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Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Ross Ashmore: Going Underground

Ross Ashmore is about to finally accomplish his three year mission to paint every station on the London Underground – of which there are 267.

‘SPACE art gallery’ are set to exhibit for the first time together, over 100 of these highly expressive impasto paintings.

As an urban landscape artist, Ross feels compelled to document the ‘beauty in our streets’ before the inevitable changes society forces upon them.

He endeavours to convey emotion in his paintings, revealed by his textural mark making in paint, creating energy – giving each painting a life of its own.

Speaking of his work, Ross said: “I love the physicality of painting…and it’s everyday life that I want to highlight in my work. What better subject could there be than the streets where we find these wonderful stations.”

The exhibition will take place at SPACE art gallery, 141 High St, Southgate N14 6BP and will run until Friday 5 April. The opening night is on Saturday 2nd March from 7.00 - 9.00pm.

For more urban landscapes see the following:

Caroline Nina Phillips is showing work in Start 13: The New Industrialists celebrating the full opening of London’s newest creative hub, The Bermondsey Project, which comprises Crisis Skylight Bermondsey, Bow Arts SE1 Studios, London Sculpture Workshop, London Community Furniture and the Outside Puppets Collective. The urban landscape has been a source of fascination, inspiration and a recurring theme throughout the work of Caroline Nina Phillips. Observational drawings and camera snapshots of the local urban environment are used as starting points for these layered, painterly works. Particularly favoured focal points are construction sites; building works; passageways and stairways. Noticeably, the chosen places are those which could be easily overlooked. It is through experiencing; looking; recording and reflecting upon such particular spaces, that Caroline Nina captures their existence and essence.

Part 2 of CiTiES: All Dimensions, an exhibition celebrating urban-living and virtual-architecture, will open shortly at the Tokarska Gallery:

  • Thursday 7 March 2013 – Private view will be held at Tokarska Gallery, 6pm-8pm
  • Saturday 9 March 2013 – Performance night: 6-9pm. Music provided by Mark Beazley
  • Thur 7 March – Sun 17 March 2013 – Exhibition will be open to the public Thursday to Saturday 12 – 7pm
Cities, like people, have their stories. Loved or deserted, they never fail to provoke a reaction. Silent testaments to human endeavour and social intelligence they form a collective view, which we tend to interpret by focusing on a certain aspect of its being. It may even be acceptable to think that cityscape art is a reflection of oneself within the city-concept. Cities, like people, grow, age and develop. However their lifespan is unrivalled to that of their inhabitants. Driven by social tendencies their transition from generation to generation often perceived as seamless. This facade cannot be further from the truth though, as is explored in “Cities: All Dimensions”.


The Jam - Going Underground.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Windows on the world (233)

Stratford, 2012


The Blues Brothers - Everybody Needs Somebody To Love.

The Mother heart of God

Jerusalem, Jerusalem ... how many times I wanted to put my arms around all your people, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me!” (Luke 13. 34)
In this statement of his love for the people of Jerusalem, Jesus speaks of his concern and love for Jerusalem being typified by a mother hen gathering together all her chicks under her wing for safety and warmth. Lovingly, Jesus is saying he wants to be like the mother hen gathering God’s people to him where they will then experience safety and love. At the same time that he makes this specific statement to the people of Jerusalem, he is also paying a wonderful tribute to motherhood itself by equating the love which God shows towards us to the love that mothers show towards their offspring.
We tend to think most readily of God as a father but there are several places in scripture where God’s love is described as being like that of mother for her children.
Hannah Whitall Smith wrote “My children have been the joy of my life. I cannot imagine more exquisite bliss than comes to one sometimes in the possession and companionship of a child. To me there have been moments, when my arms have been around my children, that have seemed more like what the bliss of heaven must be than any other thing I can conceive of; and I think this feeling has taught me more of what  God’s feelings towards his children are than anything else in the universe. If I, a human being with limited capacity, can find such joy in my children, what must God, with his infinite heart of love, feel towards his; In fact most of my ideas of the love and goodness of God have come from my own experience as a mother, because I could not conceive that God would create me with a greater capacity for unselfishness and self-sacrifice than He possessed Himself; and since this discovery of the mother heart of God I have always been able to answer every doubt that may have arisen in my mind, as to the extent and quality of the love of God, by simply looking at my own feelings as a mother.”
Hannah Whitall Smith lived in the United States in the 1850’s. She was born into a Quaker family but later became a Wesleyan preacher and was one of the inspirations behind the Keswick Convention. She wrote those words about the mother heart of God after reading Isaiah 66. 12 – 13, another passage of scripture in which God’s love for all people is described as being like a mother’s love for her children:  "The Lord says, “You will be like a child that is nursed by its mother, carried in her arms, and treated with love. I will comfort you in Jerusalem, as a mother comforts her child.”
Jesus’ focus was on the safety that mothers’ seek to provide for their children out of love. Here, the focus is on the sense of comfort that the child receives from the love of its mother, particularly as it is nursed and fed. Isaiah also used motherly imagery in reference to God in Chapter 49. 15 where the focus is on the faithfulness of a mother’s love:

“The Lord answers,
“Can a woman forget her own baby
    and not love the child she bore?
Even if a mother should forget her child,
    I will never forget you.”

