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Saturday, 31 August 2013

The impossible demand of constant generosity

A member of our congregation recently asked me for my views on tithing. Tithing involves giving 10% of your income to God and is a practice which comes from teaching in the Old Testament. This person had concerns about the way in which the practice was used among churches in his home country which resulted in pastors becoming rich at the expense of their congregations. Christine will confirm that that is not the case here!

In discussing this issue with him I talked about the passage we have heard this morning from 2 Corinthians 9 in which it says that “God loves the one who gives gladly” or God loves a cheerful giver. I said that, instead of fixing an amount for how much we ought to give and then giving out of a sense of duty, the New Testament encourages us to be generous with all that we have and are, as the only possible response to a God who genuinely gives all he has for us.

The starting point for thinking about our giving as Christians, then, is what God has already done for us. In 2 Corinthians, Paul talks about God supplying all that we need and elsewhere in the New Testament we read of Jesus giving up all he had, even his own life, in order that we might receive all that God has to give us. We often ask ‘what do you give the person who has everything?’ but the question we really need to ask is ‘what do you give to the person who has given everything?’ The answer is that you give generously yourself as an act of thanksgiving for all that that person has done for you. 

However, that does not answer the specific question of precisely what we are to give. One of the attractions of tithing is that it sets a specific measure against which we can then assess our own giving. Are we giving enough or too little? If the measure is 10% of our income then we can easily work out the answer, but if the measure is generosity then we are not so sure. We have to decide for ourselves what to give rather than being told by someone else.

If the measure is 10%, then we know when we have given enough and can stop giving because we have fulfilled our duty but, if the measure is the generosity of God, then we are actually forever in his debt and can never give enough – there is then always more that we can give.

That is the point of our Gospel reading – the story of the Rich Young Man. His question to Jesus was essentially about measurement. How could he know when he had done everything necessary to receive eternal life? Jesus took him through the traditional measures – the keeping of the Commandments – but then made it clear that simply keeping these was not enough. “If you want to be perfect,” Jesus said, “go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor.” 

By saying this, Jesus was making an impossible demand; one that the young man could not meet. Why ask something of the young man that he could not meet so that he went away sad? Why not rather ask him to do something that he could manage – giving 10 or 15 or 20%?  

Jesus was making the point that there are no measures which are enough when it comes to the generosity of God. There is nothing we can give that is enough to earn God’s love and generosity towards us. Instead, it is freely given and once we receive it there is also no limit to the giving that we can do in response to that love. God’s extravagant generosity – giving all he has, even his own life – calls for similar generosity in us.

By making his impossible demand of this young man, Jesus was saying there are no limits, there is no enough, there is no measure; there is only the generosity of giving. So, for each one of us, there is always the challenge to change; to give more, to become more generous.

Each year when we talk about Church finances in our PCC we say that during Stewardship Month we must make clear the difficult financial situation of the church. We must make it clear that if we continue with a shortfall year on year that in a very few years we will run out of money. That is the reality of our financial situation which we haven’t yet resolved. It won’t take many more years before we reach that situation. So, we do need more giving, more Gift Aid, more fundraising, more halls income, more grants and so on. All that is true, but it is not the reason the New Testament gives for our giving.

What the New Testament says is that God is extravagantly generous towards us; he gives us life and he gives us the life of Jesus. There is no limit to what we can give back to him for all that he has given to us and therefore we can and should always be challenged to give more to him in response. How we do that is for us to decide in relation to our money, time and talents in the context of care for our environment and our community. There is no measure to say that we have given enough, instead there is this impossible demand of constant generosity to be a constant challenge to us.

It can sound demanding and pressured and yet we know that real generosity is actually a joyful, liberating experience. It is when we hold on to possessions and go grasping after more that we are exhibiting a mean spirit and therefore experience anxiety and worry. To give is not only liberating, it also enables us to receive from God in all sorts of other ways which bless and enhance our experience of life. This is not a quid pro quo, as some churches seem to suggest. Financial wealth and success does not follow as a result of genuinely giving generously in response to God’s love, but we do in all sorts of other ways knowing love, friendship, trust and peace in ways that are never felt by those who are grasping and lacking in generosity. May all our giving be in these ways and for these reasons!
Rickie Lee Jones - Falling Up.

