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Saturday, 28 February 2009

Tryin' to throw your arms around the world (3)

All That You Can’t Leave Behind

To understand this spirituality and its embodiment more fully I wish to examine its underpinning concepts and biographical roots.

The keynote of U2’s spirituality is affirmation. Hoskyns summed up this central aspect when he wrote:

“U2 do for him [Hoskyns] the most that any pop music can do, which is to fill the head with glorious noise and CELEBRATE LIFE NOW. For ‘I Will Follow’, ‘Gloria’, ‘New Year’s Day’ and ‘Pride’, perhaps the four most uplifting anthems in the history of pop, he takes U2 “seriously”.”

Fundamentally what U2 do is to make hopeful, celebratory, anthemic music. ‘Beautiful Day’, the opening track on All That You Can’t Leave Behind, was a significant song for the band because it heralded a return to what they do best. Accordingly, that album opens with classic U2 chords and a lyric celebrating the beauty of the world. Their affirmative stance, however, is not a straightforward love of all that is around them and does not result in a simplistic spirituality. There are contradictory affirmations that underpin the celebratory ethos of their spirituality.

First, they affirm the possibility of transformation through grace. Bono has said, “The most powerful idea that's entered the world in the last few thousand years - the idea of grace - is the reason I would like to be a Christian”. In their view, grace is a forgiving, healing, transforming force that leaves its own parameters in order to change the world:

“What once was hurt
What once was friction
What left a mark
No longer stings
Because Grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things”.

They celebrate the possibility of becoming one, of building a bridge between the sea and land, of coming home, of going where the streets have no name and, of believing in the Kingdom Come when all the colours will bleed into one. Theirs is a Philippians 4: 8 and Via Positiva type of spirituality, one in which everything can be affirmed because everything can be transformed by grace.

Second, theirs is an affirmation of the ugliness and failure in a world, and in people like themselves, needing the transformations that grace brings. They recognise, acknowledge and affirm their failings and inability. These are part of the reality of human nature, the reality of themselves. They affirm, too, because that acknowledgement is necessary for grace to begin its transformative work. So, they sing of falling down, of being out of control, of losing their way in the shadows where boy meets man, of falling from the sheer face of love like a fly from a wall. In common with the Psalms, they mourn and rail at the pain and division experienced in the world - Ireland’s bloody Sunday, El Salvador’s bullets in the blue sky and Argentina’s Mother’s of the Disappeared.


U2 - Grace.

Faith & Finance

Earlier this week I was at the Faith & Finance event organised by the Christian Muslim Forum at St Ethelburga's Centre for Reconciliation and Peace. It was interesting primarily for the speakers as opposed to being an event at which there was a great deal of opportunity for input to the issue. I was there together with Dr. Husna Ahmad representing FiLE and circulating copies of our draft 'Shared faiths response to the credit crunch.'

The main speakers were Sadiq Khan, Stephen Timms and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Sadiq Khan emphasised the importance of the faiths voices being heard and said that global challenges need global responses which meant that all groups need to be able to contribute. He highlighted the value of generosity in faith traditions and the sense of security that faith communities provide for their adherents.

Stephen Timms repeated the mantra that international problems need international solutions and suggested that a new collaborative approach to tackling social and environmental challenges could be shaped by civil and religious society. He spoke of this as a Global New Deal involving: sustainable recovery through fairness, stability, growth and jobs; action to stimulate global demand; new regulatory structures; action to address tax evasion; and reform of the IMF and World Bank. The G20 meeting later this year which wil be hosted by the UK provides and opportunity to begin addressing this agenda.

Rowan Williams answered questions from delegates before making three points about principles and values. First was the importance of keeping promises based on our belief in a faithful divinity. Faithfulness and trustworthiness are fundamental. Second was the idea of the world as gift; that we are living in a world that does not belong to us. As a result, our desires do not define what is good, the material world is to be respected and the world is not wholly under our control. The earth is the Lord's. Finally, the idea that what is good for us is to do with connection. My flourishing and yours belong together. Individualism undermines ethics.

The value of the meeting was not solely in its keynote speakers. Alex Cobham from Christian Aid highlighted the way in which money is taken from developing economies for shareholders in the developed world through the use of tax havens by businesses. £160bn is lost to the developing world annually through tax evasion. Mohammed Amin suggested that we need a better understanding of the reasons why people into debt in order to challenge such behaviour. John Madely spoke about the theology of 'enough' suggesting that we have been addicted to growth and need to learn to live within the limits of available resources. He spoke about 'shalom' as the harmony of a caring community informed at every point by God. Faizal Manjoo contrasted Islamic law with Roman law and said that three key factors in the credit crunch - contracts, high interest and gambling - were forbidden in Islamic law. Finally, Mark Speeks proposed that covenantal theology could provide a relational basis for just or moral banking.

A Church Times report on the event can also be found by clicking here.


The Beatles - Taxman.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Tryin' to throw your arms around the world (2)

And I Have No Compass

On both counts – the running and the falling down – movement is essentially improvisatory.

“”There’s a line in, I think, the New Testament,” Bono told Joe Jackson of Hot Press before Zooropa was released, “which says that the spirit moves and no one knows where it comes from or where it's going. It's like a wind. I’ve always felt that way about my faith. That’s why on Zooropa I say I’ve got no religion. Because I believe that religion is the enemy of God. Because it denies the spontaneity of the spirit and the almost anarchistic nature of the spirit.”” This embodies itself in lines such as “And I have no compass/And I have no map” from Zooropa and in U2’s improvisatory approach to creating music and writing lyrics:

“On the road, U2 are constantly working informally on new ideas. As a matter of course, rehearsals and sound-checks are recorded. Frequently the germ of something new will emerge as the band improvise their way through a series of rhythm patterns and chord changes … U2 songs often proceed along parallel tracks. On the one side, a set of musical ideas is taking shape. On the other, Bono and The Edge are developing bits of titles, lyrics, choruses and whatever other scraps of ideas have suggested themselves. The real heartache starts when they begin the process of bringing these different elements together.”

A Sort of Homecoming

Improvisation leads to two further characteristics of their spirituality, allusiveness and reconciliation. U2 have been vociferously criticised at times for didactic preaching and yet this has always been an approach they have tried to avoid. There can, of course, be a big gap between what people say and what people do. U2 did not always stick to their good intentions but, they did have good intentions, did generally acknowledge when they had fallen down and did get up, dust themselves down and try again.

There were also times when they did succeed, both in their songs and in performance. The best U2 songs are either impressionist sketches or aphoristic paradoxes. ‘A Sort of Homecoming’ is an example of the former while ‘The Fly’ is an example of the latter. Niall Stokes has described ‘A Sort of Homecoming’ as an “impressionistic reverie … written in a dreamy, cinematic style” but with a “constant sense of movement propelling the song” through the intermingling of sex, spirituality, death and resurrection. There is, he says, “a sense in the lyrics that things are falling apart and the centre cannot hold" but also a sense of reassurance from the control that the writer has over the poetry and ideas.

