ABSENT

One of the things which causes us to say God does not exist is because  He can appear absent when He is most needed.  Bad things happen to good people, good things happen to bad people and we cry out from the depths of our being Why?  How can God be good or real if He allows such terrible things to happen?

Very bad things happened to the early Christians of the first century.  Unspeakable horrors were visited upon them. Writings of the time testify to their faith, their ability to meet their deaths bravely declaring their unwavering belief in Jesus.  This testimony to God, in the face of affliction, affected many. The Christians understood, death was not the worst thing that could happen.

In the book ‘Where is God in our 21st Century World?’ there is a chapter entitled Suffering and Death.  In writing it I did not want to shirk the question of an absent God.  This was my response.

ABSENT

Absent when most needed.

when the baby died

the mother wasn’t healed

the father didn’t walk away from the car

the fire came and all was lost

Absent when His friend died

The anguish in the garden, when blood filled his pores.

The darkness of death made darker still

when God is not there when needed.

There is an outlandish God who promises presence without

delivering the performance we want.

A preposterous God who loves to the point of death.

An unbelievable God.

In a world of tears there is laughter to be found. On the sound

of the poor, the broken, the children, the madmen and the fools

skims the Presence who hears the unlikely, the least and the lost

and weeps until there are no longer tears, because in the midst of

death He is always present to bring life.

Listen.

In silence let the stones cry out.

Shhhhhhh.

The Other Lamb by Marjan Wouda

A new-born lamb, sleeping or maybe stillborn, is unsentimentally displayed twice life-size. It seems to be stretched out on some kind of altar. Perhaps it is a sacrifice.  If so, to what, and for whom?

 

A Thousand Bottles of Tears

I have been so moved and amazed at the privilege of being involved in the Chaiya Art Awards and having the opportunity to write the book.   I interviewed the winner, the delightful Deborah Tompsett about her story. 

 

 Hand thrown clay vessels, each unique. Each pot formed from a heart-sized lump of clay from baby to adult. They are filled with handwritten messages and then re-fired.

Since the Davidic era, 1055BC, tear bottles have spoken of the sacredness of tears as messengers of grief, contrition and love.

 

 

WHERE IS GOD IN OUR 21ST CENTURY WORLD?

This piece of work was displayed at the gallery@oxo on the Southbank as a finalist in the inaugural theme based Chaiya Art Awards exhibition.   Deborah won the first prize of £10,000 for her stunning piece of work. 

 

I’m an artist specialising in ceramics.  I did a degree in fine art sculpture at Canterbury Art College in the late 70’s early 80’s.  It was a turbulent time. Sculpture was very male dominated and there was quite a bullying atmosphere amongst the tutors. It was also really difficult being a Christian.  I had been asked by my church for a piece of work and I was given permission to include it as part of my degree work.  However the head of the department went on sabbatical and the tutors refused to help her.  Fortunately the technicians were wonderful as it was a difficult piece of metalwork comprising of a large cross with thorns entwined around the top piece of the cross. The other students were really supportive, however, I found the atmosphere very difficult and didn’t do well in my final year.

I asked Deborah if she thought things had changed and she told me about a young student she had met studying at the Slade and she was bubbling with the support she was getting.  What did you do after finishing college as there must have been a feeling of great disappointment.

I thought I would go to Italy and do a course. So I worked as a home help, saved up and went. Didn’t know where I was going to stay and ended up working as an au pair able to do a part-time evening course.  I went everywhere I could to look and draw and it was a very fruitful time.

Deborah told me she was successful in becoming apprenticed to a potter in her village and learnt all the basics.  She also spent a summer in Beirut working with partially and non-sighted children making pots with them.  It was a very troubled area and hugely formative for her.

So where did you get the idea for the tear bottles?

The idea began to develop as I realised there is so much fuss in the world and we only get tiny snippets of peoples’ stories.  All these painful stories that are so private that no-one would know about but God knows and they are precious to him.  Nothing is lost.

I discovered there is an incredible tradition of tear bottles from centuries ago, tears almost actually physically held.  I thought if I made as many different bottles, each individual and each pot fashioned from a lump of clay the size of a human heart – from a baby to an adult.  The indicator of your heart size is your fist. 1000 seemed such a complete number and when people see the entire collection, it speaks to almost everyone.

