On Saturday night I had the pleasure of playing the role of DJ at the wedding reception of some good friends of mine. To be honest, the technical side is pretty simple with an iPad and a clever DJ app (I used iDJ, which cost me the princely sum of £1.49). But what you actually play is less straightforward. So, should you find yourself called upon to do something similar, here are my top tips…
My friend James and I recently stopped into Tate Britain to have a look at an installation by Ian Hamilton Finlay, Britain’s “foremost concrete poet.” To be honest, we couldn’t make head nor tail of it, and we really tried. I’m not even really sure what a concrete poet is…
But then we popped into one of the other galleries and I saw this – Pavlova (c1912) by Bruce Turner.
I’ve been fascinated for a while with the challenge of capturing dynamic movements in paint. A painting necessarily freezes time, which is fine for lots of subjects but effectively kills dance. And since the advent of cinema, it’s a challenge which has become largely academic. But when I saw Pavlova in Tate Britain I loved it, because I think Bruce Turner has managed something few others have.
Apparently Anna Pavlova appeared at the Grand in Leeds in 1912, which is probably when Turner, a Leeds-based painter, was inspired to paint her. Turner was part of the Leeds Art Club, an avant garde group of artists who had a keen interest in modern and abstract art. I think sometimes it seems as if abstract painters are painting less than they would if they painted more figuratively. But I really like the way Turner has used a Cubist-influenced style to try to capture more than he otherwise could.
Looking at Pavlova one way, it’s as if he hasn’t just captured one moment, but a series of moments all at once. But when you watch a ballerina as skilled as Anna Pavlova was said to be, it can seem as if they’re in lots of places all at the same time. As you look at this painting in real life, its impossible to see a collection of abstract shapes on the canvas; you can almost see her twirling through the angular patterns in front of you.
What do you think?
This is the second part of my reading round-up from 2012 – you can read the first part here. Just to be clear, these aren’t the only books I’ve read. But they’re books I enjoyed, and you might enjoy them too. Or you might not. Don’t blame me.
7. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Apparently this has been voted the second greatest novel of the 20th century (losing out to Ulysses by James Joyce – maybe that’s one for 2013). Set in 1920s America, it’s a story of unrequited love. But it’s also a reflection on the flip-side of the American dream, and on what happens when people have too much money and time on their hands. I read this in anticipation of Baz Luhrmann’s movie, Gatsby, which is due out later this year…
8. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
I remember watching this on the BBC and then reading the book about 20 years ago, but this year I decided it was time for a reread. The story follows one man lost in London – but this is Neil Gaiman’s take on London, where familiar landmarks become unfamiliar and scary. The Black Friars are a group of monks protecting a powerful relic by Knight’s Bridge; Earls Court is the home of an actual Earl who holds court on an abandoned Underground Train; and the Angel Islington is, of course, an actual angel. It’s a brilliant tale. Read it and you’ll never look at London the same again.
9. Gunn’s Golden Rules by Tim Gunn
“Make it work!” Those of us familiar with Project Runway (and who isn’t) will know Tim as the no-nonsense mentor and style-guru, who regularly stops (or tries to stop) the designers from making terrible mistakes. Always impeccably turned out and with perfect manners, he’s one of my heroes, and in Gunn’s Golden Rules he shares his effortless sense of style and etiquette with the world. Part guide, part memoir, think of this not so much as a “how to” guide, but more of a “how should.”
10. Seven Days That Divide The World by John Lennox
As a Christian with a science degree, I find myself talking about the first chapters of Genesis with some regularity. In Seven Days, John Lennox explores some of the issues involved in reconciling what the Bible tells us about the world with our observation of it. For me, the most helpful section looks at how our understanding of Scripture has developed alongside our understanding of the natural world. Frustratingly, this book won’t answer every question you have, but it’s an excellent introduction, particularly if you want to get to grips with some of the philosophical questions behind the discussion (and, if you’re going to talk about this, you’re going to want to).
11. The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield
This is the story of how an encounter with Jesus can turn a person’s life upside down. Rosaria Champagne Butterfield is the eponymous unlikely convert. As a lesbian english professor, she was taught (and taught others) to read everything through the lens of feminist and Queer theory. But then her research brought her into contact with Christians who engaged with her questions and ideas, and welcomed and loved her. This book is the story of what happened, and of the results. And her background puts her in a unique position to raise important questions about how Christians should be interacting with the culture around them. Easily one of my favourite books of 2012.
12. Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality by Wesley Hill
I love this book. Wesley Hill is a Christian who is also gay, and celibate. In this honest and personal account, Wesley explains that we all need Jesus to bring us back into relationship with our Father, and he explains what this means for him, and for many Christians who are seeking to live the same way, often in secret. He shares the struggles and the joys he’s faced along the way, and why knowing Jesus is worth such a sacrifice. And interleaved with Wesley’s story he shares lessons from the lives of three other well-known Christians who’ve made the same choice he has. Whatever your views about how Christians should think about homosexuality, you’ll benefit from reading this. In a discussion which can quickly become heated, and where the real people involved are easily forgotten by all sides, Wesley’s careful and personal explanation of the choices he’s made is an important addition.
