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Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The Age of the Do-Gooders

Most reviewers of Ian Hislop’s Age of the Do-Gooders (Mondays, BBC2, 9.00pm) accepted the line that Hislop pursues in the series; that it’s curious how ‘do-gooder’ has become such a pejorative term (a euphemism for interfering busybody) when doing good is what we should all aspire to.

The series celebrates Victorian social reformers who tend to be regarded as pious laughing stocks in this enlightened age; Hislop’s aim being to rescue them from ridicule and illustrate their importance in the evolution of British society. As the Metro notes: “He argues that the moral revolution of the 19th century invented the wide-ranging concept of a caring, just society, and that, far from being interfering busybodies, reformers were pioneering mavericks whose dynamism is to be admired.”

The dynamic 19th-century figures that Hislop highlights took it upon themselves to fix the Victorian equivalent of “broken Britain”. They overturned the ruling class’s callousness and unconcern for the poor and restored its social conscience. The big question was: What can I do? Hislop calls it “the moral revolution”: “They took a lot of flak at the time. That’s what interests me about it. I’m split between seeing why people took the p--- and thinking that, actually, they were rather good news.”

Reviewers generally thought the first episode was an eloquently argued slice of social history that aimed to reveal what a sorry state we’d all be in were it not for a bunch of remarkable 19th-century revolutionaries. What they seem to have missed was Hislop’s argument, highlighted particularly when interviewing members of the public, that our contemporary individualism militates against the 21st century (at least in its beginning) becoming an age of do-gooding. As Hislop stated in The Telegraph:

“We tend to see do-gooders as interfering busybodies … Few people believe they can personally make a difference. But the achievements of enlightened characters like Robert Owen [founder a model mill town in New Lanark], Thomas Wakley [scourge of cronyism among surgeons], Octavia Hill [pioneer of social housing] and George Dawson [the Birmingham social reformer] may just have something to teach us in the 21st century.

Amongst those reviews that I read only John Crace, in The Guardian, had a critique of this first episode. Crace argued that Hislop is turning into a rather good TV social historian but would benefit from providing rather more context to his story:

“Because while philanthropy emerged out of a sense that the better-off had a duty of care towards the less well-off, it also had its limitations. It is a start towards social justice but it is not an end or sufficient in itself. That's why the welfare state was introduced. To have followed this argument would not just have made these Victorians part of a historical narrative rather than liberal curiosities; it would have highlighted the obvious flaws in the coalition's belief that Do-Gooding can replace the state.”

Hislop’s series looks likely to be valuable in rehabilitating the idea of doing good to others for our strongly individualistic age but needs to be balanced by the perception that philanthropy alone is not enough. What may be most significant about those whom Hislop highlights, is that theirs was not simply individual philanthropy but instead a search for social and political solutions to the poverty of their age.


 Willie Nelson & Emmylou Harris - The Maker.

Windows on the world (130)

Pleshey, 2010


Over the Rhine - I'm On A Roll.

Christmas Bazaar

St John's Seven Kings had a well organised, well attended and very successful Christmas Bazaar last Saturday. With lunches served and people coming to sit and chat as well as buy, it is a much appreciated community event. Our Santa's Grotto, in particular, is always a magical space which has children queuing to come in.


Darlene Love and Ronnie Spector - Sleigh Ride.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Why gospel's heroes go unsung

This week's Church Times has an excellent article, extracted from Steve Turner's newest book An Illustrated History of Gospel, which if you're not a subscriber you won't be able to read until Friday.

Turner's main point - that the gospel roots of r&b and rock 'n' roll are as strong as those of the blues - is one that I made in my God Gave Rock 'N' Roll To You series of posts. His secondary point - that these gospel roots are played down in a way that rock's blues and country roots are not - is similar to that which I am documenting in relation to modern and contemporary art through my Airbrushed from Art History series of posts.

Turner begins with the Dixie Hummingbirds at the 1966 Newport Folk Festival before commenting that:

"Hearing them gave plenty of clues to where American popular music had found a lot of its inspiration. You could hear the beat of Motown, the vocal tricks of people like Otis Redding and James Brown, and the guitar licks of Bo Diddley. You could also see the dance moves of Mick Jagger and the suave uniforms of groups like the Temptations and the Impressions ...

Gospel music, along with country, blues, and jazz, was the main tributary flowing in to rock and roll ...

Yet, of all these forms of music, gospel is the least known about and appreciated by lovers of rock."

As demonstration, Turner points to the way: rock magazines "regularly celebrate the legends of country, blues, and jazz, but almost never the legends of gospel"; the Glastonbury Festival has "featured the country star Johnny Cash on the main stage, as well as the blues guitarist Buddy Guy, but never one of the greats of gospel music"; documentary-makers "go in search of the ghosts of Robert Johnson, Hank Williams and Charlie Parker, but never the ghosts of Thomas Dorsey and Clara Ward"; and when Rolling Stone compiled its list of 'The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time' there was not a single gospel performer:

"Yet, of the artists selected, a third either sang in gospel groups as teenagers or were profoundly affected by gospel. Ray Charles loved the voice of Archie Brownlee of the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi; Aretha Franklin originally modelled herself on Clara Ward; Little Richard copied his vocal swoops from Marion Williams; and Elvis was inspired by the on-stage antics of the Statesmen Quartet's James "Big Chief" Wetherington, who used to quiver his legs."

Charlie Gillett, in The Sound of the City, observed:

"Between 1948 and 1952 the potential connection between the emotions of gospel singing and the expectations of adolescent listeners of popular music occurred to various singers, record-company executives, and composers. Indirectly and directly gospel styles and conventions were introduced into rhythm and blues - and constituted the first significant trend away from the blues, as such into black popular music."  

