Thursday, 30 December 2010

Cuts to the Arts

Richard Williamson is a professional musician who coordinates Music Network, which brings together Christians in the music profession. On his blog, Music Ministry, he posts on the effect of cuts to the arts.   Just down the road from where I live, the Central Bedfordshire Council intend to stop funding their music service from 2012. Other Councils intend to do the same or to reduce funding by 50%. The effect will be that the only young people who will get instrumental tuition will be those who can afford to pay for it in full.

Richard writes, 'There is a major short-sightedness in the decisions that are being taken. On the face of it, cutting funding for the arts is an easy road to take. Very few will complain as many see those involved in the arts as elitist and undeserving of Government support. You only have to read comments on various forums on this subject to see that many in this country believe that the arts should be able to "stand on their own feet" and that such elitist groups don't deserve "government handouts".
'However it is my belief that if you remove funding from the arts, there is great danger of ripping the soul out of a nation. The fact is that most arts organisations would be unable to survive without public funding. Britain has a rich cultural heritage and it is that cultural heritage that has defined us as a nation over centuries. If the arts are decimated, we stand in danger of irreparably damaging the heart and soul of the nation. If all we are willing to fund are the utilitarian 'useful' areas of our nation's life, we lose the very thing that makes us who we are.
'If we also remove opportunities for young people to learn to play an instrument, particularly in more deprived areas, we lose a force for good in society. It is a well attested fact that giving young people the opportunity to develop musical skills can begin to turn whole communities round. Look at Venezuela for example with the Simon Bolivar programme - but there are also examples here, such as El Sistema in Scotland and the 'In Harmony' programme currently running in Liverpool and elsewhere, not forgetting all of the wonderful education work done by many of the orchestras in the UK. Those of us who have been involved in such programmes can testify to lives, families and communities being transformed.
'What is most worrying is what we are storing up for the future if young people are not given these opportunities. It will be extremely difficult to stop us becoming a cultural desert if the tide starts rapidly receding from our cultural shoreline, and it will almost certainly have a very damaging impact on the whole fabric of our society.'
I'm with Richard on this.  He goes on to speak of the responsibility of Christian musicians, 'Each of us is called to bring something of the beauty, mystery, creativity and love of God to a world that is increasingly starved of these things. Without these life has little value ... We can share and celebrate beauty, we can help people see beyond the mundane to explore mystery of life, we can as creative people speak of the creator who brought everything into being with such astonishing diversity and we can share the love of God with those who have little hope.'
I'm hugely grateful for the opportunities that I had as a young person, only possible because music in the London Borough of Barking was heavily funded. Without that funding I wouldn't have come remotely close to being a musician. While I recognise this not as a right but a gift, I'm deeply concerned at the effect of withdrawing funding to our society.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Stile Antico, Vingt Regards and Lauridsen

Musically, Advent moving into Christmas has been a rich experience, beginning with the Advent Carol Service at Christ the Cornerstone in Milton Keynes and concluding with Christmas Eve Holy Communion, also at Cornerstone. Back in the distant summer, a high point was hearing Stile Antico sing as part of the 2010 Proms Season, and so I purchased their new release, Puer Natus Est, a performance of Advent and Christmas music from the Tudor period by Byrd, Sheppard, Tallis and Taverner. This is exquisitely beautiful, sung with precision and purity.

Another new experience has been listening to Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant - Jesus, by Olivier Messiaen.  A work of twenty movements lasting nearly two hours, it's demanding stuff, and I confess to not having listened to it in one stretch.  But there is a transcendent quality to this music, expressed through a sound world which is unique. Messiaen experienced synesthesia, whereby he couldn't help but associate particular colours with musical sounds, so his music is extraordinarily colourful. Two years after completing this work consisting of twenty 'watches' over the infant Jesus, Messiaen said with characteristic modesty, 'I have tried to be a Christian musician and proclaim my faith through song, but without ever succeeding.'

Again this year I've been caught up in a sense of eternity in the hugely popular Lauridsen, O Magnum Mysterium.

The Messiaen, played by Pierre-Laurent Aimard, and the Lauridsen are available on Spotify, though sadly the latter isn't sung by Polyphony, whose performance is sublime.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Emmanuel, God with us

'Christmas carols try to put into words what is almost impossible to express: that God has come among us as one of us and is on our side. They attempt to explore the mystery of God - in Jesus of Nazareth - opting into the world and not exempting himself from it. We can sing about it for ever, but we also need to dare to think about what it means.

Carols are wonderful attempts to re-tell the familiar story of how God entered our world - not on a war-horse or in a tank, but in a vulnerable baby in occupied territory in a place of weakness. And this is how God decides to be "with us", Emmanuel.'

Nick Baines, Ready, Steady, Slow, 21 December

Friday, 24 December 2010

The Nativity, Mary, and Edwin Muir

Over the past four evenings I've watched The Nativity and thoroughly enjoyed it. I've heard a number of criticisms, some reasonable, but overall I thought it was one of the best tv accounts of a Bible story I've seen.   And there were moments in the final episode that were were stunning.

What I won't forget is the way that it presented the huge cost to Mary, who was prepared to lose everything, and the tortured anguish that Joseph experienced. I thought that the casting of the particular woman to be with Mary through the birth was a touch of brilliance, and the instant when Joseph's hand clasped Mary's as the stars coalesced and the baby was born brought out the tissues!

During the season of Advent I've been especially struck by poems about the Annunciation. From the tradition of which I've been a part, Mary has been someone largely ignored. Over the last few years, through art especially, I've come to a new appreciation of this remarkable woman, which was only enriched by The Nativity. 

I've been reminded of Noel Rowe's Magnificat, and yesterday I read again some of Luci Shaw's wonderful poems in, Accompanied by Angels, Poems of the Incarnation. On the first Sunday of Advent, at the Advent Carol Service at Christ the Cornerstone, we heard Edwin Muir's poem, The Annunciation: 

The angel and the girl are met, 

Earth was the only meeting place, 

For the embodied never yet 

Travelled beyond the shore of space. 

The eternal spirits in freedom go. 



See, they have come together, see, 

While the destroying minutes flow, 

Each reflects the other's face 

Till heaven in hers and earth in his 

Shine steady there. He's come to her 

From far beyond the farthest star, 

Feathered through time.
Immediacy 
of strangest strangeness is the bliss 

That from their limbs all movement takes. 

Yet the increasing rapture brings 

So great a wonder that it makes 

Each feather tremble on his wings. 



Outside the window footsteps fall 

Into the ordinary day 

And with the sun along the wall 

Pursue their unreturning way 

That was ordained in eternity. 

Sound's perpetual roundabout 

Rolls its numbered octaves out 

And hoarsely grinds its battered tune. 



But through the endless afternoon 

These neither speak nor movement make, 

But stare into their deepening trance 

As if their gaze would never break. 

