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Sunday, 30 June 2013

Hearts on Fire: The power of story

I have been invited to speak at Artserve's festival weekend Hearts on Fire! which is inspired by the power of story – our stories shared, God’s story lived. Sharing inspirational stories can reveal God alive and present among us, speaking through our actions and lives. Telling stories is not just about words, but all forms of media. I will be talking about the themes of The Secret Chord; an impassioned study of the role of music in cultural life through the prism of Christian belief.


Mumford and Sons - Roll Away Your Stone.

The past is not even past

Having been to see Saints Alive by Michael Landy at the National Gallery, Laura Cumming's Observor review seems to me to be the one which captures the significance of this exhibition best:

"It is remarkable that the National Gallery had such faith in Landy, never mind reinforcing the floors for his giants. But the result is a tremendous event that seizes the viewer, involving us in a spectacle of passion, conviction, suffering and belief driven both literally and mechanically by violence. Their true subject, in this respect, is awe. These sculptures take you into the paintings, but above all into the lives of the saints, in the most eye-popping, nerve-touching, heart-wrenching way."

As Cumming notes "Landy has spent the past two years looking hard at paintings of saints and thinking about the complete self-abnegation of their lives." Similarly, Tim Rollins and K.O.S. also regularly create contemporary art based on art of the past. William Faulkner's statement - ‘The past is not dead. In fact, it’s not even past.’ - is a guiding light for their work. Accordingly, they "embrace the idea of the arena of art existing in the fourth dimension of a social imagination beyond space and time, contingency and possibility."

Inspired by the Time Traveller in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine (1895) the group have endeavoured to explore this idea in their current exhibition at the Maureen Paley Gallery and have made work based on imaginary ‘visitations’ with Shakespeare, Mendelssohn, Haydn, Darwin and Strauss:

"Their journey begins in 1590 at the time when Shakespeare was writing A Midsummer Night’s Dream and simultaneously in 1826 when Mendelssohn at 17 years of age began work on his own score for a production of this play. In their work A Midsummer Night’s Dream (after Shakespeare, 1590-1596 and Mendelssohn 1826–1842) they invited young people to transform into the character of Puck, painting flowers and blossom over sheet music from Mendelssohn’s score that was completed in 1842. Next they imagined the first performance of The Seven Last Words of Christ by Haydn in 1786 and created seven paintings that use black Spinel pigment that they applied onto pages from this score. They then visited Charles Darwin in 1837 as he began sketching out his idea of a ‘Tree of Life’ in one image that would be developed into his theory of evolution described in On the Origin of Species published in 1859.

In 1945 they meet with Richard Strauss in the final days of WWII while he was composing his elegiac and mournful Metamorphosen (in Memorium). This music created a deep desire within the group to reflect on their experiences working in the South Bronx that brought up feelings of tragedy and transformation, destruction and rebirth. They have created a meditation in this new body of work that memorializes, researches and remains hopeful by existing in past, present and future tenses."


Joseph Haydn - The Seven Last Words Of Our Saviour On The Cross.

Transcending tribal identities

On Thursday, at St John's Seven Kings, we hosted a fascinating meeting of the East London Three Faiths Forum looking at the topic of Marriage and the Family. There was a high degree of consensus among the three speakers for what we tend to think of as being the traditional view of marriage and family life i.e. marriage being the lifelong union of one man and one woman for the procreation of children and the family unit as the foundational building block of society. From this perspective, the diversity of forms of relationship which we find today within society is viewed as a sign that society is disintegrating and that we have moved away from God’s pattern for human flourishing.

Yet, as Christians, we claim to follow someone who poses some very significant challenges to our understanding of the place of family (Luke 9. 51 - 62). "The obligation to bury one’s father was regarded by many Jews of Jesus’ time as the most holy and binding duty of a son; but Jesus says that that is secondary to the call to follow him and announce God’s kingdom." This call cuts across family life and our traditional understandings of family. Here, even saying goodbye to your family before you leave seems to be criticised by Jesus!

In Matthew 12, when Jesus was told that his mother and brothers were nearby, we read that he said: "Who is my mother? Who are my brothers? … Whoever does what my Father in heaven wants is my brother, my sister, and my mother." Then in Matthew 10 we read of Jesus saying: "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the world. No, I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. I came to set sons against their fathers, daughters against their mothers, daughters-in-law against their mothers-in-law; your worst enemies will be the members of your own family."

