Tag Archive: Genesis 1


whirlwind

whirlwind

During my recent sabbatical I went on pilgrimage, did some Bible study and had a retreat. Alongside that I decided to reflect on my experiences and studies in a way that did not confine my response to “head knowledge” – useful though that can often be. So for part of my theological reflection I painted my response.

The challenge was to find a way of planning and executing the work well without over-thinking it; in fact, I tried not to spend much time consciously thinking about the subject matter if I could help it. That did not mean donning a blindfold, waving my arms about and hoping that paint would land on canvas rather than on the floor, walls or ceiling. What it did mean was that I started out with a vague idea of the shape but otherwise painted randomly on the canvas. Colours were selected according to my mood or what I felt about the subject, rather than according to an accurate representation.

Of course this means that the results say as much about me at the time of painting as it does about the putative subject. However, there were some surprises along the way. For example, my first “Out of the Whirlwind” picture has a face and a two birds on it. They emerged from my random slapping on of thick acrylic paint when I was simply trying to break up the plain background. When I stepped back and saw them I decided not to paint over them but to go round them and let them stand out with a little extra colour here and there. The theological point is that while trying to convey the chaos of the whirlwind of Job chapter 38 verse 1, I ended up with something that made a kind of sense. You may recall that chapter 38 in Job is where Job hears God’s reply to his various complaints. God spoke out of the whirlwind (or storm). Chaos does not stop God being God – God brings order out of chaos (see Genesis chapter 1, for example). What the pictures mean will in part be up to each viewer.

The other pictures relate to the letter to Philemon and to the life of St Francis

Take a look here.

Canticle of the Sun

artist: Cimabue (1278-80)

artist: Cimabue (1278-80)

A couple of days ago it was St Francis’ day. To put it mildly, he was a bit of a rebel and got up people’s noses. He fell out with his family and the church did not quite know what to do with him. On the other hand, some stories about him are legendary – such as preaching to the birds who stopped singing and squawking in order to listen to him. For me two things stand out for me. One is his utter determination to follow Jesus without reservation, but wholeheartedly – obsessively even. While this might make him an awkward so-and-so he was not one for “Bible-bashing” or “ramming religion down your throat”. In fact, he said that you should preach the gospel all the time but only use words when absolutely necessary – i.e. actions speak louder than words. In order to communicate the wonder of the birth of Jesus to people who could not read the Bible, and for whom the word “incarnation” was incomprehensible, Francis set up the first nativity scene, or crib. He used live actors and animals in a stable. (Rather confusingly the Bible does not actually say that Jesus was born in a stable but ever since Francis’ crib that is what everyone has assumed!)

The other idea of his that stands out for me is to do with his awe and wonder of the created natural world. Since God created everything and we call God “Father” then it makes a kind of sense to regard the world around us as our brothers and sisters. This is not a sentimental notion, and it does not automatically follow that we should give up meat. However, it does mean having a high degree of respect for the world around us – and that includes the sun, moon, stars, rocks and water as well as living creatures. It has been said that Francis is our first environmentalist. I don’t know about ‘first’ but his example is a timely reminder that human beings were given a garden to look after – not to exploit it ruthlessly.

Below is a paraphrase of one of St Francis’ poems which illustrates the last point.

All creatures of our God and King
Lift up your voice and with us sing,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thou burning sun with golden beam,
Thou silver moon with softer gleam!

Refrain:
O praise Him! O praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Thou rushing wind that art so strong
Ye clouds that sail in Heaven along,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou rising moon, in praise rejoice,
Ye lights of evening, find a voice!
Refrain

Thou flowing water, pure and clear,
Make music for thy Lord to hear,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou fire so masterful and bright,
That givest man both warmth and light.
Refrain

Dear mother earth, who day by day
Unfoldest blessings on our way,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
The flowers and fruits that in thee grow,
Let them His glory also show.
Refrain

And all ye men of tender heart,
Forgiving others, take your part,
O sing ye! Alleluia!
Ye who long pain and sorrow bear,
Praise God and on Him cast your care!
Refrain

And thou most kind and gentle Death,
Waiting to hush our latest breath,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou leadest home the child of God,
And Christ our Lord the way hath trod.
Refrain

Let all things their Creator bless,
And worship Him in humbleness,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son,
And praise the Spirit, Three in One!
Refrain

Original by St Francis (1181 -1226), this paraphrase by William Draper (1855 – 1933)

 

… in order to see all the outside.

