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Saturday, 30 June 2012

Prayer for Armed Forces Day 2012

As Padre to the Ilford branch of the Royal British Legion, I led prayers for those on active service as part of an event held for Armed Forces Day outside Ilford Town Hall today.
As I understand it, Armed Forces Day is an opportunity to do two things. Firstly, to raise public awareness of the contribution made to our country by those who serve and have served in Her Majesty's Armed Forces, Secondly, it gives us, as a nation, an opportunity to show our support for the men and women who make up the Armed Forces community: from currently serving troops to Service families and from veterans to cadets.
For those who are Christians wanting to show their support, the most natural thing for us to do is to pray for those on active service. For that reason, I was very happy to have this opportunity to lead prayers as part of the Ilford event. I mainly used suggestions for prayer and prayers which can be found at, a website provided by the Armed Forces Christian Union:
We pray for safety, health and well-being for our servicemen and women whilst they are away. For military leaders of all ranks who are given responsibility for leading men and women on operations and who have to make life-or-death and welfare decisions on a regular basis. For the safety of all soldiers leading patrols, often with metal detection equipment; and for the safety of all field vehicle recovery teams often working in very dangerous conditions. For safety of our aircrews as they operate helicopters and fast jets in hostile environments, including retrieving injured personnel from operational areas, frequently under fire. For the ground crews who maintain the aircraft. For Royal Navy and Royal Marines personnel on board ship in various hostile situations, including anti-terrorism and anti-drugs operations. For chaplains serving with and ministering to deployed personnel, including taking repatriation services and ministering to the injured, the bereaved and those suffering from combat stress. For medical staff: doctors, nurses, medical assistants, physiotherapists, radiographers, etc. We pray for skill, wisdom, stamina and insight as they treat the injured, and thank God for the many lives saved as a result of the quality of care they give to the injured. For all who have been wounded especially those whose lives have been changed forever. For those feeling lonely and afraid in a foreign country far from family, friends and familiar surroundings. For all dependants under stress and not coping well with separation. We pray that our Government will make funding available for our deployed servicemen and women to be resourced with the best equipment and that honourable, peaceful and just solutions will be found to problems in countries where our troops are currently deployed.
Resolute God, we thank you for the men and women of our Armed Forces and for all their families and friends whose support enables them to serve our country. We pray that in all circumstances they will be able to keep their eyes on the common goal and ultimately win the prize for which you have called us. We thank you for the opportunity to be able to hold this event for Armed Forces Day and ask that we continue to pray every day for the life of the world and those who exercise power, asking that they find ways to work together for justice and peace so that war is rejected and we can all live peacefully as members of the human family. Merciful Father, we ask that you hear and accept all our prayers through your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ, Amen


The Soldiers - He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Local church-based Olympic-related events

‘GOD in the PARK’ is an exciting venture that is happening on Saturday 14th July 2012, from 11am - 6pm. It is a day, where Christians from all denominations will come together as Christ’s body to Goodmayes Park for a time of worship, fun and fellowship. GOD in the PARK presents a fantastic opportunity for Churches across the London boroughs of Barking and Dagenham, Redbridge and Havering to come together, encourage one another and grow in friendship. The day is going to be filled with worship, lots of fun, (music, dance and street entertainment etc) bouncy castles, marquees serving tea/coffee plus cakes! All events that will be happening in the day will be free, but families and various groups coming on the day are encouraged to bring their own picnics.

Speakers include Jeff Lucas and Jonathan Oloyede. Performers include Dave Bilborough and Helen Yousaf. 'GOD in the PARK' is also the latest Olympic-themed event at which the Run with the Fire digital exhibition will be shown. Run with the Fire will run on their big screen at different points during the day. Keep up-to-date with news of 'GOD in the Park' at their facebook page by clicking here.

On Your Marks … Get … Set … Go! Children, aged 5 to 11, have the opportunity to join up with other athletes and take part in the 'Global Games' at the Holiday Club at St John's Seven Kings this year. As they do they can discover what it was like for the disciples to follow Jesus and how they can be on his team today.

Based on Scripture Union’s On Your Marks holiday club material, the Holiday Club will be full of creative teaching, games, craft, songs, prayers and Bible reading as children learn about God’s great plan for salvation. The holiday club runs from 10.00am – 12.30pm from Tuesday 24th – Thursday 26th July and is open to all people aged 5 to 11. As usual all those involved are really looking forward to this year’s holiday club. It will be great fun, we’ll learn a lot and it would be fantastic if lots of children come along.

The setting for On Your Marks is the Global Games, a fictitious international sporting tournament which takes place in Galilee in the first century AD. Each day a different sporting event from the Global Games Pentathlon is explored that links in with the Bible passage.
Many sporting events are not about individuals playing against each other but about teams working together, often with someone taking the lead to inspire, encourage and support. Children love supporting teams, being part of a team and having that sense of belonging even if they are not particularly into sport. This is especially true if the team leader is one who inspires them. It is this idea of being a member of Jesus’ team that is at the heart of On Your Marks.
On Your Marks is based around stories about Jesus from Mark’s Gospel. Each day the children will meet Jesus as he calls his disciples (picks his team), demonstrates his healing power, challenges them to keep stepping out in faith, shows his authority, reveals himself as the Son of God (their team leader) and teaches them to keep following him as their team leader. Children will discover and begin to experience what it is like to be a member of the team that has Jesus as the leader.
Each day at On Your Marks the children can join real-life sports men and women on location as they share their sporting experiences, their role as team players and how Jesus makes a difference in their lives. They can also be transported to sports matches and events with the storyteller as he brings stories of Jesus alive.

