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.


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.

Bishop of Exeter’s comments on BBC Choosing to Die programme

I thought readers of this blog might be interested to read these comments of the Bishop of Exeter, which are taken from the C of E website:

The Bishop of Exeter the Rt Revd Michael Langrish took part in a BBC2 Newsnight debate on Monday June 13 following the BBC programme ‘Choosing to Die’ presented by Sir Terry Pratchett.  His main comments from the debate are below:
"I did not change my mind (after seeing the programme) but my expectations changed. I expected I would disagree with the outcome and expected to welcome the film as a contribution to a really important debate but the more I watched it the more concerned and indeed disturbed I became by it. It was very one-sided, a nod to hospice care but no showing the alternative ending, no indication that the two principals Peter and Andrew needn’t have been living the life they were leading and right at the end I questioned the whole ethical basis of programme. I felt that Peter and indeed his wife and perhaps Terry Pratchett as well had been caught up and become trapped in the storyline of programme. I felt there was a deeply coercive atmosphere in room in the end and I felt quite emotionally blackmailed by it." 
"I think Terry makes a very important distinction talking about the dignity of life – (I prefer dignity to sanctity) – dignity is about what gives worth to every human life. It has to bear on every life not just on a few and my problem here with the emphasis on choice, is that it is alright for us here who have a choice. But take someone like my daughter whose experience of life is having others making choices for her, she’s just had her house sold around her with very little choice; it leaves you with a poor sense of self esteem and self worth. What for me gives dignity of life is to say, each of us has a value for what we are not what we do, it’s not an instrumental thing and we also find our value in a network of social and community relationships. I want so see much more emphasis on supporting people in living rather than assisting them in dying."

"One of the things that really worried me was right at the end (I realise we probably saw an edited version) Peter lifted the glass of poison and said ‘when do I take it?’.  I think many doctors, priests, counsellors who had been present at that point would have thought hang on, there’s a moment of hesitation here. And the answer was do whatever you want  …." 

"On the whole I think the law is clear and the guidelines do broadly work. At present suicide is not a crime but it is not a right. The law still enshrines that sense of the intrinsic value of life. But the law ultimately is not there to constrain individual choice. It’s there to constrain third party action and complicity in another person’s death. That remains illegal, there maybe ameliorating circumstances that can be taken in to account. But the law remains clear and is there to protect the vulnerable. It seems to me the very basis of English law is there to do two things. It is there to protect the vulnerable in society and should give expression to the deepest values that our society holds."  

"I would want to talk about good dying and would love to challenge BBC to do a similar documentary tracking someone like the cabbie through to a good death."

See also the Protecting Life area of our website

The Three Ps of Pentecost


When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Acts 2.1-4

In my Pentecost Praise sermons yesterday at Warboys and in Ely Cathedral I gave everyone a pea, to keep in their pocket or put under their pillow – as a reminder of the three Ps of Pentecost.

clip_image004PEOPLE The disciples were all together in one place. The apostles; the women; their families. Everyone. They were there because they had all put their faith in Jesus. Roots down. That’s where it all starts.

clip_image005PRAYER What were they doing? We’re told a few verses earlier. Praying. Continually. Like it really mattered: because it did. That’s what comes next once our roots are down: we want the sap to rise, and see Shoots spring high.

clip_image005[1]POWER And then the wind starts to blow. The wind of creation. The wind of re-creation. The same Spirit that was there at the beginning, that gave life to the dry bones, is blowing now. Power from on high, just as Jesus promised. But power turned the right way up, not taking from others but giving itself away. Fruits going out into the world, so that it can become the place God always meant it to be.

Over 30 people spoke out their commitment to Christ. Many more did the same without words. What about you? Let’s turn the world the right way up again, as a people of prayer who use the power God gives them to give life to others too.

Dean Close School: Seizing the Moment – Sermon at 125th Anniversary Commemoration Service

A big thankyou for inviting me to come and join you on this very special occasion as Dean Close School celebrates the 125th anniversary of its foundation. Dr Francis Close, after whom the school was as you know named, went to be Dean of Carlisle after serving for 30 years as Rector here in Cheltenham, and it was in Carlisle that I encountered his memory, when I myself was Archdeacon and Canon of the Cathedral there.

If you go into that Cathedral you will be struck by the fine gates that are set across the entrance to the area where the congregation sit, and which Dean Close installed. To beautify the building perhaps? Or keep the dogs out? Well actually, no. What really happened was that he arrived at the Cathedral to find to his horror that there was no sermon at Evensong. Now as you also probably know, Close was a fervent evangelical, and to have a service without a sermon was insufferable, so a sermon was introduced. Upon which the congregation started to leave after the service and anthem but before the preachment. And so it was that the gates were installed, to keep the congregation in.

Now I am absolutely sure that life at Dean Close School never feels like a lock-in – which is a good thing, because for all that I admire Close, I think he was wrong on this one. Wrong because however much it is true that the gospel is the word of life, and I think that is very true indeed, part of the good news of that word of life is that it always comes to us as pure gift from God, the ultimate Free Offer, but one which requires us to make an equally free and conscious choice to receive it. The best human relationships work in just the same way, if you think about it. So penning people in until they submit to salvation just isn’t on.

