Friday, 28 December 2007

Iwerne, FitS and all that.

A post from the end of the summer, the charismatic question is still up for grabs.

The summer was a three months of work broken in the middle by a fortnight’s break for St Mary’s Fun in the Sun followed immediately by Iwerne C. I don’t know that I have ever juxtaposed two so profoundly different takes on the Christian game, and raising the issue of these curious differences with more mature Christians on each of the holidays was revealing. I’m left feeling that I have missed some historical grievance now unspoken that might account for the comical stereotyping from St Mary-ans and wounded embitteredness and stern caution from the St Helenites.

I was saddened to listen to Iwerne leaders variously expound their contempt for all music from the Soul Survivor, Vineyard and Hillsong stables, and one so embittered approach to such churches in London as to wish to go to Hillsong ‘to criticise it’, and noted that St Mary’s (the negative press JP is so concerned that we all know) was a ‘good-looking church’.. and that 'a chap Kissell was all over the place..'

It was interesting to hear of the glory years of CICCU missions with thousands at the Bible readings, and to find Nicky Gumbel is a Iwerne Boy. One talk in a series of senior bible readings on “what the cross tells us about…” quoted as much as I knew about the CICCU formation from the preface to The Cross of Christ, and it was in this that my central objection to the theology being pushed began to emerge, not that I do not believe in the centrality of the Cross but rather that I do not believe that the intellectual assent to its centrality is a trumph card to cover all evils. I see it this intellectualism as both misguided and idolatrous, firstly as it tends towards a faith in faith which is idolatry (?) And secondly, the intellectual depth, coherence and wonder of the Christian gospel which I glory in becomes an –ism at the point where it is taken to be used to support an aggressive stance against other less Oxbridgian arms of the body of Christ.

Is the presentation of a divorced-from-church gospel an assimilation of culture's venerated individualism? Is the emphasis on meetings, argumentation and doctrine to the exclusion of experience and imagination predicated in a less-than-christian modernist paradigm? I want to understand the question of second-generation christians, if the church is hemorrhaging this young demographic, is the question one of means of communicating the former generation's belief or more a question of the substance of the former generation's belief? Is there a good answer to the parachurch question?

I was surprised at FitS to find how far the Iwerne Boy’s reputation stretches and that it is not a completely positive one, and that the Iwernites hitting places like Durham’s CU were known more for their public school arrogance and aggressive conservatism. There was one introduction made at FitS who seemed quite wounded from her time as DICCU Vice-President over the charismatic question there.

One Iwerne talk claimed “There is a popular Christian cliché that God loves the sinner but hates the sin, well the bible tells us that this is simply not true” This is one of my favourite Christian clichés, and regardless of whether, in a lengthy exposition of penal substitution you can construct a semantic argument against the cliché, to phrase an objection as such is unhelpful.

JB has a healthy abrasiveness and concluded the reason I wasn’t leading people to Christ through the magic of the ‘two ways to live’ diagram was laziness. Protesting that perhaps depression, confusion and unbelief that were more likely the culprits for the fruitlessness of my words spilt on facebook, over coffee and in the studio, “Depression? You weren’t going to get in Cambridge with those grades anyways.”

On the issue of women speakers, at Iwerne as NUCU, there seems to be this reasoning going around, “The issue of women speakers is a controversial one, so to avoid offending people we’re not going to have women speakers” That was PB's reason for NUCU and it was JB's for Iwerne. Am I alone in finding this inadequate? Let women speak on the grounds that young women need to see thinking women, let them speak on the grounds that there are a great many gifted and much used of god women speakers out there, let them speak that both the feminine and masculine aspects of the character made in the image of god may be reflected in the teaching and forming of the church. That or come up with a good theological and or practical position on what your church believes the proactive role of women to be and then actively affirm them in that. I am uncomfortable with the notion that we should pander to a vocal minority, abdicating responsibility to wrestle with the issue is not the maturity I expected from Iwerne and it does no favours to men or women. I am conscious that men and women are not made the same, and the leadership debate is not the one I am fighting, rather teaching which I would contend can be discussed separately.

Finally, I don't know what to do with gospel preached as pie in the sky, without a Kingdom of God at hand in-breaking, and without practical application of a spirit filled life. I’m barely charismatic but I cannot concede that to discuss healing or prophecy is to emotionally manipulate people. I don’t like for-musical-accompaniment approach or the as-educational-aid approach to worship music.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Church Architecture

Hi, I just got to you through vaux, through haunted geographies. I've spent a happy little while browsing your blog, some really brilliant thoughts. And Ruskin always gets me going, last year I wrote a piece on Ruskin, atheism and architecture.

My next essays are on the role of design in effecting an 'essence' of sustainable housing and then a critical piece on something since 1985.. I hope a church building, I haven't really started. I want to write on new church architecture, even emergent/ing church architecture. I can't really find a lot written on it. Have you come across anything worthwhile on that?
"Have we lost something here? Are the warehouse churches that we throw up or rent just bland, interchangeable shells for an equally bland and interchangeable God?" I have thought this, currently at a warehouse church, and saddened by the missed opportunity that their new building project represents both environmentally and artistically. I'm torn also by their explicit arguments made for church as a shoe box as primary metaphor. Also on my blog are these questions, I've been going back and forth with some friends with:

Is the church building a shoe box, is it a sheepfold, is it only shelter, is there something gnostic at the end of this train of thought? Do we owe the rich architectural heritage of cathedrals from a former christendom to idolatry alone?

How deep rooted is our damaging abandonment of the arts and disregard of place, and how far reaching are the implications?

What is community? How much slower should we be moving geographically inorder to form better community, what is the role of craft in community, and what would its contemporary expression be?

If God is Green, is this a call to asceticism and does it have implications for christian expression in architecture?

So this conversation finished about a year ago, I'm just browsing, and thought I'd post a few questions that have been on my mind regarding church architecture, I'm writing from the uk, I'm not sure how different the situation is over there, certainly the rich heritage of european ecclesiastic architecture, is on our doorstep and so even more immediately begs such questions regarding the role and nature of contemporary architecture in the framing and communicating of christianity in a post-modern secular etc culture.

Centrally I ache to know why church architecture today is so lacking in substance? I would argue that it is not for lack of means, nor lack of technology, we have never before had such available resource for building to the glory of God. I would currently argue that the source of this change has been theological and sociological. We have changed in our understanding of place, our understanding of congregation and community, in a change derived from our view of work and family, we have become estranged from the divine good in locality, in physical work and craft and we no longer live in any one place long enough to consider a project beyond a generation. Our assimilation to cultural values, the veneration of youth, mobility, speed etc has lead to a transient placeless church for whom primary metaphors chosen for church buildings are a shoe box, a sheepfold, a shelter.. is there something gnostic at the end of this train of thought? Do we owe the rich architectural heritage of cathedrals from a former christendom to idolatry alone? I would say know. How to we put in place an understanding of our incarnation that engages architecture pragmatically, narratively, communally, sacrificially evangelistically.. bleh. I'm at a Vineyard church, whose regard for musical worship lends itself to an, i think, fascinating comparison with the value it places its warehouse and the message the juxtaposition conveys, at least the the architecturally sensitive.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

stats and speculation

A selection of those stats beloved of politicians, preachers and general pessimists.

- 4.6million people die from air pollution per year
- 50,000 species lost per year
- 1.5 acres of rainforest lost per second
- 70% of Chinese rivers are polluted – unfit for human contact
- US dumps 63,000 trucks of rubbish per day
- 2005 – hottest year on record, the decade preceding 2005 had 9 of the 10 hottest years on record

- Climate change is projected to kill 184 million people in Africa alone – Climate Change a More Deadly Threat – BBC, May 15 2006

Since UN report Our Common Future 1987:
- Proportion of collapsed fish stocks has doubled from 15 per cent to 30 per cent and the proportion of fish stocks deemed overexploited risen from 20% to 40%
- A hectare of cropland yielded 1.8 tons of produce, but due to intensification now risen to 2.5 tons with it the burden of soil erosion, water scarcity, nutrient depletion and pollution.
- In Canada and the US, demand for energy up by 19%. Concentrations of carbon dioxide, are about a third higher.
- Species of animals and plants are estimated to be going extinct at a rate that is about 100 times faster than the historical record
- Biologists have now classified 30 per cent of amphibians, 23 per cent of mammals and 12 per cent of birds as threatened
- In west Asia, available fresh water has fallen from 1,700 cubic metres per person per year to 907 cubic metres, due to pollution and demand

If China becomes us, per year:
- 1352 million tons of grain – 2/3 of the 2004 global harvest
- 99 million barrels of oil – 20 million more than the global today
- 2.8 billion tons of coal
- 11 billion cars – more than currently on the road

- 1951–1991 – American Family has x2 as many cars, drives x2.5 as far, uses x21 as much plastic, and flies x25 as far
- GDP x3 since 1950, House size x2 since 1970, Av number of people decreased per house

Total US advertising spending is expected to increase 1.7% in 2007 to $152.3billion
Worldwide ad spending will maintain a 6% growth rate for the next 2 years, climbing to $427 bln in 2006 and to $451 bln in 2007

- 5% drop in self-reported happiness between 1970-1994 annual study - 'very happy'/'pretty happy'/'not too happy'
- 66% rise in UK GDP 1973-2001 - no increase in 'satisfaction'
- 500% rise in per capita income in Japan 1958-1986 – no increase in satisfaction
- UK national income doubled – coincide with rise in crime and divorce - Richard Douthwaite – 1955-1988
- x3 rise in depression in people born since 1955 over the grandparents generation - Daniel Goleman
- 1985 study – 1.3% born in 1910, 5.3% in 1960 chance of having had a major depressive episode inc tenfold across a generation - not an artefact of increased knowledge about depression – questions on non-medical terms – eg ‘was there a time when you tried to kill yourself?’