It was a trip to the Liverpool Tate art gallery and one of Picasso’s paintings there that was the starting point for these thoughts.

"Still Life" by Picasso

“Still Life” by Picasso

I reckon that Art divides people into two camps: those who hold strong opinions and those who don’t. I am not sure which one I belong to. Some art is thought-provoking, some is beautiful, some is challenging and some, to be honest, leaves me cold.

But art, such as painting and drawing, is one way that people try to explore themes of truth and beauty. The other week we saw a picture in a gallery by Picasso – a still life – which we were told was of some fruit and a violin. There seemed to be bits and pieces of them in that painting but it was nothing like a photograph, say. The description on the wall helped a bit by explaining that Picasso was experimenting with a style that tried to see all sides of something at the same time. Instead of painting a flat picture using lines of perspective, he tried to show all the sides of the fruit and the musical instrument. I found it helped to think of it like this. If you look at an orange you can see just one side or the top or the bottom at any given angle; and if you take a photograph or make a conventional drawing, the same applies: you only see part of the surface at a time. Now peel the orange and flatten it out. It is no longer round but you can see the whole surface. Now try peeling a violin… you can’t, but that is sort of what Picasso was trying to do in his painting. He was trying to show the whole picture, the whole truth you might say, but the result was pretty weird to look at.

Whenever we see something that is beautiful or read about something that is true, we may be given a glimpse of God’s Beauty and Truth. That is where art and Christian faith overlap, for surely part of God’s mission is for people to catch a vision of his beauty and to be inspired by the truth of the gospel of God’s love for the world.

This is the time of year when the natural world steps up a gear producing blossoms and flowers in a myriad of beautiful colours and shapes. It is as good a reason as any to celebrate God’s goodness with a flower festival, for example. But we can also take a few moments to gaze outside, perhaps looking at a flowery garden or taking a trip into the countryside. There we may enjoy the beauty of Nature’s art and wonder at the true splendour of God’s love.

“O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” (Psalm 96 verse 6)

I saw the moon last night

I should have been sleeping but at least I got to see the full moon at perigee. Evening and this morning it has been cloudy so it was by chance I happened to be up when there was a break in the clouds. It was bright and I managed to take this photo. I didn’t want to go outside so this is through a window at an angle to the glass – hence the picture is not as crisp as it might have been. You can still see some detail, though.

full moon 23rd-24th June 2013

full moon 23rd-24th June 2013

Looking at it now I notice that the right hand side (as we look at the picture) is bumpy. I should not be surprised: the moon is not a perfect sphere but instinctively one expects to see a circle. Must be all those childhood picture books…

NatHist Museum Feb 2013 (8) NatHist Museum Feb 2013 (7) NatHist Museum Feb 2013 (6) NatHist Museum Feb 2013 (5) NatHist Museum Feb 2013 (4) NatHist Museum Feb 2013 (3) NatHist Museum Feb 2013 (2) NatHist Museum Feb 2013 (1)

These are a few photos from our half term trip. The main reason for going was to see the exhibition of Wildlife photography (which has since finished) and we were impressed by the range and quality of them. I would love to show some of them to you but there is a little matter of copyright, of course.

In the meantime we have learnt that it is counter-productive trying to see absolutely everything in a museum or gallery. That is a hard temptation to resist especially if it is unlikely that you are going to visit that place again. However, in this case we have been before and so apart from the exhibition we chose two favourite places to see. The first was the mammal section and our all-time favourite, the replica of a blue whale. It is big – just compare it to the elephant in the last picture.

We also paid a visit to the insect section. Not many of our photos came out – they had live ants here but the layers of protective glass made focussing difficult. Nonetheless it was fascinating watching them.

The building is worth a mention. It is the same era as the Houses of Parliament and worth a look in its own right.