Friday, 30 August 2013

John Bellany RIP

Speaking of John Bellany, the artist Paul Huxley has said: "He has what I don't have, a gusto for expressing emotional states. Everything comes out - nightmares, joy, exuberance ... his art [has] a wonderfully, salty, gutsy character."

Bellany's paintings exploded with "emotion and imagination" and are "amongst the most confrontational, humanistic works produced in Britain in recent history." Immediately recognisable for its figurative content and stylistic coherence, his painting confronted "in a wholly original manner themes such as love, addiction, passion, death and more recently, even serenity." Not surprising as Bellany lived through numerous surgeries and near death experiences. His life’s work "unveils insight and wisdom into the human condition."

Thom Cross has said that "There is deep spirituality in his work that is profoundly moving, bringing to mind Highland psalms sung in that moving, plaintive style of the Gael." Bellany said of his religious upbringing:

"The deeper it goes in, the better for your soul - so everybody's trying to plumb the depths. It's taken as the most important thing in their whole existence and that moves into secular life as well. We're not just talking about what happens in the church on Sunday but about a person's behaviour on the other six days of the week. You don't just turn it off like a tap. The depths you feel through religion for everyone in your life - it's not a question of a surface recognition of vive la politesse. So the passions run very high."


The Proclaimers - If There's A God.  

Self-portraits: Stranger

Flowers East was one of the first galleries to open in London's East End, in a former laundry/fur storage facility in Hackney. I was a regular visitor for shows that included work by John Bellany, Nicola Hicks, Peter Howson and John Keane.

In 2002 the gallery moved from Hackney into a 12,000 sq foot industrial space in Shoreditch, East London and, while I've been to shows at the Kingsland Road location, I've not been such a regular visitor. So I enjoyed the opportunity to visit the Gallery this morning with Mal Grosch to see the current exhibition of self portraits by Gallery artists.

Interestingly, many of the artists that were showing with the Gallery in the 1980s are still with them, suggesting both that they have been adept at identifying artists with significant potential and at fostering positive ongoing relationships with such artists. There are, of course, newer artists also in the mix but the jury is still out as to whether these will gain a similar profile to the earlier group that I remember seeing from the '80s onwards.

The exhibition aims to illuminate the relevance of self-portraiture, and its aesthetic value through each individual’s varied approach to self-representation. Historically, the self-portrait was often used as a reference or educational tool; an honest depiction of an artist that reflected the environment in which he or she existed. It enabled the artist to hone their skills, studying their own form as a free and constant model. Artists such as Rembrandt used the self-portrait as a cathartic tool to chronicle their changing physicality and to develop a greater anatomical understanding. It was a method to explore emotive, even distorted facial expressions, typically out of bounds within a commissioned work.
The exhibition's title, 'Stranger,' suggests a rather more conflicted approach to self-portraiture from these artists with work that conceals as well as reveals and which deals in image and irony as well as realism.
Duke Special - Portrait.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Scriptural Reasoning: Wisdom

The third session of our local Scriptural Reasoning group took place tonight. We used a text bundle on the theme of Wisdom. Here is my introduction to the Christian Text, which was James 3. 13 – 18:

Richard Bauckham notes that “The letter of James begins: 'James, servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Messiah, to the twelve tribes in the diaspora.' … The twelve tribes in the diaspora whom James addresses must be Jewish Christians throughout the Jewish diaspora. He writes to them as head of the mother church, at the centre from which God's people Israel is being reconstituted as the messianic people of God in the last days.” (