- Money consistently buys happiness right up to about $10,000 per capita income and after that the correlation disappears Diener and Seligman – Beyond Money fig 2 p5
- World Values Survey, an assessment of life satisfaction in more than 65 countries conducted between 1990-2000, indicate that income and happiness tend to track well until about $13,000 of annual income per person (in 1995 purchasing power parity) After that, additional income appears to yield only modest additions in self-reported happiness.

- 90% of Americans believe they are kinder than average
- 84% of Americans wanted to be in the top 20% of income distribution
- ¾ of Americans don’t know their neighbours

- The present footprint is equivalent to 22 hectares per person, whereas the natural carrying capacity of the Earth is less than 16 hectares per person

- UK dumps 6.7 million tonnes of food per year, meaning each household jettisons between £250 and £400 worth of food each year. Most of the waste – which nationally costs £8bn – is sent to landfill where it rots, emitting the potent climate- change gas methane.

- 1500miles: the average bite an American eats has travelled

- US cities – 10 persons per acre 1920 – 4 persons per acre 1990 to present developments building 2 persons per acre
- 25% energy used is phantom power
- 95% less energy is used to recycle aluminium than to make new
- 1 ton of recycled paper saves 17 trees, 3 cubic yards of land fill, 7000 gallons water, 4200 kwh of energy, 390 gallons of oil, 60lbs of air pollution
- 1 acre of land can produce 50,000lbs of tomoatoes, 40,000lbs of potatoes, 30,000lbs of carrots, or 250 lbs of beef.
- 2500gallons of water = 1lb of beef
- 25gallons of water = 1lb of wheat

- 5 million tons of rubbish in the holiday season, 4m of that bags and wrapping paper
- 14m lbs of rubbish into the oceans last year
- 80% more trash than 15years ago, we have 80% less landfills
- If every family in America ate one locally grown meal a week we would save 800 million barrels of oil

- The cost to countries beyond its borders of the environmental damage and exported effluent from the US has been estimated at $73 billion annually
- Americans use energy – x6 mexican, x38 indian, x531 ethiopian per person
- 2004 – World Health Organisation – study of the rates of emotional distress – correlated inequal income distribution and higher levels of emotional distress
- Gini coefficient – inequality – American – 0.4, china .45, japan .25
- Gini Coefficient - 2001 – northwestern University – the top 1 percent of wage earners captured far more of the real national gain than the bottom 80 percent

What Americans and Europeans Spend on Ice Cream: $31 Billion Global
Cost of Creating Marine Parks to Protect the Oceans: $12-14 Billion

Last year
- the rich world spent three times more on bottled water ($58bn) than it did on aid to Africa ($18bn)
- 10 times more on military expenditure ($1trillion) than we did on aid globally ($104bn).
- Britons spent almost twice as much on champagne and other wine
last year as we did on aid
- The French spent more on perfume, German women more on shoes, Italians more on ice cream and the Japanese spent more on luxury goods than their governments did on the world's poor

- Pet food in Europe and United States $17 billion
- Elimination of hunger and malnutrition $19 billion
- Perfumes $15 billion
- Universal literacy $5 billion
- Ocean cruises $14 billion
- Clean drinking water for all $10 billion
- Ice cream in Europe $11 billion
- Immunizing every child $1.3 billion
- Makeup $18 billion
- Reproductive health care for all women $12 billion


We hear much of designing from the 'inside out' among those who consitute what remains of the architectural profession - that sometimes jolly, sometimes sanctimonious, occasionally chi-chi and often pathetic organisation of shelter tailors' Buckminster Fuller, Nne Chains to the Moon.

As members of a profession currently without an ethic, they have not been driving the discussion. Commissioned by clients to install barrier walls and private pathways that can keep out or discourage those who are unwanted or hired to create private commercial experiences out of what may have been public spave, many become complicit in structuring the urban language of separation. Ellen Posner, on Architects.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

bell eldredge crits

Can someone precis these for me, indeed, can someone just tell me what to think on. I got as far as the rob bell critique's expounding the heresy of taking the fall from eden to be a metaphor, then i gave up, and when i saw that the john eldredge crit had no structural breaks, bed beckoned.

Thursday, 8 November 2007


Is the prevalence of high-pitched even falsetto vocals in contemporary worship too much an assimilation of post-modern, post-feminist conceptions of the male identity, should we embrace it uncritically?

Is there an authoritative biblical perspective to appropriate 'teaching' content of worship music?

Can we see contemporary worship music as part of a trend towards the damagingly simplistic, from the lyrically and musically rich hymn books of former generations to the C G D A chords and the ‘Be my everything, be my everything, be my everything, be my everything’ lyrics of today?

Where has this trend come from where is it going? What are the implications?

Are the two uses of worship so interchangeable as the vineyard tradition espouses - life lived as 'worship' and musical 'worship'?

What are the implications for the gravity with which we should approach musical worship and the melody/harmony/rhythm of life as worship?

What is the nature of the leadership involved in a worship 'leader'?

Regarding NUCU's 07 mission week under the slogan "Who? – Who is Jesus?" One of the posters in the campaign ran "Jesus Christ hated religion. Who is Jesus?" The change in tense seemed curious to me. Is it true to say that Jesus ‘hates’ religion now and is it appropriate to timidly avoid this in one's proclamation?

Is Rob Bell's christian really a great noun but a poor adjective?

Are christian hoodies, t-shirts, and wrist-bands really?

Is Christianity really not a message which has to be believed, but Schillebeeckx's experience of faith that becomes a message?

What are the implications for proclamation evangelism?

Would you, should you and if you were to what catchy slogan would you choose to wear on your chest and to promote the Christian faith, to provoke enquiry, and or to what other purpose?

How can we avoid a sort of denominational relativism when treading the fine line between christian traditions, particularly on issues of the Holy Spirit?

Is there a right and wrong answer to female leadership?
What are the implications?

Why doesn’t god heal amputees?

Should theists believe in coincidence?

What is the nature of religious experience?

Is the church building a shoe box, is it a sheepfold, is it only shelter, is there something gnostic at the end of this train of thought?

How deep does the damage of an abandonment of the arts and disregard of place go?

What is community?

Do we owe the rich architectural heritage of cathedrals from a former christendom to idolatry alone?

What is god limited by?

Is God Green?
Is this a call to asceticism?

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

note to antonio - oct 07

Back home again I am doing a little more reading, not enough and probably not the right books. Firstly Affluenza, a book with which I grow impatient and I think impatience an unattractive quality in any person, and probably writing letters is as good a therapy for this as one is likely to find. The central thesis of this book is provocative and entertaining – that of the causal link between contemporary rampant material excess and the contemporary epidemic of emotional distress, anxiety, depression etc - but Oliver James has made his relatively few points in a blunt and melodramatic way and then repeated them in different ways and I’m only half way through, so although there is some pleasure in some of his recounts of the chronically affluent I think an abridged version would have sufficed.

I have just finished Richard Rogers book "Cities for a small planet." It reads as a manifesto, perhaps not strictly in the sense that Jencks would define an architectural manifesto by structure tone and presentation, but it has the emotional appeals, optimistic hyperbole and so on, but in amongst the visionary piffle there are positives that I should like to build on. His argument has a certain weight in my mind given my regular experiences of London as a city of bursting-at-the-seems cultural vitality and boundless energy and given the part that his practice, person and publications have played in bringing this to be. However, London, I think, is lucky in so far as it has a glorious heritage of place making in its parks and squares and so on and as such is able to maintain a certain vitality without dramatic alterations to the fabric. I wonder if in our generation this will be sustained in the wake of post-modernism, in the face of apathy, and if whether cosmetic changes to lifestyle will be sufficient to stem the forecast local and global environmental crisis which stems from systemic abuse of the planet, often and largely a biproduct of our rich, glorious, diverse but ecologically unjustifiable culture
. RR - "making cities sustainable demands fundamental changes in human behaviour…" How? I think both these books brush over the change in human behaviour needed, perhaps to deny by omission the disastrous historical precedents of failures of civilisations to make those ‘fundamental changes’ We can be the change we want to see as much as we or Gandhi like, but we are dealing with a culture whose prevailing assumptions include, the absence of truth, suspicion of meta-narratives and utopias, a generation that is aggressively defensive of its right to its individualistic and escapist whims. Ellen Posner is quoted in CfaSP: "as members of a profession currently without an ethic [architects have] become complicit in structuring the urban language of separation." So here we stand in the void between this and his triumphant sound-bite conclusion – "Cities that are beautiful, safe and equitable are within our grasp" Oh Antonio help me believe.