Helen Yousaf - Child Of Mine.

New Scrap Metal Bill

Richard Ottaway, MP, will introduce the second reading of his Bill to regulate the scrap metal industry on Friday 13 July. This bill will bring in:
• A robust and enforceable licensing scheme for scrap metal dealers
• A requirement to check and record photo ID at the point of sale
• Powers of entry to consult the records
• All trade to be cashless – including itinerant traders
A national register of scrap yards.
These are necessary steps to prevent illegal trade. They will not hinder legal trade in scrap metal, which is a valuable part of the recycling industry.
The Government has put legislation in place to outlaw cash transactions at scrap yards and raise the cap on fines for offences by scrap traders, and improve powers of entry to scrapyards. This is a good first move, now is the time to support the introduction of new legislation for the scrap metal trade.
Lead theft from church buildings is a serious problem:
• It has cost churches over £27.5m in past six years
• Over 2500 claims were made to Ecclesiastical Insurance in 2011
• An increase of offences by a third 2010 to 2011
• A third of churches have been victims, repeat thefts are common
If you would be prepared to write to your MP in support of this bill, click here for more details.
Moby - The Day.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Heron: Westwood Recreation Ground


Deacon Blue - Dignity.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Windows on the world (202)

Ilford, 2012
Michael Kiwanuka - I'll Get Along.

Best of British

The wonderfully creative flower arrangers in our neighbouring parish of St Peter's Aldborough Hatch have once again done a great job with the displays at their annual Flower Festival. Their theme was Best of British and their interesting choices included William Morris, the Cornonation, the weather, the Royal Albert Hall (and the Proms), and John Constable. Other displays had the themes of: the Queen; Forests of Britain; the Armed Forces; the Ascent of Everest; The WI; the legal system; the Spitfire; the building of St Peters (their 150th Anniversary); and the 2012 Olympics. The church remains open today for the final day of the Flower Festival.


The Kinks - Days.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Facing giants

The story of David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17) has become synonymous with the facing down of seemingly impossible odds. The image of the man who temporarily stopped the advance of a column of tanks intending to forcibly remove protestors from in and around Beijing's Tiananmen Square is a David versus Goliath image which is widely considered to be among the most iconic images of the 20th century.

Of course, the tank man only temporarily stopped the tanks in Tiananmen Square but others – like Aung San Suu Kyi, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr and Rosa Parks - have shown us that David can still overcome Goliath.
Rosa Parks said that she refused to give up her seat to a white passenger because she was tired of giving in. Her simple but brave action led to the creation of the Civil Rights Movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King and the dream of equality that he articulated has eventually resulted in the election of a black President of the United States

It can be done and the story of how David overcame Goliath has been an inspiration to many who have faced impossible odds in personal lives, communities, and globally.

The story starts with the facing of Goliath. So, David said to Saul, “Your Majesty, no one should be afraid of this Philistine! I will go and fight him.”

What are the Goliaths or giants that we have to face? In our lives? In our communities? In our world? Jeremy Alvin suggests that we instinctively know our own Goliaths: “You know your Goliath...? You recognize his walk, the thunder of his voice. He taunts you with bills you can’t pay, people you can’t please, habits you can’t break, failures you can’t forget, and a future you can’t face.” For many at the moment, the Goliaths we face are to do with debts and unemployment.

Accordingly, without our local community there are Goliaths to be faced concerning cuts in facilities and services together with the need to support and empower those who are in debt or out of work or both. Then, thinking globally, we still need to face the giant of making poverty history with all that that entails in providing aid, achieving trade justice, tackling corruption, reducing our carbon footprint, and reconciling those in conflict.

So we start by facing the reality of our giants; acknowledging their existence while refusing to be cowed by their existence. Then, we see David placing his trust in God as he says, “The Lord has saved me from lions and bears; he will save me from this Philistine.”

Martin Luther King concluded his last sermon, delivered at the Bishop Charles Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee on the eve of his assassination, by saying: "I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord." That is the attitude and trust that a David has when facing his Goliath.

Finally, we see David refusing the armour and weapons of King Saul and using what he has to hand and what is familiar to him: “David strapped Saul's sword over the armour and tried to walk, but he couldn't, because he wasn't used to wearing them. I can't fight with all this, he said to Saul. I'm not used to it. So he took it all off. He took his shepherd's stick and then picked up five smooth stones from the stream and put them in his bag. With his sling ready, he went out to meet Goliath.”

Similarly the "direct action" of the Civil Rights Movement — primarily boycotts, sit-ins, Freedom Rides, marches and similar tactics - relied on what was to hand, in others the mass mobilization of those who were discriminated against in nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience.

Using these means David defeated Goliath and the Civil Rights Movement gained the Civil Rights Act and other subsequent developments. But, having said this, we also need to acknowledge that David does not always defeat Goliath or, at least, not straightaway.

