Friday, October 30, 2009

A bit of culture

I enclose links to two video's by my art 'hero' Bill Viola.

The first piece I first came across when I lived in France. On my day off, I found details of an art exhibition by an artist I had never heard of, a chap called Bill Viola. The write up sounded interesting so off I went. The exhibition included the piece below (I have a snippet here) called The Crossing. It was massive, arresting, and forced me to ask questions abput myself and my mortality. I cam away open mouthed, awed that art could ask me those huge spiritual questions and it was love at first sight.

The second piece that I enclose a link to, is a piece that I didn't see for a long time, but was to impact my academic life. The piece is called 'The Messenger' and was commissioned by Durham Cathedral. Again this is a massive, arresting and deeply spiritual work and continues Viola's fascination with mortality and the spiritual.

I later studied Theology at Durham and did an MA the title of which was 'Rites of Passage: A Theological Reflection on the Contemporary Video Artwork of Bill Viola.' My thesis was to do with Postmodern thought and culture and anthropology (the theology of what it means to be human.) I enclose the thesis here for your delectation and delight.

The basic thrust of my aguement was,

'...It is clear that our culture is experiencing a time of crisis. Some have put this down to the death throes of Modernity giving way to Postmodernity. This paradigm-shift has led to the death of meaning, unregulated interpretation, and assertions of the will to power which disregard the Other. It is also a time where the sublime is re-presented. The postmodern sublime arises out of the gap between conception and imagination. There is a yearning to be able to bridge that gap, but not by longing for a non-existent Golden Age, but rather by re-presenting the unrepresentable with a disfigured form of the signifier itself. This whole project may be put down to a corporate crisis of Self.

It seems that the struggle we are witnessing today is not between moral beliefs or the legal system and individual freedom; it is between our inner and outer lives, and our bodies are the arenas where this is being played out. I will show that the mind-body problem is reaching crescendo latterly, as an ecological drama where the realisation that the environment and our bodies are one and the same. This ‘making strange’, which implies a distance between subject and object, has been the basis of Viola’s work. It is at this point of risk where art and science may be unified with all created activities. It is a point of theoria, transfiguration, and personal transformation where art recreates the viewer and moves us beyond the postmodern flux of the self.

Viola’s work is a meditation on states of consciousness and being in which dream and reality are indistinguishable but where what lingers in the mind is a state of confusion in terms of what is seen and in registration of external data. Viola demonstrates that states of mind and vision are one and the same.
I will show that a critique Viola’s work is based on the understanding of the confusion in postmodern culture between transcendence and the sublime. I will also show that the anthropology that underlies his work, and postmodern culture in general, is a sense of abjection – that is repulsion of the Self and the Other. This does not lead to a theoria, but rather a self-deluded postmodern narcissism in the guise of theoria. This is not in line with a Biblical understanding of the self, based on the Imago Dei in Genesis.

Whilst his work revolves around spiritual themes, I will show that this fascination with the Other is due to the tension in the Self. A critique of Viola’s project will involve a reclamation of the power of the Incarnation that incorporates the Other in the Self, which may heal the wound of gaping abjection in our culture...'

Now I am aware that my work may not ring your bell, and that's the case, fine, but do try to enoy the art for the art's sake because it is beautiful and deeply moving...

Monday, October 26, 2009

Music heaven!

I am just loving a cd that my dear Dad has leant me. It is a wonderful, life-affirming, and emotional mix of Scottish folk and jazz. 'Stramash' by Colin Steele. Stramash is a Scottish word meaning a disturbance, racket, or crash. The music is disturbing and creates a racket, but the disturbance is good because it unsettles the listener out of norms and expectations. The music is a racket, because I suspect that live it is pretty loud! I had never come across him before, but from his website:

Since the release of his debut album Twilight Dreams in 2002, Colin Steele’s highly original and melodic Scottish folk-influenced jazz has won just about every UK jazz plaudit there is; from BBC Jazz CD of the Year and Jazz Review international CD of the Year (for his album ‘The Journey Home’) to CD of the year accolades in The Guardian, Observer, Independent and The New Statesman. Steele’s compositions are inspired by Scottish and Irish folk music, but are firmly rooted in the jazz tradition.