The downplaying of gospel, Turner argues, has ideological roots:

"People outside the Church can appreciate its authenticity, excitement, vocal skills, and musical inventiveness, but they are left cold, or possibly even offended, by the point of view of the lyrics. If a singer is expressing passion for Christ, uninitiated listeners cannot relate to it in the way they could if the passion was for Johnny or Diana."

Gospel , he suggests, as a result "seems completely opaque to someone unfamiliar with the worship, praise, and instruction that it was intended to promote." Yet he notes that rock musicians themselves often have "a much more informed appreciation of gospel" with Brian Eno, in particular, having argued that gospel recordings "absolutely vibrate with life" and concluding: "My feeling about gospel is that it's about time there was a music that actually moved you enough to make you shed tears again."


Clara Ward Singers featuring Marion Williams - Packin Up.       

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Literary reflections

Here are a few brief literature-related reflections taken from a discussion I've been having on facebook:

The strength of our response to authors often reflects the moral judgements we make on the worldview underpinning the fiction of these authors. This is, I think, a major reason for the existence of storytelling in human culture; that we share and test ways of viewing and inhabiting the world through the stories we tell. This is not a didactic exercise (at least, not in great literature) as we are invited to inhabit one or more worldviews through the story's unfolding rather than being told about those worldviews, as would be the case in an article, essay or sermon.

I think therefore that we all instinctively make moral judgements about stories and veer towards literature and art which reinforces or develops our worldview while tending to reject work which expresses worldviews to which we don't subscribe (because the characters and narrative in these don't seem credible). We aren't comfortable acknowledging this, however, as we like to think our literary judgements are dispassionate and objective rather than passionately moral (although coming from differing moral bases).
As a result, while I think that texts exist in their own right once completed and can be addressed in their own right, I don't think that the life of the author then becomes irrelevant as a result. The relationship between author and book is similar to that between parent and child. I can know and relate someone's child without knowing anything of the parent but, through knowing the parent, I am likely to appreciate aspects of the child which I might not acknowledge otherwise. This additional knowledge does not define the child, who exists as someone more than simply the son of daughter of the parent, but can provide extra insight into his/her character or personality. I think the same is true of authors and books.

My Chemical Romance - Desolation Row.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Landscape of Church and Art Questions

In the first of a series of posts W. David O. Taylor sets out to give an overview of the current range of arts and faith related initiatives in the US.

There is a whole ton of stuff happening, he writes, but it is"ad hoc and isolated", "parochial, even in the best sense of the term", and with "divergent views of how we should go about promoting the arts" (leading to fierce fights).  What we need, he suggests, "is something far more systemic and systematic than we've yet imagined (possible or needful)." We need "a theology capable of sustaining a long-lasting, fruit-bearing tradition of artmaking by the church, for the church, for the glory of God in the church, and the good of the world," plus "institutions, networks, philanthropic foundations, schools, churches, entrepreneurs, visionaries, regular folk and grit." We need, in short, "an ecology friendly to the arts"; "a culture in the church where when someone asks "Do the arts matter?", the answer is a puzzled "Why of course they do. They're, well, everywhere. They're just another thing that happens around here, and some of it is quite good."

This is, in some senses, an answer from the perspective of the Church to the questions posed by the current edition of frieze and the forthcoming Association of Scholars of Christianity in the History of Art symposium, although it is doubtful whether the solutions proposed by Taylor would register one iota in the mainstream art world.
Jan Garbarek - Psalm.

A line drawn in sand?

A line has been drawn in the sand by the Bishop of London's decision to ask Pete Broadbent, the Bishop of Willesden, to withdraw from public duties as a result of his facebook comments about the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

As several commentators on the decision have noted, bishops in the Church of England and the Anglican Communion "can refuse to attend the Lambeth Conference, criticise the Archbishop publicly, announce how much they hate the CofE and that they intend to leave it, even liken supporters of women's elevation to the episcopate to Nazis" (Alan Frazer) and "claim that married couples who choose not to have children are selfish (Michael Nazir-Ali, former Bishop of Rochester); that Muslims are creating “no-go” areas for non-Muslims in Britain (also Nazir-Ali); and that the Cumbrian floods were in part caused by God's judgment on civil partnerships (Graham Dow, Bishop of Carlisle)" (Symon Hill); all with apparent impunity. But, as Alan Frazer writes, "the one thing that finally provokes unequivocal condemnation and 'suspension' is a Bishop's semi-private moan about a royal wedding."

Together with Symon Hill I think it is clear that, through this decision, the Church of England has given the impression that it regards insults to members of the Windsor family as a more serious offence than those routinely traded in debating these other issues. It would be valuable, although probably unrealistic, to seek to eradicate the culture of insulting opponents in debate but, in the absence of such a development, seeking to establish a hierarchy of those who can and cannot be insulted, as the Bishop of London seems to be doing, is entirely the wrong way to proceed.  

This whole incident also reinforces one of the main points made by the Bishop of Willesden in his original comments and that is the disproportionate power possessed by the media which can destroy reputations and careers (and, as the Bishop was predicting, marriages) with apparent impunity.


The Clash - Wrong 'Em Boyo.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Christ the King

On Sunday we had an All-Age service with a very positive feel and slightly chaotic organisation on the theme of Christ the King. We had lots of people contributing from video interviews of views on the royal family and the idea of Christ as King to our young people leading a dramatised bible reading and the intercessions. There was a quiz on British Kings and Queens illustrating the way in which power can be used for good or ill and I said the following in trying to draw the different strands together:

The role of a King or Queen is to rule over the people that live in the kingdom. This gives them great power which they can use for good or ill. As we saw in the quiz, some Kings and Queens use their power to serve themselves, while others use their power to serve their subjects? Which of these is the more Christ-like?

Interestingly, those monarchs in this country who have used their power to serve others have been inspired to do that by the example of Jesus. Jesus said, “I, your Lord and Teacher, have just washed your feet. You, then, should wash one another’s feet.”

