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Thursday, 31 October 2013

Pacing the Cage: Bruce Cockburn

"Since 1970, with over 30 albums and numerous awards to his credit, Bruce Cockburn has earned high praise as an exceptional songwriter and pioneering guitarist, whose career has been shaped by politics, protest, romance, and spiritual discovery. His remarkable journey has seen him embrace folk, jazz, blues, rock, and worldbeat styles while travelling to such far-flung places as Guatemala, Mozambique, Afghanistan, and Nepal, and writing memorable songs about his ever-expanding world of wonders. Having been asked to write his memoir many times over the years, now is the moment when he will open up about his Christian convictions, his personal relationships, and the social and political activism that has both invigorated and enraged his fans over the years.

Born in 1945 in Ottawa, Ontario, Bruce Cockburn began his solo career with a self-titled album in 1970. Cockburn’s ever expanding repertoire of musical styles and skillfully crafted lyrics have been covered by such
artists as Jerry Garcia, Chet Atkins, Barenaked Ladies, Jimmy Buffett, and K.D. Lang. His guitar playing, both
acoustic and electric, has placed him in the company of the world’s top instrumentalists.Cockburn remains deeply respected for his activism on issues from native rights and land mines to the environment and Third World debt, working for organizations such as Oxfam, Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders, Friends of the Earth, and USC Canada."

Rated “rock’s last great obscurity” by Melody Maker Cockburn has quietly made a living as a singer/songwriter since 1970 and his self-titled debut while never going all out for fame and fortune. As literate a guitarist as he is a lyricist he fuses sparklingly complex jazz/rock rhythms with metaphor loaded lyricism, as often spoken as sung – “sometimes things don’t easily reduce to rhyming couplets”. Forty plus years of consistent, intelligent exploration of the personal, political and spiritual, often within the same song, is no mean achievement. When combined with both an honesty about his own relationship and faith frailties and a willingness to campaign with the likes of Oxfam raging against US and IMF oppression in the two-thirds world, you have to give the man respect.
Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws showcased the mysticism which, as Vox said, he seems to understand better than anyone not named Van Morrison. His Christian faith developed from an experience of God’s presence during his marriage ceremony and was given wings through the writings of C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams. Creation Dream opens this album and is worth quoting both as a wonderful depiction of God at his creation-work but also as a picture of what the Christian artist aims to imitate:
            Centred on silence, counting on nothing,
            I saw you standing on the sea.
            And everything was dark except for
            Sparks the wind struck from your hair.
            Sparks that turned to wings around you,
            Angel voices mixed with sea bird’s cries.
            Fields of motion surging outwards,
            Questions that contain their own replies.
            You were dancing, I saw you dancing,
            Throwing your arms towards the sky.
            Fingers opening like flares,
            Stars were shooting everywhere.
            Lines of power bursting outwards
            Along the channels of your song.
            Mercury waves flash under your feet,
            Shots of silver in the shell-pink dawn.
World of Wonders kicks off, by contrast, with the “you don’t really give a flying fuck about the people in misery” of IMF. Here Cockburn marries the energy of the music with the anger of the lyric, something he failed to do on the earlier Stealing Fire where he flirted with Dire Straits territory while unleashing the most un-Knopfler-like sentiments – “If I had a rocket launcher I’d make somebody pay” (Rocket Launcher). He hymned the absence of both God (Lily of the Midnight Sky) and his lover (See how I miss you) while celebrating the dawn of revolution (Santiago Dawn) and tropical partying (Down here tonight).
Nothing But A Burning Light was the first of two T-Bone Burnett produced albums, with Dart to the Heart being the other. Michael Been and Sam Phillips also contributed. The burning light of the album’s title is the Bible, an image taken from Blind Willie Johnson’s Soul of a Man which Cockburn covers here. Cockburn’s work is shot through by the illumination of that burning light. In a world where there are “Not many answers to be found” and where “We’re faced with mysteries profound” human love is one of the best of those mysteries (One of the Best Ones) while the very best is the redemption that “rips through the surface of time/In the cry of a tiny babe” (Cry of a Tiny Babe).
In 1992 in a song, Closer to the Light, written following the death of Mark Heard, Cockburn wrote the line - "There you go/Swimming deeper into mystery” – which seems to sum up the direction in which Cockburn’s work has been heading over the past forty plus years.


Bruce Cockburn - Pacing The Cage.