Colin took up the trumpet in 1980 and joined his first jazz group the John Rae Collective at the age of 19 (which included Brian Kellock and Phil Bancroft). He then went on to work with Tommy Smith, Tom Bancroft Orchestra and pop band Hue and Cry.

Between 1990 and 1996 he travelled Europe extensively, living in France, then London, then Italy. On his return to Scotland in 1997 he established the phenomenally successful live music club Midnight Blue, which ran for three years and attracted over 40,000 people during this time. Around this time he also began composing, forming his first quintet in 2000.

Colin has also toured and collaborated with many international jazz artists, including The Bad Plus, Jon Christenson, Arild Anderson, Geri Allen and Steve Slagle. He is also involved with a variety of different genres, including Scottish folk music with the Unusual Suspects and Aidan O’ Rourke’s band Sirius, and with various dance and drum and bass projects including Aqua Bassino, Jo Malik and Yush 2K, as well as Latin and funk with his own bands Mas Que Nada and Melting Pot.

Colin has also collaborated on a number of theatrical projects including writing the original score for Mike Maran’s highly successful theatre show ‘The Little World Of Don Camillo’, and he wrote and performed the score for ‘Look Back In Anger’ which starred David Tennant.

Check it out some soundclips here.

I hope you investigate it and enjoy it as much as I am.

A little light relief!

For your delectation and delight, a picture that my son Ben (aged 4) drew of me earlier today. I am sure that you will agree that he has been very very kind!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

For those love but see no longer...

This afternoon we held our annual Service of Thanksgiving and Remembrance for the Departed. As usual it was a very moving affair. About 100 people in attendance and lots of very good feedback. One person commented how life was still hard since their bereavement, but services and occasions such as today made a real difference. Nice. Thanks be to God for he is good!

Below is the text for my sermon. The ending is missing, but you get a sense of where things are going. I am indebted to ideas from elsewhere for some of it. I also enclose some photos...

(Based on Ps. 139:1-18 and John 14:1-6)

As bad as we may be feeling just now, there is a being, as the Psalmist wrote, a perfect Father, a God who knows us, understands us, sees us and is all around us on every side and who protects us with His power. What about the loved ones we remember today, we might ask? How was they protected?

The Psalmist continues: Your knowledge, of them and each one of us, is too deep. It is beyond understanding. Where could I go to escape from you? Where could I get away from your presence? If I went up to heaven, you would be there; if I lay down in the world of the dead, you would be there.Our loved ones, I believe are in God’s presence. They are still, and now completely, unassailably, protected with God’s power. They are out of harm’s way.

God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ created every part of each of the people we come treasuring today. He put them together, them him before they was born, knew them, understood them, watched them all through their life, surrounded them (as he does all of us) on every side, protecting them (as he does us, if we wish it) with His power. That’s all good. But it had to end. There was suffering and death.

O God, how difficult we find your thoughts. How many of the them there are. We don’t understand all of them. We don’t agree with many of them. And we have to suffer losses like this. We have to see loved ones and friends in pain and we can’t fix them or make it go away. It hurts and we wish we could escape, run away, “beyond the east” cries the Psalmist, or to “the farthest place in the west.” We’d like to just go to sleep or take something so we can skip all the pain and anguish. But even if we could do that, the Psalmist says, when we awake, and wherever we try and hide, we are still with You.

Think of it: when those whom we remember today went to sleep sick, tired, weakened and when they awoke, an instant after, they were still, and even more wonderfully so, with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, with angels and all the host of heaven. But still it hurts.

“Don’t be worried and upset,” says Jesus in our Gospel passage. “Believe in God and believe also in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s house, and I am going to prepare a place for every one of you (if you want one). I would not tell you this if it were not so. And after I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to myself, so that you will be where I am.” Jesus mets each of us and takes him to Himself so we will be, with our loved ones, where Jesus is.

How can we know this? Because Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one goes to the Father except by me.” If we believe in God and in Jesus, and in so doing, we make and confirmed our reservation.

Those whom we remember today are fine. They each, by faith in God, have a room that Jesus picked out and prepared for them in his Father’s house. By faith, they are with Jesus in paradise. All their problems are solved and all their questions answered.

What about us who remain? How do we honour their memory? We’re upset and in pain. Things are feeling dark some days, maybe today, perhaps every day.