What he was saying was that he had come into the world to give us an example of people with power using their power for the benefit of others. As God, he has ultimate power - power of creation, power over life and death – but he chooses to give up his power and position as God’s Son in heaven to become like us, his subjects, and then gives up his own life to make us, his subjects, equal with him, as brothers and sisters in God’s family. None of the Kings or Queens we have thought about today ever went as far as that!

That is why Jesus should be our ultimate authority. It is why we constantly talk about putting him first in our life and imitating his way of life. When we do, we are living under the rule of Christ – something that we choose to do, rather than something which we are compelled to do. When we live under the rule of Christ, then we are part of the kingdom of God, which is the collection of people who are seeking to follow Jesus in the world and throughout history. When we live in the way that Jesus lived, by putting others first and serving those around us, then we bring a taste or sign of the kingdom of God into the world.
Vickie Winans - Long As I Got King Jesus.

Windows on the world (129)

London, 2010


Arcade Fire - Modern Man.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Loved Later

Loved watching the last Later in this series on iPlayer tonight. With Arcade Fire, Robert Plant and the Band of Joy and Mavis Staples on, I was in musical heaven. Especially loved Mavis tearing up at the clip of Pops playing 'Gotta Serve Somebody' and ripping into 'I'll Take You There'.

What an incredible musical journey - taking in Stairway To Heaven and Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down - Robert Plant has been on! His career has been reinvented - as with Johnny Cash and more latterly Tom Jones - by plumbing the Gospel roots of rock and roll and doing so in the company of those who know them best both musically and spiritually, such as T. Bone Burnett and Buddy Miller.

Arcade Fire build a wonderful wall of sound with the angst and adrenaline of adolescence. Like them, I hope that something pure can last!  


Mavis Staples - I'll Take You There.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

The Madness of Peter Howson

The Madness of Peter Howson is on BBC Four on Thursday at 9.00pm:

"Peter Howson is one of the world's most collected living artists, his work hanging on the walls of galleries and museums and in the homes of rock stars and actors. In 2008 he received the biggest commission of his career - to paint the largest-ever crowd scene in the history of British art - but the commission is fraught with so much difficulty its completion is in jeopardy from day one.

This film follows Peter over two difficult years, a journey that took him to the brink of bankruptcy, and also to the edge of his sanity."

The background story of this commission to produce a depiction of the scene of St John Ogilvie's martyrdom to mark the planned renovation of St Andrew's, the mother church of Scottish Catholicism, for the visit of Pope Benedict XVI can be found by clicking here and here
Deacon Blue - Hang Your Head.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Exhibition: Alan Stewart (2)

Tonight I was at the opening night of Alan Stewart's exhibition at St Mary Hertingfordbury. It was a well attended evening and Alan's work proved popular with those who came. The exhibition continues tomorrow at 4.00pm.

I was impressed once again with the fluency of Alan's mark making. He possesses an intuitive ability to make right choices as he applies charcoal or pastels, an ability which is seen most clearly when his work is at its most minimal and every mark matters. He consistently blurs the borders between figuration and abstraction, an approach which he has also carried over into recent experiments with oils. This exhibition, with its landscape focus, was at the commercial end of Alan's work and included work of abstract beauty and evocative minimalism.


Fleet Foxes - White Winter Hymnal.

War Memorial dedication

These photos are from the dedication of the new War Memorial at Hainault which I led on Sunday 31st October as Chaplain to the Ilford Branch of the Royal British Legion. The dedication that I used for this ceremony was as follows:

"This memorial is dedicated to those men and women who have died on active service. It is dedicated to those they left behind, the innocent casualties of war; family and friends, those who endured the heartbreak of their loved ones in harm’s way, and those who have served in a civilian capacity. It is dedicated to those who survived the anguish of war; the thousands of men and women who served and came home. It is also dedicated to the serving men and women of all nations who protect us from harm and guarantee our right to liberty, justice and freedom for all.

In the faith of Christ, for the benefit of this community, and in memory of those we remember here, I dedicate this memorial to the glory of God, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."

Henryk Górecki - Quasi una Fantasia, String Quartet No.2.

Why Have There Been No Great Modern Religious Artists?

Stoneworks has information about a symposium entitled Why Have There Been No Great Modern Religious Artists? organised by the Association of Scholars of Christianity in the History of Art at the Museum of Biblical Art in New York next February which would seem to be discussing issues that are central to my 'Airbrushed from Art History' series of posts.

The Symposium summary states: "Mirroring the complex presence of religion throughout the 20th century, there has been a proliferation of religious expression in the visual arts. Many of the most prominent and celebrated artists of this century have employed Christian themes, iconography, and forms in their work. However, many of these artists and their works have been ignored, dismissed as aberrant, or condemned as an improper union of incompatible traditional and avant-garde values. The diverse and contradictory manifestations of religious expression in the art of this period, from private devotion to liturgical practice to critical commentary to creative expression pose methodological problems for narratives of modernist and post-modernist art history that have tended to omit serious consideration of Christian strains in 20th century and current artistic practice."


Martyn Joseph - All This Time.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Transforming the Workplace

This evening I ran a session on 'Transforming the Workplace', as part of the Continuing Ministerial Development programme in the Diocese of Chelmsford, with a very engaged and responsive group of curates.

Last week I listened to the second in this year's series of Keene Lectures at Chelmsford Cathedral where Revd. Will Morris outlined his understanding of the issues which led to the credit crunch and argued for a positive engagement by the Church with the world of work together with a postive theology of work to underpin that engagement. My 'Transforming the Workplace' session, which I had previously delivered for St Mellitus College students and which adapts materials from the Christians in the Workplace resource pack, seeks to outline such a theology of work.

