Category: Culture


idiotsinviteR2WAMDG
This week I had  two experiences that provided a very important juxtaposition. The cold, grey, elitist world without God where the weak are trampled on, and a vibrant, love filled world where the weak are cherished and God is at the center…..   On Monday night I was debating a very pleasant Humanist Minister on Ummah TV ( A Barelvi Muslim Channel).  The worldview that the ‘Humanists’ offer is limited by a hyper-rationalism….  which not only is misleading but is also dangerous.  This was put into perspective very powerfully on Weds night when I attended a screening of a new film called ‘The Idiots’  which tells the powerful life story of Jean Vanier and his life among the disabled.  The life of Jean Vanier and the work of Larche paints a powerful picture to why we need to resist ”scientism” and the ‘Humanist’ world view.
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preview_become_weaker_wide_quoteThe film – first.  As a young Canadian naval officer he was invited to live in a house for the disabled by a French Priest. This changed his life and since then he started the L’arche movement which currently has over 130 communities in 32+ countries, including a recently opened home in Bethlehem. Awarded the Templeton prize of £1.7 million last year, Vanier is recognised by many as a living saint, in fact his parents have the process towards beatification already open. But his experience of embracing the weakness of the most vulnerable in our society has a prophetic role in a society which is attempting to eradicate weakness through genetic engineering, pre-natal screening, creating the perfect baby etc.  What is beautiful about the film the Idiots – it is never patronising, it never glosses over the reality, but the joy and the love is palpable.  Here is link to their website where you can see a teaser for the film …  The Idiots – R2W Films .  Hopefully it will be on general release soon.
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maxresdefault (1)On Monday night  I was on a Muslim TV Channel debating with a ‘humanist’.  A charming gentleman but I challenged him over his hyper-rationalism.  The problem is that it is over-reductionist.  A technique that was revolutionary in the science lab – and had amazing results and great discoveries … now has now been applied to the much more complex world of Human Existence. Rationalism has developed its own extremism which in the US is referred to as ‘Scientism’….   Many great errors and disasters have come from an excessive faith in pure reason.    The French Revolution which brutalised French society with the pretense of recreating a new Society based purely on reason, Social Darwinism influenced the Nazi desire to create the Master Race, Communism socially re-engineered a new generation ‘The Soviet Man’ .  I know here in Manchester the students talk about an orthodoxy in life sciences which for example promotes (unchallenged)  the weeding out of Down Syndrome Babies.
This is is why we need Jean Vanier – the Prophet of Weakness.

salvador-dali-christ-of-st-john-of-the-crossSalvador Dali believed that Christ of St John of the Cross was his religious masterpiece. It is influenced by a sketch found in the spiritual diaries of the Spanish Mystic and Carmelite, Juan de Yepes y Álvarez who became known as John of the Cross.  A sketch in his spiritual John_of_the_Cross_crucifixion_sketchdiaries of a vision he had received, made a great impression on Dali – he described the image as being ‘like a Crucifix presented to the lips of a dying man’ .  When Dali came to paint the image he used a Hollywood Stuntman, Russel Saunders as the model for Christ – and actually strapped his body to a gantry to help Dali envisage the pull of gravity on the Human Body.

Historical Context

In 1948 Dali had returned to Spain after the war, he had rediscovered his Catholic Faith and visited Pope Pius XII in Rome where he sought and was given approval for his new religious themes.  He had studied Nuclear Physics and felt that the discovery of the atomic nature of the universe was proof of the existence of God. This mix of science and religion 2would lead to a new Nuclear Mysticism according to Dali and in 1951 he published his Mystical Manifesto stating his ambition to paint a new type of Crucifixion.  Paintings of the crucified Christ had focused on the pain and humiliation of the Crucifixion- however Dali said in his manifesto ‘ I want my next Christ to be the painting containing the most beauty and joy, more than anything that will have been painted up to the present.’  It is worth noting that unusually for paintings of Christ on the Cross – it is devoid of pain, blood and the crown of thorns.  Dali associated the nucleus of the atom with Christ and was influenced by the ideas of the mathematician Luca Pacioli – paying attention to the triangle formed by Christs arms and the cross.

