Saturday, 21 November 2015


"I learned the truth at seventeen, that love was meant for beauty queens".
From the song, at seventeen.

Art, when used well, grants us a window into the world around us and, on occasion, into ourselves (hence Solomon's connecting beauty and the deepest longings of the human heart).

As a photographer, I've learned that people can use such creativity, like anything else, to either show or hide their actual nature, so it's good to question what the artist is actually intending in what's produced and, often just as important, what our relationship to that work says about us and our candor about life and what we see when we look in the mirror.

A few weeks ago, a model posted a confession on a photography site I belong to. I have posted part of it below, only slightly edited. Here's what she said:

"Over the past year I have thoroughly enjoyed being a mature model, I've met some wonderful, kind, generous, fabulous, creative and very funny people, some of them have become close friends which has been wonderful.  I started modelling as a distraction, a hobby, something that allowed me a break from coping with challenges at home, and also to gain insight into Photography. It has accomplished all that but, and there's always a but, over the past 6 months it has become something else, and I have found it has changed parts of me that I'm really not comfortable with.  I have STUPIDLY very slowly and gradually developed an unhealthy and damaging self image.

Now I know photographers, iron out wrinkles and crinkles, lumps and bumps, scars and defects, but over the passing year I have found myself wanting more and more of ME to be edited to get rid of those defects.  It becomes addictive, because gradually over time you see the reaction you receive to perfection and naturally you want more, and before you know it, you just not happy with yourself at all.  Its addictive validation and at my age, it can take away all I've spent years and years trying to accomplish in accepting myself for who I am.  I suffered from crippling low self esteem, and its taken me most of my life to get over that and accept myself for who I am, and also other peoples acceptance of me and what I do with that. I'm losing that due to all the editing wizardry that allows me to delete the me that's come about over the last ten years.
So, I've made a decision, rather than ask Photographers to change me, I've decided to change what I do and how I model. I almost lost a very good friend on here because I had a completely unrealistic sense of how I should look, I was deeply ashamed that I had put a friendship before my appearance, it was then I realised I was damaging myself by trying to model in a world that is, well lets face it, not really set up for women in their 50's.  I don't want to give up modelling, as I still enjoy it and there are so many fabulous creatives out there.  So I have made a decision not to do any more full figure work, I will only be taking on TF work with people that match my commitment on a shoot, and I will be putting the emphasis on quality rather than quantity with shoots". 

There's a wonderful scene in the film, the Agony and the Ecstasy, which tells the story of Michelangelo's  painting of the ceiling of the Sistine chapel.  He is nearing completion of the famous scene of God creating man, when the Cardinal's arrive crying "obscenity!, obscenity!". A very telling exchange follows (which I won't spoil for you - it's a must see), but essentially, the artist declares how he has sought to express the truth of what God has done, both in creation and redemption, in his art, and that's all that any of us can really seek to do.

The model quoted above had realized that if we're not careful, we can spend our time engaged in actions and ways of thinking that actually defraud us of a true understanding of ourselves. However 'good' the intention may be, we can so easily find ourselves loosing what counts or, like those prelates in the film, not truly understanding what is happening before us because of miss-placed scruples or uninformed 'piety' or self-worth.

In the Gospels, Jesus often uses illustrative stories (parables) to both unveil and deliberately mask or hide precious truths about the nature of God and ourselves, and it's when we unpack these "it's like this" tales well that we can glean precious truths that deeply enrich us.

Life needs us to be honest about our poverty and our true needs to really grow. God wants us to see ourselves as we are, so we understand our great need of Him, and the love He gives to make us whole in His beloved Son.

The next time you're listening to some music, looking at a painting or image, watching a movie or play or reading a favorite novel or poem, ask yourself 'what is this really saying to me and about me?'

You may find you're in for a few surprises.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Busily going nowhere, when the light is green.

"If there's one thing I need to do,
it's to find out more about you".

Randy Stonehill - First Prayer.

It's been another painful week in the world.

Paris was truly shocking, but as I've read of the current political troubles in Portugal and economic quakes China, as well as the call in Russia for more nuclear arms, and the sense of uncertain justice in relation to drone strikes, I've been reminded that it's all too easy for us to loose sight of the bigger picture and thereby lack understanding.