I used as a framework N.T. Wright's idea of salvation history as a five act play suggesting that in 'Act 1: Creation' work is seen as a collaborative partnership developing the possibilities inherent in God's creation. 'Act 2: The Fall' is then our choice to undertake the task of developing the created order independently of God and, in aiming to exploit creation for human ends, to work against the best interests and inherent possibilities of creation. As a result, work is experienced as toil and hardship. The end of the play ('Act 5') sees our experience of work being restored to its original form (Isaiah 65.21-23).

At the heart of my suggested theology of work is a quote from Richard Baukham regarding our present experience of “painful contradiction between the promise and present reality.” Bauckham writes: “The contradiction arises from a hope for the world, for the whole of this worldly reality, which it exposes in all its god-forsakenness. The Christian’s suffering is thus a loving solidarity with the whole of the suffering creation … and a hopeful solidarity in expectation of the transformation of all creation … Love and hope for the world involve the Christian in a movement towards world-transformation which has two moments: critical opposition and creative expectation … In the first moment, hope liberates the Christian from all accommodation to the status quo and sets him critically against it … In the second moment, it gives rise to attempts to change the world in the direction of its promised transformation, imaginatively grasping and realising the objective possibilities in the present which conform most closely to the coming Kingdom.”

As an example of work-related liberation from the status quo I used Mark Greene's summary of Biblical teaching on work. Greene says that work is “intended as a source of satisfaction and pleasure”; “an intrinsic part of our walk with God”; limited by our need for rest and by our ultimate value being found elsewhere; “done for God” as worship and therefore needing to be done well; “any activity that contributes to the provision of human needs – cooking, washing, food shopping, car maintenance – as well as those activities that generate money directly”; and a means of provision (for families and for those who don’t have), mutual service, and personal development. I argued that seeking to live these approaches to work with integrity involves a liberation from the status quo of ways in which work is viewed and approached within our culture.

For Bauckham that is only one part of a fuller response to living between the promise and the present reality. I illustrated the second aspect of being critically set against the status quo by using the example of Distributism, which aims to be "a third-way economic philosophy that sits between socialism and capitalism. According to distributism, the ownership of the means of production should be spread as widely as possible among the general populace, rather than being centralized under the control of the state or a few large businesses or wealthy private individuals.

Distributism was developed by Hilaire Belloc from Roman Catholic social encyclicals and has since been a thread knitting together the journalistic pronouncements of G. K. Chesterton with the alternative arts and crafts communities formed by Eric Gill and Father Vincent McNabb, the ‘small is beautiful’ economics of E. F. Schumacher, and the work structuring methodology devised by Schumacher’s son, Christian. Gill, for example, wrote that the “factory system is unchristian primarily because it deprives workmen of responsibility for their work.”

Finally, there is creative expectation; "attempts to change the world in the direction of its promised transformation, imaginatively grasping and realising the objective possibilities in the present which conform most closely to the coming Kingdom.” This I illustrated with the example of Christian Schumacher who, in his work as a company consultant, restructures work so that each workgroup member can personally plan, do and evaluate at least one transformation in the work process. Schumacher “asks that … each person should be willing to give up the ‘raw material’ of his or her own ideas in order that it can be subsumed or absorbed into the pool of other ideas being contributed by other team members, so that a new and better ‘product’ of the team’s combined endeavours can be created”. This experience “of unity in a warm, effective and strongly bound cohesive team operating within divinely compatible structures” has moved participants “to deepen their own inner lives” and has drawn them closer to God.


The Jam - Smithers-Jones.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Exhibition: Alan Stewart

Alan Stewart, Vicar of St Andrew's Hertford, has an exhibition at St Mary's Hertingfordbury on Friday 19th November at 7:30pm and Saturday 20th November at 4.00pm. The exhibition will feature striking charcoals and vibrant oils.

Alan has exhibited previously at London Bible College, London Institute of Contemporary Christianity, and Intermission at St Saviours. In 2005 his painting Early one morning was dedicated by the Bishop of Barking for the Youth Chapel of St Margaret's Barking. His Lent project with Hertford and District Churches Together, Hertford stns: A stations of the cross for Hertford, was the subject of a feature article in the Church Times.


Rickie Lee Jones - I Was There.

Renegotiating 'value': what faiths offer 21st century business leadership

Renegotiating 'value': what faiths offer 21st century business leadership is a seminar series which seeks to explore the benefit and challenge of faith traditions in leading sustainable businesses. Each of the faith traditions contain resources for leadership in their spiritual values and teachings. Sometimes these come through the teaching of these communities and sometimes through the examples of past or current leaders. In recent years such teaching and examples have been increasingly applied to the realm of work with the result that a broadly-based Spirituality at Work movement has emerged providing additional resources relating to leadership.

Faiths in London’s Economy, which works with faith communities in order to create coordinated faith-community responses to the issues facing London's economy, has sought, through this seminar series, to explore a broader understanding of value than that linked solely to monetary value. These seminars are therefore intended to be a timely and necessary contribution to those challenges currently facing society generally and the world of business in particular.

Underpinning our thinking has been the idea that we may be in a moment in time when recession, the credit crunch and the ecological crisis are combining to bring about profound shifts in the global economy. A ‘third way’ or ‘middle path’ is needed between nationalisation and capitalism based on agreed standards of ethics, environmental and social responsibility and a broad understanding of wealth and value. Our discussion of what faiths offer to 21st century business leadership and of ways in which inspirational leadership can be sustained in the face of human imperfections is a valid and vital contribution to the development of that paradigm shift.

Our first seminar was entitled 'Profit vs Prophet: making money and making a difference, are they opposed?' and was held at the St Ethelburga's Centre for Reconciliation and Peace on Thursday 7th October. Presentations from Mannie Sher (Tavistock Institute), Abigail Morris (ResponseAbility) and Harmander Singh (Faith-based Regeneration Network) provided a rich variety of faith perspectives on and approaches to the topic.

