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Thursday, 30 June 2011

Upcoming events and ministry

I have a busy but varied few days coming up taking further several different strands of ministry.

On Sunday morning I'll be preaching at St Paul's Harlow on epiphanies and the Emmaus story as part of ongoing work that commission4mission is undertaking together with the parish of St Paul's Harlow and St Mary's Parndon. This is designed to develop temporary and possibly permanent artworks in the parish and will also involve a Study Day on 'The value of public art' on Saturday 19th September at St Paul's Harlow.

Sunday afternoon brings our annual ecumenical Praise in the Park event; communal hymn singing led by a Salvation Army band at the newly refurbished bandstand in Seven Kings Park.

Monday sees the start of commission4mission's exhibition at the Crypt Gallery in St Martin-in-the-Fields, include the private view between 6.00 and 8.00pm that evening. Sixteen commission4mission artists will show 40 works in a variety of media, including concept drawings, fused glass, paintings, reliefs and textiles. I will be showing three pieces: the first combines a poem and image; the second is a page from the prospective book of Stations of the Cross images and meditations that Henry Shelton and I have compiled; while the third will be one of my most recent paintings, but having done some new work today I am currently unsure which piece to show.

Finally, on Tuesday I will be speaking on the Big Society in Redbridge from a faith perspective at the Big Society Mapping Event which I have been involved in organising together with the local authority. The event has developed out of meetings between the ecumenical borough deans and the local authority and will be held at Holy Trinity Barkingside from 10.30am. The event's aim is to gain an overview of the types of services and facilities that faith groups in the borough currently provide and how faith groups and the Council can work together to develop new opportunities.


Peter Case - Beyond The Blues.

Eden at the Serpentine

Kieran Long has written a very interesting piece in the London Evening Standard about this year's Serpentine Gallery pavilion created by Peter Zumthor.

Zumthor has referred to his pavilion as a "hortus conclusus", an enclosed garden, and Long notes that  the reference inherent in this garden/cloister hybrid goes "to the very roots of Western culture, the mystical Christian tradition of the inviolate Eden that the Latin words call to mind":

"It is not simply a monastic kitchen garden; it has to do with how gardens connect us to the most universal of themes. In Zumthor's essay about the pavilion, he begins by writing: "We come from nature and return to nature; we are conceived and born; we live and die; we rot or burn and vanish into the earth." These are not the words of an artist merely engaged in the manipulation of sensory effects.

Perhaps death, life, religion and the mystical universals implied by walled gardens are taboo at the press conference of a fashionable art institution but it is undoubtedly in the background of Zumthor's thinking, even if he doesn't quite make it explicit. He has spent the past few years working on projects deeply connected with the Catholic Church. The first, a modest chapel in a field in Germany (Bruder Klaus Chapel, 2007) is made of the roughest concrete blackened by intentional charring, with a poured lead floor. The second is the beautiful Kolumba museum in Cologne, run by the catholic Diocese of Cologne (2008), which works with existing historic ruins to make an ambiguous civic monument. Neither of these projects is in any way dogmatic about Catholic faith, but both of them deal with how architecture can help us understand our place in the world."

Long applauds Zumthor's "serious-minded attention to the most universal themes in architecture."


Ed Sheeran - Wayfaring Stranger.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Windows on the world (150)

London, 2011


Dead Rock West - God Help Me.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Review of exhibitions

I've had a proper day off today visiting several exhibitions and am looking forward to an equally relaxed evening watching the BBC's coverage of the likes of Fleet Foxes, the Vaccines, Mumford and Sons and U2 at Glastonbury.

I particularly wanted to see the exhibitions by Ai Weiwei at Somerset House and the Lisson Gallery. Weiwei's work often raises questions about our relationship to the past, in particular the contrast between mass manufacture and craft skills. With Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads at Somerset House Weiwei has sent on a world tour oversized re-creations of artefacts previously pillaged by the West. These traditional Chinese zodiac sculptures once adorned the fountain of Yuanming Yuan, an imperial retreat in Beijing. His Coloured Vases in the retrospective at the Lisson Gallery desecrate Han Dynasty pots by covering them in industrial paint; seen as a comment on the organized destruction of cultural and historical values that took place during the Cultural Revolution. Marble Chair, Marble Doors and Surveillance Camera work in the opposite direction by recreating ephemeral contemporary items in the material of longevity and status.

As with all who have been concerned about Weiwei's arrest, I am pleased and relieved that he has finally been released on bail and reassured to hear he is back home and safe. His experience is a reminder of the freedoms which we take for granted here in the West and for which many are struggling in China and as part of the Arab Spring. As Baroness Warsi said in an interview published in today's Guardian, "The great thing about our democracy is people believe in all sorts of things ... The great thing about democracy is you can engage in a democratic process."

Weiwei has said that "Power and the centre have suddenly disappeared in the universal sense because of the Internet, global politics, and the economy ... the Communists ... have to allow a certain amount of freedom, but this can't be controlled once it is allowed" (Ai Weiwei speaks). Weiwei is among those bearing the tensions of a process which, hopefully in the long-term and despite the current repressions, cannot be controlled and will lead to the freedom that we possess for people of all faiths and none to democratically exercise political responsibility and power being achieved by those who currently struggle for those freedoms.

At the Riflemaker Gallery Francesca Lowe has also been dealing in liberation. Headland: Woman in a Landscape consists of "five large-scale heads, five symbol-laden tree paintings, and a group of 'tree-cuts' which invite the viewer to indulge in a game of symbolic decoding, in order to reveal a woman's journey through the complex landscape of today." Made visible in the heads of each of her figures are their actions, choices and consequences: "Each woman's psychological thought process is openly displayed - an x-ray of internal activity." Lowe's Tree of Life paintings then contain on their branch each of the individual paintings in the series creating "a map of images and symbols which flow from place to place." Interestingly, in paintings like Grace and Abundance, the flow is towards renewal and ascension.        

Anna Gillespie's work can be seen for the first time at Beaux Arts London, having been shown previously at their gallery in Bath. Gillespie's combination of sculpted figures with found objects is far from original yet the juxtapositions of scale and statement that she imagines create genuinely emotive and dialogical images. Thou shalt not kill utilised the lid of an oil drum as a globe on which was positioned an adult figure holding a child head-down ready to drop. This simple but beautifully poised work is also beautifully poised conceptually in the questions it raises about generational genocides.

Marialuisa Tadei has written that in an extreme world of consumerism her intention is to create bridges between the material world and the spiritual dimension. She deals in opposites, both in terms of materials and concepts, making the weighty light and vice versa. Donald Kuspit has written that "...if the basic point of serious visual art is to apotheosize the eye, to elevate it to the prime place in sensing, to celebrate it for its own sacred self and cognitive powers, which is why Aristotle said it was the highest sense, then Marialuisa Tadei's most esthetically pure and sublimely abstract works are those in the Oculus Dei series." These mosaic works are among the stunning pieces currently on show at the Hay Hill Gallery.

