SputnikDay: Church Needs Creatives

SputnikDay: Church Needs Creatives

In January, we hosted our very first SputnikDay. About 40 artists, mainly from churches in the Catalyst Network, gathered in Brum for a day spent getting to know each other, worshipping and talking through how local church and artists can be better friends!

It seemed like everyone had a good time and we’d love to do another one of these in 2015.

We limited invitations to artists who we knew, who were actively pursuing their art forms beyond the boundaries of their churches. If you fit this bill and would like to join us next time, get in touch, but for the time being, here are the two main talks by Adrian Hurst and Jonny Mellor to give you a favour of what we got up to.

At the top of this post is a shorter exerpt from Jonny’s talk, outlining the vision of Sputnik fully but concisely (12 minutes isn’t too bad ;) ). If anyone ever asks you why churches should bother with art, it may be a suitable video to send their way.


Secret Cinema – victim of the mainstream?

secret cinema article

Secret Cinema has ironically been making headlines all weekend. The company, who specialise in immersive cinema events staged at secret locations around London, have found themselves at the wrong end of an almighty media backlash after cancelling all their July screenings of Back to the Future, their most ambitious (and expensive) project yet.

So where did it all go wrong for an indie phenomenon that has gone from strength to strength over the last couple of years? Secret Cinema themselves are keeping very mum on the issues that forced them to cancel their opening dates at very short notice.

What can be said is that Secret Cinema as a concept is no longer something for the niche enjoyment of East London hip elite. Back to the Future is by no means a cult film in the same way that Nosferatu or Paranoid Park are. However, Secret Cinema have previously curated screenings of Ghostbusters and The Shawkshank Redemption. A change in the company’s target audience cannot fully explain how Secret Cinema were able to shift 85,000 tickets for this summer’s run.

The reason for Secret Cinema’s surge in popularity and this weekend’s stark fall from grace is that their motto, ‘tell no one’ has largely gone ignored. Secret Cinema have put on some fantastic events, wowed people with the unexpected, and those same people have gone home and raved about it to their friends. I went to see a Secret Cinema production of Laura Marling’s latest album last June, which was held in The Grand Eagle; a 1920s hotel converted from a disused Hackney schoolhouse. I had no idea what I was doing, turned up in my black tie and was amazed by one of the most incredible pieces of performance art I have ever seen. Through repeatedly coming up trumps with a variety of different films and events, Secret Cinema had built up a bond of trust with their fans. People turned up, risked looking a little silly, but ultimately enjoyed themselves. Wandering through Bethnal Green in a tuxedo was not a comfortable experience, but that risk was outweighed by how spectacular the Grand Eagle Hotel project was.

Laura Marling provided an ideal niche for Secret Cinema’s ambition. She is a popular enough singer for them to draw a crowd and make headlines off the back of the performance, but she remains independent enough for the company to not be overwhelmed by demand. Though the reasons for the failure of Back to the Future remain secret, curating a similarly immersive experience for such a large number of people cannot be logistically easy. Secret Cinema’s organisational travails have not been treated sympathetically, but this is perhaps to be expected when you cancel at short notice an experience that requires the customer to leave their phone at home.

The Secret Cinema is no longer a secret. It is no longer a movement lurking under the radar. Selling 85,000 tickets at 50 quid each suggests that most people know what they are buying into.  It will be interesting to see how Secret Cinema rebound from this summer. The concept clearly has legs and when they pull it off, it is beautiful. It will be intriguing (as well as a grand irony) if Back to the Future returns the company to a kind of indie ground-zero; that by losing enough popularity this summer, their fanbase might decrease to its hip-core and the concept will become more easily workable. For now, Secret Cinema have a PR mountain to climb and nine August screenings of Back to the Future to deliver.

Terracotta Army fills Moseley Road Baths

moseley baths

I am big into architecture and I love the beautiful city of Birmingham. The two came together this weekend as part of an art project by Attilia Fiumarella, who managed to assemble 100 faithful Brummies and position them terracotta army-style in the Gala pool of Moseley Road’s Grade II listed bath complex.

