views, reviews and previews

MODERN BRITISH SCULPTURE
Royal Academy, London
22 January–7 April 2011 Admission £12, concessions £10

 

READERS OF the exhibitions press will know this show has had some very mixed reviews. It would be nice to say New Directions has a different angle on this, but it hasn’t. It is a very mixed show.

Which is a pity because the Academy is a good place to display sculpture. And some of the rooms do live up to their potential. As a result Anthony Caro’s Early One Morning, one of the stars of the show, looks splendid. Hamilton and Pasmore’s An Exhibit has a good space to hang in. But the second room of small sculptures and reliefs and the earlier works which influenced them is chaotic and cramped. The final room which contains very little is all too empty. The layout is a curate’s egg.

Part of the justification for this and for the very particular choice of exhibits is so the viewer makes connections. The most straightforward type of connection is the critic’s friend – influences. But the show finds a variety of ways to muddle this. In Room Two the borrowings from the British Museum of ancient and primitive sculptures are hugely more impressive than the modern works they influenced. Even iconic names like Gill or (early) Hepworth look insubstantial besides the anonymous ancient masters. Later there’s Carl Andre’s Equivalent VIII, the Tate’s notorious pile of bricks. This is here because the curators wanted to show how British sculptors failed to be influenced by American abstraction, though the artist has suggested it is a meditation on the very British ‘bare and ruined choirs.’ Back in Room Four it’s yet more influences, this time the influence of Chinese ceramics on twentieth-century British ceramics and on sculptors in the Twenties and Thirties. Quite how this influence works is very unclear. The most important sculpture here, Hepworth’s Pelagos, looks and sounds Greek rather than Asian. And the ceramics are excellent, but they aren’t sculpture.

Or are they? as the publicists might say. This is one of the show’s dividing lines – what is it trying to show? Is it trying to tease us into new perceptions of what sculpture is and where it has been going? Or is it just not properly thought through? Have the curators succeeded if they’ve made us think why the layout is poor and the exhibits not really sculpture? As an argument, and the choice of the exhibits is an argument, that would be an excellent exposure of the ‘heads I win, tails you lose’ sophistry of relativism. Except, the one thing the show is probably not trying to provoke is a low opinion of its curators.

So, is it worth going to? There are good things here and it is sometimes worth looking at the bad beside the good. Also, and you can say this for once and not be a reactionary, here the past is better than the present. This is so, not only with the ‘influences’ but also in the last three rooms which show a serious falling off in quality, almost as if somebody wanted to show conceptual art is ipso facto inferior to the abstraction which had gone before. So uninteresting were these works, apart from a Hirst picnic filled with flies, and memento mori are not my thing, that I made no notes on them. These rooms also provide a happening in which bien pensant bourgeoisie gaze earnestly at a small section of wall with Page 3 girls stuck to it. This is an instance where the sculpture might have worked better in a different context.

Otherwise, there are good things to see. The Caro is fun. It has the freshness of early morning and it’s cheery. Jacob Epstein’s Adam is a famously phallocratic piece which inevitably engages the viewer, even if few have the nerve to look at it for long. There’s an excellent large bronze by Hepworth, all primitive with hints of Chinese jade rings, in memory of Dag Hammarskjöld. And Henry Moore is represented by a standard post-war public piece, Festival Figure, so you do get a sense of how (some) sculpture developed in this country over the last century. A good show for those who enjoy arguing over sculpture.

Owen Higgs

 

PRAISE TO THE HOLIEST

A Collection of Much-Loved Gregorian Chant, Hymns and Motets

Charles Finch (Conductor)

Cantores Missae

CANTORES MISSAE, a group of experienced consort singers, presents on this recording a collection of hymns, chants and motets which fall well within the ability of most parish choirs. It is intended therefore both to encourage hard-working parish musicians and bring enjoyment to the listener more generally. To my mind, and ear, these admirable objectives have been fulfilled.

The CD is itself well presented, avoiding an overly busy cover. The notes on the music are plain and simple. No texts are provided for the recorded items themselves, but the overall clarity of diction is such as to render them unnecessary.

