Wikio - Top Blogs - Religion and belief

Sunday, 31 January 2010

c4m webpage update (32)

The latest posts on the commission4mission webpage include:


Victoria Williams & Vic Chesnutt - God Is Good.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Art & Christianity meme (2)

Here's a summary of the responses I've been able to track to my Art & Christianity meme plus some responses to the range of choices:

The instructions were to list an artwork, drama, piece of music, novel, and poem that you think each express something of the essence of Christianity and for each one explain why. Then tag five other people.


Field for the British Isles by Antony Gormley
Christ carrying the Cross by Stanley Spencer
White Crucifixion by Marc Chagall
Bethlehem Murals by Banksy
Icon of the Holy Trinity by Rublev x 2
Resurrection, Cookham by Stanley Spencer
The Fighting Tremaire by Turner
The Baptism of the Christ by Daniel Bonnell


Chariots of Fire
Babette's Feast by Gabriel Axel
The Singing Detective by Dennis Potter
The Shawshank Redemption
Volpone by Ben Jonson
The Dark Knight
Dr Who
The Lee Abbey Easter drama


St Matthew Passion by J S Bach
Grace by U2
Credo by Arvo Pärt
Restore My Soul by The Choir
Down in the Hole by Tom Waits
Anthem by Leonard Cohen
Under Pressure by Queen
Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet by Gavin Bryars
Messiah by Handel


The Island by Victoria Hislop
Quarantine by Jim Crace
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Christ Recrucified by Nikos Kazantzakis
Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor
The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen Donaldson
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C S Lewis


The Parable of the Old Man and the Young by Wilfred Owen
Love III by George Herbert x 2
The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot
God's Grandeur by Gerard Manley Hopkins
Teach Me My God and King by George Herbert
The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe
The Dream of the Rood

There are no obvious patterns that emerge from the choices people have made. The choices do give an indication of the range of Christianity's engagement with the Arts, all the way from Middle English poetry to the Street Art of Banksy. George Herbert emerges from this small sample as the most popular of the artists listed, although he ties with Stanley Spencer in having created two works that are viewed as expressing something of the essence of Christianity.

There is a mix of Christian classics together with a number of choices which are not generally perceived as 'Christian'. The latter is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the responses in terms of why they have been linked to Christianity's essence. On some occasions there was a personal story to provide the connection but outside of the personal these choices could indicate the extent to Christian themes/language/imagery/forms have percolated culture or the facility of Christians to read Christian themes/language/imagery/forms into cultural artefacts which were not originally created with those elements in mind.

In comments made on my 'Airbrushed from Art History' series, Richard Davey argued that artworks are simply what they are; so, Andres Serrano's Piss Christ is simply "an image of a crucifix suspended in a golden liquid, which we later discover is urine" and that it "says nothing more than that." Paint, he argues, cannot speak of resurrection, paintings of the crucifixion are "nothing more than paint pushed around a surface to make marks that depict a man on a cross"; "any theological interpretation occurs in the viewer's mind not in the work." If we are doing theology through art, he suggests, (as would be the case with this meme, if he is right) "lets say that, rather than trying to imply that our reading is necessarily implicit within the work."

However, there are issues with the understanding that Davey proposes. Serrano was not interested, as an artist, in simply combining an image of a crucifix with urine for its own sake. Instead, he wished to comment on the commercialisation of Christian imagery and submerging an image of a mass produced crucifix in urine would seem a fairly explicit realisation of that desire.

Davey could argue that the artist's intentions and ideas are separate from the finished artwork which exists as an object in its own right and is seen by the viewer without reference to the ideas which led to its creation. However, the essence of conceptual art is that such artworks visualise a concept. The concept then both triggers and is expressed by the artwork. In other words, there is a symbiotic relationship between the concept and the artwork; both are separate entities but neither can be divorced one from the other because of the closeness of the relationship between them. This applies, it seems to me, whether the art derives primarily from ideas or emotions.

As a result, there is, I think, a basis for the kind of discussion which has occurred through this meme including the discussion of Christian themes/language/imagery/forms as used in works that were not created with such elements in mind. What Davey's argument points up, however, is the need for clarity in what we are responding to within such works i.e. are we suggesting that the Christian themes/language/imagery/forms we are responding to are consciously or unconsciously inherent within the artwork or its creation and, whichever we suggest, whether they are being subverted or affirmed through their use.


George Herbert - The Collar.

Presence & Engagement Network update

Here is the latest update from the Greater London Presence & Engagement Network:

PEN work and events

We are just putting together the promised resource pack. This has become a CD-ROM rather than a folder of papers. It updates the pack given out at our 1st June launch and is being sent to clergy in all four of our sponsoring Dioceses with the intention that every parish will have access to at least one copy. So for lay colleagues who would like one please let me know or badger your nearest incumbent and make sure they make good use of it please. (Those in Southwark Diocese will receive theirs through the monthly clergy mailing.)

Living with other faiths: to help those who would like to familiarise themselves with this material or get pointers on how to put together a course that a fits particular context, there is a training morning on Thursday 11th February in the Chapter Room at Southwark Cathedral (very central for transport, right next to London Bridge). Starting prompt at 10 am until 12 noon (with a midway coffee break), the session will be lead by the author of the material, The Revd Jonathan Evens. There will be a £5 charge payable on the day. Please let me know if you are hoping to attend.

Jonathan is also leading a five week course using the material as part of the Diocese of Chelmsford Lent and Eastertide School 2010 on five Fridays in Lent (February 26th, March 5th, 12th, 19th & 26th); 10am until 12 noon, The Chapter House, Chelmsford. The five week course costs £15 and can be booked through Liz Watson at the Chelmsford Diocesan office. Email or telephone 01245 294400. (This is module Lent 13 of the CCS course.) The Revd Angus Ritchie (Director of the Contextual Theology Centre) is running the course for five Mondays in Eastertide (April 19th & 26th, May 10th, 17th & 24th). ; 7.30 – 9.30pm, University of East London Stratford Campus. Cost and booking as above. (This is module Easter 4 of the CCS course.)

Also using these materials but slightly differently, Churches Together in Balham and Upper Tooting Lent course will run five Wednesdays in Lent (February 24th, March 3rd, 10th, 17th & 24th)7.30 – 9.00 pm at St Mary’s Church Balham High Road. (Balham station and Northern line underground are close by) please let The Revd Wilma Roest, or myself, know if you plan to attend. The course is being led by PEN Coordinator, Susanne Mitchell and local church members.

Learning and Growing: this one of the series of Autumn seminars was postponed. In the next few weeks I will be in touch with “providers” about their latest courses and materials to put on something late Spring early summer. I would welcome suggestions as to what you would find helpful by way of an event to encourage the practice of Christian Learning and Growing and developing confidence in being able to explain our faith to others.

A recommendation: I recently met with Jane Winter and David Grimwood of Zedakah. Zedakah ( is a faith based work consultancy which provides a range of services to support individuals and local community groups through the processes of project planning and management. Staff have considerable experience of Christian based social justice, community ministry and consultancy. I will be adding details to the website soon but if you are thinking of embarking on a project why not take a look at what they can offer by way of support.

Other news and events

The Three Faiths Forum is looking for an education officer for Christianity, interns, and volunteer speakers for their workshops in schools and colleges. Training is given for speakers in dialogue skills and public speaking. Ideally they want volunteers under 30. Details about this and the education office post are on their website:

The Just Share Lectures continue at St Mary-le-Bow Church, Cheapside. Wednesday 27th January at 6.05pm ‘The City of God and the City’ The Revd Canon Dr Nicholas Sagovsky, Canon Theologian at Westminster Abbey.

Jewels in His Crown Day Conference Saturday 23rd January 9.45am – 1.00pm Which Way the UK Asian Church? Which models are working in London? At St Peter’s Church, Vere Street, London W1G 0DQ. Details of their national conference in June 2010 will be added to the PEN website soon.

The Christian Interfaith Practitioners' Association will be holding their Annual Consultation from the 18-20 May 2010 at Luther King House, Manchester. Face to Face and Side by Side: Who is in? Who is Out? for more details.

