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Thursday, 30 April 2009

Airbrushed from Art History? (1)

One of the books I'm currently reading is Coming Home: Self-Taught Artists, the Bible and the American South which includes an interesting chapter on 'Visualising Faith: Religious Presence and Meaning in Modern and Contemporary American Art'. In it Erika Doss argues that:

"Until recently, issues of religion were largely overlooked in the social and cultural history of twentieth-century American art because of critical misunderstandings of an assumed separation of modernist avant-garde from religious inquiry and of modernism in general from religion."

Doss agrees with art historian Sally Promey that the "Strongest determinant in this "modernist divide" regarding art and religion is the lingering paradigm of the secularisation theory of modernity." In this theory, "religion is viewed as childlike, immature, primitive, and group - or "sect" - oriented" and therefore opposite to modernism which "has been constructed as adult, sophisticated (or complex), innovative, and individualistic - or "self" - oriented."

As a result:

"Works of art that feature religious imagery are often disparaged as coercive forms of religious persuasion and relegated to the category of "religious" art: art that professes a certain faith in the vicinity of the holy - and to persuade nonbelievers of divine authority. As such "religious" art has been less critically engaged with modern art's supposed focus on formal issues and on artistic self-expression and, hence, has been considered "nonmodern" or even "antimodern."

Doss seeks to demonstrate that "issues of faith and spirituality were very much a part of modern art in America as artists of diverse styles and inclinations repeatedly turned to the subjects of religious belief and piety." She cites Henry Ossawa Tanner, Marsden Hartley, Georgia O'Keeffe, Aaron Douglas, Joseph Cornell, Mark Rothko, Mark Tobey, Barnett Newman, Betye Saar, Ana Mendieta, Bill Viola, Lesley Dill, Kiki Smith, Andy Warhol and Ed Kienholz as being "just a few of the twentieth- and twenty-first century American artists who explored the intersections of icongraphy, religious orthodoxy, and issues of faith" not simply by revealing but also negotiating those issues. This is without mentioning the self-taught artists that she also highlights as engaged in the same task.

Essentially, Doss is arguing that religious and/or Christian influences on modern art have been airbrushed out of histories of modern art. What is needed, as Daniel A. Siedell suggests in God in the Gallery, is "an alternative history and theory of the development of modern art, revealing that Christianity has always been present with modern art, nourishing as well as haunting it, and that modern art cannot be understood without understanding its religious and spiritual components and aspirations."

In this series of posts I will aim to highlight at least some of the artists and movements (together with the books that tell their stories) that should feature in that alternative history when it comes to be written.


Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Dealing with disagreements (2)

Homegroups at St John's are continuing (with breaks for our Lent Courses and for Easter) to discuss our own Bible study series entitled 'Dealing with disagreements'.

The homegroup which is documenting their reactions and responses online has finished the section of the study dealing with the current disagreements in the Anglican Communion over homosexuality. The summaries of their discussions can be read here, here and here.

They conclude that:

"We should recognise that there will be a wide range of views about these issues and that it will not be possible or right to try and get a 'St John's' view of these issues. To recognise that people hold views sincerely and at times passionately and that we should respect each other as fellow Christians even as we disagree with each other on this and other issues."


Bob Dylan - I Feel A Change Comin' On.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Dramatic contrasts & stylistic diversity

An evening of dramatic contrasts and stylistic diversity was enjoyed this evening by a select audience at St John's Seven Kings as part of the Redbridge Book and Media Festival.

The evening began and ended with Tim Cunningham (one of the White House poets), whose engaging and amusing anecdotes added to the combination of apposite phrases illuminating everyday encounters that characterised his poetry. The work in his latest volume Kyrie, with poems based on the liturgy, festivals, furnishings of Catholicism, stood out for its sharpness of both form and insight. The title poem is a confession of our lack of insight and faith including:

"For not walking on water when all
It needed was the buoyancy of faith,
Kyrie eleison."

Pater Noster meanwhile explores his relationship with his Grandfather as an analogy for relationship with God before concluding:

"I would jump up on the bar
Of his old Raleigh any day
And listen to his stories

While he pedalled all the way
To an eternal paradise
That I already know by analogy."

In her two slots Naomi Foyle gave acted readings of two ballads and drama was certainly one characteristic of her vibrant celebrations of football, nature, politics and sex. She introduced us to several of her poetic heoines including Anna Akhmatova, Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath. Her work was particularly strong when speaking in character to describe relationships but the poem that left the strongest mark involved the rhythmic repetitions of [and 13 Israelis] /a copyleft poem - pass it on where she instructs:

"Donate an hour of your day
to stand up and demonstrate
peace is a process of learning to listen,
and giving is not 'giving in'."

Ken Champion was an unexpected addition to the night's roster of poets. Born in London’s East End, Ken lectures in sociology and philosophy, and has worked as a decorator, sign writer, mural painter and commercial artist in addition to being a published poet. His dry and nonchalant delivery tended to downplay the wordplay in contrast to that of Cunningham and Foyle but his work was slyly observant and sometimes, as in Interview, surreal.

The evening was made complete, for me at least, in that I was indulged with the opportunity to read three of my poems including Worthship, which can be read by clicking here.

To read examples of Tim Cunningham's work click here, here, here and here. The first of these, Mortuary, was among those read by Tim this evening. For examples of Naomi Foyle's work click here, here, here, and here. The first, Natasha: The Ballad of the Love-Torn Russian Count, was given a dramatic performance by Naomi tonight, complete with drawn-on pencil moustache!


The Blue Aeroplanes - A Map Below.

Windows on the world (51)

Coventry, 2009

Lone Justice - Don't Toss Us Away.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

C4M webpage update (4)

This week's new items on the commission4mission webpage are:


Evanescence- Field Of Innocence.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Blogs & papers

Here's a link to the Church Times piece about the Palm Sunday service and procession that St John's shared with St Paul's Goodmayes. In a piece about the service and procession in the Ilford Recorder, Fr. Ben Rutt-Field said it reminded him of of festival processions that he had seen while on sabbatical in Japan.

I commented recently on Nick Baines' blog about the value of these kinds of stories in the local press saying:

"My experience, in a short spell of ordained ministry, is that if you give the local press stories regularly they will be used and won’t be significantly changed in the telling.