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Spotify Classical Playlists

Spotify is a sensational resource for lovers of music. If you want it for free, you have to put up with the adverts. For £4.99 a month you lose the adverts. For £9.99 a month there's no advertisement, enhanced sound quality, and you can listen off line as well as listen to your playlists on your iPhone/mobile. I'm still on the free package and use it extensively to access millions of tracks, including latest classical releases.

I've just come across Spotify Classical which consists of a huge number of playlists, some predictable, some highly creative. Again, it's a terrific resource for music lovers.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Spiritus

Last week at our Conference, Sue Hardwidge who was leading Morning Prayers, read Steve Turner's poem Spiritus, and then Dan Foster, improvised a sax solo around the melody of 'God in my living, There in my breathing', by Tim Hughes. It was sublime! Here's the poem:

I used to think of you
as a symphony
neatly structure,
full of no surprises.
Now I see you as
a saxophone solo
blowing wildly
into the night,
a tongue of fire,
flicking in unrepeated
                 patterns.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Engaging with Word and World - CBA Ministers' Conference

This year's CBA Ministers' Conference has happened, and happened very well! High Leigh provided us with their new (for us) main conference hall which is spacious, bright and well equipped; comfortable rooms and good food.

The speakers were excellent. David Kerrigan, the General Director of BMS World Mission, spoke on the Servant Songs from Isaiah, and brought fresh insight, a personal openness, and a connectedness with life, ministry and mission. David Shosanya, was stimulating, imaginative and graciously provocative as he spoke about Word and World in continuity, and in conflict. Maggi Dawn prepared us for Advent, enlarging our boudaries, helping us to engage with art and poetry, in a way which was enriching and delightful.

We received a lot over the forty-eight hours, but some highlights. David Kerrigan reminded us of the limits as well as the goal of the preacher, to bring people to the brink of mystery whereby they cast themselves on the mercy of God. He connected us with Henri Nouwen's 'The Return of the Prodigal', the reflection on Rembrandt's painting, contrasting the two very different hands of the Father in the painting, one strong, the other tender. But also he reminded us of Nouwen's illustration of the Flying Rodleighs the trapeze artists. The point is that the flyer does nothing having launched themself, while the catcher does everything; the flyer must trust, and if he tries to do anything he falls.

David Shosanya impressed me with his passion, boldness and sheer nerve, in engaging with local and national government. He has that rare gift of being full on but also gentle and gracious.

Maggi spoke of the faith of Generation Y, those born after 1982, who don't have a hostile attitude to faith, but show mainly indifference. She spoke about 'leaving something on the doorstep' in encouraging them to take a step, and then maybe another step, and she shared some of the creative Advent initiatives that she's been part of in order to do just this.

A Question Time in the early part of Tuesday evening worked very effectively - thanks to Helen for being David Dimbleby, and an impressive panel of guests. We even had the Question Time theme music! And later in the evening Maggi's concert was all that I hoped it would be, bringing her blend of music as a singer/song-writer, with lovely spoken transitions between songs. She participated in the Communion Service, with a song she'd taught the previous evening, and concluded the conference with a sung blessing over us. It was a bit 'Wow!'

For many people the programme isn't what the conference is about but time spent together apart from the normal rhythm of ministry, talking, laughing, praying, eating and drinking. These three days each year require a lot of planning, they're totally absorbing while they happen, and I confess to breathing a sigh of relief when they're over. But they are a significant and enjoyable occasion in the life of the Association.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

CBA Ministers' Conference - Engaging with Word and World

I'm really looking forward to the Ministers' Conference this week. We're at High Leigh in Hoddesdon, with three speakers, David Kerrigan, BMS General Director, leading the Bible Readings; David Shosanya, Regional Minister in the London Baptist Association; and Maggi Dawn, singer/song-writer, priest, theologian, author, broadcaster, and blogger.  The theme is Engaging with Word and World.

The annual conference provides some input but also creates space apart from the regular rhythms of ministry, and while we hope that people will be nourished by the worship and the addresses, we certainly expect that refreshment will come through being with friends in a relaxed environment.

In particular I'm looking forward to an informal concert to be given by Maggi on Tuesday evening. I'm not sure that we'll be able to create the ideal ambiance at High Leigh, but this is something different for our conference and it'll be great to have some good music. Maggi is taking a session on Wednesday on Preparing for Advent, so there's a welcome emphasis upon the creative this year.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

European Baptist Federation - Day 4

Today was the last day of the Council, and a half-day only. Morning Worship included a reflection on 1 Samuel 3, God's call to Samuel. Looking back over the last few days, we've been led with huge enthusiasm and creativity, and I've valued in particular the emphasis upon worship songs from around the world which has been refreshing.

The main session included the culmination of the work of the Resolutions Committee which met four times in all. Being part of this committee has helped me to connect with EBF very quickly and I've valued the experience. At the same time I smiled at the prayer of a previous EBF President, 'Lord, let me now have your pity, I'm on the Resolutions Committee'. The two resolutions were carried, so the Council, while conducting a considerable amount of important business, also had something significant to say.

Other aspects of the morning were finance, priorities for the future, and EBF Aid. And we welcomed First Baptist Church, Bahrain.

EBF Council has been a very positive and encouraging first experience of wider Baptist life in Europe. Along the way I've been informed and inspired, deepened some friendships and made some new ones. Next year we meet in Nazareth.

Having been outside the building only to make a phone call home each day, it was wonderful to spend the afternoon and evening in Rome. In the limited time, we visited the Colosseum, the Pantheon, and two of the beautiful fountains. The sun shone a bit and walking around Rome was delightful. Other highpoints were ice cream at Giolitti's, which was exquisite, and a very reasonably priced meal near to Piazza Navona. And the company was really great fun to be with providing a perfect end to a good few days.

Friday, 24 September 2010

European Baptist Federation - Day 3

It's been raining in Rome, not that that's made any difference as there's been no opportunity to go outside. Still, tomorrow is Saturday and we finish at lunch-time, so some sun would be appreciated!

Continuing the emphasis upon Youth and Children, Morning Worship contained an address by Svejetlana Mraz on Proverbs 22.6, 'Train children in the right way'. Understandably, the music at the Council has an Italian feel, though today there was a decided Latin rhythm, with a kyrie eleison in the style of a bossa nova, and a benediction alla rumba. It was a tad disconcerting feeling the urge to shimmy while singing 'Lord, have mercy', but it did work, just!

The morning session began with a focus on Mission with inspiring stories from the Indigenous Mission Project (IMP) which has planted 110 churches since 2002. Its goal is to facilitate evangelism and the planting of new Baptist churches in Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia. Some of these situations are far from comfortable and we heard of a pastor in Turkey who had been kidnapped, threatened with death, and police protected from extreme nationalists. It was good to hear in the same session about Baptist Muslim Encounters.