Nancy Hicks picks up on imagery around nursing the child when she writes about Psalm 131:

“Nursing was one of the most intimate acts I have ever been allowed to participate in, and what joy to be utterly depended upon! But a nursing baby is a demanding baby, “Pick me up NOW! Feed me NOW!” And when she fell asleep in my arms I felt needed, but not really appreciated for anything other than my capacity to satisfy hunger.

Then she was weaned. Now, when she crawled into my lap it was for relationship and comfort and intimacy. I understood God’s delight at the psalmist’s words, “Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; like a weaned child rests against his mother, my soul is like a weaned child within me.”

In Psalm 131, the Psalmist pictures himself having the kind of intimacy with God that a weaned child has as it cuddles up on its mother’s lap. That intimacy comes after the child has been fed and has moved on from milk to solid food.

So, the picture that we gain from all these descriptions is of God’s love as the love of a mother for her child is that of God wanting to bring us into a place where we feel safe alongside her, where we know the comfort of being fed and therefore grow from the basics of the faith (the milk) to the depths of the faith (the solid food).

Do you experience the love of God in these ways? Have you thought, like Hannah Whitall Smith, that if we can find deep joy in our children, what must God, with his infinite heart of love, feel towards us? God loves you like a mother loves her child. As we pray and study the scriptures during Lent, God wants to take us into a deeper relationship with him and at the heart of that relationship is his infinite heart of love beating with the kind of love which mother’s commonly show towards their children. May we open up our lives and hearts to receive that love and enter in to that depth of relationship!

There are two final points it is worth us noting. As we have already said, we commonly speak about God as male and yet the scriptures do use, as we have seen, female imagery of God. Interestingly, not just in terms of the mother heart of God, but wisdom and Spirit in particular are often feminine terms. This is of real significance in understanding that women and men are valued equally by God and were created by God to be equal.

Secondly, all talk about God as male and female, Father or Mother, is ultimately only descriptive language. God is always more than any label or image we use to help us understand him. Ultimately, God is Spirit and neither exclusively male or female. It is great to think of God as a loving Father or a loving Mother because those images help us understand and grasp something of the reality and significance of his love but God’s love is always greater and deeper than the love that we have experienced even from the most loving of parents.

It is that depth of love into which God wishes to draw us. So I say again, As we pray and study the scriptures during Lent, God wants to take us into that deeper relationship and at the heart of that relationship is an infinite heart of love beating with the kind of love which mother’s commonly show towards their children. May we open up our lives and hearts to receive that love and enter in to that depth of relationship!


Larry Norman - Strong Love, Strange Peace.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Airbrushed from Art History: Henk Krijger

Henk Krijger was part of two significant art networks:

"Krijger was not alone in his criticisms of the Reformed tradition. During the summer of 1935 he met the christian poet Hein de Bruin. This man, too, felt a burden on his heart for the christian community of which he was a member. This community choked the life out its artistic members with theological debate and with demands for dogmatic orthodoxy. These two men were not alone as christian artists. They in turn were part of a larger group, a group of christian writers, W.G. van der Hulst, Anne de Vries, and Jan H. de Groot. Since the early nineteen hundreds there had been a christian writers association. Within this group there was much debate about the nature of christian art, the possibility of a christian artistic style, and the relationship between the christian artist, the church, and the world. Those who maintained the antithesis [that Christians were to cultivate a lifestyle of their own] said there should be a christian style and, of course, those who disagreed claimed otherwise ...

Following the war Krijger joined the christian writers association. As member of the association he wrote short stories, reviews of art exhibitions and essays for their journal, Ontmoeting. He also published a novel entitled De Witte Duiven. in the visual arts he worked freelance and as a bookdesigner. As bookdesigner he won several prizes for his outstanding work."

"September 1969 the Institute for Christian Art opened in Chicago, Illinois not as an art school but as an organisation that brought trained or accomplished artists together under a master-artist to work christianly in the arts. This arrangement was modelled along the lines of a medieval guild. It was thought that a workshop would facilitate a communal effort in the arts which was considered vital if a christian artistic presence was to be attained in a predominantly secular culture ...

When Henk Krijger was approached by Calvin Seerveld and Mary Steenland, he ... wanted to do 'free art,' unencumbered by patrons and the limits of commissions. The Institute of Christian Art offered [this] opportunity ...

Speaking out of his Dutch Calvinist upbringing, Henk Krijger believed that art was done in the service of God and His Kingdom, but he was not dogmatic about its content. It certainly was not limited to scenes from the Bible nor was it to be primarily dogmatically correct. It was to be good art; art that was informed by the formal elements and principles that govern the production of art. Therefore, according to Krijger, the christian artist was to be a competent craftsman; a craftsman who did not just copy the natural world (for that was plagiarizing God's work) but who created works of imagination."

"In the summer 1971 the Institute of Christian Art moved ... to downtown Toronto, Canada. A core of young artists moved with Henk to studios set up in a basement on Richmond Street, and with the indefatigable efforts of Willem Hart they became Patmos Workshop and Gallery ... [Krijger] followed up the major painting of The Annunciation (1971) with other works truly worthy of the name "Patmos" - visionary, troubled, complicatedly in the world but not of it."

