Wednesday 7 April 2010

Davesdistrictblog has now become Visualtheology

I have taken the opportunity to rename and refresh my blog. I now blog at and davesdistrictblog remains here with all its content as an archive.
The new name reflects the purpose of the blog more accurately and sums up what I am trying to achieve through the use of photography. I hope you continue to enjoy my work.
Please check that your rss feeds and bookmarks are set for the new blog.
Love and peace, Dave

Monday 5 April 2010

Moments of enlightenment: divine presence in focus

sun and shadow as light resurrects

If divine presence is an unvarying constant, a given term in our theological equations like the speed of light in physics, then our awareness of God is not. On the human side of the equation everything seems to be in a constant perceptual flux, like the wind, rain and sunshine of this Easter weekend.   For me picturing God and capturing decisive moments of spiritual meaning-making has far more to do with the art of photography than with the intellectual pursuit of truth through philosophy and academic theology. Beauty, not logic, is what ultimately persuades my soul of the enfolding presence of God’s love. Images and not arguments convince my heart to trust. Why? Surely it is because love is primarily sensual and experiential rather than intellectual and propositional.  ‘God is love’ is not simply a gobbet to be deconstructed and picked over; it is a living, breathing, passionate truth which encounters us personally. This line of thinking has been triggered again for me by Madeleine Bunting’s excellent piece in today’s Guardian ‘God is attracting more debate than ever’.  She says

“The faithful are not mugging up on critiques of reason for an argument with New Atheism, but turning to religion to offer meaning and purpose…This search for meaning is part of what drives the religious spirit….belief is a commitment not a proposition; faith, as in "I have faith in you", is an expression of confidence, not an assertion of the existence of something. Dogma is "a truth which cannot easily be put into words and which can only be fully understood through long experience" – rather like the love of a parent for their child growing into adulthood.

The loss of the original meanings of all these words show how religious faith in the west came to be interpreted as a matter of the head and the intellect, and was bound up with the authority of an institution which expected submission: God was regarded as something to think about rather than do in large chunks of western religious practice…

The paradox of New Atheism is that in its bid to make religion unacceptable, it has contributed to making it a subject that is considered worth talking about again…God hasn't attracted this quantity or intensity of debate for decades.”

Meaning and purpose often come as flashes of insight, like the light catching the reeds in the photograph. Light makes photographs. The quality, quantity and direction of  light is principally what brings an image to life. It determines the contrast between the various components of the picture. For a few moments the light paints a composition which holds our attention, then it is gone, and the scene is rendered flatter and somewhat lifeless. The photographers particular viewpoint coupled with their choice of lens and their judgement of the best moment to press the shutter determine whether the response to this enlightening gift is dull or arresting. I would contend that our faith is enriched most by those mystics whose spirituality has a recognisable style in respect of their generous seeing and appreciation of God’s love-light and the distinctiveness of their inclusive point of view. Pondering my own story I realise that Julian of Norwich, the Celtic Saints,  Aelred of Rievaulx, St Francis, Hildegard of Bingen, St. John of the Cross, John Wesley, Thomas Merton, Joan Chittister are the sorts of names which spring to mind, gifted artists of light each one. And many more ordinary Christians whose faith, companionship and support has shaped my own seeing of God’s love in the world around me and pulled it into sharp focus.

In often fleeting moments of deep contrast, the light of the world invites us to see, record and share the brilliance of resurrection which is such an unvarying constant of God’s loving presence and intention.

Saturday 3 April 2010

Waiting for Resurrection: try looking out of a different window

last remains of wrecked wooden boat at saltfleet

With each passing year this wooden wreck disappears a little bit more completely. It is difficult now to imagine it as it would have been when new, freshly varnished and painted. I suppose it could even have been a tiny jetty; my untrained eye struggles to make sense of the wooden skeleton poking up through the enveloping mud. And what of those whose craftsmanship and energy constructed this rowboat, skiff or landing, are they lost forever too?  I am left wondering what was in the minds of those who first used it and of the stories of which it was a part. Whatever its original form and purpose, life here has long since gone on without it. Looking down at these pathetic remains resurrection seems irrelevant and unengaged, a word denied meaning by the cloying mud and the ravages of time. But what if I am looking in the wrong place?

In his autobiography ‘The Eye of the Wind’, the acclaimed naturalist Peter Scott recalled a wonderful piece of wisdom which was offered to him by a Sikh in the RAF. Scott was a naval officer, but in August 1941 he wanted to have a couple of trips with Bomber Command so as to better understand that aspect of the war. Singh, the second pilot of a Stirling bomber in which Scott was to fly that night, said this to him: “Tonight, when you are looking out of the window, if you see something you do not like, look out of a different window.” As Scott acknowledged, this simple piece of advice seems applicable well beyond its original context.

