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Monday, 30 January 2012

Windows on the world (181)

Bermondsey, 2012


The Alarm - The Stand.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

St John's Seven Kings: Our Weekend

This weekend at St John's Seven Kings has been full of the usual variety. There have been first aid demonstrations with our youth group, a naming ceremony for a new baby, a wedding, a medieval Murder Mystery evening as a fundraiser, a presentation from the Redbridge foodbank in our main morning service, and a discussion of justice based on the parable of the Good Samaritan during our Going Deeper Evening Service. All part of the rich tapestry of life and experience that is parish ministry in East London!


Rush - A Farewell To Kings.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Airbrushed from Art History (12b)

Here's a little addendum to my 'Airbrushed from Art History' series of posts because the current edition of the Church Times has an interesting feature in which Stephen Laird uncovers the artist’s little-known fascination with the writings of Jacques Maritain.

Laird says that Sutherland had a well-thumbed copy of Maritain's Art and Scholasticism which influenced his 1936 essay 'A Trend in English Draughtsmanship' and Sutherland's Welsh landscapes of the 1930s, well before Sutherland's later 'religious' work for St Matthews Northampton and Coventry Cathedral:

"Visually, Sutherland's Welsh landscapes from the '30s are most reminiscent of some of William Blake's more haunting imaginative illustrations. Intellectually, they are a fully fledged expression of Maritain's theological programme ...

Sutherland borrows Maritain's words to describe how the artist's part is to create something truly inspired and "poetic", and how this cannot be achieved "ex nihilo", as it must be "gathered from the world of created things" ...

discovering one thing with the help of another, and by their resemblance making the unknown known."

This is of interest as it indicates a degree of influence by Maritain on a generation of British painters and sculptors in the immediate post-war years who were known collectively as ‘the neo-romantics’ (Paul Nash, Henry Moore sometimes, Sutherland, John Piper, John Minton, Keith Vaughan, Ceri Richards and others). This movement, as Christopher Frayling has noted, "sometimes chimed with the aspirations of the post-war Church of England" as they "searched for a lost Eden amid the ruins of the contemporary landscape: who wanted to depict its desolation while striving to reach beyond it; who felt it might soon be closing time in the gardens of the West, and who thought of the pastoral as one of the few remaining symbolic ideas in the culture from which to draw hope."


Jonathan Harvey - Speakings.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Anselm Kiefer: Il Mistero delle Cattedrali (2)

For a man who creates massive, magnificently moody meditations on mortality, Anselm Kiefer is remarkably chipper and chirpy when interviewed. Tim Marlow, his interviewer in oe of a selection of Kiefer films able to be viewed at White Cube Bermondsey throughout Il Mistero delle Cattedrali, clearly enjoyed the encounter while professing himself slightly mystified by some of Kiefer's more mystical responses.

Kiefer was very clear about his creative processes, beginning with a clear concept which inspires him to create but which then undergoes significant change in the process of creation with the resulting work often not relating to the original concept at all. Concepts are clearly of significance for Kiefer with this exhibition deriving from his interest in alchemical ideas and processes but his works are so layered with significance that they are much more than and are about much more than the animating concept.

Ronald Goetz has claimed Kiefer as 'a deliberately, if idiosyncratically, religious painter.' He argues that allusions to Kiefer's 'own strangely skewed versions of Christianity, Judaism, gnosticism and alchemy abound, and he has acknowledged that he thinks a great deal about religion ‘‘because science provides no answers."' 'Somber, guilt-ridden, accusing, mocking, enigmatic -- Kiefer’s vision of life, religion, ideology, national identity and history has been charred by the flames of the Holocaust ... The ‘‘God is dead’’ theologians and our current theological deconstructionists can claim a profound ally in Kiefer.'

This is to overlook however the extent to which Kiefer's is a transformative art; one that deals out distressed, decaying or dying imagery and objects in ways that create awe-ful, powerful works which overwhelm with their size, physicality, emotions and ideas. He scores and scars his images into thick paint which dries and cracks to form expansive wastelands in front of which symbolic found objects are hung. His oxidisation technique, another alchemical aspect, seems to mean that these works are never resolved but are always changing, always in flux.

'You have to find a golden path between controlling and not controlling, between order and chaos' Kiefer has observed. 'If there is too much order, it is dead; if there is too much chaos, it doesn't cohere. I'm continually negotiating a path between these two extremes.' This is the creative process which, as he notes, accelerates 'the transformation that is already present in things' and which brings his dead objects and images back to significant, signifying life.


Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - People Ain't No Good.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Anselm Kiefer: Il Mistero delle Cattedrali

I'm looking forward to seeing tomorrow Anselm Kiefer's exhibition Il Mistero delle Cattedrali at White Cube Bermondsey. The first work by Kiefer that I saw was his Palmsonntag or Palm Sunday Artist Room at Tate Modern. I was so moved by this piece that I wrote a meditation based on notes and impressions that I jotted down while in the room itself.
Staged across 11,000 sq ft of gallery space, 'Il Mistero delle Cattedrali' is the largest presentation of Kiefer's work ever made in London:

"All of the large-scale canvases on show use landscape as its starting point. Thereafter, Kiefer works on each of them rigorously and with intense physicality and some of the canvases are exposed to the elements. In addition, for this exhibition, many of the large-scale works have undergone an accelerated process of oxidisation. Consequently, images that may be seen to evoke the sublime are themselves subjected to the subtle but immense power of natural forces. 'You have to find a golden path between controlling and not controlling, between order and chaos' Kiefer has observed. 'If there is too much order, it is dead; if there is too much chaos, it doesn't cohere. I'm continually negotiating a path between these two extremes.'"