Sophia Hub Enterprise Clinic


Arcade Fire - We Exist.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Mitigating traffic congestion

The London Borough of Redbridge's next Area 5 and Area 7 Committee meetings will be considering reports on proposed measures to mitigate traffic congestion at the junction of Aldborough Road South/St John’s Roads/Meads Lane.
The proposals, which will thereafter go out to consultation to affected residents and establishments, include the introduction of a mini roundabout and closure of St John’s Road.
In speaking on this issue at today's Area 7 Committee meeting I said part of the following:
St John's Seven Kings is a significant church and community centre. Between 300 and 400 people from the church and community use St John's in the course of most weeks. Many live locally but a proportion travel from outside the area (and often need to drive in order to come) while others (particularly users of the Council-run lunch club which meets on a daily basis) require Dial-A-Ride or Council transport in order to attend. In addition, the church and centre also needs to be accessed by hearses for funerals and limousines for weddings. Additionally, the Blood Doning service brings several large vehicles and the mobile library parks outside St Johns on Friday mornings.
If this proposal were to be agreed, parking in the area would be significantly reduced, most traffic (including all larger vehicles such as hearses, limousines, mini buses, Blood Doning lorries and the mobile library) coming to St John's would have to use side roads to do so and would have to do U-turns in St Johns Road in order to leave.

The long-term effect of this change is likely to be reductions in the number of users generally and in the number of weddings and funerals held. The proposal could therefore have a significant impact on our ability to function as community centre in future. The Council has already closed one community centre - the Downshall Centre - in order to open an additional school. I ask this committee whether it really wants the expansion of Downshall School to have the effect of threatening the future of another community centre in the same locality, as could well be the case were this proposal to be implemented.

The proposal to install a mini roundabout and close off St Johns Road is, in my view, not the traffic management option that most people locally wish to see. I have spoken to many people locally about this issue and all those I have spoken to think that traffic lights are the best traffic management solution.

The mini roundabout as envisaged is likely to enable traffic to exit Meads Lane more easily but by doing so could cause tailbacks in Aldborough Road South. This would simply move the problem from one road to another, whereas traffic lights would regulate the traffic flow more consistently. Using the original proposal for traffic lights on this junction would also mean that part of St Johns Road could remain open providing better access to St Johns than is possible through the roundabout proposal.    

I am told that the Council has funding which could be used for traffic lights and that the Council could install lights independently of TfL. I therefore encourage Councillors to argue for traffic lights as the solution to the traffic management issues in this area as opposed to this less effective and more problematic mini roundabout proposal.


Athlete - Vehicles And Animals.

Goddesses of Sculpture Storm Popes’ Palace

Benjamin Sutton has written a fascinating review of Les Papesses for Blouin ArtInfo. The review is of particular interest because of Sutton's understanding of the way in which the exhibition interacts with its setting in the Christian architecture and context of the Pope's Palace in Avignon:

"The show foregrounds themes of gender, fairytale, fantasy, and transformation, and when these dovetail with the Palace’s overt Christian imagery and symbolism, the effect is divine.

The exhibition’s centerpiece, the Grand Chapel in which the Popes held services, is dominated by a few large-scale sculptures—the architecture’s grandeur heightens the visceral qualities and visual might of the biggest works—though smaller pieces also command attention ...

The latent spiritual and religious themes in these and other pieces by Smith, de Bruckyere and Bourgeois are crystalized in this Christianity-soaked setting."


Jimi Hendrix - The Wind Cries Mary.

The exhibition’s centerpiece, the Grand Chapel in which the Popes held services, is dominated by a few large-scale sculptures—the architecture’s grandeur heightens the visceral qualities and visual might of the biggest works—though smaller pieces also command attention ...

The latent spiritual and religious themes in these and other pieces by Smith, de Bruckyere and Bourgeois are crystalized in this Christianity-soaked setting.


T. Bone Burnett - Trap Door.


Monday, 28 October 2013

Lou Reed RIP

'With the Velvet Underground in the late Sixties, Reed fused street-level urgency with elements of European avant-garde music, marrying beauty and noise, while bringing a whole new lyrical honesty to rock & roll poetry. As a restlessly inventive solo artist, from the Seventies into the 2010s, he was chameleonic, thorny and unpredictable, challenging his fans at every turn. Glam, punk and alternative rock are all unthinkable without his revelatory example.' (Rolling Stone)

'No songwriter to emerge after Bob Dylan so radically expanded the territory of rock lyrics. And no band did more than the Velvet Underground to open rock music to the avant-garde — to experimental theater, art, literature and film, to William Burroughs and Kurt Weill, to John Cage and Andy Warhol, Mr. Reed’s early patron ...

he seemed to embody downtown Manhattan culture of the 1960s and ’70s — as essential a New York artist as Martin Scorsese or Woody Allen. His New York was a jaded city of drag queens, drug addicts and violence, but it was also as wondrous as any Allen comedy, with so many of Mr. Reed’s songs being explorations of right and wrong and quests for transcendence.' (Washington Post)