I am reading gradually more frantically as the term approaches, concerned to find some hook, some theory, some weight, some thing to hang a thesis on, before the Phil show begins in studio, in church, in the house. In the midst of so much that is shallow and even false, I would hope that somewhere hiding in a book a clue or ledge to rest a manifesto on, but it slips so easily and I come back to the point that I already knew, that really those honest bricks are the only weight this can be hung on.

I was recommended to read Architecture of Happiness by Joe, and having finished it now I presume the recommendation was made on the grounds of its Ruskin infused moralising, thoughts on ornament and curiously ambiguous delves into theology and relativism. Among the passages that troubled me were his rebuking Corbusier’s division of cars and pedestrians in his urban design, a notion I too would question, but that it was made on the grounds that there is a glorious co-dependence, a fruitful alliance to be forged between the two, "[Corbusier] forgot that without pedestrians to slow them down, cars are apt to go too fast and kill their drivers, and that without the eyes of cars on them, pedestrians can feel vulnerable and isolated" …!

"Faith exists, whether we want to use it of not is another issue." .. I will try inelegantly to sidestep slipping entirely into the obvious distraction of the semantics of faith and ‘faith’ and I’ll try to draw out what I understand you to be implying by this. ‘Faith’ as it is used in the bible really isn’t a noun, it is the action of leaning one’s whole weight on something, making faith something one consciously, actively does rather than abstractly has. But we do all lean our weight on something, be they tvs or ipods, wives or careers, we draw our value and identity from these external things, and we derive security, financially, materially and emotionally from these things, and as such I think that is the action of faith. It may seem less bold to have faith in your career or family to provide, and certainly not metaphysical or mystical, but I think to frame the word in this way is a less confusing way to talk of dealings with God, otherwise we confuse what it is to practice as a Christian as something inherited or arbitrarily ‘had’. The ‘faith’ as you have used it, is that sense of the spiritual, that which is other and intangible and so might better be served by ‘spirituality’ – "…we all have it, sometimes we reject it for the sake of rules of society.. etc" So if there is a God, and he is to be discerned, met with, prayed to, it is going to happen within the realm of spirituality and it is on the basis of this encounter that we might have faith, that is, to lean our weight on, for practical things in a very real world. Without encounter, I would venture, faith is really placed in religion rather than God. On obtuse par with one hand clapping, I might return, are we human beings have spiritual experiences or spiritual beings having human experiences? I’d love to know what your conversations with your mother on these matters explore, as my conversations with my parents now always seem to have a theological edge, I don’t know if its from me or from them, and they tend to be gentle intellectual duals.

You ask: One hand clapping, meh, I think a question of Buddhist origin, which I think deserves a Buddhist answer, can I help you? No, I cannot help, only you can help yourself on this question old bean.

You ask: Are we born forgetting? By virtue that there are things I do not now know but may yet know, and things that I had not known but do now know, and simply by the volume of facts, experiences and concepts that I am presently able to recall and that is greater than a previous volume regardless of those which I may have forgotten, and by my ability to manipulate language in newer and more sophisticated ways gives scope for more complex knowledge and more complex communication of that knowledge, I would venture that we are not born forgetting in that sense. But this is simplistic, and even more simplistic might be the facile question of proportion, that the more that I know, the more things I know I don’t know, so in relative terms I know less.

I presume your question is one of knowing and its relation to a sense being, a certain irretrievable innocence that slips away. Is there a knowledge, that surpasses knowing (~Eph3:19?), was there an original one-ness, an innocence of childhood, a confidence that is known without being understood, that over time is worn slowly away by the strain of life and stress of adulthood. How much of our experience of life and its joy is derived from knowledge added compared to the innocence taken away. I think this universal loss of innocence is captured most aptly in the myth of the fall from the Garden of Eden. I don’t think that this amounts to all knowledge of value being lost in this process, or perhaps it does, perhaps we do start with the only bit of ‘knowledge’ that is of any use at all, the knowledge that we are loved, the knowledge that everyday is a special new adventure, the knowledge of infinite possibilities, knowledge of how to live in the moment without introspection.

However, I hold to the belief that there is a sublime richness in culture and nature and experience that is savoured and accumulated through a lifetime, and to suggest that we are born knowing [everything] and then start forgetting is to devalue this richness. I wonder and perhaps you could entertain an extension on these pondering: Do we as a culture celebrate youth and innocence and condemn the wisdom of the old to remote retirement homes, because we do not appreciate the richness of life’s journey, nor have anyone to thank for its time*chance*matter genesis, because we are overwhelmed by the meaningless emotional pains of life, and because we despair in the absence of a redeeming saviour. Is this at the heart of the anti-aging cream, nubile models, Greer’s babe, quest for unspoilt youth? Are these the contemporary flesh sacrifices, of unblemished lambs at the alter of our God, the god of self in this acutely narcissistic age?

note to antonio - sept 07

"Many other things to ponder Phil, near the top of the list at the moment for me is how to bring revival in the western church among believers rather than unbelievers"

A note from Alex on my facebook wall; I share it because it follows, I think, to the quandary of ‘happiness’. Now Alex’s question begs a great many further questions: what is faith, how does one divide the believing sheep from the unbelieving goats-in-need-of-revival, and why do Christians hold so hopefully to this ‘revival’ thing, but the question that itches me, that keeps me awake on the bus, that fills me equally with delight and despair, on the back of ‘why revival?’ is the ‘in what does life consist?’ question.

This sort of ‘revival’ amongst ‘believers’ is not conversion, rather, it could be said to be a change of attitude towards a more outward-looking life concerned with the happiness-of-others, their joy, their fullness of life, and this would form community, this would form church, in place of doctrinal debate and denominational feuding would come a preoccupation with the wellbeing of people outside and inside the church. Alex’s ‘believers’ – and I would say under other belief systems than Christianity this may also apply – these believers, are believing in the sense of intellectually assenting to a selection of truth claims made by their book of faith, but that they are bored, they feel sold short, and so are ineffectual in conversion but more essentially they are barely human, suffering under religion without the joy of experiential or even real identity, security and truth.

I raise these because of the query as to what the end is to which happiness is a means. Happily I feel I can talk to you – rightly or wrongly as you have no means of interruption J - I can talk in terms of life having the potential for truth meaning and purpose, something Joe, usually for the sake of argument and antagonism, endeavours to deny. Happiness is a means perhaps, I would even venture that happiness may be neither an end nor active means but rather a symptom of life lived as it was designed to be lived.

I’m not sure we mean the same thing by ‘happiness’, quite possibly you have additionally assumed the following other meanings within the word, if I were to make my "ultimate and all-inclusive goal that of happiness of my surroundings…", If this were my mission statement and call to arms, I wonder that I should use I place of simply ‘happiness’, the fullness of being, sustainable peace and most of all joy, joy sort of Ps16:11 joy, of those around me. Happiness by itself connotes to me a frivolous passing happiness, a fleeting pleasure, isolated, escapist and temporal. While all valid in their time and season, my ultimate aim is to see dead people come alive, those sleep-walking through life awaken, going through the motions blindly to see the beauty before them, my hope is that I might form my character, and lead a life that brings others into a light of transcendent meaning, a hope and purpose beyond the mundane, bound-for-death drudgery of passing time on earth. I would hope that in my desire for their fullness – perhaps this is conceit – but I should like to think that in truly loving them that I should not be afraid to rebuke them, and rebuke them such as might impair their immediate happiness. Perhaps I am splitting hairs over happiness and happiness and I am conscious of my hypocrisy throughout.

In "looking for the happiness of others you will find your own", is true, but as you say it is not an end, for the pursuit of happiness as an ends in itself, whether yours directly, or yours indirectly in the happiness of others, is idolatry of a sort. If by the measure of your happiness you assess your worth, if it is in happiness that you define yourself, it becomes barely more noble than a self definition like ‘I shop, therefore I am.’ We surely need an entity bigger than this to tell us who we are or that we are at all. The self-serving pursuit of happiness is perhaps the very essence of ‘sin’ where I consider sin to be life turned in on itself, to be that which severs us from relationship with one another and from any form of the transcendent.

This again is more a train of thought, your initially offering then retracting happiness as an ultimate goal, I know you to be among the most humbly loving and genuinely giving and enviably peaceful people of my acquaintance, but your mention of happiness as goal made me to think of the more prevailing aspiration of culture, of cosmetic relief under the guise of compassion, seen endemically in the whole green campaign. What is love without sacrifice? Are we really solving things if we persist under the pretence that we can solve the various environmental issues without cost to our comfort and excess.. I want to believe that the answer really is as simple as a man on a cross, and I want to believe that the local church is the model for sustainable community out of which issues of social justice, issues of corporate excess, issues of crime, climate and culture can be addressed in a meaningful way. Meh..