Community Mission a partnership between Tearfund and Livability (formerly Shaftesbury Society) are hosting Mission in multi-faith communities on 10 March in central London. The day is facilitated by Richard Sudworth, author of Distinctly Welcoming. Richard also runs a community project in a diverse part of Birmingham. The day will focus on evangelism in a multi-faith context and how to maintain a distinctive Christian approach. It is £20/person including lunch. To book, contact Jill Clark or phone 020 7452 2018.

Contextual Theology Centre event for the Week of prayer for Christian Unity. Thursday 21st January, 7.30-9pm at St Paul's Church, Shadwell E1 Christian Unity - for a Change Hear the Revd Ric Thorpe (St Paul's , Shadwell), Capt Nick Coke (Stepney Salvation Army), Sr Una McCreesh (Ursuline Sisters) and Pastor Wayne Brown (NT Church of God) speak about the impact of community organising on their congregations and neighbourhoods.

And still with a Social Justice theme Insidegovernment Tackling Race Inequality: Improving Opportunity, Strengthening Society on Tuesday 23rd February, Central London, 09:00 - 14:00 more details at


Curtis Mayfield - Keep On Keeping On.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Wallspace exhibition: Richard Gilbert

Here is advance information from Wallspace on their next exhibition - Envisage: a sculptural journey, 10 March – 3 April 2010, Richard Gilbert.

This exhibition of fourteen huge and impressive heads by Richard Gilbert takes us into Easter. The fact that there are 14 sculptures refers to the traditional 'Stations of the Cross', but this is no conventional piece of religious iconography. Each of these, sometimes fearsome, heads is deliberately made using different materials, expressing separate ideas, moods and resonances. Consequently – depending on one's perspective – they may act as a challenging sculptural journey or as the basis for pilgrimage, offering an opportunity for meditation in the run-up to Easter. Whichever way they are approached this collection of heads is a tour de force.

Richard Gilbert is a practicing artist and teacher of Art. He undertook postgraduate Study in Fine Art at Chelsea School of Art, London during 1983-84 where he gained the Barclays Bank Painting Award. Subsequently he was an Abbey Major Scholarship in Painting at the British School a Rome 1984-85. He travelled to the United States on a Harkness Fellowship to study at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (MFA Program) 1987-89. Recent one-person exhibitions include: Touching Silence - Hereford Museum and Art Gallery, 2002: Fourteen at Leominster Priory Church, Herefordshire and Fourteen at Worcester Cathedral in 2006. Passage, Beardsmore Gallery, London 2000. His work is held in public and private collections including amongst others, Arthur Anderson, Barclays Bank, Clifford Chance, Lloyds of London and Unilever, as well as in the Plymouth Art Gallery and Museum, the Contemporary Art Society, the De Beers Collection and the Victoria Art Gallery, Melbourne.

From 22 June – 16 July, Wallspace will present a world premiere of works recently acquired for the much-loved Methodist Art Collection, together with some of the existing gems. The exhibition will also be part of the City of London Festival 2010.


The Low Anthem - Home I'll Never Be.

Monday, 25 January 2010

The Empowerment Map

The Empowerment Map is an exciting new tool designed to enable Londoners to identify community empowerment activities in the Capital. These activities provide people with opportunities to have a say and influence decisions that affect their lives.

As a practitioner, the Empowerment Map will enable you to:

  • Promote your own work by uploading activities to the map;
  • Share examples of best practice with other practioners and service providers in London.

The Empowerment Map is an opportunity to visually illustrate the range of empowerment activities across London - but the help of practitioners is needed to upload any empowerment activities they or their organisation are leading on, and help ensure that Londoners are able to have their voices heard.

The Empowerment Map can be found on London Civic Forum's new 'Shape your City' website, dedicated to promoting community empowerment in London.


Arcade Fire - Keep The Car Running.

Church preparation for the election

A general election will be held sometime before 3 June 2010, with predictions for 6 May, the same date as many local elections in England.

The Churches Together in Britain and Ireland website has resources to help churches and Christians in general to prepare for the election. These materials do not support a 'Church' view or party line, but aim to help Christians engage with a range of important issues facing our country, however they may decide to vote.

Faith in Politics: Preparing Churches for the General Election 2010 covers a range of the most important policy issues, such as children and young people, criminal justice, the economy, education, environment, health, migration, poverty, and others. For each topic there are sections on subject background, the main issues, suggested questions to candidates and contact details for more information.

Planning a Hustings Meeting contains guidelines for local churches, Churches Together groups or Christian organisations thinking of organising a hustings meeting.


Billy Bragg - Save The Country.

Windows on the world (87)

Bishopsgate, 2010

Creed - Oppressed.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Inspired for service (2)

I spent yesterday trying to inspire others to serve and care through an assembly and a funeral. For the assembly I used material from Unicef:

Durga is 12 years old. She is an orphan and of the Sikh faith. A few years ago a relative borrowed money from an important family. In repayment he gave them Durga. She became ‘bonded’ to the family. A bonded labourer pays off a loan with their labour. But it is not just the loan but also the interest on the loan. Durga’s labour was valued at 50 Rupees a month (£0.88), because the family fed and clothed her. She would never have been able to pay off the loan but would have had to work for the family for life, never receiving any money.

Durga worked as housemaid and nanny in the large household. But the grown-up daughter of the house took a dislike to Durga and bullied her. One day she poured kerosene over Durga and set it alight. Fortunately, Durga acted swifty and dashed water from the sink over herself so she only has superficial burns. The family put ointment on her burns and locked her up. From a window, Durga attracted the attention of a newspaper journalist. He persuaded the family to release Durga from her bond on the condition that he would not write about the incident.

The journalist brought Durga to Mokhila Camp, near Hyderabad. It is like a boarding school which the state government has provided for children who have never been to school. Durga said, “I am so happy to be at the school. I can learn and help with the school. I can be a teacher or anything, I don’t have to be a servant all my life.”

The Convention on the Rights of the Child says that: children should not be separated from their parents unless it is for their own good; governments should protect children from work that is dangerous or might harm their health or their education; and children should be protected from any activities that could harm their development.

All those rights were broken in Durga’s life. That is unjust and she needed the help of the journalist and the state government to bring her justice. We all have these rights but social injustice still exists and to put that right people and organisations are needed to bring about social justice. An 11-year-old boy called Alan Barry wrote a poem about the Human Rights Act, which makes the point that for social justice to come we all need to play our part:

Human Rights

I am not very old
But I think I understand
How the Human Rights Act
Would work throughout the land.

Freedom within the law
To work and think and pray.
To speak out against injustice
Which many suffer from each day.

I am still a child
But I think I know what’s right,
Like standing up for friends
When a bully wants to fight.

We must all work together
To create a better place.
So that all people, everywhere
Can have a living space.

Life is very precious.
We all have much to give.
We must care for one another
And must live and let live.

Alan Barry (age 11)

Have a look at your hands. Your hands can be the hands of God if you use them to help those in need. St Teresa of Avila said:

'Christ has no body on earth but yours;Yours are the only hands with which he can do his work,Yours are the only feet with which he can go about the world,Yours are the only eyes through which his compassion can shine upon a troubled world.Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Some of you were at the Solid:Remix event at Chelmsford Cathedral recently where lots of young people said that they what to use the lives and talents to serve God and other people. The granddaughter of one of the ladies in my church has the ambition of being an ambassador for peace in the world and is training with an MP in Parliament at the moment to help in fulfilling that ambition. Lots of the young people that we hear about in the media seem to just to want to make money or become famous for themselves but there are also lots of young people wanting to help others and make a difference in the world. Which will you be?

For the funeral I used the story of Ruth:

The story of Ruth, of which we have just heard the beginning, is a wonderful story of the benefits and joy of caring for others, even in the midst of tragedy. Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi lost all their close family members but chose to stay together and care for one another even though there was the opportunity to go their separate ways.

Difficult circumstances and tragedy can be the prompt or spur for real acts of care, as we have seen recently in news stories of neighbours caring for elderly folk made housebound in the snow and in the financial response that there have been to the suffering being endured by the people in Haiti.