Conversely, ‘The Fly’ has a specific sense of place – Hell – and a much sharper and wittier, but ultimately no less enigmatic, turn of phrase:

“I became very interested in these single-line aphorisms,” Bono states. “I’d been writing them. So I got this character [The Fly] to say them all, from ‘A liar won’t believe anybody else’ to ‘A friend is someone who lets you down’. And that’s where ‘The Fly’ was coming from … It was written like a phone call from hell, but the guy liked it there,” Bono told David Fricke of Rolling Stone. “It was this guy running away – ‘Hi honey, it’s hot but I like it here’.”

This same allusiveness can also be seen in performance through a use of symbolic gesture. For part of their ZooTV tour U2 included live broadcasts from war engulfed Sarajevo in the show. This brought accusations of bad taste from some critics but for others it was a means of realisation:

"The fact that it felt so awkward, that the thing sat so badly in the show, is a way of saying to this huge audience, 'There are things that can't be accommodated easily, and that are painful and awkward and you can't homogenise them into the rest of the world'. I thought exactly the awkwardness of it, the ill-fittingness, was what made it memorable. I've never been made in a rock and roll show, to feel the pain of the world before".

This allusive language both lyrically and in performance has resonances with the novelist Nicholas Mosley’s suggestion that society needs to develop a language or style “by which apparent contradictions might be held … [being] elusive, allusive, not didactic”. It may be that U2 have moved from proclaiming truth to testing the style, substance and patterning of truth. That they may be, in however limited a fashion, exploring the message of standing back, coincidence and growing tenderness from the acceptance of complexities.

That this is so, may also be seen in their reconciliatory intent and practice. ‘New Years Day’, for example, contains the line, “Though torn in two we can be one”. This is reconciliation in a lyric that - through images of separated lovers returning home and of a united crowd at a Solidarity rally - links public and private in the injunction to be one. War, the album from which ‘New Years Day’ comes, is, paradoxically, about surrender.

War was the outcome of internal conflicts between individual members of the band and the demands of their Christian faith, as they understood it at the time. Their reconciliation of these conflicts came, in part, from the understanding that Christianity did not divide body from spirit or sacred from secular. Instead these were, at best, reconciled and, at least, held together in tension.

Reconciliation is also embodied in their activism and working methods. U2 do not simply sing about the world’s woes they also take practical actions to address them, whether this is contributing to concerts/records to raise charitable funds, symbolic actions such as their Sellafield protest for Greenpeace, or, most significantly, Bono’s campaigning for debt relief through Jubilee 2000.

In their working method, scraps or fragments of music and lyrics are combined to create something that is larger than the sum of the parts. Adam Clayton describes this as being "not just a playing thing - it's a whole supportive role within the commune". John Waters has identified this sense of unity as a key feature in the impact of U2:

"As in no other band that I am aware of it, the music of U2 is a unity of all its parts. There is no sense that the music can be divided into its constituent elements - into voice, guitar, rhythm section, backing, accompaniment. It comes to you whole, maybe because that is the way it is imagined. The Edge plays the guitar, as Bono sings, Larry hits the drums or Adam plays the bass, not as an end in itself, but in order to serve the song. Voice and instruments are united in a single purpose: they tell the story".

U2’s spirituality, their language of reconciliation is not just about words - the lyrics are allusive containing hints and glimpses - but is also about the friendship between the four band members, their approach to composition and performance, the relationships and approach of their organisation. Their spirituality then, is a combination of words and actions and of on-stage and off-stage, characterised by movement, allusion, symbolism and action, aiming to express honesty, integrity and wholeness.


U2 - Zoo Station.

The Springfield Project

Last weekend I had the opportunity to visit the excellent Springfield Project based at St. Christopher's Church which provides services to children and their families in the local community of Springfield in south east Birmingham.

On Saturday 15th November 2008, The Springfield Centre was opened by the Archbishop of Canterbury who said: "The Springfield Centre is a further example of the Church of England's Presence & Engagement programme, which emphasises the positive contribution of parish churches in multi religious neighbourhoods."

The new £2m Centre was primarily financed and built by Birmingham City Council as the home of the Springfield Children's Centre, a 'one stop shop' provision for families with children under the age of five.

The Archbishop referred to his visit to the Project in his New Year message saying: "One of the most damning things you could say about any society is that it's failing its children. That's why I was really encouraged recently to be invited to open a project in Springfield in Birmingham – a church-based initiative supporting children and their parents from across the whole community. Here the church community took the brave decision to open up their church building for work with local families and to seek funding for further buildings and resources from the local authority. What's more, they've worked throughout in close collaboration with the local mosque and have a joint programme with them for young people. There's a community with its eye unmistakeably on its real treasure."

The Springfield Project are also fortunate to have excellent Interfaith parters who contribute to the interfaith work carried out in Springfield and beyond. Their current partners are:
  • Youth Encounter (see Youth Encounter website) which is run by Andrew Smith, a member of St. Christopher's Church. It is a Scripture Union project which exists to help Christian young people in Britain live out their faith amongst Muslims. This is done in two distinct ways: running Faith and Young People Events that bring together Christian and Muslim young people for dialogue; and providing training and resources to help churches equip Christian young people to live out their faith confidently and humbly amongst their Muslim friends. Youth Encounter also provides training for churches and Christian organisations working with Muslim young people.
  • Faith to Faith - Richard Sudworth is a CMS mission partner with responsibility for helping churches and especially young adults in their engagement with other faiths. See Richard's website which is named 'Distinctly Welcoming' after his book of the same title.
  • Toby Howarth - Interfaith Advisor to the Bishop of Birmingham: Revd. Dr. Toby Howarth is Priest in Charge at St. Christopher's Church (the home of The Springfield Project) and is also the Interfaith Advisor to the Bishop of Birmingham (Anglican Dicoese). Toby is involved in many interfaith initiatives in Birmingham and these can sometimes involve The Springfield Project.

Duke Special - Freewheel.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Tryin' to throw your arms around the world (1)

I've just watched the Culture Show interview with U2 about their new album, No Line On The Horizon, and thought this would be a good point to post up an essay that I wrote on the spirituality of U2 shortly after the release of All That You Can't Leave Behind.

The essay was written for a competition where it won a prize and it was then abridged as an article for the Arts Centre Group journal, AM, where it was published alongside a piece on the band by Steve Turner. In the essay I set out what I saw as the main characteristics of U2’s spirituality, examined their roots, made links between their spirituality and themes in contemporary theology and, considered three reasons why U2’s spirituality has connected with popular culture.

On Borderland We Run

U2’s spirituality is characterised firstly by movement. In ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ the imagery is of running:

“I have run, I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
Only to be with you
But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for”.

They seek and when they find, what they find sends them out to seek all over again. Running is about forward movement – positive goals, further exploration and continual striving.

This belief in the value of running forward has been embodied by U2 in the way they have sought to re-invent themselves as a band. At regular intervals they have publicly claimed that they are going away to dream it all up all over again. In doing so, their career trajectory has run from the ‘New Wave’ through stadium rock, roots rock and techno irony to the point where they now feel able to mine their own past.

Then there is the falling down. This is about failure - seeking and not finding, but seeking nonetheless. ‘I Fall Down’ is a song in which both their movement themes are brought together:

“Julie says,
I’m getting nowhere
I wrote this letter
Hope to get to someplace soon.
I want to get up
When I wake up
When I get up
I fall down.