"Krijger's art making demonstrates specific directives helpful for developing young artists. First, as a pre-war modern man, Krijger understood and worked within his location in history. His choice of a modern expressionistic form provided the format for his visual discussion of creation. Second, a play of the imagination permeates Krijger's artistry. His emphasis upon the intuitive and the emotive allowed his imagination to inventively conceive imagery as we observe, for example, in the works That night the moon was completely different (1970) and the Apocalyptic fluteplayer (1971). And third, he understood well the struggle of the Christian who saw his calling to be that of artist. He served God in his art making. Tragically, he enjoyed neither the strong support of his christian community nor the support of those in his contemporary artistic environment."

(Jan De Bree, Calvin Seervald and Mary Leigh Morbey in Hommage á Senggih: A Retrospective of Henk Krijger in North America)

Artists exhibiting at the Patmos Gallery have included: Larry AckermanDavid Alexander, Nancy de Boni, Anne BoyleKlaas Hart, Willem HartJanis Pozzi-Johnson, Edward Kellogg, Edward KnippersJake Mol, Chris Stoffel Overvoorde, Wayne PetersonTheodore PrescottJack S. Vander Wal.


Bill Fay - Be Not So Fearful.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

A quest for spiritual freedom

My latest exhibition review will be in tomorrow's Church Times:

"Our arts coverage features a Polish painter, Maciej Hoffman, engaged in a quest for spiritual freedom, having experienced the ups and downs of communism and capitalism and found them wanting."


Lloyd Cole and the Commotions - Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?

Monday, 18 February 2013

Faith in the Public Space and the role of the Church

Making sense of the census was a useful workshop organised by the Greater London Presence and Engagement Network (PEN) on the new Census data and how it can help churches respond to their local context. We heard about the parish statistics that the Research & Statistics Department at Church House will be publishing based on Census 2011 and used a draft resource for stimulating discussion in parishes about the local implications arising from this data.

Following on from this workshop, The Very Revd Dr David Ison, Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, gave this year’s PEN lecture Guardian or Gatekeeper? Faith in the Public Space and the role of the Church at St George the Martyr Parish Church, SE1. In this lecture, David reflected on his recent sabbatical research on Christian-Muslim relations together with his experiences as Dean of Bradford. 

His thinking essentially mirrored that expressed by the Queen in her address to faith leaders at Lambeth Palace in 2012 where she suggested that the Church of England, while providing an identity and spiritual dimension for its own many adherents, also "has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country" and "has created an environment for other faith communities and indeed people of no faith to live freely." An example of this in practice is the Common Good Network funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation within their Bradford programme

For more on David Ison's lecture, click here.


The Staple Singers - If You're Ready (Come Go With Me).

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Windows on the world (232)

Stratford, 2012


Curtis Mayfield - Move On Up.

Facing down the demons of our day

I'm using Niall Cooper's excellent post Power, fame or fortune? What’s your Lenten challenge? in the sermon slot for our Holy Communion services today at St John's Seven Kings.

Cooper suggests that: "For Jesus, the Lenten challenge was also fundamentally to face down the demons of his day: Temptations to worship false idols; to seek power, fame or fortune. Make no mistake: Such demons are just as real and just as calculatedly designed to appeal to our deepest human desires as in Jesus’ day."


Marvin Gaye - Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler).

Saturday, 16 February 2013

R. B. Kitaj: Identity and Analysis

A major retrospective exhibition of the work of R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007) - one of the most significant
painters of the post-war period – will be displayed concurrently in two major venues for its only UK showing.

This international touring show is the first major retrospective exhibition in the UK since the artist’s
controversial Tate show in the mid-1990s and the first comprehensive exhibition of the artist’s oeuvre since his death in 2007. Comprised of more than 70 works, R.B. Kitaj: Obsessions comes to the UK from the Jewish Museum Berlin and will be shown concurrently at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (23 Feb – 16 June 2013) and the Jewish Museum London (21 Feb – 16 June 2013).

The presentation of the exhibition over the two venues will enable different facets of Kitaj’s identity to be explored in depth for the first time in the UK. Both venues share links to the artist – Kitaj's London studio was designed by the American architect M.J. Long, whose practice Long & Kentish also designed the extensions to Pallant House Gallery and refurbishment of the Jewish Museum London.

The exhibition further returns the American-born Kitaj to the UK, his country of residence from the 1950s until his abrupt departure in the 1990s. In 1994 the great retrospective of his work at the Tate triggered a flood of negative reviews, which Kitaj termed the “Tate War”. This, combined with the sudden death of his second wife, painter Sandra Fisher, led him to leave London for Los Angeles in 1997.

During the 1960s Kitaj, together with his friends Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach and Lucian Freud were
instrumental in pioneering a new, figurative art which defied the trend in abstraction and conceptualism. Known collectively as the ‘School of London’ - the term Kitaj had first proposed in his seminal exhibition The Human Clay in 1976 - most of them were cultural ’outsiders’, who remained fiercely loyal to the human figure.

