might about situations around the world where Christians experience persecution or where the sharing of Christian faith is illegal. Last weekend at St John's we were visited by a Congolese Bishop, Bishop Isingoma, the Bishop of Boga, who has lived through the war years in the Democratic Republic of Congo. His experience has been one of ministering in a situation of great trouble and trauma.

Other parts of the Body of Christ are amongst the thorn bushes where the worries of this life and the love of riches choke the seed. Again, we might think about our situation and the way in which our wealthy, consumerist society makes people apathetic towards Christian faith.

Finally, there is the good soil where the seed grows well and the yield can be as much as a hundred fold. Again, there are parts of the Body of Christ who find themselves in good soil. That is the current experience of Bishop Isingoma and his colleagues in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Recently, he confirmed 220 people at a church in Mafifi, which was originally built through the financial support of St John’s. Three months earlier he had confirmed 140 at that same church. The Anglican Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo is seeing significant numerical growth as is the Christian faith in many parts of the world outside of the West.

We can rejoice in that growth, although it is not an experience we currently share in the UK, and can support its continued growth through our mission giving and partnerships. We should not be discouraged because that kind of growth is not our current experience in the UK. Growth does still occur even when we are on the path or the rocky ground or among the thorn bushes. We can look forward to the Confirmation Service in October for our cluster of churches, which this year St John’s will host, and see that in each of our churches people have come to faith and grown in faith. Seeds have taken root even in the hard ground that is our current experience here in the UK.

This happens because God’s love is indiscrimate wanting all to have the opportunity to receive the seed of his Word. He sows Jesus, the Body of Christ, into the poor soil as well as the good soil knowing that some seed will not grow or be as fruitful but wanting all to have the opportunity to receive the seed of his Word.

He knows too that ground which at one time was perhaps rocky ground, as in the Democratic Republic of Congo during the war years, can become good soil in which spectacular growth can occur, as is now the case in the Congo. In this country we need to pray that our culture which currently feels like the path or the thorn bushes will in time also become good soil once again and, in the meantime, celebrate that growth that does occur on the path and among the thorn bushes.


Neal Morse - We All Need Some Light.

Art & prayer initiatives

On Thursday I visited Reunited: Gwen John, Mère Poussepin and the Catholic Church at the Barber Institute in Birmingham to review the exhibition for Art & Christianity. With loans from Amgueddfa Cymru — National Museum Wales, Tate and Southampton City Art Gallery, the exhibition 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.

The same evening back in London I caught the tail-end of the Summer Party at wallspace where I was pleased to catch up with Martin Wroe, who I trained with at NTMTC. Martin is a writer mainly working for newspapers and websites. He is one of the editors of Developments Magazine, often writes for this and sometimes turns out a book, most recently this. He can often be found here and here, is one of the movers behind Generous and a Greenbelt trustee.

On Saturday I ran a Quiet Day on Praying through the Everyday for St Andrew's Hertford. Alan Stewart, the priest-in-charge is also a friend from NTMTC days and someone else who shares many similar interests to do with the Arts and spirituality. The group from St Andrews was engaged and engaging, we met in a hidden gem of a house and grounds, we reflected on prayer as an ongoing conversation with God in which we pray through our emotions and our everyday encounters and made use of poetry and music in our reflections. Among the poems used was John Berryman's first Address to the Lord:

Master of beauty, craftsman of the snowflake,
inimitable contriver,
endower of Earth so gorgeous & different from the boring Moon,
thank you for such as it is my gift.

I have made up a morning prayer to you
containing with precision everything that most matters.
‘According to Thy will’ the thing begins.
It took me on & off two days. It does not aim at eloquence.

You have come to my rescue again & again
in my impassable, sometimes despairing years.
You have allowed my brilliant friends to destroy themselves
And I am still here, severely damaged, but functioning.

Unknowable, as I am unknown to my guinea pigs:
how can I ‘love’ you?
I only as far as gratitude & awe
confidently & absolutely go.

I have no idea whether we live again.
It doesn’t seem likely
from either the scientific or the philosophical point of view
but certainly all things are possible to you,

and I believe as fixedly in the Resurrection-appearances to Peter and to Paul
as I believe I sit in this blue chair.
Only that may have been a special case
to establish their initiatory faith.

Whatever your end may be, accept my astonishment.
May I stand until death forever at attention
for any your least instruction or enlightenment.
I even feel sure you will assist me again, Master of insight & beauty.


U2 - Window In The Skies.

Friday, 11 July 2008

A plausible plausibility structure (1)

“The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil

These lines from ‘God’s Grandeur’ reveal the poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, to be a late Victorian confident of the argument from design placing him very much in the mainstream of the Christian tradition. This argument, that the beauty and intricacy of the natural world (including that of humanity) must derive from an Intelligent Designer, can be found in both the Old and New Testaments and in Christian thought from Augustine to William Paley (an Anglican priest and older contemporary of Hopkins). Additionally, the same argument can also be found in the Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristotle who were both significant influences on the development of Christian theology.

Thomas Aquinas, who drew heavily on Aristotle’s thought, developed, in the Five Ways, a series of natural arguments for the existence of God. The Five Ways began to be questioned in the seventeenth century following the development of the science of mechanics. This did not destroy the argument from design but did lead to its development being primarily by scientists rather than theologians (and thereby entwined with the belief that science provided objective knowledge of the world) and to differences in where its supporters chose to look for evidence of design.

Hopkins was, however, unusual in the late Victorian era in the confidence with which he held to the argument from design. More typical of late Victorian opinion was Alfred Tennyson when he wrote of “life as futile, then, as frail” because Man, who had “… trusted God was love indeed/And love Creation’s final law”, had now discovered that “Nature, red in tooth and claw/With ravine, shriek’d against his creed” and left him to “Be blown about the desert dust,/Or seal’d within the iron hills”.

As the archeological references in Tennyson’s poem show, the most significant threat to the argument from design came from the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection in 1859. Darwin’s hypothesis was that organisms and creatures evolved through a process by which random mutations that improved the chances of survival for an organism/creature were naturally selected as they enabled survival in preference to other weaker organisms/creatures.

For many, Darwin’s hypothesis was taken, over time and with developments, as objective proof that purposefulness in nature could be explained without there being a need to invoke a creator. This belief was also supported by David Hume’s earlier philosophical critique of the design argument in Dialogues concerning Natural Religion.

Dialogues had been posthumously published in 1779 but its arguments were not taken up on a significant scale until the following century. Hume argued that the design argument was based on an analogy between the world and the mind of God that had no rational basis. It was just as easy, perhaps easier, Hume argued to suggest from the way in which the world was formed that there were many gods or no gods and, therefore, he concluded that there was no reasonable basis on which we could “draw any conclusion about the origin of the world from the way we find it”. The combination of Darwin and Hume appeared to sound the death knell to the argument from design.


Bob Dylan - Watching The River Flow.