Often, writes Richard Blakely on the Damaris Culturewatch website,  we only recognise what’s really important in life when we are forced to come face to face with our own mortality. The prospect of our deaths helps us to put things into perspective.

He is reviewing Biutiful which manages to take a heady mix of illegal immigration, fake products, money, sex, drugs, bipolar disorder, death and seances to raise some important questions for its viewers.

Uxbal (Javier Bardem) is a conflicted resident of the Santa Coloma district of Barcelona, an area packed full of immigrants, both legal and illegal. Uxbal is involved in a number of illicit occupations. In the first, he and two Chinese men, Hai (Taisheng Chen) and Liwei (Luo Jin), employ immigrants to create imitation products. Uxbal then has his team of men, led by a Senegalese immigrant named Ekweme (Cheikh Ndiaye), sell the fake products, although lately the team has also taken to peddling illegal drugs, despite Uxbal’s misgivings. Uxbal and his brother Tito (Eduard Fernández) also work with Hai and Liwei to provide cheap immigrant labour to work on building sites and anywhere else they might be needed. His other profession, which he does alone, is to communicate with the dead on behalf of grieving families, receiving any messages they might want to pass on to their living relatives. He remains aloof from the grief of the mourners, maintaining the role of messenger in exchange for his fee. [more…]

Richard Blakely

Stained Glass Studies

Fig. 1. Elevation of the host. Nuremberg, St Martha, choir, I 2b. (Rüdiger Tonojan, CVMA Freiburg)And after all that excitement and serious stuff: chill out with some stained glass studies. The latest edition of the online magazine Vidimus is out now, on line at its usual URL:

The Panel of the Month offers a glimpse of life in medieval Nuremburg. Tamara Klemm offers a stimulating analysis of this extraordinary late fourteenth-century image of the mass.

This issue includes a Feature by manuscripts expert Dr Freddie Law-Turner, who considers the relationship between the Ormesby Psalter and a fourteenth-century Jesse Tree in the windows of a Northamptonshire church.

New resource for the RE GCSE faith and the environment module


A Rocha UK, a Christian Environmental Charity has recently produced an exciting new resource for the RE GCSE faith and the environment module. The pack contains video clips, 10 lesson plans, power point presentations and a colourful pupil booklet with exercises. They have some sample resources on their website:  where there is also a pay-pal facility. The materials can also be adapted for use with younger and older students.

Before They Say Goodbye

The author, Dave Sayler, emailed me recently to say that this new book was available. I haven’t met Dave and am not very familiar with his work, but the theme is a really important one, so I’m passing on the blurb here – and perhaps you youth and youth workers out there can tell me whether he’s getting it right…


Dr David Gosling, now returned from Pakistan and Cambridge-based, reports that  ISPCK in Delhi have just published his Cambridge Teape-Westcott lectures commemorating Charles Darwin’s Bicentenary, entitled DARWIN, SCIENCE AND THE INDIAN TRADITION

David summarises the lectures as follows:

Although there were strong reactions to Darwin’s theory of evolution in some parts of nineteenth-century Europe, educated Indians had no difficulties in assimilating the theory into the Hindu and Christian worldviews. Swami Vivekananda, for instance, was able to incorporate the theory of evolution into Hindu philosophies, especially Patañjali’s Sāṃkhya. Indian Christian theologians were slower to incorporate the new scientific theories into their thinking, but when they did so they displayed none of the unease that was apparent in Europe. Thus, P. Chenchiah, the Tamil lawyer, could assert that ‘Christ is the origin of the species of the [children] of God.’

After reviewing the findings of an investigation into the religious beliefs of young scientists at four centres in India, it was generally concluded that Hindus, Muslims and Christians all maintain that some kind of relationship exists between science and religion, the degree of conflict between the two in specific areas being inversely correlated with the importance attached to religion.

