Thursday, 29 March 2012

Stanley Spencer: Christ in the Wilderness (pt 2)

This is the 2nd blog about a series of Paintings by Stanley Spencer, 1891-1959, which are very appropriate for Lent. As I mentioned I  only just discovered them in a book at Offa House Diocesan Retreat Centre.   

They are powerful images of Christ's humanity in his (Lenten) 40 days in the Wilderness.   The text is taken from a brochure produced by the Art Gallery of Western Australia which houses all the painting. Only 8 paintings were ever completed, although here were apparently 16 sketches, all owned by the AGWA.  But Stanley's intention was to create a grid of 40 paintings, one for each day in the wilderness.......

I particularly like these 4 images as they are all interactions with the natural world and show a fascination with, even adoration of creation. 

The foxes have holes 1939 
‘ And Jesus saith unto him, the foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests; 
but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.’ Matthew 8:20 
The strong structure of the work is demonstrated by the composition in which the triangle formed by the foxes is interlocked with the triangle of the figure which opposes it. Christ is seen living in complete harmony with nature.

Christ in the wilderness: the hen

‘ often would I have gathered my children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings...’ .Matthew 23:37
a relaxed Christ encircles and gives shelter to the Hen as she succours and shelters her chicks. 

The scorpion 1939 
‘Behold, I give unto you the power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: 
and nothing shall by any means hurt you.’ Luke 10:19 
The undulating surface of the figure relates to the hills seen behind, Christ is made one with the geology. 
Spencer marvelled at the empathy between such dangerous creatures as the scorpion and the power of love.

Consider the lilies 1939 
‘And why take ye thought of raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; 
they toil not neither do they spin; And yet I say unto you , 
that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.’ Matthew 6:28-29 
The bulky form of Christ which fills the canvas, is centrally placed amongst wildflowers, which are found in Cookham, Spencer’s home town.


Stanley Spencer (1891-1959)
A significant and eccentric British artist whose altering circumstances and condition are reflected in his artworks. His strong sense of place during his early years in Cookham and the sense of disorientation during World War II are both demonstrated in his very personal vision of Christ in the wilderness series. These works, which were painted between 1939 and 1954, may appear deceptively simple but on closer observation, they reveal a classical order where shapes and colours achieve a harmony. Spencer’s communication of his religious beliefs often over- rode the accuracy of his highly personal depiction of Christ.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Stanley Spencer: Christ in the Wilderness Pt 1

The series of Paintings by Stanley Spencer  1891-1959 are very appropriate for Lent. I have only just discovered them in a book at Offa House Diocesan Retreat Centre !   I also came across a blog with the images and I have unashamedly taken a lot of these thoughts from there.  But I will deal with them in 2 blogs  of 4 images each.

They are powerful images of Christ's humanity in his (Lenten) 40 days in the Wilderness.   The text is taken from a leaflet produced by the Art Gallery of Western Australia which houses all the paintings.

Driven by the Spirit  into the wilderness (1942)  
And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness.’ Mark 1:12 
In 1916, Spencer served with the Field Ambulances in Macedonia.This experience had a profound effect on the artist, the memories of war infiltrated his spirit - the massive figure strides through a bleak and desolate land with the promise of resurrection in the figure of Christ.

Rising from sleep in the morning  (1940)  
‘I will arise and go to my Father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before thee.’ Luke 15:18
In this work Christ appears like a flower opening, offering itself for pollination in the light of the new day. The circular composition of the figure is continued in the rocky lining of the pit in which Christ kneels.

He Departed to the mountain to pray (1939)
‘And when he had sent them away he departed into a mountain to pray.’ Mark 6:46 
Look at the simple but monumental composition where the enlarged arms and hands encourage the focus on the praying figure which fills the picture plane, pushing out the edges. Notice the similarity of the treatment of the robes and the altar which adds to the unity of the composition.

The Eagles   (1943) 
‘For wheresover the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.’ Matthew 24:28 
There is a definite bitter note in The Eagles where Christ looks away while the scavenging birds peck at the carcases. In the background a broken branch completes the pessimistic atmosphere. It also reflects the artist’s over-riding acceptance and respect for all natural life.