Ronald Goetz has described Kiefer as a deliberately, if idiosyncratically, religious painter: 'Allusions to his own strangely skewed versions of Christianity, Judaism, gnosticism and alchemy abound, and he has acknowledged that he thinks a great deal about religion ‘‘because science provides no answers." Somber, guilt-ridden, accusing, mocking, enigmatic -- Kiefer’s vision of life, religion, ideology, national identity and history has been charred by the flames of the Holocaust.'


Low - Don't Understand.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

St John's Seven Kings: New developments

There have been several encouraging new developments for the mission and ministry of St John's Seven Kings at the beginning of 2012.
The photos above are of our refurbished Fellowship Room. Work began before Christmas to raise and relay the floor and to redecorate this room. That work is now complete and the room back in use again. The work, which provides level access throughout our building, has been made possible by donations/grants from the family of Philippa Page, London Over the Border and the AllChurches Trust. We are exploring options for locating a new project within this space and will give thanks for the refurbishment of the room when the Bishop of Barking visits us on Sunday 15th July.

Bishop David will be visiting us on that Sunday to commission the new Ministry Leadership Team which we have formed at St John's Seven Kings to develop strategies for Children and Youth, Mission, Pastoral Care, Peace and Justice, and Worship.

Other new developments include a monthly Communion Service at a local Supported Housing complex and the opportunity to input to RE lessons at Seven Kings High School. We have also been able to announce that a new Title Post Curate will join us in July.

We are also hosting a community campaigns meeting tomorrow. Seven Kings has had a number of well organised and effective community campaigns in recent years. Some have been single issue campaigns while others have been organised by community campaigning groups like TASK and the Seven Kings & Newbury Park Resident's Association (SKNPRA). Many of these campaigns have also benefited from the support or involvement of local councillors and/or MPs.

However, some of the energy for these campaigns has dissipated more recently as, for a variety of different reasons, the founding members of TASK are no longer able to take that grouping forward. As a result, I have suggested holding tomorrow's open meeting at which anyone interested in community campaigning in future to improve facilities in the area can discuss a new way forward.
There are several options, such as: keeping TASK going; using existing groups like Resident's Associations, only doing single issue campaigns, joining a broader campaigning coalition like The East London Communities Organisation (TELCO - The idea of the meeting is to discuss the options open to us and to see whether there is a concensus able to provide a way forward.


Evanescence - Bring Me To Life.

Proud to protect refugees

Today I spoke up for a great British tradition – refugee protection.

2011 was the 60th anniversary of the UN Refugee Convention, the international treaty which guarantees refugees’ rights. British lawyers played a crucial role in drafting the Convention and the UK was one of the first countries to sign. The Refugee Convention has saved millions of lives and no country has ever withdrawn from it.

Throughout the lifetime of the Convention, the Refugee Council has worked to protect refugees. To mark and celebrate 60 years of refugee protection, the Refugee Council is asking 10,000 people to join with them in calling for refugees to be treated with dignity and respect. I’ve just signed up - please add your voice today at


Duke Special - Salvation Tambourine.

RE Lesson: Justice

Yesterday I taught the following to a Year 7 RE class at Seven Kings High School. Tomorrow, I'll be repeating the lesson with another Year 7 class.

Jesus told stories to challenge those listening to him. He wanted them to think outside the box particularly when thinking about issues of justice. This is one of the stories he told – Luke 10. 30 - 35. What do you think his story is about?

To fully understand the story we need to see where it comes in the Bible. This is what comes before and after the story – Luke 10. 25 – 29, 36 & 37. How do you think the story answers the question, ‘Who is my neighbour?’
It will also help us understand the story even better if we know something of what the society of Jesus’ day was like. The relationship between the Jews and Samaritans was very similar to the relationship between Jews and Arabs today, or to any relationship marked by strong racial or cultural prejudice. The Jews at the time considered Samaritans as social outcasts, untouchables, racially inferior, practicing a false religion. They avoided any association with Samaritans, travelling long distances out of their way to avoid passing through a Samaritan area. Any close physical contact, drinking water from a common bucket, eating a meal with a Samaritan, would make a Jew ceremonially unclean - unable to participate in temple worship for a period of time – this may be why the priest and Levite don’t stop to help. The Samaritans responded quite naturally to all this with strong dislike or hatred for Jews.

So, knowing that Jesus is telling this story to Jews, in his time, who hate Samaritans, what is he trying to teach them? Who is the neighbour of the Jewish man in the story? Who helps who in the story? Why is the story about receiving help as well as giving it?