Finally, I also visited the room of works by John Craxton which can currently be seen at Tate Britain. Craxton features dreamers, musicians, poets and shepherds within landscapes composed of cubist or abstract fragments held together by colour harmonies which shine and sing. His work has been unduly neglected both in his neo-romantic phase where he, more than any others in that movement, re-captured the awe and mystery of Samuel Palmer's Shoreham paintings, and in his subsequent Cretan works imbued as they are with the light, shapes and colours of the Mediterranean.


Fleet Foxes - He Doesn't Know Why.   

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Praise in the Park

Praise in the Park is our annual ecumenical Songs of Praise style service led by a Salvation Army band which this year returns to the bandstand in Seven Kings Park, newly refurbished as a result of funding applications made to the Area Committees by the Seven Kings & Newbury Park Resident's Association.


Monkwearmouth Salvation Army Brass Band.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Friends of Seven Kings Park public meeting (2)

Excellent meeting tonight with about 70 attending and 19 people volunteering to form the organising committee for the Friends of Seven Kings Park. We heard from similar groups that have run at Goodmayes, South, and Valentine's Parks, as well as Ian Sheppard from the Vision Trust which now runs leisure facilities in Redbridge, including the parks. Issues raised included among others: improvements to the skate park; parking fees; closure of the toilets; improvements to rose beds. Encouraging developments which were announced included use of Orange RockCorp and Training4Transition moving into the park.


The Rembrants - I'll Be There For You!

Art as prophecy and dialogue

I've just read an excellent post by the Indian artist and theologian Jyoti Sahi entitled 'Dialogue and the Imagination'. I heard Jyoti speak last year in South London and posted a summary of that event here. Jyoti summarises his most recent post as follows:

"Over the last forty years I have been involved in a process of imagining the Christian Faith in relation to Indian Cultural forms. This process has taken place at different levels. There has been the process of translation. Culture here has been understood as providing a language of images, and in order to make the Biblical narrative intelligible to people who belong to a culture that is very different from the cultural context in which the Biblical texts were originally written, it is important to find ‘imaginal’ forms that might embody the spirit of the Bible in familiar images. But then, at another level of exchange, the Biblical Text is seen not only as something given, but as requiring to be re-enacted. This entails what is called liturgy, or celebration, and brings us into the domain of performance. Here what is being addressed is not only image as memory, or tradition, but a much wider power of the imagination as evocative, creating a new world of thought and action. Finally, this process of enacting the narrative, is re-telling the story in a new way, requiring an embodiment of the world of the imagination in spatial terms, and elemental materials derived from the local landscape, which can be understood in terms of a vernacular architecture. Here we shift from the idiomatic, to the concrete realization of an ‘imaginal’ world which is a total theatre, involving not only what is spoken, or seen, but also what is constructed in special and tangible terms. In other words what has been called “inculturation” functions on these three levels:

a.The trans-literal metaphorical world of the imagination which creates translations of sacred texts into local languages

b.The liturgical, or performed dimension of re-enactment in the lives of those who have internalized the images and words, and are now acting this symbolic world in their day to day lives

c.Finally at the level of built forms, where such performances can be “staged”, so to say in the context of local landscapes, and ecological constraints."

After unpacking each of the three inculturation levels, he concludes that:

"Spiritual art is ... prophetic. It works with local cultures, traditions, in the same way that it is concerned with local materials.  But the purpose of art is to step beyond boundaries ... The creative work of a Faith, understood in this way, is not just about incarnation, or embodiment, but is directed towards human transformation, change, and Resurrection. Faith in that sense, is the imagination; it is a way of seeing another reality, and working towards its realization ...
A spiritual art is concerned with dialogue. This dialogue is not only with other persons, it is also with the very elemental world of creation with which we are constantly having to engage. The artist dialogues with his materials. We are dialoguing with the very landscape in which we are living, with the climatic changes that are affecting our lives, and threatening our livelihoods. We are in dialogue with the cosmos.

In the Old Testament this dialogue is understood as ultimately a dialogue with the Creator, with the Lord of History, and Space. The Prophet speaks with God. This is the I-Thou relationship which is the basis for a covenant between God and his people. We are all involved in that dialogue which interrogates the very nature of what we are, and how we understand our identity ...

True celebration is always a moment of discovery, of the wonder of a new heaven and a new earth. It is a space for such an openness to experience that the art work tries to create a space for."

The inculturation of which Jyoti writes is required in every culture including our own because, as Jyoti writes, "languages are not just ways of communicating ideas in the form of propositional statements." Instead, language are also vehicles for culture, that is they embody symbols, or metaphors, that are culturally rooted. As a result, every word in the Bible carries with it certain resonances which are beyond the so-called literal meaning of what is said and which require the inculturation levels that Jyoti describes in order to understood and authentically communicated. The prophetic and dialogical nature of art is vital in enabling such inculturation to occur.

My posts on inculturation in terms of plausibility structures can be found here, here, here, here and here.


Aradhna - Bhajo Naam.

Windows on the world (149)

Chester, 2011


Peter Case - Words In Red.


I am the wheat grain that you sowed
after breaking the topsoil;
imbibing water, putting down roots,
searching for the soil surface
for the leaves of my seedling to emerge.
Captured light energy is transformed
to grow my shoot. Tillers grow
to canopy height, my ear emerges
from its leaf sheath. Forty days
and nights from fertilisation
to harvest ripeness.

You cut my head and thresh me,
separating chaff from grain;
blown, sieved and collected in the shoe.
You carry me where the flow of air
from fans will dry me.
Chilled iron fluted rolls strike me,
shearing me open, releasing my
inner white floury portions.
Reduction rolls reduce me
to smooth powdery flour.

You place me in an oven to warm
before you sieve me
into a bowl containing salt, yeast and
caster sugar. Hand hot water
binds us together as a dough
for kneading. We are placed,
stretched, pulled and lifted
to increase elasticity, smooth and
springy. We are ready to rise
stretching and expanding
to twice our original volume.

Proved by a second rising, we are
ready for baking. Hot and crisp with
a crunchy crust we are placed
on silver plate and taken
to be prayed over, held aloft and broken.
Torn pieces - body of Christ - given away,
consumed; washed down with wine.
Digestive fluids break us down, separating
carbohydrates, fats and protein; releasing
nutrients for absorption into the bloodstream
and transportation round the body.

Finally evacuated as faeces
to fertilise the ground from which
we were taken, the dust
to which all things return. The gift
of life, of food, of communion
passed from seed to plant
to ingredient to food to sacrament
to nutrients. The gift has moved on,
circulating - battered and broken -
expanding in the giving
to transcend our origins.

