Sunday, 30 October 2011

NEW SPIN ON THE "LOTUS TEMPLE"


The inaugural Grand Prix of India has been heavily promoted with images of the Bahá'í House of Worship in New Delhi - popularly known as the Lotus Temple.

God moves in mysterious ways alright - though not half as mysteriously as Felipe Massa in that collision with Lewis Hamilton during the race! (Oh and do you see what I did with the title there?)

Friday, 28 October 2011

THIS WEEK'S VISITORS (1,724)


Regular update on the number of pageviews received from different parts of the world in the week just ending.
  1. United States 678
  2. United Kingdom 662
  3. Russia 106
  4. Germany 99
  5. France 43
  6. Canada 34
  7. India 29
  8. Romania 26
  9. Poland 20
  10. France 16

This week's total: 1,724 (last week's: 1,267). These are aggregates of figures from the top ten countries only. Blogger's stats software doesn't show me numbers of pageviews below the tenth-ranking country.

The world map at the top of this post is the graphic that I see on the stats page. The darker the green, the more pageviews from that country. I can see different versions of that map for "now" (whenever that is), "today", "this week", "this month" and "all time" (which seems to mean the last 12 months). They're updated each time I look at them.

AND I WISH THAT I COULD BE A BANNER MAN

When I get back to Phoenix Square around 1600, after my meeting at the Towers, the Council of Faiths banner is still up and all the literature that I'd put out for the International Day Against Hate Crime are still on display. They've neatly migrated from one side of the reception area to the other, on / beside a table with a pile of the November Phoenix Square brochure, all folded open at page 10, displaying the Faith Film Festival.

I start packing up, but ma interrupted by Andy Jones, Phoenix Square's Programme Manager, the person with whom I've been working on the programme for Inter Faith Week. Andy stops me in my tracks, asking would I mind leaving the banner up there, to promote the Faiths Film Festival. Would I mind? Would I mind?!?

I'm almost embarrassed at being offered this opportunity. I feel the need to explain to other staff at the Box Office why I'm leaving the banner. All they want to know is if it's okay for them to move it every once in a while, if it should be getting in the way. Of course. I'm chuffed but flustered.

I come back to Phoenix Square later in the evening to see The Troll Hunter. By then the banner has moved closer to the Box Office and is now sidling up to another, bigger banner promoting the new Leicester Mercury Weekend magazine. It looks like the bigger banner's wee brother.

And the title of this post? It's from the song, Banner Man by Blue Mink which got to number 3 in the charts, summer of 1971. The work I put into this blog ... *sigh*

MULTI-FAITH NHS STAFF RESOURCE


I'm at the Towers, Gypsy Lane, this afternoon for a meeting with Abida Hussain, Equality & Human Rights Officer, Integrated Equality Service of Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust. We're finalising copy and layout for the Multi-Faith Staff Resource (aka The Task That Wouldn't Die).

Here's an extract from the introduction to the resource, which will give an idea of its purpose:
Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are religiously and culturally diverse. This multi-faith pack has been designed with the intention of assisting and preparing NHS healthcare staff to address some of the needs of patients and service users in their care. This multi-faith pack has information and guidance regarding cultural and religious practices so that patient care can be given with knowledge and sensitivity. 
A person’s religion and belief will be central to their well-being and will have a direct effect on their needs, their behaviour and quite often on their attitude to being ill. At a time of illness and being in hospital or in a care setting, a patient or service user may receive a lot of comfort from their faith and the opportunity to practise it. Patients and their relatives will appreciate their culture and religious belief being respected. This will help them feel valued at a difficult time for them. 
This multi-faith pack is offered to staff to help achieve the quality of patient care required by Standards for Better Health. The Equality Act 2010 also makes it unlawful for a person to discriminate against a person on grounds of their religion or belief when providing goods, facilities or services (whether for payment or not). These provisions cover both direct and indirect discrimination. 
This is only a guide; there is very wide variation in belief and practice. 
Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust has a Spiritual and Pastoral Care team staffed by a chaplaincy team, who are a good source of knowledge and experience on how to serve the needs of a multi-faith population. Often the chaplaincy will be the first place people call when seeking advice or help in finding the right care. Chaplaincy teams help to facilitate spiritual or religious care for all.