Now that we have worked out what the story is about and what Jesus was wanting people to think about and learn through the story, what do you think the story means Christians should do today about racial injustice? Crime? Neighbourliness?
In a recent assembly on racism at St Edward’s Church of England School I said, ‘Jesus taught that all people should love one another as He loves us and that all people, regardless of race or skin colour, are created in the likeness of God. In Genesis 1. 26 – 27 we read, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth... God said, 'Let us make Man in our own image and likeness ...’ So God made Man in his own image and likeness, male and female He created them.”  This means that there is no reason for racial prejudice, or prejudice of any kind. Because we are all created by God in his image, Christians believe that we are all children of God and life is much better when we share what each race has to give - music, clothes, food, beliefs, skills etc.’
The churches in East London have tried to live this out in practical ways. For example, at the time of the last General and Local Elections, the British National Party (the BNP) had 11 councillors in Barking & Dagenham and was expecting to gain more so that it would become the biggest party on the Council and was also expecting its leader, Nick Griffin, to be elected as the MP for Barking.

The BNP is a far-right political party but one that is rooted in racist and fascist thinking. As Christians we viewed its message as being one of hate because, for example, the BNP believes that white people are genetically superior to black people and that black and Asian people can never be British, even if they were born here. Therefore we decided we had to act to encourage people in the faith communities, including the churches, to vote and to vote for any party except the BNP.

We worked with a national campaign called Hope Not Hate helping to fund a faiths worker who went to all faith groups in the borough explaining why this was such an important issue and encouraging them to vote to stop the BNP from winning. We also leafleted in the borough, organised publicity for the campaign, and held a gospel concert to promote the campaign.

And the great thing is that we won. This is how Hope Not Hate reported the outcome:
"It's official: the BNP suffered a humiliating defeat in yesterday's election. Not only did the BNP fail to elect Nick Griffin or Simon Darby to Parliament, they also failed to take any council seats in Barking & Dagenham and Stoke-on-Trent. The BNP is divided and defeated - and it's all thanks to you ... this ... victory ... belongs to all of us who stood for hope, not hate."
So we’ve looked at some of the things that it is important for Christians to remember as we read stories in the Bible and think about their meaning for us today. We’ve also looked at some ways in which we try to apply to teachings we find in the Bible to issues of justice today.
What I’d like you to do next is to try this for yourselves. I’ve got a different story from the Bible for you and I’d like you to read it and think about the three ways of thinking about stories that we used earlier: 
  • What is the story about?
  • Where does it come in the Bible? and
  • What do I need to know about society at the time in order to understand the story?
I’d like us to read it and talk about it in small groups. When you think you need some extra information, please ask me. Here is the story – John 8. 1 – 11:

“Jesus went across to Mount Olives, but he was soon back in the Temple again. Swarms of people came to him. He sat down and taught them. The religion scholars and Pharisees led in a woman who had been caught in an act of adultery. They stood her in plain sight of everyone and said, "Teacher, this woman was caught red-handed in the act of adultery. Moses, in the Law, gives orders to stone such persons. What do you say?" They were trying to trap him into saying something incriminating so they could bring charges against him.

Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger in the dirt. They kept at him, badgering him. He straightened up and said, "The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone." Bending down again, he wrote some more in the dirt.

Hearing that, they walked away, one after another, beginning with the oldest. The woman was left alone. Jesus stood up and spoke to her. "Woman, where are they? Does no one condemn you?"
"No one, Master."
"Neither do I," said Jesus. "Go on your way. From now on, don't sin."
[The Law of Moses is the whole collection of written laws given through Moses to the people of Israel, which consist of many ceremonies, rituals, and symbols, to remind the people frequently of their duties and responsibilities. The Pharisees were a particular group in Jewish society with their own specific interpretation of the Law of Moses for which they claimed Mosaic authority. They are presented in the New Testament as being in regular debate and dispute with Jesus. Jesus seemed to think that the Law of Moses was being used to condemn and exclude people from the worship of God in the Temple when it was intended to draw people to God. He also seemed to think that obeying the detail of religious observances could prevent people from giving much needed help to those in difficulty – this is why the priest and Levite are criticised in the story of the Good Samaritan.]
What do you think this story has to say about the way Christians should think about justice and injustice? Why do you think that, based on this story?
In these two stories – one told by Jesus and one about him – we see him saying that we are all the same, whatever our race, colour, religion, class etc. - in two important aspects: first, we are all neighbours and as a result should give and receive love from one another; second, we are all sinners – those who fail to be perfect like God is perfect – and therefore we should bear with, understand and forgive each others faults and failings while encouraging each other to live differently in future.
On the basis of the kind of actions, stories and teachings of Jesus that we have thought about today, Christians have got involved in approaches to justice like that involved in restorative justice.
Restorative justice is a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused or revealed by criminal behaviour. Restorative justice aims to create opportunities for victims, offenders and community members who want to do so to meet to discuss the crime and its aftermath. It expects offenders to take steps to repair the harm they have caused. It seeks to restore victims and offenders to being whole contributing members of society and it provides opportunities for parties with a stake in a specific crime to participate in its resolution.
Restorative justice has three principles which seem to fit with what we have seen of Jesus’ example and teaching today: 
  • Justice requires that we work to restore those who have been injured.
  • Those most directly involved and affected by crime should have the opportunity to participate fully in the response if they wish.
  • Government's role is to preserve a just public order, and the community's is to build and maintain a just peace.
In restorative justice programmes the victim and offender encounter one another.  This might be done directly in a meeting between the two (and perhaps others as well) with a facilitator assisting them but can also be done indirectly through exchange of letters, videos and by messages delivered by a third party. Stories of confession, forgiveness and reconciliation forcefully remind us of the relational wounds caused by crime and the need to address those. 
Restorative justice seeks to repair the harm done by crime. Whenever possible this repair should be done by the persons responsible for the harm. That is why restorative justice values efforts by offenders to make amends. There are four elements of making amends: apology, changed behaviour, restitution, and generosity. Each element has potential for helping the victim to heal and the offender to become a productive part of the community, although usually more than one will be involved in a restorative outcome. It is the victim and offender who decide which ones are important and feasible in particular cases. That is why restorative encounters are important.