He goes on to explain that communication between the diaspora and the centre (Jerusalem) was constant at that time: “It had long been customary for Jewish authorities and leaders at the centre to address circular letters to the diaspora. The Temple authorities, for example, might write about the dates and observance of festivals. We have a letter from the great Pharisaic rabbi Gamaliel, James's older contemporary and former teacher of Paul, on matters of sacrifice and the calendar, addressed to 'our brothers, people of the exile of Babylonia and people of the exile of Media and people of the exile of Greece and the rest of all the exiles of Israel.' Presumably Gamaliel writes as an acknowledged Pharisaic leader at the centre to Jews of Pharisaic sympathies throughout the diaspora. Not unnaturally, then, the custom of letters from the centre to the diaspora was continued in early Christianity.”

Bauckham also writes about James, the author of this letter, who he understands to be the brother of Jesus and leader of the early Church. “Only one James was so uniquely prominent in the early Christian movement that he could be identified purely by the phrase: “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 12:17; 15:13; 1 Cor 15:7; Gal 2:9, 12)” (p. 16). In fact, the epithet ‘servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ’ in James 1:1 is not meant to distinguish him from other Jameses, but to indicate his authority for addressing his readers.

Bauckham highlights a reference to James in the Gospel of Thomas in relation to the authority he had within the early Church: “Jewish theology could say that the world was created for the righteous and therefore that it was created for the sake of the righteous person, the representative righteous person, Abraham, so the saying in the Gospel of Thomas can call James: 'James the Righteous, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being.' James, it seems, was esteemed in his later years, not merely for his authority over the church, but more for his exemplification of the life of service to God and humanity to which the messianic people of God were called. As Abraham the righteous person par excellence modelled the righteousness of faith for his descendants, so James modelled the messianic righteousness of faith in Jesus the Messiah. What that righteousness entailed we can see nowhere more appropriately than in James's own letter.”

A wise person once said, “There is only one way to acquire wisdom. But when it comes to making a fool of yourself, you have your choice of thousands of different ways.” James states, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (1.5). Wisdom is a gift given by God that must be wholeheartedly sought and asked for. Once received, it must be relied upon to help one persevere, live a godly life, and have hope. More than just insight and good judgment, wisdom is “the endowment of heart and mind which is needed for the right conduct of life.” (

“James, as a disciple of Jesus the sage, is a wisdom teacher who has made the wisdom of Jesus his own, and who seeks to appropriate and to develop the resources of the Jewish wisdom tradition in a way that is guided and controlled by the teaching of Jesus.”

“James shares Jesus special concern with the heart as the source of words and actions; the teaching of James, like that of Jesus, is paraenesis [an exhortation] for a counter-cultural community, in which solidarity, especially with the poor, should replace hierarchy and status, along with the competitive ambition and arrogance that characterize the dominant society.” (

James distinguishes between Christian wisdom and that of the worldly-wise. The worldly-wise are full of selfish ambition, eager to get on, asserting their own rights. God reckons a person wise when s/he puts selfishness aside and shows disinterested concern for others. This kind of wisdom is seen in a person’s personality and behaviour – not in mere intellectual ability. Accordingly - and this is one of the main themes of this letter – genuine faith in Christ always spills over into the rest of life. It affects basic attitudes to yourself, other people, and life in general meaning that there should be no discrepancy between belief and action. (The Lion Handbook to the Bible)

This all comes across very clearly in Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of this passage in The Message:

Live Well, Live Wisely

13-16 Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here’s what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. Mean-spirited ambition isn’t wisdom. Boasting that you are wise isn’t wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn’t wisdom. It’s the furthest thing from wisdom—it’s animal cunning, devilish conniving. Whenever you’re trying to look better than others or get the better of others, things fall apart and everyone ends up at the others’ throats.

17-18 Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.”


Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Let The Day Begin.

Sophia Hub drop-in area

Over the summer we have been gearing up for the start of the Sophia Hub pilot at St John's Seven Kings by redecorating and refitting the spaces which the pilot will use. Here are photos of the drop-in area with its new café-style tables.