When in doubt – ask the patient 
You can resolve many of the issues by simply asking the patient, or their visitors, how they wish to be looked after. 
This pack has tried to cover the majority of Leicester’s, Leicestershire’s and Rutland’s communities of religion or belief and the relevant issues. Therefore it is essential to talk to the patient about their health needs. All NHS services should offer access to interpreting services and it is essential to use these services when a patient has difficulty communicating their needs. 
If you are aware that a person belongs to a community or group that identifies with a religion or belief, then you should be able to use this pack to deal with the main areas which may be relevant.
The following communities of religion or belief covered in this document:

  • Bahá'ís
  • Buddhists
  • Christians
  • Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons)
  • Hindus
  • Humanists
  • Jains
  • Jews
  • Muslims
  • Pagans
  • Rastafarians
  • Sikhs
  • Spiritualists

This pack provides the following information in the same order, for each of the faith communities listed above:

  • Introduction and local information
  • Mode of greeting
  • Birth
  • Examination of patient
  • Particular sensitivities
  • Washing, ablutions and personal hygiene
  • Modesty and dress
  • Special dietary requirements
  • Fasting
  • Family planning
  • Abortion
  • Care in serious (or final stages of) illness
  • Blood transfusion / transplants
  • Organ donation
  • Spiritual advisor / counsellor
  • Death
  • Religious symbols
  • Post mortem
  • Burial / cremation
  • General considerations for community nurses visiting patients at home

I'm going to be fiddling with this and filling in the few remaining gaps for some of the sections over the weekend, so it might look a little different by Monday morning. And that's the final deadline, so it will be the last bit of fiddling!

We're planning a few induction sessions for staff members on the content, purpose and use of this resource. They'll be taking place during Inter Faith Week (if we stick to our schedule).

INTERNATIONAL DAY AGAINST HATE CRIME


At Phoenix Square Film and Digital Media Centre this morning, where International Day Against Hate Crime is being marked with an event organised jointly between Leicestershire Police's Stamp It Out campaign and Citizens' Eye Community News Agency.

Here's some information about hate crime, from the Stamp It Out! flyer:
The risk of being attacked or abused on the street, at work or in their own home just because of who they are remains an everyday reality for many people.
Hate Incidents and crimes happen because of hostility, prejudice or hatred of another person because of their actual or perceived disability, gender identity (transgender), race, religion or belief or sexual orientation
No two hate incidents are the same but may include the following:
  • verbal abuse and name calling
  • physical attack
  • graffiti or other deliberate damage to property
  • written or recorded threats
These incidents don't just affect the lives of those involved but affect their friends, their families and every part of the local community.
If hate incidents are not reported, then the bullies, bigots and thugs will feel their behaviour is totally acceptable and they they can continue to abuse people whenever they feel like it.
Stamp It Out! is a community-led partnership bringing together different groups and organisations all committed to challenging, tackling and stamping out hate within Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland.

Assistant Mayor Councillor Manjula Sood, Chair of Leicester Council of Faiths, is among a small number of speakers at the plenary session in Screen 1, the largest of Phoenix Square's three projection spaces. Here we also hear from Simon Cole (Chief Constable of Leicestershire Police), Justin Hammond (Stamp It Out), John Coster and Hollie Sturgess (Citizens' Eye Community News Agency) and Dr Loretta Trickett (Nottingham Centre for the Study of Reduction of Hate Crimes, Bias and Prejudice at Nottingham Trent University). We also watch an amazing video: No Arms No Legs No Worries.

Leicester Council of Faiths is exhibiting in the marketplace in Phoenix Square's reception area and cafe bar. We've done this sort of event here many a time, but this is probably the busiest I've seen it. Many of the displays focus on specific groups who are considered the most common victims of hate crime, whether it's racially or religiously motivated, homophobic, against disabled or older people or women. From the Council of Faiths perspective, I'm especially interested to meet one Jonny Basger, representing Community Security Trust (CST) a national organisation involved in protecting the Jewish community from all forms of antisemitic incidents. I pick up a wealth of printed material from the CST display. I'm particularly impressed by their use of QR codes and smartphone apps.

I've also taking apart today with an eye to activities with the Regional Equality and Diversity Partnership (REDP). REDP is planning a regional conference on hate crime in the first half of 2012. I collect as much relevant information as I can and speak to a few exhibitors and attendees about their interest and potential involvement in this forthcoming event. We've got a selection of REDP's leaflets about the Protected Characteristics as defined in the Equality Act 2010 on our display today.