'As an English major at Syracuse University Reed fell under the sway of the poet Delmore Schwartz, and, as a result, his focus has frequently been more literary than musical. While most songwriters from Reed's generation were inspired by folk songs and blues music, Reed's influences were the Beat writers like Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs.' (Gadfly Online)

'Reed's more profound ambition was to use rock's immediacy as a vehicle for a certain kind of literary approach. "Let's take Crime and Punishment and turn it into a rock'n'roll song," he said. As well as Dostoevsky, his heroes included Raymond Chandler, Hubert Selby Jr, William Burroughs and Edgar Allan Poe. His later career included collaborations with artists from various fields, including theatre pieces with Robert Wilson, films with Wim Wenders and works with the composer Laurie Anderson, who was his companion for the last 20 years.' (The Guardian)

'Many of the [Velvet Underground's] themes — among them love, sexual deviance, alienation, addiction, joy and spiritual transfiguration — stayed in Mr. Reed’s work through his long run of solo recordings. Among the most noteworthy of those records were “Transformer” (1972), “Berlin” (1973) and “New York” (1989) ...

“Heroin” ... treated addiction and narcotic ecstasy both critically and without moralizing, as a poet or novelist at that time might have, but not a popular songwriter.' (The New York Times)

'Quite simply, the [Velvet Underground and Nico] had no real precedent in popular music. While the most of the rock world was busy extolling the liberating possibilities of drugs and free love, Reed’s songs saw past the scene’s carefree facade to the nervous junkie waiting for his dealer on a Harlem street corner, the whip-wielding dominatrix in an underground dungeon, and the weary society girl crying alone in her room after the party had ended. The music was just as distinctive, ranging from the sweet, wistful folk-pop of “Sunday Morning” and “I’ll Be Your Mirror” to the propulsive Stonesy rock of “Run, Run, Run” and the ear-splitting dissonance of “European Son.”

... 1969’s self-titled third LP marked another abrupt shift in the group’s approach. Ballad-heavy and spare, the record was perhaps the band’s cleanest, most straightforward showcase for Reed’s strengths as a songwriter, climaxing with “Pale Blue Eyes,” a haunting, ethereal tune that ranks among Reed’s most beautiful vocal performances.' (Variety)

'The moments of brilliance were usually those most likely to lose him his following, such as a song-cycle of epic morbidity titled Berlin (1973) ... Street Hassle (1978), The Bells (1979) and The Blue Mask (1982) all contained pieces in which he stretched himself in interesting directions, but with New York (1989) and Magic and Loss (1992) he hit his full stride once more, the songs Dirty Blvd and What's Good proving his continuing ability to invest the two-chord rock'n'roll song with an irresistible freshness.' (The Guardian)

'Berlin is a song cycle that uses the decadence of its namesake and some Brecht/Weill-esque orchestrations to tell a story of two psychically damaged people and their doomed relationship ...  Far from the rock-star poses of Transformer, Berlin is lyrically and musically frank and blunt. The arrangements move from sophisticated, arch orchestration to naked-sounding acoustic sparseness, but the words are uniformly unflinching in their depiction of violence, addiction, and desperation. Not for the faint of heart, Berlin is a harrowing journey through the aforementioned tribulations, and one of Reed's most unusual, demanding, but ultimately rewarding albums.' (CD Universe)

'The Blue Mask, one of Lou Reed's bona fide masterpieces. Sparse and unflinching, the album takes on such harrowing themes as self-abuse, mental decay, powerlessness, and heroin addiction; and yet still manages to find some tranquil moments of beauty amidst the chaos.' (The Modern Word)

'Lou never got more intense and soulful than on The Blue Mask. It’s one of the toughest, truest, funniest albums about husbandhood ever made. Lou’s fallen in love, but he finds it just scares the hell out of him. As he sings, "Things are never good / Things go from bad to weird."' (Rolling Stone)

'New York (1989), Reed’s dispatch from the crumbling necropolis of the late Koch era, the city of AIDS and Howard Beach and Tawana Brawley. This is Reed as a cranky New York moralist, fulminating over his morning Times ...

My favorite Lou Reed record is Magic and Loss, the elegiac 1992 album inspired by the death of Reed’s friend, songwriter Doc Pomus. Since I heard the news about Reed this afternoon, I’ve listened several times to “Cremation,” in which Reed laments his friend’s demise and envisions his own cremation. “The coal black sea waits for me me me/The coal black sea waits forever,” Reed sings. It’s one of Reed’s loveliest songs — listen to Rob Wasserman’s moaning double-bass — and one of his saddest. But Reed allowed himself a dark chuckle in the face of death, a joke that held a hint of solace: “Since they burnt you up/Collect you in a cup/For you the coal black sea has no terror.”' (Vulture)


Lou Reed - Caroline Says II.