We know that Fred and Ivy also knew tragedy in their lives, particularly through the untimely deaths of their two children Ivy and Fred. Such heartbreak can cause people to look inward and shut themselves off from others and from God, but that was not the response of Fred and Ivy who continued to love and support each other, to care for Ivy’s parents in their old age and, then, Fred cared faithfully for Ivy as she approached death.

Ruth and Naomi returned to Naomi’s home where Ruth’s care for her mother-in-law was recognised and rewarded by Boaz, a landowner, who firstly found ways to support the two women and later married Ruth bringing an end to the poverty in which they had lived since the tragedy of their husband’s deaths.

Similarly, the need that Fred and Ivy had in their lives to receive support and care, as well as to give it, was also recognised. Their Cambridgeshire cousins stayed in regular contact, as did their long-time friends Sylvia and Roy. Closer to their home in Ilford, Fred was also to receive care and support from Janet and Gill.

Janet was put in touch with Fred and Ivy by Gordon Tarry, then the Vicar of St John’s, and initially helped Fred with moving into their bungalow on Aldborough Road while Ivy was in hospital. After Ivy’s death, Fred met Gill by attending the lunch club at the Downshall Centre. Since those times, the pair of them, supported by their families, have consistently kept an eye on Fred and have helped him find the support that he needed in his final days through the care that was provided at Rosewood Lodge and Woodlands.

St Teresa of Avila said that: “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which He looks compassion on this world.Christ has no body now on earth but yours.” People may ask where was God in the tragedies that we have mentioned this afternoon; the deaths of Ruth and Naomi’s husbands; the untimely deaths of Fred and Ivy’s children; the horrendous loss of life in Haiti. Where is God? God is in the hands and feet, eyes and ears, the bodies of those that he inspires to go and care for those in need.

In talking with Janet about Fred, she said, “The Bible says that people should not live alone. We can’t always be close to those who need care. Others can be a substitute. Just keeping an eye on another is not to be sneezed at.” As we offer practical care to those nearby and the support of remaining in regular contact with those further away, we are the hands and feet, the eyes and ears of God in this world. Fred and Ivy were the hands of God as they cared for Ivy’s parents and they received God’s love and care through those that God inspired to support them in their times of need.


Larry Norman - I Am A Servant.

Friday, 22 January 2010

9 songs from 2009

Yesterday's post on the Good Letters blog was on nine songs from 2009 that had impacted the writer. It wasn't a meme but I thought I'd come up with my own version nonetheless. Here goes with the songs I've most enjoyed in 2009:
  • 'Epistomology' - M Ward: 2009 was the year that I got into M Ward (late as ever!) via Hold Time. Good humoured lyrics and tunes with a core of seriousness as in this track where finding God or a girl is a matter both of luck and judgement.
  • 'The Right Place' - Monsters of Folk: Discovering M Ward led on to checking out the Monsters of Folk album because of his involvement with Conor Oberst, Yim Yames and Mike Mogis. On a God-bothered album, this somewhat surreal country track questions whether we are where God wants us to be.
  • 'The Beautiful Axe' - Woven Hand: More intense, gothic Christianity couched in King James English and picturing Christ cutting at the roots of sinful humanity from David Eugene Edwards.
  • 'Carry Your Cross' - Michael McDermott: Beautiful piano ballad of resolve and commitment - "I'd take your doubt and fear when trouble's looming near."
  • 'Moment of Surrender' - U2: Stunning ballad dealing with the insight that profound change can be occurring for an individual completely unnoticed by those around them.
  • 'Black Swan Song' - Athlete: Loved Athlete at Greenbelt and this song of readiness for and reunion in death touches all sorts of vulnerabilities in my soul.
  • 'Take Your Time' - Al Green: Incredible melding of voices in this wonderful duet with Corinne Bailey Rae from Lay It Down.
  • 'No Cover Up' - Duke Special: Again, I really enjoyed the Greenbelt gig. My brother-in-law gave me Songs From The Deep Forest and it took me quite a while to get it; now that I have this plea for honesty is my favourite.
  • 'I Feel A Change Comin' On' - Bob Dylan: The ever restless Dylan speaksinging his concise, comedic tale of change in the darkest part of the night just before the dawn.


David Rawlings Machine - To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High).

Windows on the world (86)

Aldgate, 2009


World Wide Message Tribe - Peace.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Spiritual Life: Blessing laptops & mobiles

This is my Spiritual Life column for today's 'Ilford Recorder':

"A VICAR has launched a bizarre bid to attract city workers to his church — by offering to BLESS their mobile phones and laptops." That was how 'The Sun' responded to a service in the City of London where laptops and mobile phones were blessed as part of a service for workers in the financial district of London. David Parrott, the Vicar concerned, said that he hoped his blessing had made worship "lively and relevant to the people who work nearby in the financial district". Mobile phones and laptops, he suggested, are our daily working tools and therefore are forms of technology that we should bless.

What David did generated lots of press coverage but only seems bizarre if you think there are no connections between work and faith. In a speech given in 2009, the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, said "Many Christians are living out their lives as the church dispersed in the world of business and commerce every day. They ... have the daily challenge of living by a set of values that the world thinks are mad. Their counter-cultural work and calling needs to be recognised, affirmed and supported." The counter-cultural perspective of which he spoke is "the vision of justice and righteousness that comes from a creative and generous God."

He added: "All of life is religious and there is a desperate need to reconnect the sacred and the secular. There is no more urgent time than now to break down the compartmentalised thinking that separates trust in God from the world of work. There needn't be a separation between what goes on in church and in our prayers – and what goes on in the office or in the boardroom or on the shop floor."

That is what David Parrott was doing by blessing laptops and mobile phone as daily work tools. Interestingly there is research which has suggested that as many as three-quarters of workers may be interested in ‘learning to live the spiritual side of their values.’ So what David has done may not be so bizarre after all. It may even be that, were the mad values of Christianity (that vision of justice and righteousness, of which the Archbishop spoke) to be adopted and lived out in the world of work, we might see a restructuring of the economy based on a broader understanding of wealth than simply monetary gain and economic growth alone.


Blondie - Hanging On The Telephone.

Wardman on the NSS

The Wardman Wire has kicked off a fascinating series of posts about the approach of the National Secular Society (NSS) towards faith communities.

In his post beginning the series, Matt Wardman criticises the NSS for presenting itself in the media as “representing” the “non-religious” when it is an organisation with a tiny membership that then constantly criticises religions with committed memberships of millions for being insignificant minorities. He outlines their approaches of: achieving influence via a network of “Honorary Associates” in the media and politics; having individual members act as local activists; and using campaigning tactics where the “office” backs up campaigns by local members by leveraging targeted media coverage, and sometimes legal threats.

He ends by arguing that the case for a secular state could be put far more strongly if the NSS was sidelined, as there’d be far fewer insults thrown around, and far more use of accurate information in the debate.

To demonstrate that he is open to genuine debate on these issues, the second post in the series is a response from Carl Gardner, an NSS supporter. Gardner argues that the secular viewpoint is much needed in our public debate about competing rights and religion – more needed now than ever when new, assertively countercultural forms of religion are becoming increasingly strident and that, while the NSS may not get everything right, it’s a vital organisation doing a good job of fighting for important principles.

This series should run and run and looks as though it will be well worth checking out. My recent sermon, which I posted as, touched on some of these issues.

Expanding on that post, many Christians seem to feel that, as the first comment to a post by Adam Higgitt on the pressures being brought to bear on Christianity says, "Religion (especially Christianity) is extremely marginalised in British public life." My argument, though, is that that is too simplistic a response to the current position of Christianity in the UK. First, we are in a Post-Christendom period where the privileged position that Christianity once had in the UK is gradually being eroded. For Christianity to have had a privileged position in UK society was not an unmitigated blessing and the change in its position has pros as well as cons (and arguably brings us closer to the position of the Early Church in relation to political powers). However, our awareness of this erosion process as a series of losses gives the impression that Christianity is being treated unfairly.