The Reese Project - I Believe.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

The Gift and The Dance of Love

In one of those serendipitous occurences, I've started reading The Gift by Lewis Hyde at the same time as preparing sermons using Stephen Verney's The Dance of Love (click here for sermon). There have been several overlaps and parallels that I have noticed as a result.

I wrote that "If we don’t give love away to others then we become a blockage in the constant exchange of love of which we are a part and this prevents us from receiving love at the same time that love ceases to be shared with others through us." Hyde suggests "we think of the gift as a constantly flowing river" and allow ourselves "to become a channel for its current." When we try to "dam the river", "thinking what counts is ownership and size," "one of two things will happen: either it will stagnate or it will fill the person up until he bursts."
One of the forms of gift exchange with which Hyde's book is concerned is reciprocal giving:

"The gift moves in a circle, and two people do not make much of a circle. Two points establish a line, but a circle lies in a plane and needs at least three points. This is why ... most of the stories of gift exchange have a minimum of three people ... so long as the gift passes out of sight it cannot be manipulated by one man or one pair of gift partners. When the gift moves in a circle its motion is beyond the control of the personal ego, and so each bearer must be a part of the group and each donation is an act of social faith ... The gift can circulate at every level of the ego. In the ego-of-one we speal of self-gratification, and whether it's forced or chosen, a virtue or a vice, the mark of self-gratification is its isolation. Reciprocal giving, the ego-of-two, is a little more social. We think mostly of lovers. Each of these circles is exhilarating as it expands, and the little gifts that pass between lovers touch us because each is stepping into a larger circuit. But again, if the exchange goes on and on to the exclusion of others, it soon goes stale."

This, it seems to me, has clear parallels with the image I used of the interaction between the male and female partners in a ballroom dance which equates to Hyde's talk of lovers; George Bernard Shaw apparently said of ballroom dancing that it is "the vertical expression of a horizontal intent." Yet the exchanges possible between two people, whether dance partners or lovers, are linear. For exchange to become circular, moving beyond the control of the personal ego, a minimum of three people are required; which is where in my sermon we move to discussion of the eternal exchange found within the Trinity. Three persons are the minimum requirement for a group gift exchange and donation as an act of social faith.  

In another sermon on gift (click here) I quoted David Runcorn as saying that “the life of God is non-possessive, non-competitive, humbly attentive to the interests of the other, united in love and vision.” To be God-like, he writes, “is not to be grasping” and so “Jesus pours himself out ‘precisely because’ he is God from God.” The Biblical word for this is kenosis, the self-emptying of God. But Runcorn goes on to point out that this self-emptying or kenosis characterises every member of the Trinity and argues that Jesus’ incarnation “offers us a mysterious and astonishing vision”:

“the Holy Trinity as a dancing community of divine poverty. Each eternally, joyfully, dispossessing themselves; emptying, pouring themselves out to the favour and glory of the other. Nothing claimed, demanded or grasped. They live and know each other in the simple ecstasy of giving.”

U2 - One.

The Dance of Love (2)

The partners in a ballroom dance, it seems to me, need to learn to think and move as one. At times, they will dance the same synchronised steps, perhaps as a mirror image of the other. At other points in the dance they will have different steps to dance, perhaps as one spins away from the other or is lifted from the dance floor by their partner. But at all times they must know where their partner is, where they are in relation to their partner, what their partner will do next, and for both to be in time with the music.

In ballroom dancing, the male and female partners interact “within a rhythm which remains the same but in a continuous variety of movements.” At its best, you have two people totally in tune with one another for the period of that dance.

What has this to do with Trinity Sunday? Well, the answer is found in “the Greek word for the relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit [which] means ‘to dance around one another in relationship’, perichoresis – peri meaning around, and choreio to dance.” (Touching the Sacred, Chris Thorpe and Jake Lever, Canterbury Press)

Stephen Verney, a former Bishop of Repton, who explored this idea in several of his books, identified chapter 5 of John’s Gospel as being “the most accurate and penetrating description of that dance” (The Dance of Love, Stephen Verney, Fount):

“The religious authorities have accused Jesus of making himself equal to God, and he replies in words which move beyond the category of equality, and into the language of love. “The Son can do nothing of himself”, he says, “but only what he sees the Father doing” (v.19). That is one side of the equation (of this so-called equality) – the emptiness of the Son. He looks, and what he sees his Father doing, that he does; he listens, and what he hears his Father saying, that he says. The other side of the equation – of the choreography – is the generosity of the Father. “The Father loves the Son, and reveals to him everything which he is doing” (v.20), and furthermore, he gives him authority to do “out of himself” all that the Father does, and can never cease to do because it flows “out of himself”. In that dance of love between them, says Jesus, “I and the Father are one.” The Son cries, “Abba! Father!” and the Father cries “my beloved Son”, and the love which leaps between them is Holy Spirit – the Spirit of God, God himself, for God is Spirit and God is Love.”

So, the kind of at-oneness that we see in great ballroom dancers gives us a picture of the kind of togetherness and understanding that is found in the Godhead and constantly shared between Father, Son and Spirit, as each is found in the other. Stephen Verney writes that “The Greek Fathers called the perichoresis (peri: around, chora: place), the dance of love of the Trinity in which they give place to each other. This is the glory revealed in Jesus, as the Father and the Son give authority to each other in mutual interdependence, and as the creator and the creation interpenetrate each other.”

Now, in the words of Paul Simon’s new album, we could say ‘So beautiful or so what’ to these ideas. It’s all very well picturing a beautiful dance at the heart of the Trinity but what difference does that make to us?

In answer to that question, Verney says that the eternal dance of the Trinity in heaven is reflected in the creation and we are invited to join in. At the heart of the Godhead is a relationship of love where love is constantly being shared and exchanged between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is out of the relationship of love that Jesus comes into our world to open up a way for us to participate in the relationship of love that is constantly being shared between Father, Son and Spirit.

We are familiar with the idea that God’s love for us is shown in Jesus’ sacrifice of himself for us by becoming human and then dying for us on the cross. We are less familiar with the idea that we can be part of the constant exchange of love in God of which we have been speaking and which Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice of himself enables us to experience. If we live in God, we live in love and love lives in us. We become included in the constant exchange of love which exists in the Godhead and are, therefore, constantly loved no matter what else is going on in our lives.

The more we experience of God, the more we come to know that we are 100% loved by Him, surrounded by and filled by His love. This is the experience of the Psalmist in Psalm 139:

“Where could I go to escape from you?
Where could I get away from your presence?
If I went up to heaven, you would be there;
if I lay down in the world of the dead, you would be there.
If I flew away beyond the east or lived in the farthest place in the west,
You would be there to lead me, you would be there to help me.”