In Hebrews 11 we are given a role call of heroes of the faith. It starts as we would expect: “They shut the mouths of lions, put out fierce fires, escaped being killed by the sword. They were weak, but became strong; they were mighty in battle and defeated the armies of foreigners. Through faith women received their dead relatives raised back to life.” But then it changes tack: “Others, refusing to accept freedom, died under torture in order to be raised to a better life. Some were mocked and whipped, and others were put in chains and taken off to prison. They were stoned, they were sawed in two, they were killed by the sword. They went around clothed in skins of sheep or goats—poor, persecuted, and mistreated. The world was not good enough for them! They wandered like refugees in the deserts and hills, living in caves and holes in the ground.”

“What a record all of these have won by their faith!” the writer of this letter ends by saying and what an encouragement to us when we don’t always see David defeating Goliath. Just like Martin Luther King saying on the eve of his assassination - “I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land – the writer to the Hebrews says, “They did not receive the things God had promised, but from a long way off they saw them and welcomed them.”

Howard Zinn, who was involved in the Civil Rights Movement, wrote this: “Social movements may have many 'defeats' — failing to achieve objectives in the short run — but in the course of the struggle the strength of the old order begins to erode, the minds of people begin to change; the protesters are momentarily defeated but not crushed, and have been lifted, heartened, by their ability to fight back."

So, the story of David and Goliath doesn’t give us a foolproof cast-iron methodology for overcoming giants but it does give us the inspiration and encouragement to take to the field and play our part. Here at St John’s, we are trying to encourage and empower people to face giants at all three levels: personally, locally (in our community), and globally. Just this week in our Ministry Leadership Team we have reviewed our Peace & Justice ministry and, as a result, will shortly be introducing new initiatives and campaigns which we hope you will take to heart and act on.

May we each take encouragement from this story – personally, locally and globally – as so many others have done over the centuries and commit ourselves afresh, with God’s help and the support of each other, to facing down the giants in our lives, our community, and our world.


Bobby Womack - Deep River. 

Friday, 22 June 2012

British Design 1948 - 2012 and 1948 Olympians

On entering British Design 1948 - 2012 at the V&A, one is confronted by one third of John Piper’s huge mural The Englishman’s Home created for the Festival of Britain 1951 and depicting varying forms of British architecture. Over 80 works created by many of Britain’s leading artists featured in the Festival of Britain, including other significant Neo-Romantic works such as Graham Sutherland’s mural The Origins of the Land.

Peter Fuller has argued that the work of the "best artists at the end of the 1930s and throughout the 1940s", such as Henry Moore, Sutherland, Piper, and even Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth, "is stamped by a recognition of indigenous tradition, and of indigenous landscape: but it is not nostalgic; rather, the threatened and injured land emerges, again, as a metaphor, a wasteland redeemed through the aesthetic processes themselves."

Home and Land were key themes of the Festival of British and likewise are key themes too in the first room of this significant exhibition. At this time, as Fuller also notes, "the finest examples of the English neo-Romantic sensibility were greeted, literally, with worldwide acclaim." This influence can also be seen and felt in other sections of this opening to the exhibition.

Piper’s mural was selected by Sir Frederick Gibberd, masterplanner of Harlow New Town, to be gifted to Harlow at the end of the Festival of Britain. Gibberd assembled a huge collection of public art for Harlow (to the extent that it is now known as a Sculpture Town) including Moore’s Harlow Family Group, originally sited outside St Mary at Latton Church in Mark Hall. Piper also created an Emmaus mosaic for the Humphrys and Hurst designed modernist church of St Paul in Harlow Town Centre. Examples of Gibberd's designs plus Harlow Family Group feature in the exhibition.

An even more significant engaging of Neo-Romantic artists by the Church occurred through the design of the new Coventry Cathedral by Architect Basil Spence. Spence won the competition to design a new cathedral in 1951 and gathered a team of artists and craftspeople that included both Piper and Sutherland. Examples in this exhibition of work by many who were part of that team demonstrate that although consecrated in 1962, the new Cathedral typified the decorative modernism of the 1950s.

The engagement of the Church with artists such as Piper and Sutherland had been developed by Bishop George Bell and Canon Walter Hussey with St Matthew Northampton and Chichester Cathedral being the outstanding examples, after Coventry Cathedral itself. Bell and Hussey, like their French counterparts Père Regamy and Couturier, sought to work with the engage with the significant artists of their day, which in their case were primarily the Neo-Romantics. Yet Fuller notes that in less than a decade the influence of Neo-Romanticism had been lost and similarly this exhibition contains no other example of a nationally significant commission by the Church subsequent to Coventry Cathedral.

While the Church has continued to commission new work on the basis begun by Bell and Hussey, this exhibition suggests it has been unable to engage in any significant manner with the subversive strand of work - the counter-cultural movements from 1960s ‘Swinging London’, through to the 1970s punk scene and the emergence of ‘Cool Britannia’ in the 1990s
- which are showcased in the exhibition’s second room. The only significant reference to Christianity, after Coventry, in this exhibition comes with Damien Hirst’s Pharmacy wallpaper where prescription drugs are given Biblical labels suggesting that healthcare has become our contemporary religion. The use Hirst makes of Christian references in this work suggests that Christianity has been superceded, an impression also given by the absence of Christian references in this exhibition after Coventry. In this way, the limitations of the Bell/Hussey, Couturier/Regamy approach become apparent as the mainstream art movements of the day may not share a natural affinity with the Church (particularly when the Church is seen as a part of which is to be subverted) and, if the focus is on engaging key mainstream artists, then less focus is paid to supporting emerging artists with a Christian faith able to engage effectively with the mainstream art world.