The ensemble puts across a pleasing sound, though occasionally there are slight imbalances between the parts, one of the baritones (for example) coming across rather heavily particularly in the mid to upper range. Had there perhaps been but a little more meticulous rehearsal, the lack of unanimity at the ends of some phrases could easily have been overcome. The individual voices are of high quality, and there is technically excellent singing throughout the recording. Solo lines such as Kirsty Hopkins’ in Elgar’s Ave verum are treated with care and sensitivity, which is also a feature of the organ accompaniment provided by Neil Wright.

The choice of hymns on this disc is excellent, from the sublime devotion of Jesu, Grant Me This I Pray to a bracing rendition of Faith of Our Fathers. The tunes used in every case are well-matched to the texts, and are examples of very fine hymn-tune writing indeed. I think particularly here of Gibbons’ ‘Song 13’ and ‘Billing’ by Terry as illustrative of how well-crafted music can augment the beauty of words written in the service of God. The group is attentive to phrasing, and the dynamic sense of line highlights the text. Unanimous vowel sounds and good co-ordination of breathing add to the quality of presentation (the fact that staggered breathing is, on occasion, audible seems no bad thing to me). Again, the organ accompaniment is very competent – and the decision to leave Gibbons unaccompanied was an excellent one. I tend not to think very much of altered ‘final verse’ harmony, but there are good examples of such on this disc.

The motets on this recording reflect a range of composition from the sixteenth to twentieth centuries, and the group is adept in all styles. The polyphony of Croce’s O sacrum convivium is light and agile, and the choral accompaniment in Laudate Dominum suitably broad. The only slightly off-putting factors were unnecessary background noise during organ interludes, and some intonation trouble in Bruckner’s Tantum ergo, but Bruckner does not always write works which are easy to keep in tune.

As far as the chant goes, the cover notes provide an excellent description of the purpose and beauty of this ‘musical link which takes us back to the earliest days of Christianity’, which has its own ‘unique ambience of prayer and adoration which are to be found in almost no other musical form’. The singers take due care with the execution of the chants on the disc, and are by and large successful.

If one is searching for music to transport one back to the recent visit of His Holiness, I would suggest that one might be better to have a look around on Youtube. If, however, you want a considered programme of very well sung music, tried and tested in the service of the liturgy, Praise to the Holiest is to be highly recommended.

Graham Lunn

 

 

HEART SPEAKS UNTO HEART

Highlights of the Papal Visit to the UK, September 2010

Distributed by The Universe www.thepapalvisit.org.uk

IF LIKE me you were unable to attend any of the Papal visit and were forced to spend the entire duration of the visit glued to your television screen and indeed sofa (it wasn’t such a trail now was it?) this DVD may be for you. Indeed, even if you braved the events and got up close to the action you will want to buy this DVD if only to see what you missed 100 rows back at the Mass; or perhaps you may like to while away a few hours trying to spot yourself on the screen. For whatever trivial reason you buy this DVD, you will not be disappointed. It is the perfect reminder of the power of the Papal visit. Few of us will forget the power of the Holy Father’s speeches to the people of this land. His assurance of his prayers for us, his desire to see our Christian lives deepened and his encouragement for us to help in God’s work to bring about the conversion of England. Watching the events live and then again on this DVD it was impossible not to be struck by the way in which the Holy Father interacted with young people. His message to them calling them to holiness and to imitation of the saints is a powerful one. Their reaction to him as he emerged from Westminster Cathedral is something that will remain with me for years to come. His love for them and their love for their Pope were tangible. The pundits had suggested that the visit would be a flop at that moment it was clear it was nothing of the sort. As I sat there with tears of joy in my eyes I too wanted to join in the cries of Viva il Papa! This DVD is stirring stuff and includes lots of extras including commentary by Archbishop Vincent Nichols which is excellent as well as interviews with people involved in the arrangements and who were close at hand during the visit. If, unlike me, you didn’t invest in several papal flags, a bumper sticker, fridge magnet and commemorative plate (I dread to think what I will be like when the Royal wedding comes round!) then do buy this DVD. It is a wonderful tribute to a wonderful visit and each time you watch it you will be left with a lump in your throat and a desire for the Unity of Christians in your heart.