There is something very engaging about the images, Christ's humanity and homeliness, his largess and the way his dominates and fills the square canvas. The attention to detail, the sense of movement, the variety of postures. I think they are wonderful and hope you enjoy them too ...

Friday, 23 March 2012

"Cast your net on the other side"

Cast your Net on the Other Side 

My painting 'Cast your Net on the other side' is based on one by Daniel Bonnell from a book of his paintings and meditations, called The Road Home: a Journey in Art and Music  (with Garth Hewitt)

I painted my version during the  'Casting the Net' Conference in Lahore. It was run by DAWN Pakistan, The Drug and Aids Workers Network, which I helped to found in the 1990s.    It was wonderful to engage again with people running drug programmes in Pakistan (see the poster designed by Aamir)

DAWN Conference poster
It was  a great conference with about 30 participants and lots happening over just 2 days.  It was particularly good to see projects that had been running for decades, alongside new emerging drug programmes. It a sign of life....

As part of the programme we looked at 4 fishing/boat stories, which are all part of    

1. CALL to DiscipleSHIP   (forming)
Matthew 4:17-22; Mark 1:14-20     

2. COST of DiscipleSHIP   (storming) 
Matthew 8:23-27 Mark 4:35-41   

3. CATCH  from DiscipleSHIP  (norming)   
Luke 5:1-11  

4.   (re) COMMISIONED to DiscipleSHIP   (performing + mourning) 
John 21:1-13   

Study Questions:  these framed the discussions
A. Read and engage with the story. What struck you? (maybe relate to your own experience)
B. What are some discipleship principles that come out in the passage. List (and report back) 

Cast Your Net Again - Daniel Bonnell 

The work in Pakistan is going on.  They too are learning to cast the net on the other side. .... leading to all sorts of new experiments. 
You can hear more from Aamir about some of the surprising results in a CMS Audio-Mission Podcast:  Focus on Pakistan

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Street Angels: now a part of 'Big Society'

It has just been announced that Street Angels has been awarded the Prime Ministers 'Big Society' Award.  This being received by Paul Blakely MBE of Halifax Street angels who pioneered the approach,  which is now operating in 100 towns and cities across UK (including Woking)
Woking Street Angels also got an honourable mention in the House of Commons by Woking's conservative MP, Jonathan Lord, during a  debate on Hackney Carriages.

This blog's painting is loosely based on Van Gogh's Angel, in Oil Pastel......  another Angel keeping watch at night.....    I've not blogged about Street Angels for a while but have been out 3-4 times this year so far. So come reflections on the evenings...... 

Sat 31st December  New Years's Eve
a night of 2 halves (as often is the case)  of partying and fun up to around 1 or 2 am with incidents forming the sting in the tail after 2 and 3 am.

An African man was frolicking on the wall outside Woking Station under the Canopy, running along recklessly. I was concerned he might stumble and hurt himself so went to talk to him.  He got into a quarrel with a couple  and was pulled down from the wall onto his head (a very loud cracking sound!) by a passer-by who was not involved at all. It seemed to me to be a moment of blatant racism.
The Police cordoned off the area because it was a potential GBH.  I had to go and give a statement to what I had witnessed and left my fellow angels to stay with the injured man and wait for the ambulance.   I later learned it had not arrived for some reason and the police had taken him to the hospital in a van for a check up. I had no idea what happened to him, and feared the worse.

 New Year's Night:  'All is calm. all is bright' 

 Friday 13thJanuary 

I like the new Outside lights jackets - they really do glow in the dark!  Outside lights set up a table under the Station Canopy and serve free teas and coffees. They are also available to chat and talk about issues of faith. They are a great complement to the walk-about service of the Street Angels.
As for the evening itself,  the highlight was being sung to by an elderly traveller who had an excellent voice and a real twinkle in his eye.  