So anyways, I gave Alex an equally rambling flow of thoughts as they come to me. True happiness/fullness and revival of a outward-looking church, I think, are driving in the same direction, facing the same obstacles but perhaps I’ve missed something, I felt this all summer, this feeling as if I’ve missed a trick..

I have thought some time on the nature of this happiness we discuss. Do write back with others, these were a few.

Happiness is…
…that weight of being, that lightness of touch
…embracing the tension of the now and the not yet
…saying no to post-modernism, no to cynicism, no to bitter irony, no to staid parody
…the end of isms, the end of religion, the end of utopias
…something to give away, a life lived beyond yourself
…living without blood on your hands, knowing where your food came from, knowing who didn’t die to make your clothes, and the rainforest that wasn’t felled in the name of your furniture
…building for keeps, retelling your redemption to your children
…security, identity, truth, hope, purpose
…life in the spirit, life in community, life in its fullness
…knowing that everyone else has your hopes and fears, knowing confidence in death
…fearing nothing, risking everything, knowing that you are loved unconditionally
…having faith hope and love, giving faith, hope and love
…free hugs forever

So set out is a small picture of how things are and how things could be. The step from one to the other is not a matter of preaching at people, but neither do I believe that simply trying to make people happy is going to found sustainably joyful communities on its own. There are forces in the world whose agenda is quite diametrically opposite to one of happiness and whether you want to name these as spiritual or otherwise, there are those to whom the death to self involved in the pursuit of others’ happiness is an offensive message. I wonder where is the compensation for him who pursues the happiness of others and for whatever reason does not find his own happiness, where his offerings are repeatedly rejected, does the gospel of ‘seek others happiness, find your own’ hold sufficient weight to inspire the sort of martyrdom needed, understand that I think of martyrs to have died before death, just as those who live with much but would give it all away and not miss it, have already given it away in their minds. In both cases I wonder at the need for God..

I get little phrases stuck in my mind, I pick them up, or they sort of come to me, maybe its god.. Some were on happiness some others were these, before I talk about something more interesting in this letter:

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.
We are, therefore I am.
Blessed are the cautious for they shall inherit the suburbs
Blessed are the relativists for theirs is a good view from the fence
What does an architecture predicated on grace look like?
Did architects kill great architecture?

I’d love to know your thoughts on the nature of belief, the nature of identity and the nature of gender.

note to antonio - aug 07

Sincere apologies as it is now almost August, I am without excuse, and from the out, let me confess this letter has been re-written, so what it lacks in spontaneity and child-like honesty I hope it might make up in wit, clarity and rigour. For all my divisive pre-meditation you are entitled to demand sentences of Pauline length and complexity, in this my first epistolic work – although without chapters and verses.

This much preached about life-in-its-fullness is something I have found in so very few Christians - a wild abandon of a life that does not consist in the abundance of things, a dangerous and provocative life. I think it is this hypothetical ideal that sits at the back of my philosophy, quietly speaking into every aspect of my thinking. It is a yearning that there must be more. If only Christians knew what they already had and if only the rest knew what they were really looking for we might get somewhere.

Recently I dinner with some friends who, though not Christian, are never the less, acutely aware of the disparity between the world as we’re being sold it and the potential other, the world as it may fleetingly have been and the life and cultural assumptions we are burdened with now. One suggested that it was the abundance of expensive equipment more than anything else that hindered the creativity of his band. Another, conversing on literary theory and deconstructivism, thought that in not coming to art as little children, we are being robbed of the very vitality of the experience. And a property-developing father of a friend at this dinner, whilst keen to abdicate responsibility for the short life-expectancy of contemporary styles and constructions in commercial development, he did concede that there was perhaps blame to be administered, and that in fact we were all of us victims within a system, but at that he accused me of being a socialist and being able to put me in a box relieved him and he moved on. I am not interested in getting these people into some sort of religion, and regrettably rarely is my motivation one of compassion for the poor in spirit, rather it is for truth and I fear too often it is for a truth where ‘god’ is used as a trump card in my own power games. These conversations and my life in between will remain circular and dead-end as long as I am living under this too small a vision of God and as long as I continue to use this pet God to serve my own agenda and to construct my own Kingdom. Subconsciously and consciously I am unwilling to concede a God who is too much bigger than me out of fear and arrogance. My social vision currently collapses as the God I am selling is subordinate to my own character, my own experience of a father, my own concept of justice. I have felt in a number of conversations lately people’s yearning for an end to escapism and materialism, if now I cannot yet offer them an experiential solution, at least I can give a framework for their dissatisfaction. There must be truth you can touch, a truth that I have yet to truly find, perhaps I glimpsed it in passing, perhaps it is that which whispers in St Mary’s, that itches me in Adbusters, the still small voice in E.F. Schumacher and Ruskin, that yearning in Saul Williams, GodSpeed, and Radiohead. I think that until I have touched the slums and come back altered, until I have laid honest bricks in the service of genuine community, until I have died to myself and risen three days later, I will be peddling an impotent gospel on deaf ears, and I will waste my time and theirs pushing with all good intention a message that can be construed only as self-righteous, irrelevant and fake.

Anyways I’m doing a little bit of reading and I do eventually hope to crystallise some thoughts into a manifesto, if only for Omar’s amusement, it will be I think a call for servant architects pursuing urgently to create beauty through transcendence, delight through community, relationship through grace, creativity through humility, sustainability through sacrifice, dignity through craft, nurture through nature, language through history, immortality through truth, and identity through the sacred incarnate. I use the terms loosely and lazily and I hope I can tighten things up, reference it with long German names and ground it in celebrity built precedent and render it with ironic but show-off-ish graphic presentation. But Proverbs 14v23 - so I will curtail my indulgent philosophising for this epistle, I think ink is seldom spilt profitably on these things.

facebook rhyming society

i rhyme and i will slight
facebook its not quite
what it used to be
now with this new type
newsfeeds me with all such
rubbish i don't like
knowledge i dont' need
time that i could spend
setting the world free
touching a new sea
i'm itching to both be
here and remain there
you virtually don't care
there is a truth out there
blink and you'll miss it
think that i'll skip it
christ knows i've been it
here's a forum to spit it
rhyme back to me if you
found something that is true
a fight big enough to
carry the day through

note to alex - revival and the summer

Yes the Heavenly Man, I haven't read it but various people have recommended it, breaking out of prison and raising the dead and all that jazz.And yes to revival, an issue, indeed the primary issue I am given to ponder in my waking hours, and particularly revival in the context of the nature of belief and the form church. I've just heard podcasted Heidi Baker speaking inspiringly on how God opened her eyes to the need for revival in the West in her 'Are you hungry enough?' talk.

I want to know why is the church where it is now, what can I do and what should I do to make another church culture possible, and after bits of reading a various talks I've heard I'm cautious to launch into a all phil's thoguhts on church for a number of reasons, partly having heard others talking much and doing little, but also I am relatively spiritually immature, so criticism of the church of its not being spirit filled enough will ring hypocritically hollow. I hold a level of embitteredness against this dry conservative anglican church that has so affected my beliefs, i should take this bitterness to God and work it through before I jump up on my high horse and start preaching. In critiquing the church along lines of church-in-need-of-revival vs living-church, if one tries to draw the line where one ends and the other begins you are being immediately devisive and dangerously taking that role of judging which are the goats from sheep. And the question of style, at times where I have tried to challenge my parents and others on this revival/deadchurch issue, their rebuke to me often is grounded in their conception that the charismatic church is shallow and that I apparently percieve it to be 'alive' simply because we play electric guitars and have pretty young things leading the worship. Sometimes the accusation of shallowness is true, it just makes me cautious before issuing a call for revival that amounts to a criticism of the less overt and out-there christians rather than a call to save the less alive christians.

So yeah for all of these I tread with trepidation into what is as much a preach to myself, conscious that when I say the church need to be more hungry, more humble, more united, more urgent, more reliant on God, that it is me who first needs to be more hungry humble urgent reliant..

There are believers and 'believers', when you say you are seeking revival among believers I don't think it is pedantic of me to press you as to where you are drawing the line, where does belief stop, who are you hoping to revive?

Antley Fowler spoke at St Mary's this summer, he's now leads a St Mary's church plant and he originally came out of a sessationist presbyterian church where he was running kids ministry and leading people to christ in that, he came out of that when he experienced the spirit and now wouldn't look back. However he derives from John Piper the notion that those calvinist heros of his faith who missed the experiential side of things - jonathan edwards, john knox, calvin.. that they were raised up by God to use good theology to combat heritical strands of the church in their time. While I nod and try to pretend to know who those eighteenth century names are, God challenged me I think, am I able to see God working through an apparently spiritually dry CU, through churches that aren't doing the whole Corinthians12 game. What does revival look like? Is it by necessity charismatic, is there a catalytic outward looking form of church that is not charismatic?