Tom Wright notes in his commentary on this passage that Jesus is quoting from the prophet Micah (Micah 7.6) who predicts the terrible divisions that will always occur when God does a new thing. "Jesus came to bring and establish the new way of being God’s people, and not surprisingly those who were quite happy with the old one, thank you very much, didn’t like it being disturbed." "He didn’t want to bring division within households for the sake of it," Wright says, but "he knew that, if people followed his way, division was bound to follow."

So what is this new way of being God’s people which challenges our more traditional understandings of family life? I’ve recently read the latest book by Peter Rollins called ‘The Idolatry of God’ which I’ve found very helpful on this question, so I’d like to share with you some of his thinking.

"There are so many divisions in society, divisions between political parties, religious traditions and social groups. This is perfectly natural, of course. From birth, we experience a pre-existing matrix of beliefs and practices that differentiate us from others.

We discover early on that we have been given a mantle, that we are part of a tribe, one with a rich history, deep hopes and a variety of fears. The world is full of ‘us’ and ‘them’. Some of these divisions have deep histories that span multiple generations, while others are very new. Some are serious and others border on the ridiculous. But, at their most extreme, these divisions can result in local and global conflicts."

Rollins argues that to leave these divisions behind we need to transcend our given identities:

"Whether we are Conservative or Labour, rich or poor, male or female, these various bearers of our identification do not fully contain or constrain us and all too often prevent us from truly experiencing our own humanity."
He suggests that that is what St Paul teaches when he writes to the Galatians saying, "there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles, between slaves and free people, between men and women; you are all one in union with Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3. 28). "Here Paul mentions six distinct tribal identities that were ubiquitous in his time; six identities that can be further subdivided into three, namely the religious (Jew and Gentile), the political (slave and free) and the biological (male and female).

It was not that these different groupings were totally isolated from each other, but the way that each of these groups related to the others was clearly defined and carefully regulated.

These distinctions were justified by the authorities either in terms of a natural law or a divine plan; thus the difference in roles and responsibilities were non-negotiable and were required to maintain social stability."

In Jesus’ ministry though "we find a multitude of references to one who challenged the divisions that were seen as sacred, divisions between Jew and Gentile, male and female, and slave and free. Jesus spoke to tax collectors, engaged with Samaritans and treated women as equals in a world where these were outrageous acts." In our Gospel reading today we see Jesus refusing to perpetuate the divisions between Jews and Samaritans when his own disciples want to see revenge enacted on a Samaritan village for rejecting them.

More than this, though, in the incarnation we are presented with a picture of God coming down to earth as Jesus and being progressively stripped of all his prior identity as God’s Son. In Philippians 2 we read that he "made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!" (2.6-8).

Rollins writes that, "This is called kenosis and describes the act of self-emptying. This is most vividly expressed in the crucifixion, where we see Christ occupying the place of the complete outsider, embracing the life of one who is excluded from the political system, the religious community, and the cultural network."

To do this is to cut through the divisions which exist in society because of our different tribal identities. This is what Jesus means when he says he brings a sword into the world. He cuts into "the very heart of all tribal allegiances, bringing unity to what was previously divided":

"There is no change biologically (male or female), religiously (Jew or Greek) or politically (slave or free). Yet nothing remains the same, for these identities are now drained of their operative power and no longer hold us in the way that they once did. These identities no longer need to separate us from each other."

Our "concrete identity continues to exist, but it is now held differently and does not dictate the scope and limitations of one’s being. Paul expresses this powerfully when he writes:

What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away. (1 Corinthians 7.29-31)

What we witness here are concrete references to three different categories: (1) relationships, (2) the things that happen to us, and (3) the things we own. For Paul, these continue to exist, but we are to hold them differently from the way we previously did. We are no longer to act as though we are defined by the things we own, the things that happen to us, or the relationships we have. While these continue to be important, we must hold them in a way that ensures they do not have an inescapable grasp upon us.

Paul understands this radical cut as emanating directly from one’s identity with Christ, for Paul understands participation in the life of Christ as involving the loss of power that our various tribal identities once held for us."  