From the mid-1970s, Kitaj began to position himself explicitly as a Jewish artist coupled with his study of role models such as Franz Kafka, Sigmund Freud, and Walter Benjamin. In 1989 he published the First Diasporist Manifesto, the longest and most impassioned of many texts discussing the Jewish dimension in his art and thought. Confronting the history of the mass murder of Europe's Jews, and reflecting on his identity as an outsider, he created a Jewish modern art, which he termed “diasporic”, with a rich palate of colour and enigmatic, recurring motifs.

For Kitaj, art was a medium of emotional and intellectual exploration. An avid collector of books, his work frequently referenced themes and motifs in intellectual history and literature. The exhibition at Pallant House Gallery, subtitled ‘Analyst for Our Time’, will feature over 50 major paintings, sketches and prints presenting an overview of all periods of Kitaj's extensive oeuvre from the 1960s to his death in 2007.

It will consider Kitaj's early presentations of a fragmented world, reflecting his interest in art history and intellectuals such as ‘Aby Warburg’, and his paintings and collages addressing issues of European politics, philosophy and literature such as ‘The Murder of Rosa Luxembourg’ and ‘The Rise of Fascism’.

The exhibition at the Jewish Museum London, subtitled ‘The Art of Identity’ will focus on how Kitaj explored and expressed his 'Jewishness'. The exhibition will feature over thirty works, including iconic paintings such as ‘If Not, Not’; ‘Cecil Court, London W2 (The Refugees)’, ‘The Wedding’,
and ‘The Jewish Rider’. It also includes Kitaj’s portrait of the author Philip Roth, ’A Jew in Love’.


Bob Dylan - Desolation Row.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Subsumed into the strata of time

I've enjoyed visits to the Saatchi Gallery ('Breaking the ice: Moscow Art 1960-80s' and 'Gaiety is the most outstanding feature of the Soviet Union: New art from Russia') and Tate Modern ('A Bigger Splash: Painting after Performance'). The highlights for me were the work of Jānis Avotiņš and Dmitry Plavinski:

With their ghostly, alienated faces and figures reminiscent of Soviet-era photography, Jānis Avotiņš thinly painted canvases draw us into a fragile, elliptic world haunted by collective memory. Often using a minimalistic, monochromatic aesthetic reminiscent of fellow Latvian artist Vija Celmins, Avotiņš’ virtuosic imprimatura washes and technique blur and erase the specificity of his subjects, imbuing his images with an air of mystery, rather than nostalgia.

Dmitry Plavinski describes the artistic movement he developed as ‘structural symbolism’ where an integral view of the world disintegrates into a sequence of symbolic forms, subsumed into the strata of time – the past, present and future. In 1964 he produced a graphical book of grasses painted from life after which he finally moved across to figural painting, as well as texture painting, and his works increasingly included religious motifs. In the middle of the 1960’s the artist created large canvases entitled ‘Gospel of John’, ‘Novgorod Wall’ and ‘The Ancient Book’ which used plastic and ligatures of scripts from ancient Slavic texts. Plavinsky said, 'Creation by human thought and hand is sooner or later absorbed by the eternal poetry of nature ... For me, it is not the birth of a civilisation which is of greatest interest but its death and the moment its successor is born …’

I was also fortunate to visit St John the Evangelist Waterloo in time to hear part of their lunchtime concert by the X Ray Quartet while viewing artworks such as a 'Nativity' and 'Crucifixion' by Hans Feibusch, plus the 'Blue King, Crowned' sculpture. The church clearly contains more contemporary art than it was possible to see while the concert was under way and also houses the Southbank Mosaics Studio and Gallery.


King Creosote and Jon Hopkins - Bubble.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Touched: A place for poetry, music and art

Via Christopher Clack I've been introduced to Touched, a place for poetry, music and even the odd bit of art, which is the online home of The Children, John Gibbens and Armorel Weston.

Among much that is of interest are:

  • The Memory Of Grace is a volume of unconventional spiritual songs dedicated to the Most High; a poetry and music rooted in English lyrical ballads; in Bob Dylan, and the sons and daughters of Bob; in Ezekiel, Matthew and the Psalms; in cultural reggae and the gospel blues.
  • The Nightingale's Code is Gibbens' poetic study of Bob Dylan. Kirkus UK wrote of the book: “As a poet and rock musician, John Gibbens has the background to give us a fresh perspective on Bob Dylan's substantial body of work. He has also read all the major critical studies and biographies and tracked down Dylan's literary and musical sources, from Blake and the Bible to Howlin' Wolf and Woody Guthrie. As a result, this book is literate, personal, refreshing and shows a deep affection for the artist he calls 'our first old rock star'."

Bob Dylan - Jokerman.


This is our story: Journeys of faith

We all have stories to tell: stories about who we are, where we come from and where we hope to go in life. We also tell stories about our ‘journeys of faith'.

Our story and stories form the theme of our Lent Course which has been written by Revd Nicholas Sagovsky, an Anglican priest, who is Whitelands Professorial Fellow at Roehampton University. Until last year, he was Canon Theologian at Westminster Abbey.

Nick writes, ‘I wrote this course because I have learnt so much from the members of a little Bible Study Group I started for people who have sought asylum. They have made - and are making - fantastic journeys of faith.

