Soaking in some culture…

M and I are just back from a lovely couple of days in Edinburgh- I had to attend a meeting about mental health improvement (which was actually really interesting- might say more about this later) and so we took the opportunity to go together and spend some time in the City.

And we found ourselves drawn like hungry creatures to the great honey pot of culture that can be encountered in Edinburgh. We spent ages in bookshops, music stores- and more interestingly, in art galleries.

Michaela spent 4 hours in the David Mach ‘Precious light’ exhibition– and was so captivated that she then took me in there too.

You enter the exhibition through a space filled by three crucified figures- the power of which are simply inescapable.

Then you enter a series of galleries full of art inspired by the words of the King James Bible. They are astonishing- huge collages of explosions of images- disturbing combinations and all sorts of mysterious weirdness.

This is the only exhibition I have ever been to where people walk round with tears running down their faces.

My favourite were a series of collages of heaven- in 4 seasons, juxtaposed with grotesque collages of hell, set in lots of cities. As Michaela pointed out- the heaven images were not nearly as powerful- mostly just lots of folk in happy activity- but the contrast with the hellish ones was electric.

Michaela’s favourite was a nativity scene- this does not begin to do it justice-

The other thing that you encounter in the exhibition are two heads- one of the Devil, and one of Jesus, made of matches, which are then burned.

Here is Mach talking about the Devil one.

The burning of the Jesus one was more controversial of course. Mach

The interesting question is whether such powerful religious art could ONLY be done by someone who is not religious? Could a Christian make art as powerful as this about the Christian story?

If you can- go and see for yourself…


The King James Bible on radio 4…

Today was the last in a series of programmes celebrating the 400th anniversary of the translation of the Bible commissioned by King James as a means of sorting out some of the theological dynamite that afflicted his life and times. It became one of the most influential books of the reformation in a country (Britain) that was to become the most powerful state in the world.

You can listen to the three programmes for a while at least on the i player, here.

The first programme dealt with the circumstances in which this translation arose, and particular with the man who the translation was named after- James, the Scottish King who took over from childless Elizabeth the first, popular in England (but less so in Scotland- he appears to be have been glad to leave, and only returned once!)

Perhaps this was in no small part due to his difficulties with the Scottish kirk- and the kind of religion espoused by men like John Knox (who had reduced James’ mother to public tears.)

This King ruled during a belief in the divine right and divine appointment of Kings. His kingdom was active in the burning of witches.

There have long been speculations about the nature of King James sexuality- beginning with allegations of homosexual relationships with a mentor as a young King in Scotland, and then throughout his Kingship with other courtiers. This issue is  fearcely debated, but seems to have been a popular insult even during his lifetime- Rex fuit Elizabeth, nunc est regina Jacobus (Elizabeth was King, now James is Queen.)

The translation was born in conflict, and was created by men of mixed motives and transparent humanity. Does any of this matter?

Because the legacy of it’s soaring prose and poetry lives on. Full of phrases that have entered into our language, and given shape to our dreams and hopes.

I should confess to very rarely reading this translation. In my time it has been too readily appropriated by people who would hold it as the ONLY translation that should be used- as if it floated down from heaven on a silver cloud. It has been asscoiated with dogmatic fundementalism.

My eyebrows always rise when I hear people pray using the language of the King James Bible- rich with resounding thees and thous, as if God himself spoke the language of the Court of St James.

But then words- no matter how well spoken and written- are always influenced most by the ears and eyes that they fall upon…