Julie wake up,
Julie tell the story.
You wrote the letter
You said you were gonna
Get there someday.
Gonna walk in the sun
And the wind and the rain
Now you fall down.”

The central character is not being criticised for having a goal or for falling down on the way towards it. The narrator is empathetic and the song ends on that note – “When you fall down, I fall down”.

U2 songs are commonly songs of inarticulation and failure and this is particularly so when they speak of spirituality:

“I try to sing this song now
I try to stand up but I can’t find my feet
I try, I try to speak up
But only in you, I’m complete.
Gloria in eo Domine.”

They sense the glory of the divine and of a reconciled future but articulating that vision in the light of their own inadequacies and the injustice within the world seems impossible, and yet they try.

This sense of failure is also there in their performances and symbolic gestures. Barney Hoskyns tells a story of one such incident when, during a performance, Bono threw a white flag into the crowd and, when a fight for this flag developed, said:

“There’s been too much foitin’ over flags … Maybe won day we’ll all just share the same flag …”

Hoskyns’ story highlights the inarticulation of this symbolic action. There is both an awareness that dramatising reconciliation is more powerful than preaching it and, the fact that this dramatisation does not work because it provokes, rather than resolves, confrontation.

Nevertheless U2 are impelled to make the attempt, acknowledge some of the contradictions involved and learn through reflection on the results.


U2 - Gloria.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Dealing with disagreements

One of the things we're not particularly good at doing in the Church as a whole, either at the personal or corporate levels, is dealing with disagreements. Witness the current debates in Anglican Communion about homosexuality or in the Church of England over women bishops. More recently there has been more heat than light generated over two other contentious issues in Evangelicalism; the recent NEAC 'consultation' and the current debate over a critical review of Patrick Sookhdeo's latest book.

When I do 'Marriage Guidance' with couples preparing for their wedding at St John's I always ensure that we cover issues of conflict and get couples to discuss their differing approaches to it in order that they can work out for themselves how to fight as friends. Something similar seems needed within the Church judging by the virulancy of some responses to Christian brothers and sisters over some of the above issues.

At St John's we have recently begun a Bible study series entitled 'Dealing with disagreements' in an attempt, which has not been without its own tensions, to find ways to discuss where and how we disagree within our own church family.

As part of this process we will take forward discussions that began at last year's PCC Away Day of two current controversial issues about which we need to be informed; the issue of responses to homosexuality within the Anglican Communion and the issue of transition in society from reliance on fossil fuels. Both have impacts for local churches and local communities and our PCC think that it would be helpful for there to be discussion at St John's about both topics.

That is not, however, where we are starting our discussions. Instead we are beginning by looking at two areas of disagreement that occurred in the early church (Romans 14 & Acts 15. 1-21). From these passages we are aiming to identify principles for dealing with disagreements that could be applied during our discussions of the two current controversial issues. The final session of the study will then help us reflect on the different ways in which the Bible has been used throughout our discussions and the extent to which our different ways of understanding scripture influence the positions that we take on controversial issues.

If this sounds of interest to you then you can follow a part of the debate online as one of our housegroups are posting summaries of their discussions on their blog. Their first two posts can be found by clicking here and here.


Elvis Costello - Indoor Fireworks.

Windows on the world (42)

Uley, 2008

Noah and The Whale - Sometimes.

Books, stories, coffee & poetry in Seven Kings

Community outreach events by Redbridge Library Services, which were initiated through discussions with TASK, are continuing to develop.

A regular programme of children's Storytelling sessions is now happening at St John's Seven Kings on a monthly basis. Future dates include: Friday 13th March; Wednesday 1st April; Friday 24th April; Wednesday 13th May; Friday 5th June; Wednesday 24th June; Friday 17th of July;
Wednesday 5th August; Friday 28th August; Wednesday 16th September; Friday 9th October; Wednesday 28th October; Friday 20th November; and Wednesday 9th December. The times of these Storytelling sessions will be: Fridays - 11.30am to 12pm; and Wednesdays - 2.00-2.30pm.

A book group is also being started. Intended as quite a casual group, without set questions or structured feedback just an open ended discussion about how each person responded to the book, it will meet about four times a year. The first book to be discussed will be Oh Pure and Radiant Heart by Lydia Millet. The group will meet to discuss this book on Thursday 23rd April at 8pm. The venue is to be confirmed but will probably be at St John's. The group is open to anyone who wants to come along. For more details contact Huw Jacob on:

The next Library Services Coffee morning at St John's is being planned for Wednesday 8th April and will feature a talk on gardening by Nick Dobson. Finally, for the moment, an Evening of Poetry featuring Tim Cunningham and Naomi Foyle will be happening on Monday 27th April at St John's as part of the Redbridge Book and Media Festival.


Leonard Cohen - A Thousand Kisses Deep.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Everyday epiphanies

Another book that I found in the RA's bookshop was Betty Swanwick: Artist and Visionary.

Swanwick described herself as "part of a small tradition of English panting that is a bit eccentric, a little odd and a little visionary." This tradition begins with William Blake and Samuel Palmer and continues through Stanley Spencer and Cecil Collins to artists such as Albert Herbert, Ken Kiff, Norman Adams, Evelyn Williams, Carel Weight, Margaret Neve, Roger Wagner, Mark Cazalet, Dinah Roe-Kendall and Greg Tricker.

In the book Paddy Rossmore writes that Swanwick had in common with many other artists in this tradition, "the pursuit of the hidden reality behind appearance or - more specifically in her case - the connection between religious phenomena and psychic (or subliminal) processes." "She talked of 'biblical goings-on' in her late work" and "painted many pictures which relate to the great religious themes and stories from the Old and New Testaments." Rossmore argues that her late work "would seem to belong to that tradition in visionary painting whose strangeness is accompanied by a facility for penetrating spiritual insight and understanding."

The work of many of the artists in this tradition seeks to reveal everyday epiphanies, heaven in ordinary life, and Swanwick was no exception writing that she felt that "many people narrow life much too much" and so in her pictures she tried "to put the real thing, the miracle of it - indefinable because everything is connected."


The Kinks - Days.

Iconic developments

I've had this weekend off which I've greatly appreciated. The weekend has included my brother-in-law's 40th birthday party but it began with presentations about and a visit to the Byzantium exhibition at the Royal Academy.

Both were organised by the Faith & Image group. Peter Webb and Graham Dixon gave interesting presentations on the background to the exhibition on Thusday evening with Webb focusing on the history and Dixon on the liturgy. Mark Lewis had arranged the exhibition visit that followed on the Friday morning.

What I found most interesting about the presentations and the exhibition itself was the sense of development. Iconic practice is often presented as an essentially unchanging tradition but this exhibition shows the way in which such practice developed from the integration of Roman imagery into Christian art and through the stimulous of iconoclasm to its theological underpinning.

The carved ivory work in the exhibition, for example, does not have the same degree of stylization as is found in the icons displayed and a greater degree of realistic representation. Later icons also in some instances reflect the influence of developments towards realism within the Western artistic tradition and show therefore that iconic practice can and does contain scope for variation and development, as can also be found in differing ways in some twentieth and twenty-first century iconic practice.