We sign up today to Leicestershire Police's Neighbourhood Link Police Community Messaging System, to receive news, updates and events information. thanks to Steve Hastings, Communications & Engagement Co-ordinator, for signing me up as "single point of contact" for the Council of Faiths, quickly and painlessly. We both noted, during the signup process, that there's no faith-related category for this service (e.g. in terms of events, incidents or premises. Steve said he'd bring that to the attention of his superiors and see what could be done.

The event is still going on at 1330, when I have to leave in order to get to the Towers for a meeting with Abida Hussain (Equality & Human Rights Officer for the Integrated Equality Service, Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust). John Coster offers to tidy up our exhibition, so I can collect it later in the afternoon.

I COULD IMAGINE JESUS BEING BORN IN THE CAMP


When I say to Clare this morning that the Guardian has the strangest and most unexpected headline, she replies, "What, the strangest and most unexpected headline - ever?" I feel I the only reply to that is, "Yes!"

Read the article, "Giles Fraser resignation: 'I couldn't face Dale Farm on the steps of St Paul's'".

Thursday, 27 October 2011

FESTIVAL OF LIGHT


This photo's doing the rounds today. It's a NASA satellite image of India, taken last night. India is, of course, a populous country and no doubt it's well illuminated at night. But no doubt special effort is being made here for Diwali: the Festival of Light!

THOUSANDS FLOCK TO LEICESTER'S GOLDEN MILE FOR DIWALI FIREWORKS

From today's Leicester Mercury:


Thousands flock to Leicester's Golden Mile for Diwali fireworks 
Leicester's Golden Mile was alive with colour and excitement as thousands of people celebrated Diwali last night. 
Revellers packed Belgrave Road and Cossington Street recreation ground to enjoy drumming, dancing and an impressive firework and laser display. 
People travelled from all over to join in the celebrations. 
Heena Pathak, 44, of Rushey Mead, went along with husband Nitin, with both keen to see the fireworks. 
Heena said: "Even though I'm local, I've never come out in Leicester for Diwali, but this year instead of sitting at home we wanted to join in with the spirit of things. 
"We've celebrated at home with family, but we wanted to come here and be around lots of people and enjoy some food and drink." 
Jatinder and Nitin Patel, who live in Walsall, were returning to Leicester 20 years after they met as university students. 
Nitin, 40, said: "We wanted to come back and share this with our children so they learn a bit more about their culture and heritage because there's nothing like this where we live." 
Neelam Patel, 18, from Thorpe Astley, was celebrating with her 12-year-old sister Naomi and four-year-old brother Drew. 
She said: "I really like coming here to socialise and see the fireworks. 
"For me Diwali is about eating lots of yummy food, getting together with family and buying presents – it's just like Christmas." 
Suresh Sida, 43, who lives near Hinckley Road in Leicester, said: "It's great to come down and meet up with people and spend time with the family. 
"We've got friends coming here from Northampton because Leicester does Diwali so well." 
Councillor Piara Clair, chair of the city council's Diwali working party, said: "I am delighted we can share our Diwali day celebrations with people from far and wide as well as with many different communities right across the city." 
The Diwali events were organised by the city council and the Leicester Hindu Festival Council and sponsored by 02 for the first time this year. 
At Curve theatre, the festival was celebrated with an exhibition of vibrant sarees. 
The display of intricate garments was curated by family-run Belgrave Road business Anokhi House of Sarees. 
Set against a display of light projections, it shows how the colours and style of the saree has changed from 2,000 BC to today. 
Shop manager Karan Modha said: "I'm absolutely overwhelmed by the interest and very grateful for the opportunity to display our designs. 
"The beauty of the garment is that it fits everyone, and no matter who you are, when you wear it you feel like a million bucks. It's a piece of art."

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

SHARING SOME DIWALI JOY


Leicester is known internationally for having the biggest public celebration of Diwali outside India (we never let people forget that, do we?). But today, in different parts of the city, there are also a number of low key, small scale events and activities for this special day. Like this one, in Highcross, where friends from the Leicester Belgrave Mela were offering free Mendhi henna tattoos and free sweets to shoppers. I was particularly interested to see this display, as it is in the same spot (East Mall, at the foot of the escalators) that we'll be holding our Inter Faith Week exhibition at the end of November.