Outside Lights glow in the Dark

Friday 3rd February
Very Cold night - we think it was around  -6 degrees. It was so cold,  some youngsters even wore coats!  So we changed the pattern to one hour out and half hour in just to keep warm.  We  helped one very cold  girl, with a blanket and eventually managed to get her into a taxi, and she definitely did not want her boyfriend to follow.
We witnessed a fight outside Spec Savers - a bunch of blokes making a spectacle of themselves
As usual we gave out lollipops which seemed to cheer people up in the cold.  There was quite a lot of broken glass around which we ended up cleaning up.   Definitely decided hand-warmers would be a great idea and maybe even a hip flask !  Team 2's pedometer recorded 8.6 miles walked during the night shift - no wonder it was quite tiring.
The Quake had a Goth Night with about  800 youngsters, who dispersed like smoke at the witching hour.
One great relief for me was meeting Mohinda from Congo, the guy who had been pulled from the wall on New Yera's eve. He said he'd hurt his hand and not his head whihc he claimed was made of iron! However he did have a big scar on his forehead. He also tended to talk a lot about nothing, definatley not right in the head .....

Minus 6 at night:  A cold and frosty morning

Friday 16th March
The majority of the evening centred around Agnes, a young woman from Poland, who was seen by one of the Angels sitting with her two pink suitcases.   She had been kicked out of her cousin's after  a dispute over money and could not return and was intent on getting the bus back to Poland on Sunday (it does a pick up in Woking!)  She did not have quite enough money for the bus (it costs £75) nor for anywhere to stay. She'd been hoping to sit in a waiting room at the Station til the morning and go to her agency and see if she could get some more cash.   Different Angels spent most of the night talking to her  under the canopy or in MacDonald's  and guarding her luggage. Also trying different hotels and B&B's. The Police were in a similar position of being concerned but not being able to act.  We were all using smart phones to surf the Internet for solutions.

Eventually someone put her up in Holiday Inn (not on our usual circuit) and we encouraged her to come to Christchurch the following day to talk more, after she's been to her employment agency.    An unfinished story -  which highlighted her vulnerability, and also the lack of facilities to sit and keep warm in Woking in the wee hours of the morning.

No room at the Inn

For me these evenings highlight the effectiveness of the ministy and the contribution Street Angels make to the Big Society. It also illustrates some of the gaps there are that need plugging....

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Wrestling with Angels

'Wrestling with Angels' is the title of a book by Rowan Williams,  subtitled 'Conversations in Modern Theology' (SCM 2007  ed Mike Higton). The picture is based on one I found on the Internet, which I painted and used for an essay I wrote on 'Faith Seeking Understanding' in Summer 2006.   But the painting for me has come to symbolise theological struggle. ......

The story is related in the Genesis narative:
Then Jacob was left alone and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. (Gen 32:24-30)

So much theology can be sterile abstraction. ‘unfruitful, abstract theology that gets lost in a labyrinth of academic trivialities’  Karl Barth paraphrasing AMOS  ‘ I hate, I despise your lectures and seminars, your sermons, addresses and Bible Studies…When you display your hermeneutic, dogmatic, ethical and pastoral bits of wisdom before one another and before me, I have no pleasure in them… Take away from me your …thick books and ,,, your dissertations…your theological magazines, monthlies and quarterlies.’ (Barth ‘Evangelical Theology’ 120 in  Migliore, Daniel L. Faith seeking Understanding : An introduction to Christian Theology  2nd edition Erdmanns 2004 p6) 
Anselm coined a phare, a slogan: ‘fides quarens intellectum’  ‘faith seeking understanding’,

‘I pray, O God, to know thee, to love thee, that I may rejoice in thee’  Anselm

Faith is itself an engagement with the Divine Other.  Faith is engaging with the living God  - entering the ‘mystery of God.’  Theology is not about solving issues and discovering truth. It is about discovering God. Gabriel Marcel suggests  ‘unlike a problem which can be solved, is a mystery which is ‘inexhaustible’  Migliore/ p3   (Eph 1:19)

Christian faith prompts enquiry, searches for deeper understanding, dares to raise questions’  (Miglore  p2)

‘Searching the Scriptures’  is a key part of the seeking after God (Jn 5:39).  Perhaps our greatest struggle is with the text of Scripture itself and understanding in what way it is the ‘word of God’. The two extremes of liberal rationalism, which seems to leave little room for divine inspiration and conservative evangelical ‘Biblicism’, (McGrath  p 177 explores the Old Princeton School and the origin of concept of absolute Biblical infallibility) which appears to leave no room for human fallibility. The struggle with understanding the relationship between divine inspiration and the human fallibility of Scripture is as complex as seeking to understand the divinity and humanity of the Son of God!