I believe our churches are full of people with great stories to tell, and that studying Scripture together can help each one of us see our life as a journey of faith. We can learn so much as we hear about other people's journeys of faith - the good bits and the hard bits - and we can see more clearly how we follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before us - right back to Jesus and to the Israelites who endured such hardships in the wilderness to come to their promised land.'

Christians have always told stories: we tell and retell the stories of Jesus and of the early church. These are stories which help us shape our lives, to see ourselves as ‘disciples'. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we talk about all the things that have happened to us. We share stories about our ‘journeys of faith' and we need the help of Scripture to make sense of them. This Lent will also be a time when we think about the story of the Israelites escaping from slavery in Egypt, miraculously crossing the Red Sea, struggling through the wilderness for forty years, and, at last, entering the promised land.

This Lent we are saying ‘This is our story': the story of the Israelites, the story of Jesus, the story we can tell about our own ‘journey of faith'. We each have a story to tell and every story is different.

The Lent Course materials for study will link, for those who would like to listen, with Sunday Worship on BBC Radio 4 (0810-0850) and special items based on the themes of the course will be broadcast on Sunday mornings on BBC local radio. The course can be studied at:

St Peter's Aldborough Hatch (Vicarage – Oaks Lane)
Wednesday mornings from 11.00am  
20 Feb, 27 Feb, 06 Mar, 13 Mar, 20 Mar, 27 Mar

Wednesday evenings from 8.00pm
20 Feb, 27 Feb, 06 Mar, 13 Mar, 20 Mar, 27 Mar 

Thursday afternoons from 2.00pm
21 Feb, 28 Feb, 7 Mar, 14 Mar, 21 Mar, 28 Mar


Bruce Cockburn - Wanna Go Walking.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

The worlds of Law and Love

Woman taken in adultery by Dinah Roe Kendall is a wonderful visualisation of tonight’s Gospel reading (John 8. 1 - 11). There are two things which are immediately apparent and which make this a picture of contrasts. First, the women’s accusers are all painted in black and white while Jesus and the woman are the only characters painted in colour. Second, the hands of the accusers all point upwards towards her while the of Jesus points downwards and away from her.

Kendall is, I think, suggesting that the women’s accusers live in the black and white world of the Law. In the black and white world of the Law, everything is clear and everything is simple. "This woman," they say, "was caught in the very act of committing adultery. In our Law Moses commanded that such a woman must be stoned to death." If you do wrong then you are punished. No consideration of circumstances or motivations, no compassion for a fellow human being, no opportunity for restoration or rehabilitation, and no equality because it is the woman, not the man, who has been brought from the very act of adultery to be tried.

In the painting, that contrast is also very clear in that it is a crowd of men who point accusingly at the woman. Dinah Roe Kendall wrote that Jesus highlighted the lack of respect in the Pharisees for woman and their judgemental attitude towards this woman. "He demonstrated how completely opposite his attitude was both to her and to them." There is a special pleasure for her, she writes, "to see how much Jesus respected and cared about women regardless of status or age."

So, returning to the black and white world of the Law, there we find no consideration, no compassion, no restoration, no equality. The black and white world of the Law has no colour because it has no nuances, no distinctions, no difference, no variation. People often like to live in the black and white world of the Law because everything is easy to understand and easy to put into practice - no wrestling with difficulty and no struggling with conscience - but it is also a harsh world without understanding, without compassion, without forgiveness.

Ultimately, the black and white world of the Law is undermined by the different hands which we noted in this picture. The hands of the accusers point away from themselves towards the woman. This is our common response as human beings to our own fallibility and failure. Instead of acknowledging our own shortcoming we attempt to distract attention away from our selves by identifying a scapegoat and angrily pointing out that person’s many failings. We are often very successful in covering up our own shortcomings when we adopt this tactic but the reality is that we are being hypocritical.

Jesus reveals this hypocrisy through his hands. He bends down and writes in the sand with his finger. He creates a pause that is pregnant with the possibility of other points of view, other perspectives, other understanding. When the simplistic rush to condemnation is halted, other questions immediately arise to muddy the waters which had initially seemed crystal clear; what would be the compassionate response, the restorative response, the forgiving response?  

In the painting however although Jesus’ is depicted as writing in the sand, his finger is actually pointing out of the painting towards us. So the words which follow this act of writing in the sand, "Whichever one of you has committed no sin may throw the first stone at her," are applied to us as to the woman’s accusers.

They are words which undermine the black and white world of the Law by revealing the hypocrisy at its heart. The reality is that each one of us has broken the Law and each one of us are sinners. If that is so, on what basis can one sinner presume to judge or condemn another? To do so is a gross act of hypocrisy which multiplies one sin upon another.  

Jesus and the woman by contrast live in a world of colour because they live in the world of love. They live in a world without condemnation – "Is there no one left to condemn you?" Jesus asks the woman. "No one, sir," she answers. "Well, then," Jesus says, "I do not condemn you either." They live in a world where second chances and fresh starts are available – "Go," says Jesus, "but do not sin again." 

This world of Love is a world of colour because nuances exist, difference is recognized, and variation is understood. Therefore choices and chances exist which simply did not occur in the black and white world of the Law. By contrast in the world of Love a multitude of sins are covered over (1 Peter 4. 8). 