Crime causes injuries.  It also can result in both the victim and offender feeling stigmatized.  Therefore, restorative justice places a high value on the reintegration of the victim and of the offender. The goal is to have them become whole, contributing members of their communities. Reintegration occurs when the victim or offender can become active and productive parts of their communities. To accomplish this, victims and offenders must find communities with the following characteristics: (1) mutual respect for those in the community, (2) mutual commitment to others in the community, and (3) intolerance for - but understanding of - deviant behaviour by members of the community. 

Restorative justice processes are also more inclusive than traditional criminal justice processes in that they actively invite all affected parties - victims, offenders, and community members - to participate in resolving the crime.
An example of these approaches in practice is Sycamore Tree, which:
  • is a six session programme, run in prisons, focusing on raising victim awareness, and based on the principles of restorative justice;
  • challenges attitudes and behaviour by teaching and encouraging offenders to take responsibility for their actions towards victims and the community – to recognise the wrong they have done, the impact it has had on others, and the need to put things right;
  • enables offenders to hear from ‘surrogate victims’ about their experiences of crime; and to reflect on the impact and harm caused, and the need for apology and reparation;
  • uses the story of Zacchaeus from the Bible as a framework;
  • is run at the invitation of Prison Service Chaplaincy, by trained Prison Fellowship staff and with volunteers from all Christian denominations, who through prayer, practical action and values based programmes, seek to restore those affected by crime; and
  • has been run more than 330 times since 1999, involving four thousand prisoners in more than 25% of all prisons.
 “Sycamore Tree made me realise the pain I caused to my victim, the families and myself. I wanted to take responsibility for what I had done.” A young offender


Julie and Buddy Miller - Broken Things.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Beyond the power of words

I have a new article published today on the Transpositions blog entitled 'Walter Navratil: Beyond the Power of Words'.
Walter Navratil was an Austrian artist whose work shows the influence of Art Brut and which explores the incidence and impact of mental distress. This exploration is, however, always shot through with Christian concepts, themes and images focused on suffering, its endurance and redemption.

Transpositions is a collaborative effort of students associated with the Institute for Theology, Imagination, and the Arts at the University of St Andrews, voted runner-up as Best Newcomer Blog in the Christian New Media Awards 2010.

Its organisers write:

"On one level, transpositions connotes our goal to create conversations between Christian theology and the arts. Just like a musician might transpose from the key of B flat Major to C Major in order to create beautiful music with other instruments, we desire to transpose from the mode of theology to the arts and from the arts to theology in order to create meaningful resonances. Transpositions also brings to mind placing images and ideas of varying opacity over one another so that from particular points of view they appear to blend without distinction, creating a new form of beauty. On yet another level, transpositions suggests the nature of both art and theology as a transposition of divine reality into earthly form. As C. S. Lewis concluded in his brilliant essay entitled ‘Transposition,’ our glimpse of God through embodied transpositions and our taste of true reality in the present gives us hope that one day we will experience the fullness of beauty."


Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris - Love Hurts.

Windows on the world (180)

London, 2011


NIck Lowe & Elvis Costello - Indoor Fireworks.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Transforming Presence

Yesterday I was at Transforming Presence: Time to Talk, a well organised diocesan consultation on the strategic priorities for the Diocese of Chelmsford over the next fifteen years. These are intended to begin a continuing and widespread discussion of how we better become the church God wants us to be, and are better able to serve God’s world.
We discussed our best experiences of church, three words for the essentials of Church (I came up with creative, Christ-shaped community), what inspired and challenged us in the Transforming Presence document, and created headlines and news stories for the Church as we imagine it may be in 2025. While the document recognises some of the challenges which the Diocese faces, the event was predominantly upbeat meaning that my suggestion of 'Survival is success' as a headline wasn't picked up by the group of which I was part. To give the group their due though, we did grapple with real issues in the headline we eventually chose - 'Church accepts equality - 40 years too late!'
The strategic priorities identified by Transforming Presence - inhabiting the world distinctively, evangelizing effectively, and serving with accountability - are valuable but do seem to need some further unpacking or development.
One point that was particularly well made on our table was that it is hard to identify anything that is distinctively Christian about the way that we live both in the sense that our lives are often little different to those of others around us and also in the sense that most aspects of the way we aspire to live as Christians can also be found in other wisdom/faith traditions. The question to be addressed then is in what sense can it be said that these things are distinctively Christian if they are also found outside of Christianity? It may be that we would be better to speak of inhabiting the world ‘Christianly’ (if such a word exists), as opposed to distinctively.