Christian faith asks questions, seeks understanding both because God is always greater than our ideas of God and because the public world that faith inhabits confronts it with challenges and contradictions that cannot be ignored’ (Migliore pg 4)

The idea that somehow ‘truth’ can be ‘possessed’ seems almost an anathema. Faith must be  always seeking, always searching, always desiring. The ultimate goal is God. (Ps 42:1)

So is theology rationally ‘thinking’ about faith?   Or is it more ‘faith’ doing ‘the thinking’? The dominant question in the New Testament  is still  ‘what must I do to be saved’, rather than ‘what must I know.’ It is not information about God but ‘the life-giving and salvation-bringing self-disclosure of God’ (McGrath 201) Revelation does not abolish the mystery of God, but is its starting point. Thinking is but one part of the outworking of this mystery. ‘faith sings, confesses, rejoices, suffers, prays, and acts’ (Migliore 7)  Faith is relational as well as rational. Experience is the starting point. The outworking, practical application, and relevance of the Gospel - the Good News of Jesus Christ - is in the transformation of human lives (including mine). 

The dominant image I am left with is of WRESTLING, particularly wrestling with words. Jacob wrestling with the ‘man’ becomes a metaphor of theological struggle – desperately seeking after God  - wrestling - and afterwards trying to understand the meaning of the encounter  ‘you have striven with God and men and have prevailed’

I particularly like the final picture because it is overlaid with words and part of our struggle is with words and ideas, trying to find language to describe the indescribable.  And the apparent theological impossibility of being succinct!

It is a struggle with others (‘God and man’) over meaning, but ultimately a struggle alone (Gen32v24).  It is a ‘laming-naming’ experience in that the ‘battle’ results in both ‘bruising or brokenness’ (Gen32v25), as well as the ‘blessing’ of a new identity (Gen32v28).  Any theological encounter should have a similarly profound effect on each of us. 


Sunday, 4 March 2012

India is ........ Global Video Challenge

My son, Jonny has produced a video of his trip last year to Kashmir where he was involved in helping teach 90 India school kids to ski on a golf course!   They were all from CMS-founded Tyndale-Biscoe School in Srinagar (which celebrates its centenary this year). The invitation to help came when they visited the school, as part of a visit to the Diocese of Amritsar, following on from the SACYN conference in Nepal and the Asia CMS CoMP conference in Amritsar in 2010. Jonny came along as photographer and took pictures of all the CoMPs.

We also went with Bishop Samantaroy up to a Youth conference in Gulmarg run by the Diocese of Amritsar and visited the T-B school in Srinagar, near the famous Dal Lake.  A conversation with the principal’s son over a cup of tea, lead to Jonny being invited to return and help teach skiing to kids at the school.

You may also remember that the beautiful (wooden, Chalet style) daughter school in Tanmarg was also burnt to the ground by a mob in reaction to an alleged Koran burning by a pastor in the US. Ironically the only Korans burnt were those in the school library burnt as a result of the arson attack!   Kashmir remains a fragile, conflict torn region and peaceful encounters, like the ski school, are all the more necessary.

Jonny and Stefan had both served with Skiers for Christ (SfC)   - a specialized ministry to skiers and snowboarders. They desire to share their faith, in practical ways, by serving the skiing and snowboarding community.  So they undertook the trip as a joint AsiaCMS & SfC enterprise in Feb 2011.   

This was one of 3 AsiaCMS interchange projects in 2011, including Chuli teaching cricket to Nepali Girls and Frederica facilitating Community Art in Pakistan. All three trips found their origin as a by-product of the SACYN conference meeting in Nepal

Stephen, the CMS Coordinator for India helped to set it all up and to orientate them on their exchange trip.  They also visited Dr Lalita in Pune and made a video of her work   called Positive + Children

The video Jonny made of Kashmir is stunningly beautiful......    
He also entered a briefer version of the video into the India Is Global video challenge and got through to the final round - one of 30 finalists - the outcome all depends on social network voting.

His video can be found on the India Is website.  (or You can cut and paste in the following link...   and then you have 5 votes ..... so make them count…  that's the Challenge...