Do we know this for ourselves? Do we accept it for ourselves? Do we allow the reality that we are accepted and loved by God to seep into the depths of our being where it can and will resolve all of our insecurities and anxieties? Because our deepest need is to know with absolute confidence that we are loved and this is what is assured for us through the sacrifice of Jesus and the dance of love which is the Trinity.

Second, we see that love involves the continual giving and receiving of affirmation and authority. The dance of love is not a solo with the spotlight firmly fixed on an individual who garners all the glory for his or herself. The picture we have been exploring has been of the at-oneness of the male and female ballroom dancers which has then taken us into the mutual exchange of love between the Father, Son and Spirit.

What we see then is the importance for us of constantly seeking to share love with others. Jesus’ teaching is continually phrased in terms of giving and receiving: ‘I in you and you in me’; ‘give and it shall be given to you’; ‘love your neighbour as you love yourself’; ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’. If we don’t give love away to others then we become a blockage in the constant exchange of love of which we are a part and this prevents us from receiving love at the same time that love ceases to be shared with others through us.

Is that our experience? Are there grudges or grievances that we hold against others? People or situations where we have not been willing to forgive? Over time such things build up to become major factors in our lives, our relationships and our emotions. Over time, they obscure our awareness of God’s constantly flowing love towards us. Confession is the medium through which such blockages are removed – again, as has been mentioned, ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’.

These are just two of the practical outcomes for us of reflecting on the Dance of Love which is the Trinity. “The Dance of Love,” Stephen Verney writes, “is the glory in God’s heart, but it is also the pattern which is reflected in everything he has created.” The more we live according to his pattern for life, the more we will know in our lives the love and unity of both the ballroom partners and the Trinity itself.


Paul Simon - So Beautiful Or So What.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Friends of Seven Kings Park public meeting

The Seven Kings and Newbury Park Resident's Association is to hold at public meeting on Monday 20th June at St John's Seven Kings to set up a Friends of Seven Kings Park group.

Park Friends Groups are community groups working in partnership with the Council towards the regeneration of the borough's parks and open spaces. Such groups work in partnership with the Council and parks staff in not only addressing current issues but also in looking to the long term regeneration and development of their local park.

Richard Harris - Macarthur Park.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

The Dance of Love

Here's a new poem for Trinity Sunday inspired not so much by Strictly as by Stephen Verney's ballroom dancing:

Sequinned and spangled
magnetized partners
attract, repel and return
oscillate away, re-turning
coming home to each other
to dance around the other
in step, in sequence
in relationship
synchronicity of movement
mirror image
thinking and moving
in the mystery
of two persons
become one
partners interacting
within an age-old rhythm
of interplay and intercourse
the to and fro of relationship
forever the same
in a continuous variety of movements
one with nature, history
and each other
coming alive
in the unique shape
of their own energy
and vigour
held, not held onto
an open and free caress
the inner rhythm reveals itself
the marriage of heaven and earth
Spirit flowing through
our human emptiness
choreography of abundant delight
eternal dance
in that communion
you in me and I in you
and the love which leaps
between us is Spirit
the rhythm, the time, the rhyme
deepening experience
of the dance of love
creating us
in the still centre of being
except for the still point
there would be no dance
and there is only the dance
the Spirit is the dance
the communion of love
I in you and in me
the pattern of potential

Leonard Cohen - Dance Me To The End Of Love.

Monday, 13 June 2011

West Ham Festival exhibition

I will be exhibiting photographs from my Windows on the world series together with my Broken journey, fragmented story installation at All Saints West Ham from Thursday 16th June to Thursday 21st July, including the period of the West Ham Festival. See the All Saints website for church opening times.

Both pieces raise issues of perception and perspective. Broken journey, fragmented story features two discarded church noticeboards containing images and meditations from a sequence of Stations of the Cross and Resurrection (images by Henry Shelton, meditations by myself) which have been displayed, with omissions, in a random pattern that disrupts the agreed linear sequence of the Passion journey and narrative.

The Gospel story is rarely able to be told fully and in the way in which we might ideally wish to do so. What effect does this have on us, on those who hear the story told, and on the story itself? Is a story told in fragments disconnected and incoherent or do the fragments and omissions enable new insights and connections to be made? The installation therefore raises questions as to how this disruption of the usual sequence and story of the Stations makes viewers feel? What thoughts or reflections it prompts? What, if anything, it illustrates about the fragmented nature of our telling of the Christian story or the Gospel message in our culture and time? This fragmented set of Stations is displayed in a set of discarded church noticeboards; a means of communicating the ongoing life of Christ’s church and yet, in this instance, discarded. What does that say about the story and Stations displayed within this installation?

As each of us view life from our own perspective, each photograph in the Windows on the world series features a foreground object providing a frame for what can be viewed beyond. As there is always something beyond our immediate frame of reference, each photograph in the series features something that can be glimpsed beyond the foreground image. By framing what is beyond, the photograph acts as a window on a part of our world and at the same time signals the presence of the beyond, thereby also acting as a window onto the divine in a way similar to that achieved by icons.


Moby - The Day.

Windows on the world (158)

Stratford - 2011


Lifehouse - From Where You Are.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Transform Your Church

Spirit of the living God, apart from You, we can do nothing.
Transform Your Church into the image of Jesus Christ.
Release Your power to bring healing to the sick,
freedom to the oppressed and comfort to those who mourn.
Pour Your love into our hearts and fill us with compassion
to answer the call of the homeless and the hungry
and to enfold orphans, widows and the elderly in Your care.
Give us wisdom and insight for the complex problems we face today.
Help us to use the resources of the earth for the well-being of all.
Holy Spirit, we need Your comfort and guidance.
Transform our hearts. Amen.

Christians across the UK have taken part in the Global Day of Prayer (GDOP) movement since it started by joining 220 Nations and 100’s of millions of Christians in prayer on Pentecost Sunday. Last year over 50 events took place across all 33 London boroughs and some of the Home Counties. In 2011 GDOP London is encouraging as many groups, churches, organisations and ministries as possible to participate in the Global Day of Prayer today by praying the Lord’s Prayer and Prayers for the World, of which the prayer above is a part.

Why prayer and why Pentecost Sunday? The belief is that, as 2 Chronicles 7: 14 states, “If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” That was the experience of the disciples on the first Day of Pentecost as they were filled with he Holy Spirit’s power and began to be witnesses for Jesus throughout the world.

Jesus promised, as we have heard in John 7. 27-39, stream of life-giving water will pour out from within anyone who believes in him. The writer of John’s Gospel says that when Jesus said this he was speaking about the Holy Spirit, which those who believed in him were going to receive. Jesus, himself, is the life-giving water which, through the work of the Holy Spirit, will flow out from within those who believe in Jesus.

