Sunday, June 01, 2008

Change of Blog

Hi Guys. I've set up a new blog with reflections on art and Christian faith. I'll still add to this one from time to time but please note my new blogging home is now - or follow the link to the right. Cheers. Al

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Best Things Come To Those Who Wait... and Wait

So what do you do when you’re stranded at the airport, five hours to go, two coffees down, twitchy and more than a little bit sleep deprived? In my defence, the airline decided to switch terminals somewhere in the middle of last night. “Did you not receive an email from us this morning, Mr. Gordon?” asks an even more sleep deprived-looking attendant at Heathrow check-in. I glance at my watch and politely reply I didn’t get chance to go online before I left the house at 5.30 this morning. (Which poor BA minion was charged in the depths of the night to hurriedly attempt contact with a plane full of slumbering passengers?). So yes, I have missed my flight to Budapest and am now stranded, joining the ranks of flightless passengers who seem to have become a common sight at Terminal 5. Yes, did I mention that, it’s terminal 5!

Despite the frustrations there are at least some advantages to missing a flight in such a helpless manner:

1. An unexpected and quite sincere apology from BA staff who mixed up the terminals.

2. Free coffee. A little too much free coffee actuallyy.

3. A little time to catch up on some reading, stop, rest and pray. After a difficult week I admit I wasn’t quite ready for another full on conference and the free half-day afforded here comes at just the right time.

What to do then but read, wait, write this blog entry and hope there’s room on the next flight. For we Londoners, doing nothing for five hours is a rare experience and one that really should be relished rather than rejected. The chance to stop, reflect and pray should frankly come more often and be initiated rather than enforced. This little experience comes at a timely point for me and needed reminder that life should not be run at a rush hour pace. It just shouldn’t take a missed flight for me to learn these lessons.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Sunset Over Yosemite Valley (After Church and Ward)

Oil and ballpoint pen on canvas

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

God’s Sovereignty and Our Responsibility.

In honesty, there have been a few disappointments these last few weeks that have made what is normally a real joy in ministry something quite hard. Anyone familiar with the UCCF Arts calendar will know that the annual arts conference is on the horizon for July. For various reasons it’s been a real slog to get off the ground this year and I’ve felt quite frustrated at times.

The team have been absolutely brilliant and no one has dropped the ball in what’s felt like a really intense game. I really thank God for such a committed and enthusiastic arts planning team. Like so many difficulties in ministry most of the worries have come down to funding. Why is this so often the case?!

After six years with art students and UCCF I hope I’m learning to hold things a bit more lightly but I’d admit to feeling the pressure. Paul writes that of Christ’s sovereignty with such passionate conviction that “all things work for the good of those who love him”. How often has this proved to be the case and how often do I need to learn the lesson again. He also instructs the Colossians to “work with all your hearts as working for the Lord and not for men”. I find this convergence between God’s sovereignty and our responsibility a real mystery. When do you know when to stop fighting? How do you deal with disappointments knowing God is working for His purposes even when you can’t see it? When should faith really be blind?

All prayers would be very appreciated!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Who is the real Alastair Gordon?

Thanks to Dave Trench for emailing this link to me... and I thought my secret identity all these years was still safe, darn it!


Hope and Optimism.

I’ve been doing some thinking recently with the students at the University of the Arts about the difference between hope and optimism. It’s been an ongoing discussion in response to their lecture series on modes of Modernity and the utopian idea for the perfect city. Here’s what we’ve been thinking.

The first thing to say is that hope is not the same as optimism. Optimism isn’t really rooted in anything real or substantial. It’s an ideal based more on heresy and opinion than on anything really substantial or credible.

I’m optimistic that Scotland will win the 6 Nations next time but, to be honest, that’s not really going to happen. I’m optimistic that the new Indiana Jones film will live up to the hype but I’ve no real way of knowing until I see it. Hope is rooted in something beyond mere preferences and personal expectations. Hope is rooted in something a little more credible. Something that seems quite possible or likely to happen. Hope is based on something credible. Something real. Not on blind faith or subjective opinions.

Hope seems to have something to do with the future. We don’t hope for things in the past. Rather, we expect a better future. The future, it seems, is always a better one. Therefore, hope is always positive. We don’t hope for things to get worse! We only hope for things to get better. Ridley Scott’s film, Blade Runner, is not a hope for a brighter future. It is not a hope for Utopia, rather it is an expectation or prediction for worse things: for Distopia – a Modernist twist on the ideal of Utopia.

Hope and expectation are different things. We hope for the good. We expect the bad. My granny always used to say, “Hope for the sunshine, Al, but pack your Mac just in case!”

