Wednesday, 28 April 2010

The Missing Cross

Here's the painting for Good Friday - conspicuously missing from my series of Lent paintings... a special request for Harvey.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Conservatives and Liberals

Finally, the Conservatives and Lib Dems campaigns reach the Norwoods.
The Conservative flier is addressed to Isla - I guess they've given up on me... Their flier is on more expensive paper but the first thing that hit me were the words: left, right and above. I'm wondering if their policies are socialist, conservative or theological... Apparently Iain Stewart has the same NSPCC half marathon T-shirt as me...
The LibDem flier is fairly trad and cheap looking but stronger on content. Makes Peter Jones look like a potential MP.
I'd love to see some local poll results - I wonder if the balance in MK South has shifted...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Meeting App

This week's cartoon - how technology could make church meetings more enjoyable...

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

First Flier

I revieved my first political flier of the election campain today - a nice trifold from sitting MP Phyllis Starkey. She's obviously taking the election seriously and is not taking anything for granted. She seems determined to fight.

On the negative side, I'm already getting a bit tired of all the Labour Red...

Checked her web site and it crashed first time because of too much trafic - a good thing for her that people are visiting - but doesn't look good for visitors. The site is fairly pedestrian and would benefit from something more personal - a blog or Twitter feed - and I know Phyllis tweets so I'm not sure why there's nothing here....

All this aside, she's off to a quick start. Will the early bird catch the worm or will the other candidates have more tricks up their sleave?

Low Sunday Attendance

After seven weeks of painting, I've decided to do something different this week. It's been a while since I got my pens out and did a cartoon, but here's one for Low Sunday. Feel free to use it - but mention my name...

I was thinking about the fact that lots of people are on holiday and attendance is usually low. Not a good time therefore for a vicar to study statistics. How meaningful are our figures? When ministers boast about their congregations are they aware of seasonal factors?

On an aside, I'm beginning to wonder if social and cultural factors are more significant in church growth (and decline) than we clergy would like to admit. Is church growth an emergent property of social networks? If so, our 'growth strategies' may be little more than a way of tracking holiday habits...

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

iPhone apps for the Election

I've downloaded both the Labour and Conservative iPhone apps. The Conservative one is very pretty and I like the swingometer - although I do note you can't swing it in favour of Labour - can't think why...

They both give you options to get involved, ie phone friends or volunteer. They seem to be learning the lessons from the US election. The Conservative app has 420 votes so far, while the Labour app has 100 - which doesn't sound good for Gordon so far...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Election Day One

The UK general election campaign began today. After a long 'phony war' we're finally off...

I've wished my various politician tweeps 'good luck'. I'm not neutral, if course, and have already decided (pretty much) how I will vote - although I am always open to persuasion...

What I will be watching during this election will be:

A) how the different political parties use the Internet and social media

B) what they have to say about peace, justice and environmental issues

C) how they play the persuasion game - I am particularly interested in how they manage to get people to vote

The next six weeks should be fun.

In the meantime, remember that your vote counts. As I was reading in 'Connected' the other day, one ordinary person who votes can (potentially) influence another hundred people. Your vote could make a real difference!

So let's think, pray, watch and vote...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Marketing to the Social Web

I'm reading Marketing to the Social Web by Larry Webber. It's a good overview of the issues and options for people interested in using the internet for communications - particularly advertising.

I like his concept of seven steps:

1. Oberve: find out what people are already saying.
2. Recruit: identify a core group of collaborators who will engage in the process.
3. Evaluate platforms: work out what tools you will use.
4. Engage: build relationships by active dialogue.
5. Measure: evaluate the impact of your communications. Who are you talking to, and what are you talking about?
6. Promote: link to other social media and communities.
7. Improve: and so on...

I haven't finished the book yet, but have enjoyed it so far. It's given me a lot to think about.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, 5 April 2010

Easter Break

It's the first day of our post-Easter break today. We're looking forward to seeing Dave today. He's hoping to start a 22 mile pre-marathon run from our house.
In the meantime, we're taking it easy...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Lent 6: Palm Sunday

This is a very simple painting. Jesus is both revealed and obscured by the pomp and circumstance of Palm Sunday. His figure is faintly visible through the archway created by the palms - in the midst of the crowd.