With this in mind it was also interesting to come across The Avant Garde Icon in the RA bookshop. This unusual treatment of the Russian avant-garde aims to offer original insights into the broad and complex unfolding of Russian art up to the 1950s. Beginning with an account of the movement's origins in about 1870, and concluding with the death of Stalin, Andrew Spira seeks to demonstrate how icons underpin the development of nineteenth and twentieth-century Russian art.

During this time new ideas grounded in a radical revolutionary secularism were providing a strong challenge to the values of a society steeped in religious, faith-based traditions. Great artists such as Malevich and Larionov offered an ambivalent response to their religious heritage. Whilst they rebelled against its stifling conservation and credulity, they were also profoundly influenced by its nationalist, populist, aesthetic appeal and, ultimately, its spirituality. Malevich in particular aimed to raise the status of contemporary art to that of icons.

Spira seeks to trace the course of this paradoxical dialogue between artists at the cutting edge of modernity and the rich, sacred and artistic traditions of the past, which then continued as communist designers adapted the popular conventions of icon painting to their own purposes after the Russian Revolution. The Avant-Garde Icon aims to throw a new light on the deeper meaning and significance of icons. It adds to art-historical debates around early twentieth-century art, whilst also catering to those who have a general interest in icons and in the stunning images produced in Russia throughout this tumultuous period.

This is a book that seems to deal with arguments also made by Daniel Siedell in God in the Gallery and iconographer Aidan Hart in articles published on his website. True iconic practice may only be possible within the theology and liturgy of Orthodoxy as Graham Dixon pointed out in responding to questions following his presentation but the influence of iconography on the development of Modern Art seems to be becoming equally well established and, if the arguments of Dan Siedell were to be accepted, could continue to be a significant influence on the development of Contemporary Art.


Arvo Pärt - Bogoróditse Djévo.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Life

From Image Update comes news of a new biography of Gerard Manley Hopkins:

"Gerard Manley Hopkins by poet and biographer Paul Mariani is a dense and ambitious book that earns its subtitle: A Life.

Mariani's biography of Hopkins is not the first, but being both a poet and a Catholic himself, Mariani is uniquely suited to the task of emphasizing both the poems themselves and the importance of Hopkins's Catholic faith. He begins the biography with Hopkins's years at Oxford when he is wrestling with a desire to become Catholic.

This focus on Hopkins's "going over to Rome" is necessary to the rest of the story, because it is Hopkins's religious belief that ultimately informs his poetic vision, his devotion to the sacraments of the church that sheds light on his trust in the beauty and goodness of the physical earth and which ultimately leads him to write the poetry that Mariani describes as "lettered and saturated with a language shimmering with the possibilities of a sacramental vision of the world around us."

With an attentiveness to the quotidian reminiscent of Hopkins himself, Mariani searches out the details - in Hopkins's journals and letters written while at Oxford, while teaching young Jesuits, and during the process of taking of his vows. Mariani provides very little commentary on the events he relates; instead, he writes in the present tense, allowing us to simply live the moments along with Hopkins, to experience his delight as he catches the inscape of a horse and formulates his ideas about sprung rhythm, as he questions his calling and struggles with depression. And through his journals, Mariani presents us with gems like this: "Wonderful downpour of leaf: when the morning sun began to melt the frost they fell at one touch and in a few minutes a whole tree was flung of them; they lay masking and papering the ground at the foot. Then the tree seems to be looking down on its cast self."

Thus, long before Hopkins embraces his poetic calling, we glimpse in his journals and letters early hints of a tendency to stare at and render the dappled world in his odd and lovely prose. What interpretation Mariani does give he provides by recapitulating lines of Hopkins's poetry so that they become tiny echoes or foreshadowings of Hopkins's life; by the time we get to his poetry, we are already steeped in it. And Mariani's readings of Hopkins's poems are elegant, deep explorations rather than critical analyses. He's at his best when he's riffing on some line of a Hopkins poem, when the biographer's prose is so saturated with his subject's poetry, so immersed in the poet's mind, that it's hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.

Click here to buy the book. To read an Image web-exclusive interview in which Paul Mariani discusses the book, click here."


Tim Lowly - Twilight Rise.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

100 not out! (2)

More images from the 100th Anniversary celebrations of the Mothers' Union at St John's.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

The Bible - essential cultural luggage

Children should be taught the Bible throughout their education because it is an "essential piece of cultural luggage" without which they will struggle to fully understand literature, according to the poet laureate, Andrew Motion.

Motion made this argument in an article published in today's Education Guardian and his full argument can be read by clicking here. Also at the Guardian website, Andrew Brown has posted an interesting comment on Motion's argument while Philip Ritchie has kicked off a discussion on the issue at his blog. You can also check out your Bible knowledge with a Guardian quiz which can be found by clicking here.

Failing to understand or acknowledge our inherited language and imagery from the Bible and from Christendom is a common problem that bedevils much contemporary cultural comment. One of my earliest posts was on this issue and used interpretations of songs from Bob Dylan as an example of the way in which such lack of knowledge affects cultural interpretations.

In a Lent/Eastertide course called The Big Picture that I am involved in running in the Diocese of Chelmsford, together with my friends Philip Ritchie and Paul Trathen, we briefly survey the history of how our culture has inherited much of its language and imagery in this way in order to pose the question of how we can hope to understand our culture without understanding the biblical/Christian language and imagery that informs it.

Motion thinks that:

"Too many students arrive at university to study English literature barely knowing who Adam and Eve were because teaching of the Bible and its "great stories" is disappearing from the school system, he said. He was not arguing for religious indoctrination, but for people to learn historical stories which have influenced writers. "I am not for a moment suggesting that everybody be made to go to church during their childhood. But what I do think would be worth thinking about [is] how there could be some kind of general treatment of this all the way through a child's schooling," he told the Guardian.

People cannot expect to understand much of literature - from John Milton to TS Eliot - without learning the Bible first, he said. The sermon on the mount and the crucifixion are stories which have influenced story structures ever since, while the book of Ruth is essential because of "the beauty of the writing". Children should read the Bible, he said, "simply because it is full of terrific stories. They speak to us about human nature and the recurring patterns of human behaviour."
Motion, who is professor of creative writing at Royal Holloway, University of London, said that all humanities undergraduates at university level should be given crash courses in the great stories. "I would start with Christian stories, Qur'anic stories, Greek and Roman stories, but it could be refined depending on what the subject is: a little history for people doing English, a bit of English for people doing history, for example."


Neal Morse - Heaven In My Heart.

Monday, 16 February 2009

In the storm

The Preacher goes into the pulpit and prays his opening prayer. Just before he begins preaching Thaddaeus comes running up the main aisle and shouts up at the Preacher …

Thaddaeus: I’ve just had the most incredible experience!

Preacher: What? In Church? You must be joking!

Thaddaeus: No, not in - what did you call it? - Urch? I was on the Sea of Galilee.

Preacher: It’s Church, not Urch. It’s a place where we worship Jesus.