Hearing about challenges in other parts of Europe makes me think how very comfortable we are in many parts of the UK and how resource rich we are by comparison with many parts of Europe. During the break it was good to meet up again with Bader from the Association of Baptist Churches (ABC) in Israel and to hear news of the churches there.

The second part of the morning we came to the discussion of the resolution concerning the future of the International Baptist Theological Seminary (IBTS) followed by a decision. I don't want to pre-empt the reporting of this, but the discussion was very supportive and the decision nearly unanimous.

The session before lunch brought 'Encouraging Stories of what God is doing' from the Austrian Baptist Union, and the Baptist Union of Norway. Later on in the afternoon a session concerning an agreement between the EBF and the CPCE, the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe, which might have been dry, turned out to be moving, particularly on account of the dark history between the Lutheran Church and the Anabaptists several hundred years ago.

After an evening meal I attended what was originally intended to be a small working group but became an open meeting to look at the issue of Christian marriage. Inevitably this included the broader issue of human sexuality and an open discussion was had in which convictions were shared and stories told. This felt to be the beginning of a conversation, the start of a journey, which I hope will be continued.

This was followed by a further Resolutions Committee to work on the statement again. A long day.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

European Baptist Federation - Day 2

The first meeting of today took place over breakfast with the Resolutions Committee, of which I discovered I'm a part! Our task is a work-in-progress, meeting together to help formulate some statements which express the mind of the Council and to which Council can agree in the form of final resolutions. The second meeting took place over the evening meal and already it's become an interesting journey.

The Morning Worship demonstrated to me again the power of one musical instrument, in the hands of a skilful performer, to elevate the worship. On this occasion it was a cello played quite superbly, and the worship included a creative marriage of instrumental music, using the cello, and spoken words. One of the emphases of the Council is Youth and Children, and we were encouraged to view the apostle Paul as a model mentor to young Timothy.

Reports occupied the first part of the morning session and showed something of Tony Peck's (The General Secretary of the EBF) remarkable grasp of a huge geographical area with considerable diversity. Preliminary discussion began on the future of the International Baptist Theological Seminary in the context of an encouraging report celebrating its success and affirming its value within Europe as an academic institution and a place of formation for ministry and training for mission. Further discussion will take place tomorrow, but this is a big issue and it was good to pause to pray for the Seminary and in particular the people involved.

There are a number of points in the agenda for 'Encouraging stories of what God is doing', and this morning we heard from the First Baptist Church of Iraq. This was introduced by a reading from Habakkuk 3. 17, 'Though the fig tree shall not blossom ...' The speaker noted that Habakkuk made no mention of an absence of water or electricity and a temperature in excess of 50C in in his list of things that weren't happening! We received an enormously encouraging story of life and growth in the midst of struggle. And though completely different, encouragement came with hearing from the Irish Baptist Network who are among us with the simple desire to get to know the wider Baptist family.

The afternoon began with a focus on 'The Church of Today and Tomorrow' concentrating on youth and children.  We were presented with a fascinating exploration of different youth milieus based upon Catholic research in Germany. This has far-reaching ramifications about the very narrow range of young people with whom we as churches engage and was instructive for the situation in the UK. After discussion groups, we continued with further reports, concluding with more 'Encouraging stories ...' this time from the Baptist Union of South Serbia, and then from Russia.

Tonight we were given an Italian Evening with a strong musical flavour. After an assortment of items the finale was a folk duo from Calabria, consisting of voice and twelve string guitar, and electric guitar. This was real class, but what was compelling was the spectacular playing of the electric guitarist, wooing his instrument with delicious effects.

Internet access is limited to the foyer, and populated day and night by people concentrating intensely over their lap-tops, muttering the mantra, 'Are you connected?' Writing this blog I'm one of them!

A good full day.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

European Baptist Federation Council - Day 1

'Day 1' carries the danger of promising more than can be delivered, because for most of the delegates the day has been spent travelling. My day began at 2.30 a.m. which got me here in good time - understatement - and there's been a trickle of arrivals throughout the day.

The Council began properly with a meal this evening and the opening service of worship. The Italian welcome has been very warm and there is a real buzz as people gather for this annual event from all parts of Europe and beyond. The EBF embraces a number of Baptist unions from countries which aren't in Europe. But they're here because in some way their existence is inextricably linked with the EBF.

Of the 55 member churches 45 are represented.  And today I've had conversations with people from Lebanon, Palestine, Sweden, Estonia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Hungary and the Netherlands. And I've just sung, 'Bind us together, Lord' - a very, very long time since I last sang that - holding hands with a long-standing friend from Yorkshire on my right, and the Vice President of the Russian Baptist Union on my left.

The President of the EBF, Valeriu Ghiletchi, preached at the opening service on 2 Cor. 9, 'My grace is sufficient for you.' A fascinating character, he is a former Bishop of the Moldova Baptist Union, and presently an MP in the Moldovan government.

So, the next few days look promising.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Arrivederci - off to Rome for the EBF

I'm off to Rome for my first European Baptist Federation (EBF) Council, very early tomorrow morning. OK, so there are worse places to go than The Eternal City, although the reality is that the only opportunity for sight-seeing will be when it's over - an opportunity I'm going to seize!

I'm looking forward to meeting Baptist Christians from different parts of Europe from diverse situations. And it'll be good to connect with Arab friends from the Association of Baptist Christians (ABC) in Israel who are part of the EBF. One of the big things on the agenda is the future of the International Baptist Theological Seminary (IBTS) in Prague. I hope to have Wi-Fi, and if there's enough space in the schedule I may blog while I'm there.

Just to help get in the groove I've downloaded, Respighi's Roman Trilogy, which consists of three suites, The Pines of Rome, the Fountains of Rome and Roman Festivals. This music is described as 'picture postcard music' and is brilliantly orchestrated, and characterfully colourful. The recording I have is with Antonio Pappano and Rome's numero uno orchestra, the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionali di Santa Cecilia.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Song of Songs, St Paul's, Saatchi and Settlement Team

The last week has gone up a gear, or several, after a fairly relaxed August. During that time the highlight was a day spent in London which began with a lunchtime Prom at the Cadogan Hall with Stile Antico singing Renaissance settings of the Song of Songs. I'd heard a snippet of their CD and on the strength of it bought the CD only to discover their debut the following Monday as part of the Proms season. It was superb, and as one reviewer expressed it, 'the sensuous vocabulary vibrated with that mellifluous vocal bliss'.

The day also included Evening Prayer at St Paul's Cathedral, as well as very quick visits to the Saatchi Gallery and the Tate. I could live without the former and on this occasion the Tate had loaned its Rothkos to another museum so was a tad disappointing. Two other features were coffee on the veranda of the eighth floor of the OXO Tower overlooking the Thames, and a brisk walk following Evening Prayer to see the Gherkin, which was sensational close up and in the late afternoon sun. All in all, a pretty brilliant day.