First, know that the darkest darkness is not dark for God. All He does, as the Psalmist wrote, is strange and wonderful. Despite the darkness of our loss, having those whom we love but see no longer in our lives for a time was wonderful. We can be thankful and enjoy that. God has not abandoned us.

Second, Jesus puts it quite simply: “Believe in God and believe also in me.” Believe what? That Jesus is the Son of God, who died on the cross for our sins and who rose from the dead, thereby securing one of those rooms He went on ahead to prepare one for each of us who would like to join him there.

Third, since the rooms are not an automatic entitlement, we must confirm the reservation. How? Well, to believe in Jesus is to follow Him—to do our best to live our lives the way He lived His and taught us to live ours. What’s the best environment in which to do that? As a member of His body of believers, the Church. That involves this book, the Bible, prayer, worship, sharing our money, serving others—it can be messy—the church of Jesus is not perfect yet—but it contains people loveable people. Kind people. Good dancers, who laugh and enjoy life and with whom you can hang out and with whom you can go out to dinner from time to time...

For us who remain, deciding to believe in Jesus and acting on it is not only the best way to get through our grief, but I suggest it is also the best way to honour those whom we come remembering today. For faith in Jesus assures of a life then with God for all eternity and with those whom we love.

But faith in Jesus Christ also assures us of a life now with God too, as Jesus reminds us that he is the way - God’s way leading us through life; Jesus reminds us that he is the truth - what he tells us about God we can take as true; Jesus reminds us that he is the life - a life in the now filled with peace and love and that a certainty that death is not the end. but a return to the loving arms of the God who created each one of us...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Word as a Wordle is back!

In time for Bible Sunday - 25 October 2009 - I have 'wordled' the two readings we shall be using from Isaiah 55:1-11 and John 5:36b-47. Interesting themes come out...

Towards the end of the service I shall be encouraging the congregations to read the Bible for themselves. I shall encourage them to try Lectio Divina, as I have been so profoundly moved by what God has been saying to me through using it. Lectio Divina (spiritual or divine reading) has it’s roots in the early days of the church and can be found in the monastic rules of both St. Augustine and St Benedict. What I encourage people to try is:

1. Find a quiet place, pray, and ask God to help you to understand what it is you are reading and to speak to you through it.
2. Read the passage that you have slowly out loud
3. Read the passage quietly to yourself
4. Read the passage again quietly to yourself and underline key words or phrases that stand out to you.
5. Go back over the words or phrases that you have marked and prayerfully seek what Richard Foster calls ‘God’s Word for us.’ We should apply all of our senses and imagination to the task and enter into the phrases or words highlighted. We may find our minds linking to other passages or parts of our own lives. Doing this we are asking ‘God, what are you saying to me?’
6. This reflecting or meditating should lead to a response in us, in prayer. The highlighted words and the connexions we have made should give rise to confession, a cry of gratitude, lament, relief or praise in us.
7. The final stage in this process is obeying or applying what we have read and prayed. How will it affect our choices and lives this day?

Lord, may your Word be a lamp to our feet and a light upon our path...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Stand Up For Micah!

Today following of from last week's excellent Harvest service, we thought and prayed about and responded to issues of global poverty and justice. We also asked God, by His grace, to do what is impossible for us - to be welcomed into his Kingdom and in turn for us to respond in grace by seeking justice and mercy for the global poor through giving, but also through prayer and direct action too.

The worship had the gospel for the day at it's heart and I preached in three chunks - once in the 'usual place' just after the readings, again before the Peace and again following the Post Communion prayer. The heart of what I said was helping us to realise that we are the rich young man, from the Gospel reading (whether we like it or not) as we own and earn far more than the average wage of $2 a day for much of the Global Poor. In the reading though, I believe that Jesus neither condemns those who are rich, nor is the passage a comment on God's priority to the poor. Rather, in the reading, Jesus reminds us that we may well come close to the Kingdom under our own steam, but there will be things that prevent us from entering, whether that is wealth, family, perhaps even life itself. God looks at us, and loves, and it is God alone who who can transfer us into his kingdom.

Then, as part of our response to the grace of God, over 100 of us in church pledged the Micah Call...

The Micah Call: This is a moment in history of unique potential, when the stated intentions of world leaders echo something of the mind of the Biblical prophets and the teachings of Jesus concerning the poor, and when we have the means to dramatically reduce poverty.