We are currently recruiting for two Sophia Courses which form an introduction to the Sophia Hub service.


Duke Special - Shining Light.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Greenbelt 2013: Life Begins ...

My Greenbelt this year was rather different from previous years as we took a commission4mission market stall to the Festival and this reduced considerably the number of events to which it was possible to go.

The flipside was that being on the stall was great for meeting friends, as well as making new contacts. So, for me, the highlight this year was definitely time spent with others; in particular the members of my cell group, most of whom were at the Festival and two-thirds of whom were able to share the excellent (if, at times, historically inaccurate and lengthy) Communion service together. Mary Grey, MacDuff Phiri and Barbara Brown Taylor as witnesses giving powerful personal testimonies were by far and away the best part of this service which was well led by the Wild Goose Resources Group.

As with last year's music lineup, I found little that felt like a must-see; that is until we reached the final day when I watched the wonderful Thea Gilmore, had Courtney Pine as background music to final contacts and conversations on the commission4mission market stall before packing up the stall to the strains of Duke Special. I first heard Thea Gilmore at St Martin-in-the-Fields as part of a Christian Aid event for Trade Justice and fell in love then with her intricate yet direct word play, stunning voice and classic rock and roll stylings.

The literature stream was where I spent the most time this year. Malcolm Guite is a great performer of verse as well as being an engaging raconteur plus a knowledgeable and insightful speaker on poetry. He read from his sonnet sequence for the church year, Sounding the Seasons, and from his forthcoming collection, The Singing Bowl. His recommendations are, therefore, well worth following up and he particularly commended Michael Symmons Roberts' Drysalter, a session I was unfortunately unable to attend. His talk 'Upending the Rainstick' explored the nuances of the Seamus Heaney poem with this title in order to argue for poetry as a means of upending our perceptions of reality.

Jon McGregor gave a thoughtfully dramatic reading, laced with humour, of short stories from This Isn't The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You. A panel session chaired by Andrew Tate and comprising Debbie Fielding, Simon Jones, Katherine Venn and Anthony Wilson aimed to survey the literature of the past 40 years. Struggling with this vast undertaking generated some amusement but relatively little light while considering teen fiction, literary prizes, markets, morality and spirituality.

The participants listed their favourite book of the past 40 years: Dart by Alice Oswald (Catherine Venn); New Addresses by Kenneth Koch (Anthony Wilson); The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (Debbie Fielding); and any R.S. Thomas anthology (Simon Jones). Mark Oakley gave a moving talk on the effect which the poetry of R.S. Thomas had had on his life and ministry, drawn back to ordination training as he came to realise that absence is a vital and valid part of faith and ministry.

Absence, death of God and kenosis are all key concepts in Radical Theology which was discussed and debated in a stream developed by Kester Brewin, which involved John D. Caputo, Peter Rollins and Marika Rose. Caputo argued that Radical Theology is based on constant change because the impossible deconstructs every contemporary stance and space. In a panel session which ended the stream, Caputo used the example of Rosa Parks to suggest that this understanding leads to interventions in the present which seek to change reality in the direction of the impossible.

For me this makes sense of many of Jesus' sayings which are essentially impossible to fulfil. They are not literal demands but challenges to the comfort and stasis of wherever we currently are; the challenge to change is always before us, whether we are as saintly as St Francis or as evil as Hitler, not because of where we are but because the challenge and call is always out of reach e.g. be perfect just as your Father in heaven is perfect.

Whatever we do as a result is temporary and provisional because always deconstructable by the impossible. What we do, then, is to create temporary signs of the kingdom of God, the kingdom of the impossible. This leads to a position of doing the exact opposite to current teachings on Church growth. Instead of focussing on and doing a small number of things well, we are profligate in 'casting our bread on the waters' and create a number of projects/initiatives knowing that they are provisional and temporary.