Thaddaeus: But that’s who I was with! I’m Thaddaeus, one of Jesus’ disciples and I was with him just now in a boat on Galilee.

Preacher: You mean, you’ve walked straight out of the pages of the story we just heard read and into our Church! That’s incredible!

Thaddaeus: Maybe incredible things do happen in Church, after all. They always seemed to when Jesus was around.

Preacher: What was it like being in that storm? It sounded really scary.

Thaddaeus: Too right, it was! We were petrified. Galilee can be like a mill pond one moment and a seething whirlpool the next. Normally, we have someone looking out for changes in the weather but we were so excited about all the things Jesus had been saying and doing that we were more interested in discussing them than looking around. And Jesus was so tired that he had gone to sleep. Before we knew it the storm was on us and there was no time to sail to shelter.

Preacher: Was it really as fierce a storm as the story says?

Thaddaeus: Well, I don’t know who’s told you about it or what they said but this storm was serious. Rain was pelting down so we could barely see. There was lightening - that was seriously close! The wind was getting the waves up, the boat was rocking violently, and waves were breaking over the side into the boat. The boat was filling with water and we were sure it would sink if the storm continued. We were so scared we weren’t even thinking straight. No one was bailing water out. We were all convinced we were going to die and we just shouted at Jesus to wake up and help.

Preacher: And he got up and stilled the storm?

Thaddaeus: Certainly did. Got up as calm as you like, told the storm to stop and suddenly the night was as calm as before that storm had begun.

Preacher: What’s always puzzled me is that he asked why you were so frightened. I would have thought that was obvious.

Thaddaeus: We were panicking so much that we hadn’t done any of the things that might have got us through the storm. We hadn’t taken down the sail. We weren’t bailing the water out. We weren’t trying to steer against the storm rather than with it.

Preacher: You made the situation worse by panicking. So, it was your panic that was as likely to have got you killed as the storm itself.

Thaddaeus: I think so. People have survived great storms on the lake before. He said that we didn’t have very much faith.

Preacher: So, he stilled the storm because you didn’t believe you could come through the storm but if you had believed he wouldn’t have done it, wouldn’t have needed to have done it, because you would all have done the sensible things which could have meant that you would have survived the storm. I’m never thought about the story like that before.

Thaddaeus: That reminds me of a worship song we sing in the Synagogues. It’s got a line that goes, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and staff, they comfort me”.

Preacher: God goes with us through each storm we face and can bring us through, if we trust and don’t panic. “Don’t panic, don’t panic, Mr Mainwaring!”

Thaddaeus: Who’s Mr Mainwaring?

Preacher: Don’t worry that’s just a twentieth century cultural reference.

Thaddaeus: What’s the twentieth century?

Preacher: This is going to get really complicated, there’s two thousand years of history for me to fill you in on!

Thaddeus: Hey, what’s happening to me? I’m fading away.

Preacher: Maybe you’re going back into the pages of history. But hey! Remember what we said, don’t panic! Have faith! God will see you through. [Addressing the congregation] Well, that was incredible wasn’t it? I’d never understood that story in that way before. Maybe incredible things do happen in Church after all!


Jon Foreman - Your Love Is Strong.

Windows on the world (41)

Seven Kings, 2009


Iris DeMent - There's A Whole Lot of Heaven.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

100 not out!

On Saturday we celebrated the 100th Anniversary of the Mothers' Union at St John's with flower displays, an MU exhibition, an archive display, a Celebration Service and an afternoon tea. These images are a small selection from our displays and Celebration.

M. Ward - Hold Time.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Hot topics in galleries

The latest edition of Art & Christianity (57) arrived in the post today. As well as my review of Daniel Siedell's God in the Gallery, it also features:

Religion and spirituality are once again hot topics in galleries around the world, as evidenced by Holy Inspiration, where top works from Amsterdam's Stedelijk collection reveal the diversity in artists’ religious experience, and Septiformis, an exhibition held at the Saint Michel and Gudula Cathedral in Brussels. The Editorial of Issue 57 muses on whether the phenomenon of such exhibitions represents "a continuing quest, in an increasingly fractured post-modern world, for spiritual values and meanings perceived as residing in, and even emanating from, the exhibited art works."


Al Green - Jesus Is Waiting.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Chagall & the French Catholic Revival

I've posted before on the (generally unacknowledged) effect that the French Catholic Revival had on the development of Modern Art. More evidence of this influence can be found in Jackie Wullschlager's excellent biography of Marc Chagall, Chagall: Love & Exile.

There we find that, through the collection of the Morozov family, Maurice Denis was viewed by Leon Bakst, Chagall's art tutor in St Petersburg, as being one of the artists of the future. As a result, Chagall was taught "to simplify form, enhance colour and liberate brushwork."

On his arrival in Paris, Chagall was swept up by the throng that crowded the cubist room of the spring 1911 salon. He reflected later that it was there that he came to believe too much in Albert Gleizes, seeing in him "a sort of Courbet of cubism."

Later, in the 1930s, Chagall became part of the circle around the Catholic philosophers Jacques and Raissa Maritain. The Chagalls were regular attendants at the Maritain's "weekly Sunday gathering in Meuden, where the agenda was how to return secular France to spiritual awareness." The Maritains "made their home ... a centre of spiritual enlightenment for Paris's disillusioned writers and artists such as Rouault and Max Jacob." "Thanks to them, many converted or rediscovered their Catholic origins, most noisily Jean Cocteau."

Later still, Chagall was wooed by Father Marie-Alain Couturier who "wanted him to decorate the baptistry for his modern church, Notre Dame de Toute Grâce, on the Plateau D'Assy in Haute Savoie." "Thanks to Couturier's enlightened vision of modernist religious artists ... the church already had work by half a dozen artists who were Communists, Jews, atheists, or all three, as well as a dark stained glass window by the devout Catholic Rouault." Chagall eventually accepted the commission but did not complete the work until after Couturier's death. Following Couturier's approach Chagall returned to religious paintings and this in turn led on to his "more public art of stained glass windows and murals."

I list these contacts not to suggest in any way that Chagall was or became a Catholic artist but simply to demonstrate again the extent to which those artists, philosophers and monks who were a part of the French Catholic Revival had a significant influence on visual artists throughout the first half of the twentieth century. The extent to which this was the case has not been fully recognised and its detailed examination would form an interesting study or exhibition.


Tracy Chapman - All That You Have Is Your Soul.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Icons & Modern Art

In his book God in the Gallery, Daniel Siedell argues that iconography has been an influence of the development of Modern Art citing Vassily Kandinsky, Kasimir Malevich and Mark Rothko as his key examples.

Following up on this line of thought, I've been reading articles by the contemporary icongrapher, Aidan Hart, in which he makes the same claim citing Constantin Brancusi, Henri Matisse, Vincent Van Gogh and Cecil Collins among others in addition to those cited by Siedell.

Hart's argument has three main aspects. Firstly, positive comments made by these artists regarding key aspects of iconography. Secondly, the adoption in Modern Art of many of the main stylistic techniques of icongraphy such as flatness, inverse perspective, multi-point perspective, isometry, radience etc. Thirdly, the use of abstraction as a language to express objective metaphysical truth, the essence of things.