Second, there has been and still is a secularist agenda that seeks to marginalise religion (and Christianity, in particular). It is this agenda on which Higgitt focuses in his post. Secularism combined with Post-Christendom was a potent mix initially seemed to threaten the survival of Christianity as a factor in the public square in the UK. In much of the 70s and 80s this secularist agenda essentially excluded faith-based organisations from involvement in the delivery of public services but that situation has changed radically as a result of ...

Third, the multi-faith nature of the UK and its inclusion in the diversity agenda which has been a counter-balance to this secularist agenda. Equalities and human rights legislation is resulting from the diversity rather than the secularist agenda so that, instead of religions (including Christianity) being excluded from the public square, we are in a place where discriminating against people on the basis of religion or belief is illegal. One result has been the increasing reversal of the exclusion of faith-based organisations from involvement in delivery of public services (as example, see Lifeline Projects and the FaithAction network within which they are one of the key partners).

So, I was arguing in my sermon that our current context is an appropriate reduction in the privileged position Christianity has occupied in the UK in the past combined with a secularist argument that seeks to remove religion (and Christianity, in particular) from the public square but that the secularising agenda has been halted and the position of religions (including the Christianity) regularised and equalised by the diversity agenda.

Christians though regularly conflate the secularist and diversity agendas arguing that multi-faith UK threatens Christianity when the major threat actually comes from the secularist agenda. Many in other faith communities actively support the Church having a voice and role in the public square and would prefer Christians to be more outspoken in our comment on public affairs (albeit, generally from a conservative perspective); essentially they would prefer to be live in Christendom rather than in Post-Christendom. To conflate the two is to 'bite the hand that feeds you'; multi-faith UK has essentially strengthened the position of Christianity vis a vis the secularist agenda and is a stablising factor reducing the advance of secularism. As a result, the diversity agenda needs to be supported and utilised intelligently by the Church.


Extreme - There Is No God.

Haiti: Cancel the debt

This comes from Oxfam:

"At the moment the world's attention is focused on Haiti. Leaders are pledging to stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Haiti and help them build a brighter future out of the rubble.
There is one thing they can do right now to potentially transform the future prospects of Haiti. By cancelling the country's crippling debt, Haitian people can have a chance to build a brighter future.

Even before the earthquake, Haiti was weighed down by debt. They owed over $891 million to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and others. This is a legacy of loans to unelected governments of years past.

Leaders are meeting in Montreal on Monday to decide on the amount of aid that they will give. The IMF has said that it will work to cancel the debt, and this now needs to happen.

They have also offered a $100 million loan to Haiti but this should be converted into a grant. The head of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, has subsequently said that they will turn this loan into a grant but we need to make sure that he does everything that he can to make this happen.
If these debts aren't cancelled, Haiti will be sending tens of millions to the IMF and other international bodies even as it struggles to rebuild. If these debts are cancelled, the Haitian government will have a better chance to build their country, so that it is stronger than before.

Email the head of the IMF Dominique Strauss-Kahn to demand that when leaders meet on Monday they cancel Haiti's debts immediately. Make sure that earthquake relief doesn't create a new debt burden."


Moby - Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad.

Rouault-Fujimura: Soliloquies

The latest Image Update includes a review of Rouault-Fujimura: Soliloquies by Thomas S. Hibbs:

"At first glance, it would be hard to imagine two artists with more divergent backgrounds: on the one hand, the twentieth-century French painter, Georges Rouault (1871-1958) and on the other, the Japanese-American painter, Makoto Fujimura (1960-).

Rouault was a devout Catholic deeply rooted in European history; Fujimura is an evangelical who has grown up a global citizen of two cultures. Rouault used oil paints to depict the life of Christ—especially the suffering Christ—and Fujimura uses semi-precious minerals in the Nihonga style to create semi-abstractions that tend to only hint at recognizable subjects. And yet there is something fascinating and absolutely correct in the pairing of Rouault and Fujimura, as happened recently with an exhibition at the Dillon Gallery in New York City and a companion volume (published by Square Halo Press), written by Thomas S. Hibbs, both with the title of Rouault-Fujimura: Soliloquies.

Seen together, it suddenly becomes clear that both artists love color and particularly the kind of haunting blues, golds, and reds that suggest the interpenetration of matter and transcendence. Both artists see the world through the Christian vision but find ways to make their works enact that vision rather than simply preach or explain it. Both artists are contemporary and edgy while at the same time drawing deeply on medieval techniques and ideas (Rouault to medieval stained glass and Fujimura to the classic Nihonga masters)."


a-ha - Foot Of The Mountain.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Family Health event

FaithAction, a strategic partner of the Department of Health, is hosting an event around Family Health on 9th February 2010. This event will showcase a number of members and their work in communities on the ground, as well as show their ability to work with those termed ‘Hard to reach’ and change the health of families in their communities.

Health and wellbeing affects every aspect of our lives and therefore faith based organisations have a key role in tackling such issues in their work in the community.

This event is for any organisation working with families in the community.

Guest speakers include: Philippa Stroud from the Centre for Social Justice; Avril McIntyre from LifeLine Community Projects; and representatives from the Department of Health Strategic Partners. Date: 9th February 2010. Time: 9:30am till 3pm. Lunch included. Free places are limited, so book asap. Venue: Royal Institute of British Architects, 66 Portland Place , London , W1B 1AD

The day will cover:

• Essential information on potential future government strategy for the Third Sector;
• The Role and growing important of the third sector in a recession;
• Briefing from Philippa Stroud, the Director of the Centre for Social Justice and a leading light on Conservative thinking; and
• Key insights from Department of Health and Strategic Partners.

This event will be interactive and will be an opportunity to both access information and also contribute to central policy agenda. This event is aimed at Chief Executives, Trustees, Senior Fundraisers and Third Sector Managers. To book your place or for further information, contact Felicity Holland on 0845 094 6350 or


Ian Dury - Reasons To Be Cheerful Part 3.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Ordinary transformations

John 2. 1-11 is a highly symbolic story of transformation. It is a story that happens on the third day; the day which will become the day of resurrection. The third day is the day when what was dead comes back to life and here we have a story of a wedding feast which is about to descend into disaster as the wine fails but which is then saved when water is turned into wine.

The water which becomes wine is that which was used for ritual washing. There were many reasons in Jewish law why cleansing from ritual impurities was required, so this was water which was in regular use. Jesus turns this water into wine which, at the Last Supper, was to become the symbol of his death. This wine of his death, unlike the water, is a once-for-all sacrifice for sin, just as the miraculous wine created at this wedding was a never-to-be repeated wine.

The wine saves the wedding feast and reminds us of the wedding which is still come between the bridegroom Jesus and his bride, the Church. That marriage is a symbol of God’s coming kingdom in which the governing principle is, “love one another.” Through this symbolic action Jesus is also seen to have moved from being the carpenter’s son to being God’s Son, the messiah.

So, we have a story which is rich in symbolism and one where the symbolism speaks of sacrifice and transformation. Each transformation involves something ordinary – water, a wedding, and a carpenter’s son. Throughout his ministry Jesus is constantly taking ordinary, everyday things and transforming them so that they express something of God and his kingdom:

Jesus takes water and transforms it into the very best wine.
Jesus takes a child’s lunch and feeds 5,000, with 12 baskets left over.
Jesus takes bread and wine saying this is my body and my blood.
Jesus takes human life and makes it reveal God.
Jesus takes the ordinary and transforms it.

Jesus tells stories of lost coins, lost sheep, lost people, of seeds and weeds, of yeast and mustard and figs, of shepherds and farmers, workers and tenants, masters and servants, widows and judges, the proud and the penitent, the beaten up and the foreigner, the wealthy and the starving.

Jesus says,
He is the bread of life, we will not hunger.
He is the water of life, we will not thirst.
He is the light of the world, we will see.
Jesus takes the ordinary and draws out revelation.

