Wednesday, 28 November 2007


"We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us. Like an ignorant child who wants to go on playing in the mud of a slum because it cannot imagine what is gained in a holiday by the ocean... we are too easily pleased.

C S Lewis.

Isn't it totally wonderful the way life can 'speak', and, remarkably, cause us to hear - not the noise or the fury, the loud and the senseless, but, like Elijah, that still, small voice that presses into the real us and allows us to take note of what's really going on. That's when we can begin to genuinely appreciate the real value of a field like science or art.

Back in the late 1940's in a nation emerging from the bleakness of war, 'Jack' Lewis wrote a gem that makes us ponder some sixty years on.

In The Weight of Glory, he invites us to consider a truth that any honest observer of life needs to recognize:
"We do not merely want to see beauty (though, God knows, even that is bounty enough). We want something else which can hardly be put into words - to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to truly become part of it...
We discern the freshness and purity of the morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see, but all the 'leaves' of the New Testament are rustling before us with the rumour that it will not always be so".

Lewis goes on to define our present experience of the natural (in sense, emotion and imagination) as being like a line drawing on paper compared to the living reality itself, because of the need we share of fulfillment - the completion of our humanity (not a transformation into the angelic or an absorption into the divine). The marvels of creation, inspiration, imagination enthrall us in measure because of what is conveyed to us through them - the scent, savor and touch of a far more substantial reality that these gifts flow from, enticing us to taste, to engage with the God who is there.

That is the joy in truly learning and coming to understand, of 'fellowshipping' and caring for each other. We see the reflection of a truth that underlies our days and whets our inner desire for what lies ahead.

Christ came to open our eyes to the hand extended in the beauty that we see.
Will we become intoxicated by such truth?

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Blinded by Art?

"It is astonishing that while Greco-Roman historians have been growing in confidence, the twentieth-century study of the Gospel narratives, starting from no less promising material, has taken so gloomy a turn... that the historical Christ is unknowable and the history of his mission cannot be written. This seems very curious".
Historian Sherwin-White.

How far does art inform us about ourselves and the realities of the world in which we live?

Last night saw the UK broadcasting of part 1 of Matthew Collings 'This is Civilisation' , in which he sought to examine our rationality and religious aspirations through our creation and use of art. The Greeks were clearly favoured in this perspective because of their 'humanizing' of the divine(1), whilst Christianity was viewed as an interloper on true cultural development - a philosophy that essentially arrested and held back rational development for over a thousand years.

Collings makes valid points about the imperialization of aspects of a neo-Christian hierarchy in the Roman and Byzantine empires, but this follows a woefully inadequate and skewed definition of early Christianity itself. The highlights included:

A) Jesus probably never existed historically.
B) Paul invented much of Christianity around 25 years after Jesus' supposed death.
C) Early Christian teaching was so 'other worldly' it had no place for things like the body or art or culture in general.

There is certainly enough serious scholarship around, particularly on the New Testament itself, to well-nigh trash the first point (2). It's also pretty clear that a Christian community - even amongst Gentiles, had begun to emerge prior to Paul's conversion to Christianity, so if the key events recorded in the book of Acts are historical (and there's very little reason to refute this), then Paul essentially built upon, not away from, the cardinal tenants of the Apostolic creed. It's the third point I really want to touch upon.

The programme briskly defines Paul as some kind of mystical ascetic, calling on Hellenists to abandon the Roman world for the salvation of the soul, but this is the myth that so many modern rationalists have to adopt to salvage their beloved Greeks. The reality, of course, is that it was the Greeks themselves who deplored the physical, treated artists as little better than dung, generally viewed women in a similar fashion, and placed 'godliness' far above and beyond the reach of most humans(3). Christianity, unlike most religions, holds as a key doctrine that all of creation, including the human body, is to be redeemed and glorified, and much of Paul's teaching on a range of ethical issues derives from this.

Collings waxes lyrical about how only 'imperialized' Christianity could give us depictions of a Crucified Jesus, whilst entirely ignoring the focal thrust of the text of the New Testament itself - the Gospels give more room to the Crucifixion than any other single event, and I believe it was Paul who so passionately wrote of 'placarding' the message of 'Jesus Christ, and Him Crucified' ~ what he termed the 'folly' of the 'preaching of the cross' before his time.