Last weekend our curate, Rev. Santou Beurklian-Carter, took on a new identity, that of a priest. But she does not do so in order that she can then define herself over against the rest of us. Her role as priest is not that of ‘Father’ or ‘Mother’ knows best. Instead, her role as priest is to lead us into our commemoration of the act in which Jesus let go of every identity by which he was known, becoming nothing, in order that we might come into a new life within the family or kingdom of God where all are one and where there is no Jew or Greek, no slave or free, no male or female.


Frankie Goes To Hollywood - Two Tribes.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Craft Market: Ron Jeffries and Dupenny

The Craft Market at the St Peter's Flower Festival includes a stall selling books of local history by Ron Jeffries plus designer items from local success story Emily Dupen-Hopkins.

Aldborough Hatch: The Village in the Suburbs is a lively, often amusing and sometimes revealing journey across the centuries – from the time when the forest of Essex covered much of Fairlop Plain to the present day when the traffic on the A12 on its southern boundary roars past on its way into mainland Europe and far beyond - while Just an Essex Lad takes a largely humorous approach to Ron's own life. His latest volume is entitled 'A slice of this and a bit of that'. It includes chapters about ‘Health and safety fanatics’, ’Moonlight skating in 1917’, ‘The day the Olympic Torch came to Redbridge’, ‘KIPPERS!’, ‘The day God did not come to the Park’, ‘When Sainsbury’s gave me something for nothing’, ‘The Olympic experience’, ‘I have been robbed in Nigeria’, ‘Of Fairlop Fair revived’, ‘Too expensive for Ilford’, and a series of ‘Fables for the Twenty-first Century’. Ron Jeffries is a local community activist and historian, and is a member of St Peter's Aldborough Hatch.

By contrast Brighton-based Emily Dupen-Hopkins has moved away from the area to establish Dupenny, her successful designer-ware business which produces exquisite wallpaper, beautiful homewares and fine ceramics with a cheeky twist. Despite the awards her designs have won, it is great that her products can still be found among the offerings at this Craft Market in her home area.


Florence and the Machine - Breath Of Life.  


Why Seven Kings and Newbury Park Resident's Association think the installation of lifts at Newbury Park Station is not only essential but desirable: -

1. The financial situation of TfL is now much improved. This being augmented by income from the
Olympic Games sale of tickets, both from the IOC directly and the general public.

2. The improved facilities at Stratford particularly the lift installations on all platforms have been of
great assistance to disabled people as well as those with prams, buggies and luggage. In many
cases enabling them to attend the Olympics and the Stratford Westfield shopping centre.

3. The installation of two lifts at Newbury Park Station, we understand would be a simple and cheap
operation (perhaps the reason it was selected in the first place) as comparable to some other

4. It is also worth noting that Newbury Park station is the first point of entry to the underground
system for people living in Romford and further along the A12.

5. It is one of the few underground stations in the area with significant car parking facilities, 456
spaces, including 6 disabled bays.

6. This district has an aging population and hence a large number of people who are
disabled. Unlike many other stations which have either lifts and/or escalators for part of movement
from platform to street Newbury Park has neither. Therefore many are prohibited from using the
station altogether for this reason.

It is an additional blow to the local community that changes to the Crossrail plans mean that Seven Kings rail station will be one of the few on the route that will not have step-free access.

If you would like to get involved in the campaign and add your voice you can write to: -

a. Mike Brown, MVO, Managing Director of London Underground, 55 Broadway, London SW1H

b. Mr Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, Greater London Authority, City Hall, The Queen's Walk,
More London, London, SE1 2AA. Email: (please provide your full postal address in the email).

c. Mr Roger Evans, Greater London Authority, City Hall, The Queen's Walk, More London,
London SE1 2AA. Note: Roger is the elected GLA member for Havering and Redbridge.
Email: (please provide your full postal address in the email).

Please copy in email SKNPRA committee members Peter Robinson and Mark Kennedy respectively as: and on all correspondence.


If you can, please attend the photo-shoot that we are organising at the Newbury Park tube
Station on Saturday 13th July 2013 at 10:15 am. Gather outside Newbury Park station
entrance. The photo should take around 15 to 20 minutes to organise.


Tom Waits - Downtown Train.

