The Image on the Streets

Posted: July 20, 2014 in Books, Faith
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(Title should read: ‘The Word Image on the Streets’ but I can’t work out how to format it!)

Two fantastic schemes have caught my eye recently – quite literally! The first is called ‘Books Around Town’. All around London are special benches which have been decorated with art inspired by famous literature, anything from Sherlock Holmes to Peter Pan to Paddington Bear and Samuel Pepys Diary. Charlotte and I were in London last Saturday and stumbled across one decorated  with characters from Jacqueline Wilson’s books. I’d love to have the chance to wonder around London a bit more looking for some of the others, especially those with Wydham’s Triffids, Hawking’s black hole and Darwin’s tree of life on. (See www.booksabouttown.org.uk for more about the scheme and details of trails around some of the benches.)

The other scheme has been instigated by the Art Fund and others and is called Art Everywhere. There idea is to de-privatise art and get it back out on the streets. The 38,000 members of the public voted choosing their favourite pieces of art, and the 25 pieces with the highest number of votes are being displayed as posters in 30,000 locations around London such as on bus stops and billboards. Keep your eyes open next time you’re in the City as you never know what you might see. (For a sneak preview see arteverywhere.org.uk)

I think both schemes are brilliant and hope that they capture the public’s imagination; that’s certainly the intention of those behind them. It’s got me thinking about the Bible again. Is there some way we can get the Bible out on the street once more? Art has always been a significant way of capturing and provoking the imagination. The Church has always been a part of that until the Protestant Reformation when we discarded it and focussed purely on the written word. Today visual art has never been as popular. Perhaps it’s time for us to reclaim it. Is there some way we can get illustrations or key symbols from classic Bible stories out there to get people re-engaging with them? Or catchphrases? Or something? I remain convinced that Scripture’s stories are as good as any soap opera or classic; there’s something there for every taste and background – if only we could grab their attention first. How about designing a series of illustrated postcards that we put through letterboxes once a week for a month? Or painting a mural on the church face? Or? Or? Suggestions on a hand decorated postcard please, or an illustrated email if you must!

 

 

Three Little Words…

Posted: July 13, 2014 in Faith, Sport
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If you were to use three words to describe yourself, what would they be? Dashing, confident and clumsy? Thoughtful, content and polite? Comic, intense and quirky? Have a go, it’s not so easy is it? Perhaps it’s easier for others who can see you from the outside?
A recent study has revealed just this, at least for the footballers taking part in the World Cup. The Cambridge University Press collated the words used to describe each nation’s team over a variety of media outlets into a multi-billion word database of spoken and written words and have produced a list of the three most used words for each. So what words were used? For England the top three words were; exciting, inexperienced and disappointing, words which probably summed up their short-lived participation well. For Brazil, the hosts; emotional, popular, desperate and for the two finalists Germany and Argentina; powerful, focussed and committed, and confident, flair and unconvincing.
Reading the results is interesting, even with three words some quite complex patterns emerged, mixtures of positive and negative. You can certainly see that in England’s set with exciting placed alongside disappointing, or Brazil’s coexisting popular and desperate. So often people are presented as one-dimensional, but there’s much more to all of us than that. We all have a good side and a dark side, hidden depths and surprising characteristics. Surprisingly the press shows this, if maybe exaggerating these facets to the extremes, swinging from one view to the other. Perhaps there’s a lesson here for us to be wary of seeing either supposedly good people or purportedly bad people so simplistically, just as seeing Brazilian footballs as flamboyant or Germans as functionary; the 7-1 scoreline when they met certainly demonstrated the fallacy of this.
This all got me wondering, if God was given the task of summarising us in three words, what words would he choose?
The first word I think would be ‘YES’. 2 Corinthians 1:20 says, ‘For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ…’ Jesus is God’s word of acceptance to us, a word of grace and affirmation.
The second word is related to this. It is ‘LOVE’. John 3:16 famously says, ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ God speaks his word of acceptance because of his love for us.
The final word I think would be ‘FAMILY’. The loving invitation of God through Jesus to us is to become his children, ‘Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…’ (John 1:12)
What a difference it might make if we could learn to see each other with these same three words.
(To see the rest of the World Cup words see: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/28247716)
Church Newsletter article, 13th July 2014

The Importance of Story

Posted: July 10, 2014 in Books, Faith
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Just read this by Joanne Harris in the Telegraph:

Stories – even fairy stories – are not just entertainment. Stories are important. They help us understand who we are. They teach us empathy, respect for other cultures, other ideas. They help us articulate concepts that cannot otherwise be expressed. Stories help us communicate; they bring us together; they teach us different ways to see the world. Their value may be intangible, but it is still real.

That’s why our politicians, far from closing libraries, should be opening new ones. That’s why our thinkers, instead of dismissing fairytales as fantasy, should celebrate creativity. That’s why our schools, instead of teaching literature in the way that gets the best grades, should be using it to fire pupils’ enthusiasm and imagination.

In the dark old days, the storyteller always had the best place by the campfire. Those days may be gone, but the power of story remains. It’s time we acknowledged that, and brought our authors out of the cold.

Couldn’t agree more!

As a lover of stories, both ‘recipient’ and ‘writer’ (apostrophes to recognise that a story is always a cooperative experience/event even if the author wrote the words in another continent and century to the reader) I see time and time again how stories have change our perceptions and thinking and consequently our lives. Stories have the power to shape our identity and outlook in a powerful way. As a Christian I also want to say yes, being the lover of what has sometimes been branded the greatest story ever told and a follower of the Word made flesh.