This has been my underpinning ethos in life and ministry - discovered more through imagination, the Arts and the Way of Affirmation than through Radical Theology, apophatic theology and the Negative Way; all of which have been, for me, more recent interests - which has resulted in a past and current set of projects/initiatives which have/are lived/living and have/are died/dying. These include: Barking & Dagenham Faith Forum; Christians in the Workplacecommission4missionFaith Communities Toolkit; Faiths in London's Economy; Living with other Faiths; New Life Church Centre & Noah's Ark Daycare Centre; Sophia Hubs; SOULINTHECITY Barking & Dagenham; and Voice of the People Trust.

Emotionally, I am constantly struggling with the birth pains involved with creating these temporary signs and also mourning the ending of them when they die, while understanding intellectually that this is the reality of their provisional and deconstructable nature. Genuinely living in change and flux is both creatively stimulating and emotionally draining at one and the same time. In reflecting on this year's Greenbelt event I think I may have understood and acknowledged this where I was unable to do so, although needing to do so, at last year's event.


Thea Gilmore - This Road.

Windows on the world (257)

Chichester, 2013


Courtney Pine - Liamuiga.

The heart and spirit of the Law

Jewish law identifies 39 categories of activity prohibited on the Sabbath. Work is understood from scripture to be creative activity which includes activities like: building, cooking, gathering, igniting a fire, kneading, laundering, planting, sewing, sorting, tearing, tying and writing, among others. It is likely that the synagogue official has these or similar categories in mind when he said to the people in this story, “There are six days in which we should work; so come during those days and be healed, but not on the Sabbath!” (Luke 13. 10 - 17) 

Although there is considerable debate within the Jewish community about what is and is not permissible on the Sabbath, these categories are used by many Jews today and are an attempt to define how the fourth commandment in the Ten Commandments can be met.

In the view of the synagogue official, Jesus has clearly broken the Sabbath requirements and presents a dangerous precedent to the people. So we could say that what Jesus does here shows that the Jewish law is wrong or obsolete and that, as Christians, we don’t need to pay attention to it. But that would be to misunderstand some of the Jewish background to this story as well as some of the Gospel background.

If we start with the Gospel background, it is helpful to remember that Jesus said, as we can read in Matthew 5. 17 – 18: “Do not think that I have come to do away with the Law of Moses and the teaching of the prophets. I have not come to do away with them, but to make their teachings come true. Remember that as long as heaven and earth last, not the least point nor the smallest detail of the Law will be done away with – not until the end of all things.”

Now if Jesus is not doing away with the Law of Moses by healing on the Sabbath, then what he would seem to be doing is challenging the way in which this part of the Law is understood. That brings us on to another aspect of the Jewish background to this story, which is that, in the event that human life is in danger, any Shabbat law can be disregarded if it stands in the way of saving that person.

So, what Jesus and the synagogue official are actually doing is debating whether the life of this woman was in danger or not. Both want to practice the requirements of the Law but, as continues to be the case within the Jewish community, they have differing or opposed views on how to do that. The synagogue official is saying that healing is a form of work and that, although she is unwell, the woman is not about to die, therefore she can and should be healed on a day other than the Sabbath. Jesus is saying her illness is something which endangers her life and therefore he is justified in healing on the Sabbath.

These kinds of debates between rabbis have been recorded and collected in Judaism and form part of the Oral Law which is interpretation of the Written Law. Judaism is therefore clear that interpretation and debate are part of the way in which we understand God’s words and Jesus too took part in just this kind of debate and interpretation.

However, what Jesus has to say regarding the Law goes further and deeper than just this alone. By healing on the Sabbath even when there is no immediate threat to life, Jesus is highlighting the compassion which is at the heart the Law and which is the spirit of the Law.

Love, he is saying, is what the Law ultimately aims at. Firstly, because it seeks to limit the harm we are able to do towards others. So, in the Ten Commandments, we are told not to murder, not to commit adultery, not to covet because all these things cause harm to others. Secondly, because the opposite of a negative is a positive; so, the opposite of wanting to murder others is to offer help; the opposite of committing adultery is to be faithful and the opposite of coveting is to give.