Rich Wilson shared in his 'Love your Uni' talk to Fusion leaders in March the imperative of Love, if you are pondering how to bring about revival, his talk provokes a few ideas. People need to know they are loved, I'm still musing over a t-shirt slogan for a mission week, the CU haven't got back to me, I don't know what they thought really of my thoughts, so I'm letting them come back to me if and when. But the exercise of questioning, both what is the gospel actually and how do you get under the skin of culture, keeps me thinking. And I still want to put out a God Loves Nottingham t-shirt, I've been working all summer so haven't drawn anything up, but people living in the knowledge that they are loved for me is a big part of what revival is and how it is brought about by God and through us. Shaun Bailey, now the conservative candidate for Hammersmith I think, spoke at St Mary's, and in his talk is described how he had come to Christ, after the kids he was working with as a social worker asked him what the meaning of life was and he said love. I think that the lens of love is the only lens to see the church and to begin to estimate the 'hows' of revival.

1 Corinthians 13:
"So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love.
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.
Love doesn't strut,
Doesn't have a swelled head,
Doesn't force itself on others,
Isn't always "me first,"
Doesn't fly off the handle,
Doesn't keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn't revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
Love never dies."

I heard an estimate that 55,000 evangelical christians are leaving churches in europe every week. We are where we are not inspite of what we believe but rather because of what we believe.

" inconvenient, it's costly, it's about other people, it is organised, it is planned, and it's intentional – some [of] the things that we're all allergic to… of the reasons 55,000 Christians [across Europe] are leaving church every week is because – the problem is with the church, but [it's] also because we will not pay the price of orientating our lives around following Jesus together …" Jason Clark

I look at the church and I just don't see the church of Acts, I don't see belief and I can't understand how we got here. Why is faith a struggle for me? What short of a sovereign move of God can move people out of the pathological materialism that we have so assimilated from culture around us?

I read John Eldredge's Wild at Heart earlier in the summer, which painted a picture of a christian masculinity that seemed so far from my current experience, and yet consistent, compelling and healing. Other bits of teaching have made me wonder what the christian notion of masculine and the feminine roles have to offer culture and whether there is an imasculation of the church and its gospel that is holding back more effective witness. Along the lines of matt 11v12, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, violent men lay hold of it. Where are the men and women willing to adventure, willing to be aggressive in their urgency and submission, and ernest in thier seeking to be swept up in the roles God sets in his grand story in his metanarrative?

I did a life course, an adapted alpha course at St Mary's at the beginning of the summer and in the final talk which is on church, at the point where John was describing his vision of the church as the answer to world peace he got heckled. The church is the answer to most problems, it is the model god has given us for functioning, I'd love to say the church, in its community, in its radical accountability, in its supernatural power, in its outward looking sacrificial love and so on should be the means of addressing crime, addressing the consumerism and materialism at the heart of the environmental problems, but that isn't the church the world sees, largely because it isn't. "

The church has to change to stay the same" an article i found, lost and didn't read, but the title stuck.

Rich Nathan on the nature of the spiritual battle we face - The problem with many christians is they are living out this christian life as if it were game practice, expecting every pass to go smoothly, every touch down to be a walk over, and so on, but this reckons without the reality that there is another team on the pitch, it should come as no surprise when things burn out, when projects fail.

The Bishop of London addressing HTB in a talk on Home Focus talked of the the church of england asa sleeping giant, with the structure in place as it were.

A few audio bits:1 - 'Liquid Church' and others - Jason Clarke on Emergent uk resources

2 - 'Are you hungry enough?' - Heidi Baker on the Yearn, Faint Cry podcast -

3 - 'Love your Uni' - Rich Wilson at Fusion -

I notice revival fires are podcasting, but I haven't really given them a long listen...

Luke 12 v 13-21 – The Rich Fool

Open House Talk - Luke 12 v 13-21 – The Rich Fool

This evening we’re looking at Jesus and the rich fool which is great because I love talking about Jesus and also I find myself being rich and foolish so I hope God can speak to us all through this passage this evening. What are you here studying for, when you get a job, what are you driving at? What do you really hope for in life?

I think a lot of us will say, a comfortable life, a happy family, and the more honest of us will say, I’d like a really nice house, a really good job and a fast car. And while these are legitimate aims and hopes, but we’ve all seen the Alpha adverts ask, is there more to life than this? And this is the challenge Jesus puts to the man in this passage, the challenge to look at what we put first in our life.

Passage – Luke 12:13-21

Now this is all a bit heavy, I’m sorry, we don’t like to talk about death. I think this passage comes a bit close to the bone for many of us. We love to hear about Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well, bringing life and freedom, this demands that we look at our values everyday. But we’re not going to apologise for it, it’s in the Bible which we believe and I think there are some really important things we can draw out of this.

If you’re here this evening and you’re not a Christian or perhaps you’re not sure, allow yourself to be challenged by the question, was Jesus the Son of God, as he claimed to be, and if not, should we care about what he says about money and material stuff.

If you’re here tonight and you are a Christian I’d love us to look at what we do between being saved as it were and the end of our life here. What does a ‘Christian’ life consist in?

So if we look to the passage now, we start with this guy that comes to Jesus and clearly he’s not looking for a judge or an arbitrator, he’s looking for Jesus to rubber stamp his claim on some financial dispute. Jesus sees this and warns him, as he would warn us, to beware of covetousness.

Life does not consist in the abundance of things.
Most philosophies will tell you that pursuing material things out of greed is a distortion. Jack Higgins is forever quoted is Christian talks as having said in an newspaper interview, the thing he wishes he’d known when he was younger is that when you get to the top, there’s nothing there. I found this in my gap year, in a way that perhaps its hard to see from the closed system of school, the people around me were climbing ladder of success only to find it was leaning on the wrong wall, or running the rat race only to find that they’d become a rat. There is no rest in materialism, there is no finish line, there is no ultimate apartment, ultimate car to buy. So in this way, pursuing the abundance of things seems exhausting and unsatisfying.

Our greed, our wanting the latest gadget and the newest fashion is not without victims. Jesus came to proclaim good news to the poor. He commanded us to clothe the poor, but it seems today the poor are clothing us. Sweatshops are well documented, I’d encourage you all to check out Stop the Traffik, which campaigns against the slave trade where today 600,000 people are traded across international borders every year, there are just so many human tragedies happening. Add to this the impact we are having on the natural world by our insatiable desire for fast food, fast products and all that. Materialism contains within itself no limiting factor, where as the environment we live in is strictly limited. Materialism contains within itself no limiting factor, where as the environment we live in is strictly limited.

So pursuing happiness through the abundance of things, finding our identity in material things seems flawed and damaging.

Rich towards God - Living in his Kingdom.
Here it would be easy to say giving your money is being rich towards God, yes and no. God really doesn’t need your money; he can create something out of nothing. What he is interested in is restored relationship with you, and every other man woman and child who’s walking around Oundle today. This is why Jesus came, to show us God, this is why Jesus died to bring us to God and that is what life consists in and it is in giving our selves to God that we are rich towards him.

So where did this farmer go wrong? We must be good stewards of all that God has given us but it not in the building of the barns so much as his attitude of my crops… my barns… my grain... This approach is not making a statement of faith in God, it’s a statement of faith in ourselves. Jesus spoke of the sparrows fed, and the lilies clothed to illustrate that God knows what we need and that he will provide.

So our attitude of faith with regard to money issues is a passive witness, key to my discovering Jesus in the way I now him now was seeing the generosity of Christians I’ve know. But we are also rich to God in the more obvious and active way, when we give our money and our time to the work of his gospel. This is an eternal investment, we don’t know much about heaven but we do know that there will be people there. They then are the something you can take with you when you die which makes them a fairly good investment.

When I was here, I don’t think I really grasped this, the whole kingdom thing seemed a little ephemeral, academic, and teaching like this, made me feel assaulted as if by like those charity people in the street

Be disciplined, Know what comes in and goes out, Avoid the culture of credit, Stop grazing, Be open handed, but responsible – not about rules for giving, but about a freedom to give. This is how we shine in the darkness, this is how we are salt in the world. When we live the sort of radically Christ-dependent lives that Pete Grieg describes in his poem, the Vision, where he paints a picture of a generation, and advertising cannot mould them, and Hollywood cannot hold them.
Break the power of money – give it away

All of this advice is nice but what does it all really mean, we all know that money has power over people, that we should give to charity and that being greedy is bad. But the problem is that however good we are at giving to charity there are still two human longings, to find a security in our identity and to find a guarantee of our future, money tries so hard to give us these things but it is my belief that these can only be found in Jesus that that this is what life consists in.

How has Jesus made this possible?
The Bible says we were created to be in relationship with God, and through sin we have fallen from that. I’ve heard this message so many times, as you have I’m that it has lost some of its meaning. Sin is our selfishness, sin is this building barns and trying to make it all on own without God, our self-reliance, our rejection of God, our choosing to find pleasure elsewhere, it is our greed, it is the vicious cycle of hurt, insecurity, hurt that keeps us hiding behind our masks of the material things we own. This hurt digs away at us and we try to fill the hole with all the escapist pleasures of the world. The Christian contention is that the love of Jesus is the only thing that can fill that hole, and that by his death on the cross he broke into this cycle of greed and hurt and needing to make our selves, and wiped the slate clean.