Jesus says,
We are the salt of the world, the taste bringers.
We are the light of the world, the clear sight bringers.
Jesus takes the foolish things of the world to shame the wise,
the weak things of the world to shame the strong,
the lowly things, despised things and the things that are not
to nullify the things that are.
Jesus called the 12 and the 72,
Those who were not wise, not influential, not of noble birth
to change the world.
Jesus calls you.

Jesus calls us to transformation. A transformation that is, as in the symbolism of this story, from constant impurity to purity through Jesus’ actions. This transformation occurs as we take into ourselves Christ’s sacrifice – as we drink the wine that represents his blood shed for us – and, when we do so, we become part of the best wedding feast possible – the wedding of Jesus and his bride the Church – which is the Kingdom of God, where the governing principle is, “love one another.”

Christianity is a religion of transformation and change because we are to grow into the likeness of Christ by being conformed to the pattern of his death and resurrection. We act out this story of transformation leading to celebration each time we celebrate communion. The bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ for us and we receive Christ into our lives being changed into his likeness in the process. We may arrive at communion as ordinary human beings but we leave as those who are being transformed into the very image and body of Christ himself.

Are we receiving Christ’s body and blood in order that we become like him? Is that why we come? Is that our prayer? Is that the one thing that we desire above all else?


Pierce Pettis - That Kind Of Love.

Inspired for service

Last Friday, while on a pastoral visit, I was asked where God is in the tragedy of the Haiti earthquake. Now there are no pat answers to a question like that, particularly for those caught up in the disaster itself, but in responding I talked about God becoming a victim of violence and death in order to show his love to us which suggests that he is alongside all who are victims themselves and about the inspiration that Christ's sacrifice has been for others to go and do likewise which suggests that he is inspires many of those bringing aid and relief.

That same evening I was at Solid:Remix, a youth event in Chelmsford Cathedral with the youth group from St John's Seven Kings. It featured giant Inflatables, big screen console games, music, graffiti art and much more. You might have thought it was just about young people having a good time and forgetting about the troubles of the world but, as part of the worship that followed the games, these young people were challenged to become people who use their God-given talents and abilities for the benefit of others. The situation in Haiti was highlighted for prayer and people gave towards the relief fund.

The desperate needs of people in Haiti were not met by what happened at Solid:Remix but for young people to be challenged and inspired to use their lives and talents for the benefit of others is a sign of hope in a troubled world. This is something that the Church has done throughout its history with charitable foundations, education, healthcare and relief work all, in part, coming into being within our society as a result of those whom God inspired, through the example and love of Jesus, to serve others.

I don't pretend that what I've written about here is an answer to the question I was asked on Friday morning but I know that the world is a better place for what I saw happening on Friday evening. So, my prayer is that more of us will be inspired to give our lives, not just our money, in the service of those in need.
Bruce Cockburn - Put It In Your Heart.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Faith-based models of leadership (6)

‘Whole’ work

Christian Schumacher argues in his book God in Work that all work processes involve cycles of ‘death and rebirth’. He calls these basic transformations which “occur in all authentic work processes whether in manufacturing, health, education or any other sector of society.”

Basic transformations in a work environment are easy to recognize because they:

  • are the activities involving step-function or quantum-jump changes to the state of the product;
  • are often irreversible; what is done cannot easily be undone;
  • can be the most complex and difficult stages to control in a work process; and
  • involve major physical, chemical, electrical, informational or other changes to the internal constitution or function of the product.

They represent the reason why other activities take place, embodying the purpose of all work processes.

Drawing on his Christian understandings of God as Trinity and of the Church as the body of Christ, Schumacher has identified seven principles for the structuring of work which are based around basic transformations and which lead to the creation of ‘whole’ work:

1. Teams and their leaders must be able to plan and organise as much of their own work as possible. This reflects the work of God the Father in originating human work.
2. Work must be organised around basic transformations to form ‘whole’ tasks. This reflects the work of God the Son in death and rebirth;
3. Teams should be able evaluate their own performance against agreed performance measures. This reflects the work of God the Spirit in bringing work to its fitting end.
4. Team working should be encouraged in order to reflect the nature of the Church.
5. Each team member should be able to plan, do and evaluate at least one transformation in their team’s processes. This reflects the nature of the Church as a body.
6. Each team should have a designated leader in order to reflect Christ’s leadership of the Church.
7. Each team should contain between four and twenty people in order that everyone can communicate fully with each other.


Charlie Peacock - In the Light.

Monday, 11 January 2010

c4m webpage update (31)

The latest posts on the commission4mission webpage concern our most recent commission and the latest Faith & Image meeting and visit. Caroline Richardson is working on window designs for St Peter's Harold Wood while tomorrow's Faith & Image meeting on Hindu Worship and Philosophy will be followed by a visit to the Neasden Temple.


Scott Stapp - The Great Divide.

Working with other faiths

The Diocese of Chelmsford has recently updated its webpage on working with other faiths and the page now includes links to two documents that I have written:
  • Increasing participation in Faith Forums suggests answers to the question, 'how to be engaged in regeneration and faith forums in a way that is distinctively Christian?'
  • Living with other faiths: A Presence & Engagement Resource is a resource pack to help congregations explore why we should engage with other faith communities and how we can go about doing so.

The Greater London Presence & Engagement Network are shortly to send a CD-Rom containing the Living with other faiths resource pack and other related materials to all parishes in Chelmsford, London and Southwark Dioceses. I will be running a half-day session on making use of the resource pack on Thursday 11th February.

I will also be running a Living with other faiths course in Chelmsford as part of the Diocese's Lent Course programme from Friday 26th February. Details can be found by clicking here.


Jimmy Cliff & Sounds Of Blackness - Many Rivers To Cross.

Windows on the world (85)

Solihull, 2009

P.O.D. - Roots In Stereo.

A deep, wounding experience of rejection

"At the heart of unemployment is a deep, wounding experience of rejection. You are not wanted. Your contribution is not valued. You feel as if someone has kicked you in the stomach every day, for months and months. In February 2009 a young woman in London said “It feels like being dumped fifty times a day”. This experience is profoundly de-stabilizing.

If unemployment is prolonged, you also lose an income, you lose a routine, you lose a network of other people, and you lose an identity …"

Revd Raymond Draper who, for many years, was the Chairman of CHUG (The Christians Unemployment Group) has prepared some very helpful resources on the issue and experience of unemployment. They can be found at and

Praying may seem a strange response to unemployment and yet as well as thinking and acting, Raymond Draper is helping Churches to pray and to go on praying about unemployment. He writes that one of the problems we face about prayer is the very narrow view we take of it. It is seen as a last resort. Prayer is what you do when all else fails! At least that is better than not praying at all – but prayer is meant to be far more than this. It is meant to be a natural part of our life. Prayer is becoming aware of God, sharing in his life and sharing our life with him. It is not first of all telling God things, it is about becoming receptive enough to hear what God wants to tell us. So when we pray about unemployment we are first of all asking God what he is saying to us through the sufferings of so many ... we are painfully exposing ourselves to face the reality of this suffering and the reality of God’s will for our society.

Such prayer leads us first, not to righteous indignation, but to penitence; to sorrow that we are part of a society which tolerates, accepts, and uses such suffering for its own ends. So we are led to pray for those who bear the heavy burdens of unemployment and for all who seek to help and support them. Some of us certainly want to go praying for those able to influence the economy; our national leaders; and to pray that we shall see a new sense of compassion and new bold and imaginative policies that will overcome this problem. Campaigns and projects, therefore, are not divorced from prayer – they are its fruit and they must be linked to prayer if they are not to go awry. We need God’s help constantly if we are to create a just society where we love and honour one another.

Long ago, a German Pastor named Dietrich Bonhoeffer (who opposed Adolf Hitler and was executed) wrote of the need to link prayer and action. He said: “The task of discovering a new Gospel (and building a new society) is rooted in prayer and righteous action ... It is only in the spirit of prayer that any such work can be begun and carried through ...”


The Style Council - With Everything To Lose.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Baptism of fire

November last year was the 10th Anniversary of my brother's death and on a family weekend to remember Nick, his father-in-law reminded me that I hadn't read Andy McNab's autobiography Seven Troop. Military memoirs are not my preferred reading but the interest with this book is that Seven Troop, the Troop to which McNab was assigned on joining the SAS, included Frank Collins who, once he had left the SAS and become an Anglican minister, became a great friend of Nick.