Brancusi is Hart's key witness for his Rumanian Orthodox upbringing and practice and for his aphorisms on the role of the artist such as, "The artist should know how to dig out the being that is within matter and be the tool that brings out its cosmic essence into an actual visible essence."


Vigilantes Of Love - Glory And The Dream.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Windows on the world (40)

Birmingham, 2008

Mark Heard - Treasure of the Broken Land.

Friday, 6 February 2009

What is it that you really want out of life?

Click here for a great Kiosk sketch from 'Paul Merton - The Series':

"You are a sentient human being. What about all the activity that is going on in your mind right now? At this very moment billions of pieces of information are floating across the synapses of your brain. You have the secrets of the universe there inside your head. You are a unique individual. You have your own hopes, aspirations and desires. You can be anything that you want. It's up to you to make the decision. What is it that you really want out of life? ..."


Bill Mallonee - Life on Other Planets.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Developing a shared faiths response to the credit crunch (2)

This draft document originated in the ‘Ethics in a global economy’ seminar held at St Ethelberga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace and organised by FiLE in October 2008. A call for a shared faiths perspective on the credit crunch to be developed emerged clearly from the seminar and FiLE undertook to try to facilitate that process.

Two meetings to discuss a shared faiths response have been held and a wider group of faith representatives (including people from the Christian, Hindu, Islamic, Jain and Jewish traditions) have commented on the document as it has developed.

The document is now in its final stage of development and we are asking for final comments and an indication from all those who have been part of the process as to whether they are content that it represents a shared faiths response. Comments on the document and indications of support or lack of support should be sent to

1. Wealth means more than money

‘Wealth’ is all that human beings receive from others and from the world in which we live. So, shelter, clothing, our abilities, social institutions, our cultures, the Arts, our relationships, the environment are all ‘wealth.’ In most faith traditions, these are seen as divine gifts.

The creativity of human beings means that we develop means by which we utilise and distribute wealth. Money is one such means of wealth utilization and distribution, among many others (such as education or manufacturing), and becomes problematic when pursued in isolation from other means of utilization and distribution. One factor in the current crisis is that money has been treated as wealth and the value of money separated from any tangible reality. Derivative trading is, for example, trading not just in intangibles but in the reflection of intangibles and then reckoning wealth in those terms.

One small example of the broader understanding of wealth that we advocate is that surveys of Londoner’s levels of happiness consistently show that a characteristic of boroughs where Londoners experience the highest levels of happiness are those with an inbuilt lung of creation in the form of the river and parks. Epping Forest has traditionally operated in this way for Eastenders while we also note that those who are financially rich tend to spend their money on art and culture. It may be that, as a result, we should measure Gross National Happiness like Bhutan; a country where this measure signals an attempt to build an economy based on spiritual (in this case, Buddhist) values.

2. The value of work

Work is valued in most faith traditions, even to the extent that in some human beings are seen as co-creators with the divine. The work ethic is seen as a noble endeavour in many faith traditions e.g. Sufi’s divide the day into work, worship and rest.

Hard work and creativity are valuable but are they always appropriately directed? We need to differentiate between the value of the work ethic and appropriate kinds of work. Not all work is appropriate or ethical therefore the value of the work ethic and of human creativity can be dissipated in work that is inappropriate or unethical.

Practices such as profiting from the process of charging and paying interest and lending what you don’t have which have been exposed by the credit crunch would seem to fall into this latter category. We should value productive work but are often divorced from the fruits of our labours.

We all tend to assume that paid employment is the natural means for gaining wealth but, as people of faith, we consider that this assumption disconnects us from divine or natural generosity. Society needs work done and a financial incentive is one way to get it done, but that doesn’t mean that work should be the only or main source of the wealth that we need. The credit crunch may provide an opportunity to consider alternative options, such as a Citizen’s Income.

3. Concerns about credit

The Hebrew Scriptures forbid charging interest to a fellow Jew while the Qur’an forbids charging interest and encourages trade and trade-type banking arrangements. Instead of credit-based banking systems, we commend trade-type banking and the approach of mutual building societies and credit unions. We need banks for current and savings accounts and for business loans, we need building societies (preferably mutual ones), and we need insurance (a legitimate pooling of risks); but the rest, we really don’t need and it should be shut down.

4. Structures of greed

Western economies have been inflated through greed, with their economic make-up being based on self-centred acquisition. Economic and political systems tend to be based on immediate profitability not long-term benefits. As a result, much of what we do makes no logical sense. Why, for example, do we sacrifice quality time by working hard in order to have quality time while on holiday or why do we drive to a gym in order to get on a walking machine?

Concerns regarding our economic systems are also to do with transparency. Many faiths reflect on light and dark and how bad things happen in the dark where actions can be hidden. Much of what has brought about the credit crunch has been hidden from view and from scrutiny. Transactions have been divorced from human interaction and have therefore been unregulated. Banking practices have taken place ‘in the dark’ hidden by technicalities. In the light of public scrutiny these practices have been found wanting. This is not about scapegoating but about the need for transparent practices.

5. The god of growth

Western economies have been predicated on unlimited growth and this has caused harm to the environment. Developing countries are using the same model. Many natural, God given resources are running out because we have exploited that which we have been given instead of stewarding and sharing them. The argument about whether oil and gas supplies have peaked or not remains unresolved but we are certainly running out. The failure of those two resources would impact on every aspect of our lives and would produce far greater misery that the 'credit crunch', as will climate change. We can’t ignore these wider issues most especially that of climate change.

6. Loss of relationships

There is a breakdown in the relational aspects of the economy. Exchanges are occurring in virtual space, trust is being lost and we need to return to our roots in relationships. Practices such as profiting from the process of charging and paying interest and lending what you don’t have led to banks no longer trusting each other and no longer lending to one another. In the past, there was a degree of trust in the markets summed up in the phrase ‘my word in my bond.’ It is important to work together in cooperation. There are also social consequences in terms of social cohesion arising from the credit crunch.

7. Support for developing economies

We should look for methods of ameliorating the financial/environmental misery that continues and develops around the world. Developing countries are using the same model of economic growth as the West despite the harm that it has caused to the environment. Economies throughout the world need rebalancing in the direction of wealth creation: education; the care of the vulnerable; manufacturing, creative and cultural industries; renewable energy; and agriculture.

8. Time for reflection and restructuring

There can be a sense of hope in this crisis; the credit crunch can be seen a watershed opportunity and not a catastrophe. A year ago people weren’t having the kind of conversations we are having today; that, in itself, is a positive change. Perception is vital in what is understood as being economically viable.

Some faiths, but by no means all, understand periods of suffering as part of a developmental process. We need to reflect on our experience of suffering and look for causes (i.e. underlying economic fundamentals). There may be natural causes but these may also have personal implications to which we will need to respond. Reflection and action go together. For example, a recent survey found that 25% of respondents are praying or meditating more as a result of the credit crunch.

Not all faith communities think that suffering is ennobling and there can be a polarization around concrete political change versus inner personal change. Both are needed in dialogue, both are on the same spectrum of responses.