St Peter's Flower Festival and other cluster events

This week is a busy one for the cluster of Anglican Churches in Aldborough Hatch, Goodmayes and Seven Kings. Today I was at the St. Peter's Flower Festival 2013 for their choral recital (which is supported by the choir from St John's Seven Kings). Tonight at St John's we have a Murder Mystery Evening while tomorrow our curate Rev. Santou Beurklian-Carter presides at our main Holy Communion service for the first time and we will have a Bring & Share Lunch to celebrate her recent priesting. St Paul's Goodmayes have their Patronal Festival tomorrow which includes the hosting of an art exhibition by commission4mission (Monday 1st - Sunday 7th July, 10.00am - 4.00pm). commission4mission hold an opening night reception at St Paul's on Monday 1st July from 6.30pm, incorporating art talks and their AGM. The exhibition also features as part of the Our Community Festival on Sunday 7th July, 12 noon - 4.00pm,  on Barley Lane Recreation Ground (opposite Tescos). Local churches will have an information stall at the Festival which will also feature 'Praise in the Park' with a Salvation Army Band playing and leading community hymn singing from 3.30pm.

St. Peter's Flower Festival 2013
Theme – Underground - Overground
Saturday 29th June
Church open from 10am to 7pm Craft Market open from 10am to 6pm
Refreshments available from 10am to 6pm (including hot and cold drinks,
ploughman’s lunches, strawberries and cream teas)
Exhibition of 150 years of St Peter’s in the hall
The Eastbury Concert Band on the green at 11.00am
Singers from Charmas Stage School on the green at 1.15pm
‘Bells Aloud’ from St Margaret’s, Barking on the green at 2pm
Choral Music The choirs of St. John’s and St. Peter's, and friends will give a
recital in Church at 3pm
The Palmerstone Dancers on the green at 4pm
Service of Compline in the Church at 7pm
Sunday 30th June
Service of Holy Communion in the Church at 9am
Church open from 10am to 7pm Craft Market open from 10am to 5pm
Refreshments available from 10am to 5pm
Exhibition of 150 years of St Peter’s in the hall
Singers from Charmas Stage School on the green at 1.15pm
The Palmerstone Dancers on the green at 2pm
Choral Music The choirs of St. John’s and St. Peter's, and friends will give a
recital in Church at 3pm
Festival Evensong in the Church at 7pm
Monday 1st July
Church open from 10am to 7pm


The Move - Flowers In The Rain.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Sophia Hubs launch

You are warmly invited to the launch of Seven Kings and Newbury Park Sophia Hub - the first of a network of incubators for start-up social enterprises and businesses harnessing the resources of the faith communities.

There will be contributions from Jay Lakhani, Hafiz Abdullah Mohammad, Steve Miller and Rev Rosy Fairhurst and some examples of local faith-based social enterprise.

The launch takes place on July 10th at St Johns Seven Kings, St John's Road, London IG2 7BB from 5.30pm - 9.30pm. There will be two major phases of presentations during the evening the first more geared at business and the second at the wider community -  come when you can.

Hear more about the Hub and how it will work. Find out more about how you can become involved.

Please rsvp by e-mail to

Seven Kings and Newbury Park Sophia Hub is funded by Area Committees 5 and 7, London Over the Border, Mission in London's Economy, Mission Opportunities Fund (Diocese of Chelmsford), and Near Neighbours.


Will Todd - The Call Of Wisdom.

Tower of London

Yesterday we enjoyed an evening at the Tower of London incorporating a tour of the Tower, a meal in the Yeoman Warders Club and witnessing the Ceremony of the Keys. Our thanks to those who arranged the trip for us as a birthday gift.


Scott Walker - The Bridge

Monday, 24 June 2013

Windows on the world (249)

Leavesden, 2013


Manfred Mann's Earth Band - Blinded By The Light.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Ordination: Rev. Santou Beurklian-Carter

The ordination as priest of Rev. Santou Beurklian-Carter, curate at St John's Seven Kings, took place this morning at St Mary's Chigwell. Santou was ordained along with Rev. Sharon Guest (Chigwell and Chigwell Team Ministry) and Rev. Young Lee (Walthamstow Team Ministry). Our prayers are with them and all those being ordained in the Chelmsford Diocese today as they enter this new phase of their ministries.