Mannie Sher began with the Biblical prophets, and the prophet Micah in particular, sketching out the context into which they spoke and highlighting the way in which they demonstrated the courage to denounce the corruption of rulers, sympathise with the poor and call for justice as being the essence of God's demands. The prophets however were opposed to excessive and unequal profits, and not to profit per se. In an Agrarian society, production cannot be solely for immediate consumption, some produce must be stored for future planting and a contemporary equivalent may be the division of one third for direct costs, one third for indirect costs and one third as profits for future investment. Time is a key factor as profiteers seek to shorten work processes to maximise profits and are solely concerned with profits in the present rather than investment for the future.

Current research undertaken by Sher, with Alison Gill, seems to suggest that bankers may inhabit a bubble where their only talk is of investments and decisions are made solely on the basis of how much a particular investment has increased. In speaking about the banking crisis they seemed only able to talk in terms of headline phrases and seem unsure of how to judge their part in a systemic failure. The system seems to be drunk on debt and has distorted negatives into positives, so that 'Greed is good'. A middle way is needed which understands that money is more than the value of the things we buy, as it is also a vehicle for our fantasies (conscious imagination) and phantasies (inner unconcious). We need both prophets and profiteers in order to marry the wisdom, humility and care of the prophets to the wit and acumen of the profiteers.

Abigail Morris provided a different model for translating the wisdom of the Jewish tradition into the contemporary business world by utilising the insights of psychological and sociological research into wellbeing. Research demonstrates that beyond what is, in the West, a minimal level of wealth (£20,000 per annum) levels of well being do not increase with income. Levels of well being for those with wealth are reduced by surrounding poverty and levels of mental ill health are also high and rising in the affluent West. Positive psychology impacts on wellbeing, including health and longevity.

Based on such scientific evidence, the new economics foundation has created a set of five simple actions which can improve well-being in everyday life. These have clear corrollaries to teaching within Judaism: Give (Tzedakah) - being a volunteer and giving to charity has consistently been shown to be hugely beneficial, both mentally and physically; Connect (Kehilah) - people cope better if they are part of community networks and possess strong relationships with friends and family; Be Active (P'ilot v'kasher) - exercise is not just about physical health, but mental wellbeing as well; Keep Learning (Torah) - learning new skills stimulates the mind and can have long term benefits in reducing your chances of developing dementia or alzheimers; and Take Notice (Tefilah) - reflecting on your surroundings and your feelings can help you to appreciate what matters to you most. To these, and based on the work of Martin Seligman, ResponseAbility add Gratitude (Berachot) as studies have shown that if people take time at the end of every day to reflect on things that have gone well there is a marked increase in well-being. It is worth noting that none of these steps towards well being are about making money. Instead, the scripture says, "choose life, that you may live."

Harmander Singh noted that the Sikh Gurus bestowed upon the Sikhs the concept of Miri-Piri and Raj Jog which is princely living according to Gurmat (Guru's teaching/thinking) and therefore is attuned to the Almighty. Miri-Piri is the balance between Spiritual and Temporal living and is denoted by the two crossed swords in the Sikh symbol, the Khanda. All Sikhs are encouraged to be householders but this does not mean becoming property developers or Peter Rachman's. It is acceptable to be rich as long as you live according to the principles of Gurmat and not indulge in un-Sikh businesses or those businesses which force you to a life that is anything but "honest living."

Here, the three basic principles of Sikhi always apply. These are: Naam Japna, Kirat Karni and Vand ke Shakna. Naam Japna is to remember God lovingly during all waking moments. Kirat Karni means making an honest living that is according to Gurmat living. Selling alcohol, tobacco, illegal drugs, and being in the adult entertainment business are activities which Gurmat strictly forbids. Vand Ke Shakna is to share with others, especially the needy and vulnerable. As there is no Welfare State equivalent worth mentioning in certain parts of the world and certainly not in the times gone by, Sikhs donate (Daswandh or Darshan Pehta) whatever they can from their earnings to the Gurdwara - which is more than just a place for congregational worship as it provides a centre where support of all kinds can be sought either directly or signposted.

In her first public engagement since the Privileges and Conduct Committee report which suspended her from the House of Lords, Baroness Uddin spoke at the second seminar in the series, ‘Bonus vs Pro Bono’, which explored the place of inspirational leadership in renegotiating 'value',

Baroness Uddin stated that, although speaking both as a woman and a Muslim, she primarily wanted to contribute as someone who has seen inspirational leaders in action throughout her professional career. She summarised the qualities for leadership in Islam as: hikmah (wisdom, insight); taqwa (love and fear of Allah); ‘adl (justice) and rahmah (compassion); courage and bravery; shura (mutual consultation); decisiveness and being resolute; eloquence; a spirit of self-sacrifice; and sabr (patience).

These are the qualities, she said, that build and sustain strong communities and enable the tackling of prejudice and Islamophobia as well as the male discrimination and family pressure that women suffer when seeking employment. Despite these challenges and stereotypes, more and more women, increasingly proactive, are interested in participating in ESOL and information technology classes. This willingness is a massive opportunity to engage women's participation. We need to move beyond lip service into the realm of equity, she argued, by genuinely reflecting the community in our workforces.

Peter Hyson of Change Perspectives Ltd shared research indicating that ‘spirituality’ is an essential component of outstanding leadership and value. Any discussion of successful leadership and of value, he argued, must involve spirituality as business success requires outstanding leaders and for most of us the leaders we most admire exhibit strong presence of those spiritual values identified through US research. So why, especially in times of recession and economic struggle, is the silence so deafening? I answer, he suggested that there are two endemic problems: an unchallenged assumption that spirituality and work are like oil and water – never to be mixed; and a lack of a commonly understood and shared vocabulary.

Hyson identified approaches to time and space, tolerance of imperfection, servant leadership, and peace and equanimity as characteristics of leadership, value and spirituality before challenging participants not only to identify such characteristics but also to provide the opportunity, the greenhouse, where they can be nurtured.