This means, at a local level, that it is possible to tell good news stories about Christianity that therefore challenge the more negative impressions that people pick up more generally from the national media.

Taking the time to do this (and it doesn’t involve a great deal of time) is, I think, something that Christian leaders should be encouraged and trained to do. This is, of course, dependent on an issue that you raised in an earlier blog; the extent to which local newspapers can survive the recession."

Philip Ritchie's blog got a mention this week in the Church of England Newspaper with a factual listing of his most frequent topics each beginning with the letter 'f'.


Neal Morse - Lifeline.


Emmaus mosaic by John Piper

Crucifixion by Ruzkowski at St Paul's Harlow

The Rooks by Betty Swanwick in the Gibberd Gallery

Family Group by Henry Moore

As a result of a commission4mission meeting in Harlow I have had the opportunity to see a little of the art that is on public view in the town.
Harlow is a town designed and built after the Second World War, entirely master-planned by the late Sir Frederick Gibberd and in possession of the largest municipal collection of post-war sculpture in Britain.
Founded in 1953 by Gibberd, the Harlow Art Trust is one of Britain's leading regional arts organisations. Over the past fifty years it has built up a remarkable collection of sculptures by some of the leading names in modern and contemporary art, that attracts visitors to Harlow from all over the world.
To walk around the centre of Harlow is to experience a large-scale open-air art museum. In it you can see work by Auguste Rodin, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Ralph Brown, Lynn Chadwick, Lee Grandjean, Elizabeth Frink and many others.
The Trust also runs the Gibberd Art Gallery in Harlow, which is home to a major collection of watercolour paintings and drawing by British modern masters, including Graham Sutherland, John Piper, Elizabeth Blackadder, Prunella Clough, Betty Swanwick and others. The Gallery is also the location for a series of temporary exhibitions, some by local artists and art groups, and others by nationally and internationally-renowned artists.
The Trust continues to purchase and commission new sculpture and other works of art from new and established artists, and whenever possible sites these in publicly-accessible areas of Harlow for everyone to enjoy.
My meeting was with Martin Harris, Rector of St Paul's Harlow, and Roman Vasseur, who is the lead artist working with the partners regenerating the market quarter of Harlow. Vasseur is formulating a strategy for the integration of art into the regeneration process and the future life of the town.
His programme began with a number of contemporary art commissions in Harlow titled ‘Art and the new town’ Let us pray for those Now Residing in the Designated Area. The title came from the beginning of the dedication prayer used when Harlow was created. St Paul's Harlow (designed by Humphrys and Hurst and including the first mural by John Piper) was among the venues used by Vasseur for this programme.
The Style Council - Come To Milton Keynes.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Going to Coventry

The Stackyard by Paul Nash

Base of Graham Sutherland's
Christ in Glory in the Tetramorph at Coventry Cathedral

Paul Hill's Christ Stripped with John Piper's Baptistry Window at Coventry Cathedral in the background

Ecce Homo By Jacob Epstein

Reconciliation by Josephina de Vasconcellos
These are photos of some of the art that I saw last week on a visit to Coventry. The Paul Nash can be found at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, recently reopened after a £20 million redevelopment. Their collection also includes works by other Neo Romantics including John Minton, John Piper and Graham Sutherland.
Sutherland and Piper were, of course, among those commissioned by Sir Basil Spence, to produce works for the 'new' Coventry Cathedral, for which he was architect. The Cathedral is currently hosting an exhibition called 'The Cross, the Resurrection and the Shroud of Turin' which features a modern retelling of the Stations of the Cross called Jesus on the Cross Road by artist Paul Hill, from Castle Vale in Birmingham.

The 'old' Cathedral also contains several significant artworks including Jacob Epstein's Ecce Homo, which captures the sense of Christ setting his face like flint towards Jerusalem, and Josephina de Vasconcellos' Reconciliation, which has become something of an international icon with versions in the Peace Park in Hiroshima, at the Berlin Wall, in the grounds of Stormont Castle, Northern Ireland and at Bradford University, in addition to Coventry.
Corinne Bailey Rae - Like A Star.

FiLE & G20 responses

Faith leaders have fed in their distinctive perspectives on the issues discussed by the recent G20, and outlined their possible contributions in forming a response to it.

Among those faith contributions appearing on the London Summit website is the 'Shared Faiths response to the Credit Crunch' prepared by FiLE. Click here to find the webpage for the Faith debate including the FiLE response and other faith-based contributions.

FiLE's 'Shared Response' will also feature in the next edition of the 'Faith in Business Quarterly'.


Steve Earle, Gillian Welch, David Rawlings - Sin City.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Lyricism with a twist of humour

Enjoy an evening of poetic contrasts in the company of internationally renowned poets Tim Cunningham and Naomi Foyle at St John's Seven Kings (St Johns Road, Seven Kings, Ilford, IG2 7BB) on Monday 27th April from 7.00pm. Tickets cost £2.00 (available on the door). This evening of poetry is part of the Redbridge Book & Media Festival.

Lyricism with a twist of Irish humour can be found at the heart of the poems of Limerick born Tim Cunningham. Naomi has a background in theatre and her poems cut straight to the drama of the human experience.

Tim Cunningham's latest collection is entitled Kyrie. Reviews of his previous collections include:
  • “Tim Cunningham is at his best rewriting myths and parables . . . . He’s also at his best when his quirky imagination takes off from the documentation of actuality. . . . I liked these, often shorter, poems, and the book adds up to a good sense of the co-existence of past and present.” Herbert Lomas, Ambit
  • “This is sensitive, assured writing.” Susan Burns, The North
  • “. . . The poet of good endings becomes a poet you can’t put down ... He writes tenderly about the human condition: his consistently generous attitude to experience is not sentimental, just refreshingly positive ... the wisdom of a grown-up poet – without any of the callow pretensions of youth, it has all of youth’s enthusiasm.” R.V. Bailey, Envoi
Naomi Foyle was born in London and grew up in Liverpool, and Saskatchewan, Canada. She currently lives in Brighton, UK, where she works as a poetry tutor and is completing a Creative Writing PhD. Her debut collection, The Night Pavilion (Waterloo Press), was an Autumn 2008 Poetry Book Society Recommendation.