The 1948 and 2012 Olympics bookmark this exhibition. The ‘austerity games’ of 1948 (as they became known) took place at a time of economic crisis in a city devastated by bombing, but they provided a platform for reconciliation and reconstruction. In 2012 Britain welcomes the Olympics once more, and while the spirit remains, the context in which they are taking place has entirely changed. The exhibition tells the story of British fashion, furniture, fine art, graphic design, photography, ceramics, architecture and industrial products over the past 60 years. Highlighting significant moments in the history of British design, the exhibition looks at how the country continues to nurture artistic talent, as well as investigate the role that Britain’s manufacturing industry has played in the global market. It also examines the impact that Britain’s ideas-driven, creative economy has had on goods and design industries world-wide.

Similar sporting contrasts are also apparent in Katherine Green’s touring exhibition, currently at the Tokarska Gallery, 1948 Olympians. In 1948 London was recovering from war, athletes were truly amateur and therefore not paid. Athletes trained on rations whilst working full-time and raising children, they had to take unpaid leave to compete and many had to hand sew their own kits. When the Games were over, they returned to work and carried on as normal. Green’s images of the athletes that took part that year tell a story of a different age. For some shown here, sport became their lives, but for many it was a past time that practicalities meant they could not continue.

Green is a social documentary photographer based in London. Her work often focuses on the idea of community and what makes or bonds communities. She aims to highlight and celebrate members of the community who may otherwise go unseen. She says of this work: "At the same time as drawing parallels between 1948 and 2012 Olympic Games, I do hope these portraits and oral histories go some way to demonstrate the knowledge and experience of a valuable generation of people who are overlooked in our society. It has been a great privilege to spend time in the company of such interesting and modest people."

Green’s work therefore shows us some of those who have lived through the massive changes documented in broad outline by the V&A’s exhibition and offers an understated antidote to the lavish, opulent celebration of sport which will be the 30th Olympiad. If Britain has remained a global leader in design, sport or indeed any other fields, Green’s work suggests that this is not solely due to artists and designers who were born, trained or working in the UK and who have produced innovative and internationally acclaimed works from post-war to the present day, but also to the interesting, modest and overlooked people that she documents with such care.


Tom Jones - Soul Of A Man.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

London 2012 Festival

The London 2012 Festival bursts into life tomorrow. Over 12,000 events across the UK celebrating the Games – many completely free – with incredible cultural events and top artists from across the world. Wherever you are, whatever you're into, there's something for you. Take your place at the London 2012 Festival – find an event near you.

Here are some that look to me to be particularly interesting:
  • Jonathan Harvey: Weltethos - Weltethos is inspired by the shared spiritual heritage of humanity and founded on texts from six world religions - Confucianism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity.
  • Mittwoch aus Licht/Wednesday from Light - Stockhausen's vision for Mittwoch was "a musical expression of global harmony of love and collaboration in a united humanity."
  • Arthur Bispo do Rosario - Arthur Bispo do Rosário has become one of Brazil´s hottest art exports. Yet Rosário, who spent 50 years of his life in the psychiatric ward of a hospital in Rio de Janeiro, never regarded himself as an artist: he saw his work as the fulfilment of a spiritual task. At the hospital of Colinia Juliano Moreira, he began to work creatively, believing he was on a mission from God. His works soon spread across the entire building. He lived there until his death fifty years later – everything he did and everything he made was in preparation for the Last Judgement.
  • Jubilee Concert - Coventry Cathedral's Jubilee concert showcases Neil Cox's 1980 'War in Heaven' together with the Golden Jubilee commission from James MacMillan (Gloria) as a major part of the Cultural Olympiad in the West Midlands.
  • How Like An Angel celebrates the beauty and grandeur of four stunning English cathedrals. Join performers and singers on a journey of discovery around these sacred spaces. Intensely beautiful music and feats of astonishing acrobatics draw you deep into a world of physical daring and soaring sound, against a backdrop of stunning architecture.

Karlheinz Stockhausen - 4. Szene "Michaelion" (Mittwoch aus Licht).

Monday, 18 June 2012

Windows on the world (201)

Ilford, 2012


Curtis Mayfield & Lauryn Hill - Here But I'm Gone.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

What does this image suggest to you?

I wonder what this image, taken at St John's Seven Kings after our Jubilee celebrations, suggests to you?


Talking Heads - Once In A Lifetime.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Impossible judgements: critiquing contemporary art

Transpositions has recently finished hosting an Art in the Church workshop where scholars, practitioners, and artists reflected on and considered issues that emerge when art and the Church intersect. I was interviewed about the work of commission4mission.
Interestingly those organising the workshop wrote that they "chose to feature examples because of the issues and questions that they raise rather than the artistic or aesthetic quality of the work of art" and "that works of art made for the church cannot be judged according to the same criteria as works of art made for the gallery."

These statements taken together seem to assume that criteria exist for determining the artistic or aesthetic quality of church art and gallery art. So much talk occurs about good and bad art that this would seem a reasonable assumption and yet I doubt that anyone would be able to articulate a set of criteria that had majority agreement in relation either to church art or gallery art.

The Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones recently wrote an interesting piece on the way in which he stated that the age of the art critic as an unassailable voice of authority is long gone due to the force of digital debate and the era of readers biting back. Entitled 'how I learned to look – and listen' Jones wrote that the way he thinks about art criticism has changed: "Criticism in the age of social media has to be much more playful and giving ... Criticism today is not about delivering truths from on high, but about striking a spark that lights a debate."

In the past, he argues, he and other art critics could speak in an "aggressive, cocksure, dismissive voice, determined to prove that my opinion was worth more than my readers" but "in today's more open forum – where people answer back, and where people often know more than I do – it becomes more and more absurd to claim such august authority for one's opinions." As a result, the way he thinks about his work, and about art, "is infinitely more plural and ambiguous than it was in 2006."

Essentially, Jones is arguing that, while he can still express strong opinions, he is now much more aware that his opinions are essentially personal opinions and need to be acknowledged as such. Again, in essence, he is saying that there are no agreed criteria for assessing, evaluating and critiquing contemporary art.

Not everyone agrees. Rachel Whiteread, in a recent G2 interview, seemed to argue in favour of elitism and against the democratic developments that Jones has noted, saying that "the papers can't get enough of culture and it's just rammed down everyone's throat. And actually I think to the detriment of culture, because it belittles it. Everyone can have a say, but not everyone's an expert, not everyone's an art critic. It's become far too easy to have a pop at modern art."

Grayson Perry has been exploring the issue of taste in the Channel 4 series All In The Best Possible Taste. He thinks that "there will always be this barrier where there are people who are looking for rules. A lot of the lower middle class still need reassurance and clear rules, which they find in brands and in definite trends because they perhaps don't have the confidence to go on their own intuition and try something else out. So there's always going to be a large proportion of the population that have what they think is a very clear idea about what is good taste. But of course the good taste is just an illusion; it's just that they're obeying the rules of their tribe."

In answer to the question as to whether taste is completely subjective or whether there is such a thing as good taste and bad taste, Perry said: "I think it's very similar to the way that the art world works. It's consensus plus time. If it's agreed amongst the tribe for a fairly sustained amount of time, then it becomes good taste. Of course there are always fashions and changes within the group but they're often quite slow-moving. The art world is just another tribe in many ways and has its own system. What's interesting about the art world, of course, is that that's its business. It's almost like taste and visual culture are its business and therefore it's very, very self-aware about that, and other fields are less self-conscious than the art world."

On this basis, Transpositions would be correct in thinking that works of art made for the church cannot be judged according to the same criteria as works of art made for the gallery, because the church world and the art world are essentially different tribes with different tastes and fashions. Consensus is about the contemporary establishment, whether church or art world, while time is about the judgement of history. There are, of course, examples both of hugely popular artists in their own day being more harshly judged by history and of obscure artists in their own day being hugely valued through history.

Academia, the markets and the media all influence and affect the judgements that are made by consensus and history. Again, Perry is perceptive noting that, while the goal is to become "people who are confident enough to say, "I'll be the one to decide," it is "often when we think we're at our most individual we're most vulnerable to influence, and perhaps the hard-wiring of our upbringing comes into play; the material culture that one imbibed with one's mother's milk, that's the default setting on your taste, and often people don't even realise that's happening, when they make microscopic decisions all the time about what clothes to put on and how to decorate their houses."

Perry argues that "Part of being an artist is that you are achingly self-conscious about every aesthetic decision you make." Whiteread agrees that "anyone who makes art over a long period has to know when they are making good art and bad art" but acknowledges that "money and fame are very addictive" and can lead to people losing their "critical distinction" and making "shit work" which is "emperor's new clothes."

Artists are constantly making choices about what works and what doesn't in their own work and, each time they exhibit, also receiving feedback from others on the same issue. This is perhaps why artists develop their own personal sense of 'good' and 'bad' in art but, again, it has to be acknowledged that this primarily personal, although inevitably artists then also compare and contrast their choices with those of their peers and against the history of art.

The variety of styles and media that exist within contemporary art limit the extent to which such contrasts and comparisons can be made however. The action of Marcel Duchamp in exhibiting ready-mades and his arguing that the choice of the artist makes them art essentially opened floodgates which render rules or criteria for the creation and comparison of artworks superfluous.

In my recent review of The Christ Journey for Art & Christianity I noted that Sister Wendy Beckett, who wrote meditations on Greg Tricker's artworks, is an enthusiast who applies the instruction in Philippians 4:8, to fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise, to her writing and presenting. The kind of poring and praying over images that characterises Beckett's best writing can be a distinctively Christian contribution to the plurality of art criticism and can be cultivated through a framework that encourages a sustained contemplation of the artwork and which notes our personal responses to each facet of the work as well as their cumulative impact.

I have outlined this framework previously in relation to Andres Serrano's Piss Christ. All response to art begins with contemplation of the work itself and consideration of our initial responses. Those viewing Piss Christ without knowing anything of the work often comment on the beauty of the images, the traditional nature of the crucifix and the way in which it is lit.
Next, is to contemplate the nature of the artwork itself. In this case, a 60x40 inch Cibachrome photograph of a small plastic crucifix submerged in urine. Responses often include comments on its beauty and the traditional nature of the image in addition to questioning whether the work is intended satirically.