Additionally, the document, in my view, needs to place a stronger emphasis on the practical outworking of faith in all forms of social action. At present, social action only seems to feature as an aspect of serving with accountability and should be given greater prominence, particularly in the light of many current mission initiatives which combine evangelism and social action.

My major concern with the document and its linked paper, Transforming Leadership, is that the analysis of the structural issues faced by the Diocese and Church of England is inadequate. The talk is of eradicating the sense of a ‘them’ and ‘us’ divide between parishes and diocese, where the diocese is seen as part of the Church of England’s top down, hierarchical, bureaucratic and, increasingly, managerial structures. My view is that this is a smoke-screen that we (priests and parishes) use to defend our individualism which in turn is fostered by structures which give exceptionally high levels of autonomy to us.

Those who have worked in generally hierarchical organisations will acknowledge immediately that the Church of England, while having its own hierarchy, is not a traditional hierarchical organisation where the decisions of those at the top of the organisation are simply implemented by those below. The hierarchy in the Church of England have little direct control over priests and parishes because incumbents have held the freehold of their parishes and each parish is essentially its own autonomous charity. This situation is only minimally changed for priests by common tenure and means that priests and parishes can effectively ignore the hierarchy of the Church should they wish to do so with, in comparison to most other organisations, minimal comeback. This independence and autonomy is, in my opinion, highly valued by many of us (priests and parishes) and we then fervently resist changes which would encroach on or limit this independence and autonomy.

It can then be, as part of seeking to preserve this independence and autonomy, that some come to oppose so-called bureaucratic or managerial methods which have the effect both of increasing accountability and decreasing scope for individualism. Managerial methods are decried as adopting the methods of the ‘world’ which don’t apply to the Church but, it seems to me, that our valuing of independence and autonomy without accountability is as much an adoption of ‘worldly’ values because it is an expression of the individualism which characterises modernism and consumerism instead of the communitarianism which should characterise the Christian faith.

While accountability features among the strategic priorities and within Transforming Leadership, I am not confident that this tendency towards individualism and autonomy fostered by the existing structures of the Church is adequately identified or addressed. While this is clearly a provocative contribution to the continuing and widespread discussion that Transforming Presence initiates, and a contribution with which many of my colleagues may disagree, I hope that we can have an honest and open discussion of strategic priorities, approaches and structures and that these views can be heard and understood within that process. 

For other views, see Banksy here and the twitter stream for the event.


David Bowie - Heroes.

Restoration engraving in Bankside exhibition

An engraving by Peter S. Smith which was commissioned for St John's Leytonstone to celebrate the completion of major restoration works to the church can be seen in the forthcoming Society of Wood Engravers exhibition at the Bankside Gallery from 27th January to 9th February.

The Society of Wood Engravers exists to promote wood engraving. It is the principal organisation and rallying point for those interested in the subject; it also maintains a lively interest in other forms of relief printmaking. Essentially, it is an artists' exhibiting society. There are around seventy members, practising artists who have been elected or invited to membership on merit.

Simon Brett has written that Peter S. Smith was:

"among a group of like-minded young artists who sat at the feet of the Dutch Calvinist art historian Hans Rookmaaker. Rookmaaker (1922-77), himself part of Francis Schaeffer's evangelical L'Abri movement, brought a deep understanding of contemporary art to bear on what a Christian might do in what then seemed like cultural end-times."

Brett writes that Smith "has always been one of the few artists to use wood engraving for a truly personal and genuinely contemporary vision, untrammelled by even the best conventions of the medium."

Iona - Let Your Glory Fall.

Jesus: Priest and King

On the basis of one appearance in the story told within the Old Testament (Genesis 14. 17 - 20), Melchizedek has generated a huge amount of press over the years. Some people have thought he was Shem, one of Noah’s sons, others have thought he was a divine being or an angel, still others have argued that he was an archetype of Jesus or the pre-incarnate Jesus or, even, Jesus himself.  

There are two other references to Melchizedek in the Bible. The first is in Psalm 110, a Psalm about a King who is also a priest in the priestly order of Melchizedek. The second is a lengthy passage in the letter to the Hebrews (Hebrews 7) arguing that Jesus is the Priest-King in the order of Melchizedek spoken of in Psalm 110. 

The writer to the Hebrews suggests that Melchizedek and Abraham represent two different types of priesthood. Abraham represents the priesthood for the people of Israel which is formed while they wandered in the wilderness after being freed from slavery in Egypt. The tribe of Levi became the priests for the people of Israel who supported them by giving the Levites a tithe or tenth of what they grew or earnt.

Melchizedek, though, represents a different order of priests. He is both a King and a Priest and his priestly order is seen as being superior to that of the Levites. This is because he blesses Abraham. In scripture, as in the culture of the time, the one who blesses is always superior to the one who receives the blessing. So, the priest Melchizedek blessed Abraham, who was to be the father of all Israelites including their priests, the Levites. Therefore, the priesthood of Melchizedek is superior to that of the Levites. In addition, Abraham gives Melchizedek a tithe which is a way of acknowledging Melchizedek’s priestly office.