The mystery of the resurrection body

be still
be still and know
still God
still man
still born
still born among us
in flesh appearing
needing us
all present
confined in space
a child
God child
incarnate still
be still
be still and know

be still
be still and know
still God
still man
still buried
still buried in the ground
in flesh appearing
killed by us
a seed
God man
incarnate still
be still
be still and know             

John 12:23-25
"Jesus answered them, “The hour has now come for the Son of Man to receive great glory. I am telling you the truth: a grain of wheat remains no more than a single grain unless it is dropped into the ground and dies. If it does die, then it produces many grains. Those who love their own life will lose it; those who hate their own life in this world will keep it for life eternal."

1 Corinthians 15. 35 - 44
"Some skeptic is sure to ask, “Show me how resurrection works. Give me a diagram; draw me a picture. What does this ‘resurrection body’ look like?” If you look at this question closely, you realize how absurd it is. There are no diagrams for this kind of thing. We do have a parallel experience in gardening. You plant a “dead” seed; soon there is a flourishing plant. There is no visual likeness between seed and plant. You could never guess what a tomato would look like by looking at a tomato seed. What we plant in the soil and what grows out of it don’t look anything alike. The dead body that we bury in the ground and the resurrection body that comes from it will be dramatically different.

You will notice that the variety of bodies is stunning. Just as there are different kinds of seeds, there are different kinds of bodies—humans, animals, birds, fish—each unprecedented in its form. You get a hint at the diversity of resurrection glory by looking at the diversity of bodies not only on earth but in the skies—sun, moon, stars—all these varieties of beauty and brightness. And we’re only looking at pre-resurrection “seeds”—who can imagine what the resurrection “plants” will be like!

This image of planting a dead seed and raising a live plant is a mere sketch at best, but perhaps it will help in approaching the mystery of the resurrection body—but only if you keep in mind that when we’re raised, we’re raised for good, alive forever! The corpse that’s planted is no beauty, but when it’s raised, it’s glorious. Put in the ground weak, it comes up powerful. The seed sown is natural; the seed grown is supernatural—same seed, same body, but what a difference from when it goes down in physical mortality to when it is raised up in spiritual immortality!"

Researchers at the University of Warwick have devised a novel way to recycle discarded mobile telephones - bury them and watch them transform into the flower of your choice.

They have designed a mobile phone case made of biodegradable polymer which breaks down on the compost heap into a pile of soil nutrients. And then, because the engineers have included a tiny transparent window in the case in which they embed a seed, the final touch is that the case flowers.

The seed lies dormant in its plastic window until the phone cover gets dug into the ground. The phone cover then breaks down allowing the seed to germinate and, as the flower grows‚ to get additional nutrients from the biodegrading phone cover.

This story reminded me of Jesus’ words from our Gospel reading: “a grain of wheat remains no more than a single grain unless it is dropped into the ground and dies. If it does die, then it produces many grains.”

Just like the mobile phone case which is hard but biodegradable and which contains a seed, “a grain of wheat has a hard, glossy husk within which its life is contained. But if it falls into the ground, then its husk softens and rots and breaks open, and from inside the seed the power of its life begins to push outwards, and the pattern of its life begins to unfold. Roots go down into the soil, and a shoot comes up into the light where it grows stronger and taller and produces an ear of corn.”

Jesus equates that picture of the hard outer husk which has to rot to release the life inside to our choice in life to be either people who love our own lives or people who hate, lose or give away our lives. Those of us who love our own lives reinforce our hard, outer husk. We put up barriers between ourselves and others in order to protect and enjoy what we have for ourselves.

Jesus says that when we live life selfishly, protecting ourselves and what we have, then we have actually lost the essence of life itself. We are dead to the world, its peoples and its wonders because we engage with what is other not for its own sake but only for our sake. When we cannot appreciate other people and God’s creation except in terms of what we can get for ourselves then we are dead to the world and all that is in it. Not only are we dead to the world and all that is in it but we are sterile as well. If we live just for ourselves; if we give nothing away to others but keep all for ourselves; then everything we have dies with us and what we have had is lost forever.

But says Jesus, if we are like the grain of wheat that dies, then we will know what it is like to really come alive and really live. If we allow our protective shell to rot and be removed; if we are focused not on ourselves but on others; if we disregard our own life in this world and follow Jesus in serving others; then we gain, then we come alive, then we see a single grain of wheat multiply and produce many grains.