They met, I think, when Nick contacted Frank after he had read an article about Frank in The Mirror. They had their army backgrounds in common and shared interests in outward bound activities and Christian ministry. These all came together in 1998 when Nick set up the first expedition by the Aston Community Youth Project to Uganda. Frank was also part of the team that went on the expedition and enabled 17 young people from Birmingham to visit Uganda and climb Mount Elgon. The expedition was a life-changing experience for many of those young people and also led to the establishment of the charity now known as Rejuvenate Worldwide.

Frank was an great encourager of the young people, as one of the young people said at the time, "I want to thank Frank Collins for pushing me on each day when I wanted to just stop ... He's a great guy. You can have great fun with him and he can be serious too." This quality of Frank's can also be sensed in one of the short speeches that he gave as the group were climbing Mount Elgon: "It's been a great time. A time to talk and learn from one other. A time to grow. We're all learning. We're learning as we go. None of us are experts. We're all finding out as we go along. A real broadening experience. We're all learning from it."

"Let's keep on climbing mountains guys. The rest of our lives right, all the way up," was his comment as the group celebrated reaching the summit of Mount Elgon.

Frank's autobiography Baptism of Fire had come out the year before and had changed his life in more ways than anyone realised at the time. Writing the book meant that Frank had to leave his role as chaplain to 5 Airborne Brigade leaving him without a clear sense of direction. Then, as McNab notes in Seven Troop, "Not a day went by without a flood of fan mail and more requests to speak about his experiences than he knew how to handle." The pressure of high profile Christian ministry can be immense because you are expected by those contacting you to respond to all their requests (if you don't, you are letting down your Lord) and because of expectations that you maintain high standards in your personal and family life as that is what is considered honouring to the Lord. When Frank felt that he was possibly in danger of failing in relation to these things he ended his life, commiting suicide on 16th June 1999.

McNab has said that as "7 Troop, was never more than 12-strong, so we knew each other very well. Frank Collins and Nish Bruce were a bit older than me and they became my heroes." This, despite Frank's regular attempts to convert McNab to Christianity. McNab writes that he admired Frank for "getting himself involved in a lot of kids' suport groups" where "He would take them canoeing or walking in the hills, anything to show them there was more to life than nicking cars or frightening old ladies."

Ultimately, however, he thought that none of this filled the vacuum in Frank's life that resulted from leaving the SAS. He looked around at the "weird collection of people" at his funeral - "friends from his evangelical, happy-clappy days, from the clergy college, prayer groups, the cathedral lads down the road, the kids and youth groups he'd helped - and listens to "speaker after speaker say great things about him," but all he could think was, 'what a waste'; "The Church had never filled the vacuum."

McNab puts the suicide of Collins (and Nish Bruce), two of his closest friends, to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Dr Gordon Turnbull, then an RAF psychiatrist, and now one of the world's leading experts on PTSD, explains it very simply: a normal reaction to an abnormal experience. Symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, high anxiety, severe mood swings, hyper-alertness, violent and aggressive outbursts, lack of concentration, sexual dysfunction and depression, and an inability to readjust to ordinary life.

McNab's explanation understandably highlights the military experience which is familiar to him and plays down the significance of the Christian experience to which he does not relate. Frank's life and death were complex and PTSD was no doubt a part of what led to his suicide. However, the pressure that he must have felt as he suddenly became a high profile Christian with a personal life that he felt was disintegrating must also have been a significant factor in the choices he made and leaves the Church with questions to be answered that are, as yet, essentially unexplored.


Violent Femmes - Used To Be.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

St John's in the snow


Over the Rhine - Snow Angels.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

TASK Newsletter No. 15

On the day most of us trudged back to work, here's a new year message from your friends in TASK - Take Action for Seven Kings- as we commit to keeping up our reputation as one of the borough's liveliest and mostimpactful community groups.

Our overall sense is that 2009 was a rather good one, with some very positive developments, including:

* Real progress securing a definite commitment for a new Seven Kings library, almost 20 years after the closure of the original, on the corner of the High Road and Kingswood Road. This arises out of our campaigning in 2008 for a replacement facility, which saw over 2000 local residents sign and submit a massive petition. We are currently working with library managers and local politicians - including ward councillors and Council leader Keith Prince - to secure an affordable site to refit and stock. Our original hope was that the new library will open for business in the Spring, although this may slip slightly as things are running behind schedule because sourcing a keynote local building proved more difficult than imagined. Keep watching this space for more details.

* An improving shopping environment, with high levels of occupancy and some quality refurbishments even in these most dire economic conditions. Top marks to local traders like Gizem bakers for investing in their premises, and a warm welcome to the various new traders - like the High Road car audio sounds, HiQ, Pretty Women beauty parlour and GF electricals - and returning businesses, like the Joker pub. We still resent the excessive number of take-out food outlets and want to see strong enforcement action on opening hours and food hygiene in 2010, with a longer term vision for much greater diversity of local shopping choice. We wish the new business partnership set up this autumn all the very best, and hope we can work together to attract good publicity and new investment funding to our neighbourhood. The Christmas tree and festive lights worked well as a symbolic start, sending off good vibes and establishing a feel good factor. We hope to build on this.

* Regular walkabouts and clean up activity, picking up on unsightly dumping, graffiti and many other street scene issues. TASK have been leading on this for two years now and continue to set the pace for rapid clean-up action. We will soon be publishing 2010 walkabout dates and welcome new faces and suggested locations to visit.

* An award winning railway station. A couple of years ago it was inconceivable we could have entered, let alone won, an award for a well-kept station. However, a combination of local pressure and operator commitment backed up by small scale practical actions over two years have turned things around, with much needed new investment in the building, a new platform level cafe and planting for the first time in 40 years. The recent installation of a new audio system with soothing sounds has made the station all the more pleasant. All reasons why we were one of few urban stations invited to Norwich, for the annual first great eastern station awards.

* A popular community festival in early September, funded by the Council's area 5 committee, covering Seven Kings, Goodmayes and Chadwell Heath. This brought thousands of local residents together in a specially made-over Barley Lane recreation ground to hear live music, take part in cycling and other activities; and to find out more about some of the groups and activities on offer where we are.

As the new year begins, we will be focusing on a number of campaign themes, including:

* Ensuring the new library is delivered as promised
* Hosting election hustings for the upcoming local and general elections so that voters can meet and quiz those wishing to represent them
* Campaigning for an even stronger and more visible local police presence, to include a fulfilment of their promise to site an outreach portakabin by the railway station
* Bringing top quality public street art to the area, thus further improving the street scape and hopefully bringing in more shoppers and visitors
* Greening the area, with more street trees and effective planting.

To achieve all of this, we really need your help. The more volunteers we have, the more we can achieve and the smaller the load for the few. At present, we particularly struggle to attend daytime meetings at the Council and other public bodies, so any help covering these is mostwelcome. Please contact Chris at if you can assist and any particular areas of interest you have. That's enough for now. Here's hoping 2010 is happy and healthy for us all!



Social Distortion - Don't Take Me for Granted.

Multi-media and art resources

I bumped into my friends Tim and Michelle Hull at a service station while on the way back from my post-Christmas break.

Tim was one of my tutors at NTMTC and was a star lecturer for the way in which he used multi-media to present detailed and insightful summaries of biblical and theological studies. Since his move to St Johns Nottingham he has had the opportunity this aspect of his work and has developed two multi-media timelines.

His Timeline of Christian Theology features a visual presentation of western intellectual history and Christian theology, from 1600 to the present day. On each page, covering a 30 to 50 year period, major publications are shown and intellectual movements can be revealed in an instant.

Christian Origins and New Testament Background is an interactive multimedia timeline from 400 BC to 400 AD. With it Tim has been exploring the possibility of producing a visually rich, interactive multimedia timeline that explores the origins of Christianity within its cultural, intellectual and historical context starting with questions of New Testament background. It is entitled "Hope in the Word".