Bede Wear

 

 

PRIESTS OF JESUS CHRIST

Volume 2

Pope Benedict XVI

St Paul’s Publishing, 290pp, pbk

978-0854398065, £14.99

IN THIS second volume of collected addresses by Pope Benedict he reminds us, if ever we doubted it, that he is truly passionate about priesthood. For Pope Benedict the priesthood is at the centre of the Church; a gift from God. It is clear that Pope Benedict feels very keenly the effect the child abuse scandal has had on the Church. The second letter in this volume was sent to the Church in Ireland to call it to repentance and prayer in the wake of further revelations of child abuse. The Pope writes not only as the chief pastor but also as a priest when he calls the people of Ireland to refocus on ‘Christ’s infinite love’.

For Pope Benedict the priesthood calls men to a life of service and sacrifice, and enables those who are called to come into a deep relationship with Christ and with his Mother. For the Pope it is no accident that the Curé d’Ars should have such a deep devotion to Our Lady, for she constantly tells us to ‘do whatever he tells you’. With the Curé d’Ars all priests are to be devoted sons of Mary, to consecrate themselves and their parishes to her for she never ‘displeased God.’

It is natural that the Eucharist should be at the centre of any book about priesthood. It is in the Eucharist that the priest lives out fully his calling. One of the most striking images Pope Benedict uses is when he speaks of the priest yearning ‘to become the Eucharist’. Thus when living his vocation to the full the priest is called to accompany the offering of the Body and Blood of Our Lord on the altar with ‘the sacrifice of his existence’, giving over his whole life in service of his people and in love for the Blessed Sacrament. Both priests and people, then, need to begin their day at Mass and to spend time in prayer and adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.

Refreshingly in this day and age the priest, for Pope Benedict, is not some glorified social worker but one who through a life of prayer and example can bring people to know the love of Christ. For Pope Benedict it is a priest’s fervour for the Blessed Sacrament that is at the centre of his missionary life. The Curé d’Ars ‘was in love with Christ and the true secret of his pastoral success was the fervour of his love for the Eucharistic Mystery, celebrated and lived.’

The priest is in alter Christus, he has no priesthood save that of Christ. The priest has an ‘irreplaceable role in the life of the Church’ and can come under much pressure due to a decline in the number of vocations and increasing responsibilities. In all of this however priests should not be viewed as ‘mere functionaries’ but as gifts to the Church.

This is an excellent collection of short homilies and addresses and should not simply be on the bookshelf of every priest but be in his prayer stall. The homilies and addresses are short and could be read each day as part of the priest’s private devotions or aloud perhaps during exposition. As we continue to see the idea of the Catholic priesthood coming under attack this volume serves not only as an antidote but as an inspiration.

Philip Corbett

A PARTIAL VISION

English Christianity and

the Great Betrayal

Peter Mullen

The Watch House, 245pp, pbk

Available from the author at The Watch House, 10 Giltspur Street, London EC1A 9DE

978-0954715755, £10 + £2.50 p+p

‘THE HOLY Ghost is also the whirlwind of criticism and judgement which blows away all the trash and the perpetrators of trash with it. The Holy Ghost is the refining fire of judgement.’ This conclusion to Peter Mullen’s chapter on Whitsunday aptly expresses the tone of this book.

In the longer first part of his book the author brilliantly presents orthodox faith and practice because he believes that the Church of England has embraced the secular agenda.

Frequently topical and wittily amusing, he confronts the ignorant and the unbeliever. The militant atheist Professor Dawkins gets a drubbing in the opening chapter on belief in God. A long section on the person and work of Jesus Christ follows. Later he has a wise and thoroughly practical section on Prayer, then Baptism and Holy Communion and much more. A great deal of the teaching a parish priest ought to give in the course of his ministry is covered in short, learned but easily understood chapters. The long section devoted to the Passion, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ would make an excellent foundation for addresses in Holy Week and Easter. His writing includes many helpful quotations from a wide range of disciplines, though regrettably there is no bibliography and index.

The shorter Part Two, entitled The Abandoned Heritage, is a trenchant but persuasive condemnation of the decline of the Church of England in the last fifty years. He maintains that the heritage of English Christianity’s doctrine and worship has been abandoned for what is infantile and worthless. The Church has embraced the secular agenda. His devastating ridiculing of modern translations of the Bible is hilarious: the Alternative Service Book and Common Worship get similar treatment.

The ASB was replaced in 2000 by the new book Common Worship. Peter Mullen observes, ‘There were so many rites and prayers in the ASB that C.H. Sisson was led to refer to it as the book of variants. But in CW the concept of variety has been raised almost to infinity. In fact, it is hard to determine whether there is a single item which we can refer to as CW: there is such a plethora of permitted alternatives and downloads that the very existence of the book might be a topic for speculative metaphysics. A better title for CW would have been Prayers for the New Babel.’