The resulting discussions have explored among other issues:

• barriers to the discussion of workplace spirituality and means of overcoming these;
• the importance of the legacy which we leave in terms of empowerment and stewardship;
• the extent of engagement with spirituality outside of organised religion; spirituality as a driver for more meaningful work;
• tensions between the leadership ideals of faith tradition and the fallibility of human beings; the relationship between the systems we inhabit and our human emotions;
• the ability of wealth to feed a feeling of omnipotence and of common wealth to equal common well being;
• the importance of primary theology which begins with God's economy and challenges the current situation;
• the reality of change as organisations recognise that in order to gain business you also have to contribute to society;
• the understanding of wealth as a gift from the Almighty, a loan to us with a duty to ensure that everyone benefits according to their need;
• our responsibility for the way in which society promotes greed and consumption; the delinking, by Richard Nixon, of the dollar from gold and the hyper-Capitalism that we have experienced from this point onwards.

A third seminar exploring who it is that businesses are and should be accountable to and the difference this makes to their structure and operation is being planned. Ideas emerging for action from these seminars include a faith-based contribution to the Finance Lab and a Foundation for Business Ethics and Spirituality. Further information and debate on the issues and the seminars can be found at

Renegotiating ‘value’ is a seminar series organised by Faiths in London’s Economy (FiLE) in association with: Ethos HumanCapital; Faith Regen Foundation; The Grubb Institute; Mission in London’s Economy; the SmithMartin Partnership; and St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace.


Ladysmith Black Mambazo - Homeless.

New guide urges church members to invest ethically

A new ‘Action Guide for Churches’ has been launched to encourage Christians to apply their principles through their savings and investment decisions. The guide was produced for National Ethical Investment Week (NEIW) in conjunction with the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility (ECCR).

The guide, available at, provides practical information on how to raise awareness of green and ethical options. Rev. Raymond Singh, Vice Chair of ECCR, said: “Many churches now celebrate Fairtrade Fortnight. I hope this Guide will help church members think about where we invest our money and what it is used for. It includes excellent resources for worship and ideas for meetings and displays. Our aim is for ethical investment to become as widespread as fair trade among churches and their members.”

Penny Shepherd, UKSIF Chief Executive, said: “By choosing a green or ethical option, savers and
investors can make a positive difference to society and the environment. Green and ethical investments can promote transparency and encourage corporate social responsibility, help fund solutions to global problems, and may contribute to more sustainable profits in the longer term.

“Ethical investing in the UK is rooted in the faith community. Churches, charities, and people of faith were the first to take account of ethical criteria when making investment decisions. Throughout the twentieth century, faith groups used their power as investors to address such issues as unfair labour practices, apartheid in South Africa, and arms trading. Since then, the number of ways to invest ethically has grown, as have the issues that green and ethical investments address.”

The ‘Action Guide for Churches’ is sponsored by CCLA Investment Management as part of NEIW 2010 which was sponsored by The Co-operative Financial Services and Ecclesiastical Investment Management.


Low - Death of a Salesman.

Windows on the world (128)

Calais, 2010


Sunday, 14 November 2010

First fifteen music meme

I was tagged for this meme by Philip Ritchie:

1) Turn on your MP3 player or music player on your computer.

2) Go to SHUFFLE songs mode.

3) Write down the first 15 songs that come up–song title and artist – NO editing/cheating, please.

‘New Home’ - Eric Bibb (Booker’s Guitar)

‘Building Up’ - Al Green (Gospel Collection)

‘Thank You For The Cross’- Various Artists (Songs of Fellowship Vol. 5)

‘Primitives’ - T Bone Burnett (Twenty Twenty)

‘Brown’ – P.O.D. (Brown)

‘Quechua Song’ – Jan Gabarek/Hilliard Ensemble (Mnemosyne)

‘Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend’ - T Bone Burnett (Twenty Twenty)

‘Rock, Salt and Nails’ – Buddy Miller (The Best of the Hightone Years)

‘My Immortal’ – Evanescence (Fallen)

‘This Time’ – P.O.D. (Testify)

‘Stop’ – Spice Girls (Greatest Hits)

‘Mr Tambourine Man’ – Bob Dylan (The Bootleg Series Vol. 5)

‘All My Trust I Place In You’ – McIntosh Ross (The Great Lakes)

‘On The Grind’ – P.O.D. (Testify)

‘Ubi Caritas’ – David Fitzgerald (God is Love)

Make of that what you will! Here is something different again ...
Bill Mallonee - River Of Love.

Good News in the battle of ideas

March past following the Civic Remembrance Service at the Ilford War Memorial

How to live in wartime? That is essentially the guidance that Jesus gives his disciples in the teachings recorded for us in Luke 21. 5-19.

He was talking about a very specific conflict that would affect his disciples in the near future and which occurred in AD70 when the Roman army attacked Jerusalem and destroyed the temple there. When this happened, as Jesus prophesied, “not a single stone here will be left in its place; every one will be thrown down.”

The result of this conflict was twofold; the Jewish faith refocused its community life, teaching and worship around the synagogue (a pattern of faithful living which continues to this day); and Christianity, forced to abandon its early focus on the authority of the church in Jerusalem, stepped up its missionary encounter with the wider world to become a world religion. Both results are relevant to Jesus’ teaching here because the essence of his teaching comes in verse 19 when he says to “stand firm” in your faith.

The conflict he describes and prophesies will, he says, be an opportunity for his disciples to tell the Good News, if they stand firm:

“Countries will fight each other; kingdoms will attack one another. There will be terrible earthquakes, famines, and plagues everywhere; there will be strange and terrifying things coming from the sky. Before all these things take place, however, you will be arrested and persecuted; you will be handed over to be tried in synagogues and be put in prison; you will be brought before kings and rulers for my sake. This will be your chance to tell the Good News.” (Luke 21. 10-13)

That is what Jesus looks for from his followers in wartime and he promises his support and enabling in doing so: “Make up your minds beforehand not to worry about how you will defend yourselves, because I will give you such words and wisdom that none of your enemies will be able to refute or contradict what you say.”