And the same point is made by St Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 in relation to death itself. Death comes to all of us and to all things. It is part of the natural cycle of life that we need to accept and understand. Try as we might we cannot ultimately hold onto this life and so, ultimately, we must be ready to let go of this life in trust that death itself is the ground in which the seed of our life, and those we remember today, will grow into new life.

When my Dad slipped into a comatose state for several weeks at the end of his life, I found myself praying for his release from this life. I was reminded on DylanThomas’s poem - “Do not go gentle into that good night, / Old age should burn and rave at close of day; / Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” – and found myself praying for the exact opposite:

Go Gently

The lifeforce runs deep within our veins.
After conscious actions become involuntary,
after eyes become unfocused,
after hands become still and lifeless,
the heart still beats and lungs inhale,
breaths are snatched as something precious
and coughs battle secretions
to obtain air.
I pray, let go,
lose life to love life.
I pray, surrender,
from striving, for serving.
I pray, release,
returning, reviving, resting.
I pray, knowing that,
from fisticuffs at Grammar School,
you have been a fighter.
I pray, knowing that
throughout trials and tribulations,
your spirit has stayed strong.
I pray, knowing that
the lifeforce runs deep
in your veins.
I pray that,
you go gentle into that bright light. 

As Christians, we believe that we will grow into new life through death because of Jesus. Jesus was a seed sown into our world which died and was buried only to live again. As Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 15,the truth is that Christ has been raised from death, as the guarantee that those who sleep in death will also be raised.” The tomb therefore becomes a womb, a place of new birth, not just for Jesus but, through Jesus, for each one of us as well.

So, let us in faith, conclude with St Paul that,  “This image of planting a dead seed and raising a live plant is a mere sketch at best, but perhaps it will help in approaching the mystery of the resurrection body—but only if you keep in mind that when we’re raised, we’re raised for good, alive forever! The corpse that’s planted is no beauty, but when it’s raised, it’s glorious. Put in the ground weak, it comes up powerful. The seed sown is natural; the seed grown is supernatural—same seed, same body, but what a difference from when it goes down in physical mortality to when it is raised up in spiritual immortality!”

Let us pray ...

Lord, we would grow with you
New shoots reaching out
Hands stretched upward
Like leaves newly formed
Soaking up your light and warmth
Lord, we would grow with you

Lord, we would grow with you
In sunshine and rain
In darkness and light
In cold days and summer days
From Springtime to Winter
Lord, we would grow with you

Lord, we would grow with you
And bring forth fruit
That is pleasing to you
Fed by your living water
Giving sustenance to others
Lord, we would grow with you

(John Birch)


Sam Phillips - I Need Love.               

Sunday, 27 October 2013

The Year of Jubilee

When we have a General or Local Election I wonder whether you read the manifesto’s of the candidates that you are able to vote for. I guess that most of us don’t. Often they are quite wordy and many people don’t believe a word that is written in them.

The political parties know this, as is demonstrated by this quote from a post entitled Why manifestos still matter (even if nobody reads them) from Labour List:

“Given the amount of time and effort that goes into producing election manifestos, the number of people who actually read them is frighteningly small. Every campaign, parties make determined efforts to get them onto shelves but their sales hardly threaten JK Rowling or even the authors of well-known political diaries (still available in all good book shops) ….

But for the millions of voters who decide the election outcome … well for the overwhelming majority, life’s too short.”

The passage that Jesus read in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4. 16 - 24) was the manifesto for his ministry and for the kingdom of God. We would do well not to ignore this manifesto because what Jesus spoke about here he actually did in the course of his ministry. He did exactly what it says on the tin, as the advert goes. 

Jesus’ manifesto was taken from Isaiah 61 and is all about release. Release from poverty, imprisonment, blindness and oppression. What Jesus is proclaiming would have been recognised by his hearers as the announcement of the Year of Jubilee – “the time when the Lord shall come to save his people.”

The word ‘jubilee’ stems from the Hebrew word ‘Yobel’, which refers to the ram or ram’s horn with which jubilee years were proclaimed. In Leviticus it states that such a horn or trumpet is to be blown on the tenth day of the seventh month after the lapse of ‘seven Sabbaths of years’ (49 years) as a proclamation of liberty throughout the land of the tribes of Israel. The year of jubilee was a consecrated year of ‘Sabbath-rest’ and liberty. During this year all debts were cancelled, lands were restored to their original owners and family members were restored to one another.

The people listening to Jesus knew about Jubilee but had never heard anything like his statement before. What Jesus was saying and how he was saying it was astonishing. They had heard teachers talk of the law before but this was something so amazing that they were in awe. Jesus was in another league because he claimed to be the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 61:1–2.