Tim has also produced dvds on Understanding Jesus, Four Gospels - One Jesus, and Resurrection.

Michelle specialises in making beautiful hand-painted silk stoles for clergy. Her work includes both fused dichroic glass jewellery and hand painted silk cards, earrings and necklaces.


Al Green & Corinne Bailey Rae - Take Your Time.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Airbrushed from Art History (15)

An animal and a green faced man gaze lovingly into each others eyes as the man offers the animal a glowing branch that scatters light. Above them the green, yellow, blue and red houses of a Russian village turn onto their roofs while a man and woman move up the main street, the man upright, the woman upside down.

The painting is called I and the Village and can be viewed as laying out the key parameter's for what I call the art of reconciliation. Things and people are turned upside down, everything is in the foreground, and is alive, dramatic, moving. The artist, Marc Chagall, is linking up different, unusual and unlikely images in a way that makes visual and emotional sense; in a way that communicates his love of his home, his world, his people, its sights, sounds and smells. He has succeeded, as Walther and Metzger write in Marc Chagall, in "achieving a pictorial unity through the yoking of motifs taken from different realms of given reality". He has reconciled emotions, thoughts, reminiscences with lines, colours and shapes to create a harmonious, meaningful painting.

Walther and Metzger have suggested that "no other twentieth century artist had Chagall's gift for harmonising what were thought to be irreconcilable opposites". That is not so. Cecil Collins, in Images in Praise of Love, produces a work that brings together the life forms of the universe - astrological, biological, cellular, human and angelic - in a rhythmic, harmonious whole. His key character, the Fool, sums up the reconciling artist:

"The Saint, the Artist, the Poet, and the Fool are one. They are the eternal virginity of spirit, which in the dark winter of the world, continually proclaims the existence of a new life, gives faithful promise of the spring of an invisible Kingdom, and the coming of light."

David Jones drew and painted through a tangle of words and images all laden, for him, with other associations that he aimed to draw into his picture so that the work and the scene became layered with meaning. For him, everything was upfront, part of the foreground. He was a man who did not want to see the wood for the trees. His struggle was, as Nicolette Gray has written, "to put down without loss of meaning or loss of art-form all that he needed to adjust into a unity."

In artists such as these we find an alternative and unremarked strain of modern art. A style of painting that we could term the art of reconciliation. It is a form of painting that begins with Chagall and which reveals the lie that he was just a follower rather than an originator among the principal artists of the 1920's. The art of Chagall is one which seeks reconciliation in all aspects of his painting.

In 'I and the Village' this can be seen firstly, as Werner Haftmann has written, in the pictures' geometrical construction:

"Along the central perpendicular ... a large circle can be seen which seems to hang in the crosslines of the diagonals. ... In contrast to the concentrical calm of the circle, in which the diagonals are refracted as in a glass ball, the leaping, playful, diagonal offshoots bring in many richly contrasted movements. This geometrical net binds the whole construction firmly inside the picture rectangle so that, although in many places the edges of the picture cut through objective details, these do not point outside the picture margins but remain structural elements of the internal design. Nothing projects outside of the self-contained unity of the ornamental surface."

The construction of the painting clearly has no representational function instead its use is to harmonise or reconcile the various elements that Chagall wishes to introduce.

Reconciliation is, then, also seen in Chagall's choice of colour. Haftmann comments that "since the colours are in tone groupings ... colour loses its material quality and becomes the bearer of an independent, immaterial colour-light. ... it is a pure inner picture light, created out of the light values of the individual colours and their interaction. It is split into facets in the spatial and ornamental network of the picture surface, and shines unorientated out of the entire surface of the painting. The colour alone is the source of all light." Chagall's use of colour then also binds together, unifies, the whole composition.

What Chagall is doing corresponds to standard guidance which saw unity as one of the four qualities that should co-exist in a good painting. Unity could then be discussed in terms of unity of colour, unity of pattern and so on. However, in his use of construction and colour Chagall is also uniting some of the great artistic movements of his day. In his composition he makes use of the discoveries of cubism, in his colours the freedoms of fauvism and expressionism and, in his imagery he anticipates aspects of surrealism. His originality and innovations lie in the fact that, when all around him artists were dismantling the jigsaw of art in order to explore to their limits single aspects such as perspective, structure and colour, he was intent on fitting the pieces of the puzzle back together in new and imaginative configurations.

However, his urge to reconcile does not stop here. He takes us further by his unity of content. Throughout his work he brought together disparate images to reconcile them within the frame of his painting. In this picture the images are ones which spring from his childhood memories. This gives them a loose but wholly personal unity. However, the more important unities are in the way that they fit within the geometrical and colour harmonies of the painting and, in the symbolic and emotional links that he establishes between his otherwise disconnected memories.

Colour and pattern emphasise the link between the large human face and the animal face. The eyes are linked by a line that cuts across the other diagonals. The tender green filling the human face highlights the loving gaze directed at the animal. Together they emphasise the emotional unity underlying the picture, that all these objects and images are loved by the painter.

The images can be seen as bringing together four sections of creation; the human, the animal, plant life (the twig, bottom centre) and civilisation (the village). They bring together the strange (topsy turvey houses and people) with the ordinary (a man walking the village street, a woman milking a cow). They connect a person with a community, the 'I' of the title with the people and animals who populate the village.

These, together, may also hint at other unities; those of family where the animal may be symbolic of a mother figure, and the village, and all within it, caught up in a parent-child relationship. Or where the tender love expressed towards all these disparate objects is speaking of a spiritual unity with God expressed in every aspect of His creation and all linked and made worthy of love as a result. Whatever, Chagall has created a unity at every level within his painting so that both the medium and the content proclaim the possibility of reconciliation not solely within the confines of a frame but out there in the real world. If a human can reconcile within art, the painting seems to suggest, then reconciliation is possible within life as well.

This, then, is Chagall's art of reconciliation. His origination, the development of which has produced much that is valuable, although under recognised, in modern art. However, because Chagall has never been recognised as an initiator he has never been viewed as having followers. Despite this for a number of practising artists he is viewed as a key figure.

John Lane has written in The Living Tree of how Chagall "set out to give embodiment to a unitive vision as comprehensive, though more personal, as that of the Middle Ages." Ken Kiff said in 1991 that the great paintings which had been on show in London in the recent past - and he included Chagall's Time is a River Without Banks as one of two examples - may be "more forward looking than perhaps any of this recent work." He felt that the new century may value and see the revolutionary aspect of things that some attitudes in the present century tend to suppress. Chagall, himself, expressed similar sentiments when he said in 1943:

"Mankind is looking for something new. It is looking for its own original power of expression, like that of the primitives, of the people who opened their mouths for the first time to utter their unique truths. Will the former vision be replaced by a new vision, by an entirely new way of looking at the world?"

Chagall's unitive vision finds echoes in the work of some of his peers and has been taken up, responded to and developed by other later artists.

Stanley Spencer, by locating biblical stories within his home village linked the divine and the earthly. In doing so he was aiming at a transfiguration of the ordinary, including himself. He spoke of having "noted in all my various desires that they have a relationship to each other and that they or many of them, come together to suggest some clue as to what their final form will be. This final something, the thing that ecstasy is about, God alone can give the order and reveal the design." By this he was suggesting that if, he linked a present emotion to a place that recalled a similar past emotion (this provided the setting for his painting) and to a similar biblical event (this provided the content of his painting), then the final work of art created would be both a release of that emotion in himself and a transfiguration of the emotion. Both would bring a sense of peace and ecstasy through an at-oneness with God and His world.

Cecil Collins, in painting fools and angels found another means of depicting divine and human action and response. Collins viewed art as "an interpenetration between worlds, as a marriage of the known with the unknown". In art, he said, the "imagination searches out and prefigures the mysterious unity of all life." As a result of this metaphysical purpose and exploration "a picture lives on many different levels at once, it is an interpenetration of planes of reality, it cannot be analyzed or anatomised into single levels because one level can only be understood in the light of others. The reality or interior life of the picture can only be realised as a total experience."