What does all this have to do with Ash Wednesday? As the sign of the cross is marked in ash on your forehead, these words are said: "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel." In this service, therefore, we acknowledge both our sinfulness and our mortality recognising the link between the two – the wages of sin are death.

The ash mark on our forehead is a public acknowledgement of our sinfulness but, because it is formed as a cross, it is also a sign of the forgiveness we have received. We are saying that we no longer live in the black and white world of the Law where sin automatically leads to death, instead, like the woman caught in adultery, we have been accepted and welcomed into the world of Love by Jesus himself.

He says to us what he said to that woman, "I do not condemn you … Go, but do not sin again." Those words are spoken to us all whether we were the accused or whether we were those who accused others. Whichever we may be, we are called to turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel. 


Kings X - Shot Of Love.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Diocese of Chelmsford Arts page

I've recently written a new website page on the Arts for the Chelmsford Diocesan website. The page includes information about the Barking Episcopal Area Art Trail, the Barking Episcopal Area Arts Festival and commission4mission commissions in the Diocese.

The Art Trail aims to raise awareness of the rich and diverse range of modern and contemporary arts and crafts from the last 100 years which can be found within the 36 featured churches.

The Barking Episcopal Area Arts Festival involves quality events from a variety of Arts genre as a way of embracing and celebrating performing and visual arts and engaging with local communities, their people and arts culture.

commission4mission is an initiative and organisation which has grown out of the Chelmsford Diocese although its membership and activities now extend beyond the Diocese itself.

Click here to see the new website page.


The Innocence Mission - You Chase The Light.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Still you make what purchases you please

Lent begins a series of progressions or stages starting with the temptation of Jesus and tracing Jesus’ road to the cross and beyond, step by step, through Lent, Holy Week and Easter.

As Lent begins we are invited to join Jesus for forty days in the wilderness. Our victory in the temptation comes through confession and the Word. We are also invited to look across the wilderness to the promised land of Easter. We progress with movement to the cross. Jesus laments over Jerusalem displaying the heart of God. We are invited to put our trust in him and take our victory in Jesus but we also sense something of the hope, apprehension and desolation which Jesus’ friends felt in Lent and Holy Week, before being ambushed by the wholly unexpected, deep joy of Easter. In short, Lent prepares us to experience Easter.

The beginning of Lent is itself marked by Ash Wednesday which is always six-and-a-half weeks before Easter. Palms kept from last year’s Palm Sunday are burnt and the ashes mixed with holy water to make the greyish paste used to make the sign of the cross on the foreheads of those attending services on Ash Wednesday.

Ashes are a symbol of being sorry for things we have done wrong and want to get rid of forever. The ashing is also a reminder to that we all come from ashes, and to ashes we all will return. The marking on our forehead with ash marks our renewed commitment to Christ. We want to show we are sorry for the wrong things done in the past year.

None of this is intended to be simply personal or simply about the past. For instance, Operation Noah have made an Ash Wednesday Declaration supported by the leaders of many churches calling for repentance over the prevailing ‘shrug-culture’ towards climate change.

‘Traditionally, Christians commit themselves to repentance and renewed faith in Jesus Christ on Ash Wednesday,’ said David Atkinson, Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Southwark. ‘We must live out that faith in relation to our damaging consumer economy, over-dependence on fossil fuels and the devastation we, as a species, are inflicting on God’s world. We believe that responsible care for God’s creation is foundational to the Gospel and central to the church’s mission.’

Some of those themes are visited in this sonnet which was inspired as Malcolm Guite set about the traditional task of burning the remnants of last Palm Sunday’s palm crosses: ‘I was suddenly struck by the way both the fire and the ash were signs not only of our personal mortality and our need for repentance and renewal but also signs of the wider destruction our sinfulness inflicts upon God’s world and on our fellow creatures, on the whole web of life into which God has woven us and for which He also cares.’

Receive this cross of ash upon your brow,
Brought from the burning of Palm Sunday’s cross.
The forests of the world are burning now
And you make late repentance for the loss.
But all the trees of God would clap their hands
The very stones themselves would shout and sing
If you could covenant to love these lands
And recognise in Christ their Lord and king.

He sees the slow destruction of those trees,
He weeps to see the ancient places burn,
And still you make what purchases you please,
And still to dust and ashes you return.
But Hope could rise from ashes even now
Beginning with this sign upon your brow.


Bruce Cockburn - If A Tree Falls In The Forest.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Windows on the world (231)

Bow, 2012


Bob Dylan - Dignity.

National Marriage Week display

Here is this year's National Marriage Week display in the lounge at St John's Seven Kings. Designed and made by members of our Mothers' Union branch, this year's display focusses on the 40th Wedding Anniversary of a MU member.

Our All-Age Service next Sunday will take love as its theme, in recognition of National Marriage Week and Valentines Day, and will feature in the liturgy lines from a number of popular love songs. Why not come and see if you can spot them all! 

Anne Atkins recently noted in a Guardian interview that: "Most people get married, most marriages last for live, and most children are raised within a marriage. That's a thing to remember." 


Bette Midler and Wynonna Judd - The Rose.