We commit ourselves, as followers of Jesus, to work together for the holistic transformation of our communities, to pursue justice, be passionate about kindness and to walk humbly with God.
We call on international and national decision-makers of both rich and poor nations, to fulfil their public promise to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and so halve absolute global poverty by 2015.

We call on Christians everywhere to be agents of hope for and with the poor, and to work with others to hold our national and global leaders accountable in securing a more just and merciful world.


Barbara led intercessions today using the Millennium Development Goals as a starting point, encouraging each us then and every day, to pray for the justice of God for the world's poor.

The as a response to God's grace shown to us in Jesus Christ, we shared the Eucharist and at the end of the service nearly 50 of us wrote letters to our MP asking him to Stand Up for justice for the Global Poor and against Climate Change, not just this weekend, or next, but every day.

Many of us were deeply moved by what God was asking us to do. He challenged us to step out of our comfort zones, and in a way out of leafy Hertfordshire and to 'sell all we have and to give to the poor' by identifying ourselves with our siblings in the Global Community.

Whilst Micah Sunday and the Stand Up initiative are not until next weekend, they tied in so strongly with the Gospel reading this morning, and followed on so naturally from last weekend's worship, God seemed to be leading us to hear the cry of the poor again and respond in a different way from raising around £700 to aid water projects in Ethiopia.

I am exhausted, exhilerated, challenged, blessed, and called by God's grace to seek justice, and to love mercy as I walk with God in humility.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

'In the midst of life we are in death...'

I am sitting at home trying to focus on preparing for tomorrow and yet I am well aware that not far from here are two people who are taking their last steps on the journey through life.

I know both of them reasonably well, and I know they have both lived rich, full and varied lives. Neither of them are particularly aged. Yet, from the safe distance of my study, even from the distance of being their priest and not a member of their respective families, it is perhaps inevitable that together we will feel cheated of their presence in the days that lie ahead, knowing that there are many stories about their lives we have not heard, that we will not hear the tone of their voice, the firm shake of a hand or the warmth of an embrace or the tenderness of a kiss. There are also lives that will be shattered by loss, and all of our worlds will feel their lack. Something... someone will be missing.

It is into this maelstrom of bereavement that I offer these prayers in the hope that they might help us pray into the days ahead, relying the compassion and presence of the Lord of Life.

¶ Prayer for a dying person

Eternal God,
grant to your servant
and to us who surround him/her with our prayers
your peace beyond understanding.
Give us faith, the comfort of your presence,
and the words to say to one another and to you,
as we gather in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

¶Prayer when someone has just died

The minister, a family member or a friend may use some or all of these words

In this moment of sorrow the Lord is in our midst
and consoles us with his word:

No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him.

Blessed are the sorrowful; they shall be comforted.

Into your hands, O Lord,
we humbly entrust our brother/sister N .
In this life you embraced him/her with your tender love,
and opened to him/her the gate of heaven.
The old order has passed away,
as you welcome him/her into paradise,
where there will be no sorrow, no weeping nor pain,
but the fullness of peace and joy
with your Son and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen.

Heavenly Father,
into whose hands Jesus Christ
commended his spirit at the last hour:
into those same hands we now commend your servant N ,
that death may be for him/her
the gate to life and to eternal fellowship with you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Remember, O Lord,
this your servant,
who has gone before us with the sign of faith
and now rests in the sleep of peace.
According to your promises,
grant to him/her and to all who rest in Christ,
refreshment, light and peace;
through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

Most merciful God,
whose wisdom is beyond our understanding,
surround the family of N with your love,
that they may not be overwhelmed by their loss,
but have confidence in your goodness,
and strength to meet the days to come.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Harvest Celebrations

Hi, hope this finds you well. Just to remind you that it is our Harvest Festival this weekend - 4th October at 10.00 am. Please do bring with you traditional harvest produce but please do also bring with you some extra money to support the Bishop's Harvest Appeal (see poster attached here) as we raise money to help people in Ethiopia.

Services on Sunday look like this:

8am Said Eucharist (traditional Language)
10am Family Harvest Communion
12noon Bring and Share lunch in the Village Hall
3pm Thanksgiving for Harvest Service (like 9 lessons and carols but with Harvest hymns and readings)

More details on all of this here.