RETURN TO BASIC VALUES HELPS IN DIFFICULT TIMES

Ramanbhai Barber's First Person column from today's Leicester Mercury:
Return to basic values helps in difficult times 
Ramanbhai Barber issues an invitation to everyone to celebrate the Hindu festival of Diwali 
Diwali is by far one of the most important festivals in the Hindu calendar. It is of great religious, cultural, social and commercial importance. People look forward to Diwali all year around. 
Diwali is a time of feasting and celebration. People come together and share food, time and exchange gifts. 
People come together to pray for prosperity for the New Year. 
In the current economic times, when the unemployment rate is at the highest level for years, inflation is painstakingly high and fuel prices are going through the roof, many of us will be, no doubt, curbing our spending this Diwali. 
Basic commodities are not as affordable. As a community, we need to come together and share what we have. We need to share our joys to forget our sorrows. 
Sharing is a key feature of Diwali. Families and friends come together to share food, to share time, to share happiness. 
Material goods do not equate to happiness (unfortunately this is the view we are slapped with by our consumer society). Religious festivals are about connecting with God, connecting with one another. This is not done by spending lots and "keeping up with the Jones". This is done by being humble and respecting every individual and sharing joy. 
No doubt we face hard times ahead of us and the more disadvantaged will be the hardest hit. If we rekindle our community spirit and reinstate our basic values we will be able to ride out this difficult time. 
The message from our Mandir this Diwali is simple living does mean high thinking. We need to re-evaluate our lives, our needs and our desires as we cannot continue to live the lavish lifestyles many are used to. 
We need to live a sustainable lifestyle. This way we will all be happy and we will all be able to support one another. This is what the Big Society should be about: The every day person and their important role as a citizen, as a human, as a member of society. 
Diwali this year is celebrated today and New Year tomorrow. You all are cordially invited to come and celebrate Diwali with us at Shree Sanatan Mandir. 
Nutan Varshabhinandan – Happy New Year to all. 
Ramanbhai Barber, MBE, is President of Shree Sanatan Mandir, Leicester.

FESTIVAL PUT IN SPOTLIGHT BY TOP EXHIBITIONS

From today's Leicester Mercury:
Festivals put in spotlight by top exhibitions 
Diwali displays and activities introduced museum visitors to the Festival of Light. 
Newarke Houses Museum, in Leicester, held dance exhibitions and craft classes on Friday and Monday. 
Operations officer Stefanie Tyler-Divine said: "It went very well and everyone had a good time. 
"We had a dancing group in to perform on Monday and I put on a sari for the day, which was a first. 
"We had people making Diwali candle holders they can put tea lights into, as well as greeting cards." 
Diwali, which is celebrated by Hindus and other religions, takes place today. 
Thousands of people are expected to join in the celebrations at Cossington Street recreation ground in Belgrave, Leicester, starting at 6.45pm with music and dancing. 
A firework and laser display will round off the evening's events at 8.30pm.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

FAITH LEADERS LIGHT CANDLES FOR VICTIMS OF HATE CRIME

From today's Leicester Mercury:


Faith leaders light candles for victims of hate crime 
Prayers were said and candles were lit yesterday to mark the launch of anti-hate crime week. 
Faith leaders from different religions gathered at Leicester Cathedral to remember the victims and families. 
Friday is International Day Against Hate Crime. 
The week has been organised by Leicestershire Police and the Stamp It Out campaign, a community-led project committed to challenging, tackling and stamping out hate crime throughout the county. 
Cathedral chancellor David Monteith said: "The week is about remembering those who have died from hate crimes and those who continue to be victimised. 
"Yesterday, we lit candles and held silences and it was very moving. 
"It was also great to see such a variety of cultures and religions committed to working together for the campaign. 
"The victims need to have a voice and we're all working together to stamp out hate." 
The gathering was the first of a series of activities which are running throughout the county this week. 
For more information, visit: stamp-it-out.co.uk

Monday, 24 October 2011

THE PSALMS 5: JEWISH PSALM SINGING


At Christchurch, Clarendon Park, this evening for the fifth session in the Christians Aware course on the Psalms (offered as part of their Faith Awareness programme).

This course really has had the highest numbers of any which I've attended here. There are 50 attendees this evening, and once again we're in the larger Vaughan Powell Room.