The project was partly a protest, as The Man seeks to close the historic baths as part of council cuts. Fiumarella has said that the piece is also a means of exploring the emotional ties Birmingham residents have with their city and its buildings. Old buildings are important, Attilia reckons. “The new library and symphony hall are wonderful, but we should treasure our heritage”.

As an archaeology graduate I couldn’t agree more, but it is reassuring to see that a wide variety of people from a local area appreciate the value and importance historical buildings serve beyond their practical purpose. They are shared works of art.


– More from BBC News

Paul Kerensa on being a Christian comedian

You may never have heard of Paul Kerensa, but it’s quite likely that he’s made you laugh before.

Paul is a stand up comic and a writer for TV comedies such as Miranda and Not Going Out. He is also a Christian who is keenly aware of the responsibility he has writing scripts that will be watched by up to 8 million people. In this video, Paul explains how he seeks to affect culture through his writing and has some very helpful, simple observations that will be relevant to any follower of Jesus seeking to be an influence to the culture that we inhabit. (The first three and a half minutes contain the really good stuff!


Creativeartsnetwork screen shot

I remember two years ago when I was given the task of thinking through what a creative movement/collective/whatever would look like in our church. Me and Jemma (my wife) had spent years discussing how it would be nice to connect our creative leanings with our church involvement, but we’d never come up with any ideas that were particularly practical.

With little inspiration, I decided that plagiarism was probably the best way to go, so sought out others who were building church based artistic movements from whom I could pilfer ideas liberally. The only problem was I couldn’t find any. Anywhere.

Obviously there was loads of Christian art stuff around (most well intentioned but of very dubious quality), but I couldn’t find any churches who were seeking to form fledgling collectives and make credible art that would bless, challenge and provoke their commuinites. This may have had more to do with my lack of patience and misguided google searches than the actual absence of relevant creative Christian collectives, but for whatever reason, I was drawing a blank.

Now. Finally. After two years. I think I’m at last getting somewhere.

I’ve been blown away by the excpetional work that James Bowman and the team at St Pauls, Auckland are producing and the way that they are using their creative skills to impact their community. I have also enjoyed the glimpses I’ve seen of Eucharist Church, Hamilton and the wemakestuff guys from Vancouver. However, I think I’ve stumbled upon my favourite Christian art ‘thing’ yet.

Its called the creativeartsnetwork and operates out of New Community Church, Sidcup. Believe me, you’ll be hearing lots more about these guys and I’ve got a short interview with the editor of creativeartsnetwork.co.uk, Chris Smyth, to put up later in the week as well. For the moment though, check out the site and don’t be surprised if you see us magpie-ing a few of their ideas over the next couple of months.


A review of Rian Johnson’s film adaptation of Ecclesiastes (Looper)

looper review

Right, Looper; it’s a very good film. As a swift synoptic introduction, here’s a memory test from your Sunday or Primary School. Try to remember the story (and all its bad costume) of Saul, the King before David, who was very upset at not being God’s chosen leader for the nation. In his moment of despair of not receiving any prophetic dreams himself or guidance from the prophets, Saul goes to the Witch of Endor (in the Bible rather than in Lord of the Rings – 1 Samuel 28) and asks her to reawaken Samuel, the prophet who appointed him, so that he could have a word to get some supernatural guidance. Once you’ve imagined that scene, put a shotgun in Saul’s hand and get him to pull the trigger as soon as Samuel wakes up from his spiritual slumber, and you have a basic picture of what the film Looper is like. Sort of.

It’s set in 2057 in a fairly realistic, dystopian view of the future, with gangsters 30 years ahead beaming people they want killed back via illegal time travel to Loopers; assassins who then kill and dispose of the bodies. The film centres around two relationships. Firstly, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis as “Joe” and “Old Joe” (wonder how Rian Johnson thought that one up…) the same Looper after a 30-year gap, with hair lost and soul-mate gained. Secondly, a mother “Sara” and her eight-year-old son “Cid”, played by Emily Blunt and Pierce Gagnon.