 It did indeed speak to me.

     

 

 “You keep track of all my sorrows.

         You have collected all my tears in your bottle.

          You have recorded each one in your book.”

 Psalm 56:8  New Living Translation

 

 

I was curious to know what inspires Deborah.

I am inspired by poetry – TS Eliot, Gerald Manley Hopkins, Howard Hodgekin.  By other artists like Grayson Perry and Edmund de Waal, Anthony Gormley, Joan Mitchell, Philida Barlow, Joan Mitchell, Louise Bourgeois, Yayoi Kusama.  Beauty is one aspect of the many characteristics art can display. Ugliness can have a strong message as well as incompleteness and many other things – all a reflection of the complexities of living life.

What was it like to win the Chaiya Art Awards 1st prize?

I felt it was amazing to be selected and exhibiting with artists I had heard of. That in itself was a privilege. Then to be in a London exhibition. On the night of the award my two sons rang me saying how proud they were of me.  It was one of the highlights of my life.  You work away to make ends meet, children, husband, busy job, beavering away to keep hope alive, then a big prize and some recognition is great.  Winning the money has opened up the possibility to have a studio away from home and I shall be in Ashburnham Place, a conference centre.  They want artists to work there and for them to contribute to the community. It looks like the tear bottles will go on semi-permanent display in their prayer centre.

I have to ask – what do you feel about the book?

I think it is a wonderfully unusual book in a completely different category to other art books.  I felt drawn in and have been hugely comfortable about giving and showing the book to others.  It is kind and welcoming.  It allows space for anyone to enjoy, to respond as they wish with nothing prescribed.   It is an opportunity to look deeper into spirituality. People are closer to God than they think.

I loved talking to Deborah and hearing a little of her story.  Her website is www.deborahtompsett.co.uk  and if you look you will see she creates much more than sculpture alone.  The following is one of her favourite quotes:

“Love all God’s creation, both the whole and every grain of sand.

Love every leaf, every ray of light.

Love the animals, love the plants, love each separate thing.

If thou love each thing thou wilt perceive the mystery of God in all;

And when once thou perceive this,

thou wilt thenceforward grow every day to a fuller understanding of it;

Until thou come at last to love the whole world

with a love that will then be all-embracing and universal.”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

 

The book is available from bookstores and www.chaiyaartawards.co.uk

Enough

I have been mulling the word ‘enough’.  I live in a world where there is always more of everything.  I go to IKEA and frenzy hits me.  I have to buy.  I feel a little the same when I shop in Lidl.   A great value shop but I always find myself looking at all the other bargains they sell that I didn’t know I needed.   Having just moved home and acquired a garden with grass and trees and shrubs and stuff the garden equipment has been irresistible.  Again, really well designed tools, cheap and effective.  We are now set up to tackle anything our new garden could throw at us. 

But when will I have enough?   What does it mean? How much is enough? 

Just a little bit more replied John Rockefeller the first American billionaire and the world’s richest man.

Ask Gordon Gekko of Wall Street film fame how much is enough?    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oDD1tW59Mjg

The word can be translated; sufficient, adequate, ample, abundant, as much as necessary.  However, what is ‘necessary’ has moveable boundaries.

There is an artist called Michael Landy notorious as “That bloke who destroyed all his belongings”.  In his 2001 artwork Break Down he publicly and systematically shredded, dismantled and demolished everything he owned   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6hYUnkW4sNA   For an article of what Landy did read  http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20160713-michael-landy-the-man-who-destroyed-all-his-belongings

The only thing to survive Landy’s destruction was the catalogue of numbers detailing a possession.  He included everything he owned – his car, his dad’s sheepskin coat, matchboxes, toilet roll, plastic bags, love letter, expensive painting given by a friend.

How would I feel if I destroyed all my stuff?  The letters, the photographs, the mementos of a life. My marriage, my children growing up, their first baby clothes, my own clothes. The stuff that records  me living on this earth gone except for the clothes I stand up in.   I tell you now, I couldn’t do it. 

Do I own my things or do my things own me?  Do my things give me my value?

Why do I have all these things?  Do they express me?  Do they tell other people who I am? Do I want to be perceived as a certain type of person? 