Jesus stated that he had come to ‘proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour’ (Luke 4:18–19). That is the year of jubilee and so Jesus proclaimed his coming and the coming of God’s kingdom as the time of Jubilee – a time of release for all people from those things that enslave us and trap us.

Each one of us is a slave to sin and blind to the truth about God because we have chosen to live selfish lives turning our backs on God and the way of life that he had created for human beings to live. In turning away from God’s ways we do not do away with gods altogether instead our desires run riot and we become slaves to them worshipping other gods; whether they come in the form of money, sex, celebrity or whatever.

Jesus comes to free us from all of these enslavements and to open our eyes to the way in which God created human beings to live; loving God with all our being and loving our neighbours as ourselves.

This isn’t something that is just for us as individuals however. It is also something which can impact all of society. After all, the Old Testament Jubilee was intended for the nation of Israel, not simply individuals within it. A contemporary example of this happening in practice is the Jubilee Debt Campaign, which is part of a global movement demanding freedom from the slavery of unjust debts and a new financial system that puts people first. Inspired by the ancient concept of ‘jubilee’, the Jubilee Debt Campaign works for a world where debt is no longer used as a form of power by which the rich exploit the poor. Freedom from debt slavery is a necessary step towards a world in which our common resources are used to realise equality, justice and human dignity. It is particularly important that we think about such things at the end of One World Week where people from diverse backgrounds have been coming together to learn about global justice, to spread that learning and to use it to take action for justice locally and globally.

We can see from all this that, in order to understand what our release means, we need to be people who know and understand the Bible. Chapter 4 of Luke’s gospel shows us clearly that Jesus was immersed in the Hebrew scriptures and saw them as speaking about himself. When he was tempted by the Devil at the beginning of Chapter 4 he defended himself by quoting from the Bible. In that passage he used the Bible to tell the Devil what he will not be like and here, in the synagogue, he used the Bible to tell everyone what he will be like. We can do the same if we read and understand what God is saying to us in the Bible both about those things from which our lives need to be freed and those things to which we need to dedicate our lives, talents and time.     

The people who heard Jesus were, initially, impressed by what he said but as they realised that Jesus intended this Jubilee to be for all people they rejected him and tried to kill him. What will our response to Jesus’ manifesto be? Will it be the rejection that he experienced from the people of Nazareth? Will it be the apathy and disbelief that we accord to most political manifestos? Will it be the cynicism or distrust that some feel towards events like One World Week? Or will it be acceptance of the release from slavery to sin that Jesus offers to us and involvement in his work of releasing others from sin and from debt?

U2 - Beautiful Day

Windows on the world (265)

Chelmsford, 2013

Sixties and Seventies Night

We held an enjoyable Sixties and Seventies Night at St John's Seven Kings yesterday with a disco, quiz, raffle and buffet. There was lots of Beatles and Abba in evidence!


The Beatles - Yesterday.

Labyrinth - Mark Wallinger

Mark Wallinger has created a major new artwork for London Underground to celebrate its 150th anniversary. The result, entitled Labyrinth and commissioned by Art on the Underground, is a multi-part work on a huge scale that has been installed in every one of the Tube’s 270 stations. Wallinger sees the commission as a unique opportunity to explore the potential of the Underground as a whole. Wishing to forge a poetic link with the Tube’s rich history of graphic language, he has made a work that sits comfortably alongside the two of its major design icons, the roundel and Harry Beck’s Tube map, and yet stands out as a new symbol marking the Tube’s 150th year.

Above is a photo of the labyrinth (No. 151) installed at our local tube station, Newbury Park.


David Bowie - As The World Falls Down.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

The Rest Is Noise: Politics and Spirituality

After Stalin’s death in 1953, life behind the Iron Curtain slowly began to change – and by the 1970s the Soviet Union under Brezhnev was beginning to modernise. Symbols of the West such as jeans and rock music became popular in Soviet Russia, signalling anew era of cautious thawing of Cold War relations. In the West, the 1970s and ’80s were fast-paced decades – first a recession then economic boom years, where advertising and communications technology rapidly accelerated the pace of modern life.

To counter this materialism, some composers offered a return to spiritual values, and others resorted to overtly political music.

Much of this religious music came from the Soviet Union and its satellite states, where religious belief had been marginalised under the official state atheism. More surprising were the commercial possibilities in this sacred music. The simple, consonant songs of lamentation in Henryk Górecki’s Third Symphony unexpectedly sold over a million copies when it was released to commemorate victims of the Holocaust.