This last week, solidly work, included meeting with the Principals of the Baptist Colleges, and the tutors. This is an annual event which happens concurrently with our September National Settlement Team and Team Leaders' Meeting. As part of this it's very good to meet up with friends, and especially blogging friends. I particularly enjoyed conversations with Nah Then and Living Wittily. I'm struck again by that unexpected sense of community that blogging has brought to my life.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

St Michael le Belfrey - The Vinyl Years

On Saturday I received a CD of a compilation of the music that came out of St Michael le Belfrey back in the eighties. This church, literally in the shadow of York Minster, experienced considerable growth under David Watson's ministry, and continues to be a significant church in the city.

St Michael's was one of those Anglican churches that was at the vanguard of Charismatic Renewal, though always in a way that was respectful of its tradition. And that's expressed in the music, which was influenced by folk music - The Fisherfolk were regular visitors and a great encouragement in the use of all of the arts - but remained within the English Church music stream.

Listening today, the songs retain their beauty, simplicity, creativity, biblical and theological content, and that elusive 'something else' which for me made them highly significant. In a very real way it provided something of a musical bridge when I was finding faith again - I certainly didn't expect to hear a worship song, 'Jesus, my Saviour' in 5/4 time! Maybe it was the lovely oboe playing of Andrew Maries, the musical director and driving force, which provided a link with my world at that time. Or maybe it was the creativity and musical excellence of Chris Norton, now a good friend, and with whom we enjoyed a splendid day in London on Saturday, talking among many things about 'The Vinyl Years'.

I guess that I still listen out for hymns/songs that have 'beauty, simplicity, creativity, biblical and theological content, and that elusive "something else"'. I don't expect every hymn/song to have all of these qualities, but when there is a good mix the result can sometimes be something special. The grumpy old man in me, especially in a nostalgic mood, wants to say, 'But it doesn't happen that often!' Am I asking too much?

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Susan Tomes, Out of Silence - A Pianist's Yearbook

While on holiday I read a number of books, including A Night Train to Lisbon, by Pascal Mercier; One Day by David Nicholls; and Nick Hornby's Juliet Naked, which I haven't finished. The outstanding read was Susan Tomes, Out of Silence, which is a diary of a year in the life of a pianist. The inspiration for the book comes from Schumann's remark that 'I am affected by everything that goes on in the world, and I think it all over in my own way'. I've been following Susan Tomes' blog Susan Tomes: Pianist & Writer and find her posts engaging, as she reflects on life and music, often touching on something quite profound but with lightness and grace.

As a pianist, her work consists of solo performances, chamber music - most notably with the Florestan Trio with whom she has made numerous recordings on the Harmoni Mundi label - and concertos with orchestras.

The book isn't a day-by-day diary, but various short chapters compiled into each month. This isn't a page-turner but a contemplative read, more andantino than allegro. It has particular interest for the musician but isn't exclusive, and reflections are wide-ranging and include tennis, diving, football, and gardening.

A few highlights. On the relation of music to time, 'Music replaces clock time with musical time, a completely other way of guiding our thoughts and feelings through an experience with its own shape, its own build-up of tension and its own resolution. Our favourite songs seem timeless in more ways than one.'

She compares players 'who thrive on the physical sensation of playing, and on the feeling of being plugged into an enjoyable community effort which links everyone through music' with musicians 'who instinctively feel that music is not only a lovely noise but also a portal to something else, something that lies behind the right notes played in the right order. They understand music as symbolic of thoughts and feelings, a vehicle for expressing how the world strikes you.'

Early on in the book she has a fascinating section on 'Music for the right time of the day'. In the context of a holiday in Southern Italy, this felt particularly pertinent. Some music just didn't seem right to listen to in the morning, and strangely I couldn't bring myself to listen to Mahler for the whole two weeks. And then some music seemed particularly appropriate, while some felt universal.

In short, this is a lovely, graceful, enriching book, and one to return to.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Holiday in Sicily

I've recently returned from a holiday in Sicily. This is our fourth holiday in Southern Italy, working our way further south each year, and next year the only way is back up! All the regions we've been to have been unmistakably Italy, and Southern Italy, but each has had that which is obviously distinctive. Sicily is no exception.

We were situated just north of Catonia, near Acireale, with the sea two kilometres on one side and Mount Etna on the other, surrounded by lemon trees. The place, a lemon farm, is aptly called Il Limoneto. It was pretty idyllic, constantly sun-drenched and extremely hot - by the end we were looking forward to the air conditioning at the airport - and the only down-side was the mosquitos which were a bit fierce.

For us, Italy provides a wonderful context to slow down, read, listen to music, eat and drink, visit leisurely places of interest, and of course passegiata. And all these are possible because of the nature of a holiday which opens up space by limiting the options normally available to us.

Sicily is featured in many films, notably, The Godfather trilogy, and Cinema Paridiso which for me is one of the all-time favourites. We have yet to see Il Postino, which again is set in Sicily, but the DVD is waiting at the top of a pile by the tv. Even for Southern Italy, Sicily feels like going into a bit of a time warp. Like the rest of Italy it might be becoming increasingly secularised, but the centrality of the church in local culture still seems fairly dominant, especially in August when every small town seems to be celebrating their local saint.

Italian ice-cream is something we always look forward to, at least once a day. But in Sicily the big thing is granita, which is a sorbet coming in an assortment of flavours, sometimes with cream on and eaten with an accompanying brioche. I thought they were a bit over-rated and kept faith with the ice cream.

Etna was awesome and although we drove some distance, we got less than half way up Europe's biggest active volcano. We met some French guests at Il Limoneto who were vulcanologists combining work and holiday and had some fascinating conversation.

Other places had particular historical interest, or were just beautiful. In Enna, a town built high upon a hill, there wasn't a great deal to see other than extensive views of the surrounding countryside. However, I loved the humour in the Rough Guide to Sicily about the Museo Musical Art 3M, 'a mishmash of an exhibition that features projections of the work of artists who have a (sometimes remote) connection with Sicily - for example Caravaggio, Lo Zoppo di Gangi and Antonello di Messina - all to the rather hammy accompaniment of originally composed orchestral music. A few photographs and costumes are also on show, as well as a reconstruction of a sulphur mine, a reminder of an industry that once dominated this part of Sicily. If you're in a tolerant mood, it'll do to pass twenty minutes or less.' Sadly it was just closing so we didn't have the pleasure.

Driving in Italy is usually something of an experience but in Sicily it's taken to another dimension. Again, the Rough Guide comes up trumps likening the Sicilian driver to 'a dog on drugs'. I thought that veered on the side of generosity. A lovely touch which we were reminded of once again as we touched-down in Sicily, the Italians clap the pilot - nice! 

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Horizon Ensemble - Chamber Music on a Summer's Evening

This Sunday, 25 July, The Horizon Ensemble will be at Howgills - 42 South View, Letchworth - for a concert of music by Beethoven, Mozart, Finzi, Glinka, Faure, and others. The concert begins at 7.30 p.m. and is in aid of Saint Katherine's Church, Ickleford, building fund.