The views put across in productions like this are so skewed, and it only takes anyone who has read a little to realize you could go to the very same places showed, touch upon the same works of art, and express something very different.

Propaganda is dangerous because it does not allow a more critical voice to be heard.

Tragedy grips us when we contrive darkness to be light.

1. Dr Nigel Spivey's BBC series, 'How Art Changed the World' provides a far more thorough examination of this matter in the programme, 'More Human than Human'.
Web link:

2. A study of Professor Gary Habermas' on line article, 'Why I believe the New Testament is Historically Reliable' goes a long way, from biblical and ancient secular sources, to confirming the historical reality of the person of Jesus Christ.
Web link:

3.Dr Phillip J Sampson's excellent study - 'The Human Body - A Study of Repression' in his IVP Publication, "Six Modern Myths' is a very useful introduction to this subject. The Book is Available through Amazon.

Friday, 23 November 2007

The Mark of God

Such truth, comprehended, brings forth both hurt and health,
for this mirror declares the very nature of the soul. Anon.

Young and full of life, she sits in front of the artist.
She is genuinely attractive, her soft skin reflecting the finery of a frame which reveals poise and grace in both form and manner. Her eyes dance with life and her smile warms the world, but these are not merely fleeting, trivial glances for the portrait.

The model is a friend,
and the 'glory' of her physical beauty is but another expression of the person before me - someone who is kind and generous, who has been there for others in times of trial and pain.
Though young, she has already shouldered trauma and, far from becoming harsh or bitter, she has sought to give strength and inspiration to encourage others.

The beauty of her form, then, calmly speaks if we listen, of something so vivid and searching, that much of human history has either sought to vaunt it so high or drag it so low that it could not be encountered, could not be received, on its own terms.
And yet, here she is -
a young woman that clearly speaks of the significance, of the rightness of all that is feminine.

Here is evidenced something that so many philosophers, teachers and theologians have either miss-understood or sought to ignore altogether, and yet, as Eve was to Adam and the 'bride' (Church) is to Christ, so this person 'speaks' of the majesty of the work of God.

If we can put aside the common follies, the popular misunderstandings, the crass and lurid errors of men and many societies, and pause beyond the impoverished beliefs of those who denigrate such glory, then we can truly view a beauty that can so raise the mind that we become humbled before its strength; privileged indeed to use light or pigment to express something of its goodness to another.

Such truth is the beauty of a woman - one we must value and extol if we would walk a little further in expressing the glories of both creation and redemption.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Are you watching carefully...

"I have found that I can tolerate being judged far better than
I can being of no consequence".

Spock (played by Jeffery Quinn) in ST: New Voyages 3.

I have been deeply involved in a local arts festival this past week.
Aside from displaying some of my own work, this entailed assisting another artist to document their work, and providing a record for the event itself of some of the highlights of the opening evening.

It's always interesting working in this realm, because amidst the buzz and the lights, you often glimpse aspects of our search for meaning and moments of valid, sobering observation into the human soul.

One moment will particularly remain with me. I had just finished working for around three and a half hours on a very reflective work entitled 'Define Me', photographing this for another performer. Allowing people to write single words on his naked form, the artist was really asking people to consider 'what am I?' - how do you define a person?
I had just emerged from a dark, silent room used for this into the noise of the theatre box office, when I found myself confronted by a young man who was very keen to tell me who he was ( a performer) and to discover why I hadn't seen his work that afternoon. When I explained that I too was an artist and that I had been working, he was clearly slighted, and quickly rushed off to introduce himself to someone else...

Times like these remind me why the arts are so important. They can provide another avenue in which the mask we usually wear is allowed to slip and the reality of the human condition appears.
Of course, the natural tendency is for people to rush from this quickly, but that is exactly why Christians need to be there - to highlight the deep significance of that reality.