In order to give us something better to look forward to in the future, the fact we all hope for something tells us that something is wrong with now.

Woody Allen sums it up like this:

“Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering - and it's all over much too soon.”

Cheerful guy! He should have been Scottish.

When we hope, we only ever hope for good things. We don’t hope that England will loose in the cricket. We don’t hope for war or for ill health. Hope is only for good things. And the nature of hoping for good things tells us that there is something about the now that is unsatisfactory.

The idea that everything is not as it should be is not exclusive to Modernity. You don’t need to be a Modernist philosopher to recognise the world is messed up. It’s also something that the bible affirms. In the book of Romans, the apostle Paul writes of the world (or to use his language creation)

“The creation waits in eager expectation… The creation was subjected to frustration, not by it’s own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from it’s bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God”
Romans 8:20,21 (NIV)

Later Paul even describes the creation as groaning under the weight of decay and evil.

The bible affirms that the world is messed up. It recognises social injustice. It recognises poverty. It recognises personal struggle and the pain we both inflict on other people and the pain that is inflicted on us. Jesus Christ himself said that he had not come for the sake of the wealthy and the healthy but for the sake of the poor, for the social outcasts, for those who grieve and mourn and suffer.

The biblical expectation for the future paints a picture both of suffering and for redemption. Unlike the modernist vision for the perfect future city, the Christian hope for the city of Zion isn’t based on an ideal or the best intentions of man but on the claims of Christ and his resurrection from the dead. As certain as we are of his death and resurrection so we hope for the great future of a restored earth on his return. This is no mere optimism but a great

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Beyond Air Guitar Art

Deep in the darkest recesses of my parents’ garage I recently came across a much-loved object from my childhood: sandwiched between boxes of old Wonder Stuff records and videotapes (remember those?), I found what to most people would look like an old tennis racket: A very battered tennis racket… but to me this was no ordinary Wilson Raleigh Junior. This had been my axe of power, my wielder of wrath, my chrome-plated flying V with custom pick-ups and leopard skin strap. This was my old air guitar.

If you’ve ever fancied yourself as a bedroom rock-star you too might have spent nights in front of your parents mirror raising an imaginary plectrum of power to the ceiling, strumming down with full rock furry to the sounds of your favourite air guitar hits. Come on, we've all done it.

Air guitar is escapist fantasy at it’s best. All twang and no substance. There’s nothing real about it. Beyond the ability to press the play button on your Sony walkman, air guitar requires absolutely no skill whatsoever. Air Guitar is a pretence: we pretend we’re doing something amazing when really we’re just larking around.

I've been thinking about how sometimes the church acts as though it’s playing the Air Guitar in creative culture.

Sometimes we play air guitar to the creative industries. We see some really cool graphics on a billboard or the cover of an album and we copy it for our mission week publicity. A Christian band like the music of a guys like Coldplay or U2 and copy their sound exchanging but changing the lyrics to be more edifying or more ‘Christian.’ The Christian painter who likes the energy and freedom of Jackson Pollock and apes his style only saying it’s the Holy Spirit who guides his brush, not his subconscious.

In all these ways we play air guitar to what someone else has already made. We echo what everyone else is doing in a bid to be culturally relevant but in so doing, we’re always two steps behind the rest of society, rather than leading the way. The world leads the church rather than the church leading the world. Or, to put it another way, the world becomes the salt and light of the church rather than the church being the salt and light of the world.

Sometimes we play air guitar to God.

The bible calls us to work hard in all we do as working for the Lord and not for men. When we create we make for an audience primarily of one: we create for Christ: So we are to sing, dance, sculpt, design, model, write, compose and paint with all our hearts for Jesus, not just the guy who’s writing the cheque. This is our spiritual act of worship – our art!

In Genesis 1 Adam and Eve are commissioned by God with the stewardship of the earth. God tells them to “Fill the Earth and Subdue it”… taking care of all living things and the planet itself. Genesis 1:28

This isn’t just an instruction to do the gardening: this is a biblical mandate to take care of all creation. That means all animals, all humans, all culture. Christians aren’t called to play Air Guitar to culture, we are to be it’s custodians; we are to make culture, pioneer it and define it: move beyond air guitar.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

New Painting

So here we go, hot off the studio wall. This is oil on canvas83cmX52cm. The church commemorates the meeting point of the ancient Iclanders: the yearly 'Alping' gathering was the focul point of the communities' calender. The Apling was an annual festival where all social ceremonies and law speaking would take place. The painting is something of a lamentation for the loss of community and titles, 'Gather We, No More'.