The Horizon Ensemble consists of Katie Canell on clarinet, Mary Cotes on piano, and me on bassoon. At this concert we're introducing two new pieces for us, a Duo by Beethoven for clarinet and bassoon. This is a delightful three movement work, which has the additional benefit of giving the pianist a break! And I'm playing a setting of a beautiful Faure song, Après un rêve.

If you're near Letchworth, do come, it would be great to see you!

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Private Passions and tender music

This morning I was visiting Vale Community Church's Sunday Brunch. This is an event which takes place twice a month and provides 'opportunities to make new friends and explore the Christian faith'. It's an exciting initiative for all ages and proving an effective way of being church.

On the way back I listened to Private Passions on Radio 3. Whenever I look ahead to the coming week on tv and radio, I always check out who Michael Berkeley's guest is, and this week it was a repeat of a programme with Nick Clegg.

Private Passions is a 'Desert Island Discs'-style programme, though much more substantial in terms of the music played and discussed. It has considerable depth without being stuffy or elitist and I would rate it as consistently very good and sometimes extraordinary. I could point you to pieces of music that I heard for the first time on this programme.



What I heard today was particularly interesting in the light of the position Nick Clegg now finds himself in. And this is a man who understands the arts, music in particular, and has a great love for them.

He spoke of the Mozart Laudate Dominum, sung by Kiri te Kanawa, as 'tender', and after listening to this Michael Berkeley commented that of the hundreds of guests on Private Passions, the weighting was towards music that elicits tears rather than joy. He then picked up on Nick Clegg's use of 'tenderness' and made a connection with 'the fragility of the human condition' and our sense of 'impermanence', which produces a longing and a yearning. This expresses for me something of my understanding of the essence of music.

In 'Chasing Frances', the book I posted on a week ago, Chase Falcon says, 'The object of all great art is beauty, and it makes us nostalgic for God.  Whether we consider ourselves people of faith or not, art arouses in us what Pope John Paul called a "universal desire for redemption".'  And 'Art or beauty is not the destination; it is a signpost pointing towards our desired destination.'

And CS Lewis, in The Weight of Glory, writes, 'The books of the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through was a longing … For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.'







Saturday, 17 July 2010

Ordination of Dan Foster

Today was the ordination of Dan Foster and his induction as Minister of Howlands Baptist Church, Welwyn Garden City, where he's served as a minister in training for the last three years during his time at theological college.

Dan is an accomplished professional jazz saxophonist, and his call is to bi-vocational ministry, working four days for the church and the rest as a musician. This seems to me an excellent arrangement, continuing to engage with and connect both worlds.

Ordinations are always special, and today was no exception, but a high-point was Dan and the pianist Peter James, from his group Kairos, playing an improvised arrangement of 'Dear Lord and Father of Mankind'.

Check out Kairos, who have a number of CDs and are available for gigs - I recommend them enthusiastically. This is a group which doesn't settle into the familiar groove; they make a sound I haven't encountered elsewhere in the Christian sub-culture.

Friday, 16 July 2010

The wonderful Baroness Floella Benjamin

We had a memorable day at Jonathan's Graduation Ceremony at Exeter University. As a proud parent I was looking forward to it, but expected it to be something of an assembly-line-event with all of the graduates receiving a quick hand-shake and certificate. It was anything but!

This was due largely to the presence of the wonderful Chancellor, Baroness Floella Benjamin. The ceremony began with the entrance of the University dignitaries and professors with the Chancellor the last person to appear. And what an appearance! There was such a sense of theatre as she literally graced the steps to her seat, before dramatically turning to address the congregation. What followed was an inspiring, motivational speech - more like a sermon - where she oozed presence. There were even three points, all beginning with 'c' - consideration, contentment and confidence.

The graduates were then presented. And no-one got anything as ordinary as a hand-shake. She embraced, hugged, kissed, caressed the graduates, speaking at length to each of them. What enthralled me was the manner in which she greeted everyone appropriately, with total attentiveness, huge warmth and elegance.

There were some final words to the graduates, which, taken at face value, might have been over the top, yet were spoken with such pride and affection, and communicated with the gorgeous smile, the wide open, sparkling eyes, and the elegant hand gestures.

I guess I've been a fan for more years than I care to remember, but today I became a fan for life! It made what would have been a special day whatever, very special. Thank you Floella.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Chasing Francis

Three years ago I read a book by Ian Morgan Cron, Chasing Francis. It takes the form of a novel which charts the loss of faith of a minister of a seemingly successful church, and the spiritual journey that ensues. This involves a trip to Italy to visit his uncle who is a Franciscan priest, where he encounters the teachings of Francis of Assisi and connects with a more ancient way. In the process he regains his faith but not as he knew it.

It is a delightful, imaginative, insightful read, and I made copious notes as I read it.

Why mention it now? Well, yesterday I saw this commendation by Rowan Williams, 'I've now read it twice and found it equally compelling both times. It's a challenging, disarming, and delightful book, and the vision behind it is a serious one. It's a remarkable book'. The Archbishop of Canterbury was speaking at a Fresh Expressions Conference, and he drew out the five principles the book emphasises for the church: transcendence, community, beauty, dignity and meaning, which are well worth pondering.

These are some of the great quotes that I took three years ago:
'The Christian subculture overpromises and underdelivers.'
'In sacred places, something gets done to you that you’ve been unable to do for yourself.'
'The Bible is the story of how God gets back what was always his in the first place. People are looking for a story that can explain the way the world is. I think they’re open to being romanced by the glory of the painting.' 
'All ministry begins at the ragged edges of our own pain.'
'Sometimes God’s presence is most strongly felt in his absence.'
'Finzi’s [an English composer of the last century] Ecologue is lyrical and haunting; it surfaces all the unfulfilled desires of your life.
'I am always brought to tears when I hear a marvellous performance followed by a standing ovation. I feel that at the climax of our cheering, we cross a boundary and unwittingly begin applauding some other reality, a performer we know is there but who cannot be seen. We want to thank Beauty itself.'
'The church is realizing that there is an awareness of God sleeping in the basement of the postmodern imagination and they have to awaken it. The arts can do this. All beauty is subversive; it flies under the radar of people’s critical filters and points them to God.'

Saturday, 3 July 2010

The Sixteen at Christ the Cornerstone


A great evening at Christ the Cornerstone, Milton Keynes, with a performance by The Sixteen of Thomas Tallis, William Byrd and John Sheppard. This was part of their nationwide Choral Pilgrimage Tour, twenty-six venues, most of which are historic churches.

Tallis, Byrd and Sheppard, all Catholics, held appointments at the Chapel Royal and needed to be supremely adaptable to the changing circumstances: Henry VIII was succeeded first by his Protestant son Edward VI, then by his fervently Catholic daughter Mary, and finally by her half-sister Elizabeth I.  Although a more moderate form of Protestantism was established in her reign, it was no small thing to express their devotion to the Catholic faith through the glorious music they composed.