So what the Law seeks to do is to constrain the harm we do in order to create space in which we can learn to act lovingly toward others. The 39 categories of work constrain what is done on the Sabbath but simply to abide by these constraints is not actually what the Law is about. The Sabbath is not primarily about the things that aren’t done on it. Instead, those things are done in order to create space to focus on God and love him more deeply.          

Jesus commended the teacher of the Law who knew that love is the heart, the soul and spirit of the Law: “‘Love the Lord your God will all your heart, will all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind’; and ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself’” (Luke 10. 27). That is the summary of the Law. It is what the Law is all about and, if some of the detail of the Law is preventing people from practising the purpose of the Law then, Jesus says, our interpretation of the Law has gone wrong.

And that is what is at the very heart of his debate with the synagogue official. For the synagogue official keeping the Sabbath constraints overrides compassion for the woman who is unwell. Jesus is saying that the spirit of the Law means that we have to put things the other way and override the constraints in order to show compassion. This is not because we are anarchists opposed to all Law or because the constraints are wrong. Instead, it is about fulfilling the purpose of the constraints. They are there in order that we have space in which to learn to love. So, when we do act out of love then we are fulfilling their purpose even though we might override them.

A final illustration of this might help as we close. When we are young children, our parents place severe constraints on us when we are crossing a road. We are told we must stay with our parents at all times, hold their hands and only cross at the designated crossing places. Our parents do this firstly to keep us safe when we are too young to make appropriate decisions ourselves and secondly to help learn how to cross the road safely. We learn when and where we can cross the road safely, so that in future we can do it for ourselves without our parents there and can do it wherever it is safe to do so and not just at the designated crossing places.

The purpose of the constraints is that we cross the road safely and when we know how to do that we don’t need to abide by all the constraints we once did. In a similar way, Jesus is saying here that the Sabbath constraints are about learning to love God and others and that, if those constraints need to be overridden in order to show compassion to others, then that is actually to fulfil their purpose.      

After being commended by Jesus for giving the summary of the Law, the teacher of the Law asks Jesus who is my neighbour. Jesus answers by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan. He then asks which man acted like a neighbour towards the man attacked by robbers? The one who was kind to him, the teacher of the Law replied. “You go, then,” says Jesus, “and do likewise.”   


U2 - Angels Too Tied To The Ground.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Where to find me at Greenbelt!

I will be on commission4mission's market stall at this year's Greenbelt Festival. The stall has been organised for us by Harvey Bradley, who will be showing ceramics and paintings at the stall.

Harvey's work will be supplemented by a selection of original work from Hayley Bowen, Ally Clarke, Elizabeth Duncan Meyer, Jonathan Evens, Mark Lewis, Caroline Richardson, Joy Rousell Stone, Henry Shelton and Peter Webb.

Additionally, we will have cards, jewellery, meditations, notebooks and t-shirts produced by our artists for sale, as well as information about our work on commissions, exhibitionsevents and publications.

The Secret Chord, my co-authored book with Peter Banks, will be on sale in the Greenbelt Bookshop.

Greenbelt is 40 years old in 2013. The thread that has run throughout its 40 consecutive festivals is that the arts, faith and justice make for a heady mix of creativity and challenge.

As for many people, it has been a significant space for me; somewhere that has consistently provided new perspectives, information and contacts across the arenas of the arts, faith and justice. I have been challenged and encouraged in my faith as a result and that thinking has informed many aspects of my ministry. Under Stewart Henderson's editorship, the Greenbelt magazine Strait was one of the first places where my writing was published and, again, was a real encouragement to me.  

Do come to see us on the commission4mission stall, if you will be at Greenbelt this year.