The same is true in our faith.

Take the story of the the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11).
We all recall Jesus famous words here, 'let him who is without sin cast the first stone', but who do we usually identify with in this event?

Perhaps, like me, you can so easily find yourself looking at someone else the way these people did at this woman. It's so, so easy for us to 'arrest, judge and convict' someone with speed, especially if they confess or are caught in sin or weakness. I find myself all too readily  reaching for the 'guilty' button (or stone) then, and Jesus' words certainly strike home in those circumstances, but how many of us identify with the woman? How many of us are prepared to recognize that we're just like her, standing before an arena of judgement for who and what we are?

The problem so often with being religious is that we think it lets us off the hook.
The pious folk of Jesus' day were masters at playing the role outwardly, but they didn't fool God for a second. Once the garb was taken off, they were exactly the same as this woman - all their religion did was blind them to their poverty.

Despite her being condemned by the crowd, this woman had everything that mattered going for her at that dreadful moment.
It didn't matter how guilty or deserving of judgement she was, because standing next to her was the judge of all the earth, and He was going to show her and those who had convicted her that there was only one thing that truly mattered in all of heaven and earth - God was there, and God was totally loving and merciful - that's what truly makes the difference.

Recently, I was watching an astonishing video by Nadia Boles on Confession and Absolution, in which she talks about how it is so helpful to use this as a way of understanding that God has dealt with our sin and finding our way back to that point that, yes, whilst we are sinners saved by grace, His salvation truly makes us free.

The true work of God, Jesus says, is to rest on the one the Father has sent (John 6:28, 29). Jesus is standing with us today, if we put aside our pretense and our scrutiny of others, to see our need of Him - to know His health and peace in our time of need.

The world is filled with pain and fury, but there is one, standing oh so close, that heals us and truly sets us free.

That alone allows us to get somewhere.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Seriously sodden amidst a sea of umbrellas

I've been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard
And it's a hard, it's a hard, it's a hard, and it's a hard
It's a hard rain's a-gonna fall.

Bob Dylan

We all need one.

In those, dark, boiling, demanding days, that seem to screech and prey upon our innards, making our very bones quiver, longing for solace.

We all have one.

That panacea above us, giving us what we need, supposedly, to make it through the hard rain of another day. Some employ their stance (naturalism)  and confidence towards the 'greatness' of science, thinking this gives them sound footing, unaware of the 'movable feast' this has truly become. Most of us are not even that concerned about what is going on there... just don't think about it too much. Just enjoy it all while it lasts.

Reality doesn't really afford us that luxury.

Sooner or later, we're the one standing amidst the fury with nothing but a ruined (supposedly "weatherproof") brolly in shreds around our ankles, facing the full brunt of the storm.

Some years ago, as I sat facing the final day of my wife's life, I found myself listening to a counsellor trying to tell me that she could do her job because the world was a fine place, filled with wonderful things that allowed her to cope with the more painful 'illusions'. I was staggered that someone working in a hospice could be so closed to the reality of what surrounded them, which was certainly not an illusion.

We live in a world where there is evil, real and unrelenting, and it is something which destroys not only by pain and torment, but by blinding us to the sheer ugliness of what we become without proper aid and shelter for our naked souls.
God stands amidst the cavalcade of our revelries, quietly and calmly calling to us to recognize the deeper realities of our lives and His love, so fully revealed to us in the gift of His Son.

Come, all you who hungry and thirsty, who have no coin, come and eat, all who have spent their lives on things that do not satisfy or sustain, for here is food and drink that will truly feed you and allow you to live (Isaiah 55: 1-3). 

 He tells us of the day fast coming, when we will indeed find the consequences of our folly about who and what we are (not just self-serving 'things') catching up with us, and how we need something much better than those rags we consider to be of value to provide a remedy on that day.

"But now", writes Paul, the righteousness of God has been revealed, when we have faith in Jesus Christ, because He alone is the one who has nullified the power of sin and death by taking it upon Himself at the cross, clothing us with His righteousness to make us free if we trust in Him (Romans 3:21-26).

The pain of that final day at the hospice was finally eased at my wife's bed when God graciously reminded me and her of those precious promises of what will really matter on that day.

That's the only shelter that can truly outlast the perfect storm.