There has been unprecedented media excitement over UKIP’s ‘earthquake’ victory in the European elections. Already, speculation has begun on the meaning of this success and is set to continue for several days. Back bench Tories have been reported as placing the blame on Romanian immigrants. Others have pointed towards austerity. But we all know it’s really the French. It’s always been the French. Ever since 1066, it’s been the French. Probably it was the French even before that. In fact, it’s about the only thing on which the English and French agree. We like being best of enemies. It suits us. That’s why we built the tunnel. So we can blow it up again next time one of us wins Eurovision.
Two hymns in celebration of spring have been going round in my head in the past week. At the beginning of the week, it was this one by Frederick Jackson:
Sing a song of Maytime, sing a song of Spring;
Flowers are in their beauty, birds are on the wing.
Maytime, playtime, God has given us Maytime,
Thank him for his gifts of love, sing a song of Spring.
Oddly enough, I haven’t sung this since I was in infants’ school and I was surprised when I looked it up to discover that it had all the verses given here. However, with the hedgerows currently bursting with life, I can see what led the author to wax so lyrical about the month of May:
These were taken a week ago and already the May blossom is giving way to later varieties, such as Elderflower, but the hedgerows continue to burst with life and colour. Here is another picture from earlier in the month, when the woods were carpeted in blue:
Between the rain showers, it’s been great to be able to enjoy such amazing beauty as well as the rejuvenating warmth of the sun. And so to the second hymn that has been on my mind:
For the beauty of the earth,
For the beauty of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies,
Christ our God, to thee we raise
This our sacrifice of praise.
(Folliot Sandford Pierpoint)
On Sunday morning, I heard part of a TV debate about whether or not the Church of England is institutionally racist. In response to this question, it was pointed out that the vast majority of images of Jesus in churches show him as white and that perhaps this wasn’t helpful in encouraging black people to become involved or take up leadership positions.
This set me thinking. If you are black and have been the victim of a racist attack, what does the image of a white Jesus say to you? What kind of person would you assume him to be?
If you then take that white Jesus and nail him to a cross, what then?
In Philippians 2: 6-8, the point is made that Jesus,
“being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death –
even death on a cross!”
So is there a sense in which the image of a crucified Jesus is actually more powerful for his being white, male and able-bodied? If a man of power has been reduced, voluntarily, to this state, what does it tell us about him? And if we see the crucified one as having little power to start with, is the impact of the image diminished?
It’s an interesting question. The first exhibited depiction of a female Christ was Edwina Sandys’s Christa. Naturally, it caused a huge uproar, many in the church seeing it as blasphemous. However, laying aside Jesus’s actual gender for a moment, what if, as a woman, I am to see my sin nailed to that cross? What if I am to look for the resurrection that lies beyond my suffering? What if I am to see myself as reflecting the image of God? In those situations, perhaps pondering a female image of Christ might be helpful? She is, after all, human. And surely that’s what matters at the end of the day; not that Jesus was male or female or black or white, but that he was “made in human likeness”?
Like I said, it’s an interesting question. Muslims believe that God is too ‘other’ and perfect for any image to truly represent him and hence that none should be made. A similar idea is present in Jewish understanding. So, if Christians believe that Christ is “in very nature God”, perhaps there is an argument for not having any images of Christ at all? At least we can’t get it wrong then!
On the other hand, part of the challenge of art is its ability to shock us out of our complacency; to make us think about things differently. Here is another image of Christ that has caused some ripples in the past year or so. Interestingly, neither his colour nor his gender are immediately obvious. However, he has certainly made people think. And perhaps that’s sometimes what we need, whether we are part of the church or not? Certainly, the images of Christ that have spoken to me most profoundly have been the ones that have challenged my preconceived notions.
Last weekend, I attended a Thanksgiving service for an elderly friend who died about a month ago. She was a wonderful lady – the sort of person who inspires faith in both God and humanity – and I will miss her. During her service, reference was made to this poem. It’s a well-known poem, often treated more seriously than the author originally intended. I love the satire, but the poem also set me thinking.
I am currently involved in a musical production that is being performed by folk from the local Methodist churches. It tells the Easter story, from Palm Sunday through to the resurrection, using songs from a collection by various writers. In order to form the songs into a story, I was asked to produce a drama script, which I was very happy to do.
Last weekend, we gave our first two performances and I thoroughly enjoyed both. They took a lot out of me, but I enjoyed them. Afterwards, despite my inbuilt tendency to avoid crowds, several people came to seek me out. They wanted to thank me for the script, but their words left me feeling more than a little overwhelmed. They described it as “excellent” and “inspiring” and it was clear that they weren’t just being polite. The script had made exactly the kind of impact I had hoped for, but yet had never truly expected.
In the days since, I have felt something shift within me. For years, I have been looking down this road, “as far as I could to where it bent in the undergrowth…” In recent months, I have even taken a few definite steps along it. For example, I have stepped back from some voluntary work I was doing, partly in the hope that I could devote more time to a book I’ve been working on. But now something has changed. It’s as if I have turned a corner or something. The road has stopped calling and become. Book or no book, I am a writer.
Where will it lead? Right now, I don’t know. Perhaps, nowhere of significance. However, I do know that I can almost certainly look forward to a mixture of honey, haycorns and thistles on the way. And that will make all the difference 😉