Jesus offers us an alternative to happiness in the abundance of things, he offers us real joy. He offers us two things that we are looking for, secure identity and a guaranteed future.
We can be secure in our identity, because we know that we are completely loved, he loves us because of what we are, he sees through the mask of barns and possessions. We know this because of his life and because of his death for us.

We can be sure of our guaranteed future because he rose again, proving that he was the son of god and making himself uniquely qualified to make that claim "I have come that you might have life and have it to the full"

I want to live in a way that when people pull back the covers on my life, when they ask the most personal questions, when they look down my bank statement, that they would find someone sold out for Jesus. Do ask yourselves this question, was Jesus the Son of God, I think it is the most important question you will ever ask.

That’s it really, I’ll just close us in prayer, I’m here to chat about anything, if you want to ask about Nottingham, Jesus or anything. I’ve also got this booklet from Tearfund I looked at while writing this talk, I’ve only got one copy but they’re free so I’m sure you can get a copy from their website.

Practical and Conclusion
John Wesley. Founder of the Methodist church.
£30 per month, found that he could live on £28, so gave £2 away
The following year, he saw his income double, but kept his expenses the same so gave away £32, in the third year, his income rose to £90 and so he gave away £62. He rarely let his expenses rise above £30, when he died in 1791, aged 87, all he left were the coins in his pockets and drawers. Most of the £30,000 he had earnt in his life had been given away - £19,800,000 in today’s money.

Again, if you’re here tonight and you’re not sure what to think about Jesus, I would say look, as I did, at the state of the world. Right now we’re filling a spiritual gap in our lives with an abundance of things, and there are victims to this materialism, a child dies every three seconds from extreme poverty – as the t-shirt my sister gave me says - and they just don’t have to. In Jesus I have found the saviour to this very real problem, the more I know Jesus, the less I rely on my money, my fashion, the clubs I go to, the music I listen to, to tell me who I am and to give me value and this frees me, I’d love you to come and meet Jesus, and to ask the question earnestly, was he the Son of God?

ruskin and architectural criticism

Spring 2007

Discuss the aims of John Ruskin in his architectural criticism. To what extent were his proposals realised in the architecture of the 19th Century and early 20th Century?

Ill. 1 - John Ruskin, portrait by George Richmond c.1843 (National Portrait Gallery)

This essay will address the nature of John Ruskin’s aims in his architectural writing and consider the extent to which accepted ‘Ruskinian’ themes in built works and later theory derived from his writing manage to fulfil his social and architectural vision and the reasons for their falling short of this.

Through his writing, lectures and through relationships with the design professions Ruskin is credited with a central role in inspiring and popularising the nineteenth century Gothic movement and the Arts and Crafts, but further than that, the debt owed by Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier as impassioned readers of Ruskin in their youth, is noted by Pevsner, and despite attempts to excise him from the development of modernism and later movements, many have looked to Ruskin in the later part of the twentieth century for aesthetic or moral framework, with post-modernist Ruskinism informing Venturi and Scott Brown writing in Learning from Las Vegas, ‘now is the time to re-evaluate the once horrifying statement of John Ruskin that architecture is the decoration of construction.’ Contemporary moves towards zoomorphic and polychromatic architecture also draw on notions attributed to Ruskin.

Ill. 2 - Zoomorphic Architecture, Frank Gehry, Fishdance Restaurant, Kobe, Japan 1987 (Zoomorphic: New Animal Architecture, Hugh Aldersey-Williams 2003, p47)
Ill. 3 - Zoomorphic Architecture, Imre Makovecz, Stephaneum, Piliscaba, Hungary, 1999 (Zoomorphic: New Animal Architecture, Hugh Aldersey-Williams 2003, p16)
Ill. 4 - Polychromatic Architecture, CDP Building, Montreal, Canada, Gauthier, Daoust Lestage Inc, (Architectural Review, October 2004, p47)

In the work of those he influenced one finds a broad plurality of ‘Ruskinisms’, him being credited where architects have gone to some lengths to realise his manifesto for the working man from The Nature of Gothic, but equally where they have simply mimicked details from his illustrations, Michael Brooks writes of these that, ‘even an architect who proclaim[ed] discipleship… was nevertheless likely to develop Ruskin’s ideas in ways that the master could not have anticipated and in directions towards which he was cool or even hostile.’
Given Ruskin’s emphasis on social issues throughout his career and that he was writing for a Victorian audience who would have read him ‘whole’ as a cultural critic, it would it would be simplistic to view his intentions and indeed his legacy in terms only of the aesthetic. His architectural theory was not, as some argue, a break from his art criticism, rather the social and spiritual values are more appropriately read as a logical progression towards a coherent whole. From his first architectural work he pursues this notion that "no man can be an architect who is not a metaphysician." and through his other works Ruskin develops this central spiritual and moral importance of architecture for society, where it acts as a reflection of society’s history (notably in The Lamp of Memory); a measure of a society’s morality (Lamps of Truth and Sacrifice); and a catalyst for change, progress and hope for those working in such a society (Lamp of Life and Nature of Gothic).

When Pevsner proposes in his Outline of European Architecture that ‘Ruskin kept his social activities apart from his aesthetic theory’ there is truth, in so far as one can make the generalisation that his later work was largely sociological with little regard for explicit architectural concerns, however, the idea that people should have better towns or indeed handsomer houses, are in themselves social concerns. His pursuit of Gothic, goes beyond his well documented childhood predisposition for the rustic or nostalgic, the pursuit was made for the social good he could see in it.

Ruskin ties this social and moral agenda to his love of Gothic and advocates it not so much as a style but as a way of life and as the inevitable product of a world conforming to his protestant values. In a way that Pevsner notes as differentiating him from Viollet-le-Duc whose approach is ‘rational’ where Ruskin’s is ‘emotional’, in the sense that Ruskin supplies not merely material provision for something, but ‘motivating power’ for something good. While Ruskin’s very public support for the Gothic is beyond doubt, to limit his architectural vision to a style of ‘Gothic’ as opposed to ‘Classic’ is not sufficient. Malcolm Hardman rather distils a Ruskinian view of architecture into two types, ‘secondary’ and ‘primary’ in his paper Intellectual Lens and Moral Retina: A Reappraisal of Ruskin’s Architectural Vision, where, "Secondary architecture … is imported and propagandistic … superimposed by imperial requirements … pseudo-transcendentalist … it is a merely imaginary aesthesis … that exists in vacuo … its hypothesised population, undifferentiated or stereotyped." and, "Primary architecture … is rooted in landscape and vernacular traditions. It exists in perpetuity … it is reconciled to the accidents of its own material, not offering to ‘defy’ the fallen nature of the world and its inhabitants."

Ill. 5 – Primary Architecture, St Barbara, Jan van Eyck, 1437 (Antwerp Royal Museum) (Malcolm Hardman, Intellectual lens and Moral retina: A reappraisal of Ruskin’s Architectural Vision, Ruskin & Architecture, Spire Books, 2003, p194)
Ill. 6 – Secondary Architecture, The Architect’s Dream, Thomas Cole, 1840 (Toledo Art Museum, Ohio) (Malcolm Hardman, Intellectual lens and Moral retina: A reappraisal of Ruskin’s Architectural Vision, Ruskin & Architecture, Spire Books, 2003, p192)

Ruskin addressed his writing to the new discerning consumers of architecture in an increasingly industrial age. In his Edinburgh lectures he proclaimed that "architecture is an art for all men to learn, because all are concerned with it." As such his practical and aesthetic descriptions and argument exist as a framework for their engagement. The public intellectual and practical participation is central to the vernacular hopes in his vision for a ‘primary’ architecture. This architecture is a moral cause and any measure of his influence should draw out from the work of his proclaimed disciples the extent to which an aesthetic adherence reflects the breadth of Ruskin’s social agenda as well as the more apparent visual derivation.

G.F. Bodley, for some time a close disciple of Ruskin’s, self-consciously adopted the seven lamps in his 1862 design for All Saints Church, Selsey. Michael Hall explores Bodley’s response to all seven, noting correspondence with the patron, Mr Marling and his active interest and substantial financial contributions to the project, a notion expounded by Ruskin in the Lamp of Sacrifice. By this contribution Marlin made possible Truth, in the natural marble and granite, as well as Beauty and Life through the employment of local craftsman Joshua Wall in the ornamenting of the church.

Ill.7 – Capital carved by Joshua Well, All Saints Selsey, 1862 (Phil Jackson, 2007)
Ill. 8 – Leaf Diversities from Ruskin’s Edinburgh Lecture Plate,1853 (Phil Jackson, 2007)
Ill.9 – Church at Marling in the Tyrol, an inspiration for the form and position in the landscape used by Bodley in All Saints Selsey (Michael Hall, G.F. Bodley and the Response to Ruskin in Ecclesiastical Architecture, Ruskin & Architecture, Spire Books, 2003, p262)
Ill. 10 – All Saints Selsey (Eric Hardy)

Bodley conformed to Obedience in All Saints’ gothic style; Power, in the placing of the tower and relationship to the landscape; and Memory to a lesser extent, but Hall argues that Bodley embodies the time through constructional polychromy as representative of a contemporary views on creation and the development of the earth, a view that was not Ruskinian. Bodley used this polychromy again in St Michael’s Church, Brighton.