Therefore, we pray for this to be our experience too. We pray, Spirit of the living God, transform us into the image of Jesus Christ. Release your power, pour your love into our hearts and fill us with compassion. Give us wisdom and insight, comfort and guidance. Transform our hearts.

But not for ourselves alone. We pray to be transformed so that in turn our world can be transformed and our land healed. That healing will be brought to the sick, freedom to the oppressed, comfort to those who mourn. That the call of the homeless and the hungry will be answered, orphans, widows and the elderly enfolded in God’ care, and the resources of the earth used for the well-being of all. That the Kingdom of God will come on earth, as in heaven.

This is what Pentecost means. This is what the coming of the Holy Spirit can achieve. On the day of Pentecost, the Jews gave thanks for the first fruits of the wheat harvest. For Christians, the experience of the energy of the Spirit is a "first fruit" of the new era that has dawned for the believers; a “first fruit” of the coming Kingdom of God.

I would also like us to pray today at St John's Seven Kings for the coming of the Holy Spirit among us in a very particular way and for a very specific task that we are engaged in at this time. I said at our Annual Parochial Church Meeting that, as we seek to affirm and encourage the calling of the whole people of God by identifying and releasing all the gifts God has given us, we will be establishing a Ministry Leadership Team here at St John’s.

A Ministry Leadership Team is essentially those who lead, encourage and build up the work of the whole Body of Christ on behalf of the PCC. To help us to do this, we have divided up our mission and ministry here at St John’s into five areas – Children and Youth, Mission, Pastoral, Peace and Justice, and Worship.

Over the next couple of months we are looking to identify people who can take a lead at St John’s in these five areas and we need each of you to be involved in identifying who those people should be. First, we need you to pray. To pray for the Holy Spirit to equip those in our congregation who are being called to these roles and to pray for the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us as we identify those who are being called. Second, we will need you to suggest people for these different roles by filling in this sheet and returning it to us. Shortly I will be able to introduce you to Diocesan Advisers who will help us with this process.

As you pray and think about those that the Holy Spirit may be calling into these roles, bear in mind that the people we are seeking as members of the Ministry Leadership Team at St Johns are those who have a developing spiritual life of their own and who seek to nurture and disciple others. Those chosen to form the Ministry Leadership Team will work together with those involved in the activities listed on the sheet to take forward their Area of Responsibility, will meet regularly with the Staff Team to plan and pray together, and will report to the PCC.

It is the Holy Spirit, as we have seen, that gives gifts to God’s people to prepare all of us for God’s service in order to build up the body of Christ – “The Spirit’s presence is shown in some way in each person for the good of all.” As we identify and release all the gifts God has given us we become more effectively his church, we have growing confidence and a greater sense of moving forward, and we come back to patterns of church life that more resemble the missionary church of the first century.

As we ask God that that might happen, let pray together the prayer for the Global Day of Prayer with which we began:

Spirit of the living God, apart from You, we can do nothing.
Transform Your Church into the image of Jesus Christ.
Release Your power to bring healing to the sick,
freedom to the oppressed and comfort to those who mourn.
Pour Your love into our hearts and fill us with compassion
to answer the call of the homeless and the hungry
and to enfold orphans, widows and the elderly in Your care.
Give us wisdom and insight for the complex problems we face today.
Help us to use the resources of the earth for the well-being of all.
Holy Spirit, we need Your comfort and guidance.
Transform our hearts. Amen.

St. Paul's Cathedral Choir - Come Holy Ghost Our Souls Inspire.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Airbrushed from Art History (26)

"We no longer live in an era where being an artist automatically means being a religious artist," notes Maria Walsh in Open the Door to the Redeemer:

"In the great age of faith, religious themes provided a ready made and universal image-repertoire for artists to draw on. To be a religious artist at the beginning of the twenty-first century, at a time when the universal values of faith are being challenged, is to embark on a personal spiritual quest. Images produced as a result of this exploration will undoubtedly resonate with the religious beliefs of others, but, unlike the universalism of a classical artist like Raphael, the vision of the contemporary religious artist also runs the risk of being a lone cry in the desert. This conflicting position is a little like the one occupied by the self-taught artist in relation to the contemporary art world establishment. On the one hand, because of the seeming naivete of his formal skills, the self-taught artist is marginalized, but, on the other hand, he is valued for the very things which make him different from the mainstream, i.e. the simplicity and sponteneity with which he communicates his internal world."

Walsh's point is doubly magnified for those self-taught artists, of which there are many, who are also religious artists. 

"The emergence of self-taught or vernacular artists, as the confusion about their name implies, followed several entwined paths," writes Leslie Luebbers in Coming Home! Self-Taught Artists, the Bible and the American South"from outsider (or psychologically abnormal) artists, promoted by French artist Jean Dubuffet, to a renewed interest in living American folk art traditions, to an effort, similar to the feminist endeavor, to recover and present the work of black artists, who rarely had access to academic training."

Walsh unpacks the spiritual thread within this development:

"Many mainstream artists working in the early part of the twentieth century, Such as Jean Dubuffet (1901 - 1985), Wassily Kandinsky (1866 - 1944), and Paul Klee (1879 - 1940), were very interested in so-called 'outsider art', (art by self-taught and folk artists, children's art and art by the psychologically disturbed), because they felt that this work was creatively inventive as opposed to the rigid traditions of classical culture. They attempted to incorporate the innocence and raw vision of untrained artists into their own work in an attempt to revitalize creatively deadening traditions. They also thought that this work resonated on a spiritual level that was missing in academic art. While the spiritual levels in Kandinsky's or Klee's work is often very abstract and cerebral, in the work of Expressionist artist, Georges Rouault (1871 - 1958), the innocance and rawness of simple form was used to convey a much more humanist spiritual message ... Both the religious artist and the self-taught artist can be said to combine fragments of inherited traditions with an intensely personal inner vision to invent a pictorial world that is resolutely spiritual."

In some sense, Alice Rae Yelen writes in Passionate Visions of the American South, "all self-taught artists might be described as visionary, as they each draw primarily on inner resources, and all work created from internal inspiration can be said to be motivated by a spiritual force, which may or may not be interpreted as a religious impulse."

Rae Yelen writes about the religious visions of self-taught artists from the American South and suggests that "... religion and spiritual inspiration are so important in the southern way of life, it is hard to imagine a more fertile environment for the creation of religious and visionary imagery." This is because, "In the South, religious practice is dominated by evangelical Protestantism and is far more homogeneous and integral to daily life than in other areas of the country":

"Most evangelical southern Protestants, whether black or white, rural or urban, restrained or charismatic, Baptist, Pentecostal, or otherwise, believe in the Bible as the ultimate moral authority. They consider access to the Holy Spirit and thereby conversion to be direct; they uphold traditional morality as defined by their church; and because church authority is decentralized, they accept informal worship. Each of these conditions finds a corollary, subtly or straightforwardly, in the work of many southern self-taught artists ...