We need to reflect on the values that we share. The economy has spiralled a long way from real valuations. We need to link personal, moral and spiritual values with economic values.

It may be that we are at a point in time (like that at the end of the Second World War which led to the development of the UN and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) which will produce new structures for society. For example, the free market has been shown to be unable to provide its own banks without these being propped up by Government funds. We may be in a moment in time when recession, the credit crunch and the ecological crisis are combining to bring about profound shifts in the global economy.

If we are looking at a restructuring of the global economy, then we could see the economy rebuilt in terms of a broader understanding of wealth with new kinds of jobs (i.e. renewable energies, creative industries, and community empowerment) forming its foundation. Such a restructuring could also provide space for addressing the ecological crisis. Ecology cannot be divorced from economics. For example, the costs of extraction and replacement of the world’s natural resources has in the past been excluded from company accounts but its inclusion would provide a very different picture of the effects of the global economy on the environment.

9. Constituencies for action

People of faith form a huge constituency and can motivate people to action. People of faith are also part of rooted communities (e.g. local authority areas) which in some instances are beginning to plan for greater economic resilience. People of faith need to be party to these debates and summits. We have allowed those in power to use the argument that faith is essentially private and not public. The consequence has been that our views are marginalised. This paper is one small means of reclaiming that public dimension for our faiths.

There is no quick fix but, together, we have a vast constituency, one large enough to start sowing seeds of change. We should look for methods of ameliorating the financial/environmental misery that continues and develops, around the world. A proactive assertion is needed from faith communities to argue for non-interest bearing transactions, mutual societies not shareholders, and recognition of the role that artists and communities play in generating real wealth. All faiths offer ways of being that are conducive to human flourishing.

10. London, a melting-pot for change?

London has developed as the ultimate world city - in part because of the widespread use of the English language and our location between the New York, Middle East and Far East stockmarkets, especially Hong Kong and Tokyo – and this is something to be valued and celebrated. London’s position has been as the financial capital of the world. Market forces and financial institutions are at the heart of London’s economy and it is the market that is London which has given the city its social, ethnic and faith diversity. How will this change as a result of economic restructuring? Will London adapt and will it maintain its inclusivity as it does so?

Our hope is that London will adapt and change to a restructuring of the global economy that is focussed on a broader understanding of wealth than money gain and economic growth alone and do so in a way that maintains and develops it’s social, ethnic and faith diversity.


The Clash - London Calling.

TASK Newsletter No. 13

With the new year well underway, welcome to our first TASK e-newsletter of 2009, setting out a whole host of local news and activity.


Latest figures reveal that our council, the London Borough of Redbridge, has seen the biggest hike in crime across the whole of London, with Seven Kings leading the table on increases in burglary (we have heard this week of a breakout of burglaries predominantly in Cambridge and St Alban's Roads).

This confirms our view that the local situation is more fragile and less rosy than we have traditionally been led to believe, which is why we have argued strongly for a full complement in our safer neighbourhood team at all times, having discovered that police team members are often loaned out for other borough-wide duties and are not always working locally.

A story in the Ilford Recorder this week suggesting that major drug trafficking at Goodmayes Hospital has led to the setting up of a local Seven Kings police team presence there worries us too, since it also pulls officers off the streets, where a high profile presence and the constant intelligence gathering that comes from good local relationships is constantly required.

TASK supporters and local councillors will this week meet with the new borough police commander to make our case for special attention, given our many local issues and the unique negative effects of our having such an abormally large night time/takeout economy, which can be a major magnet for resident misery and crime and disorder.

More licensing misery

As if we have not got enough challenges already, the Council continues to grant late licences for takeouts, even with strong local councillor and community objections, with yet more applications coming in from new outlets. It frankly beggars belief that councillors on licensing committee are unable to understand an obvious truth- that we are saturated with fast food outlets, which cause a whole host of problems- and it is credible to argue that Seven Kings is now being explicitly targetted by fast food entrepreneurs as a 'soft touch' in ways that might not be tolerated elsewhere. We are angry and and will now be taking up this issue directly with senior Redbridge Council staff and the London Mayor, Boris Johnson.

We were told by a Licensing officer recently that the people of Seven Kings do not object in big enough numbers which is why our objections do not make enough impact on licence decision making committees. We would therefore ask you to object to any licences that you become aware of by emailing the Council's Licensing officer at with the grounds of the objection and your name and address.

We are already being consulted on a new bit of research funded by Boris looking at the future shape of the suburban High Street, having met with his architectural advisers in early January. Our points then were simple and linked. That the High Road is a major artery, with which local people strongly associate, albeit one that has been run down over generations, with a limited and inadequate shopping base dominated by way too many takeouts. Out view is that it requires systematic regeneration, over a longer peiriod, but that firm action now on late licenses and still further booze applications can at least begin to stop the rot. Keep reading to see more on how this story unfolds.

We are also aware that some of the takeaway outlets are below the standard health and safety requirements and pose a potential hazard to customers. A copy of the health and safety ratings is available from us if you require and a copy of it is on the Community noticeboard outside Seven Kings station.

Library campaign

The battle cry remains the same: we want a new library- and we want it now, having registered overwhelming support in support of this campaign during our 2008 petitioning. A recent meeting with Ilford South MP Mike Gapes ensured he too is fully up to speed on the issue.

In the short term, though, we continue to work with library officers to develop and market mobile library services and have obtained at least one new regular stop for the 400 plus pupils at at Downshall Primary School. We will also benefit from regular local storytelling activity and a local poetry event as part of the upcoming Redbridge Media and Book Festival in May, both positive developments which are unlikely to have happened without our campaigning.

The offer is also there for a new readers group to be set up in Seven Kings, where local people come together regularly to choose a book, and share their reading experiences. There are hundreds of reading groups all over the country, and they are a great way to make new friends, share your love of books and promote new types of reading. Please contact Chris on 07852 960685 if you would like to be part of this. If you are worried about the cost of buying book, don't worry- the library service will provide all the books for free, so there's absolutely no cost other than an hour of your time every month.

Area 5 festival

The idea of a local community festival covering Seven Kings, Goodmayes and Chadwell Heath has been knocking around for some time in the local Council and it was originally planned to run an event during summer 2009 in a local park. A planning group has now been set up, bringing together many local groups, including TASK, to agree a format and timing. The current sense is that a big festival this year is a tall order and that it is more realistic to run a smaller family fun day in the summer, to test the the water for something bigger and bolder in 2010. We are looking for a volunteer to sit on the planning group for TASK, and encourage all supporters to send in their good ideas about what a festival might offer and how it might run. Supporters with PR/ marketing/events experience are especially welcome.

Westwood Recreation Ground

Good news! Tired old Westwood Recreation Ground on Meads Lane is in line for play improvements from April this year which will hopefully transform a rather jaded and forgettable space into something beautiful and uplifting. We are currently talking to Council play workers and will push for major local input into the eventual design, and will be recommending they talk primarily with local youngsters, the key users and beneficiaries of the site.


With our local pool boarded up, but not forgotten, Redbridge Council was name checked in a recent TIME OUT magazine article as the worst place for public swimming opportunities in London. Another unenviable record for our shabby and underperforming Council. Shame on you!