The situations in which we are called to do this change throughout history but what is unchanging is the call to tell the Good News, as here, in situations of military defeat, but also in times of victory, while the outcome is uncertain, and in times of peace.

On Remembrance Sunday we remember particular examples of telling the Good News in and through the wartime experiences which are within our cultural memory most notably soldiers who fought and died in order to win peace within Europe such as Harry Patch, the last surviving British soldier to have fought in the trenches of the First World War. Patch, in the moment when he came face to face with a German soldier, recalled the story of Moses descending from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments, including "Thou shalt not kill", and could not bring himself to kill the German shooting him in the shoulder, above the knee, and in the ankle. Patch said, "I had about five seconds to make the decision. I brought him down, but I didn't kill him." We can also think of: civilians living through the Blitz and caring for neighbours while accepting the simple lifestyle imposed by rationing; Archbishop William Temple setting out an Anglican social theology and a vision for what would come to constitute a just post-war society in ‘Christianity and the Social Order’; and Bishop George Bell assisting refugees, arguing against the blanket-bombing of German cities and encouraging the role of the Church in the reconstruction of Europe after the war.

The German pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who took part in the plot to assassinate Hitler, was one of those who saw most clearly what was actually at stake in World War II, when he wrote at the beginning of the war:

“Christians in Germany will face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilisation may survive, or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying our civilisation.”

Our situation is different again, meaning that the ways in which we are called to stand firm and tell the Good News are also different. In our time, the battle is one of ideas, a battle which is explained well by the French philosopher Jean Luc Nancy:

“1968 led to a process of transformation that amounted to adapting society to something that was leaving it behind: a new techno-political-economic world. This adaptation has had many negative effects. It unleashed the spirit of consumerism and ... completed the destruction of the frameworks, or references, of religious and emancipatory politics ... The resulting society has fewer foundations that it did before 1968. But society today is beginning to understand that a world and a civilization are disappearing and it has entered a change of the same magnitude as the shift from antiquity to the middle ages.”

In this changed and changing world, where, in the West, we are no longer part of a civilization which seeks to be built primarily on Christian principles, many people want to mount rear guard actions to retain as much of what they perceive to be the past as possible. So, for example, some seek to fight for a mythic mono-cultural white Britain which never actually existed while others seek to maintain the privileges that Christians have enjoyed in this country in the past instead of accepting the justice of the equality of faiths which is now enshrined in the law of the land.

The situation in which we find ourselves now equates to that of the Jews and Jewish Christians after the destruction of the Temple in AD70. Then there was no going back and Jesus sought to prepare his disciples for that reality. Instead of calling for rear guard actions to preserve as much of what had been as possible, Jesus sought to prepare and enable his disciples to go out into their changed and changing world and tell the Good News by standing firm in their faith. This remains the call of God on our lives and it is a task which requires the same bravery and courage as was shown by the Early Church in its missionary activity and as continues to be shown by serving men and women in conflict situations around the world today.

Jesus gives us the same marching orders that he gave to his first disciples: “Make up your minds beforehand not to worry about how you will defend yourselves, because I will give you such words and wisdom that none of your enemies will be able to refute or contradict what you say.” We are to trust that Jesus, through his Spirit, will inspire and enable what we are to do and say in this changed and changing world (as happened for Harry Patch).

We can also trust that he will give us surprising allies to stand alongside us as we speak. For example, at the very same time that Christianity has come under severe attack from the New Atheists, such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, we find Radical Atheists such as Simon Critchley arguing that “to jettison [religious] traditions in the name of some kind of scientific rationality is simply philistine and counter-productive” and Slavoj Žižek stating that as a radical leftist he thinks “Christianity is too precious a thing to leave to conservative fundamentalists.”

The crucifixion, the resurrection and the Holy Spirit, Žižek argues, should be read as God trusting us by leaving his mission in the hands of a community which can be free of both liberal egotism and Christian fundamentalism; an argument which has clear synergies with what we have seen Jesus saying to his disciples in this passage.

Nancy argues that we should respond to our new techno-political-economic world:

“not with politics or economics but with thinking, with imagination, with what I call worship: a relationship to the infinite. We must stop believing that economic measures or political models can respond to what is happening. What is happening ... is the spirit of the world being transformed.”

The Early Church saw the spirit of the world transformed by God as they stood firm in their faith and told the Good News. That is how we are called live in wartime - in the battle of ideas or clash of civilizations which we now face - to stand firm in our faith and tell the good news. The challenge of this passage is whether we can do and see that within our changed and changing world.

Talking Heads - Life During Wartime.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Stop human trafficking petition

The Independent on Sunday, alongside a number of high profile figures including the Archbishop of York, actress Juliet Stevenson and the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Yvette Cooper, is now supporting anti-slavery international campaign urging the Government to sign up to a new EU Directive to prevent human trafficking.

Over 13,000 have already signed the petition calling on the Government to adopt the Directive, demonstrating widespread concern that a UK opt out could undermine European-wide efforts to tackle trafficking.

The IOS's support comes as Romanian children as young as nine years-old were found in slavery on UK farms. The UK needs to take tougher action now more than ever to fight human trafficking across borders, especially as many victims are now trafficked from new EU member states such as Romania and Bulgaria.

Please take action by:

1) SIGNING THE PETITION calling on the Government to guarantee the UK will opt in to the Directive.

2) Writing to your MP urging them to sign Early Day Motion 779 which calls on the Government to opt in to the Directive. Click here for a template letter and MP contact details.


Neil Young - Angry World.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

When was the last time you saw an explicitly religious work of contemporary art?