Theology

The background to the Painting is Port Lligat – the area of the Catalonian coast were Dali lived for most of the latter part of his life.  This is a reference to the universal relevance the Crucifixion, its historical significance and supra-historical effects.  When we celebrate the mass we believe that we cut through time and space as we are united with the one eternal sacrifice of Christ on Golgotha, we are not just remembering or ‘re-enacting’ his last supper.  So by placing Christ against the background of his home, Dali is performing what would be called in Jesuit spirituality a Composition of Place.  The crucifixion of Christ is as relevant here and now, in 1950’s Spain or in 21st Century Manchester as it was 2 millenia ago in Palestine.

It is also worth reflecting on the beauty of the male image. In Dali’s own words – The metaphysical Beauty of the Christ-God and make his Christ ‘as beautiful as the God that he is’.   Christian Theology has often been interested in the tension between the  ‘Theology of the Cross’ and the ‘Theology of Glory’ .  Christ on the Cross is one of the most powerful images in human culture, but for Christians it represents the wisdom of God and the self-abandoning love of Christ.  Seen through the eyes of faith the cross presents unique insight into who God is and how he chooses to save.  Seen through the eyes of the world the cross is a brutal, humiliating public form of torture or capital punishment.  Because of this St Paul talks of ‘the scandal of the cross’ – a stumbling block to the wise.  Usually Christian iconography – especially in Spain – focuses on Christs suffering in order to elicit feelings of devotion in the believer.  A danger of an exaggerated Theology of the Cross is to see creation as irrevocably fallen, The Theology of Glory on the other hand would see creation as essentially good and have an eschatological focus on the resurrection and ultimate victory of good.  Perhaps Dalis – new type of Crucifixion is an attempt to marry the two.

Paintings Reception & Impact

dali_and_honeymanWhen a Scottish Art Historian, Dr Honeyman, acquired the painting for the Glasgow Art Gallery – students at the Glasgow School of Art and members of the Church of Scotland vehemently protested its purchase.  For some it was a waste of money and should have been spent on contemporary Scottish painters, for others it was blasphemous and encouraged idol worship.  The public however flocked to it and it was observed how men would instinctively take their hats of viewing it and boisterous school groups fall silent in its presence.  It has recently been voted Scotland’s favourite painting and is now by far the most valuable painting in the collection – a wise investment!

There is a fascinating 28min documentary about in on the Radio  4 Website 

Pancakes & #Ashtags

AMDG

IMG_4420Its been a busy couple of days at the Manchester Chaplaincy. Traditionally we sell pancakes to fund the excellent work that our student SVP group do, particularly with the poor homeless (4 soup runs a week) and the breakfast club that they fund and run in Moss Side which ensures that the kids start the school day with a full stomach. Foolishly I challenged them to beat the record of 300 pancakes – with a meal on me promised as the prize …..  they sold 600 pancakes this year.  A great effort and busy day at the chaplaincy – we reckon with the foodbank open in the morning we possibly had close to 800 coming in and out of the building in one day …which is probably a record!

1503833_10152641314431048_3035044841266490689_nNext day, Ash Weds, it  was the church’s turn to be full – with 400 at each mass.  as well as welcoming all who came – I challenged the irregular mass-goers to make it a regular habit during Lent.  I also asked them to do something I never thought I would find myself doing …..  to take a ‘selfie’ of them wearing there ashes with pride…. and to post them on Twitter / Facebook / Instagram etc….  as a way of witnessing.  We even had #ashtag trending, albeit it briefly, in Manchester…. here is our collage below.  Sorry for all those we have left out ……

 

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And one of my favourite Tweets!

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