The central idea that is considered in the film is: “How is it best for individuals to break out of the cycles of despair we face in the apparent meaninglessness of human action?” It has always been the case that endeavor, employment, family, companionship, education and monetary success don’t seem to lead onto anything of any objective substance. As the Bible often recognizes, these cycles of meaningless action are passed down family lines, with kings making kings, warriors making warriors, farmers making farmers – even with differing tribes famed for their skills. Within this system of “ethne” family lines, the successes or sins of fathers are passed on to their sons. In the Bible, there is a much higher valuation of family than in our individualist society, with traits, whether they’re good or sinful, acknowledged to be passed down through family lines. We see it today, but don’t make much of it. Bright, industrious parents produce bright, industrious kids while misbehaving parents tend to (surprise, surprise) produce naughty children.

In the film, Cid is the key to all things – abandoned as a newborn child, unaware of who his true mother is, he develops a gift that will allow him the possibility of taking dictatorial power, and (ultimately) of closing the loops by having Loopers head back in time to be killed by the earlier version of themselves. The closing of these Ecclesiastical cycles, releasing Joes old and young, Cid, Sara and the world (to see how, watch the film) from their supposedly meaningless futures, Justin Gordon-Levitt takes a leaf out of Christ’s book to solve the problem. It’s an unexpectedly beautiful ending.

It might be said that these ideas seem far removed from the conversations and thoughts that are prominent in our lives and society, but I think the cyclical, seemingly meaningless nature of life is something that many wrestle with. Just a few weeks ago I met a girl who was convinced by Jean Paul Sartre’s bleak notion of despair about the meaninglessness of life. She was stunned to be told that such notions were dealt with in the Bible, most famously in Ecclesiastes which begins: “Meaningless, Meaningless, everything is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 1:1)

And this persuasion exists generally in a society which believes that religion doesn’t offer anything useful in dealing with real life, contemporary thought or problems. Ecclesiastes tackles this issue head on, especially the notion that “There is nothing new under the sun”. ‘Looper’ repackages this statement in its presentation of a world in which all problems are cyclical and constantly recurring. Cid feels locked into his mother Sara, as she abandoned him as a child. We know from the vision we are given by Old Joe that this goes on to shape Cid into a tyrannical, dictatorial leader as he attempts to use his (impressive, it must be seen) powers to escape the Ecclesiastical cycles of life. If it has always been the case that problems that fathers face will incur themselves on sons then it does not matter where in history you are, the problem remain unchanged.

Now the problem presented by Looper is one that we all face in our lives: how do we reconcile ourselves with the meaninglessness of our actions? Albert Camus in “The Myth of Sisyphus” compares our life’s torments to the constant rolling of a stone up a hill, always and only ever seeing it roll down the other side, resetting the problem. Our lives are full of decisions that don’t seem to make much difference to the whole picture and can often lead to us thinking that we don’t matter. How do we escape the cyclical notion of father-to-son-to-father-to-son?

Well, Looper offers what I would call the perfect response, as it is a response that exactly mirrors the message of Ecclesiastes and scripture. I won’t say explicitly what that message is, but it is the only way that steps outside of time to solve the problem. And it is this that is exactly like the gospel – Christ on the cross speaks such a measure of the love that God has for believers that it transforms not only our lives now and our children in the future, but also the lives and actions of the Biblical Patriarchs from Adam to Abraham, Solomon to Job.

In other words, only Christ can break the loop.


Rory Allen

Les Mis and The Power of Story

power of storyI applauded. I sat back in my seat, I had to catch my breath. I was mesmerised.

I just loved Les Miserables. But then I was always going to. I’ve seen the musical three times, my sister was in a school production, and my dad has long spent car journeys trying to reach the upper notes of “Bring Him Home”. It’s been part of family life for me for as long as I can remember. And the film did not let me down. I left, feeling overwhelmed at the life journey of Jean Valjean – the criminal won to a new life of love and sacrifice by the unmerited kindness of a Priest. It resonated. It spoke to me. And judging by Facebook on the opening night, I wasn’t the only one.

It is my experience that films speak to us. Shows us something. Tells us something.