Science and religion are considered together because both claim to be reality-depicting. There are similarities between them, but there are fundamental differences as well. However, recent anti-evolutionary movements such as Creationism and Intelligent Design do not fulfil the criteria for being either good science or credible religious belief. Opposition to religion on the part of Richard Dawkins and others is plausible, but the arguments adduced are becoming less so as new biological discoveries are made, and it may one day be possible to elucidate an anthropic principle in the biological sciences similar to the one that has been credibly proposed for physics.

If you want to read/buy the book and have difficulty getting hold of it, I can put you in touch with David.

Turbulent Priests

liccNick Spencer of Theos seems to be everywhere at the moment: perhaps because he’s got a new book out (that I’ve just bought and heard the ++ABC recommend, Freedom and Order: History, Politics and the English Bible.

Here he is writing on the ABC’s recent storm, for LICC:

I expect he was expecting it.

Rowan Williams is too experienced a public figure to have imagined that his recent editorial in the left-leaning New Statesman magazine would have been received without a storm.
And a storm there was. Media reaction, thanks to a little selective coverage, was instant and loud. The left celebrated, the right seethed, and the New Statesman rejoiced.
A recent report on the political activity of the Archbishops of Canterbury since 1980 shows this is far from unusual. Archbishops are hardly strangers to political controversy, intervening on issues as sensitive as urban deprivation and criminal justice, family life and armed conflict. Whether or not British politicians ‘do God’, the Archbishop of Canterbury certainly does politics; indeed, he is one of the few people who seem genuinely able to do that most desired (and hackneyed) of things, and ‘start a national debate’.
Some people, and not just jittery secularists, get nervous about this. Isn’t the Archbishop’s call primarily to proclaim the Gospel?
Well, yes it is; but it is a worryingly narrow conception of the Gospel that fails to see ‘politics’ – how we as a society treat the poor and the prisoner, the child and the ‘enemy’ – as falling under its concerns. As the theologian Oliver O’Donovan has written, ‘rule out the political questions and you cut short the proclamation of God’s saving power; you leave people enslaved where they ought to be set free from sin – their own and others.’
This has long been understood by Christians in Britain. Despite the heavily cultural tone of the King James Bible 400th anniversary celebrations this year, it is reasonable to say that the Bible has been the single most influential political text in British history. As Freedom and Order, a new book on the subject, argues, the Bible’s influence on our commitment to political equality, toleration, justice, freedom, and democracy, not to mention the very idea of ‘England’ and ‘Britain’, is almost incalculable.
This does not mean the Bible has always been deployed on the side of the political angels (it hasn’t). It does, however, mean that the Bible is an inescapably political book, and that we need to recognise this while, equally importantly, discerning and articulating its political message with care, humility and balance.
In this writer’s opinion that is just was the Archbishop did in last week’s editorial. But others may disagree.
Nick Spencer

View Turbulent Priests: The Archbishop of Canterbury in Contemporary English Politics.

What has the Bible ever done for us?

LogoChristians and atheists alike are happy to praise the Bible for its literary and cultural impact on our national life. But we fall strangely silent when it comes to its political impact.
Yet the Bible, as Nick Spencer will argue in this evening event, is the single most influential document in British political history. Although far from the only influence, and not always used by the political angels, the fact remains that if we want to understand where the British commitment to equality, freedom, democracy and toleration come from, we need to dig around in the biblical roots of our political history.

Nick Spencer is Research Director at Theos, the Public Theology Think Tank. He is the author of a number of reports and books, most recently Freedom and Order: History, Politics and the English Bible.

Unable to join in person? Why not tune in online! This event will be streamed live on LICC’s Livestream Channel. Tune in at 18:30 on 27 June.

Date: Monday 27 June 2011, 6:30-8:30pm
Venue: LICC Ltd, St Peter’s, Vere Street, London W1G 0DQ
Cost: £7 (£5 concession) – includes light refreshments

Booking: Book online, e-mail, or call LICC on 020 7399 9555.