Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Christ the All Black icon

You can see it in Taonga, our Anglican provincial quarterly; you can see it on various blogs - it excites comment and reflection. What do you think? This image of Christ the All Black is on display in Wellington’s Anglican cathedral. It is in the traditional Christian iconic style. The artist, Don Little, said he had painted the piece after wondering if rugby was the new religion in a country that had largely turned away from religious belief. “The word ‘icon’ is being flashed around everywhere nowadays, so I just thought, ‘What is a New Zealand icon?’”

After the debates over the 'Haka Peepshow' artwork, it is interesting to view something which may seem easier to relate to. After all the icon style is familiar; we are used to questioning what a picture may be about.

I find this image confuses me with the subject and the style - that melding or interpenetrating of the sacred and the secular domains (if you buy into that kind of separation). From that (calculated) confusion there unfolds a whole series of reflection and negotiations. Can we speak of Christ in rugby? to which I want to say there is no situation in which we cannot speak of Christ - but the irony here is that we have largely replaced Christ with rugby. So the 'icon' is a reminder of the Christ we have 'displaced'; and possibly still a pointer to a Christ hidden within all the pursuits that engage us - not least in rugby.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Haka Peepshow: Art and Society?

It is a strange thing to see in the Octagon. I began to think about it when I dashed off my letter to the ODT which I saw was published this morning.

It is the nature of art to excite debate, questions and controversy. It does not particularly matter that a work may be considered ribald by one or puerile by another. The defence of the Rakena artwork in the Octagon by Bridie Lonie this morning (ODT 21/09/11) is a good example of how a critical defence may be made for just about anything in art and how one will bring to a work one’s own bias and various agendas, cultural or otherwise. Lonie’s claim that the ‘peepshow’ is of ‘enduring value’ is, I suspect, more an aspiration than reality.

What does matter however is the social responsibility of art (and this seems pertinent when I recall that the DCC could not find $38,000 for marginalised workers at the Recycling plant but could find $50,000 for the “Peepshow’) and how this ‘Peepshow’ speaks to or for a society in hard times. I doubt it does.

As I think further, I want to continue to argue with the Peepshow - but not because it is necessarily 'bad art' as some have claimed. What constitutes 'bad art' is surely too hard to define. Having said that I concede that the notion of art having a social responsibility is equally contentious - and one has grey and dreary visions of state sponsored statues or paintings promoting the virtues and labours of the Workers or the Great Leader! However it seems to me in this specific instance, in a city where there are so few employment opportunities and so much financial hardship, that we have this exhibit that offers so little to delight and requires us that we operate it like a slot machine. It seems, at best, insensitive.

Friday, September 9, 2011

No Ordinary Evensong

A cold and wet Spring evening, and we have, at least for tonight, resumed the mid-week Choral Evensong as the girls of the choir from Christchurch Cathedral Grammar School are in Dunedin on a visit to St Hilda's and have joined our choir for Evensong. The combined choir must number perhaps as many as sixty and the procession as we enter stretches the length of the nave - it is quite a sight. Peter Ellis is on the bench and there is no doubt that he knows this organ and how to play for this space and this choir. Michael (as usual) conducts this greatly enlarged group so well - a joy to watch!

The Cathedral Grammar is billeted out with St Hilda's families and many of them have come to the service, a detail that speaks eloquently of the commitment and hospitality that St Hilda's does so well.

We have not printed off anywhere near enough service sheets but the congregation have managed and though the service would have been unfamiliar to many of them, they have followed it rather well.

It may be that Choral Evensong is something followed rather than participated in, except that the participation is more that of the spirit than the voice. The service provides an ample space for reflection and the enjoyment of beautiful music and fine words resonating in this beautiful building. Here heart and mind can soar and amidst the beauty the presence of God can draw closer to us - or at least open us to an awareness of that presence.

It has been a long time since Cathedral Grammar has been able to sing the Office in a Cathedral. We continue to keep Christchurch in our hearts and to pray. At least, this night, this is their Cathedral.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Spring Morning Thoughts: Education

One hangs out on the deck these mornings, for a few minutes at least, with the first espresso of the day and with the dogs cheerfully circling before they settle down patiently to wait.

The day off yesterday was a bit of a farce. Most of it was spent chasing up information about why a devout Anglican family could not get their daughter into our excellent Anglican girls school. Summarising an exchange of emails, it seems the school considers it is (a) not really Anglican but merely 'in the Anglican tradition' and (b) being Anglican gives no priority of preference but is merely one consideration among others associated with 'special character'. The point of not giving particular preference to being devoutly 'Anglican' is, I understand, to avoid discrimination.

Hm! As I see it, there is something amiss here. In 1979 the school became integrated and in 1980 Synod amended its statute for the School - and there was no suggestion the school was not Anglican or that its Anglican identity was now compromised in any way. Did the integration deed require that practising committed Anglicans could have no place reserved for them at all? (If it did, what was the Bishop thinking?) Or is the lack of a real preference now something that has evolved over time?

These are not academic questions but they cut to the heart of what the church goes into education for. The primary (but not sole) reason we are are in education is because we are concerned about the formation of our young people as followers of Christ in that distinctive way that is the character of the Anglican church - and we need to do this because they are the church of the future. Consequently a priority for devout Anglican families should never be a problem. All it would mean is that a few places would always be held for families who were demonstrably in that category and if they were not taken up would then be made available more generally.

Of course the wider questions of church schools and whether we should be bothered with them is a debate that tends to provoke strong reactions. Many see these schools as bastions of privilege - and are ideologically opposed to them. I think that is far too severe. However if they are not to be bastions of privilege (and refuges from a failing state sector) they must at least genuinely honour the religious purpose for which they were founded.

I will continue to mull this over as we prepare for confirmations in the cathedral this Sunday. Now that's a point: I wonder when our church school last held a confirmation?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Sermon Preparation Matthew 18

It is a detail from a 14th Century illuminated manuscript. Set within the Capital 'C' the artist has set an image of the last supper. Everyone is there, held within the circle, and at the bottom, marked with the dark 'halo' is our friend Judas.

I say 'our friend' because there is the dark side in all of us and in contemplating this image I have also to recognise myself and those traits that I would not like to admit to the world - or for that matter to myself.

Then, if I take this on a slightly different tack and see in this image an icon of the community that is the church, our friend Judas is the one who makes us see the church differently. Is the church better without Judas or does it need him? Judas is that awkward, wayward, destructive presence at the table - do we put up with him or urge him to leave? The fact is that community life would be more comfortable without this destructive presence - but he would leave a gap. It may be that the test of Christian community is how we put up with the one who seems to be destructive. It may be that this is also the one from whom we learn something ... the one whom strangely and uncomfortably ... we need.

All of this of course is all partly by way of sermon preparation - the gospel is Matthew 18 tomorrow with its guidelines on how to manage conflict in the church. I suppose it may be reassuring to remember that the early church surely had its problems and the provisions of such guidelines, as much as the presence of the dark-haloed one in the letter C, are a reminder that human nature has remained remarkably constant over time.

I had hoped to have done the sermon much earlier than this but Friday turned to custard and my plans to attend the conference today on the New Atheism have had to be abandoned.

But this is not just a matter of sermon preparation it is also about my friend X who frequents the cathedral and is frequently a disruptive presence. X can appear intimidating and of late his behaviour has become unacceptable as others don't feel safe or comfortable under his tirades. He is largely unable to amend his behaviour. It can't go on: so I look at the letter C and feel uncomfortable as I accept that this seems to be one of those moments when I must set a limit on the scope of our community and effectively remove someone from the table.

Our circle will be broken ... we will be less.