After The Fire - Carry Me Home.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Windows on the world (256)

London, 2013


Paramore - Escape Route.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

The Pirates of Penzance

Today Meridian Opera brought its unique style of community opera workshop to a new venue; St John’s Seven Kings. 28 people joined them to learn the chorus parts and then perform a reduced version of one of Gilbert & Sullivan's best-loved comic operas - The Pirates of Penzance - to an audience of 80.
Meridian Opera specialises in bringing short, staged scenes of popular and light opera to its audiences, with a particular interest in making opera more accessible in the community.
The production was directed by Kathryn and Paul Robinson with Katherine Fellowes as Musical Director and Producer and was the third collaboration between Meridian Opera and the Performing Arts Adviser for the Barking Episcopal Area (Rev. Kathryn Robinson).


Gilbert & Sullivan - Policeman's Lot.


Thursday, 15 August 2013

Nothing and everything

In the fertile desert
In the presence of absence
In the stillness of chatter
In the sounds of silence
In infinite simplicity
In the simplicity of the infinite
Life laid down in order to live
Leaving in order to arrive
Kenosis in incarnation
Embodiment in abandonment
Life in death
The possession of nothing
Coincidence of opposites
The first last and last first
All become One
One with the Son
Being fulfilled in the Word
Speech completed in silence
Unity which is nothing
and everything


Arcade Fire - Black Mirror.

Sophia Course

Sophia Hubs are proud to offer you the Sophia Course, if you want to be part of the economic and social regeneration of Seven Kings & Newbury Park.

This free, practical and transformative course will support and nurture new social enterprises and entrepreneurs from the local community using: Existing skills of participants; Local assets and expertise; Specialists; and Resources and wisdom of local faith traditions.

Venue: St John the Evangelist, St Johns Road, Seven Kings, Essex IG2 7BB

Dates: September 10th, 12th, 17th and 24th at 2.00pm


September 12th, October 3rd, 10th and 17th at 7.30pm

For more information and to book your place, contact the Sophia Hubs team on 020 8598 1536 or We look forward to welcoming you!

Sophia Hubs are a network of local incubators for new businesses and social enterprises, using the wisdom and resources of the faith traditions, leading to sustainable social and economic development and change.
Linkin Park - Iridescent.

Book Review: The Sacred Community

Oxford Journals has just published my latest book review in The Journal of Theological Studies:

The Sacred Community: Art, Sacrament, and the People of God. By DAVID JASPER. Jonathan Evens The Journal of Theological Studies 2013; doi: 10.1093/jts/flt127

David Jasper is Professor of Literature and Theology at the University of Glasgow. He is the author or editor of more than twenty books, including The Sacred Desert: Religion, Literature, Art, and Culture, The Bible and Literature: A Reader, and The Oxford Handbook of English Literature and Theology.

"Liturgical, sacramental, and historical, The Sacred Community is a masterful work of theological aesthetics. David Jasper draws upon a rich variety of texts and images from literature, art, and religious tradition to explore the liturgical community gathered around — and most fully constituted by — the moment of the Sanctus in the Eucharistic liturgy. From art and architecture to pilgrimage and politics Jasper places this community in the midst of the contemporary world."

My earlier book reviews for the Journal of Theological Studies can also be found by clicking herehere and here.
Arvo Pärt - Sanctus.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Debate: Has fiction lost its faith? (2)

Cosmos the in Lost has been engaging with the debate initiated by Paul Elie’s New York Times Op-Ed piece, “Has Fiction Lost Its Faith?”

He begins by summarising Elie's argument and even supplements it with the following quote from Czesław Miłosz:

 “The fact of Europe’s dechristianization is indubitable and depressing. It can also be translated into numbers of victims. If a half-Christian Europe could not prevent the First World War and its massacres in the trenches, then two totalitarianisms, which exterminated millions in concentration camps, were the product of leaders who were entirely godless. However, the ties between religion and society are too complicated to draw up a clear boundary between Christian and post-Christian countries. A fish rots from the head down, and what we call the erosion of the religious imagination began with the philosophers of the 18th century, only to progress through the whole of the next century, receiving its lasting expression, above all, in literature and art…”

His response, however, is to compile some Top 10 lists of contemporary poets and novelists who write from within a theological imagination and he suggests that this task won't be as tough as tough as Elie makes it out to be. Rather, "the toughest task will be keeping the lists down to only ten authors each!"