The Blue Aeroplanes - And Stones.

Anticipating Pentecost

There was a real diversity of nationalities present and of languages spoken in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit enabled the believers in Jerusalem to engage with the diversity that they found in Jerusalem. As the believers were filled with the Holy Spirit they all began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them. The Holy Spirit embraced the diversity of Jerusalem and gave the believers the tools they needed to communicate in and through that diversity.

But those diversities – of nationality and language – aren’t the only diversities mentioned. In explaining what God is doing at that time in Jerusalem, Peter speaks about a diversity of age and gender. Look at the passage that he quotes from the Book of Joel in Acts 2. 17-21 – there we find the Holy Spirit being poured out on everyone, young and old, men and women, so that all see visions, dream dreams and proclaim God’s message. This diversity of nations, languages, ages and genders speaks to us of the gates of heaven being flung open enabling all peoples to come in. Pentecost is the sign that God was pouring his Spirit on everyone and that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Now think about our situation here in Seven Kings and in London. Doesn’t it seem similar to the situation in Jerusalem? It certainly is if you think about the history of London. London has always been one of the world's great cosmopolitan cities. Throughout history, people have come from every continent and corner of the globe to live, to visit, and to mix. Today the city brings together more than 50 ethnic communities of 10,000 or more people. More than 70 different national cuisines are available and a staggering 300 different languages are spoken. That same diversity of ethnicities and language is also here in Seven Kings just as in London. The world is right here in Seven Kings and in London just as it was in Jerusalem.

Just as, at Pentecost, God poured out his Spirit on old and young, men and women, so we see a diversity to our congregation here at St John’s and also among the Churches of Redbridge. That diversity is given to us so that we can proclaim the message of God to people of every ethnicity, age, gender, disability, sexuality and religion. And we need the Holy Spirit’s power, gifts and enabling to make that happen.

As the Early Church grew and as God’s message spread there were people who tried to restrict this wonderful new diversity. In the same way today, there are those in our society, like the BNP, who want to place restrictions on this diversity. The BNP are currently trying to convince people that they are persecuted like Christ. This is the ultimate irony because their message is the absolute reverse of all that Jesus taught and lived out in his ministry and death. In the coming European elections we must clearly reject the racist policies of the far-right in order to reflect and live in the diversity of Pentecost.

The Bishop of Barking says:

"On Saturday 7th March at the Chelmsford Diocesan Synod the strongest message possible was delivered to the residents of Essex and East London. We will not tolerate racist politics from the British National Party or any other party. We will co-operate with all organisation intent on ridding our society of racism. We call upon our major political parties to do all in their powers to address the social issues which provoke voters to vote for the BNP. We are proud to be members of the one human race with all its ethnic diversity which contributes to our rich and varied society."

For more on the Chelmsford Diocesan Synod resolution click here. Ekklesia reports that:

"UK Churches have issued an election pack, highlighting the threat posed by the BNP and urging community mobilisation to combat extremist parties ahead of the European Elections.

It comes after advertisements were produced by the BNP which featured Jesus Christ. There have been ongoing efforts by the racist party over the last few years to mobilise support around ‘defending Christian Britain.’

A briefing from the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church highlights the ‘importance of citizenship’ and urges Christians to vote.
A new toolkit has also been produced by the three churches specifically ‘to help equip and affirm local church leaders to take action to counter far-right and racist politics’.

Methodist President, the Rev Stephen Poxon said: “Voting isn’t just a right - it is a privilege that carries great responsibility. A high turnout at the ballot box is good for democracy and society and will make it harder for extremist parties to succeed.

“The European Union directly influences many aspects of our lives,” added the Rev John Marsh, Moderator of the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church. “The European Parliament is the only EU body elected by its citizens, and it is a powerful and important legislature for all 27 member countries.”

The Rev Jonathan Edwards, General Secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, said, “The toolkit for local church leaders is designed to help equip ministers and lay people alike with ideas and information about what they can do to counter racist politics. The appropriation of Christian language and imagery by the BNP is deeply offensive – we need churches across Britain to live out a faith that is open and inclusive, rooted in a commitment to love our neighbours as we love ourselves.”

The briefing and toolkit are available online at"


The Specials - Doesn't Make It Alright.

Windows on the world (50)

London, 2009

Hockey - Song Away.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Windows on the world - Bewdley & Coventry

Flying Burrito Brothers - Wheels.

C4M webpage update (3)

This week on the commission4mission webpage you can find information about a Veritasse exhibition at Chichester Cathedral which will feature Harvey Bradley, among others, together with a profile of commission4mission's founder and Chair, Henry Shelton.


Duke Special - Portrait.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Windows on the world (49)


Bruce Cockburn - Wondering Where The Lions Are.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

MiLE Gospel Reflection - Mark 16. 1-8

This is my Easter Sunday Gospel Reflection for the MiLE website:

Resurrection involves transformation. The good news of Easter Day is that Jesus is alive with a transformed body. That transformation means that Jesus’ project to transform the world, the kingdom of God, has been launched and will happen. Accordingly, his disciples are transformed from fearful beings to those who will go to the whole world with this transformative good news.

Work is also about transformation. Christian Schumacher has argued that all work involves a death and resurrection transformation. This is most obvious in physical processes such as the iron and steel industry where rock deposits are transformed into steel ingots but it is also true of services such as health or education where the transformations made involve wellness and wisdom. The key is to identify the central transformation and structure the work around that change.

Truly transformative work not only mirrors Christ’s death and resurrection but becomes part of the new creation that Christ’s resurrection begins.

Prayer: May your resurrection transform not only our lives but also our ways of working that we might share with you in seeing a transformed world – the kingdom of God – come. Amen.


Creed - My Sacrifice.

C4M website update

This week on the commission4mission website we have posted the following:


The Call - Tore The Old Place Down.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Good Friday children's activity morning

Easter Egg hunt

Cake making

Easter gardens

Easter bookmarks & cards

Painted egg cups, tiles & pebbles
After a morning of Easter-themed craft activities, we talked with the children about the events of Good Friday using an illustration of a cross decorated with symbols representing different parts of the Passion narrative. Such crosses can be found in homes and churches in the French Alps. The symbols included on the cross were: coin; cockeral; whip; hand; hammer, nails, ladder and pincers; INRI sign; goblet and sponge on a stick; dice; sun and moon; Ten Commandments; and a heart. Are you able to identify which parts of the Passion narrative these images symbolise?