Lent 5: Feet

This week's reading was John 12:1-8 which got me thinking about feet. Jesus' feet are anointed with oil. Isaiah says, "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news..."
I also had in my mind a talk by Archbishop Rowan Williams at which he talked about Jesus pressing his thumb into clay and church happening as the impression is created. He also said that church is what happens when Jesus makes his presence felt.
This is a rather simplistic painting of feet which attempts to express these images. The footprints of Jesus are a source of blessing - and are blessed - as they act as places of transformation. Within the outline of the feet, two images appear which represent structural or organic images of church - a temple made by living stones or fish.
It's a fairly contrived image but hopefully expresses some of my thoughts...

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Lent 4: The Prodigal

The fourth Sunday of Lent is always a bit tricky because it is the traditional date of Mothering Sunday in the UK. This means that the Lenten theme is often supplanted by local plans. I wondered which way to go with the reading this week...

I decided in the end to keep the Mothering Sunday theme in the back of my mind but focus on the lectionary readings. The Gospel reading for the week is Luke 15:1-3, 11b-end - The Prodigal Son.

Colour is important in this image, as it has been for me from the beginning of Lent. I've painted the son, weary and broken - nearly on the point of return. The son is red - which could be good or bad - his fate hangs in the balance... but even before the decision is made, he is surrounded by the loving embrace of the parent. Grace precedes decision.

The embracing arms of love are blue. I've consciously echoed the traditional association of blue with Mary - hopefully indicating the motherhood of God...

Friday, 5 March 2010

Lent 3: Grace

From Isaiah 55:1-9 and Luke 13:1-9

This weeks readings pick up the theme of blessing and curse, life and death, repentance or destruction. The image of the fig tree is a powerful one. The owner wants to dig it up because it hasn't produced fruit, but the farm worker wants to give it one more chance...

I have been struck over the past two weeks by the way I have unconsciously used the same colour to represent contradictory ideas. For example, in week one, I used red to represent love, while in week two, red was used to indicate a threat. This got me thinking about the fine line between ideas or the way contradictions can be held closely together.

In this picture I have attempted to use the same colours on right and left, but on the left they are about death, while on the right the same colours indicate life. Red can be a threatening fire or sign of fruitfulness. Blue can be clear skies or storm clouds; living water or dead soil. Brown can be good soil or desert.

Here are the half images mirrored so you can see the effect of only one colour system:


I like to think that this painting says something about the way circumstances can change very rapidly. Despair can be transformed into hope in the flip of an image. I am reminded of the fall of the Berlin Wall or the end of Apartheid. Isaiah says, Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.' (Isaiah 55:6-7)

Friday, 26 February 2010

Lent 2: Jerusalem

At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, "Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you."
He replied, "Go tell that fox, 'I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.' In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!

"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.' " (Luke 13:31-end TNIV)

In this painting I've picked up the image of the protective mother hen protecting her nest from circling foxes. I wanted to avoid the gentle and more pastoral image that I suspect this metaphor usually suggests. The hen is upright with wings outstretched, hopefully suggesting anger, desperation, hopelessness or outrage. The nest is empty - desolate or fragmented. There is nothing there to protect. The foxes represent Herod - or any circling threat.
I didn't intend it initially, but I did become conscious as I worked that the hen was forming a cruciform posture - perhaps helping link the stance of the mother hen to the sacrifice of the Cross.
I have given the picture the title, 'Jerusalem', but it could take other slightly tongue-in-cheek possibilities - 'The Passion of the Hen' for example...
This was a relatively rapid work given limited time this week but it should fit into the sequence started by 'Temptation' last week.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Lent 1: Temptation

This picture is based on the story of the Temptation in Luke 4:1-13. My starting point was hunger, which is why the focus of the painting is a black hole which is distorting the world around it. The experience of physical hunger is used by the devil as a lure to draw Jesus from his path. Jesus has a hunger for order or wholeness and the devil offers him a 'quick fix' through political, military or economic domination. Satisfying these hungers would produce chaos and then oblivion. The ultimate risk is that love itself, symbolised by the blood-red colour on the left could be sucked into the chaos and disappear. Meanwhile, evil, represented at the top right, is hoping to manipulate all this from the edges, while heaven, on the top left, is standing at a distance, waiting but not interfering...