A nice touch: when the Church of Christ the Cornerstone, the first ecumenical city centre church, was opened by Queen Elizabeth II on Friday 13 March 1992, Basil Hume, was the first Roman Catholic Cardinal to preach before the reigning monarch in over 400 years.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Dancing in the Dark

I watched this on The Rest is Noise and it blew me away. The music won't be everyone's cup of tea but I thought the effect was stunning and beautiful. Augustin Hadelich plays the 'Rhapsodie' from Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Sonata for Solo Violin. Watch on full screen.


Monday, 28 June 2010

Congratulations Jonathan!

Jonathan has just received the final result of his degree in Economics - and he got a first! We are proud parents and he's pretty chuffed!!

Jon's got a real passion for the subject and works with focus and determination, so it's well deserved. He's staying in Exeter and in September begins a MSc with a view to going into International Development.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Wondrous wild flowers on Chaffron Way


Congratulations to Milton Keynes Council and the Parks Trust for another stunning demonstration of its commitment to the natural beauty of our city. On the Furzton section of Chaffron Way are two huge swathes of wild flowers that drench the iris with colour. It is absolutely stunning. As we went closer to take some photographs another couple was there already and shortly after another man arrived.

The woman was overawed by such a profusion of 'my favourite flowers' and wanted to lie down in them. She half expected to see fairies, which says something about the magical quality of the experience.

For the foreseeable future all roads to and from MK will be via Chaffron Way!

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

'Cross Purposes'

I've just read about a fascinating exhibition just opened in London, 'Cross purposes - Shock and Contemplation in Images of the Crucifixion'. What's staggering is that it is at the Ben Uri Gallery, the London Jewish Museum of Art. Norman Lebrecht writes, that it's 'drawn torrents of abuse from Jewish supporters of the museum, who argue (rightly) that the crucifixion image has been the incitement for 2,000 years of Christian persecution of Jews. The gallery counters that the man on the cross was Jewish; it's time to reclaim that heritage and discuss the terrible act from the victim's viewpoint'. It certainly sounds like it's worth a visit.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Alpha & Omega - The Event

Had a great evening on Saturday at Melton Mowbray Baptist Church's weekend celebration of the work of the artist Brian Maunders. During the day the church had many visitors coming to see the main attraction which was Brian's tryptich, Alpha and Omega, as well as many of the sketches for this, together with other pieces including a display of paintings, drawings and etchings.

The central panel is inspired by the Revelation of St John the Divine and represents God's desire to call humankind into a relationship with him. The panel on its left depicts stories from the Old Testament with figures that include Job and Jonah. The panel on the right is inspired by passages from the New Testament. I don't think there are many Baptist churches with such a visual display, and I felt proud to be associated with the church!

In the first half of the evening I spoke about music and the arts from a Christian perspective. I explored the power of music, and that strong sense when music becomes a means of encounter with God. I went on to set out a structure for thinking Christianly about the arts. It went well and I certainly enjoyed myself, but wonder whether I tried to cram in too much so that it was a bit dense to listen to. I think that I tried to do two talks in the space of one.

After wine and cheese - though not for Mary Cotes, my superb accompanist, and me! - we gave a forty-five minute recital. The piano was a lovely baby grand, the acoustic was great, and we played well. And overall I think it was probably the best that I've played since music was my main occupation in life.

The audience were treated to a Tarantella by the totally unknown composer, Milde;  two movements of the Mozart Concerto; a lyrical piece by Faure; a serenely beautiful slow movement from a Vivaldi Concerto; Sarah Watt's fantastic, Everything is Somewhere Else; and for the first time, A Simple Song, from Leonard Bernstein's Mass. Both Mary and I can't get this out of our heads and we love it! So if you have Spotify, go listen! What went down very well, although it wasn't the musical highlight, was me singing 'The Bassoon Song', with interjections played on the Bassoon. It's Victorian Music Hall stuff - not great music but a lot of fun.

The half an hour a day practice - there was a time when I'd spend that warming up! - will now reduce to ten minutes a day until the beginning of July when the next concert comes into view.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Walking humbly with our God

I was with my colleague, Bishop Peter, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Northampton, yesterday. He spoke of a Groundplan within the Diocese, which has the title, 'Walking humbly with our God', taken from Micah.

This appeals to me because it doesn't have the Star Trek stridency of some of our mission statements and strategy straplines. Not that it's any easier to do! I was reminded of the mission statement of Portrack Baptist Church, which I love, 'plodding hopefully in the right direction'.

[On reading this through, 'Star Trek stridency of some of our mission statements and strategy straplines' makes for a challenging tongue twister!!]

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Alpha & Omega - A Celebration in Art

On Saturday I'm taking part in an Art Weekend at Melton Mowbray Baptist Church, where I was the minister. The weekend celebrates the work of gifted artist, Brian Maunders, a member of the church. And as part of the weekend there will be an inauguration of a huge three-part mural Brian has painted in the main church building.

When I was minister at the church we explored Brian's vision and, sadly for me, it wasn't the right time. However, the time has come and when I saw the mural in progress I was very excited.

Throughout the weekend there will be an exhibition of Brian's works and techniques. The event is launched on Friday evening with a talk by Dr Angie Smith, an art historian and member of the church.  On the Saturday evening, I'm speaking about my perspective on art, music and Christianity, which is followed by a bassoon recital with Mary Cotes on piano. During the Sunday morning service Brian's work will be inaugurated.

So, if you're near Melton Mowbray over the weekend, do visit. And it would be great to see you at the evening event on the Saturday, which starts at 8.00 p.m.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Maggi Dawn, The Writing on the Wall

I've just received Maggi's new book, ahead of the publishing date! It's called The Writing on the Wall. It 'provides a fascinating introduction to the Bible's best-known stories ... then shows how it has become enmeshed in Western culture ... and how the Bible has influenced everyone that matters - from Shakespeare to Ian McEwan, and the Beatles to Monty Python.

Maggi is a creative thinker and stimulating communicator and this promises to be a great read. If you haven't visited her blog, go here.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Stuck in the box?

On Saturday we held our annual Central Baptist Association Assembly. It was the normal mix of worship, news, interviews, welcome and in memorium, AGM, address and, after lunch, workshops. A good number turned up, and I've only heard good things, so far! From my perspective, it was an excellent day, with a number of high points.

The workshops were well attended, even after lunch, and the one that I hosted, 'Love Your Local School', was led by a new minister to the association, David Skinner from Houghton Regis. In Reading he was deeply involved in a number of creative projects, one among asylum seekers, and another, in schools. REinspired was the result. Picking up on the Baptist Union mission emphasis upon Crossing Places, he stressed that the school is a unique crossing place as a centre and focus of the community. Many of the people attending showed that they were already in engaged, but he explored a number of very creative ways of furthering this engagement.