That total experience in Collins' work is unitive experience. Whether this is the attempt at reconstituting the world that is Images in Praise of Love or the complex combination of symbol and structure that hymns the marriage union and reconciles masculine and feminine qualities in The Artist and His Wife.

Collins was also preoccupied by our expulsion from the garden of Eden and our longing to return, in itself a reconciliation. This is a theme that was also taken up by Norman Adams. Adams' produced a questioning, probing work, inspired by Gauguin's Where do we come from, Who are we, Where are we going and based on the expulsion. An everyman figure is on a sloping pathway which he could be ascending or descending. Above him is a mass of blooming flowers, below a confused, muddy zone of swirls and scraping. His predicament poses the question to us as viewer, are we returning to Eden reconciled to God or descending into confused self interest.

Margaret Walters has noted how the religious subject matter of Norman Adams' paintings provide him with "a geometry, a structure of lines and circles that allows his complex colours, his masterly and distinctive use of watercolour, to work their magic." For Sister Wendy Beckett this ability of Adams' suggests that a mystical sense of oneness is making itself visible in his work. In The Way of the Cross and the Paradise Garden it is the radiance of joy conveyed by "angels somersaulting through a dazzle of colour bars, crosses of light, that proclaims the marvellous oneness of the Death of Christ and His Rising", the revelation that the two are different sides of the same love.

Adams indicates, in his notes on A New Heaven and Earth the way in which the structure and the disparate content of his work are combined to form a unified work:

"The lower panel depicts The Slough of Despond in which human beings and beasts struggle through the bog. The central panel depicts the great mass of people, displaced like refugees, some of them sheltering in improvised tent-like structures: and in one a nativity is taking place. This painting was partially inspired by recent political happenings, beginning with the plight of the Iraqui Kurds. At the top of this panel, the heavens are seen to be opening, with a glimpse of better things to come. The great display of colourful Angels leads into the upper panel, which is all Angels (rather insect-like and developing from butterflies). The 'open-envelope' shape of the work provides an upward thrust to heaven: the two side panels (depicting the Birth of Adam and Eve, and the Angel of the Resurrection), hold the painting together like two embracing arms."

John Reilly is a contemporary artist who has been as strong and explicit as Collins in setting out his intentions:

"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."

Using lessons learnt from Orphism and Rayonism he constructs a pattern 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. A painting like No Parting includes natural formations, animals, human figures and plants held together, underpinned, in eternal circulation by the central point, which some may see as a pictorial device structuring a work of beauty and others as symbolic of God. In Universal Power - The Fourth Day of Creation we are shown a snapshot of creation, of the first reconciliation of shape and form. As Reilly's abstract shapes spiral out from the central point they coalesce into those same fundamental, elemental shapes of bird, plant and human life.

For David Jones reconciliation comes through the tangle of associations and allusions triggered by words and images. Caroline Collier, in Under the form of paint, has noted his "fondness for entwinings, for complications, interrelationships, layers and correspondences." We see this most clearly in his use of line but, as Nicolette Gray notes in her comments on Curtained Outlook, the level of unity achieved throughout his work is much greater than simply this alone:

"The artist has woven a complex of components into a new unity. The verticals of the window-frame, the windows and balustrade of the house outside, and of the jug on the table, are counterbalanced by the horizontal of the sill and the balcony, and by the outward-moving diagonals of the table, the toothbrush and box lid, and the downward-moving lines of the house. Movement runs throughout the composition - there is not a single straight line, not a flat wash of colour. The sudden accents of colour/tone/drawing pick up the movement of the composition. The drawing itself is part soft pencil, part brush drawing in colour, here sketchy, there emphatic. All the elements are worked together: form and content have been reconciled, unity combined with movement."

Finally, Albert Herbert was another artist driven by a number of (artistically) unfashionable desires. He had a drive to make images and tell stories, to make accessible art, "paintings that are more public and easier to understand." Coupled with these drives was a concern with revealing the inner world, the 'marvellous', feelings, and through these, the collective mind.

His reconciliation of these disparate drives involved learning to see and paint as children do. "I learned to draw again as if from the beginning, drawing what I felt and knew rather than what it looked like." He also restricted himself to depictions of Biblical events and stories. These he treated as "symbols, metaphors, revealing the 'marvellous'". Religion he saw as revealing not just the inner world but also the collective mind.

His method of creating added a further level of reconciliation to his work. He explained that a painting usually started with some idea that could be put into words but that when he began to paint he became fully involved in "the struggle to harmonise shapes, colours and textures". This could go on for several months with the original idea becoming lost in the paint only to re-emerge as something quite different. In this way he both drew his images from his subconscious and integrated them into the wholeness of the painting.

His approach tallied with that of another of his peers, Ken Kiff. Kiff, too, argued that his subconscious images only achieved meaning through the process of shaping and forming the painting. The painting, as a whole, had to be discovered, by the artist, bit by bit. This had to happen in order "for the thing to really grow together and be significantly all part of the same growing thing". In this growth there could be a sense of peace, completeness and wholeness despite the presence, at times, of disturbing imagery.

Cecil Collins, too, came to use a similar approach to a united development of image and form. He called this process the Matrix. Collins' use of the Matrix involved the following; he would choose two complementary colours, then, with his eyes shut he would paint a number of brush strokes. He would then open his eyes and consider the marks on the paper or canvas. As he looked images would suggest themselves and he would select and paint the one that he wished to impose as the predominate image. The point of the Matrix was to "penetrate deeper into the creative imagination so that it is that which speaks to the artist and not the shallower levels of the mind ... The Matrix ... stands for all the hidden desires of the soul".

As a result of this approach the work of these artists can be understood at a variety of different levels. Herbert has explained this by saying that "when people ask what my paintings mean I find I reply according to who they are. If a christian asks about them I reply using christian words. If I sense they won't understand that, I can speak about the story in psychological terms, Jungian. Or I can speak as if it is an abstract painting."

There is an immediacy about his work that accords with the desire to be accessible and is the result of the combination of recognisable, childlike imagery with a vibrancy and thrusting to the use of colour and construction. Initial reactions draw the viewer into a more complex and creative relationship with the painting where we may read in meanings that make sense to us. Herbert felt that paintings are like mirrors, "they reflect something of what is already in the viewers' mind". In this way we return to the collective mind, universal experiences of the divine to which all people can relate.

These universal experiences, Herbert believed, cannot be better expressed than through Biblical imagery:

"The painting of Moses climbing the mountain and speaking to God in a cloud, is about the incomprehensible; God is beyond understanding, it is the revelation coming from outside the tangible world of the senses. It cannot be put better than in this Biblical image of something hidden from you by a cloud; and you going upwards with great difficulty, away from the ordinary world, and looking for something hidden from you."

His last exhibitions introduced a new motif for this experience, that of going through a curtain or veil towards something unseen. Herbert saw human beings as being outside of the temple, outside of the presence of God, but able to perceive and move toward this presence. He increased his depictions of the intersections between ourselves and God. These came through our common origins (Eve gives birth to us all), and the person of Jesus (Baptism) together with his regular imagery of the burning bush, Jonah and the Whale, Elijah and the Raven, and the Nativity. This increase in connections was accompanied by a lightening and brightening of his colour which culminated in the somersault of joy that forms Happiness.

For Herbert, to arrive at this fusion of ideas and form took over thirty years, including years when he resisted his impulses and took his painting in other directions altogether. His fascination with Jonah may have been because he felt he too resisted his calling. If his earlier exhibitions centred on the struggles of obedience then the latter exhibitions celebrated the fruits.

Giles Auty, in writing of Norman Adams, noted that he belongs "to a relatively small tradition of painters whose outlook is positive. An affirmative vision such as his is especially rare in the modern art of the West, artists preferring to shelter more frequently behind masks of disillusionment and cynicism. Indeed, such negative views of life have the additional bonus of being perennially in fashion, the large black-humoured painting sharing something of the timeless chic of the little black dress." The tradition may be small yet it remains significant, if undervalued.


Pierce Pettis - That Kind Of Love.