This was a quick and fun painting to produce and I'm relatively pleased with the end result. My intention is to produce a series of paintings during Lent 2010 based on the lectionary readings for each week. I would like the pictures to work together as a single piece so I may continue to use a semi-abstract approach.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010


I've not posted on this blog quite so much during the past term. There are a few reasons for this:
Study: As part of my studies, I'm encouraged to keep a learning journal which I'm trying to keep as a separate blog (Tim's ProfDoc). I've also got big papers to write which are taking up some of the time I used to use on blogging.
Identity: The past year has been a bit complicated and I haven't always been sure that I was blogging as me, as an area dean or as a member of the Watling Valley ministry team. If you don't know who you are, it's sometimes difficult to know what you can say and what it might mean. I've therefore dropped some of the 'professional' aspects of this blog and moved them elsewhere (MK Deanery, FXMK). I'm going to experiment in using these for collaborative communications...
Micro-blogging: Since I started blogging, Facebook and Twitter have become massively important tools for journalling, sharing, communication and so on... I've been using these tools more and more to record what I do, putting the less public stuff on Facebook where the circulation list is more restricted...
This blog will continue and I will post random articles, thoughts, sermons or reflections here from time to time - but my on-line stuff is now happening through a range of other forums. I fully expect that I will pick the blog up more seriously again at a later date, perhaps when circumstances change...

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Holocaust Memorial Day

I had less than 24 hours notice to deliver a statement at Milton Keynes' Holocaust Memorial Day on behalf of the Council of Faiths. The brief was: 3-4 minutes about your organisation and how it relates to the theme of the year. This is my attempt:

On the 27th January 1945, the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz- Berkenau was liberated by soviet troups. There and in many other locations across Europe, horrors were revealed which shocked the world or confirmed the worst fears of many. As we look back on the holocaust it is right that we are stunned into silence as we remember those whose futures were cut short simply because they were different.

We know that these horrors were possible because ordinary people like you and I were unable to see their brothers and sisters as human beings. We know that murder on an industrial scale was possible because ordinary people like you and I chose not to see what was going on. We know that entire groups of society could be sent away into the darkness because ordinary people like you and I were divided from the ordinary people who lived alongside them.

Nazi propaganda promoted a vision of society in which there was only one group that mattered, one group that could be seen, one group that had a right to exist. The consequences of this vision were truly awful and it is right that we gather in many different places to remember this.

Rabbi Hugo Gryn was one of the holocaust survivors and he said: “When I think about the summer of 1945, when through a chance I cannot fathom, I was free and still in life...why, I was sure that never again would there be anti-semitism or race-hatreds of any kind...The sad truth is that tyranny and race-hatred did not end when the Second World War ended, as we then hoped and believed but the vision for peace did not die.”

Today in Milton Keynes we would like to think, I am sure, that we are different. Surely the horrors of the past remain in the past. Surely we can concentrate on the memory of what has been and those who suffered so long ago.

The truth is, of course, that Rabbi Gryn was right. Tyranny and race-hatred did not end with the Second World War. Fresh horrors are still committed against ordinary people – by ordinary people just like you and I.

And so we are called to hope, but this hope is not blind or vain. It is hope grounded in reality and rooted in action. We know what ordinary people are capable of and we know what happens when we stop seeing others as human beings. We know that we need to grow together and to learn about each other – because this is how we build peace rather than suspicion.

I represent the Council of Faiths in Milton Keynes and this is one body which exists to do just this, but there are others. Sometimes these groups are dismissed as unnecessary, bureaucratic or simply a waste of time – people who like meetings, attending meetings about meetings - but I think they have an important role to play. When we meet together we see each other as people. When we spend time together we learn what makes us tick – and why we say or do those strange things that we do from time to time. When we work together with a common aim, we are united in purpose, not just in location.

We meet today in hope. Hope inspires us – and will not disappoint us – even as we face fresh cruelties, indignities and the evidence of hate. As ordinary people we meet. As ordinary people we share. As ordinary people we will change the world.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Today in your presence

A friend of mine posted a comment a few weeks ago about the fact that most of the things we do in church are a bit alien to most people in contemporary culture: sitting in formal rows for a meeting, singing together, listening to a talk and not being given a chance to respond... And so on... It struck me at the time that the concept of preaching is becoming more and more problematic. What are we doing when we ask someone to stand at the front and speak to us: Is it entertainment? A thought for the day that we can think about? An educational opportunity? A party policical broadcaste? Or a momment when an authorised representative of the church tells us what to think?