Our speaker this evening is Rabbi Mark Solomon and his topic is "Jewish Psalm Singing". The central and distinctive feature of this session is the Rabbi's singing and chanting, which he does frequently.

Rabbi Solomon is Interfaith Consultant for Liberal Judaism. He is Rabbi to the Liberal and Reform congregations in Edinburgh and Manchester, each of which he visits once a month. He is also Cantor at the Great Synagogue in Sydney, Australia (where he was born and grew up - though I couldn't detect any trace of that in his accent). This is his third visit to Christians Aware in Leicester.

He distributes two handouts: one entitled "Psalms in Jewish Worship", the other, "Transliteration of Selected Hebrew Psalms". Here's some of the content of the former (keen as I am to provide records as full as possible in these blog entries, even I draw the line at transcribing two sides of transliterated Hebrew!)
  • Psalms are known in Hebrew as Tehillim, "praises".
  • Jewish liturgy does not include the practice of public reading of the whole book of Psalms in a liturgical cycle. Instead, set groups of Psalms, and individual Psalms, are used at fixed times in the liturgy.
  • The Masoretic accents for the Psalms in printed Hebrew Bibles may originally have indicated a method of chanting (as does the different system of accents used for other books of the Bible), possibly going back to the Levites in the Temple, but if so, this method of chanting Psalms was lost long ago.
  • Reading of the whole book of Psalms, either in one sitting, or over the cycle of the week or month, is a popular devotional practice among pious Jews. In certain periods, societies for the recitation of Psalms existed in Jewish communities.
  • The recitation of Psalms was believed to protect from sickness and harm, and Psalms were traditionally recited by a sickbed and beside a body awaiting burial.
  • Particularly popular is Psalm 119 with its eightfold alphabetical structure, and often the verse sets spelling out out the letters of a person's name are read, followed by verses spelling the words kera saten, "tear the adversary", as a prayer for recovery from illness.
  • One of the oldest Psalm groupings is the list of Psalms for the days of the week., chanted by the Levites in the Temple: Sunday, Psalm 24;  Monday, Psalm 48; Tuesdaay Psalm 82; Wednesday, Psalm 94; Thursday, Psalm 81; Friday, Psalm 93; Shabbat, Psalm 92. Nowadays these are recited traditionally at the end of the morning service.
  • Another ancient grouping is Hallel ("Praise"), consisting of Psalms 113-118. chanted before the reading of the Torah in the Morning Service on the Three Pilgrim Festivals (Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles), the New Moon snd Hannukah and at the Passover seder (festive meal, when the "Great Hallel", Psalm 135, is also read). The general theme is thanksgiving for God's acts of salvation. Different chants are used for each festival, and Tabernacles the palm branch is waved in time with the words of certain verses of Psalm 118.
  • On New Moon and the latter days of Passover a slightly abridged version of Hallel is read, the reason given (regarding Passover) that our rejoicing is diminished by the suffering of the Egyptians in the Red Sea.
  • Rabbis in the Talmud assert that one who recites Psalm 145 three times every day is assured of a place in the World to Come, because it combines alphabetical structure with the verse, "You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living creature." (Berakhol 4b). Since ancient times, this Psalm has been framed by Psalms 84:5 and 144:15 a the beginning and 115:18 at the end, and this composition, known from the first word as Ashrey ("Happy") is said twice in the morning service and at the opening of the Afternoon Service.

Rabbi Solomon explains that chanting is repetitive, each verse of the Psalm chanted exactly the same way as every other. This is not the case with composed melodies. He demonstrates different styles of chanting (taking Psalm 95 as his example). First he performs it as a traditional Ashkenazi chant in "Friday night" mode, which would be sung to welcome Shabbat; then as a chant written by Louis Lewandowski (1821-94), one which would be used by pre-war German congregations and in Liberal and Reform communities. The same chant is used for Psalm 113, one of the Hallel Psalms. He also sings Psalm 114 (another Hallel Psalm) sung to a folk melody, probably Central European. By this point, some of the Jewish friends in the audience are joining in, starting shyly, then becoming bolder and louder.

In a synagogue with a strong musical tradition, the Hallel Psalms are each chanted to a different melody at the different festivals. This way they stay fresh throughout the year, unique to each of the festival days on which they are sung.

Psalm 91, known as the Psalm of Protection, is chanted at funerals, while walking the coffin to the grave.