The other high point was the address by David Kerrigan from BMS World Mission. The theme for the day was, 'Stuck in the box?' and he brought an imaginative and challenging reflection on the subject. David is a class act and he was on great form. He showed this TED video clip, 'How to start a movement'. It's three minutes long - go see!

Over lunch I talked with David about blogging. His blog, thinking mission, can be found here, it's well worth a look. My last blog was 3 April, so it's been a significant gap. We had a great conversation about the blogging community, and how surprisingly meaningful it can be, and about levels of energy and what causes them to rise and fall. I've thought about a post on a number of occasions, but it's felt hard to get back into it. I'll be interested to see what happens in the coming weeks. There have been loads of things that I could have blogged on, and it may be that I revisit some of these.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Lament and the evening of Good Friday

During Lent I read Lucy Winkett's Our Sound is Our Wound - Contemplative listening to a noisy world.  It is a beautiful and insightful read. There were a number of passages that made a particular impression on me, including this one in a chapter on Lament:
An artist told me in conversation that he had visited a convent and talked with one of the sisters there about what Mary, mother of Jesus, would have done on the evening of Good Friday. They imagined together that she would have gone to visit the mother of Judas. He painted this scene: two women, two uncomforted mothers, sitting talking together about their terrible, terrible day. The imagined scene of these two mothers sitting together after the death of their sons was reminiscent of another meeting, this time not of grieving but of expectant mothers before - the visit of a younger Mary to her cousin Elizabeth. If Elizabeth had lived to see her own son John the Baptist executed, the three would have had much to share on that first Good Friday: the uncomforted mothers of sons at the heart of the story of salvation.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Come near, but not too near


As part of my reading for Lent, I'm following Maggi's Giving it up - which not surprisingly is a great accompaniment. Today she reflects on Moses and the Burning Bush. I particularly appreciated this comment:
Without detracting from the fact that love is the very essence of God, we need to take infinite care not to domesticate God, not to clothe our idea of God with our own preferences and our own wishes. As soon as we cease to be surprised and disturbed by the infinite, we have made our expectations too small, and once again we will need to be both called by name and held back by transcendence.
'Called by name and held back by transcendence' - that's a thought to stay with.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Lectio Divina

Last week, meeting with a group of newly accredited ministers, Mary spoke to us about Lectio Divina. It was a stimulating session, which culminated in an experience of:

  • reading receptively
  • meditating reflectively
  • prayerfully responding
  • contemplatively resting
I loved the quote with which she began:
'We read under the eye of God until the heart is touched and leaps to flame'.  (Abbot Marmion, Sixth Century Benedictine)

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Cantus firmus - The Enduring Melody


Recently I posted on Michael Mayne's, This Sunrise of Wonder. Having read Jim's post on Mayne, and also Glen's on Musical Church I want to follow it up with a further book I've just read by him.

The Enduring Melody, his final book, is a journal begun at the time of being diagnosed with jaw cancer and published just a few days before his death. The bulk of the book is entitled, 'The Questioning Country of Cancer'. But there are two preceding chapters, one which is a reflection on aging, and the other, which is the theme of the book, the cantus firmus, which is the Latin for fixed melody, or enduring melody. In the introduction he says, ‘From that icy moment of diagnosis, when you know that everything has changed, I recognised ... that this would prove an unwanted but important test of the integrity of what I most deeply believed, both as a human being and as a priest: a kind of inquest on all those words spilled out of pulpits or in counselling others or at hospital bedsides. A few months earlier I had attempted to tease out what I had come to think of as ‘the enduring melody' of my life. This was the time to see how well it would stand up to the fiercest scrutiny.'

The theme comes from ancient music, plainsong, in which the cantus firmus is the basic, or fixed melody line around which counter melodies are sung.

Mayne wasn’t the first to explore this.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his Letters and Papers from Prison writes, ‘God requires that we should love him eternally with our whole hearts, yet not so as to compromise or diminish our earthly affection, but as a kind of cantus firmus to which the other melodies of life provide the counterpoint. ... where the ground bass is firm and clear, there is nothing to stop the counterpoint from being developed to the utmost of its limits. ... only a polyphony of this kind can give life a wholeness, and assure us that nothing can go wrong so long as the cantus firmus is kept going. ... put your faith in the cantus firmus.Craig has done some fine work on this, some of which emerged in his Whitley Lecture.

For Michael Mayne, the cantus firmus, the enduring melody, is what he built his life on, the truths that lie not at the surface but at the deep centre, truths that have been refined and pruned over a lifetime. I'm drawn to the idea that each person is developing the enduring melody of their life. For some, the basic melody is still being written, for others there are already numerous improvisations and more being written. 

Michael Mayne speaks of Jesus Christ, ‘that solitary figure [who] stands at the heart of my own cantus firmus.’ I guess that the apostle Paul says something similar in his cantus firmus, ‘For me to live is Christ’. Glen is suggesting something similar, though helpfully in the context of community where there is enormous scope for improvisation around the cantus firmus.

Friday, 12 February 2010

The Resurrection at the Royal Festival Hall


On Thursday evening Cazz and I travelled from Milton Keynes to the Royal Festival Hall to hear a performance of Mahler Symphony No. 2, 'The Resurrection', performed by the Philharmonia. Last Saturday, drinking coffee in MK and reading the paper, I saw that it was happening, we had nothing planned so decided to go for it!

I love the music of Mahler. For me, it embraces the whole of life. It is epic and miniature, tragic and comic, grotesquely ugly and sublimely beautiful, extravagant and sparing, it is deep and kitsch, everything between, and more.

While not his largest scale work, the Second Symphony comes close. It requires a large choir, two female soloists, an enormous orchestra including two harps, two sets of timpani, four percussionists, six trumpets, seven horns, six clarinets (including Eb and bass), two off-stage bands, and last but by no means least, an organ.  It isn't cheap to put on and therefore not a frequent occurrence.

I guess even an ordinary performance is pretty dramatic, and at an hour and a quarter it's not short.  The fifth and final movement has one moment when the choir makes its sung entry, and it should be as quiet as possible. And so begins the final build up, the ultimate resurrection, which concludes with all the musical resources going for it, and leaving you at the end thoroughly exhilarated!

It was a wonderful experience, with some outstanding contributions from the principal oboist, cor anglais player, flautist and piccolo player, and the trombonist made a sweet, sweet sound. Another striking thing was the gorgeous sound that the Philharmonia violins make. We could have done without hearing the conductor singing along, not very nicely, at certain quieter moments, but hey!

As we walked back across the Waterloo Bridge, gazing over the Thames at the enchanting capital, and frozen to the bone, I reflected how I repeatedly forget what the power of a fine live performance does for me. And not just Mahler, or indeed 'classical'music. I find it hugely life-giving. And last night, with such massive themes in the music of death, darkness, light, resurrection, humanity, God, it was something that deeply touched my soul and was more than just the tingle-factor.