No composer exemplified this turn to the sacred more than Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, whose work conveys an intense and profound spirituality. Hans Werner Henze gave voice to oppressed peoples and political radicals such as Cornelius Cardew who tried to sweep aside the bourgeois norms of the musical establishment.

Politics and Spirituality events at the Southbank Centre include:
  • Author Karen Armstrong looks back at the global religious landscape of the 1970s and '80s. This period saw increasing secularism in the West and a return to the spiritual in the Communist bloc.
  • Author Alain de Botton investigates how spirituality fitted into an increasingly consumerist world.
  • Layla Alexander-Garrett, who worked as Andrei Tarkovsky’s translator on set, discusses the work and vision of the great Russian filmmaker with chair Gareth Evans, writer and film curator’
  • Composer and presenter John Browne leads a fun and informal workshop on Sofia Gubaidulina's Offertorium on Sunday.
  • Gubaidulina's String Quartets Nos.3 & 4 performed by the Ligeti String Quartet.
  • Extracts from Cornelius Cardew's Paragraph 5 of The Great Learning by the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and James Weeks.
  • Excerpts from Hans Werner Henze's Voices by musicians from the Royal College of Music.
  • Film screenings including Solaris, Tarkovsky's psychological space-race drama and Dekalog.

Sofia Gubaidulina - Offertorium.

The reality of evil

Susan Hill has been talking about the reality of evil in a Guardian interview:

'Hill, who is a Christian, does believe in wickedness. In an afterword to her classic 1970 bullying novel, I'm the King of the Castle, widely taught in secondary schools, she spelled out that she believed her 11-year-old villain, Hooper, was "evil". Asked about this now, she says: "How do you look at a tiny baby and say it is potentially evil, yet look at the boys who killed James Bulger, what was that? That was evil. It's a knotty problem but I think there are some people, not many, who have … the devil in them."'

This is a theme Hill has pondered previously, as in this quote from an interview in the Telegraph:

'Hill sits forward, hands between her knees, thoughtful: "Why do the innocent suffer? There are these two sides in life, always: the innocent do suffer and there is evil." Evil's presence, she thinks, comes from love's absence. She cites two friends, a forensic psychiatrist and a judge: "They both say they have never really known any serious murderer or psychopath for whom the key isn't somewhere in an unloved childhood."'


Lou Reed - Waves Of Fear.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Exhibitions round-up

London's commercial galleries currently have high profile exhibitions featuring many of the major figures in later Modern Art.

Throughout the autumn, Hauser & Wirth is devoting all three of its London galleries to a presentation of works from the collection of Reinhard Onnasch. A celebration of Onnasch’s longstanding passion for art and collecting, ‘Re-View: Onnasch Collection,’ the exhibition focuses on the period between 1950 and 1970, which saw the birth of some of the most important artistic movements of the 20th century. It features significant works including iconic examples of Pop Art, Fluxus, Colorfield, Assemblage, Minimalism and Abstract Expressionism from the New York School of Art, many of which have never been presented before in London.

Raw Truth: Auerbach-Rembrandt is at Ordovas and brings together a striking group of landscapes and portraits by the 17th century Dutch painter, Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn, and Frank Auerbach, the renowned British artist. This is the first collaborative exhibition to be presented by the newly renovated Rijksmuseum and Frank Auerbach is the first contemporary artist ever to show alongside works from their collection.

Candy, at Blain|Southern, is the first time that paintings from Hirst’s Visual Candy series have been presented together exclusively, and candy spill works by Felix Gonzalez-Torres serve as a counterpoint to the paintings. The exhibition showcases the ways in which each artist used the signifier of candy during the early 1990s, exploring questions of pure aesthetics and identity.

Amidst all these well known names I was also interested to discover P.J. Crook at Alpha GalleryBrian Sinefeld cites Balthus and Magritte as artists who have worked within a similar framework as PJ Crook. These artists 'whose surrealistic works of static, quirky realism belie a powerful mysticism lying below the surface' are akin in their sense of mystery to P J Crook. Cressida Connolly writes: "There is mystery at the heart of these paintings, as if something momentous might be about to take place; or as if a seismic event has already happened, perhaps still unbeknown to the people in the picture. The viewer may be lost within this world of the artist’s devising, or impose a narrative of their own.  Like the silent white owls which swoop though some of the night-time paintings, PJ Crook always invites the imagination to take flight."