The Painted Word (2)

The Painted Word is a wonderful survey of the Biblical paintings that have been John Reilly's life’s work with the Biblical and other references included revealing both sources of inspiration and the reality that these paintings are explorations of meaning and not illustrations of the passages cited.

The book’s title could suggest illustration but needs, I think, to be understood in the sense that icons are written. Reilly's paintings work as contemporary icons opening windows onto the unity of the material, emotional, intellectual and spiritual that characterises life and our world in their fullest senses.

The most impressive aspect of his paintings is that the unitive vision which characterises his works is revealed through colour and form rather than by content. The imagery of each work is enmeshed in the patterns and harmonies that reveal the way in which all that is depicted is linked in the light emanating from the central source which symbolises God himself.

Examples of Reilly's work can be seen here and here.


Paweł Łukaszewski - Kolęda Bóg Człowiek.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Faith & Art societies

Christian Arts is an ecumenical society of Christian artists in Britain formed over forty years ago, and affiliated to the Société Internationale des Artistes Chrétiens (SIAC) which supports Christian arts events in many countries. They are a sister society to the Society of Catholic Artists (SCA). Christian Arts' diverse membership is drawn from painters, sculptors, ceramicists, book and textile artists and craftspeople from all over the country.

S.I.A.C. is an international association of Christian artists; artists who work to Christian themes, for liturgical spaces and/or who live and work according to Christian values. S.I.A.C. seeks to bring together artists of many nationalities and backgrounds to share experiences and grow in mutual understanding. S.I.A.C. is an association open to creative artists of all disciplines – poets, composers, photographers, visual artists and writers among others. It is an independent, membership led organisation.

The Society of Catholic Artists is for those engaged as professional or amateurs in the various disciplines of the visual arts, and for all those who recognise the value of the artist as an evangelist assisting in the pastoral work of the Church. Their membership includes painters, stone and metal sculptors, architects, stained glass artists, silversmiths, potters, iconographers, and more. The SCA, which was founded in 1929 as part of the centenary celebrations for Catholic emancipation in Britain, was originally known as the Guild of Catholic Artists and Craftsmen. Membership is open not only to practising Catholic artists, and artists with Catholic affiliations, but also all Catholics interested in the visual arts.

CHURCHart exists to encourage artists, congregations, and those involved in the care of churches to foster and engage the arts in the life of the church.

Art and Sacred Places celebrates and encourages the interaction of art and religion by commissioning artists to make work in sacred places. While exploring and illuminating the relationship between contemporary art and spirituality, it finds new audiences for art and challenging new spaces for artists.

Faith and the Arts was developed to keep arts professionals and educators informed about relevant issues related to religion in their work. The website provides access to research papers, editorials, opinion, news coverage, case studies and event listings exploring the relationship between art and faith.


Switchfoot - Dare You To Move.

Faith-shaped art or Art-shaped faith?

The Times has had an interesting Holy Week series on Christianity and the Arts. Rachel Campbell-Johnston wrote about contemporary art and Christianity noting that:

"the irreverent subversion of religion ... [by] our home-grown Brit-pack ... does not mean that religion and art are growing apart. Rather, it could almost be taken as a mark of respect. The principle that these subversive artists work upon is simple: the bigger the tree that you fell the more striking will be the crash when it falls."

The edition on Music and Easter featured an interview with James MacMillan. Crucifixion and Resurrection are MacMillan said, “the most important days in human history": “The Passion is about why God wanted to interrupt human history and let Himself be known through His Son ... As a believing artist you revisit the implications of those days constantly." As a result, his music is “very much shaped” by his world view and Catholic faith.

In looking for these links I also came across Indian Artist Paul B:

"Self-taught, for Paul B, painting has always been instinctual, an intuitive manifestation of his essence, efficaciously mirroring his soul, breathing life into the wondrous reflections of his unfettered spirit. Paul B has an insatiable zest for new experiences and hence his inspiration is manifold, drawing from an eclectic palette that transcends cultures and beliefs, the traditional and the contemporary - notably nature, classical Indian & Russian icons and Christian art."

Born to a family with a long line of Protestant priests and educated in the very Catholic Don Bosco school, Mumbai, Paul’s influences are deeply religious but, despite this, the emergence of Christian icongraphy in his art was initially a surprise:

“For me, given my background and education, I didn’t realise how much I was bombarded with Christian iconography until it began to emerge in my art. But it was after a lot of soul searching, questioning norms – why was it a priest had the power to tell a congregation what to do and not to do for instance – that I’ve found a spirituality that works for me – it’s called humanity.”


Aretha Franklin- Walk In The Light.

News from Wallspace

News from Wallspace:

Last chance to see 189 Miles Wool installation by Angela Wright - This has been a great experience and is coming to an end on Monday 13th April, come and take the opportunity to see it over this bank holiday! We're open 11am - 4pm. Over 600 people have come to see the work so far, here are a few of their responses:
  • Impressive work. Impressive setting.
  • Lovely to see light and shade passing across the work.
  • I must admit it was my first time visiting the space and I thought Angela Wright’s installation was just excellent – really worked in harmony with the space, remarkably avoiding any overt religious symbolism which I found fascinating. Beautiful work, and I sincerely hope to visit Wallspace again in the future!
  • I LOVE Angela’s piece, found it mesmerizing and fantastical, desperate to touch and stroke it, took supreme effort to leave it alone. Images of Rapunzel, Miss Haversham, and Gabriel kept coming to mind! Ultimately, felt it was about ‘grace’ in some strange way.
Next Exhibition: VISIONAIRIES working in the margins (May 19 – June 11 2009) - An exhibition of works and performance by artists on the edge – visionary artists whose work is set outside or on the fringes of cultural institutions, often offering a trenchant critique of culture.

Visionaries brings together artists working in this honourable and challenging tradition; essentially those who explore with passion the territories of the spiritual, the religious and the human condition.