Here are some thoughts on what their ordination means from Nicholas Anderson, Chair of the House of Clergy in Liverpool Diocese:

“Through your ordination into the presbyterate [you] commit yourselves as members of that group of men and women whom we call the ordained ministers of our Church. You will declare before all your willingness to do your best to rise to the great challenges which this way of life will put before you, and through the laying on of hands and the prayer of consecration, the Holy Spirit will take hold of you just as the same Holy Spirit once took hold of the prophets and saints of old enabling you to rise to the challenges which your unique vocation places before you.

As you stand there on Sunday, I would like to invite all to think of you carefully with the eyes of faith.
Through your ordination to the presbyterate, as well as being our friends, our brothers and sisters in faith, you become something more. In the mystery of God’s love, you become a living sign of the presence of Jesus among us in a whole new way. From now on as we look at you with the eyes of faith, we will see something more of the mystery of the Lord’s love for us unfolding in front of our eyes …

What then of you our new priests? To what are you called as witnesses in committing yourselves on Sunday? Of what are you now called to be a living sign? We will hear the answer to all of this in the questions posed to you in The Declarations. We will hear about willing and generous service. We will hear about the faithful proclamation of the faith. We will hear about a ministry of prayer on behalf of the Church and the whole world. We will hear about respect and obedience. We will hear about sincere love, concern for the poor, unassuming authority, self-discipline and holiness. And at the end of The Declarations, we who are there will be asked: “Brothers and sisters, you have heard how great is the charge that these ordinands are ready to undertake, and you have heard their declarations. Is it now your will that they should be ordained?” Our response is a simple, “It is.”

There it is. It is this which your whole life must now be about. This is what you take on this Sunday, this is what God is calling you and empowering you to be and to do – that in every pastoral encounter, people now encounter, in a new and deeper way than was already the case, a living image, a living icon of Jesus the servant.”

This is the charge that St Alcuin made to his monks. It is also of relevance to those being ordained and may be something we could pray for Santou:

“Be an honour to the church, follow Christ’s word, clear in thy task and careful in thy speech. Be thine an open hand, a merry heart, Christ in thy mouth, life that all may know a lover of righteousness and compassion. Let none come to thee and go sad away. Hope of the poor, and solace to the sad, go thou before God’s people to God’s realm, that those who follow thee may come to the stars. Sow living seeds, words that are quick with life, that faith may be the harvest in their hearts. In word and in example let thy light shine in the black dark like the morning star.

Let not the wealth of the world nor its dominion flatter thee into silence as to truth, nor king, nor judge, yea, nor thy dearest friend muzzle thy lips from righteousness.”


John Rutter - The Lord Bless You And Keep You.

c4m exhibition and Our Community Festival

St Paul's Church Goodmayes is hosting an Art Exhibition for commission4mission
Monday to Sunday ~ 1st to 7th July 2013. Open 10:00am to 4:00pm daily. Admission is free and Light Refreshments will be available. 
The Art Exhibition will begin with a formal opening night including artist presentations, a talk on the work of John Piper by Mark Lewis and the Annual General Meeting for commission4mission on the evening of Monday 1st July 2013. All are welcome.

Artists exhibiting include: Ross Ashmore, Harvey Bradley, Anne Creasey, Michael Creasey, Valerie Dean, Elizabeth Duncan Meyer, Jonathan Evens, Mark Lewis, Danielle Lovesey, Caroline Richardson, Joy Rousell Stone, Henry Shelton and Peter Webb. Some of the exhibits will be for sale.
The last day of the exhibition will coincide with the 'Our Community Festival'an annual event co-ordinated by the London Borough of Redbridge. This will take place in Barley Lane Recreation Ground directly opposite the church and will run from 12 noon to 4:00pm on Sunday 7th July 2013. Enjoy a lively afternoon of music, a BBQ, refreshments and entertainment provided by local performers and community groups. Don't forget to bring a bike and try out our free cycle circuit and cycle skills workshop!

St Paul's has been a generous patron of the arts through the generosity of the Parochial Church Council and many ad memoria by it's loyal and faithful membership throughout its history. The church is home for a large selection of stained glass, many from the original William Morris workshops at Walthamstow, now a museum.

The Church is proud to own a set of contemporary 'Stations of the Crown of Thorns' a series of 14 individual pieces featuring a large Triptych. These were created by the local Seven Kings artist Henry Shelton the founding member of commission4mission.