His first list can be found here and the next will follow tomorrow. You can then make up your own as to the extent to which he is right or wrong about Elie's argument. My initial response to the debate can be found here and a recent article by Michael Arditti, summarised here, is also relevant.


Extreme - Stop The World.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Gaudí and biomimetics

The National Geographic has an interesting article arguing that the Sagrada Família's nature-inspired design is ahead of its time:

'Gaudí based his buildings on a simple premise: If nature is the work of God, and if architectural forms are derived from nature, then the best way to honor God is to design buildings based on his work. As the Barcelona scholar Joan Bassegoda Nonell notes, "Gaudí's famous phrase, 'originality is returning to the origin,' means that the origin of all things is nature, created by God." Gaudí's faith was his own. But his belief in the beautiful efficiency of natural engineering clearly anticipated the modern science of biomimetics.'

Biomimetics involves applying designs from nature to solve problems in engineering, materials science, medicine, and other fields.


Neil Young - Natural Beauty.

Colonia Güell and Gaudí's Crypt

The construction of Colonia Güell began in 1890 at the initiative of the entrepreneur Eusebi Güell in his textile estate of Santa Coloma de Cervelló. Construction of the factory began in 1890. A mere year later the first building was completed and the steam machine dedicated to spinning was started. Afterwards, the rest of the buildings, each aimed at drying, tinting, etc in order to complete cotton’s process of transformation. Each of the buildings that made up the factory had a different role in the process of transforming cotton into fabric. A set of rails and cartwheels were installed throughout the factory in order to facilitate the transportation of materials between the aforementioned buildings.

The factory of the Colonia Güell was its central nucleus and raison d’etre. Dedicated to the production of several types of cloths, its main difference with other textile factories of the time was that it used coal in lieu of hydraulic energy.

Industrial colonies where conceived as a socioeconomic organization whose main goal was industrial productivity. The mill took up most of the time of the men and women of the colony, for them it was the guarantee of having a regular income in times of economic scarcity. In contrast to most industrial colonies in Catalonia, Güell worked to improve the social conditions of his workers and applied his cultural patronage in the Colonia, providing it with cultural and religious facilities of a modernist design which were developed by different architects, most notably Antoni Gaudí to whom he entrusted in 1898 the building of the church.

Over the next few years, Gaudí carried out various preliminary studies which culminated in a model which was placed in a pavilion located in the hill were the building would later be erected. The construction of the temple began in 1908. However, the ambitious project which foresaw a church with two naves, lower and upper, topped by different towers and a 40 meters high central dome would remain unfinished. In 1914 the Güell family decided to stop financing the church and Gaudí abandoned the project. In November 1915 the bishop of Barcelona consecrated the lower nave, the only one to have been built, which made the church be popularly known as the crypt.

During the textile crisis of 1973 the mill ceased its production which had a big social impact in the Colonia. Over the next few years, the property was sold; the mill was divided and sold to different companies, the houses to their inhabitants and the facilities and land to the public institutions.
In 1990 the Colonia Güell was declared 'Heritage of Cultural Interest' by the Spanish government and the protection of some of its most relevant buildings was established. The Crypt was declared a  World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2005.

Visitors can still walk around the industrial Colonia and visit Gaudí's church, all the while observing beautiful, singular buildings created by modernist architects.

The Crypt of Colònia Güell is a culminating point in Gaudi's work including for the first time practically all of his architectural innovations. He stated that without the large-scale experiments he undertook there, he would not have dared apply those same geometries to the Sagrada Familia. It is the place where, according to Japanese architect, Arata Isozaki, he ‘overcame all established limits regarding shapes.’


Gungor - Beautiful Things