The exhibition will include works by Stanley Spencer and Cecil Collins of the twentieth century, mid-twentieth-century paintings by Norman Adams, Albert Herbert and Anthony Goble, later painters such as Peter Howson, Clive Hicks-Jenkins and Brian Whelan, and twenty-first-century artists such as the Chapman brothers, Billy Childish and Adam Neate.

The visionary tradition can also be confrontational – evoking the anger and stridency of the prophetic voice throughout history. The artist can be the outsider, the 'voice crying in the wilderness', the holy fool. For this reason, the exhibition includes performance artists whose work references this rich tradition.

The exhibition, curated by Wallspace will be on show at All Hallows from 19 May to 11 June. It will then travel to Greenbelt Arts Festival, at Cheltenham Racecourse, August Bank Holiday weekend, 25 to 31 August.


Lou Reed & Victoria Williams - Tarbelly & Featherfoot.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

The suffering God (3)

To conclude I shall explore some of the implications for understanding the place of suffering and evil in God’s world that derive from understanding the relationship with God as one within which suffering can be protested and where our relationship is with a God who himself suffers.

First, protest within relationship implies freedom (2 Cor. 3: 6 & 17). Relationship with God cannot therefore simply involve unquestioning obedience and, were this to be the case, then God could be served just as well be automatons. Relationship with God must then be something freely entered into and freely maintained. This has important consequences for our understanding of evil in God’s world. For human beings to have this freedom requires an ‘epistemic distance’ from God which appears to have been achieved through biological evolution.

Biological evolution, however, brings the twin issues of becoming - an evolving world contains imperfections, which are, or result in, natural evils - and selfishness - development through the ‘survival of the fittest’. Left to their own devices these two would seem to hopelessly bias humanity against relationship with God but they are counter-balanced by the order within the universe and by cultural evolution which is predicated on co-operation not opposition, leaving human beings living with free will within a deterministic framework. This freedom does not just apply to our ability to choose or reject relationship with God but also to what happens within relationship as well. After all, as Christians we believe that the truth/Christ sets us free for freedom.

This leads on to the second implication, that protest within relationship implies intimacy (2 Cor. 3: 7 – 18). Such freedom to argue, berate, converse, debate, discuss, and protest within relationship can only occur where there is trust and long-term commitment. Between human beings this occurs most clearly within marriage relationships where we can choose to become naked in both our bodies and our thoughts. This is one reason why marriage imagery is often used of the relationship between God and his people.

The most significant learning that occurs within human lives occurs by observation, action and discussion within relationships, firstly within our birth families and then within relationships of choice. It is no different in relationship with God, within this intimacy we can observe, discuss and imitate in naked honesty. It is this pattern that we see in the lives of those who come closest to God - Abraham, Moses, David, Jeremiah, Job and, supremely, Jesus. Within this intimate relationship it is possible to become like God, learning a way of life that is counter to the selfish determination of biological evolution.

The third implication then, is of maturity (2 Cor. 3: 18). Growth occurs within relationships that contain the freedom and intimacy that we have examined. This growth, which is growth in partnership with God, is what God has offered humanity from day one of consciousness. It is pictured in the creation stories in the imagery of ruling in God’s image, tending the Garden at God’s request and naming the animals that God brings. It is the privilege of developing further the world that God has made, through the selfless imagination of the possibilities inherent in each aspect of creation, until it reaches its full perfection. It is growth that is individual, cultural and cosmic. It is this, towards which the choosing of Israel and the giving of the Law lead.

It is appropriate then that it is the one to whom the Law leads who, through his life as a divine-human Jew, his suffering and his rising again, opens up the possibility of entering into this partnership relationship with God for all once again. A possibility that is only achieved through the self-emptying and suffering of God leading to the awareness that those entering in to this free, intimate, maturing partnership to perfect creation will follow where God has led and themselves accept and embrace suffering (2 Cor. 4: 7 – 12).

Finally, there is the implication of an eschatological resolution to the problem of suffering and evil in God’s world (2 Cor. 4: 16 – 18):

“... God has ordained a world that contains evil - real evil - as a means to the creation of the infinite good of a Kingdom of Heaven within which His creatures will have 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.” (John Hick)

Again, this is a perception that is common to both Christians and Jews and one that is seen by Jews such Cohn-Sherbok as providing “an answer to the religious perplexities of the Holocaust”. “The promise of immortality offers,” he suggests, “a way of reconciling the belief in a loving and just God with the nightmare of the death camps”.


Johnny Cash - Redemption.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Northwood & Northwood Hills stns

Jesus falls for the first time by year 6 pupils from Hillside Juniors.
Your face, set like flint,
set towards Jerusalem,
bears the mark of the cross.
You carry the cross
in the resolution
written on
your features.
Death is the choice,
the decision,
the destiny,
in the blood,
sweat and tears
secreted from
your face
in prayerful questions,
prophetic grief,
pain-full acceptance,
as you
for the
first time.

Simon helps Jesus carry his cross by ‘Edify’ (a group of local inter-church youth)

Take up your cross:
accept and use
your suffering and pain;
become a servant -
wash the feet of others;
give yourself
for the benefit of others;
don’t walk by on the other side;
give away your shirt and coat;
go the extra mile;
turn the other cheek;
love your enemies;
do good to those that hate you;
love God
with heart, mind,
soul and strength;
love others
as you love yourself.
Take up your cross.

Jesus falls for the second time by students from RNIB Sunshine House School.

Gravity pulls at your head.
Sweating blood,
whether this cup can be taken from you.
Not your will, God’s will.

Gravity pulls at your shoulders.
Red raw,
wicked wood
splintering in lacerations.
Weight of wood pressing down.

Gravity pulls at your legs
having walked
the length and breath of the country,
having knelt
in prayer in Gethsemene,
having stood
while beaten and whipped.
Gravity pulls you down.

Jesus meets women of Jerusalem by a local family.

Do not weep for me.
I go to prepare a place
for you to wait
in my Father’s courts.
I go to reveal a temple
not made with human hands.
I go to return and bring
the Holy City
from heaven
to earth;
God’s home with
humankind –
no death, no grief
or crying or pain,
tears wiped away,
the healing of the nations.
Do not weep for me
but pray.
Pray for the kingdom come,
on earth
as it is in heaven
for I go to reveal the Temple
as it has always existed –
the creation and human story;
His story.