Ill. 11 – Polychromatic Banding, GF Bodley, St Michael’s Church, Brighton, 1862 (Phil Jackson 2007)
Ill. 12 – Diagram of Geological Strata, William Buckland, Geology and Mineralogy Considered with Reference to Natural Theology, 1836 (Michael Hall, G.F. Bodley and the Response to Ruskin in Ecclesiastical Architecture, Ruskin & Architecture, Spire Books, 2003, p256)

Famously Ruskin was involved personally in applying his principles to the Oxford University Museum. He was never completely happy with the project, describing it as ‘a very shabby bit of work of mine’ and although the degree of his involvement is questioned, the building exhibits Ruskinism in its polychromy, decoration and involvement of the O’Shea brothers. Amongst the controversies that troubled the project was the use of iron in the roof and its subsequent collapse. Ruskin’s aspirations for a Primary architecture were realised to some extent in the Oxford Museum, it is obedient in a limited way to a national style and it does reflect the age in which is was built, through the use of iron.

Ill.13 – Design for a Spandrel in the Roof, John Ruskin, The Oxford Museum, 1893, p89 (Peter Howell, Ruskin and the Oxford University Museum, Ruskin & Architecture, Spire Books, 2003, p77)
Ill. 14 – Roof support as constructed, Pitt Rivers Images, Pikaluk,
Ill. 15 – Natural Carving – Ruskin Illustration (Ruskin Lectures on Architecture and Painting, George Allen, London January 1905, Fig.2)
Ill. 16 – Pointed Arches, Natural Carving, Leaf Variety, Employment of Craftsmen (Hills and Saunders, A Window of the Oxford Museum, The Sculptor O'Shea at Work, 1858)

‘Lamp of Life and Memory and The Nature of Gothic… produced the Ruskinian tradition that is more generally recognised – William Morris, Philip Webb and their Arts and Crafts progeny’ Philip Webb took much of what Ruskin said to heart, haunting workshops and masons yards and preferring the company of craftsmen to that of other architects. William Morris was heavily influenced by Ruskin in his study and later work; he successfully applied aesthetic and moral Ruskinism in the craftsmanship of Arts and Craft textiles, pottery and architecture, but also in the formation of the Craftsmen’s Guilds.

Ill. 17 - Arts and Crafts Guilds and Workshops, Haslemere Peasant Industries, 1898 (The Arts and Crafts Movement, Elizabeth Cumming and Wendy Kaplan, 1991, p75)
Ill 18- Arts and Crafts – Red House, Philip Webb, 1860 (The Arts and Crafts Movement, Elizabeth Cumming and Wendy Kaplan, 1991, p30)

To conclude, Ruskin was profoundly influential directly, as in those illustrated above, and indirectly to a generation of architects working in the 19th century. Many ideas developed or at least popularised by Ruskin including structural honesty, historical relevance and social concern continued to affect the Modernists and today he retains a following on the strength of his consistent and unique social and aesthetic vision for architecture. The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, the National Trust, and the work of William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Guilds can all trace explicit Ruskinian thought in their practice.

However, despite the breadth of his influence, increasingly central ideas of his architectural vision were discarded, he later became academically marginalised, his architectural projects did not come to fruition, even the Oxford Museum was fraught with difficulties, and he was distressed by the unRuskinian work derived from his writing and illustrations, bemoaning the rash of "public house[s] [with] pseudo-Venetian capitals copied from the church of the Madonna of Health or of Miracles, …accursed Frankenstein monsters of indirectly my own making"

Ill. 19 - Ruskin’s Illustrations of Venetian Capitals, John Ruskin, Gothic Windows of the Fourth Order, Stones of Venice, 1853
Ill. 20 - Mock-Venetian Public House Decoration, (Gothic Revival Bar)

That his vision for an architecture derived from a society made up of happy craftsmen, architecturally concerned middle classes and sacrificially socially engaged employers did not become a reality may have been because it was unrealistically beyond the means of his readership to effect or because he did not provide sufficient incentive for the pursuit nor sufficient critique of the alternatives. He addressed the notion that his vision was utopian in his Edinburgh lecture, "Utopian [the plans] are not; for they are merely a proposal to do again what has been done for hundreds of years by people whose wealth and power were as nothing compared to ours; and romantic they are not, in the sense of self sacrificing are eminently virtuous, for they are merely the proposal to each of you that he should live in a handsomer house than he does at present"

Whilst his proposals were not impossible, there was, his critics argued a naivety in supposing so radical a change to attitudes could be brought to be in so simplistic a manner. This entailed a crucial underestimation of the upheaval in cultural assumptions that Victorian Society was undergoing. And whilst the notion that each should live in a house more handsome than he does is not of itself romantic, his vision contained a romantically attractive picture of life in medieval Europe. And it is this nostalgia that proved divisive years after his death, exacerbated by his lending divine approval to the gothic style as for the moral issues. Even his notion of objective beauty ordained by a deity relied on a Platonic epistemological basis and leant on a Protestant understanding of created order - ideas that had been falling out of favour through the 19th century, a period of ultimately subverting earlier theism and values of the Victorian era including Ruskin’s Protestantism. Nietzsche wrote most lucidly on the move away from the moral basis that Ruskin supposed in his writing "When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one’s feet. This morality is by no means self-evident … it has truth only if God is the truth – it stands and falls with faith in God." And George Meredith reflects the attitude taken by some in criticising Ruskin’s ‘monstrous assumption of wisdom’ and ‘preposterous priestly attitude’.

Along with the rejection of the basis of his moral and social framework for values in architecture came a reaction against a Ruskinism which had become hegemonic and in which Ruskin was transformed, ‘from a radical author into a public monument’. Ruskin was the established dogma whose ethical questions were ‘damagingly didactic and moralistic’. In the face of rising anti-historicism Ruskin was discarded by many as nostalgic. In the minds of an emerging generation of architects, the scope for radical new built form unfettered from traditions of style, and the possibility for faster, bigger buildings mass-produced to cater for an emerging individualist and consumerist society were to leave much of Ruskin’s moral vision behind and along with that, the scope for Primary architecture.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

questions for stop pure

Thought I'd gather up some posts I've done in various places into one place. This was at the height of the Stop Pure controversy coming out of Edinburgh Uni, opposing the Christian Union Pure course as homophobic. Within two posts this thread spun off into a discussion on biblical literalism as someone took exception my lazily phrased 'alleged author'. I'd love to know how things have been in Edinburgh.

Oct 10, 2006 at 9:45 AM

For the better informing of those not at Edinburgh to witness what is going on and also to try to establish the nature of this group’s objections levelled at biblical teaching on sexuality as promoted by Pure, can I ask some questions to the pros and the antis of the Edinburgh Pure course?

1. What exactly has Edinburgh University CU done beyond advocating a course for its own members about the bible's teaching on sexuality that warrants this international response? Are the Edinburgh advocates for the Pure course genuinely homophobic, that is to say, are they irrationally fearful of or hateful towards individuals who experience same-sex attraction? Neil Wilson bemoans that homophobic Christians ‘are allowed to demonstarte freely’ Are they and do they?

2. Are the statistics quoted on the relational and physical health of 10 randomly selected gay men in San Francisco wrong? They are put in an unneccessarily aggressive manner, but if they are wrong statistically then surely a member of your LGBT union should be easily able to refute this baseless speculation and give a more accurate statistical picture of the hypothetical state of health of these 10 individuals. If the statistics are correct, what does this mean?2.1 Does anyone know similar statistics for 10 randomly selected heterosexual married and unmarried, non-Christian and Christian? It is worth noting in the light of the quote from John Stott regarding promiscuity of gay relationships that currently 40% of heterosexual marriages end in divorce. Statistics to compare the relative fidelity of homosexuals and heterosexuals would clear some things up, although I’m not sure what it would prove.

3. The Christian world view disapproves of any sex outside of marriage, so why are not more heterosexuals objecting to intolerant restrictions to their sexual freedom being advised by the CU? Why has this been so quickly jumped on by the LGBT movement when in fact all satisfied sexual urges outside of the specific ‘Christian’ marriage are equally condemned? If the treatment is so ineffectual and the religion so apparently discredited and in decline, and Pure’s content is so offensive to all gays that they won’t attend the course anyways, what would a protest march be aimed at? Those CU members attending who interpret the Bible in this way and would believe this regardless of Pure or not..?