It is important for the writer to the Hebrews to be able to suggest this because he wants to show his fellow Jews why Jesus can be regarded as a priest even though he didn’t come from the tribe of Levi. More than that he wants to show his fellow Jews that the time for the Levitical priesthood has come to an end. The Levitical priests were for the people of Israel but Jesus is a priest for all peoples everywhere. The Levites were human beings who died and their priesthood ended but Jesus is eternal and is a priest forever. The Levitical priests had to continually offer sacrifices but Jesus made a once for all time sacrifice of himself on the cross.

So the writer to the Hebrews is saying that Jesus is the ultimate priest-king. He is the one that the example of Melchizedek pre-figures. He is the one about whom the Psalmist is writing in Psalm 110. Now that Jesus has made the ultimate sacrifice, there is no need for any other sacrifices or any other priests.

This is how the writer to the Hebrews actually puts it:

“The matter becomes even plainer; a different priest has appeared, who is like Melchizedek. He was made a priest, not by human rules and regulations, but through the power of a life which has no end. For the scripture says, You will be a priest forever, in the priestly order of Melchizedek. The old rule, then, is set aside, because it was weak and useless. For the Law of Moses could not make anything perfect. And now a better hope has been provided through which we come near to God ...

Jesus, then, is the High Priest that meets our needs. He is holy; he has no fault or sin in him; he has been set apart from sinners and raised above the heavens. He is not like other high priests; he does not need to offer sacrifices every day for his own sins first and then for the sins of the people. He offered one sacrifice, once and for all, when he offered himself. The Law of Moses appoints men who are imperfect to be high priests; but God's promise made with the vow, which came later than the Law, appoints the Son, who has been made perfect forever.” (Hebrews 7. 15 -19, 26 – 28)

So all this, strange and confusing as it is, is a way of emphasising to us the unique significance of Jesus and his sacrifice:

“The priesthood of the old covenant was temporary, but Christ ‘holds his priesthood pemanently’ (7:24). Those priests of Old Testament times were themselves ‘beset with weakness’ and constantly exposed to the same sinful tendencies as those who came to them for help, but Christ was sinless (5:2; 7:26). The priests of former days offered the blood of goats and bulls, but Christ offered himself (9:13, 7:27). Their sacrifices could effect only a partial cleansing, nothing more than ‘the purification of the flesh’, whereas the sacrifice of Christ purifies man’s disturbed and guilty conscience (9:9, 13-14; 10:22). The Old Testament sacrifices were a necessary reminder of the seriousness of sin (10:3), but by Christ’s offering our sins can be taken away (9:26; 10:11-12). Constant repetition was an essential feature of the Old Testament sacrificial system, but Christ’s sacrifice was offered ‘once for all’ (10:11-12).” (Raymond Brown, The Message of Hebrews, Inter-Varsity Press 1982)

In this way the writer to the Hebrews also gives one helpful way of thinking about and reading the Old Testament:

“It is not simply a graphic account of God’s dealings with his covenant people over the centuries. Old Testament Scripture is essentially Christ-centred … it eagerly anticipates his coming, it describes his earthly ministry, vividly relates the precise circumstances and eternal benefits of his death for mankind, and looks beyond itself to the eventual fulfilment of its finest hopes. Its historical development, spiritual value and moral lessons are all fully appreciated by our author, but he comes to its arresting narratives as a man equipped by the Spirit of God to discern a further message. It is a book about Christ. The Son of God dominates the word of God in both Testaments. The marks of Christ are clearly impressed on all its pages for those who have the eyes to see them.” (R. Brown)

So, as we focus more specifically on the Old Testament readings in our services during 2012, let us be seeking to discern Christ’s shadow on the words we read and, like the writer to the Hebrews, see the significance of Christ and his sacrifice comparison and contrast with the stories of the Old Testament. Let us thank God for the once for all, absolute and eternal nature of Jesus’ sacrifice of himself and praise him for that he has become the Priest and King for whom Melchizedek was a model.


Delirious - Jesus Blood.

Thursday, 19 January 2012


Artist Paul Hobbs has a new website showcasing his work. Paul makes both celebratory abstract paintings, and painting and sculpture that consider contemporary social issues in the light of biblical values. He frequently gives workshops and talks about his artwork, its themes and his methods of working.
The new website includes:
  • pictures of 80 original Artworks;
  • photos and comments on three recent Shows;
  • Workshop and Exhibition Booking information;
  • an Articles page with an interesting article from the Baptist Times;
  • a large Shop with originals, prints, cards and posters etc.; and
  • dates for a show in London for October 2012.
Tom Waits - Back In The Crowd.