I personally find it hard to touch at length on the darker aspects of truth without becoming overwhelmed by such, but I have discovered that placing people before a display of beauty works just as well in touching the deep chord. Looking upon something that profoundly resonates in the soul will often remind us there are deeper truths we so often ignore, which we so need to embrace.

I'm amazed to have such an opportunity to place such work before others.

The world is always in need of a richer savouring and redeeming light.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Beyond the Hollow World

"All men need something greater than themselves to look up to and worship -
they must be able to touch the divine".

Walsingham (played by Geoffery Rush) in Elizabeth:the Virgin Queen.

Truth may not always be popular, but it usually finds a way into public view.
Back in the mid 1980's, a BBC Horizon documentary entitled "Science Fiction?" * made a telling study of the present value and understanding of our world through the lens of science and concluded with a very telling statement:

'Science will remain powerful not because it is true, but true because it is powerful'.

Two decades on, we have come to realize just how costly that reality is. The shocking analysis provided in the TV event of the year - Adam Curtis' three part examination of the modern world, The Trap - reveals just how invalid an analysis of the human condition based purely upon mathematics and biology can be.

Looking at how Cold War Game Theory has been employed in almost every field of modern life - from Government performance targets for the public sector, to psychiatry to social policy, The Trap exposed how the prevailing 'scientific' view that we are mere machines - organisms to merely pass along genetic data - was a flawed, poor definition of the human being. Whilst 'self interest' certainly plays its part in the world's markets, humanity in general simply does not conform to the 'rationality' or aspirations such models have sought to impose upon Western (and through 'regime change', other) culture. There are deeper needs, deeper truths to be faced about us than those merely defined by so-called 'hard data'.

The reality is that there are 'far more things in heaven and earth' than those defined and sanctioned by such philosophy - the inherent 'twist' in our natures, the need to affirm the obscured but none the less real fingerprint of the one who framed us and calls to us implanted deep in our selves - we only create a darker 'light' when we ignore or rush from such truths.

The inner scream for reality must be met. We are called to journey beyond the hollow world.

*BBC Archive details here:

'The Trap' (all three documentaries) can now be viewed in sections on You Tube.
Here is a link to the first section of the first programme:

Friday, 2 November 2007

The Dance

"It is told that Beren came into Doriath grey and bowed by many years of woe,
but wandering into summer woods, he came upon Luthien,
at a time of evening under moon rise,
as she danced in the glade...
Then all the memory of pain departed from him".

JRR Tolkien - The Silmarillion.

I was recently watching a documentary on the special edition of The Return of the King, through which I discovered that much of the inspiration for what would become that very famous epic, The Lord of the Rings, sprang from the moment when Tolkien asked the lady who would become his wife to dance for him amidst the woods. The moment so touched him that he went on to produce a masterpiece.

In photography, I've often encountered such moments of astounding charm, and one of my favourite scenes of fictional beauty comes in C S Lewis' masterful tale, Perelandra, when Ransom, the hero, first encounters the queen of that world:
"Never had he seen a creature so calm, so unearthly, despite the humanity of every feature...
Now he realized that word human truly referred to something more than our bodily form or rational mind.."
The 'dance' which ensues in this tale is equally as fascinating as that which enchanted Tolkien.

These thoughts have come to the fore this evening after seeing a trailer for the adaptation of Bill Pullman's 'The Golden Compass', released for Christmas. Pullman makes no attempt to mask his rejection of the theo-centric suppositional story-telling of the likes of Lewis and Tolkien, and whilst some of his critique of institutionalized religion (defined in the books as 'the establishment') is certainly justified, one wonders what kind of dreams these tales, which evoke a 'death' of God, will create in children?

Hell, someone noted, is a realm locked from the inside by its residents.

There is a voice, a song, that calls to each of us, that we might glimpse what is truly human.

She is before you, in the street,
entreating you amidst all the rogue traders,
longing for your ears to quell the noise of nonsense,
and recognize her call...

'Can you really continue to reside in such stupidity?
How long will dwell in such parody, and turn from truth?
When wholeness is at your very door!'

Wisdom stands, with arms open wide.
Will you heed her call?

Based on Proverbs chapter 2.