But why raise the matter now, beyond the fact that it makes a good Dean Close story? Well, I was invited to preach on something I was passionate about, and I am passionate about young people about how together we can build a really Big Society, one that is far more authentic than one orchestrated by a government, which will always feel a bit like having gates put up to guide us in the way that someone else has set for us.

So I want to think aloud with you about how I see young people and the schools and people that serve them playing their part in seizing the moment that is before us, to build a better society, bottom up. Carpe diem, and all that. I want to take one big point from the Old Testament reading we shared, the one from Amos, and then three linked ones from our better known New Testament reading, the one from Revelation.

Amos first, then. But let me get there by observing that a big school occasion like this reminds us that there can be a narrow line between generating an appropriate sense of occasion and pride, and rather less savoury sort of tribalism. The key watershed between them lies in the ethos of the school or other institution, because exactly the same applies on national occasions or in a big company. If the organisation is just out to feather its own nest, then things can get nasty. But if the organisation has an ethos of service to others, then the energy it generates does not stay as it were locked in its own fridge, but goes to feed and help others.

The fridge picture works for me because I remember that when our children were young and we had caravan holidays. the kids would play in the caravan in our garden at the end of the season, before we shut it up for the winter. One spring we came to get it ready for the road again, opened up the fridge … and the milk walked out. Or maybe you can remember that rather nice duck pate that you bought for Christmas, but only discovered after New Year hidden behind the thermostat, growing a nice crop of green fur. Even good things go off if they are not put to a good use.

So, to get back to Amos, it has to be said that in their early years the people of Israel were thoroughly tribal. My God is bigger than your God would be a simple way of putting it. And the prophet’s job was to bless our lot, and curse the others.

Enter Amos. He gives the usual series of curses; but then goes on to say some equally harsh things about Israel. And in the passage we heard today he makes a very interesting move. He suggests that the one same God is God of all the nations, and that he had a hand not only in bringing Israel out of Egypt, but the Philistines out of Caphtor and the Aramaeans out of Kir. Israel has a special place in God’s plan, but only as the elder brother, as it were, who will welcome back his younger siblings, so that Jerusalem – as we see in Revelation – becomes the home city of the whole world.

How hard it was for the elder son in Jesus’ famous parable to welcome back his prodigal brother. How hard it was and is for Israel to fulfil this destiny which transcends its own interests and makes room for everyone else. How hard it is for each of us in our own personal lives to do the same. Which is why Christ came of course, to break through this incessant self-centredness that so plagues us, the thing we call sin, and give us the new start and help and guidance we need. And if you think you can manage without the help, I really do have to suggest you look more often in the mirror; and in a Dean Close memorial sermon I really do too have to say that the love of God in Christ is right there for you now, young or old, just a prayer away. So if life is tough or you are all too conscious of your weaknesses, ask Him to help.

But let me take this basic point from Amos now, the point that God is not just there as a our personal protector and prop but there to inspire us to share in his work of saving the whole world, and take it a bit further.

I said I was passionate about young people. I had the privilege to be at a Regeneration Summit in Sheffield, called by young people, in which a crowd of them met with around 50 bishops and other church leaders to try and face up to the disconnect between the C of E and youth culture today. I was very moved by the realisation that younger people themselves were forging the way forward for us, and have seen in my own diocese just what a contribution they can make to our life as a whole. At a recent Council meeting for instance when we were looking to find new ways forward, it was a youth member who challenged us to be honest then about what we had been doing that hadn’t worked too well in the past. Ouch! But yes! For whatever reason, people as young as some of you here today are showing real leadership and ability in a way I think I never could have at a similar age, and I want to back it and run with it as much as I can.

It isn’t, though, just about youth. If young people or any people are going to make a difference that is not just about them making themselves heard or getting their own way, they are going to have to buy in to the Amos principle, or the fridge effect if you prefer: to a way of life that turns the world upside down and lives for others not itself, rejoicing in God’s strength not their own; and seeking his kingdom not theirs.

So – quickly – over to Revelation for an amazing dream-picture of that kingdom, of what God is trying to bring about. First, and importantly, it is a new heaven and a new earth: this is not about escaping from the world, but transforming it, seeing it become what it was always meant to be. Church is not an escape pod from ordinary life but a landing craft for the revolution that will reshape it. Nothing less than the total healing of the nations is in view. Secondly, the nations will find that healing because a new community has been created that is itself healed, every tear wiped away, where even death is no more. This is a vision of transformed relationships, a society in which every member is striving to give life away to others not seize it for themselves. It is the sort of society that a school, or a church, or a company, can start to model right now, and so become the salt and yeast and light that spreads to the whole world. Then thirdly, the people who will make up such a society are able to do it because they each as an individual have found the deep healing and self-realisation that comes when the Lamb, when Christ, when God is their light; so much their light that the light is shining right within them, and they are as it were living temples of God.

And that is where we must begin: with the challenge to every one of us, young or old, to be alive and alight with the presence of Christ within us. That will be the dynamo that as your school knows can drive the rest: the formation of a Christ-like character in us, the instillation of Christian virtues, the growth of each and every person into the full stature of Christ, shaped in the special way God has intended for them.

125 years on, these are still the core values of Dean Close School as they are I believe the sure foundation on which a truly Big Society can be built. Carpe diem; seize the day; be again so rooted in Christ, that together you grow strong shoots, that will bear fruit for the whole world. Amen.