Weep only for yourselves.
For the foot of human pride
will soon descend
as the armies of the Empire of power
ring this city
to crush this Temple
and destroy.
How terrible for mothers
in the violence
of those days;
it would be better
for children not to be
than to suffer
in the killing fields.
Cry for yourselves
and for your children,
cry for the mountains
to fall and hide you,
for the terror
inflicted by
the Empires of power
will be great.

Jesus dies on the cross by Miriam Kendrick

Death comes in an agony of mind:
questioning whether the cup could be withdrawn;
forsakenness experienced within your very self;
normality faced as the last temptation.

Death comes in an agony of relations:
deserted by those who had followed;
betrayed by one who was your friend;
forsaken by God, your loving Father.

Death comes in an agony of body:
evaporation of fluids in wilderness heat;
steady drip of lifeblood from lacerations and wounds;
suffocating angle of body pinned to wicked wood.

Death comes in finality.
“It is finished”;
agony ended,
purpose fulfilled.

Today I went to Northwood and Northwood Hills to see their community art stations which explore some of the events in the final hours of Jesus' life. As with last year's Hertford stns project, these artworks are also accompanied by my meditations on the fourteen Stations of the Cross.
The artwork has been produced by local artists and community groups and includes photographic pieces, drapes, paintings, metal sculpture and collage. Each station is also accompanied by an explanation from the artist(s). The concept for Miriam Kendrick's Jesus dies on the cross was of particular interest as it explored through imagery of the crucifixion on TV the idea that we are disconnected and detached from the reality of his death.
As there is less involvement from established artists and artist-led workshops in this project, the artworks have much more of a community feel with youth groups, local families or friends and schools, as well as churches all producing and hosting artworks. Occasionally, this means that the depth of emotion in the Passion narrative is not fully tapped, with the Year 2 children at Hillside Infants, for example, producing a lovely piece that is understandably (because of their age) more about Mothering Sunday than Good Friday. Overall though, the broad community involvement means that this is genuinely a project in which the Passion is being explored and owned by the wider community and not just by the Church community.
Particularly strong works included: Simon helps Jesus carry his cross a fabric work by ‘Edify’ which uses the footprints of group members to form a cross; Jesus falls for the second time in which the crown of thorns has been created using discarded medical equipment used by students from the RNIB Sunshine House School and transfigured into a thing of beauty be being sprayed gold; Jesus meets women of Jerusalem which uses photos of a great grandmother, grandmother, mothers and daughters to question the legacy passed down through the generations; and Jesus is stripped by Martin Wilson where close up shots of a branch form the words 'I was naked and you clothed me.'
Throughout my walk around these stations I crossed paths with a group from Holy Trinity Northwood who were also walking the stations. We finally talked at the 11th station where they said how much they had appreciated the meditations as well as the artworks. Each one, they said, had given a fresh take on Christ's Passion.
The stations remain in location until 10th April and then will be gathered together at Fairfield, the home of Northwood Evangelical Church, for viewing on the 11th and 12th April.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Palm Sunday procession (2)

Starting out at St Pauls Goodmayes

Blessing of Palm Crosses at Westwood Recreation Ground

With Fr. Ben and Charlie the donkey in Westwood Recreation Ground

Processing along Meads Lane

The procession was greeted by the congregation of the United Free Church
Palm Sunday in Seven Kings saw a congregation of 130 process from St Pauls Goodmayes to St Johns Seven Kings accompanied by a donkey and children dressed as disciples.

This Palm Sunday procession was the first in a series of events organised by St Pauls and St Johns as part of the Deanery Vision for Redbridge which sees neighbouring parishes sharing more closely together in future.

The two congregations gathered at St Pauls for the opening part of the service liturgy before lining up to process to Westwood Recreation Ground where palm crosses were blessed and the Gospel read.

The procession was led by the children and Charlie the donkey followed by the joint choirs of St Pauls and St Johns leading hymn singing. Local people came out of homes, shops and churches to see and greet the procession as it passed by.

From Westwood Recreation Ground, the procession moved down Meads Lane to St Johns for Holy Communion and the refreshments which followed the service.

In our press release about the procession I said, “The original Palm Sunday featured a joyful procession as Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a colt and the people praised God and spread cloaks and palms on the ground. The service and procession were a joyful celebration for us and, we hope, a visible act of witness to our community.”

Fr. Benjamin Rutt-Field, parish priest of St Paul's Goodmayes, said, "It reminded me of my 3 month Sabbatical in Japan last year, where the indigenous faiths of Shinto and Buddhism celebrate their festivals with joyful and colorful processions, conveying to the whole multi-faith community, something of what they personally believe in and why it is important to them."
Godspell - Beautiful City.

Windows on the world (48)

Chelmsford, 2009

Zbigniew Preisner - Van den Budenmayer Concerto en Mi Mineur.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Prayer for peace in Sri Lanka

On Saturday evening at St Johns Seven Kings we held a time of prayer for peace in Sri Lanka together with friends from the Tamil Church in East London. Our aim was to stand alongside our Tamil brothers and sisters locally in their anguish at the bloodshed occuring within their country.

As part of this time of prayer we viewed powerpoint slides and a dvd clip giving brief background details to the current crisis. Over the past 60 years:
  • more than 100,000 Tamils killed and disappeared;
  • more than 20,000 Tamil orphaned children;
  • more than 35,000 Tamil widows;
  • hundreds of thousands of schools, houses, hospitals, churches, temples, villages and livelihoods destroyed;
  • more than 600,000 Tamils internal refugees; and
  • nearly 1 million Tamils made to flee the country.
After the Election of President Rajapakse there has been an escalation of violence by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces and Government sponsored Paramilitary. The Sri Lankan Government has de-merged the Tamil Homeland in the North-East of the country and unilaterally abrogated the Ceasefire Agreement from January 16, 2008. The Sri Lanka government is intensifying a full scale war on the Tamil Homeland to impose a military solution and calling it a “War on Terror.” There is no credible political solution under discussion by the Sri Lankan government.