“When was the last time you saw an explicitly religious work of contemporary art?” Dan Fox asks in his November – December frieze editorial. Religious art, he argues, “when it’s not kept safely confined within gilt frames in the medieval departments of major museums, is taboo.”

Art about religion is totally kosher however; as are: “modernist dalliances with spiritualism;” the “obsessive cosmologies and prophecies” of ‘visionary’ or ‘outsider’ artists; and “a little dusting of Buddhism or Eastern philosophy.” But, “contemporary artists who openly declare affiliation to Judaeo-Christian or Islamic religions are usually regarded with the kind of suspicion reserved for Mormon polygamists and celebrity Scientologists.”

Why is the art world wary of religion? Fox gives five reasons:

1. “For most of the 20th century, art aligned itself with progressive rationalist secularity and radical subjectivity; the ideas that have fed into art come from modern philosophy, liberal or radical politics, sociology and pop culture rather than theology.”

2. “It’s also a question of finance: the money that funds art doesn’t come from churches or religious orders like it did hundreds of years ago.”

3. “Religion is broadly seen by many progressive thinkers to be a cause of intolerance and war.”

4. “The early 21st century has been characterised by a dangerous return to faith-based political conviction, be it radical Islam or neo-conservative fundamentalist Christianity, neither of which has much sympathy for cutting-edge art or ideas.”

5. “Also, religious organisations aren’t, of course, exactly known for their forward thinking attitudes to women or sexuality: the moral teachings of many religious denominations can be at odds with the ways artists want to live their lives.”

His editorial goes on to question the taboo without fundamentally challenging these five perceptions and the content of this edition of frieze, as a result, tends to confirm the taboo rather than shatter it by focusing primarily on art about belief, Occult art, and art with a little dusting of Buddhism or Eastern philosophy. Accordingly, the religious or spiritual commitments highlighted by the articles in this edition include: hermeticism (Lorenzo Lotto), radical atheism (Slavoj Žižek and Simon Critchley), sikhism (Linder), and spiritualism (Hilma af Klint, Ethel Le Rossignol and Austin Osman Spare) together with several profiles of artists creating art about religion or belief (Kai Althoff, Jay Chung and Q Takeki Maeda, Matthew Day Jackson, and Aura Satz, among others). Set against these, in terms of the dichotomy advanced by Fox in his editorial, is one article on the changing shape of the mosque in Britain and a book review exploring political theology.

The reasons Fox gives for the art world’s wariness towards religion can be challenged and, were those challenges to be engaged with, could open up a different engagement with religion. Taking them in order, we could say briefly, that:

1. Theological and religious contributions to modern art existed throughout the 20th century but were consistently overlooked and ignored (see my ‘Airbrushed from Art History’ series of posts for examples). There is great scope for rediscovering and re-examining these contributions in order to broaden our understanding of the development of modern art and to inform future creativity. 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."

2. Commission is a current exhibition claiming a contemporary renaissance of Church commissioning which could be critically reviewed (both claim and exhibition) by frieze. The Dictionary Corner in this edition of frieze contrasts curate and curator but does not mention the current experiments within emergent church communities which apply insights from artistic curation to the creation and oversight of alternative worship experiences (see Curating Worship by Jonny Baker).

3.  Significant research exists which suggests that religion increases wellbeing and makes people better citizens, as religious people are much more likely to volunteer and give money to charity. The linking of religion to intolerance and war has a tendency to ignore or downplay such findings and to do the same to religious teachings themselves, with their common strand which is the Golden Rule: 'Do to others as you would have them do to you'. This raises the question as to the extent of bias or prejudgement which informs such opinions. 

4. To see the 21st century return of religion in the sole form of religious fundamentalism is to see only part of the picture. The fact that struggles are occurring within Christianity and Islam between fundamentalism and liberalism means both that the future of religions is not settled in terms of fundamentalism and that other creative alternatives may emerge. This is potentially fertile ground for artists to explore.

5. Again, this is to focus on only one side of the debate within religions. There is potentially fertile ground for artists to explore in dialogue with people of faith who share forward thinking attitudes to women or sexuality.

It is worth noting that only two out of the five have significant links to Art per se, suggesting, as Fox points out, that "the art world is seen to be an open-minded and tolerant community in which to work ... until someone tells you casually that they regularly attend mass." 

Fox also rightly points out the belief which art and religion share when objects and images are invested with meaning and argues that a cognitive dissonance is experienced when this is ignored. Similarly, Jean Luc Nancy argues in his frieze interview that the destruction of the frameworks, or references, of religious and emancipatory politics have resulted in a society with fewer foundations that it had before 1968 and has unleashed the spirit of consumerism. We should respond, he argues:

“not with politics or economics but with thinking, with imagination, with what I call worship: a relationship to the infinite. We must stop believing that economic measures or political models can respond to what is happening. What is happening, in Hegel’s words, is the spirit of the world being transformed.”

This is reinforced by Simon Critchley’s argument in his interview that:

“To jettison [religious philosophical] traditions in the name of some kind of scientific rationality is simply philistine and counter-productive, so it becomes a question of inhabiting and mobilizing religion for interesting and radical ends.”

Or as Žižek bluntly states, “Christianity is too precious a thing to leave to conservative fundamentalists.”

So, frieze 135 talks the talk of critical engagement with contemporary artists who openly declare affiliation to Judaeo-Christian or Islamic religions but doesn’t actually show us anyone genuinely walking that walk, although examples do exist in contemporary art (Breninger, Celaya, Fujimura, Howson, Nowosielski et al) and certainly have existed throughout the history of modern art (Bernard, Serusier, Denis, Nolde, Rouault, Gleizes, Chagall, Severini, Manessier, Jellett, Spencer, Jones, Sutherland, Piper, Congdon, McCahon, Smith, Hayman, Adams, Herbert et al).


Mumford and Sons - Sigh No More.