National Space Centre

We took a few photographs when we visited the National Space Museum in Leicester but most of the time was spent looking, pressing buttons, driving a space rover and the like. We also saw the show “We are astronauts” in the newly renamed Sir Patrick Moore Theatre. The show was OK but much of the content was already familiar to us.

National Space Centre, Leicester

astronaut

Inside the National Space Centre

Soyuz

Blue Arrow (UK) and Thor (USA)

A friend of a friend suggested this link which illustrates the scale of the universe and our place in it. Can’t vouch for the rest of the site but I found this video thought-provoking to say the least. I think we too easily forget just how small we human beings are. And if we are tempted to think: “Wow, the universe is so big, God can’t have made it” then I would humbly suggest that may be our idea of God is too small.

And, as for the other end of the scale, I would suggest that perhaps we underestimate God’s subtlety – God is rather more clever than we tend to give credit for. Sometimes we invoke God to explain the things we do not understand about our universe (the so-called “God-of-the-gaps”). That is not really very helpful because as soon as we think we understand what was previously ‘a mystery’ we assume that this “disproves” God in someway. We forget that God is in the things about the universe that we do understand too.

So we are being asked to consider changing the voting system for elections to the House of Commons. Currently we have FPP (First Past the Post) which is a nice straight forward system. A number of candidates stand for election, the voters cast their vote for their preferred choice and the one with the most votes wins. Simple. If you have just a handful of people standing for election and lots of people voting this system quickly gives a clear result. For example, in a group with a hundred voters one candidate might get 55 votes, another 40 and the third just 3. The one with 55 votes has a clear victory. Where it starts to get complicated is where the voting is more evenly spread out across lots of seats. You could have a situation where every victor has, say, 40 of the votes and the other two 30 a piece. That would mean that one party could win 100% of the seats with 40% of the votes. That hasn’t exactly happened but with FPP you can have a party with most seats but not most votes (as did happen in the UK in 1974). It is not all that unusual for the number not voting for a winning candidate to be significantly greater than the number of electors who did – it just requires the opposing votes to be spread out between two or more others – that duly elected MP may even have a comfortable ‘majority’.

Each system has its drawbacks, FPP included; in fact an article in the New Scientist from last year the writer suggests that “Democracy is always unfair”.
I suppose it depends on whether you are happy with a minority party having all the power (and all political parties in this country are minority parties)…. I think I’d like the power shared around some as I’m not totally convinced by any of the parties’ leaders or policies.

It also depends whether you are voting somebody in  or trying to keep the “nasty party” out. Who the “nasty party” is will depend on your own preferences and prejudices, of course.

AV (the Alternative Vote system) is not PR (Proportional Representation) but a tweak on FPP. If the candidate with the most votes still has less than 50% then the people running the election look at the second preferences of the votes of all the people who voted for the person who had least votes. That person drops out of the race while all the other candidates may get some extra votes. If anyone now has 50% of the vote they are duly elected. If not, the process carries on until eventually one person reaches that 50% mark.  It is possible for a candidate to catch up or even over take the person who had most votes in the first round so some might be a bit miffed about that. Plus if you voted for the winning candidate in the first place and they win in the end your vote only gets counted once – but are you going to complain if they’ve won?

The overall effect on the outcome of any of these elections depends on how much tactical voting there has been and how much there will continue to be. Hopefully more people will feel able to give first preference to their preferred party/candidate.

My experience of STV (the Single Transferable Vote system) is not altogether happy. It is a lot harder to keep a particular party/candidate out through tactical voting – which is perhaps an improvement – but it seems that even with more than one representative to be elected in a given constituency the three never include any of my first preferences!

The fact remains that if you vote for a minority party who never get elected, how is your opinion going to be counted? Is democracy about fair elections or is it about every one having a voice that is heard? The crucial thing, I believe, is that however one is elected, you should seek to serve the whole community and not just the part that has happened to elect you.

The Christian principles involved here are that:

  1. every human being is a child of God,
  2. anyone in a position of authority is there by divine permission not divine right,
  3. leaders are there to serve the community and not be self-serving, and
  4. no one is perfect (every single human being is a sinner) and that includes our leaders as well as the electorate.

I shall probably vote for AV in May but somewhat reluctantly. Whatever system we have my lot never seem to get in.

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