Tamil civilians are being targeted through disappearances, daily aerial bombings, road-side bombs, shelling, and extra-judicial killing. Over 5,000 Tamils have been killed since the election and an average of 57 Tamils are being killed daily.

Yesterday, an informative article on the current situation - Traumatised Tamils live in fear of new crackdown in Sri Lanka - was published in The Observer.

In our service we prayed the following prayer:

The weight of grief bears heavily upon us
but it is a load we need not bear alone.
Let us offer our burden to Jesus,
Lord of life and of death,
of the present and of the future.

We bring before you, Lord,
our confusion in the face of shock,
our despair in the face of tragedy,
our helplessness in the face of death.
Lift from us our burden,
and in your power, renew us.

We bring before you, Lord,
the tears of sorrow,
the cries for help,
the vulnerability of pain.
Lift from us our burden,
and in your power, renew us.

We bring before you, Lord,
our sense of frustration,
our feeling of powerlessness,
our fears for the future.
Lift from us our burden,
and in your power, renew us.

We bring before you, Lord,
our frustrated hopes,
our unfulfilled desires,
our unfettered sadness.
Lift from us our burden,
and in your power, renew us.

God of the desolate and despairing, your Son Jesus Christ
was forced to carry the instrument of his own death -
the cross that became for us the source of life and healing.
Transform us in our suffering
that in the pain we bear you might be for us
a fount of life and a spring of hope;
through him who died for us,
yet is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever.


Marvin Gaye - What's Going On / What's Happening Brother.

Palm Sunday procession & sermon

Jesus had a marvellous way of subverting people’s expectations. He did it when he called on the one without sin to cast the first stone. He did it when he their Master served the disciples by washing their feet. And he did it in this story too. He turned the expectations of the people around him upside down.

Some people at the time expected him, if he really was Israel’s Messiah or King, to lead an armed rebellion against their Roman oppressors. As his ministry had gone on these people had begun pressing him to declare his hand and make it crystal clear whether he was the one to lead this armed rebellion or not.

Jesus chose this moment – the one that we heard about in our Gospel reading today - to declare his hand but not in the way that those people expected. Instead of coming into Jerusalem as a warrior King on a war-horse leading an army he came unarmed and riding on a donkey.

In doing so, he was pointing all those who knew the Hebrew scriptures well to a passage in Zechariah which says this:

“Rejoice, rejoice, people of Zion!
Shout for joy, you people of Jerusalem!
Look, your king is coming to you!
He comes triumphant and victorious,
but humble and riding on a donkey –
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
The Lord says,
“I will remove the war-chariots from Israel
and take the horses from Jerusalem;
the bows used in battle will be destroyed.
Your king will make peace among the nations;
he will rule from sea to sea,
from the River Euphrates to the ends of the earth.”
(Zechariah 9: 9 & 10)

By entering Jerusalem in this way, Jesus is making it crystal clear that he is the King, the Messiah, that the people were expecting but also that he will not be the kind of King or Messiah that they were expecting.

He does not come as the warrior King who will destroy Israel’s enemies or oppressors. Under his rule the only things to be destroyed are weapons themselves – the war-chariots, war-horses and bows that this passage speaks about.

Instead, he turns the expectations of him on their head. He comes as the King of Peace not as the Warrior King. He comes as the King who humbles himself by riding on the lowest, poorest form of transport – a colt, the foal of a donkey – not as the King who exalts himself on the largest, fastest steed. Later on he was to wash his disciples’ feet as a way of saying that peace comes through service. And he was prepared to sacrifice all, including his own life, in order to serve his enemies by saving them.

Some time after Jesus’ death and resurrection the Apostle Paul explained in his letter to the Ephesians how Jesus had made peace among the nations. He said: “Christ himself has brought us peace by making Jews and Gentiles one people. With his own body he broke down the wall that separated them and kept them enemies. He abolished the Jewish Law with its commandments and rules, in order to create out of the two races one new people in union with himself, in this way making peace. By his death on the cross Christ destroyed their enmity; by means of the cross he united both races into one body and brought them back to God.” (Ephesians 2: 14-16)

Instead of destroying the enemies of Israel as some expected, Jesus came to love his enemies and unite them with his own people, making peace. Paul then goes further to say that there are no distinctions either between slaves and free, between men and women, or between those thought of as civilised and those thought of as barbarians, all are one in Christ. The implication is that there are no barriers, no divisions, that should separate, for all can be one in Christ.

We are called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus by being peacemakers in our homes, communities and workplaces. Just as Jesus did the reverse of what people expected, by loving those who were thought of as the enemies of his people and sacrificing himself in order to bring those two groups together, so we need to do the same in relation to the divisions we experience in our time. Church needs to be a place and space in which we reverse people’s expectations by living and demonstrating Jesus’ embrace of all.

The Church hasn’t always had a great track record of doing this. The Crusades, the Inquisition, the Slave Trade, for example, all seem to have been the reverse of what Jesus did. We need to show real sorrow over that history and the effect that it still has in certain parts of the world today. But there have also been great examples from the Church, even in our own lifetimes, of people like Martin Luther King, Oscar Romero, Mother Teresa and Desmond Tutu who have tried to follow much more closely in Jesus’ footsteps.

We need to learn from the example of these people so that we can become a people who reveal Jesus in our world by following where he led in turning people’s expectations upside down and sacrificing ourselves in order to bring peace between all people regardless of any distinctions. Jesus is the great peacemaker and we follow him by being peacemakers in our homes, communities and workplaces and by creating Church as a place where people of all races and backgrounds and situations can meet as one.


The Staple Singers - I'll Take You There.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

The Painted Word

The Veritasse Friends Newsletter has information on a new book entitled, The Painted Word - Paintings by John Reilly:

"Many people will be familiar with the paintings of John Reilly through exhibitions in cathedrals and churches, art centres and galleries throughout the south of England.

His subtle and jewel-like colours and his use of geometric patterning are immediately recognisable and captivating. Figures appear to be part of the pattern of the painting, yet stand out from it with grace and eloquence. His works, painted in oils, depict a modern take on the timeless stories of the Old and New Testaments. The paintings give the Bible themes a new relevance for today's world.