Is my aim to acquire until I am satisfied?  Satisfied with what?  How? What does that mean?  Until I am happy?  But ‘happy’ is transient. If that were my goal I will always want more.

Perhaps a better question is what do I need to thrive?    I need food, water, shelter and basic clothing to survive but thriving is beyond survival, beyond comfort.  Thriving is I think, about love. I thrive when I love and am loved. Thriving, for me is about both immanent (my personal, skin on their face relationships around me) and transcendent relationship (the God I love and follow).   These give me perspective and help me to separate the ‘stuff’ from true and lasting beauty.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS

 

My workspace is at the top of our house.  We have wide windows that allow uninterrupted sky, trees, birds and a view of the homes amongst which we nestle.  As I write I look again at the semi-detached house opposite me.  Weeks ago they began work on the roof.  It looks like some new windows are to be inserted and the slates replaced.  Shortly after they started, the rain came, so they stopped.  They haven’t come back.  The scaffolding remains; the ladders reach into the blue; the tarpaulins stretch across the broken roof; the piled bricks are next to the child’s swing.  What has happened? The weather has changed, and we have basked glorious heat and sunshine for several weeks now.

Unfinished business.  To begin with its messy.  Gradually it becomes so much a part of the landscape of our lives we cease to see it.  The children dance around the scaffold struts playing games of their own.  We reason to ourselves, ‘we’ve never used a room in the roof so we don’t miss anything’.  The pain of things begun and yet uncompleted dims.  We accommodate, we allow, and disappointment and regret replaces hearts of hope and expectation.

When we made our film, Shaking Dreamland it was exciting. Actors saying lines I had written. Scene after scene completed.  The wrap party a triumph.   But we didn’t have a film. Unless we pushed through what was an even harder few months of time, effort, and creativity we would hold nothing in our hands.  It needed editing; music and Foley added; without this we still had nothing.   Once concluded an audience must found.  It was a tortuous process but the end product was something to be proud of and I loved our premiere.

Whatever we start it takes discipline to finish.  Becoming a starter/finisher is important otherwise things drift, negative feelings build and a voice in your head gets increasingly strident and destructive.  This will then affect everything you do and perhaps makes you give up trying.    Here are some thoughts on being a starter/finisher:

  • Procrastination–don’t allow yourself to be deflected by the urgent, but always give the important consideration. An example is relationships. They mean so much to me, for them I will stop, allow myself to be interrupted and go with the flow. However I will then return to the task I set myself.
  • Never happy with what you produce? Does the voice in your inner ear trip you up constantly? Does it tell the truth?  Choose to listen to a truthful voice.
  • When you start something decide what the goal is and make sure it is achievable. Be specific.  I elect to write write a novel.   My end product is a manuscript.
  • Learn to discipline yourself. As a writer I am required to write words on a page.
  • Don’t begin too much. One step at a time.   Attending to the small tasks in life helps learn the habit of finishing.  Do all the dishes; pay all the bills on time; do that swim regularly.
  • Make short-term goals in a long-term process and celebrate hitting each one. We don’t celebrate enough.  I am trying to learn.
  • Allow yourself to recognise when you set up something you cannot do and make a decision. You can stop. You can change the goal.
  • It is hard to finish something important to us because then we open ourselves up to criticism. Whenever I create I am nervous how it will be received. I always want to create something beautiful and perfect and it never is.    I put my heart and soul into my creating and I can do no more.  ‘I have done what I can’–to vaguely quote Arthur Ashe.  I can live with that whatever comes my way.

We may leave business unfinished, but strangely I have discovered, it won’t leave us and without attention often turns into a stumbling block.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHANGE

 

CHANGE

We have moved house.   We have been in our new home for one month.  I hope I don’t need to up sticks again.  It was exhausting.

I work from home, my husband does so at least one day a week.  We are organised people and when we cannot sit at our desks and work effectively we become headless chickens running in all directions unable to settle.

We work well together though.  In fact, we love projects and despite all the soul-searching, the agonising, the choosing, the steps of faith, the uncertainty, the sleeplessness, the tiredness, we have worked our way through mountains of boxes.  BT after a lengthy process came good and everything functions.   My head overcome with unimaginable detail and clutter has emptied.  I finally wrote the long-awaited article my publisher requested weeks ago and now I am attempting to return to social media. 