4. How is being intolerant of Christian views so much more reasonable than the Christian intolerance of homosexual practice? There is a danger of religio-phobia where some here are veritably militant in their defence of their sexuality which they feel the CU is persecuting, while others somehow derive one law for their own freedom of speech and another for Christians. If one is to object to the Pure course on grounds that it is intolerant, surely it is hypocritical to be taking so aggressively intolerant a stance towards an otherwise well-meaning internal CU course as Greg S. Harrow’s proposal to “…have the whole group block the doors to the Church in Bristo Square, in protest :D xx��?. His and others’ allusions to Nazism are needlessly offensive. Comments like Timothy Firth’s comparison, “Hitler probably didn't gas too many Jews himself...doesn't stop him being a cunt now...��? are unhelpful.

5. Does this objection to a Christian view of sexuality come from the notion that homosexuality is something not chosen where as a religious belief which is more consciously pursued? Do members of this group believe in a gay gene? I am unqualified to comment in depth on sexual orientation changes but your studies in ‘A wee bit of research’ show some not negligible level of success. Dr Robert Spitzer is an atheist Jew, he was responsible for getting homosexuality struck off the list of mental disorders in 1973, whilst we are free to reject his exact findings because poor data handling, surely if just one person can truly change their orientation then the door is open and we should not consider it impossible or indeed wildly offensive for a gay person to change and even to want to choose a spiritual means of going about it.

6. It is important that we should establish if we are contending the existence of God? Presumably if we are rejecting alleged healings and the biblical teaching on sexuality we are assuming the non-existence of the alleged author. Please let’s not be timid, fearing to appear intolerant by voicing the opinion that God is dead and Christians are deceived. In this pluralistic tolerance-ism the only way to be wrong is to claim to be right, so I apologise now if my attempts to clarify the argument appear bigoted.

7. Alternatively are we questioning the relevance/appropriateness or means of interpretation/translation or the historical accuracy of the Bible? If the Bible is against homosexual activity but could and should be interpreted otherwise, are we accusing the Pure course of being unbiblical? If so, is this simply to please liberal Christian members of the group?

8. How do Oliver Edwards, Sian Mycock, Sophia Furber and any liberal or gay Christians reconcile this liberalism with the teaching of Jesus Christ regarding sexual immorality in Matthew 15:19 and Mark 7:21, where he condemns 'porneia' meaning fornication, a term used for any sex outside of marriage, where biblically marriage is between a man and a woman?9. The Evangelical Alliance contends that the Christian disapproval of homosexual activity based on a moral conscience and the writings of a religious text cannot be considered of themselves homophobic, the Bible does not promote irrational, hateful or hostile behaviour towards individuals who experience same-sex attraction. Oliver Edwards ‘Sexuality is a deeply personal matter and I am very cautious about people condemning others when most of us are far from perfect’ I would cite Romans 3:23, in fact none of us are perfect, all are condemned. In the Christian world view is sexual sin worse than any other sin?

Mal Sutherland, “Can they really be that much out of touch with the modern world?��? and Ben Van Zwanenberg, “I disagree with the teaching of doctrine which is seemingly outdated in today's society��?The notion that the teaching on homosexuality is out of date comes from an idea that the bible was cooked up in Victorian England when virtually any sex was not allowed and that the Bible writers simply took up the prevailing view of the day and imported it into their text, this is simply not the case. Homosexual practice was widespread in the Roman and Greek civilisations, Jesus' teaching on sexual immorality and the bible's disapproval of homosexual activity were counter cultural when they were written and they are counter cultural now.

what is beauty?

Questions to Joe on Beauty after Ely, Nov 29, 2006

What is beauty?
Presently I think it is that which points to something beyond ourselves, that stimulates some deep desire to transcend the absurd situation we find ourselves in as intelligent conscious beings, beauty makes us complete or in some way gives us hope that our insecurity in our identity is only temporary.
I have so many questions, on the bus back from Ely I wrote down as many as I could in the back of my notebook, don't feel obliged to read any of this rambling stream of thought, but I'd love to thrash out anyof them with someone. Like Bernard Tschumi's essay 'Questions' these are slightly leading questions and in my case they are based on many assumptions derived from a Christian world view.

Is beauty only a chemical reaction, like the redness of an apple provoking a desire to eat that apple to strengthen the body?

Is good art the same as beauty?

Will nature always be beautiful?

Is beauty that which strongly resonates with your human condition?
What is the human condition?

Does beauty have a beginning and an ending?

Is beauty life and ugliness death?

Is nature beautiful simply because it gives life?
Is nature beautiful because its irreducible complexity is so far beyond our comprehension?
Is nature beautiful because it cycles day night day, winter spring summer, and this points towards eternity, it hints at significance beyond itself, beyond the plainly natural?

Is discerning beauty simply wonderment at the complexity or is it an excitement at the reflection of ourselves that we see in nature, or is it because the order of nature suggests that life is not absurd, random and meaningless and is this hope beauty?

Why should I not commit suicide? (Camus)

Does the longing for infinity and transcendence explain why we have created a god or does it point towards one who created us?

Our thirst for water points to the existence of a liquid that can satisfy that desire. Does the desire to find transcendent identity point to something or someone who can tell us who we are?

Metaphorically or literally where does one end and another begin out of: beauty, truth, meaning, love, light, hope, god?

I think we long to escape our feeble bodies and to deny the absurd end that death puts on our short lives. This is the nature of fantasy, that painful longing for some non-existent nostalgic past or some wild utopian dream of the future.
Does this account for sexual and chemical escapism, for kitsch even?

Is beauty that which reaffirms our suspicion that all is not as it should be, and that these utopias are inadequate?

Is kitsch kitsch precisely because it cannot resonate with our being, our world view, our human nature because it is in denial that something is wrong with the world?

Is finding a woman beautiful a desire to own, a desire to procreate, a desire find identity and completeness through relationship or is it something other?

Do all things go out of fashion because they make promises they cannot keep, they promise to enable us to leave behind our meaningless lives, our lives without the fastest latest shiniest advertised product?

Are they all mere temporary, illusory distractions and in fact none of them allow us to transcend death and so become symbolic of the itemsfailure to fulfil the promise?

Your question – what about a notion beauty that grows?
That as you get to know a girl that you might otherwise have found little beauty in, what does it mean for our definition of beauty that after coming to a better and more intimate knowledge of this person, that you find them more beautiful?

Why do people have different opinions of what is beautiful?

Is their common desire for something which enables them simply to further propagate the species of mankind?

Presumably beauty is subjective, but can we argue that the motive for this search for beauty is universal, and that the existential gap it fills is universal?

Does a relationship reveal further facets of another's personality, making possible more levels at which to appreciate beauty?

Is beauty that which answers questions, do we find beauty in that which we hope will answer our questions about life?

Is beauty that in which we can identify ourselves?
Or at least see something of our projected self image?

Do we see god in that which we find beautiful, or is our own god complex such that beauty is a narcissistic gazing at ourselves, and in that way reaffirming our identity or even our very existence?

Is beauty that which gives us a richer experience of life?

A certain contemporary western view of 'beauty' is tanning-salon tanned skin, compared to south east asia where beauty is found inartificially whitened skin.
Why do we go to such lengths to deny ourselves?
Is this simply biological?
Is this fish complaining of the water for its wetness?
If we are spiritual beings what are the implications of a denial of the physical self?

If we are able to give thanks for beauty, to express our appreciationof beauty, does the object or our perception of it change in any way?
In the case of a meal, the food is beautiful but we do not thank the food, we thank the chef. Would a world view where nature is created rather than accident-ed into existence change the value of nature? Indeed would it be more beautiful?

Are we failing to look after nature because we do not believe it has intrinsic value, only the extrinsic value we give to it, such that we need only give it the respect that is necessary to prevent it impacting our wellbeing in a negative way.
Would a view of nature with intrinsic value have more beauty than nature with only extrinsic value?

If beauty points to something beyond ourselves does this explain the golden ration etc in terms of something a priori?

If we found a fully working watch in a field, or a perfect trianglecut into stones on the moon, if we assume it is the product of a random universe, does that lessen its beauty? Equally for nature?

Why can we find redundant things beautiful?
Why can we find ornament beautiful?
Why can we find beauty in machine?

Is beauty any of these: redundance, altruism, sacrifice, genuineness,absence of power motives?

Is beauty the expression of the now and the not yet?

Is beauty the tension between freedom and safety?

Radiohead express in songs like, Nothing Touches Me, How to DisappearCompletely, Fake Plastic Trees, Fitter Happier, something of the emptiness or even fallen-ness of man, particularly in his contemporary, postmodern state. Why is there beauty in the nihilistic and empty?

Can atheism give sufficient grounds for optimism in life?

Is calling something beautiful the same as calling it true?

Can the beauty in nature really be said to be only subjective, is there any way we could argue that it is objectively beautiful, by consensus, through philosophy or otherwise?

Nature a priori to us and so has defined us along with our notions of beauty, is that all beauty is?

Is asserting the truth of your opinion that something it beautiful aNietzschein power agenda?

Can a relativist call anything beautiful?

Is any theism sufficiently grounded, sufficiently tangible to give weight to its optimism in spiritual redemption?

What level of proof do I need to believe in a God?
Is revelation in nature sufficient?
Is beauty God?
Should we first ask if beauty is knowable?