Jack Clemo: The Invading Gospel

The latest ImageUpdate has this about the The Invading Gospel by Jack Clemo:
Jack Clemo
"What do you know about the deaf and blind mid-twentieth century poet from Cornwall in England named Jack Clemo? Our guess is: not much. There are a few people out there trying to change this situation and we can thank one in particular: Louis Hemmings from Ireland, who has brought Clemo’s book The Invading Gospel back into print. Clemo was born in 1916 amid the china clay mines of Cornwall, which many have described as having a desolate, “lunar” look. Something of the stark intensity of this landscape colored Clemo’s style and vision. Deaf by age 20, Clemo’s blindness came on slowly and became total. After a period of youthful rebellion he returned to the Christian faith of his youth. The Invading Gospel—part autobiography, part apologetic—tells this story and goes beyond to reflect on many subjects, including the relationship between faith and art. Clemo’s stern Calvinism will be offensive to some readers but it is certainly bracing and intriguing. The controlling metaphor of the book comes from his belief that the Christian Gospel is like an invasion into the proud ego of the rebellious individual. This is, of course, a stark and even violent image and yet it bears a strong resemblance to that of someone like Flannery O’Connor, who grew up amidst the red clay of Georgia. And Clemo stresses that when the soul surrenders to this invasion the result is joyful, not dour and ascetical. He is also a more generous reader than this bare summary may indicate—for example, he writes of his appreciation of writers outside his own theological tradition, such as G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and Thomas Merton. At the very least, the re-issuing of this book ought to help stimulate a revived interest in what is arguably Clemo’s greatest achievement: his poetry (which has been published by the distinguished British press Bloodaxe, among others). The Invading Gospel has been privately re-published with some new background material and an afterword by Louis Hemmings and is available directly from him: The book is even more readily available in Kindle and Lulu editions."


Jack Clemo - The Broadening Spring.

The humour of the really real and the more than real

Transpositions is a collaborative effort of students associated with the Institute for Theology, Imagination, and the Arts at the University of St Andrews which was voted runner-up as Best Newcomer Blog in the Christian New Media Awards 2010. The blog aims to transpose from the mode of theology to the arts and from the arts to theology in order to create meaningful resonances.

In a recent post Jim Watkins advocates for William Lynch's contention in Christ and Apollo that "comedy is the imaginative form par excellence because it exposes, like no other form can, our concrete and finite reality." Watkins writes that:

"Lynch contrasts comedy and tragedy as the two ends of a telescope. Tragedy looks at life through the narrow end where the human condition is writ large, and so we weep for its frailty and death. Comedy, however, looks at life through the wide end where the human appears small and insignificant, and so we laugh at its foibles and awkwardness."

I agree that this is true for much comedy but not for my favourite form of comedy; which is the surreal. Surreal humour is either more than real - taking us on a flight fancy from a real starting point to a world that is other than our own - or really real - creating absurdity by taking literally what is commonly understood figuratively.

Here are several examples primarily as an excuse to post some great sketches:

The Goon Show - 'The Great String Robberies'

Seagoon: Oh, jolly good, jolly good, ha-ha! [Nose throw sound] Now, where's the scene of the crime?

Navy Red Kilt: This is the hoose.

Scot No.1: Aye, welcome to the scene of the crime.

Seagoon: Ah, wheres the front door?

Scot No.1: It's in this brown paper parcel. [Opens it] We only use it for going in and out. Agh, there.

FX: [Door opens]

Scot No.1: The black-bearded criminal must have got in through the door or the windows. Everything else was locked.

Seagoon: I see. Right. Now, who was killed?

Scot No.1: No one's been killed.

Seagoon: Then this is a job for the police.

Scot No.1: You are a policeman.

Seagoon: Oh, yes, yes, I wasted no time getting here, did I, eh? - Hands up! You're all under arrest!

FX: [Door through which they enter]

Greenslade: The String Robberies, Part Two.

Seagoon: Part Two? That's us!

Scot No.1: You see that piece of string on the table?

Seagoon: Yes. What's that space in the middle?

Scot No.1: That's the piece that's missing.

Seagoon: So! So that's what a piece of missing string looks like, eh? Where's it gone? Ah! [laughs] But wait... can't you see, you, you poor Scottish fool!

Scot No.1: [Gnashing teeth sounds]

Seagoon: It's all, it's all a practical joke!

Scot No.1: [Gnashing teeth sounds]

Seagoon: Someone's cut that string in the center, pulled the two pieces in opposite directions, giving the impression that a piece had been removed from the middle.

Scot No.1: Hairy gringlers, he's right! Och, it's true! If you put these two pieces together, the gap disappears!

Scot No.2: Aye, but did you notice when you did that, the two outside ends got shorter?

Seagoon: Gad... Gad, Chisolm's right! Now I see what happened. What cunning! [laughs] The criminal's cut a piece off each end, then cut across the middle pulled them apart, making the string look the original length.

Scot No.1: Oh dear, this makes it a baffling case.

Scot No.2: Aye.

Seagoon: Ah yes. Instead of one piece we're looking for two separate ends... It's a good job I can count! [laughs] We must start investigations at once!

FX: [Link music]

Greenslade: [As radio announcer] ...Finally, here is a police message: Will all people in possession of two pieces of string please report to their local police station.

Spike Milligan - The Late News

Marty Feldman - Travel Agency Sketch

At Last The 1948 Show - Four Yorkshiremen

Monty Python - Ministry of Silly Walks

Paul Merton - The Series Episode 4

Milton Jones - Food

Milton Jones - House of Rooms


The Style Council - The Stand Up Comic's Instructions.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Windows on the world (179)

Gants Hill, 2011


Tom Waits - Talking At The Same Time.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Prayer: tuning in to God

Praying is like being a “ham” radio operator. Amateur or “ham” radio operators use radio frequencies which allow them to talk to people all over the world from right where they are in their homes.

Hearing and talking to people around the world via "ham" radio is not as simple as picking up the phone, dialling their number and talking away, instead you have to tune into the correct frequency, hope that you can hear the other person, hope that they can hear you and hope that the signal doesn't fade away.