This is because all films are, in their own multi-billion-dollar way, simply stories. The same applies to books and TV shows too – underneath it all, they are just stories. And human beings love stories. Whether that’s “boy in cupboard lacks meaning and hope ‘til bearded giant from West Country kicks door down and reveals he’s a wizard”, or “short creature with hairy feet joins faithful friend (again from West Country) for epic journey to destroy evil jewellery”, they capture our hearts. And across centuries, nations and age-groups, humans have agreed on this. We love stories.


The fact that stories resonate with us is no coincidence. Consider that we’re not just readers of stories, not just lovers of stories, but participants ourselves in a story. And not just in our own small “school, uni, job” story, but in a far more cosmic adventure, the narrative that has spanned eternity. The Great Story of God and his people.

Think briefly of the plot. It starts well, the perfect beginning, a peaceful and joyful soundtrack plays freely in the background. But soon, the story is marred by strife, struggle and strain, as sin enters the world, and the musical score of history turns from major to minor. But a promise is given. One day, redemption will come. Finally, when all hope seems lost, in comes the Hero. He defeats the enemies, saves the people, rights the wrongs and provides the true happy ending.  Creation. Fall. Redemption.  It’s the Ultimate Story. And we’re part of it.

Listen to how the Jesus Storybook Bible describes the Bible on its first page:

Now, some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn’t do…Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy. No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne – everything – to rescue the ones he loves. It’s like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life!

God is a story-teller, and Christ is the true Hero of the “most wonderful of fairy tales”. Is it any wonder, then, that we so easily lose ourselves in a good book?! That the fanciful children’s tale of a pre-pubescent wizard kick started a global phenomenon that even adults now freely enjoy?  That Frodo’s epic journey through the enemy-ridden Middle Earth produces in us a genuine love for him, for Gandalf, for Sam? Far from silly child’s-play that Christian’s should grow out of, stories are godly, God-like – and engaging with them is a central part of what it is to be a human in God’s world. Christ, the True Man, knew this, and all through the gospels he freely side-steps dry, abstract debate by delving into a first-century story time.

So what?

So what does this mean? It means when we can’t help but applaud at the end of Les Miserables, we shouldn’t feel silly. When we are engrossed in the Hunger Games, get glued to Homeland, are thrilled by Prison Break, we should not be surprised. We should enjoy! Stories are wonderful. And God agrees!

But it doesn’t stop there…

Just as humans bear God’s image, human stories bear the image of God’s story. How many films start with a perfect start (girl meets boy), a fall (boy leaves girl) and a redemption (boy comes back to girl)? Or think of the peace of the Shire, to fall of the wars of Middle Earth, to the redemption in the glorious finale of the defeating of evil. Our stories – even the best – are simply shadows of the Great Story, We can not only enjoy them for themselves, but look beyond them.

Beyond Eponine’s desire for relationship to the Triune God who offers us a place in the love of the Godhead. Beyond the Priest’s astonishing grace to the God who saw our crime, our betrayal of his love and yet took the shame himself, didn’t treat us as our sins deserved, but gave us grace upon grace. Beyond the plight of the Paris poor and the despair of defeat, to the wonderful Saviour who came to rescue the oppressed and will raise us to new life. Beyond Valjean’s final transition from a life of running and chains to the God who truly says to us: “Come, where chains will never hold you.”

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28)


  • What are your favourite stories? What do they say about the world? How do they point to the Great Story?
  • Though you no-doubt disagree on lots with your non-Christian pals, what are the stories that you share a love for?
  • Could you take your friends to the cinema and ask them “What was it about that film that you loved? What made you love it so much?”
  • Could you even run a film night with a 10-minute discussion after? A book group?  If stories are good enough for Jesus’ evangelism…



Reflection on SputnikExhibition 1.0- Remember the children!

reflection on exhibition

You know what- I wrote a great blog article on this topic. It was brilliant. I talked about Art (with a capital A), described children as the ‘lesser-birthdayed’ and came close to biting social commentary. However, having proudly read it to Jemma, she told me that basically I was a Luddite and didn’t know what I was talking about. So, here’s my second, slightly more tentative attempt!