Many artists who produce narrative biblical subjects claim direct communication with God. Others simply tell Bible stories, commonly learned in childhood, Sunday School, or church. Some are lay preachers, often leaders of their own churches; others have no conventional religious affirmation. Self-proclaimed preachers abound in the ranks of self-taught artists, including Sister Gertrude Morgan, Howard Finster, Anderson Johnson, Rev. Benjamin F. Perkins, Rev. Johnnie Swearingen, Elijah Pierce, Josephus Farmer, Edgar Tolson, and R. A. Miller."

Carol Crown notes in Coming Home! that:

"Unlike the religious art of earlier eras, the creations of unschooled artists working in the South are not normally commissioned by nor intended for an institutional patron. Rather, these works are highly personal expressions, made by artists who have in mind a variety of functions: decorative, critical, didactic, proselytistic, or contemplative. Many of these artists identify themselves as evangelical Christians and share common religious beliefs, but even the work of those who do not espouse this brand of faith or who believe themselves untouched by its influence does not always escape the impact of evangelical Christianity in the South."

However, religious art by self-taught artists is not restricted solely to the American South. Matt Lamb, an "internationally-recognized Chicago artist whose work is ... in the Vatican Museums, is a religious artist and a self-taught artist." Walsh writes of his work:

"To build his densely scumbled surfaces, Lamb coarsens oil paint by adulterating its sensuousness with grit, sand, tar and other non-art materials. In this, Lamb continues to explore the innovative techniques brought into the tradition of oil-painting by the aforementioned Dubuffet who used similar materials on his canvases, as did the American Abstract Expressionist, Jackson Pollock (1912 - 1956). Here there is a meeting of two worlds - what the self-taught artist adopts to invent a style, the trained artist adopts to escape style. Often in Lamb's work, the flame of a butane torch is played across his canvases allowing heat and combustion to sear his images. Lamb's synthesis of disparate elements into a unifying meld, by this and other methods, is a process which echoes the message of spiritual transformation voiced in his work. Lamb does not work from drawings but searches for the forms of his images in the shapes suggested by the blottings of paint he smears onto the blank canvas. To achieve these blottings, Lamb will often press a new canvas against the face of an earlier finished work. In this way, he destroys the silence of the blank canvas. There is something rather than nothing from which to create. The challenge of the chaotic unformed surface to Lamb's inner imagination could be said to parallel the challenge faced by the spiritual traveller to give form and conviction to the tenets of his or her faith."

William Kurelek's "struggle to find himself, to become a painter, led through the depths of a personal hell, depicted in such paintings as "I Spit on Life," "The Maze" and "Behold Man without God" (1955), the latter painted before, and named only after, his conversion to Roman Catholicism" writes Ramsey Cook in Kurelek Country:

"The period spent in psychiatric care in Great Britain led to the resolution of his personal crisis, and he emerged a totally committed Christian and a man resolute in his vocation as an artist. Convinced that his recovery was a miracle of God, not science, he rejected suggestions that his account of these years would have been improved by blue-pencilling the lengthy theological discussions. That, he insisted, would have meant "cutting the heart out of the body." Kurelek had now found his mission: it was to use his talents, as he believed God intended that he should, in supporting the cause of Christian belief and action. "What I am sure of," he wrote at the end of his autobiography, "is that I am not really alone anymore in the rest of my journey through this tragic, wonderful world. There is Someone with me. And He has asked me to get up because there is work to be done ...

One of his finest paintings, "Dinner Time on the Prairies" (1963), was included in a series entitled "Experiments in Didactic Art." A note he scribbled made plain his determination to give immediacy to Christian precepts:

This is an intuative painting. I was wondering how to paint a western religious painting and suddenly this idea came to me, so it is open to interpretation. A meaning I put on it that which crucifies Christ over and over can just as easily happen on a summer day on a Manitoba farm as anywhere else. The farmer and his son doing the fencing may have had an argument just before dinner or one of them may have enjoyed a lustful thought. Or got an idea how to avenge himself on a neighbor etc."

He knew that some critics would be unhappy about this kind of painting, even those who praised his farm scenes, so he issued an explanatory manifesto, in which he pointed out that many artists - Bosch, Bruegel, Goya, Hogarth, Daumier and Diego Rivera - had painted pictures of a didactic kind, and they were accepted as great artists. "I don't pretent to put my work on a level with theirs," he explained with his usual modesty, "but I nevertheless do have something to say just as they did."

Not only are self-taught religious artists not solely from the American South but, as Erika Doss argues in Coming Home!, "Artists who are labeled "modern" and "contemporary," like Rothko, Tobey, Warhol, and Weisberg, and those called "self-taught" or "outsider," such as Rowe, Murray, Morgan, and Finster, share interests in faith and spirituality and express them in visually diverse strains."compares the spirituality found in the work of such artists with that found in the work of mainstream artists:

"... compare the stylistically similar paintings of John "J. B." Murray and Mark Tobey (1890 - 1976), both of whom adopted distinctive compositions of "all-over" calligraphic patterning for specific religious purposes. Murray began creating "spirit drawings" ... after experiencing a vision from God to move his hands "in a manner willed by His power." A member of a Southern Baptist church where glossolalia, or speaking in tongues, was not uncommon. Murray's glossographia were the visual embodiment of his personal religious beliefs: painted prophecies of good and evil, visually elaborate incantations of a deeply private faith.

Transferring the word of God into visual form, Murray's work is similar to that of Southern evangelical artists such as Sister Gertrude Morgan and Howard Finster, whose paintings ... are similarly crammed with dense script and obsessively detailed imagery ...

These comparisons suggest that American artists of all varieties are clearly engaged in visualising faith. Some, such as Murray and Tobey, are drawn to the subject of religion as a means of defining and expressing the dimensions of their beliefs. Others, including artists ranging from William Hawkins to Kiki Smith (b. 1954), select religious subjects as a means of interrogating the institutional boundaries of mainstream belief systems. Hawkin's Last Supper #6, 1986, for examples challenges traditional Western European notions of the participants in that biblical scene by painting Christ's disciples as a diverse group of men and women, black and white ... Similarly, Smith's Virgin Mary, 1992, diverges from conventional representations of the mother of Christ as a divine conduit of grace by depicting Mary as a fleshy, vulnerable, and distinctly human figure.

Some artists engaged in the intersections of art and religion see themselves as visionaries whose art mediates between a mysterious physical universe and their personal, subconscious, and imaginative understandings of the universe. Howard Finster recounted many times that he was a "man of visions," divinely appointed to "paint sacred art" after experiencing a visionary call in 1976. Likewise, Minnie Evans turned to religious art after experiencing vivid dreams and revelations and hearing the voice of God command her to "draw or die".