A radio frequency is the number of times a radio wave gets repeated at a specific modulation. We are able to receive a radio station as long as we stay within the designated frequency.

Something similar happens with prayer and in this story (1 Samuel 3. 1 - 21) we see Samuel learning to tune himself in to the “God” channel in such a way that he can regularly hear from God. The story starts in a place and time where the people of God rarely hear from God -  “In those days, when the boy Samuel was serving the Lord under the direction of Eli, there were very few messages from the Lord, and visions from him were quite rare.”

The problem though, I suggest, did not lie with God, because God is always communicating – always sending messages to human beings. No, the problem wasn’t that God had stopped speaking; the problem was that the people had stopped listening. They weren’t tuned in to the “God” channel and instead were listening to other channels and on other frequencies.
In fact this is true for us too. One way of thinking about what happens when people become Christians is that they have retuned their minds and spirits so that instead of listening on the selfish, self-centred frequencies to which we are naturally tuned in, we have retuned so that we are now listening to God.
Eli tells Samuel to say to God, “Speak; your servant is listening.” For Samuel to say, “Speak” means that he has an attitude of expectancy that God will speak and to say, “your servant is listening” means that he has an attitude of attentiveness and willing to act on what he hears from God. These are the attitudes that we need if we are to hear frequently from God – expectation that he will speak, attentiveness to what he says, and the readiness to take to heart and act on what he says.
The Bible suggests that God speaks in a myriad of different ways: through nature, through other people, through scripture, through everyday tasks and actions, through thoughts and ideas, through dreams and visions, through prayer, through worship, through inspired languages, through circumstances, through signs. The list could go on and on. Some of the ways in which he speaks seem to us to be supernatural and others very ordinary. It doesn’t matter how we hear him, it just matters that we do.
One way in which we can do this is to consciously try to reflect on what we see, hear and do in the course of our daily lives. The Bible is full of encouragement to reflect. The words, reflect, consider, ponder, meditate and examine, crop up everywhere. God encourages us to reflect on everything; his words (2 Timothy 2.7), his great acts (1 Samuel 12.24), his statutes (Psalm 119.95), his miracles (Mark 6.52), Jesus (Hebrews 3.1), God's servants (Job 1.8), the heavens (Psalm 8.3), the plants (Matthew 6.28), the weak (Psalm 41.1), the wicked (Psalm 37.10), oppression (Ecclesiastes 4.1), labour (Ecclesiastes 4.4), the heart (Proverbs 24.12), our troubles (Psalm 9.13), our enemies (Psalm 25.19), our sins (2 Corinthians 13.5). Everything is up for reflection but we are guided by the need to look for the excellent or praiseworthy (Philippians 4.8) and to learn from whatever we see or experience (Proverbs 24.32).
Clearly all this reflection cannot take place just at specific times. Just as we are told to pray always, the implication of the Bible's encouragement to reflection is that we should reflect at all times. We need to make a habit of reflection, a habit of learning from experience and of looking for the excellent things.
Everything around us can potentially be part of our ongoing conversation with God, part of which is reflection. This is a style of prayer that may go back at least to the Celtic Christians. They had a sense of the heavenly being found in the earthly, particularly in the ordinary tasks of home and work, together with the sense that every task can be blessed if we see God in it.

David Adam, who has written many contemporary prayers in a Celtic style, says that:

“Much of Celtic prayer spoke naturally to God in the working place of life. There was no false division into sacred and secular. God pervaded all and was to be met in their daily work and travels. If our God is to be found only in our churches and our private prayers, we are denuding the world of His reality and our faith of credibility. We need to reveal that our God is in all the world and waits to be discovered there – or, to be more exact, the world is in Him, all is in the heart of God. Our work, our travels, our joys and our sorrows are enfolded in His loving care. We cannot for a moment fall out of the hands of God. Typing pool and workshop, office and factory are all as sacred as the church. The presence of God pervades the work place as much as He does a church sanctuary.” (Power Lines: Celtic Prayers about Work, SPCK, 1992)

We know that ordinary people in Scotland were doing this daily in the late 19th century, and probably much earlier too, because Alexander Carmichael collected their Gaelic prayers and poems in a book called the Carmina Gadelica, which “abounds with prayers invoking God’s blessing on such routine daily tasks as lighting the fire, milking the cow and preparing for bed.” More recently a number of book have been written which provide contemporary prayers and blessings for all aspects of everyday life; everything from computers, exams, parties, pets, cars, meetings, lunchtimes, days off to all sorts of life situations including leaving school, divorce, redundancy and mid-life crises.

Bishop Martin Wallace has said that:

“Just as God walked with Adam in the garden of Eden, so he now walks with us in the streets of the city chatting about the events of the day and the images we see” (City Prayers, The Canterbury Press, 1994).

As a result, he wants to encourage us to “chat with God in the city, bouncing ideas together with him, between the truths of the Bible and the truths of urban life” and, “as you walk down your street, wait for the lift, or fumble for change at the cash-till … to construct your own prayers of urban imagery.”

When we do this we are tuned in to God as Samuel learnt to be and what was said of Samuel may also be said of us: “As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him … [and] continued to reveal himself … to Samuel.”


Aretha Franklin - Are You Sure?