This is what I know and still hold on to despite our spousal dispute. Working with the children and young people at our church enhanced our exhibition greatly. Jemma spent some good time in Sunday morning kids’ work and in our church youth group in the weeks preceding the exhibition. The young people were equipped with some torches, an overhead projector and some cameras. The primary school kids with some air drying clay and paints. At the exhibition, then, we managed to fill almost three boards with their work.

Holy SpiritSome of the work was excellent, especially the painting with light by the youth group. Again presentation was key to ensure that you could identify the nativity sheep from the baby Jesus-es. However, I think it set a tone to the exhibition that was welcoming and involving, not cold and exclusive. One of my favourite pieces of work at the exhibition was Ben Harris’ ‘40 Episodes’. However, I know that, for some, seeing forty virtually black photos arranged so that the negative space spells out the Tetragrammaton, may have left them feeling somewhat alienated. That is, if they hadn’t been able to turn just slightly to come face to face with the googly eyed mini clay Magi riding on three legged camels.

Now, here is where, upon the wisdom of my wife, I start to veer from the certainty of my original draft. Buoyed by my sense of fraternity with the lesser birthday-ed (I still had to get that one in), I came upon the idea that perhaps the best art should always have a universal appeal. That all galleries should cater for the young and artistically naïve as well as those with art degrees or a history of LSD use. My wife disagreed with this sentiment and now I propose these ideas as questions more than statements.

You see a lot of the art that I appreciate is not suitable for children. Some of the art I find most profound is complex and can be brutal. There is clearly a place for high brow eccentricity in art, and the geniuses of their day usually leave the majority of people cold, including and especially children.

However, there is something grounding about involving children in an artistic project. They make sure that you don’t float off into unreality and self conceit. They can miss nuance and subtlety, but they can also point out that the Emperor’s not wearing any clothes.

Thanks to all the children and young people who contributed to our God. With. Us exhibition. Your googly eyed Magi were greatly appreciated.

For the adults out there though, what do you reckon:

Does the best art have to have a universal appeal?

Reflection on SputnikExhibition 1.0- People love creating stuff!

reflection on exhibition

On a Sunday morning, Churchcentral gathers about 250-300 people. Over 40 of them had work exhibited at our exhibition. For the mathematicians amongst you, you will know that this is a pretty awesome percentage.

When my wife and I started investigating how to explore creativity and the arts in our church, we were keen not to add new items to people’s already busy to-do-lists. I didn’t want to be having conversations with people that played on their sense of duty, asking them to do something that, in heaven, may be amassing treasure but, on earth, is just another plate to spin. When we asked people to get involved in creative projects, we wanted it to be releasing for them rather than providing them with another obligation.

Therefore, it has been a delight to see that this is just how its worked out. People have put serious work into this exhibition. Hours. And hours. Not to mention resources. However, while I hope they know that I’m really grateful for their time and effort, they’ve probably been more thankful of me than I have of them!

Here’s the deal: people love creating stuff. We are made in the image of God. God loves to create stuff. However, on the whole I think that Christians feel guilty if they spend any time copying their Heavenly Father on this one as they feel that such time should be spent on much more spiritual things. Engaging artists (and anyone who thinks creatively) in meaningful art projects in your church is like giving them permission to do what they love doing. In our case, this meant: a) over 40 people in our church meditating on what it meant for God to be with them for weeks on end, b) the 120 guests at our carol services seeing the real 21st century impact of a story they’d thought was just a fairy tale and c) Christmas cheer all round.

Everyone’s a winner.

Schaeffer’s Staircase. Part 5

So. To create good art, you must become fluent in the artistic tradition you are involved in.

But. To become fluent, you need to immerse yourself in that tradition, appreciate it and understand it.

But. No artistic tradition is thoroughly good. In fact, most become pretty corrupt pretty quickly.

So what do we do?