As a result, Doss argues that "such ... exhibitions as Testimony: Vernacular Art of the African-American South, 2000, and Let It Shine: Self-Taught Art from the T. Marshall Hahn Collection, 2001, highlighted the importance of religion, particularly evangelical Christianity, among a number of Southern "self-taught" artists. However well-intentioned, by featuring painters and sculptors who have been arbitrarily categorized as "different" from "mainstream" artists on the basis of formal art education, such exhibitions reinforce assumptions that the visual expression of religious belief lies mainly in the purview of a seemingly isolated group of "self-taught" artists living primarily in America's Bible Belt."


Talking Heads - Road To Nowhere.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

New Statesman and Big Society

The latest edition of the New Statesman has been guest-edited by Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and has managed to put the cat among the pigeons as he used his leader to warn the coalition government that it is committing the country to "radical, long-term policies for which no one voted". Reaction to his piece is being collated on the New Statesman website and can be read by clicking here.

Dr Williams commissioned a wide range of essays, articles and reports in conjunction with New Statesman editors for the 80-page special issue, including articles by Philip Pullman on being a "Church of England atheist", Iain Duncan Smith on cracking down on welfare abuse, Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks on why religion can build a better society than the so-called "big society", Gordon Brown on how the world is failing young people and Richard Curtis on malaria, being commissioned by an Archbishop. He also discussed Libya, torture and Britain's declining role in the world with Foreign Secretary William Hague.

Looking at new research by the Harvard sociologist Robert Puttnam, Jonathan Sacks writes that places of worship still bring people together in "mutual responsibility":

"The evidence shows that religious people - defined by regular attendance at a place of worship - actually do make better neighbours."

The research shows that this willingness to give time to volunteering is directly tied to the frequency with which they attend a place of worship. Sacks suggests a reason for this:

"Religion creates community, community creates altruism and altruism turns us away from self and towards the common good... There is something about the tenor of relationships within a religious community that makes it the best tutorial in citizenship and good neighbourliness."

"If we're searching for the big society, this is where we will find it," writes Sacks. However, he is not romantic about this, and expresses some reservations about the big society agenda:

"Does this mean that we are about to become more religious as a society, or that charity is an adequate substitute for government spending, or that faith communities are our only source of altruism? No. Britain, relative to the US, is a highly secular society. Philanthropy alone cannot fill the gap left by government cutbacks. And the sources of altruism go deep into our evolutionary past."

All particularly apposite as today I firmed up details of a Big Society Mapping Event, organised together with the London Borough of Redbridge, for faith groups in the borough which is to be held on Tuesday 5th July from 10.30am - 1.00pm at Holy Trinity Barkingside (Holy Trinity Church, Mossford Green, Barkingside, IG6 2BX).

The event will include presentations from Tasnim Iqbal, Redbridge CVS and Chair of the Big Society Working Group, and either Cllr Alan Weinberg, Cabinet Member for Children's Services, or John Powell, Director of Adult Social Services. The event will provide faith groups with an opportunity to contribute information on the kind of services and facilities that we currently provide in the borough and to explore how faiths group and the Council can work more closely to provide new opportunities in the borough.

I'll be contributing to the event on the Big Society in Redbridge from a faith perspective and will no doubt draw on some of the Chief Rabbi's insights.

The Holmes Brothers - Feed My Soul.

Christian-Muslim Youth statement on Trade Justice

Yesterday I attended the networking lunch with representatives from NGOs and faith organisations held at Lambeth Palace at which young Christians and Muslims reported their discussions and conclusions during the Christian-Muslim Youth Forum on Trade Justice organised by the Christian-Muslim Forum and MADE in Europe

As part of this Forum the young people present issued a Statement on Trade Justice in which, as young people of the Christian and Islamic faiths, they called upon our government to acknowledge their voice and attend to the crucial issue of trade injustice which is keeping millions of people around the world in poverty:

"... As faith communities, we are committed to upholding the principles of justice, fairness and honouring the dignity of every human being. In Christianity, Jesus said, "love thy neighbour as thyself". In Islam there is the saying of the Prophet Muhammad, "none of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes himself" – peace and blessings be upon them both. Tackling trade injustice is a poverty issue, it is a human rights issue, and it inherently concerns the dignity of our neighbours, our brothers and sisters around the world. Not only do fair trade rules offer opportunities for improving education, health provision, and other social amenities, tackling unjust trade in turn addresses social, racial, and gender inequality.

It has come to our attention that cotton farmers in West Africa have been increasingly side-lined as EU and US subsidies privilege European and North American cotton producers. This is despite the natural competitive advantage West Africa should be thriving off, given the abundance of cotton production in countries such as Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali. These unfair trade rules are directly affecting the livelihoods of millions of people in our world. It is unjustifiable for the US and the EU to push for developing countries to remove government support to agriculture while they subsidise their own famers at home, distorting world price through over-production.

Now is the time to act. We were pleased to hear that earlier this year you reaffirmed the government's commitment to ensuring the elimination of unfair EU trade subsidies. We now ask you to continue to use your influence, and political integrity, in the upcoming CAP policy reviews in 2013 in support of the world's poorest cotton farmers in West Africa by:

building a coalition for support for eliminating EU coupled cotton subsidies among European member statesbriefing and supporting UK MEPs to vote in favour of de-coupling cotton subsidies given CAP 2020 will be agreed by co-decisionmaking direct representations to the EU Agriculture Commissioner on the impact of cotton subsidies on West African cotton farmersasking your colleagues in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office to make representations to the US government to encourage the US to drop its trade distorting cotton subsidies ..."

The Archbishop of Canterbury's speech to the Youth Forum can be heard by clicking here.


Ladysmith Black Mambazo - Homeless.

Windows on the world (157)

Bath, 2011


The Nerves - Hanging On The Telephone.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

A Local Dialogue

From January to March 2011, Artist in Residence Sadia Ur-Rehman hosted six tea parties at Valentines Mansion as part of her project ‘A Local Dialogue’. Over 150 million cups of tea are drunk daily in Britain today, we are now a nation of tea drinkers with tea being our most drunk and favourite beverage. Ur-Rehman as a tea lover herself decided to host the tea parties for local residents, creating a communal space for local people to meet and discuss the local area.

‘’The idea for the tea parties came about from my own love of the beverage and how a good cuppa can be the setting for a really good conversation. I wanted to create a space where strangers could connect and engage over a conversation and I thought about an activity that all communities and cultures shared, and tea drinking seemed apt.”