TASK planning group

Over the last year, TASK has developed a high profile, much respect and many great local contacts. For this new year, we plan to run regular planning group sessions to help co-ordinate our various campaigns, draw more fully on our supporter talent and make an even greater impact. A first date and venue will follow later this week.

Seven Kings Events this month

11 February 7.15pm at Barley Lane Primary School - Area 5 Council meeting

27 February 9am starting from outside Seven Kings station - walkabout with council officers from Cleansing Department

That is it for now. More soon.

Please remember. We always welcome your news, your issues and your feedback, which should be sent to or


16 Horsepower - Cinder Alley.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Ministry in multi-faith contexts

Here are some thoughts on ministry in multi-faith contexts that I have shared with colleagues recently:
  1. The need to broaden our theological understanding of dialogue. This is so that dialogue cannot be bracketed in people's minds as something that is done only in an inter-faith context. Instead, dialogue needs to viewed as something that characterises our relationship with God, with scripture and with each other, so that our dialogues in the inter-faith arena are not seen as peripheral to our faith but emerging out of the dialogues that are central to our faith and spirituality.
  2. The importance of the workplace as a place of encounter between people of other faiths. In a Diocese such as Chelmsford, people can currently live or choose to live in places where they will not encounter many or any people of other faiths (with the exception of atheists or humanists). However, because many of these same people commute into London (in particular) for their work they inevitably encounter people of other faiths in their workplaces, making the workplace a key arena for inter-faith encounter. As a result, we should support and challenge our congregations to consider and evaluate their approach to those of other faiths within their workplaces. The Diocese of Chelmsford has resources available to help in addressing this issue. Firstly, we publish a 'Christians in the Workplace' parish resource pack (see and secondly, those of us involved with Mission in London's Economy are also involved in building a network called Faiths in London's Economy (FiLE) of people across faith communities interested in addressing issues of faith and work (see
  3. Mission in a multi-faith parish. The parish of St John's Seven Kings now has a majority Asian population with significant Hindu, Sikh and Muslim communities present within that catch-all categorization. This adds to the decline in occasional offices that was already apparent through secularization and diminishes the effectiveness of those forms of social and fundraising activities that had been traditional in what was originally a reasonably affluent, white community. To survive or thrive with a viable congregation and a relevant ministry in the community has to involve reassessing and revising, but not abandoning altogether, traditional forms of mission and ministry. My view, at present, is that churches like St John's need both an incoming and outgoing ministry. Incoming ministry involves developing and marketing as broad a set of reasons why people should come to the building as possible. These will include: the vibrancy and welcome of the worship and fellowship (occasional offices will continue to feature here); the range of community activities happening within the building; and development of any other viable draw to the building such as its history or its Arts traditions/works/events. Outgoing ministry would then be about identifying key community issues and initiating a public conversation (through the local press, local authority consulations and forums, and involvement in community networks and organisations) on these issues from a Christian perspective. Involvement in both aspects increases the visibility of the Church within the local community and brings the staff team and congregation into contact and dialogue with as broad a range of local people as possible. Both then enable 'face-to-face' and 'side-by-side' dialogues and activities to be developed.


Sigur Ros - Hoppipolla.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Blensdorf & Bruton

Douglas Learmond, Chairman of Bruton Museum, emailed to say that he had seen my comments on Ernst Blensdorf on the blog and wondered if I was aware there was a major retrospective of his work held by Bruton Museum in Somerset in July last year. Over 30 wooden sculptures, over 60 ceramics and over 90 sketches were in the exhibition - making it by far the largest exhibition of his work.

The museum website was recently hacked into and the images were lost but some will be restored. Since the exhibition Blensdorf's work can be seen in seven sites - church, museum, four schools and one restaurant in Bruton.

Blensdorf arrived in Somerset as a refugee in 1941 to seek employment as a teacher following internment as an “enemy alien” on the Isle of Man. He had been denounced by the Nazis as “degenerate” and driven from his native Germany to Norway. Forced to flee a second time after the German invasion of Norway, Blensdorf eventually settled in Somerset and began to rebuild a new life. Most of his surviving work dates from the thirty-five years he lived in Bruton and much of it was created in elm wood – a medium readily available and affordable.

The exhibition told the dramatic story of this extraordinary artist and, drawing together works from public and private collections, presented the largest collection of his work ever publicly exhibited. The works ranged from monumental pieces such as the larger than lifesize “Abraham’s Sacrifice” (Downside School) to semi – abstract works which exploit the swirling grain of the elm such as “Dance Rhythm” (Southampton City Art Gallery). “Last Work” (Somerset County Museum, Taunton), a poignant, unfinished piece on which Blensdorf worked to within a few days of his death, created from an intractable victim of Dutch Elm Disease, was also on display.

Terracotta maquettes, ceramic pieces and sketches set the sculpture in context and showed the full range of Blensdorf’s highly expressive work from the “totemic” style of his earlier and monumental pieces to the free – flowing, near abstraction of his later work. Blensdorf sculptures can be found in Salisbury Cathedral, Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, Southampton City Art Gallery, Somerset County Museum, St John’s Church, Glastonbury, Downside School, St Mary’s Church, Bruton and Bruton Museum.


Paul Simon - Outrageous.

SKFC Lent Courses 2009

These three … Faith, Hope and Love is the title of this year’s Lent Course chosen by the Seven Kings Fellowship of Churches. The course is based on the three great qualities celebrated in 1 Corinthians 13. This famous passage begins and ends in majestic prose but the middle passage is practical and demanding. St Paul’s thirteen verses take us to the heart of what it means to be a Christian.

The five sessions of this course take us through: Believing and Trusting; The Peace of God; Faith into Love; The Greatest of these; and All shall be well. As we reflect on these topics we will be guided by the participants on the course CD who, this year, are Bishop Tom Wright, Anne Atkins, and Christopher Jamison, the Abbot of Worth Abbey. Dr. David Hope introduces the course and Professor Frances Young provides the Closing Reflections.

There are plenty of opportunities to study this course with others in the Seven Kings Fellowship of Churches as there are four different course venues (at which all are welcome):

The Church Times review of this course said: “This course is very good indeed. Written by John Young, it is the latest in the excellent series of York Courses designed for groups and individuals.”

This year there is also an alternative to the Lent course which may suit film buffs. There will be a series of Lent Film evenings at St John’s Vicarage (2 Regent Gardens IG3 8UL) on Tuesdays at 7.30pm. On these evenings we will watch four controversial portrayals of Jesus’ life and death - ‘The Gospel According to Matthew’ (U) on 3/3; ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ (15) 10/3; ‘Jesus of Montreal’, (18) 17/3; ‘The Passion of the Christ’ (18) 24/3 - before discussing all four films on 31/3.

Film is a very powerful medium for telling the Jesus story and as we reflect on the differing ways in which these films tell that story we are guaranteed to be moved, challenged and uplifted. Whether you choose to watch these Lent films or study the Lent course I pray that that will be your experience as we prepare during Lent to relive and celebrate Jesus’ passion and resurrection at Easter.


Groove Armada Feat. Candi Staton - Love Sweet Sound.