I think the book of Daniel gives us great insight into this whole area. Daniel was exiled to Babylon and the chief of the court officials was ‘to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians.’ (Dan 1:4) Babylon was not the homeland of virtue and goodness! It has not become the symbol of all that is ungodly for nothing! An intense course in Babylonian culture was going to be an immersion in blasphemy and perversion. But Daniel took the course. In fact, he seemed to throw himself into it with gusto. He still made a stand for righteousness, but he didn’t see his immersion in Babylonian culture as necessarily compromising that righteousness. As you read Daniel, his fluency in Babylonian (both its language and its culture) was a crucial factor (along with the occasional miraculous dream interpretation) in his gaining the king’s ear and becoming a significant voice in that nation.

The Bible gives us Daniel’s example and, through this, permission to get inside cultural traditions, even when they are not thoroughly upbuilding and pretty.

But we don’t get a practical guide detailing how to pick our way through the minefield that lies before us as we try to do this.

This is no bad thing either, as in this area more than any other, I’ve found myself having to rely on the Holy Spirit.

The truth is that we each have different struggles and weaknesses, meaning that a Christian blacklist of films, songs, books or pieces of artwork is almost impossible. I may be able to enjoy a film like the ‘Big Lebowski’, but if you struggle with the language you use (and I’m not talking about French this time), you may want to give it a miss. You may not have a problem watching movies which are built around extra marital affairs, I tend to steer clear of them. You may find that listening to ‘Rage against the Machine’ fuels in you a righteous anger against injustice, someone else may find it just makes them aggressive. This is why we need to rely on the Holy Spirit massively in this area and I think that practically the most important thing we need to do as we look to become fluent in different cultural traditions is to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

In a sense, the list below is just an unpacking of some ways we can do that, but here are some things I have found helpful:

1)    Balance your diet

A balanced diet does not just require avoiding unhealthy food. It also involves eating food that is good for you. The same is true of our lives. It is important to pay attention that we are not consuming unhealthy substances and this is true in our engagement with art, but it is also vital to make sure that we are also feeding ourselves on what is pure and good.

I need to be careful to listen to the Holy Spirit to work out what He thinks is unhelpful but it is at least as important to be making sure that I am also being fed by what David calls ‘the faithful in the land’ (Ps 101): by godly people and most importantly by God himself.

Are you spending more time reading God’s word than you are watching movies? Do you instinctively put on your favourite music on the way to work, or do you sometimes use that time to listen to sermons? However edgy your musical tastes, do you ever press pause and put on something else that may not push the envelope creatively but may feed your soul?

2)    Hold on to your favourite art loosely

In my time I have smashed more records, cracked more CDs and binned more videos and DVDs than I can remember! Now perhaps I should have been a bit wiser when purchasing these items in the first place, however for me I don’t always hear God’s voice in the shop beforehand, He usually delays how he speaks to me. Sometimes, I’ll just feel a slight internal discomfort when listening to a certain album or watching a film. I’ve learnt that I should never ignore that and should do something about it. At the very least, I need to ask God if He’s talking to me and whether he wants me to stop listening to that song/watching that film.

At other times, I find it helpful to mentally place my favourite albums/films before God when I’m praying and ask Him if He wants me to get rid of them all regardless of their content, which leads nicely on to my third, final and most important point…

3)    Constantly assess where your heart is

I always thought that God was most interested in the details of what I listened to/watched- the language used, the sexual acts referenced, the body count, etc. However, now I don’t think this is the big issue at all. His main concern is whether I love Him more than the ‘thing’ I’m into.

I remember one time when God told me very clearly to get rid of a certain record. This puzzled me as the record in question featured nothing that seemed too bad. It certainly was no worse than other records that I owned. However, as I put forward my case for retaining that particular piece of plastic, God spoke to me. He told me that it was about my heart. He wanted to know whether I loved him or hip hop.

Our first calling is not to understand our culture, but to love God more than anything else. If we feel called to be an artist but we realise that we love our artform more than God, we need to take a break from our art, repent and sort this out.

There is a degree in which an artist must love his/her artform. This is important if we are going to create anything important within that tradition. However, if that love starts to compete with our love for God, we’ve got to get our priorities straight. It’s a very tricky path to navigate, but I believe that God wants to help lots of us to start such journeys and actually, on the way, as we learn to avoid hazards and reject wrong turns, we will get to know Him so much better.

And hopefully we’ll start to redeem the traditions that we become fluent in.