You can explore St Paul's permanent artworks by clicking HERE.
For details on how to find St Paul's, please click HERE.
After the Fire - Life In The City.

Cecilia Vicuña: Precarious prayer

Cecilia Vicuña’s exhibition at England & Co begins with a series of paintings from the 1970s in which religious icons are replaced by personal, political and literary figures.

Vicuña learned this technique in the late 1960s from the Surrealist artist Leonora Carrington and was initially inspired by the naïve and subtly subversive images made by 16th Century indigenous artists in Latin America after the Spanish conquest when they were forced to paint angels and saints for the Catholic Church.

Salvator Allende, Fidel Castro and Karl Marx simply replace the Christian saints in these images; a reversal of the images indigenous artists were forced to paint by the Catholic Church and an acknowledgement that the Marxism of Latin America in the ‘60s and ‘70s was, for Vicuña, more compelling than Catholicism. Yet, as these works are also deliberately naïve with their subjects depicted within a utopian setting, they also indicate the fragility of the freedoms which had been won and which the Chilean coup d'état of 1973 - when Allende’s life was lost, along with 43 years of Chilean democracy - brought to an end.

Vicuña writes that her artistic practice changed as a result. Prior to the coup d'état she had each day made an object in support of the Chilean revolutionary process. Post coup d'état her objects supported the resistance against the dictatorship.

These objects, composed of feathers, stones, sticks, and other found materials, are known as ‘Precarios’ because they are literally precarious - “they can’t endure, they may fall apart by themselves.” They show their socialist character through their poverty and by the fact that “they can be done by anyone.”

Not only are these objects beautiful in and of themselves but they also reveal the beauty of what is thrown away and ephemeral. As such, they are also deeply spiritual. Vicuña has explained that: “Precarious is what is obtained by prayer. Uncertain, exposed to hazards, insecure. From the Latin precarius, from precisprayer”:

"These materials are lying down and I respond by standing them up. The gods created us and we have to respond to the gods. There will only be equality when there is reciprocity. The root of the word 'respond' is to offer again, to receive something and to offer it back. 'We are made of throwaways and we will be thrown away,' say the objects. Twice precarious, they come from prayer and predict their own destruction. Precarious in history, they will leave no trace. The history of art written in the North includes nothing of the South. Thus they speak in prayer, precariously."

Vicuña finds deep personal connections between Taoism and Andean culture but her art of exile and its spirituality also resonate strongly with aspects of Christian understanding and practice, for example, Peter Rollins’ interpretation of St Paul’s claim that Christians are the refuse of the world. Rollins suggests that “Christians are the de-worlded … the part of no part, the community of outsiders … learning from, leaning toward and reaching out to the people who live day to day as the trash of the world … [who] lay down the various political, religious and cultural narratives that protect us from looking at our own brokenness and allow it to be brought to light.”

Would that we genuinely lived in the way Rollins suggests! Vicuña’s art provides an object lesson in visualising such praxis.


Rob Hallingan - Another Fine Mess.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Scriptural Reasoning: Introduction to Christian Text on Beginnings

We had a fascinating discussion this evening at the second meeting of our local Scriptural Reasoning group which touched on creation, creativity, rest, the nature of God, Trinity, incarnation, omniscience and debate.

Here is my introduction to the Christian Text on Beginnings (John 1. 1-5) from the Text Bundle we were using:
These words of beginning come from the Prologue or overture to the gospel according to John.  Gospels are ‘good messages’ or ‘good news’ connected with the word ‘angel’ or messenger. “In the Hebrew Scriptures this means the ‘good news’ of God’s peace and salvation, brought to poor and hurting people trapped in pain or oppression. In the Graeco-Roman world, it was used for the latest proclamation from the local government or the emperor.” The good news here comes in the form of a Graeco-Roman biography telling stories about Jesus and the things he said in order to interpret his significance as ‘the Christ, the Son of God’.