The new house is quite simply lovely.  It fits us like a glove.  Our furniture fits, and any excess is secure in my daughter’s garage. She returns from Africa with her husband in a few weeks to take up residence in the house they bought ‘egg-borrowing’ distance away!  It was a firm requirement of hers and a delightful request to fulfil.  Our son and his wife live perhaps two miles away. 

Family.   I still look at my family and wonder how it happened we should all live so close to each other; should love each other and choose to be together.  To me it is a wonder.

The family I grew up in didn’t function like that.  My parents divorced when I was twelve. My mother remarried soon after.  My father left, and we hardly saw him.  He eventually married and moved to Holland.  My sisters and I were people who lived at a physical and emotional distance from each other. It was the death of my father that brought us together and so we remain to this day.

We now have a delightful grandson and I looked around the table at the gathering for a BBQ on Bank holiday Monday in the beautiful, long-awaited sunshine and said to Judah, this is your family.   Love for one another in a family is everything. It includes love for those around us, neighbours, friends.  Love is something I had to learn and continue to learn.  Love is something to pursue. Love, embodied in a Person who showed us what it looked like, is precious beyond measure.

So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

 

 Love never dies.

1 Cor 13 The Message

When change comes to us, let’s be bold and grasp it with both hands.  The unexpected can be delightful and life-enhancing despite all the difficulties.   Anything can happen.

 

THIS EASTER GO SEE ‘THE REAL THING’

THE REAL THING by Simon Shepherd

Two global icons – the cross and the Coca-Cola brand, both claiming to be The Real Thing.  What do we worship in the 21st century?  Has the focus shifted from the worship of the spiritual to worship of the material?  Can we see what is ‘real’?  This piece on show currently at the Chaiya Art Awards Exhibition at the gallery@oxo until 8th April 2018.

It was my privilege to write the Chaiya Art Awards coffee table book which complements the exhibition and is on sale at the venue. 

Chaiya Art Awards

Join me in my latest adventure. The Chaiya Art Awards competition is fierce with so many mediums including painting sculpture and #video, the quality of the work was astounding! Over 450 entries. Come judge for yourselves 29 March – 8 April at the Oxo Gallery – www.chaiyaartawards.co.uk Don’t miss this unique exhibition. Please spread the word and let all your friends know.

Christmas in Freetown

This Christmas I visited Sierra Leone for two weeks.  My husband and I stayed our daughter and her husband who work there .  It has a chequered history.

In the late 1800s the British inhabited and governed Sierra Leone.  Freetown was created as a haven for freed slaves. The British were there to develop mining and other industries.  To live there, they needed housing.  Remarkably, they approached Harrods to pre-build a house.  This they did, compacting it for shipping to Freetown. 

Today the houses remain striking but suffer from decay.  Situated high above Freetown, they enjoy stunning views, away from the noise and bustle of the city.  Now owned by the government they are rented to government workers.  I imagine the stilts they rest on are because of the deluge of water in the rainy season.  My daughter says the rain pours like a never-ending power shower.

The house pictured is typical of these ‘Harrods’ houses.

However, there are many other wooden homes scattered across the chaotic capital Freetown.   They could belong to the east coast of 18th century America.  They are a living link to the past.   Sadly, I don’t think they will last much longer.

For more information:

Sierra Leone’s Historic Homes, Built by Freed Slaves, Under Threat https://buff.ly/2CkhzCd

One of the highlights of our holiday was spending three nights camping on what is known as the ‘British’ beach.  Our tent only a mosquito net so we could lie back and enjoy the loveliness and shapes of the trees and vegetation illuminated by the large, incandescent moon.  So bright it made it difficult to see many stars.  I didn’t sleep particularly well, but the upside was seeing the moon set and enjoying looking up at the majestic palms. 

Sierra Leone is so poor it remains relatively unspoilt with glorious beaches.  A country with so much to offer in need of strong government leadership to improve the standard of living for everyone.

Our beautiful beach although the harmattan had arrived, so the air was full of Saharan sand.