Then, the ideas and influences of the artist in creating this piece include it being one in a series of classical statuettes submerged in fluids and a comment on the commercialisation of religion. Responses often include questions about other statuettes in the series and about the artist's motivation in attacking the commercialisation of religion.

Then, in thinking about the artwork’s relationship with its historical and art historical context, we can see that the crucifix has an art historical lineage but is also a contemporary commercial religious product, so the work contributes to a debate regarding traditional and contemporary expressions of Christianity. Responses often include a sense of agreeing that the work raises issues about the nature of images in religion.

Finally, the response of viewer’s to this artwork has been twofold. There have been death threats to the artist, vandalism of the artwork and attempts to ban it from those who view it as an attack on Christianity. Alternatively, there are Christians who see it as a depiction of incarnation; of Christ coming into the detritus of life. Responses often include the acknowledgement that the work stimulates a depth of debate because it works on several different levels.

The work comes alive to us through the different layers of response we make to each facet of our consideration of the artwork and the debate this engenders. Each facet that we have considered involved an real engagement with aspects of Christianity and such sustained reflection on artworks will often lead to a recognition of the spirituality and religious engagement inherent in much modern and contemporary art and can result in distinctive approaches to art criticism from a Christian percpective among the plurality of views which is contemporary art criticism.


The Kinks - Dedicated Follower of Fashion.

What money can't buy

In Michael Sandel's new book What Money Can't Buy he writes,"We live at a time when almost everything can be bought and sold. We have drifted from having a market economy, to being a market society," in which the solution to all manner of social and civic challenges is not a moral debate but the law of the market, on the assumption that cash incentives are always the appropriate mechanism by which good choices are made. Every application of human activity is priced and commodified, and all value judgments are replaced by the simple question: "How much?"

In a G2 interview he addressed the question of why the financial crisis appears to have scarcely put a dent in public faith in market solutions. "One would have thought that this would be an occasion for critical reflection on the role of markets in our lives. I think the persistent hold of markets and market values – even in the face of the financial crisis – suggests that the source of that faith runs very deep; deeper than the conviction that markets deliver the goods. I don't think that's the most powerful allure of markets. One of the appeals of markets, as a public philosophy, is they seem to spare us the need to engage in public arguments about the meaning of goods. So markets seem to enable us to be non-judgmental about values. But I think that's a mistake."


The Beatles - Can't Buy Me Love.

Walker Percy: A Documentary Film

In a rare television interview in 1980, Walker Percy said his concerns as writer were with “a theory of man, man as more than organism, more than consumer – man the wayfarer, man the pilgrim, man in transit, on a journey.” Walker Percy: A Documentary Film, looks at Percy’s own journey, and is framed as a narrative about his life and ideas.
As a doctor turned writer and philosopher, Percy was concerned with the big issues: “Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?" But he knew his audience was inured to a direct approach. Binx Bolling, in The Moviegoer, is almost allergic to such discussions –“... if they spoke to me of God, I would jump into the bayou” – yet he is preoccupied with what he calls ‘the search.’ It is a preoccupation that haunts all of Percy’s work.

Part of what makes Percy’s characters like Binx, Will Barrett, and Thomas More so indelible is their wry humor despite being ‘Lost in the Cosmos.’ In Percy’s fifth novel, The Second Coming, the protagonist, Will Barrett, descends into a cave, determined to confront God. He is thwarted by a toothache. For Walker, “humour was an instrument of introspection,” writer Robert Coles says in the film. “That’s what he beautifully combined: that lighthearted sensibility merged with a grave, seriously introspective side. This takes a genius.”

Walker Percy: A Documentary Film tells the story with archival film, excerpts from Percy’s work, and interviews with family, friends and scholars.


Woven Hand - Dirty Blue.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Windows on the world (200)

London, 2012

The 200th 'Windows on the world' photo is unusual in that it was not taken by me but instead includes me in the image. This image was taken by Paul Trathen as he and I were strolling along the South Bank having seen 'Antigone' at the National Theatre earlier in the evening. 


Nick Drake - Riverman.

The work of a Resident's Association

Last night was the AGM of the Seven Kings and Newbury Park Resident's Association (SKNPRA). This is what I said in my opening remarks as Chair:

2012 has been a year of further development and growth for SKNPRA. What I want to do is set the scene by outlining the broad areas of SKNPRA’s work.
The first thing to mention is our ongoing liaison with the Council and other agencies over specific issues in particular parts of the area. This work results either from our own observation of issues in the locality or through notification by other SKNPRA members or members of the local community. This work is not publicised but regularly achieves small but consistent improvements to the area simply by bringing issues to the attention of the authorities.
Second, we have worked hard to increase our membership because that means that more issues can be noted and addressed and more people can be drawn into higher profile campaigns and other work undertaken by SKNPRA. With this in mind, we have also re-introduced social and fundraising events to the SKNPRA programme, beginning with our recent Quiz Night, as these increase our profile, generate funds which can be used to publicise the Association, and bring our members together.
Third, are our higher profile campaigns which this year has primarily been the campaign to reopen the toilets in Seven Kings Park. Campaigns like this need to use different approaches at different times in order to achieve their overall aims. We began the campaign with significant publicity but, in more recent months, it has been more effective to have been campaigning on this issue behind the scenes.
Fourth, we facilitate other groups and initiatives. So, over the past year, have organised meetings which have led on to the establishment of new Neighbourhood Watch groups and also the Seven Kings Park Users group.