Each tea party served a different type of tea from a different part of the world, guests were able to experience how tea is drunk in South Asia, North Africa, Persia, China and of course England. An authentic experience was provided with each tea party, Ur-Rehman also set a topic of conversation about the local area and history. During the tea parties, the artist collected and recorded stories, memories, experiences of the local area and Valentines Mansion.

The exhibition at Valentines Mansion which is open till Sunday 24th July is a culmination of the conversations that took place during the tea parties and the walk the artist facilitated in April. The artist has utilised a range of multimedia practices to present the conversations from an audio installation, silent film, photographs and an installation dedicated to tea. The project was initiated to empower local communities to play a part in the creation of art through local engagement; local residents whom attended the tea parties and walk played a vital role in this. The project so far has engaged 120 local residents as participants of the project, making art accessible to new audiences and increasing participation in the arts across Redbridge.


Bruce Cockburn - The Iris of the World.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Taste of Religion

Yesterday I spoke about Christian Festivals at the Taste of Religion event organised by the Employer's Forum on Belief at KPMG.

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer, Senior Rabbi at Borehamwood & Elstree United Synagogue, spoke about the significance of rest based on the Jewish understanding of sabbath. Khola Hasan, Director of Albatross Consultancy Limited, spoke about the disciplines of Islamic prayer and the two main Islamic Festivals of Ramadan and the Hajj. Shaunaka Rishi Das, Director, Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies and Hindu Chaplain to the University of Oxford, spoke about the way in which Hinduism integrates religion and philosophy. Dr Satinder Singh, Sikh Human Rights Group, highlighted the significance of equality within Sikhism. Simon Webley, Institute of Business Ethics, described their report: Religious Practices in the Workplace.

I briefly summarised the main Christian Festivals before concluding there are two main points arising for employers from such information:

"The first is that because some Christian festivals are officially sanctioned by governments as days when people are not required to work, Christians have not faced the same issues as those of other faiths in negotiating time off work to celebrate their religious festivals. However, this has also changed to a significant extent in more recent years as a result of flexible working patterns and Sunday opening, meaning that, as with those of other faiths, employers should sympathetically consider holiday requests from Christian employees in order to celebrate festivals or attend ceremonies where it is reasonable and practical for the employee to be away from work, and they have sufficient holiday entitlement in hand.

The second involves the perception that Christianity is not treated equally to other faiths, either because it is privileged or because it is disadvantaged. Every year the media features stories of Christian festivals, often Christmas, being 'banned' or constrained in some fashion, and often on the basis that their celebration offends those of other faiths. This is simply not the case. The Christian Muslim Forum, for example, has tried to address the issue by making a statement in 2006 which says:

“As Muslims and Christians together we are wholeheartedly committed to the recognition of Christian festivals. Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus and we wish this significant part of the Christian heritage of this country to remain an acknowledged part of national life. We believe that the only beneficiaries of a declining Christian presence in public life are those committed to a totally non-religious standpoint. We value the presence of clear institutional markers within society of the reality and mystery of God in public life, rather than its absence.”

How can employers respond to these issues? The EFB has pointed out that the tendency among employers has been “to try to get information about faiths rather than to consider whether a request is reasonable”:

“Employers need to ask whether their policies can accommodate the issue rather than whether the request is relevant to the employee’s professed beliefs. For example if someone wants to wear particular head gear; the place to start is by asking whether your uniform policy accommodates the wearing of headgear. If the employee is prepared to wear the allowable headgear and reach a compromise, perhaps on colour or style, then the issue is resolved.”

The worth of this advice can be seen in a recent case linked to the celebration of Palm Sunday. In a case which hit national headlines, electrician Colin Atkinson had said he was prepared to lose his job rather than comply with a request from his employer the Wakefield and District Housing Trust to remove a palm cross from the dashboard of his company van. He had been asked to do so in line with a policy which bans all personal items from WDH vans, from religious symbols to logos and flags supporting sports teams.

The case was resolved when WDH and Mr Atkinson agreed that he will in future keep his palm cross on his glove compartment, out of sight of the general public. He said: ‘WDH have been very reasonable and supportive in reaching this agreement and are even now assisting in every way for me to have a comfortable return to work, allowing me to be close to my faith and end the matter.’ Yet, that reasonable accommodation could easily have been agreed when the matter arose without there being any need for the threat of disciplinary action or the resulting publicity that followed it. So, following the EFB's guidance from the start can often mean that such issues don't arise.

The 2001 Census found that over three-quarters of the population reported belonging to a religion. ‘The Management Agenda 2003’, produced by Roffey Park, claimed that nearly three-quarters of workers are interested in "learning to live the spiritual side of their values," with more than 40% of UK managers saying they would value the opportunity to discuss workplace spirituality with their colleagues and 53% experiencing tensions between "the spiritual side of their values and their work."

Making reasonable accommodations for religious or belief observance in the workplace and sympathetic consideration of requests to celebrate festivals or attend ceremonies for Christians, as for those of other faiths, will go some way to acknowledging the reality of religious faith or belief in our society and also to addressing some of the tensions that those who hold a religious faith or belief experience within the workplace.


Emmylou Harris: Goodnight Old World.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

commission4mission exhibitions

commission4mission has two exhibitions planned for July. The first will be at the Crypt Gallery, St Martin-the-Fields, from 4th - 17th July, 10.00am - 8.00pm and will include a wide range of artists showing work in a variety of media including concept drawings, fused glass, paintings and reliefs. The exhibition will also include information about completed commissions and the commissioning process. Exhibiting artists currently include: Adam Boulter, Harvey Bradley, Colin Burns, Ally Clarke, Ann Creasey, Valerie DeanMark Lewis, Viki Isherwood-Metzler, Nadiya Pavliv-Tokarska, Caroline Richardson, Janet Roberts, Henry Shelton, Sergiy ShkanovPeter Webb, and myself. A Private View will be held on Monday 4th July from 6.00 - 8.00pm. RSVP to, if you would like to attend.

Our second exhibition will be held at Holy Trinity and St Augustine of Hippo Leytonstone from 14th - 20th July (10.00am - 1.00pm and 4.00 – 7.00pm) as part of the Leytonstone Festival and the Barking Episcopal Area Art Festival. This exhibition will include work by Colin Burns, Mark Lewis, Henry Shelton, Joy Rousell Stone and myself. On Wednesday 20th July at 7.30pm, Dr Graham Gould will speak on Scenes from the life of St Augustine, a concrete frieze by the sculptor Stephen Sykes at Holy Trinity and St Augustine, Mark Lewis will speak on the Art Trail for the Barking Episcopal Area and commission4mission's AGM will be held.
I will also be having a solo show at All Saints West Ham during the West Ham Festival and beyond (17th June - 20th July). This show will include my Broken journey, fragmented story installation and selections from my Windows on the world and Gants Hill Art Project photographic series. 


Peter Case - Dream About You.