Over the past week lots of wise people I know (like my friends Rich and Cat) have been blogging their “books of 2012.” I’m not normally one for bandwagons (unless I’m doing the driving), but as I flicked through my Kindle the other day I noticed that I’ve actually read some books this year, largely thanks to said Kindle. So, for what it’s worth, and with no hint of a unifying theme or any kind of order, here are some of my favourite books of 2012. At the very least it might give you some insight into the kinds of things that routinely find their way into my brain…
1. The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
OK, technically 3 books, but I can’t imagine you’d read just one of them. I read these ridiculously quickly, and the first book is way better than the film. The last book is a bit hard going (Katniss spends most of it trying to stop herself from crying), but I liked the ending. In fact, I think I liked the ending for all the reasons I really should have hated it… but I don’t want to spoil it.
2. The Great Divorce by CS Lewis
Recommended by my friend Michael Ots, this is CS Lewis’s musings on the future hope that Christians are waiting for. Rather than a detailed Bible study, Lewis offers us a “supposal” – a reflection on some aspects of the new creation. In particular, I loved the idea of the future being “more real,” and the variety of responses people have as they visit the new creation (not all of them positive).
3. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
This was my first time reading Dickens, and it’s a story I already knew well (largely thanks to the Muppets, whose rendition is surprisingly accurate). But I LOVE the way Dickens writes, and his way with words is what you miss out on in the innumerable film adaptations that were all over the TV this Christmas.
The story, with its challenge to the way we think about the poor and needy, is as current as it ever was. But it also raises a question about how our hearts change, and what might make the changes last.
4. Still Got It, Never Lost It!: My Story by Louie Spence
OK, this book isn’t exactly the intellectual highpoint of the list, but I love a good celeb biography. It’s a sparkly, lycra-clad story about how hard work and determination make one man’s dreams come true. And the Spice Girls.
5. Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius by Michael Michalko
6. Drops Like Stars: A few thoughts on creativity and suffering by Rob Bell
I don’t agree with everything Rob Bell has to say about everything, but in Drops Like Stars I think he gets it spot on. It’s a simple idea – an experience of suffering will often stir up creativity in us as it destroys our comfort zones and pushes us to see the future differently than we might have. Rather than offering answers to questions about why we suffer, Bell reflects on how a wise and loving God, “the God who wastes nothing” might work through our suffering.
You can now read Part 2…
I’m in love. With TED.
TED‘s been around for a while, but you may not have been introduced… I’ve got into it in a big way over the past couple of weeks thanks to a brilliant app on my newish iPhone. TED, stands for “Technology, Entertainment, Design.” It grew out of an annual conference in California, which has now spawned similar events all over the world. These conferences bring together thinkers and innovators from all kinds of backgrounds, each getting 18 minutes to present their ideas in creative and engaging ways. The TED motto is “ideas worth spreading,” and the website does just that – all the talks are available to watch for free. So you should do just that…
While preparing for a talk next week (called, “God and Creativity: is Christianity bad for the arts?” – more on that next week), I came across this article over the regularly-excellent Relevant Magazine.
The Biblical Basis for Fun by Adam and Christine Jeske
I don’t have much to add, other than, “Yeeeess!”
Fun is an important part of the way I live my life, and the way I go about the work I do. But sometimes I feel like it doesn’t sit well with people. Maybe they think I’m not taking things seriously enough, or that I’m a bit immature. Whatevs (as I would normally say to them). But Christians don’t really have a reputation for being ‘fun,’ and our attempts to change that are usually fairly cringe-worthy. I guess there are justifiable concerns about avoiding immorality and being sober-minded. But I actually think the way we think about fun says a lot about what we think about Jesus…
I think the problem is that our view of fun is lacking. We equate fun with the wrong things. We think it means trivial, or selfish, or running after material pleasure. But what about joy and celebration? What about joy and celebration? As the Jeskes say in their article, “fun is not escaping from reality—it’s entering in more fully.” Seriously fun.
As I read about Jesus in the gospels, you can’t help but notice that he’s a lot of fun. He’s the guy who brings gallons of amazing wine to a wedding party. He’s the guy that people drop everything to spend time with. He tells hilarious stories. Sinners and tax collectors invite him to their parties, and children flock to him. Is that how I make Jesus sound when I tell people about him? When I talk about Jesus, I’m ultimately inviting them to a party with him that will last for all eternity. Do I make it sound like one of those family occasions where you stay for as long as you’re obliged, but no longer than that?
When we squeeze the fun out of life as a Christian, we squeeze the truth out of the gospel. Knowing Jesus should make life more fun, not less! Yes, the gospel is deeply serious. It’s about life and death. The reality of our sin and God’s judgment is serious, and so is the fact that Jesus died to reconcile us to God. But while it is serious, it’s also GOOD news!
And shouldn’t news as good as this produce the kind of lightness of heart that allows me to enjoy the amusing details of the world we live in? It secures my identity so I can laugh at my own foibles and awkwardness. My acceptance and reputation come from Jesus and what he’s done, not from me, so I embark on adventures without the crippling fear of failure. And I can look at the hilarious, intriguing world I live in and see the meaning behind it, because I know the one who made it. That makes it more fun, not less!
As the Jeskes put it, “if we have fun, we will follow Jesus better, we will know him more, we will be more effective in our service to Him and the world.” I agree completely. So I pray I’ll be able to live a life that’s fun enough to point to the reality of the gospel, and which entices others in to enjoy it with me!
This week I was finally able to see Damien Hirst at Tate Modern. I’m a big fan of Hirst, and it was a treat to see so much of his work in one place. I saw some old favourites, like The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living and Pharmacy. But I think I may have added another piece to my list of favourites: The Anatomy of an Angel.