 

12 Steps to becoming trustworthy

Trust one who has tried (Virgil)

To have good friends requires being a good friend.  Being a good friend is built on trust.  So what does being trustworthy mean?  Trust is an elusive component in life, but essential.  Building trust takes time, effort and commitment. 

  1. Be there. You have to spend time with a person to gain trust. Someone who hangs in with another however tough things get.   Ready with a word of kindness but also practical.  Our actions speak so much louder than our words.   We must allow our lives to get interrupted at the most inconvenient of times when the person on the phone, or at the door, needs our company.
  2. Learn to listen. When you are with someone do not allow electronic or any other interruption. At that moment they are the most important person in the world. 
  3. Be honest but with kindness – say what you think. It is amazing how difficult we find it to tell the truth in all circumstances.  We make a mistake and rather than owning up we lie.  Don’t deceive people or tell lies to make ourselves something we are not.  Most of us hate confrontation so rather than express what we are truly feeling, we say nothing.  It is so difficult to build a relationship with someone who will not say what they feel.  It makes both parties feel insecure. 
  4. Do what you say you will do. If you make a promise keep it or if it becomes impossible say so and apologise. Learn to be efficient – some are better at this than others, but we can all learn to do better at what we put our hands to. Be punctual. Meet deadlines. Be reliable.
  5. Be loyal. Be someone your friend knows will never betray them.   In any and all circumstances you have their back.
  6. Speak well at all times in all situations. Don’t jump in and say you can do something only to realise you cannot. If you are asked to help and you are unable to, say so. We are allowed to say no.
  7. No gossip. When people share themselves with us, they must know they will not be talked about when they leave the room. The confidences that have been aired will not be expressed to anyone else.
  8. Be empathetic. Learning to stand in another’s shoes and see what the world looks like from their viewpoint.  It means we can stand with our friend, utter words that will soothe and heal because we understand.
  9. Choose close friends carefully. Go for quality not quantity.  We can befriend many people, but not all people can or should be close friends. 
  10. Learn to say sorry. Take responsibility for all we do including the bad things, the wrong things, and the mistakes. Never blame others.
  11. Avoid denial. When things happen that disrupt a relationship don’t push it under the carpet. Face what has happened, talk openly and find a way through.  If we fail to confront difficulty eventually we will lose each other and the relationship.
  12. Stay consistent. Hold fast to the values of trustworthiness and don’t allow misunderstanding or unkindness to sway you. 

Learning to be trustworthy is a journey. I have made so many mistakes in my life. Every single point I have written about I have at some time done the opposite.  However, I have learnt.  I continue to learn.  I want to be a trustworthy person, an authentic faithful friend, and treat the relationships I have as the treasure I have discovered they are.

How to flourish

This is a holly tree. It is not remarkable.  When we brought the bonsai from our previous home, the plant looked as if it was dying.  The greenery had gone.  There remained a few scattered individual leaves.  It was a tree due for termination.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My determined husband placed it in front of our new house, to give the shrub another season.  Imagine my surprise when over the next months this happened.  In its fresh position it flourished.

  1. Love–we all long to be loved and accepted as we are. Sometimes we feel this is our right.  True for a child.  However, as an adult we need to become lovers in order to give and to accept being loved.  Life is challenging, painful, distressing, and alienating.  Choosing to love and also to receive love releases the oil of gladness into our hearts and minds
  2. Community–we are social beings and isolation and aloneness cripple us. It is not only elderly people who suffer from loneliness.  In our busy, over-stretched lives, making time for genuine friendships is something we all need to do.  Failing to give time is detrimental to health and well-being.
  3. Encouragement–the challenge is to discipline what comes out of our mouths and our fingers. Our tongues can indulge in gossip and tear into people, our fingers can do the same through social media. This is destructive and upsetting.  I remember gossiping about someone and then they walked into the room.  Shamed I vowed I would try never to gossip again. 
  4. Work–whether paid or unpaid, we all need gainful employment. Earning money is vital.  We need money to live, but work is also about well-being. Volunteer to help somewhere if you cannot find work.  I have done some boring and excruciating paid jobs, but it was therapeutic to give my best.  The work I loved I did after hours crucial because that work filled me with well-being.

Are we flourishing?  Do we need to change our position?  Do we need to change our environment?  Can we assist others to flourish?