Coming down from the mountain-top

I find it very encouraging that the Gospels are so honest about the disciples. They are just like us; falling asleep when they should be praying and misunderstanding what God is doing and why he is doing it. Don’t you often find yourself doing those sorts of things? I do. But Jesus still loved and persevered with his disciples despite their shortcomings and he does the same with us. We are not expected to be perfect followers of Jesus just to keep trying and learning.

As they looked back on their experiences with Jesus the disciples were able to see that the sight of Jesus transfigured had been an important assurance for them that Jesus was God’s Son and that the path he followed, even though it led to his death, was the path that God had mapped out for him. Earlier in Luke 9 there had been much discussion about who Jesus was and what Jesus was here to do. In verse 7 we read about Herod’s confusion as he thinks Jesus is John the Baptist come back to life. In verse 18 Jesus asks the disciples to tell him who the crowds think he is. The disciples say that some think he is John the Baptist and others Elijah. Jesus asks Peter to say who he thinks him to be and Peter answers, “You are God’s Messiah.” Then Jesus tells them about his plan to go to Jerusalem where he will be arrested and killed and we know from the other Gospels that the disciples were greatly disturbed about this plan.

In the midst of this confusion and disturbance they have this experience which, in hindsight, they can see answers both questions. Jesus is seen in glory speaking with the great patriarch and the great prophet of the Israelites, Moses and Elijah, and then God speaks to confirm Jesus as his Son. Everything about this experience speaks of Jesus as God. Moses and Elijah speak to Jesus about his plan to fulfil God’s purpose by dying in Jerusalem and God confirms to them that everything Jesus says comes directly from God himself. This experience should, then, be a confirmation of everything that Jesus is and was about to do. But for the disciples, at the time, it seems to be too much for them to comprehend. They are afraid, confused and keep the experience to themselves. It is only later, looking back, that they can see the confirmation that this experience provided.

I wonder if we have had experiences of events and plans coming together in ways that confirmed to us that we were on the right path. It may be that we are needing that kind of confirmation at this point in our lives and should be asking God for his confirmation about our direction in life. What God wants to do for us, as he did for the disciples, is to give us a greater vision of Jesus as he really is. That will not answer all of our questions but can strengthen our ability to trust and follow him through our questions and uncertainties.

More than anything else though, the Transfiguration was preparing Jesus to walk the path that led to the cross. God had confirmed that Jesus was his Son at Jesus’ baptism which led to his temptation and then into his public ministry. Here at the point that Jesus resolves to walk the path of suffering which leads to redemption, God again confirms his Sonship to Jesus in the same way as at his baptism. Jesus came down from this mountain knowing that he was God’s Son walking in God’s way and that sustained through all the trials that endured.

We too will have mountain-top experiences in our lives. Times of great blessing and revelation when all seems well with the world and when we know without any uncertainty that we are God’s children. Our mountain-top experience might be a great worship service, an experience of healing, answered prayer or the gifts of the Holy Spirit, it might be a sense of overwhelming joy or of union with every other living thing in the whole created order. Whatever it is and however wonderful it is, we will inevitably, as Jesus, did come down from the mountain-top to experience suffering or in our case failure. We cannot live on the mountain-tops but those experience sustain us when we are in the valleys. Such experiences are one of the means God uses to go with us through the valleys, even the valley of the shadow of death.

Mountain-top experiences are often not looked for but are gifts to us to appreciate and enjoy. The disciples only recognised the full significance of their mountain-top experience as they looked back. At the time, they felt afraid and confused. Are you able to look back on events that may not have been clear at the time but which have been significant, sustaining experiences for you in your life? Have there been times of joy, wonder or blessing which you have now lost sight of in your life and need to rekindle and relive?

The disciples relived their experiences by telling them to others and by having them written down so that their stories could be passed on to others including us. It may be that you need to relive your experiences of refreshment, blessing and revelation by telling others about them or by writing them down to share with others.

Jesus was changed as he went up the mountain; his faced changed its appearance and his clothes became dazzling white. But it was not just Jesus that was changed by this experience as the disciples too were changed – not instantly but over time as they looked back and thought about the significance of what they had seen and heard. Their responses at the time were confused but time and reflection brought the understanding and assurance that enabled them to stand for Jesus in their lives and follow him on the path where he had led.


U2 - I Will Follow.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Anna Karenina

Joe Wright's film of Anna Karenina applies the look and feel of Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge to Imperial Russia in the 1870s. All scenes where Russia's high society appear in public are given a theatrical setting which highlights the sense that their lives are played out in public according to a rigorously enforced society script. It is this that Anna breaks through her affair with Vronsky and the sense that one cannot depart from one's allotted part is conveyed well throughout, particularly in the scene when Anna attempts to retake her place in the audience at the Opera.

The staginess of these scenes could easily have hampered the film's narrative but the scene transitions are genuinely creative and maintain the flow of the story. The focus is on Anna's alternative role - the assertive woman choosing love over status - and the tragic consequences of such choices in that day and time. Yet Wright does not neglect the other alternative that Tolstoy presents in the novel and the realism of Levin harvesting alongside his peasants and Kitty washing the fevered body of Levin's brother eloquently reveals the power of love by means of its contrast with the artificiality inherent in the theatre of high society.


Dario Marianelli - Dance With Me.