All a bit Alien?
These questions were raised again by comments after a recent church meeting. Some people expressed a desire for formal and structured exegetical teaching. But I, and others, have questions about what is meant by 'teaching' and whether this is appropriate on Sunday morning when church congregations are mixed and the needs of 'seekers' are a clear priority.
One of my friends pointed out that many of those who ask for 'sound teaching' are usually looking for familiar content delivered in a familiar way - it is the comfortable experience which is required - challenging or unfamilar content in a familiar form may not be received well...
And yet, as we shall see, Jesus broke all the rules in his own preaching - both in form and content. His message smashed through the conventions of his time and gave him a reputation for 'speaking with authority' - in contrast to the scribes and the Pharisees.

Preaching in history
In today's Reading from Nehemiah we are given a glimpse into the origin of Christian, and Jewish, preaching. Nehemiah constructs a raised platform from which the Bible is read. The people listen, but there are interpretors on hand to help them understand the message and apply it to their lives.
The image this gives me is reminicent of an evangelistic rally at which a message is given while teams of 'councilers' stand by ready to talk people through the four spiritual laws... Even in Nehemiah's day there were clear actions that people were asked to take as they received the word...
The synagogue tradition developed from the post-exilic community of Nehemiah's day. It involved reading the word and explaining it so that people are properly instructed in how they should live. This was taken up and developed by the early chuch. Justin Martyr wrote "And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things."
In the Renaissance, reformation and enlightenment eras the focus of preaching shifted to accademic learning and rational discourse. Preachers were expected to prove the gospel with reference to the received text and extract meaning using the tools of their day. Clerical dress developed during thus time resembled that worn in education or law.
There is a rich heritage of teaching in judeo-Christian tradition, which is great, but Jesus does something more radical...

Jesus the Preacher?
Jesus doesn't simply explain the text, or try to unpack what it might mean. He brings the eternal word into the imminent now. He spoke, we are told, not as the scribes and the Pharisees but with authority. Thus the Word of God becomes living and active.
In our passage from Luke's Gospel, Jesus simply says, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."
It's one of the shortest sermons in history!
Rather than give an explanation, Jesus asks and raises questions. Building on the previous knowledge of his audience he compels them to look at their world again - making their own decisions about morality, faith and politics.
This is a technique that he uses again and again...
Fortunately, he also equiped his disciples to do this task:
1. He gave them the Holy Spirit - to remind and reveal (John 15 and 16).
2. He encouraged them to form a community which would share the task.
3. He gave them kingdom values which would help them determine the authenticity of interpretation.
We get a glimpse of this last one here where Jesus reads from Isaiah:
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
If you want to know if your interpretation of God's will is authentic, ask these questions:

  • Is it good news to the poor?
  • Does it bring freedom for prisoners?
  • Sight for the blind?
  • Or set the oppressed free?

If not, then Jesus is probably not with you in this...

This is a twenty minute exegetical sermon about why twenty minute exegetical sermons are not a good idea - but I must do it properly and all such sermons finish with 'application' so here are my suggestions:

Engage with the Word: Rather than transmit or receive someone else's wisdom, try to find out what God is saying to you now. By all means, listen to the voice of tradition, scholarship or communal wisdom, but don't be content with that.
Do it together: We need to set our interpretations within networks, webs and communities of ideas and understanding. We need to listen and contribute rather than merely receive or teach. These webs of interpretation give us a great deal of help. Our partners are many: church, strangers, media, the Holy Spirit...
Do it with Jesus: Above all we need to aproach scripture with an 'interpretive companion' - Jesus himself. We must ask ourselves the question - "What would Jesus think?"

More practically, preachers need to focus on the creation of space for thinking rather than the transmission of ideas. As for listeners - well, listeners need to remember that there are no listeners - we're all in this together. And churches need to rethink the way they use both time and space so they create opportunities for shared thinking and discussion so that we become 'communities of interpretation', rather than just venues where a message is preached.