How sad it is to look out and dwell on all the things in life which resemble the wreck in the photograph. Once a valued ‘given’ of our everyday world, now they are gone and are lost forever. Destruction, decay and death seem to have an inexorable grip upon our perception. But what if we look out of a different window? What if we frame our seeing from the standpoint of resurrection? What do we see then? Well the wreck is still at wreck, it is not magically transformed and restored to its prime. It does not rise phoenix-like from its muddy tomb. But looking around it soon becomes apparent that the purpose for which it was built is still evident today. Looking out of a different window, as it were, and just a few tens of metres away from the wreck, this is what we see.

small wooden boat at saltfleet in colour

Out of the water and perched on the mud a boat is tied up next to a small landing stage. The particular craft that became the wreck was clearly not an ending. The sea still entices people to cast off from this place and venture out on the tide. This unchanging purpose and intention are as real as the salt on the breeze and as tangible as the call of the lone curlew away on the marsh.

At Easter we celebrate the spectacular view from the window of God’s creative love at work in the world. Jesus takes us by the hand and points to where we should look. From wreck to resurrection. And within our imaginations the salt-fresh tang of the Holy Spirit’s presence births the divine purpose afresh.  The tide turns and we are minded to voyage.

Friday 2 April 2010

Cross stitch

cross stitch

As his life ebbs away the cross of Jesus casts a deep shadow. This absence of light imposes itself across the landscape like a shroud. All that sparkles and shimmers in humanity seems threatened by enveloping darkness. Evil and wickedness blot out these love lit highlights, leaving the surface of life devoid of the luminous and bereft of enlightenment. Dark stitches of death embroider hopelessness and dejection within the fabric of reality.

As his life ebbs away the cross of Jesus casts a bright light across the unlit wasteland of dejected humanity and disempowered belief. The light of divine love blazes with fierce, self-giving intensity. The creative word unleashes hope with astonishing power: ‘Let there be light’. All that is dark and shadow-cursed is transformed by the pure white brilliance of grace delighting in the human. Violence and hatred disappear, wickedness is overwhelmed and death served notice to quit. The bright stitches of God’s presence embroider hopefulness and exhilaration within the fabric of reality.

Cross stitches of darkness and light embroider Good Friday with meaning.

Thursday 1 April 2010

Look carefully and the cross can be found everywhere

look carefully and the cross can be found everywhere copy

seeing the cross in the windows of the wellington street hotel hull

As we approach Good Friday the gospels challenge us to engage in pattern recognition, something at which our brains are particularly adept. We have evolved to be hard wired to see patterns and make sense of what we see. Look at this picture of a rockface in the Scottish Highlands and you should see exactly what I mean. Once you ‘get your eye in’, the arrangements of joints and fissures produce numerous “crosses”. As soon as you start looking for a shape you will usually start to see it all around you.

Look for the cross in the weatherbeaten and fractured surfaces of everyday life and for sure you will find it. The meanings signified by this pre-eminent symbol of Easter are easily discerned, because all around us there is suffering, pain, agony, cruelty, violence, injustice, loss and distress. As recounted in the gospels the death of Jesus spares no indignity to its victim and causes immense distress to those closest to him. Nor does it hide from us the blunt realities of facing the end of life. Mapping these experiences from the first century onto our twenty first century world is not difficult; the psychological patterns are clearly recognisable today.

Interpreting their meaning theologically, however, is fraught with difficulty. In what way is the death of Jesus about God being at one with suffering humanity? This simple question exposes one of the main fault lines within Christianity today, our theological equivalent of the Pacific ‘ring of fire’  (for example see Gladys Ganiel’s post about reactions to  Brian McLaren’s ‘A New Kind Of Christianity’ for a snapshot of what I mean’)

Is the crucifixion and death of Jesus a transaction or a demonstration? Is it a divine transaction which balances the books and gets the human account out of the red, a sacrifice demanded by God in which Jesus takes our place and suffers our due punishment? Or is it a divine act of demonstration – in both senses of that word – in which God in Jesus demonstrates the self-giving depths to which love goes for the sake of those beloved by God and demonstrates against all the forces of injustice which deny life to those same beloved? The notion of demonstration seems entirely consistent with the Kingdom lifestyle, actions and teaching of Jesus. His death was the predictable outcome of his revolutionary non-violent stance against the forces of oppression, exploitation, inequality and cruelty of his time, as one who stood firmly within the radical socio-salvific teaching and tradition of the Hebrew prophets.

It is this theological pattern which is so instantly recognisable today too. All around us the cross is evident as people take up its challenge and follow in the footsteps of Jesus to confront all that is wrong. God’s passionate love for this beloved world is being demonstrated by people of courage right across the globe. The resurrection of Jesus demonstrates that the power of love is ultimate and will not be denied. Look carefully and the cross can be found everywhere.