Faith and imagination resources

I was recently asked to recommend some resources on the interface between faith and imagination. Those I commended were: 

Art and Christianity Enquiry are the main organisation in the UK exploring links between faith and the visual arts. There are a small number of articles on the page about their journal. 'Art, Modernity & Faith' by George Pattison, 'God in the Gallery' by Daniel A. Siedell and 'The Art of the Sacred' by Graham Howes are all well worth reading. Daniel Siedell had a blog for a while on the themes of 'God in the Gallery' which has some interesting debate on it. Colin Harbison is also worth reading online.

'Contemporary Fiction and Christianity' by Andrew Tate is a good review of theological themes in literature as is 'The Poet as Mirror: Human Nature, God and Jesus in twentieth-century literature' by Karl-Josef Kuschel. George Steiner's 'Real Presences' is a classic text when it comes to literature arguing that a transcendent reality grounds all genuine art. Malcolm Guite makes a similar argument for poetry in 'Faith, Hope and Poetry'. In 'Grace and Necessity: Reflections on Art and Love' Rowan Williams sketches out a new understanding of how human beings open themselves to transcendence.

Steve Scott's 'Crying For A Vision' is worth a read and spans music, literature and visual art. My own co-authored book on faith and music (taking in aspects of literature and the visual arts too) is 'The Secret Chord'.

On imagination specifically, Walter Brueggemann's 'The Prophetic Imagination' is another classic text. 'Image' Journal sees itself as bridging faith and imagination. In Walking On Water, Madeleine L'Engle argues that the prime task of the artist is to listen, to remain aware, and to respond to creation. In The Mind of the Maker Dorothy L. Sayers explores understandings of the Trinity through the medium of human creativity. Finally, in The Book of God Gabriel Josipovici applies literary criticism to the texts of the Bible. 


Bruce Cockburn - Creation Dream.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Jason Lock: The Glorious Cross

Jason Lock is a self-taught photographer and a committed member of St. Andrews Church Chorleywood.

He writes: "With my photography I aim to capture photographs in a creative way and I find it a joy to share with others the wonderful characteristics of Jesus, characteristics that I have come to treasure in my time of knowing him so far. I also have a passion to share the meaning of the cross with others. I want to share the depth and power, the beauty and the glory."

He is exhibiting his 70 piece collection of images entitled 'The Glorious Cross' at Watersmeet Rickmansworth until 13th of March. Entry is free of charge and the exhibition is open Mon - Fri, 10:00am - 4:00pm.


Julie Miller - How Could You Say No.

Congratulations: Steven Saxby

Congratulations to Steven Saxby who has been appointed as Executive Officer to the London Churches Group with effect from 1 March. He will also remain as Priest in Charge of St Barnabas, Walthamstow, a church which is a member of London Citizens, active in the CitySafe campaign and a key member of Walthamstow Migrants Action Group

Steven has a strong record of social action, ecumenical and multi faith engagement that will stand him in good stead in his new role. This includes as Waltham Forest Faith Communities worker (2002-2003) and later line manager for his successors (2003-2007), developing the Faith Forum for Waltham Forest, serving on the Local Strategic Partnership and advising the local authority on faith matters since 2002. He also founded the London Boroughs Faiths Network in 2002, which is still going strong.


Neil Young - Rockin' In The Free World.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Korban and Heart 4 Harlow

The premiere of a new play retelling the life and passion of Christ in drama, dance and music will take place on 24th and 25th May at the Harlow Playhouse as part of the Heart 4 Harlow Festival. 'Korban' has been written by Joshua Findlay and will feature a cast of local people.

Volunteers to join the cast are currently being sought and those interested should call 07521 740924. More information is on youtube here


Aradhna - Yeshu Raja. 

Anthony De Jong Cleyndert: Time and Place

Anthony De Jong Cleyndert was the 2012 winner of "Best in Show" at the Gibberd Gallery Annual Open Exhibition which showcases a wealth of unique local artistic talent special to Harlow.

His current exhibition at the Gallery is entitled 'Time and Place' and includes abstract oil paintings alongside some of his earlier screen prints. The show celebrates his love of the Essex landscape, especially Wideford, along with bright captivating screenprint monotype images.

He has written that "Living in Florence for a year, the element of the spiritual in Art came upon me with a great impact. Some time later I felt an affinity with Blake’s views of the fallen man; the subdivision of the original innocent man into the individual elements that make up his being. These ideas echoed in me the striving for understanding and harmony, to overcome the conflict and incompleteness of our looking."

Anthony has a studio at Parndon Mill which, with  its delightful riverside setting, workspaces for artists and others, plus a Gallery, plays an active part in the Harlow community promoting the visual arts. 'Time and Place' is open until Friday 22nd February.

The Gibberd Gallery is a purpose built contemporary exhibition space in the centre of Harlow on the mezzanine floor of the Civic Centre. It is home to the important collection of British watercolours donated to the town by sir Frederick Gibberd in 1984. The programme is a lively mix of local and national shows attracting a broad audience and each year there is a 3D focus within the programme emphasising Harlow's status as a sculpture town. The gallery is run by Harlow Art Trust a charity formed in 1953 which also commissions and purchases sculpture for the town.


Florence and the Machine - Breath Of Life.