King Crimson - The Power To Believe.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Antoni Gaudí - God's Architect

My latest travelogue piece for ArtWay concerns Antoni Gaudí and covers visits to the Sagrada Familia and Colonia Güell Crypt:

"Gaudí is the great sculptor who utilises natural form in his work both for utilitarian and aesthetic reasons. He described nature as ‘the Great Book, always open, that we should force ourselves to read’ and, as [Robert] Hughes recognised, thought that ‘everything structural or ornamental that an architect might imagine was already prefigured in natural form, in limestone grottoes or dry bones, in a beetle's shining wing case or the thrust of an ancient olive trunk.’" 


Duke Special - Why Does Anybody Love?

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Crypt Gallery: Glenn Lowcock

This exhibition of work by Glenn Lowcock, which can be viewed in the Crypt Gallery at St Martin-in-the-Fields until 10th November, 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.


Van Morrison - Sweet Thing.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Opening of 'Deconstructing c o n f l i c t'

commission4mission's Deconstructing c o n f l i c t exhibition opened today at Chelmsford Cathedral featuring the dramatic expressionist paintings of Maciej Hoffman alongside work by commission4mission artists. My latest painting The Flowering of the Crown of Thorns is included alongside Hoffman's Wolves behind us.

The exhibition is open from 7.45am to 9.00pm tomorrow and then from 7.45am to 3.00pm on Wednesday. A drinks reception is being held tomorrow from 6.15pm prior to an inter-faith lecture, at 7.30pm in the Chapter House of the Cathedral, by Rabbi Herschel Gluck OBE, founder of the Muslim-Jewish Forum which seeks to build bridges between Muslim and Jewish communities in the UK and around the world.


Jackson Browne - Lives In The Balance.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Poem: Deconstructing conflict

Tension-building name-calling,
verbal threats, and intimidation
explode in violent abuse
followed by apology and remorse.
On your marks, gunfire starts
a spiralling escalation
of violent revolution.
The con in conflict
is the illusion of progress -
conflict is cyclic, violently so.
Violence begets; a fresh round of killing
in a deadly round-up of crime.
Doing time, banged up,
gagged and bound, on the inside rim
of a violent cycle.

Break the cycle,
stop, live, forgive,
create a virtuous circle,
a beneficial cycle,
heap on heads
burning coals of love
non-violently resist,
conscientiously object,
self-sacrifice, foot-washer,
servant, scapegoat, pacifist.

This poem has been inspired by Deconstructing c o nf l i c t, an art exhibition, an inter-faith lecture and an opportunity to engage with the aims of One World Week by bringing together people of different faiths and backgrounds from across Essex to share concerns about the causes of conflict, hear others' points of view and acknowledge shared values.

The art exhibition will be held in Chelmsford Cathedral on 21st - 23rd October 2013 (7.45am – 9.00pm, ends 3.00pm Wednesday) and will feature expansive expressionist paintings by Maciej Hoffman supplemented by related work from commission4mission artists. Maciej Hoffman is a Polish artist whose work is concerned with the trauma of all individuals and peoples who have suffered - and continue to suffer - worldwide.

The keynote speaker for our inter-faith lecture is Rabbi Herschel Gluck OBE, founder of the Muslim-Jewish Forum which seeks to build bridges between Muslim and Jewish communities in the UK and around the world. The lecture will be on Tuesday 22nd October, 7.30pm, in the Chapter House of Chelmsford Cathedral. A drinks reception will be held in the Cathedral from 6.00pm for those wishing to view the exhibition prior to the lecture.
These events have been organised by Chelmsford Cathedral, commission4mission and the Mid Essex Inter-faith Forum to inspire, inform and encourage more people of diverse backgrounds to come together to explore shared values and take action to build a just, peaceful and sustainable world. Our aim is to challenge stereotypes which cause conflict and empower people to live and advocate peaceful lives.


Brian Kennedy - Put The Message In A Box.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Hearts On Fire! and The Word of the Wives

I'm just back from ArtServe’s Hearts on Fire! festival weekend which was inspired by the power of story – our stories shared, God’s story lived. Stories told not in words alone, but in music, drama, and prayer. 

I went with Peter Banks to share some of the themes in our co-authored book The Secret Chord but, while there, we also heard and saw Abby Guinness in performance and workshop.

Abby has worked a lot in theatre, particularly comedy, and has experience of presenting, voiceover and audio books. She writes sketches, plays and stage adaptations for various touring and education companies on a wide range of topics. 

Her first book The Word of the Wives; monologues from the unheard women of the Bible, explores the stories of the great men of the Bible, told by the women who had to put up with them. Twenty-six charming and alarmingly frank WAGs speak out in this quirky collection of monologues, some of which she performed on the opening night of the Festival. Combining humour with insight, Abby's monologues made a real impact and opened up familiar Bible stories in new ways.


Abby Guinness - The Word Of The Wives.