He criticizes the General Synod for its failure to provide for the minority who cannot accept the ministry of women bishops but he intends to stay and fight his corner. Many will disagree with much in this second part of the book and even find it deeply offensive, but Mullen’s criticisms should be heeded.

Crispin Harrison cr

 

A NEW KIND OF CHRISTIANITY

Ten Questions that are Transforming the Faith

Brian D. McLaren

Hodder & Stoughton, 404pp, pbk

978-0340995488, £11.99

BRIAN MCLAREN is a passionate writer impatient for a forward-looking Christianity. In this latest book he sets out his stall under ten questions that challenge us to look to the future and a reimagining of Christianity.

For those like myself who believe there is nothing new to be said in Christianity, just the old truths to be stated afresh, McLaren’s title is the sort of provocation that gets you reading him. The book is angry and impatient but through those passions it touches on some key issues for church leaders and teachers especially.

‘Is God violent?’ ‘Can we find a way to address sexuality without fighting about it?’ ‘How should followers of Jesus relate to people of other religions?’ These are three of the ten questions. The book starts with an attempt to reconstruct the authority and interpretation of Scripture in post-evangelical fashion.

The rigid ‘Greco-Roman constitutional model’ has to give way to a more relaxed model centred on Jesus. It is hard to read McLaren on the violence in the Old Testament, especially God’s alleged ‘genocide’ in the Noah story, without sensing his dismissal of much of the Bible for its ‘immature’ theology. ‘Does the Bible tell us to shut up and listen because everything is settled?

Or does it invite us to be part of the conversation?’ Such comments demonstrate anger against conservative Evangelicals but are at cross purposes with Anglican and Roman Catholic readers who would set biblical authority in any case within the wider context of the Church.

On homosexuality there is an interesting reference to the ‘sexually other’ Ethiopian eunuch, ‘a non-heterosexual in missional leadership from the very beginning of the Jesus movement’. This helpful chapter concludes with an appeal ‘to construct not just a more humane sexual ethic in particular, but a more honest and robust Christian anthropology in general’ which will only come about as those on either side of the sexuality divide ‘start talking and walking and working together’. The same could be said of women’s ordination though this is not touched on since the ecclesiological presupposition of the book is not sympathetic to Catholic tradition.

A New Kind of Christianity ends by naming four global emergences McLaren sees as shaping the future – the ecological crisis, world poverty, the threat to world peace from injustice and the spiritual failure of religion. These he calls ‘spinning gears in a suicide machine’ which much of Christianity is in denial about.

‘Oh yeah, yeah, a billion people live on less than a dollar a day. But you’re decentralising our preferred theory of atonement.’ There is no doubt McLaren as evangelical prophet is made to feel uncomfortable in his evangelical homeland. Though this reader is not of that land he was also made uncomfortable by reading the book. Some of my discomfort was due to his renegotiation of the Christianity I love, but some was caused by his capacity to tell the truth in such a way to get anyone sitting up and listening.

John Twisleton

MORE RAMBLINGS OF A PARISH PRIEST

Derek H. Goodrich

Dynamic Graphics, Guyana, 111pp Available via <john@twisleton.co.uk>

from Guyana Diocesan Association

for a donation to that charity

IT IS good to have the occasional reminder that acts have consequences down to the smallest kindnesses or unkindnesses. Sometimes we meet people late in our life whose vocations were partly forged by a small encouragement we gave them in the flower of youth.

More Ramblings of a Parish Priest is such a reminder from an Anglican priest who spent most of his long ministry in the Diocese of Guyana rising to be Cathedral Dean and inspiring many with an energetic and selfless ministry. He speaks of how on occasion priests see the fruit of their ministry in lives evidently set on course by the Holy Spirit.

South Londoner Derek Goodrich was ordained in St Paul’s Cathedral in 1953 just before the Coronation to serve his title at St Andrew, Willesden Green. It was a deanery service that was to change the course of his own life, a service addressed by the charismatic Alan John Knight, Archbishop of the West Indies, through whom Fr Derek was led to commit himself to serve in Guyana with the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel.