It is ‘the gospel according to John’, not necessarily written by John but ‘according to’ his teaching and interpretation. “It was quite common in the ancient world for the followers of a great man to write up his ideas and teachings, as Plato did for Socrates.” While John has traditionally been identified as the apostle John, it seems best to think of John as the ‘authority’ for rather than the ‘author’ of the gospel ‘according to John’.  
“Whoever was involved in writing and producing this gospel was very familiar with the multi-faith, multi-cultural world of the eastern Mediterranean in the first century. It was a real melting pot because of the Romans’ deliberate policy of bringing all peoples together in one empire of peace and easy communications.” The gospel is “steeped in the Hebrew scriptures and Jewish beliefs” but is trying to present Jesus in a culture saturated by the dualist Greek philosophical tradition, which contrasted the invisible realm of the intellect, soul and the gods with our material physical universe, Stoicism, which stressed the logical rationality behind cosmic order, and religious cults, which abounded with stories of divine figures coming from the realm of light above to save us in this dark world.  
In this overture to the Gospel, which introduces key themes and words that will recur throughout, Jesus is called ‘the Word’. In the Hebrew scriptures God’s word is seen as being alive and active (Isaiah 55. 11) from the creation (referred to here by the phrase, ‘In the beginning’), when God has only to say, ‘Let there be ...’ for things to come into being (Genesis 1. 3, 6, 9, etc.), to God’s word coming through all the prophets. In Greek philosophy from early thinkers like Heraclitus to the Stoics, the ‘word’, logos, was used for the logical rationality behind the universe. In later Jewish beliefs, this masculine principle was complemented by the feminine figure of Lady Wisdom, who was present with God at the creation (Proverbs 8. 22 – 31).
“John pulls all these threads together with the amazing idea that the Word was not only pre-existent with God but also personal.” He “carefully writes ‘the Word was God’, divine, personal, existing in the unity of the Godhead and yet somehow distinct – for ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ (John 1. 14).”
“The Word which God spoke had a reality and being of its own. Though it flowed out of the source which was God, it had life in itself, and entered into a living relation with God. God spoke the Word, and the Word spoke to God. This is the reality which is reflected in the experience of every author who writes a book, for as s/he writes the words, the words have a life of their own and enter into a dialogue with the author ... As the music of Bach expresses Bach, and the music of Mozart expresses Mozart, so we may think of God speaking a word which expresses himself. His Word expresses his own unique nature, which is Love.”
We speak about God only by means of analogies. The analogies here are of: the Creative Idea which sees the whole work of the world complete, the end in the beginning, as the image of God the Father; and the Creative Activity bringing that idea to life in time as the image of the Word, the Son of God.
The presence of the Word is the ‘light come into the darkness’. “The first act of God’s creation was in the words “Let there be light” ... and he “separated the light from the darkness” (Genesis 1. 3f). “The light does not eliminate the darkness, but it goes on shining. There is no peaceful coexistence of light and darkness. The business of light is to banish darkness” yet “darkness remains the background to the story which John will tell”. The image therefore is of “a lighthouse or beacon throwing one bar of light through the darkness.”
“The light which shone in Jesus, and which shines on in the name of Jesus is proclaimed throughout the world, is none other than the light of God himself, his first creation, the light that enlightens every human being (John 1. 9).”

(This introduction is based mainly on material from ‘John’, Richard A. Burridge, The Bible Reading Fellowiship Oxford, 1998 but also uses quotes from: ‘Water into Wine’, Stephen Verney, Fount, 1985; ‘The Mind of the Maker’, Dorothy L. Sayers, Methuen & Co London, 1942; ‘The Light Has Come’, Lesslie Newbigin, The Handsel Press Edinburgh, 1987; and ‘Readings in St John’s Gospel’, William Temple, Macmillan & Co London, 1968)


Houses - Beginnings.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Glenn Lowcock: Slow down your looking

Glenn Lowcock, who exhibited with commission4mission at the Strand Gallery last year, has an exhibition coming up in the autumn at the Crypt Gallery in St Martin in the Fields, Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 4JJ. The Exhibition runs from 14th October to 10th November 2013. The private view is on 15th October from 6.00 – 8.00pm. 

This exhibition of work by Glenn Lowcock asks us to slow down our looking, and to spend a little time. Exploring qualities of diffusion and accumulation Glenn’s work is quiet and meditative and encourages us to look at, to look through, and to look beyond.


Monsters of Folk - Slow Down Jo.

Two sides to Benidorm

I recently spent the weekend in Benidorm as part of my future son-in-law's stag weekend and was fascinated to be able to view the two sides to Benidorm.