The works reproduced in the book are A4 size and in full colour. They are accompanied by the Bible passages that inspired them.

The book is published by Cross Publishing at £19.95 and is available in most Isle of Wight book shops or directly from John Reilly. Those wishing to have the book sent to them will pay an additional £2 in postage, for UK addresses. For further details, email:"

I first came across Reilly's work many years ago while on holiday in the Isle of Wight when I saw some prints of his paintings and a book of his wife Jill's poetry in a local shop. I was so impressed with his work that I found where he lived and went to visit on spec. He was kind enough to welcome me and show me some of his works from that period.

What I loved about his work then and still love now is his unitive vision. Using lessons, it seems to me, learnt from Orphism and Rayonism he constructs patterns of rippling rays emanating from a central source of light. Within this structure he sets objects and figures composed of abstract shapes and colours that are indicative of their spiritual qualities. So, for example, a rock-like formation, an animal, a human figure and a plant shape can all be held together, underpinned, in eternal circulation by the central point, which may be seen both as a pictorial device structuring a work of beauty and as symbolic of God.

In Universal Power - The Fourth Day of Creation (one of the prints I initially purchased) he shows us a snapshot of creation, of the first reconciliation of shape and form. As abstract shapes spiral out from the central point they again coalesce into those same fundamental, elemental shapes of bird, plant and human life.

Reilly has written of his work:

"My paintings are not concerned with the surface appearance of people or things but try to express something of the fundamental spiritual reality behind this surface appearance. I try to express in visible form the oneness and unity of this invisible power, binding all things into one whole."


Evan Dando - Frying Pan.

The suffering God (2)

Thomas Weinandy has identified three arguments within twentieth century Christian theology for the suffering of God:
  • God suffers in himself: the incarnation was the consequence of “God’s passible pathos towards and empathy with humankind (see John 3: 16);

  • The Son of God suffers as a man: Jesus suffers as a divine-human person, what pertains to his humanity also pertains to his divinity; and

  • The Father and the Son suffer in their relationship: “the abandonment on the cross which separates the Son from the Father is something which takes place within God himself”.

Weinandy points out that the traditional emphasis in Christian theology has, because of the legacy of Platonism, been on the impassibility of God. He notes that this change in emphasis has been the result of a re-evaluation of scripture brought about, in large part, by the impact of Auschwitz on theology. He cites the frequency with which Wiesel’s gallows story is told in books exploring God’s passibility and paraphrases Jurgen Moltmann to suggest that there “can be no theology ‘after Auschwitz,’ which does not take up the theology in Auschwitz i.e. the prayers and cries of the victims”.

As we have seen those prayers and cries also included the argument with God that is encapsulated in Wiesel’s trial story and Christianity has taken up those prayers and cries too. This protesting dialogue with God can be seen, for example, in the work of the poet-priests George Herbert and Gerard Manley Hopkins. In ‘Bitter-sweet’, Herbert says that if God is going to be contrary in his relationship with him then he will reciprocate and complain, praise, bewail, approve, lament and love. Hopkins’ poems of lament and protest have been called the ‘terrible sonnets’. In ‘Carrion Comfort’ (which he described as ‘written in blood’) he wrestles with God, while a line from ‘Thou art indeed just, Lord’ - “Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend,/How wouldst thou worse, I wonder, than thou dost/Defeat, thwart me?” - could be a summary of Wiesel’s protest within relationship.

Christian theology has also taken up these prayers and cries. Karl-Josef Kushel consciously aims to do theology in the sphere of Steiner’s ‘Easter Saturday’ and by paying attention to the art that arises in this sphere. He notes that, “the rebellion of human beings against God can be their form of prayer; quarrelling their form of saying yes; protest their declaration of love to God”.

Walter Brueggemann is another theologian to have tackled these issues and in ways that are similar to Sacks, as the following description of his Old Testament theology will show:

“A somewhat different ... dialectic is found in his proposed structure for understanding Old Testament theology - the dialectic between the majority voice that is creation-oriented, a voice that assumes an ordered world under the governance of a sovereign God and so serves to legitimate the structures of the universe, and a minority voice that is in tension with the legitimation of structure, a voice embracing the pain that is present in the world and protesting against an order that allows such to be. Brueggemann’s dialectical approach, which assumes an ongoing tension between voices “above the fray” and those “in the fray” is fundamental to his reading of the Old Testament".

Brueggemann’s minority voice, the counter-testimony to the core testimony of the Old Testament, equates to the protest in relationship of Sachs and Wiesel. It is a “radical probe of a new way of relationship that runs toward the theology of the cross in the New Testament and that runs in our time toward and beyond the Holocaust, as Elie Wiesel and Emil L. Fackenheim have seen so well”. Brueggemann views the tension between the core- and counter-testimony as unresolved in the Old Testament and therefore views God as ambiguous, always in the process of deciding “how much to be committed to the common theology, how many of its claims must be implemented, and how many of these claims can be resisted”.

Protest within relationship and ideas of a suffering God are, therefore, common to both Judaism and Christianity. This is only to be expected as Christianity’s roots are in Judaism and, although the influence of Greek thought has undoubtedly been great, the extent to which Jewish thought has been sidelined in Christianity is by no means as great as Sacks implies. In fact, as we have seen, the latter half of the twentieth century has seen a significant revision of the relationship, in part because of the Holocaust, and this has impacted significantly in theology. Finally, the fact that the Hebrew scriptures are such a significant part of the Christian scriptures means that the influence of Jewish thought in Christianity should never be underplayed as, for example, in the template that the Psalms provided to Herbert and Hopkins well before the Holocaust.


Ralph Vaughan Williams - Five Mystical Songs, Part 2: Love Bade Me Welcome.

Seven Kings Poetry Evening

Enjoy an evening of poetic contrasts in the company of internationally renowned poets Tim Cunningham and Naomi Foyle at St John's Seven Kings on Monday 27th April from 7.00pm.

Lyricism with a twist of Irish humour can be found at the heart of the poems of Limerick born Tim Cunningham. Naomi has a background in theatre and her poems cut straight to the drama of the human experience.

Tickets cost £2.00 (available on the door). This evening of poetry is part of the Redbridge Book & Media Festival.


Tim Cunningham - Kyrie.