Fifth, we contribute to various committees such as the Area 5 Committee, where we have had a co-opted member, and also the Ward Panel for Seven Kings.
Finally, we have also been liaising and networking with other groups, such as the Goodmayes Resident’s Association, and are linked in with plans to possibly create a network of Resident’s Associations in Redbridge.
All these different but significant strands of our work combine to mean that SKNPRA remains a viable and effective Resident’s Association for Seven Kings and Newbury Park.   


Tracy Chapman - If Not Now.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

The litmus test for public leadership

Less than a week on from the Diamond Jubilee weekend, where we thanked God for the 60 years of our Queen’s reign, and the lectionary has us reading 1 Samuel 8 where God says, through Samuel, that in wanting to be ruled over by a King, the people of Israel were rejecting him and his rule over them. Did those who compiled the lectionary deliberately select this reading for the Sunday after the Diamond Jubilee weekend as a corrective to our celebrations and is this passage the definitive word on monarchy to be found in the Bible?

I don’t know the answer to the first of those questions, having no idea what goes through the minds of those who compile the lectionary year on year but the second question is well worth exploring more closely before looking at 1 Samuel 8 itself more closely.
The first thing to say is that, as Sam Norton (the Rector of Mersea) put it recently on his blog: “One of the most important things to understand about the Bible is that it is a library of Holy Scripture – that is, there are many different voices within the Bible (even within particular books of the Bible) – and this is of God. That is, it is in recognising both what different books have in common, and where they disagree, that an individual Christian is enabled to come to a mature understanding of the text.”
On some subjects, like the value or otherwise of monarchies, the Bible has a huge amount of comment (but often without there necessarily being any clear agreement on the subject), while on other subjects, like that of same sex relationships, the Bible has hardly anything to say. It is interesting to note that the issues on which the Bible has lots to say are often issues that we don’t view as controversial, while issues on which the Bible has little or nothing to say can sometimes assume huge importance in the life of the Church.
This is one illustration of the fact that we often assume we know what the Bible says when actually we haven’t really got to grips with what it says at all. Our Gospel reading (Mark 3. 20 - 35) is a case in point. Many Christians assume that the Bible supports what we now call ‘family values’ but, as our Gospel reading shows, the Bible often asks deep and searching questions of what it is that we value about family life. Because the Bible often does not actually say what we seem to want it to say and doesn’t always take a simple or consistent line on particular issues, it seems that we can actively shy away from wrestling with the challenges or complexities that it poses in favour of something simpler and more comforting.
So, having set all those hares running, as we come back to 1 Samuel 8 we need to come with an openness to hear what the Bible is actually saying to us, which on this occasion also means being open to the possibility that our celebrations of monarchy last weekend were entirely wrong.
A good guide, who I commend (because he takes the complexities of reading the Bible into account), when reading the Old Testament generally is a Bible scholar called Walter Brueggemann. Brueggemann writes that: “… in 1 Samuel 8, Samuel is in deep dispute with Israel over the function and nature of public leadership. Israel wants a king, in order to be “like the other nations.” Samuel, here the reliable voice of Yahweh, refuses them a king, on the grounds that human kingship is an act of distrust in Yahweh … This interpretive tradition, suspicious of concentrations of power, anticipates that the centralized government is in principle exploitative, usurpatious, and self-serving. We may say that this recognition is fundamental to a biblical critique of power.”
The people of Israel, in the course of the rest of their history, were going to endure many examples of monarchs who were self-serving and who exploited their position and power for their own ends. What God said, through Samuel, would occur did occur on many occasions in the subsequent history of the people of Israel.