At weddings, Psalms are not chanted, but sung to composed melodies. The Rabbi demonstrates three different ways of singing Psalm 150, each varying in formality, which the couple can choose between. Psalm 100 is another that is often sung at weddings, as the bride walks down the aisle.

The Rabbi ends his presentation with two different settings of Psalm 23: one ancient, mone modern (which would be sung by the family, seated together at table for the Sabbath meal).

Then, for a big finish, he leads (virtually) the whole audience in singing Psalm 133, verse 1 as a round. This is often sung by pilgrims to Jerusalem - though, hopefully, better than we do it here tonight!

Rabbi Solomon was kind enough to give me his card at the end of the evening and asked that I send him the link to this blog entry. Gladly!

In the photo above: Rabbi Mark Solomon (right) speaks with Gerry Gardiner, a regular attendee at the Christians Aware sessions. In the background, Beate Dehnen stacks chairs.

FAITHS FILM FESTIVAL FINAL FIVE


This morning the schedule for the film festival at Phoenix Square during Inter Faith Week is made public. Phoenix Square’s November brochure is published online (printed version to follow in two days). I've been particularly keen to see the finalised programme, so that I can get the details into the flyer that we’re having printed this week, listing our main activities during Inter Faith Week.

So, how does the final programme for Leicester's first Faiths Film Festival shape up against what I've been hoping for? At first sight, the result could be thought disappointing. But it ain't necessarily so.

When I first enquired about the possibility of Phoenix Square screening a short season of faith-related films at the same time last year, it was just a wish - and rather formless, as wishes tend to be. A couple of months ago, when making a more formal approach to Phoenix Square, I would have considered it a triumph to get five films on. At one point, I as discussing with Andy Jones (Programme Manager at Phoenix Square) the viability of showing as many as 14 titles: two per day throughout the week. As is the way with Leicester Council of Faiths, we were trying to represent each of our member communities equally. But as you can imagine, faithful reader, it's harder to find movies about, by or from some of those communities than others. I put out an APB, by email, social media and word of mouth, seeking recommendations for titles. Some of the suggestions were innovative, inventive, inspired – although some left me wondering if the respondents had ever been to the movies themselves or even knew what a feature film was. Sifting through a considerable amount of dross, there were a few nuggets of gold.

The ideal situation (from our point of view) would have seen two movies screened per day (half of them in Screen 2, which seats 120 and half in the Screen Room, which seats 30; half of them in English and half in another language with English sub-titles; half of them commercially proven and the other half more of a risk). Phoenix Square has whittled this down to a final five, as listed in the brochure.

I've learned a lot about how a cinema like Phoenix Square goes about its business. It's certainly not a matter of simply presenting a wishlist and expecting to get everything you want. The eventual choice was based on several factors, e.g.
  • availability in suitable format for projection;
  • having been passed by the British Board of Film Classification and granted an age certificate;
  • ownership of current screening rights in the UK by a trading distributor (some of the proposed films have never been licensed for public screening in the UK, while screening rights for others have long lapsed).

So after all that, here's the final selection of films:
Sun 20: Little Buddha (Buddhist - obviously) 
Mon 21: A Serious Man (Jewish) 
Thu 24: Life in a Day (illustrating the Bahá'í principle of world unity) 
Fri 25: My Name is Khan (Muslim - with Hindu connections too) 
Sat 26: Lourdes (Christian)

I should stress here that the final choice was made by Phoenix Square – and in the end, they’ve gone with those films most likely to get patrons out of their homes on a cold dark November evening and parting with £7 for their ticket. Three of the five have been shown at Phoenix Square and deserve another go-round there.

I saw two of these films during their theatrical release (A Serious Man and Lourdes). I've already blogged about the latter.

We’ve been asked to write copy for the A4 cribsheets that are available free at the time of screening. On these we can say something about the relevance of the film to the respective faith communities, something about Inter Faith Week and something about the Council of Faiths. We were also offered, initially, the opportunity for an introductory talk about each film, of no more than three minutes in length. I haven't pursued this - so far.

I would like to find out if we can get a slide shown before each of the films, saying something like:
This film is being screened as part of Phoenix Square's Faiths Film Festival, presented in association with Leicester Council of Faiths, during Inter Faith Week.

A few too many "Faiths" in there? I'll work on it.