For the most part, Benidorm is a typical Spanish resort with sweeping bays, beautiful beaches and wide promenades designed for paseo, yet it is best known for the 'British Square'; a plaza with a collection of pubs and clubs, supplemented by takeaways, which makes up the main strip and is filled nightly with English tourists, generally in groups, generally celebrating (whether stag or hen weekends, birthdays or some other milestone), and generally in fancy dress or t-shirts proclaiming what is being celebrated by means of a pub crawl. All the stereotypes of drink, drugs, hardcore house & cheesy pop, sun, sea, sand and sex have their basis in reality. Free shots, cheap deals on booze, and table dancers are the main means used to entice groups into specific pubs and clubs but little leeway is afforded when the plentiful supply of alcohol results in throwing up or aggressive behaviour. The strip is perimetre policed and those stepping over the line are swiftly dispatched from the Square. Possibly as a result, the general atmosphere in the Square was merry but calm with no sense of latent threat.

There appeared to be much good natured banter between the different groups to be found in the Square. One group, in t-shirts proclaiming themselves to be 'Vicar's off duty', were amazed and pleased to find that what they had imagined to be an anomalous joke was actually a reality. One of their group offered to bring friends with him if we were to hold a service in our hotel and passed on contact details to keep in touch. A group of women from Birmingham who spoke to us at the same time talked about the positive impact their local Vicar had made at the local school and in taking the funeral of a friend's father. They thanked us because they said the work which we do - being with others at moments of crisis - is under appreciated.

Conversations like these highlighted the opportunities that would exist were a ministry like that of Street Pastors to exist on the British Square. Throughout the weekend, several of us were asking ourselves where would Jesus be in this place. While there I read these words in Peter Rollins' the orthodox heretic which provide some kind of answer:

"... what if Jesus had an infinitely more radical message ...? What if Jesus taught an impossible forgiveness, a forgiveness without conditions, a forgiveness that would forgive before some condition was met? Now, that kind of forgiveness can really annoy people, and might help to explain why Jesus got a reputation for hanging out with drunkards and prostitutes rather than with ex-drunkards and ex-prostitutes!"


The Phantoms - Benidorm Nights.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Local tourism in Rainham

This morning I was with the Diocese of Chelmsford's Regeneration Group at St Helen & St Giles Rainham discussing Heritage, Tourism and Regeneration with representatives of the London Borough of Havering and the National Trust. The borough plan to preserve the attractive heritage of the village and enhance the quality of life by providing an improved and safer local environment, enriched by educational and cultural opportunities for everyone. Rainham Compass, its vision for Rainham, is set around its four ‘points’: Rainham Village, Rainham Community, Rainham Enterprise and Rainham Riverside. Creating high quality public spaces and easy access to the beauty of the Thames and Riverside area is at the heart of their vision to develop Rainham as an attraction in its own right.

The RSPB acquired Rainham Marshes in 2000 and set about transforming it into an important place for nature and a great place for people to visit. Now you can expect to see breeding wading birds in spring and summer, and large flocks of wild ducks in winter. Birds of prey and rare birds are regularly seen too. There are also water voles in the ditches and rare dragonflies flit across the boardwalks. There is an innovative visitor centre, with huge picture-windows that look out across the marshes. There is also a shop and café and a new wildlife garden and children's adventure play area too. A full events programme offers something for everyone. Boardwalks throughout the reserve give access for wheelchairs and pushchairs.

Rainham Hall is a remarkably intact merchant’s house dating from the early 18th century. Built in 1729 for Captain John Harle, a local merchant, it held a pivotal place in Rainham Village for two centuries, connecting village life with river commerce, right up until the 1920s.  The Hall and its cluster of associated buildings (comprising the Coach House and the Lodge) are situated in the centre of Rainham Village in Essex, next to the Norman church of St Helen & St Giles. Together, Rainham Hall and the church form a visually attractive ‘heart’ of the village.

Being community minded and a friendly and welcoming family of people accessible to all generations, the church is at the heart of not only the village but also the regeneration of the area. One current example of its local contribution is the exhibition of his sabbatical art by the Vicar, Henry Pradella, at Rainham Library.

We discussed the contribution that the Church can make to local tourism and regeneration through its festivals, art trails, history, community engagement/events and the greater effectiveness of this contribution when it is connected to and integrated into borough strategies and campaigns.


Blur - Parklife.