But that is not all that this passage or the Bible, as a whole, says on the subject because God and Samuel, despite their misgivings and predictions, all the people of Israel to have what they want. Why do they do this? In part, because there is another, more positive, strand of thinking in the Bible about monarchs. This is the strand which sees David and, initially, his son Solomon as great Kings under whose reign Israel was at the peak of its prosperity and influence.  
Brueggemann notes that the kind of kingship that we see David and initially Solomon exercise: “had the establishment and maintenance of justice as its primary obligation to Yahweh and to Israelite society. This justice, moreover, is distributive justice, congruent with Israel’s covenantal vision, intending the sharing of goods, power, and access with every member of the community, including the poor, powerless, and marginated.”
This is what Brueggemann thinks the Bible sees as key to any form of public leadership: “The claim made is that power – political, economic, military – cannot survive or give prosperity or security, unless public power is administered according to the requirement of justice, justice being understood as attention to the well-being of all members of the community.”
This, then, is the litmus test which, as those seeking to be faithful to what the Bible actually says about monarchy and all forms of public leadership, we should be applying to all those who have power and authority over us in some fashion – monarch, prime minister, cabinet, government, and local authority councillors and officials. The questions we should be putting to them and using to assess their value and legitimacy are questions of justice, particularly for those who are the poorest and least powerful.
It is interesting then to note that this is the very test that the Archbishop of Canterbury used in his sermon at St Paul’s Cathedral last Tuesday. In that sermon, he criticised “the traps of ludicrous financial greed, of environmental recklessness, of collective fear of strangers and collective contempt for the unsuccessful and marginal” and said that what will save us from those traps is a vision of dedicated service to others. One important aspect of discovering that vision is to have “stories and examples available to show it’s possible.” One of those stories over the past six decades, he said, has been that of the Queen who “has shown a quality of joy in the happiness of others” and who “has responded with just the generosity St Paul speaks of in showing honour to countless local communities and individuals of every background and class and race.”
He was saying that the Queen passes the litmus test set within the Bible for those in public leadership but at the same time making it clear, as the Bible also does, that those who lead us into “the traps of ludicrous financial greed, of environmental recklessness, of collective fear of strangers and collective contempt for the unsuccessful and marginal” are not worthy of the office which they hold.
As we follow the story of the monarchy through in Israel’s history, we see this worked out in practice. Brueggemann writes that: “… the royal system was not finally effective in sustaining Israel … at the centre of Israel’s self-awareness is the debacle of 587 B.C.E., when king, temple, and city all failed.”
What happens next is fascinating and central to the development of Christianity: “The dynastic promise … was turned to the future, so that Israel expected the good, faithful, effective king to come, even though all present and known incumbents had failed. Out of concrete political practice arose an expectation of the coming of messiah: a historical agent to be anointed, commissioned, and empowered out of the Davidic house to do the Davidic thing in time to come, to establish Yahweh’s justice and righteousness in the earth.”  
As Christians, we believe that Messiah to have already come in the person of Jesus of Nazareth and that through his life, death and resurrection the establishment of God’s justice and righteousness on earth, as in heaven, has begun to be established and is now awaiting his second coming for its full completion. This brings us back to the place where we began, the centralizing of power in the hands of one human being is always likely to lead to that power being used in ways that are self-serving and exploitative. It is only we acknowledge God as the ultimate and just ruler of all that our lives and society are placed in their proper perspective.
As we await that day, we can both hold our rulers to account on the Biblical basis of the issue of justice for all and, as the Archbishop emphasised in his Diamond Jubilee sermon, seek “the rebirth of an energetic, generous spirit of dedication to the common good and the public service, the rebirth of the recognition that we live less than human lives if we think just of our own individual good.”  


Madness - Our House.

Guides to art, culture and faith

I was interested to discover that Paris has an excellent guide to the art in its churches produced by Art Culture et Foi Paris. In the guide Isabelle Renaud-Chamska says that the association seeks to positively value the artistic legacy of the past while also engaging with the contemporary art world:

"... the association aims to encourage and support all the cultural and artistic activities of the diocese of Paris.
Trusting in the capacity of the Church to carry on with the dialogue stated from the very beginning and never interrupted with living artists, it respectfully and admiringly welcomes the heritage of previous generations as testimonies of life and faith of their predecessors. With their own language, their works, which many are exceptional, say something particular at each era. This language has its roots in the Bible and the liturgy ...

Paying attention to the signs of the times and echoing the message of Pope John Paul II, the association wishes to be listening to the artists of today so as to discover the presence of the Spirit working in the world and be able to offer its contemporaries the faith in the living Christ."

Among the churches highlighted are Saint Esprit and Saint Léon. Saint Esprit has sometimes been "called the 'Sistine Chapel' of the thirties ... Roughly 40 artists participated in its decoration (frescoes, paintings, mosaics, sculptures, stained glass, wrought iron ...). Among them Maurice Denis, Georges Desvallières (Stations of the Cross), Untersteller, Sarrabezoles - famous artists of the inter-war period." At Saint Léon "the finest artists of the period were invited to create stained glass (Barillet), sculpture  (Bouchard), wrought ironwork (Raymond Subes) and mosaics, especially those inside (Labouret). The general effect is of a museum to inter-war Christian art."

The story of how some of this art came to be created is told at the Musée Départemental Maurice Denis which is dedicated to the life and work of Maurice Denis, the French symbolist painter and theoretician of the Nabi School. Denis rented the Le Prieure (the Priory), an old hospital in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, which he converted into his home and studio beginning to work there in 1910. He lived there until his death in 1943. The works from the Nabis school present in the Musée Départemental Maurice Denis include those of Paul Sérusier, Paul Ranson, Pierre Bonnard, Édouard Vuillard and Félix Vallotton, as well as sculptures by Paul Gauguin.

Together with Desvallieres, Denis founded Ateliers d’Art Sacre in 1919 to teach young artists to create works “that serve God, the teachings of the truth and the decoration of places of worship.” Denis, himself, made canvas paintings and wall murals for over 15 churches across France. He restored and decorated the adjacent chapel from 1915 to 1928 including the painting of a cycle of Stations of the Cross.

In the UK
commission4mission has produced a similar guide for the Barking Episcopal Area and this in turn has inspired the Revd. David New to create a leaflet as a guide to stained glass windows created by Thomas Denny for churches in the Three-Choirs area (Gloucester, Hereford and Worcester Dioceses).  

David writes that: "Thomas Denny, born in London, trained in drawing and painting at Edinburgh College of Art. One day a friend asked him to consider creating a stained glass window for a church in Scotland (Killearn 1983). Thus began a remarkable career that has produced over 30 stained glass windows in Cathedrals and Churches of this country. Tom’s love for painting and drawing, especially the things of nature, is evident in his windows ... All of Tom’s windows express biblical themes and are conducive to silent meditation. Find a seat; feel the colours; give time for the details to emerge; reflect."


Scott Walker - Montague Terrace In Blue.