Everywhere you turn at the moment there is sport. With the World Cup, Wimbledon, the Young Life Cricket match and now the Tour de France all coinciding it is a bumper summer for sports fans, even if so far it has not been the most successful for the British supporters (although I’m hoping Cavindesh might just be yellow when you read this, despite it being a big ask.) For those into sport it is a wonderful year, but for those who aren’t fans, it is hard to know where to turn.
To listen to ardent fans talk about their team or sport, you’d think sometimes that they’re talking about the most important thing in the world. Passions rise, debate flows and the love of their team is matched only by the hatred of the opposition. Incidents in the game, become frontpage headlines and are discussed outside all proportion (how many hours are devoted to talking about recent misdemeanours compared to matters of real importance around the world?) Bill Shankley, former Liverpool  football club manager, once summed this up in his reply when someone once said, ‘To you football is a matter of life or death!’ Famed for his one liners, Shankley came back with the quick and now famous retort, ‘Listen, it’s more important than that’.
Clearly sport is not more important than life or death issues despite what the relative column lines devoted to sport and other news issues might suggest and so why does it captivate us so much? Is it something that we as Christians should value and be involved in?
To answer those questions backwards, I’d say the answer to the second is yes. Yes because it is important to our culture, and as Paul says, ‘I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.’ (1 Cor. 9:22) To relate to those around us we have to be able to relate to what they’re interested in. For many that includes sport. I’d also say yes because sport is a great way of keeping fit, and looking after the bodies and minds that God has given us. Finally I’d say yes because it’s fun. There is more to life than just serious issues, Jesus came to give us life and life to the full (John 10:10). It is good and alright to enjoy ourselves!
But what is it about sport that means it engages people as much as it does? There are many parts to the answer I’m sure, but I suspect part of it is because sport reflects something of the creative and communal nature of the God whose image we’re made in. Our striving to give of our best and win reflects the way God always gives his best for us.
Church newsletter article 06.07.14
For the second year in a row my little vegetable patch lies barren except for clumps of grass and a stray fennel plant that appeared from who knows where! I usually blame the busyness of Easter for my failure to sow seed on time, but if I’m honest, it’s more a case of having chosen to fill my spare time with other things. Next year perhaps… But all isn’t doom and gloom in terms of growth in the Quant garden this year. The rhubarb is magnificent, the apple tree the church gave us a couple of years ago is showing signs of a good crop and the plum trees are spectacular. In fact I have never seen the like, the plums are hanging like grapes in bunches. I fear for the effect of all this extra weight on the trees, but look forward to eating them! All this is the result of all the rain at the start of the year and the recent sunshine with heavy rain from time to time (like when Charlotte and I were doing her paper-round this week, grr…)
On Wednesday night the Bible Study group finished the follow up course to LICC‘s Life on the Frontline course, Fruitfulness on the Frontline. Like its predecessor this was great fun and made quite an impact on us, even if its contents were shaped around six rather contrived ‘M’s: ‘Modelling godly character’, ‘Making good work’, ‘Ministering grace and truth’, ‘Moulding culture’, ‘being a Mouthpiece for truth and justice’ and ‘being a Messenger of the gospel’. The aim of the course was not to pile on a whole load more things that we should be doing on top of already busy lives, but was to open our eyes to what God is already doing through and around us so that we can celebrate that and make the most of these opportunities.
The outcome of this 6 @M’ MOT? I’m glad to report that we passed. In fact to my eyes at times it sounded a little like our fruitful plum trees. One of us is making good work through running a business on different lines that purely making money, but trying to make a difference to people’s lives and create a good product. Another is attempting to mould culture through how they respond to workplace gossip and attitudes by patiently demonstrating godly character and showing love to their ‘enemies’. One has been late from time to time, but rather than castigating them, we have prayed for them as they have been held up by phone calls from those needing a loving ear; she has been ministering grace and love. Another has been doing the same to those she spends her spare time amongst, offering to help out with their gardening when it is clearly too much for them and being available to listen and support those going through hard times. Another has been praying for his colleagues, playing Christian music and planning to invite them to Paul Kerensa later in the year. Another has been speaking up for those he lives near whose thoughts might otherwise be overlooked and starting conversations on Facebook about the church and faith. There have been so many stories!
As a group we want to encourage others to share their stories of what God is doing in and around them so we can celebrate his love and seize every opportunity for him. Maybe you might also be tempted to join us on Wednesdays from time to time? This has become for us such a vital part of our Christian walk as we’ve found support, encouragement and challenge from each other and God together.

The Last Days of Richard III and the fate of his DNA: The Book that Inspired the Dig
The Last Days of Richard III and the fate of his DNA: The Book that Inspired the Dig by John Ashdown-Hill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An interesting read read as preparation for a short course I’m doing soon on FutureLearn.com at the life of Richard III. This is a period I know little about and this short book did a great job of sifting through the preconceptions passed down from Shakespeare and others about Richard III and his character, reign and last days, giving a great flavour of the times as well as the man. It was especially interesting to read the thoughts of one of those behind the discovery of Richard’s body in the now famous car park! Also fascinating to compare and contrast it to The White Queen dramatisation which we watched not so long ago. More of a series of articles that one cohesive work and possibly falling between being an academic publication and popular history presentation, but don’t let this put you off.

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Book Review: Stardust

Posted: June 17, 2014 in Books
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Stardust
Stardust by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Finally picked up this delightful faery tale for adults by Neil Gaiman. Like all his books, I immediately fell in love with it. It has a whimsical playfulness that enchanted me as he took a traditional form and made it his own. It is not heavy duty, two or three quick sessions and you’ll be finished, although I dare say it has a lot to say once you let it weave it’s magic. What are the things that bind us today? How far will we go for the things we love? Thanks again Neil Gaiman for the magic you liberally sprinkle into our world, and for the way you open our eyes to the magic all around us.

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