Derek’s Ramblings tell the story of 43 years missionary service in the former British Guiana where today he has been nationally honoured as a Guyanese for outstanding service. He became Dean of the highest wooden cathedral in the world which witnessed the emancipation of slavery in 1834. So many slaves flocked into the original cathedral to thank God for their freedom that a cracking noise was heard from timbers strained by their influx.

The legacy of the colonial exploitation continues in the political turmoil of Guyana today, ‘one land of six peoples united and free’.

Any Church of England people who encounter the Diocese of Guyana have a major cultural shock and the most positive shock is the enhanced church attendance, even if it does not always split the seams of the buildings!

When you read Derek Goodrich you become aware of how his priesthood has served thousands to good whereas we who soldier on in the Church of England teach but hundreds directly in our post- Christian culture.

‘Just before I retired I did some Maths and reckoned that I baptised over three thousand, presented three thousand eight hundred for Confirmation, married some nine hundred and fifty couples, conducted nine hundred funerals, celebrated Mass on fifteen thousand occasions, and, horror of horrors gave over ten thousand sermons and addresses. How much suffering I have caused!’

Ramblings records in passing a faithful teaching ministry that reaches as widely as any priest could achieve in a lifetime. Fr Derek records many amusing incidents including this from a confirmation class: ‘I was put in my place one day when in response to the question ‘What are the three Orders of the Sacred Ministry?’ I received the reply ‘Stand up, let us pray, be quiet’! Out of the mouths of...!’

The book is of special interest to Guyanese but it is also an eloquent witness to the servant power of the priesthood and to how individuals get taken out of their own designs to be used by God for his designs.

John Twisleton

AN INTRODUCTION

TO THE OLD TESTAMENT

Sacred Texts and Imperial Contexts of the Hebrew Bible

David Carr

Wiley-Blackwell, 280pp, pbk

978-1405184670, £19.99

IT IS twenty-five years since I gave up teaching Old Testament at St Stephen’s House, so I was interested to see just how different a modern introduction would be.

There have been many influential studies since that time, but what effect have they had on the general, background, academic outlook? The fundamental shift has been from text (and editorial process) to political context (and foreign influence). The facts have not changed, but the perspective has.

Whilst most of the clerical readers of ND will remember their struggles with JEDP and redaction criticism and the endless problems with the provenance of the texts being studied, contemporary students are immersed in a broader world of ancient near eastern empires, alien hegemony and cultural invasion. It is a livelier world, with a narrower history, and with all the challenges of cultural and religious conflict – a bit like multicultural Britain writ large.

The textual progress does not begin with the Pentateuch and the Genesis myths but with Joshua and Judges and pre-monarchical oral tradition.

One of the advantages of leaving the first five books of the Old Testament until shortly before the Exile is that all the later material, such as the Wisdom literature, gets a better opportunity to be taken seriously. Carr manages to present the texts in such a way that the reader (essentially the first-year undergraduate) is free to make her own judgement.

He also offers a careful exposition of a number of key texts (bizarrely, not indexed): this is an effective form of teaching, and most helpful.

There are also a number of boxes scattered in the text, with synopses of basic information, realistic advice on which chapters to read, and a summary at the end of each chapter, reviewing the concepts introduced, posing a set of question, and offering a short bibliography (largely American). Another bonus is the illustrations, which have taken advantage of recent Israeli archaeological discoveries: there was far more from Judah and Israel than I ever remember.

Is the move from edited text to cultural history a good one? Certainly, it is more engaging. The ancient near east is a mysteriously separate world, and most students are wary of encountering it.

Setting the books in the context of what happened (much of which is recorded in the Old Testament anyway) is more lively and helps to make them more understandable. I would take Carr’s approach every time, against struggling with the Germanic categories of form criticism.

Does it help the ordinand, as opposed to the secular student? I wonder. We had to struggle to find the relevance to preaching in all those Germanic literary- historical forms, but at least we were struggling with the text.

In this modern, livelier inquiry, there is a risk that we only use the texts on our journey to understanding the cultural journey of this ancient people – the Bible as history rather than the word of God. That is how it is in contemporary religious studies faculties: the challenge may be different in each generation, but it never goes away.

Meanwhile, this is a worthwhile and encouraging introduction: inevitably technical, it is sufficiently helpful in its layout and presentation for a student to use it on her own, without reference to a course tutor.

Nicholas Turner

 

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