This year is the 150th anniversary of Mahler's birth, and next year the 100th anniversary of his death, so we should be in for something of a Mahler-fest. Let's see what the Proms has lined up.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

John Dankworth

Just read on Sarah's blog, and the BBC website, of the death of Sir John Dankworth, the jazz legend, and founder of the Wavendon Allmusic Plan, which led to the establishment of The Stables in Milton Keynes.  Last night was the fourtieth anniversary celebration with an all-star line-up, at which the announcement was made at the end of the concert by Cleo Laine, John's wife.

A great man and a huge influence on Allmusic. May he rest in peace.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Music and Mental Health

Stephen Hough, the concert pianist, has posted a moving blog on the healing power of music and the mind, after giving a performance at the Chelsea Mental Health Centre. 'Playing a recital in this setting was like playing with sacred fire: the musician as magician, the hearing as healing.' Read here.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Conflicts, Caravaggio, and The Wesley Pulpit


Sunday was a Bedford day, with a service at Cotton End in the morning, at which I was invited to preach on James 4 as part of a series, 'Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from?' That was fun!


In the evening I was the guest preacher at the All Bedford Churches Together Service for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity . The passage for this occasion was The Road to Emmaus, which happens to be a favourite, especially in the light of an experience I had whilst on sabbatical two years ago, which I recounted to the congregation.


I read a wonderful novel by Salley Vickers, The Other Side of You.  Central to the plot was the story of ‘The Supper at Emmaus’, and more specifically, the painting by Caravaggio that hangs in the National Gallery.  I visited a number of different galleries, but I will never forget sitting in front of Caravaggio’s painting and looking at it, really looking at it.  A group came along with a guide, and she very helpfully pointed out some fascinating features of the painting.  But then she said, ‘You need to look at this and appreciate that this is the split second before Christ disappears from their sight’.  And something happened for me, call it ‘the light coming on’, or an epiphany, but I was deeply touched, and also entered a new dimension of experiencing art.  


It was a good evening with excellent singing by the choir of St Paul's Bedford, supplemented from other churches, and splendid organ playing. But what made it that bit more special was to preach from the so-called Wesley Pulpit, which is where John Wesley preached the Assize sermon before the Honorable Sir Edward Clive, Knight, one of the Judges of His Majesty's Court of Common Pleas, on Friday, March 10, 1758, on the theme, 'We shall all stand before the judgement seat of Christ', from Rom. 14.10. 

Sunday, 24 January 2010

What's on David Bowie's iPod?

I've always been an admirer of David Bowie, and I was intrigued to see that The Guardian had an article, What's on David Bowie's iPod?.  If you have Spotify, you can listen to the whole playlist here.


I was blown away with this blast from the '60's, Stay with Me by Lorraine Ellison. Bowie writes, 'Ellison only got to record this goose bump-making classic because of a Sinatra cancellation at the studio. The vocal build and release on this track is galvanising.' And it is, it really is! I've listened on Spotify but downloaded it from iTunes.


There's a lot more that's interesting, including, John Adams, For With God No Thing Shall Be Impossible, from El Nino.  Bowie's comment, 'Just over a minute long and propulsive like a storm. I want to crush furniture. The emotional in search of the divine.'

Friday, 22 January 2010

'This Sunrise of Wonder'

For several years I've been quoting Michael Mayne, but only second-hand, and reading of 'The Enduring Melody', his last book before his death, I thought I really ought to go to the source. In view of the name of my blog, and bolstered by delighted reviewers, I chose 'This Sunrise of Wonder' to begin. And I have absolutely loved it!

It is a book, made up of twenty-four chapters, or letters, written to his grandchildren. The writing was done while staying in a chalet in the Swiss Alps during a Study Leave when Mayne was the Dean of Westminster, 'but the study has been done over the years by reading books and observing people, by watching and listening, by giving attention and learning to make connections. I did not have to look very far once I had spotted the thread I wished to pursue, for it runs through the work of most artists and many scientists and some theologians, and it is the theme of this book. For these letters are, above all, about wonder.'

Mayne says of his task, 'So much of what I want to share with you could be summed up by saying: to ask "What is art?", "What is poetry?", "What is music?" is one way of asking "What is a human being?" For I believe the mystery of what I am and what you are has to do before all else with our capacity to create, and be possessed by, such things. It is a sharing in the creative act that is no less than God-like, and that, too, is a source of wonder.'  He draws on a huge number of poems, authors, playwrights, painters, composers and scientists, theologians, ancient and modern, in making his connections. And he does so from a life which was not without its pain. Mayne suffered from ME and 'The Enduring Melody' is in part an account of his battle with cancer of the jaw and was published a few days before his death.

'This Sunrise of Wonder' however, is a celebration of life. It's a book to savour, to read meditatively. And having finished it, I want to keep it close to hand to dip into again and again.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Entry-level Church

On Tuesday we held a 'Meet the Team' lunch for ministers in the Bedfordshire area. This was a relaxed occasion where we chatted over food, shared news, and heard from ministers. It was good to be together.

In the conversation, one thing that was striking and encouraging was the number of what was described as 'entry-level church' events that were taking place. One church has been doing Pulse Cafe once a month in a neighbouring village where there is no church; a church plant has as its main event, Brunch, mid-morning on a Sunday; and another church holds a regular 'Tea Time Church' at 4.30 on a Sunday afternoon. Most of these don't take place in the church building.  All are proving to be inviting to people who otherwise would not come into church. In many respects they are variations on Cid Latty's Cafe Church, which takes place in Costas, but it was the notion of 'entry-level church' that I was taken with.

The obvious thing they hold in common is that they take place around food, that they are informal and non-churchy, and that they are driven by a tremendous desire to share the good news of Jesus Christ with their local community. Hearing from those involved, the other common factor is that they are hugely demanding in time, energy, and people resources.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

'All you need is love'

HT to Sarah at Razzamajazz for this.
On December 7th, 2009 at 1.30 GMT Starbucks invited musicians from all over the world to sing together at the same time to raise awareness for AIDS in Africa. In that one breathtaking moment, musicians from 156 countries played "All You Need is Love" together. Watch now, as musicians from all around the world come together and share a song.
As Sarah says, 'This is lovely'. Enjoy!

'Making the Most of the Church Meeting'


Monday was the first night of an event that we're putting on in five locations around the Central Baptist Association, 'Making the Most of the Church Meeting'. And it was an encouraging beginning with over 70 people attending. In previous years we've taken as themes, 'When Christians Disagree', 'Fit4Life' with an introduction to effective communication, and 'Help! I'm a Deacon'. All of these have been well received.

The Church Meeting in our Baptist churces often gets a bad press, and for good reason! But it really can be a high point in the church's life. So, what makes for a great church meeting? And when it isn't so great, what happened? And how can we make all our church meetings work better for us? These are the questions that we looked at on Monday evening and we'll stay with over the next few weeks.