Phoenix Square's online brochure has a page devoted to the Faiths Film Festival. This web page has a slide show of still from four of the  movies, each with Leicester Council of Faiths logo added in the bottom right hand corner. That looks very nice. And there’s a paragraph of copy, written by me, linking the Faiths Film Festival with the Council of Faiths 25th anniversary:
The third national Inter Faith Week is being celebrated from Sunday 20 to Saturday 26 November. Leicester has a positive and widespread reputation for the diverse and cohesive nature of its faith and cultural communities, so when Leicester Council of Faiths asked if Phoenix Square would host the first Faiths Film Festival – of course we said yes! This varied selection of movies showcasing faith, religion and belief also marks the 25th anniversary of Leicester Council of Faiths – which has been working to promote trust, understanding and cooperation among the city’s communities since 1986.

I hope that this is a success and that we get to do it again next year. Now it’s up to you, faithful reader. If you’re within the catchment area of Phoenix Square, then come along to one or more of these screenings during Inter Faith Week, show your support and enjoy a good film with our blessing!

WE MUST WORK TOGETHER TO ROUT OUT CHILD ABUSE


Suleman Nagdi's First Person column from today's Leicester Mercury: 
We must work together to rout [sic] out child abuse 
Protect the vulnerable and don't let evil go unchallenged, urges Suleman Nagdi 
At certain points within our lives, we are faced with dilemmas requiring us to stand up for those who are vulnerable and make a point which will safeguard them. A recent report highlighting around 400 cases of children being abused in Madrassas is one such instance. When I read about the issue, it left me feeling dismayed. 
In recent years, we have faced numerous examples of abuse against children; whether it is the tragic case of a single child such as Baby P or the systematic abuse seen at the Haut de la Garenne children's home in Jersey. We know it exists in our society and wherever we find it we must act upon it. Above all else, we must challenge the tendency to hide or bury it. 
Where Muslim religious schools or Madrassas are concerned, the need to challenge it is personal for me. This is my religious community and I know that my religion detests such abhorrent actions, as does all natural human sensibility. 
Child abuse in all its hideous guises has no place in any faith or ethnic group and should be condemned whenever and wherever it occurs. All communities in Britain value and cherish the innocence of childhood and this must be protected against those who would seek to usurp it for their own disgusting ends. 
As an active member of the British Muslim community, I am proudly a part of the local Federation of Muslim Organisations (FMO) which has for many years striven to safeguard children against possible abuse. 
Crucial to the FMO's safeguarding work is the "Madrassa Project", a collaborative effort with the local authority to ensure the safeguarding of children in Madrassas. 
The FMO acts as a bridge between its various partners including the local authority as well as the police and the local Madrassas in Leicester. The aim of the project is to prevent child abuse in Madrassas by providing Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks, child protection training, whistle blowing and education to individuals and groups working with children. 
The project seeks to investigate any instances of child abuse in collaboration with its partners. Having now run for a few years, the project has been highly successful, garnering praise from its various partners. This project is our stand against all forms of child abuse, and the recent reports tell us that we must press the project even further forward. 
Just as mainstream schools have spent decades ensuring that children are safe from mindless, repulsive individuals, the Madrassas are walking the same path but with some way to go. 
The key to our success is to ensure that whenever we come across anything suspicious, we report it. This is the only means for routing out this evil and providing our children with the childhoods they deserve. Children are our wealth and prosperity.

Suleman Nagdi is spokesman for the Federation of Muslim Organisations

Saturday, 22 October 2011

KANDINSKY IN GOVAN




Alastair McIntosh's Face to faith column from today's Guardian:


A century ago this month, Wassily Kandinsky finished a little book called Concerning the Spiritual in Art. Today in Govan, a hard-pressed part of Glasgow, we are celebrating the Russian artist's ideas in a conference on art, spirituality and the future.

What was Kandinsky then, and why is it as relevant as ever today? 

Born in 1866 and living until 1944, Kandinsky grew up in a Russia where the consequences of modernity and nihilistic thought were hotly debated. 

The old certainties of state, church and the soul in the human condition were in turmoil. At the same time, there was excited hope of a spiritual renaissance led by the influx of new ideas from the east. As Kandinsky said: "The nightmare of materialism, which has turned the life of the universe into an evil, useless game, is not yet past; it holds the awakening soul still in its grip." 

As if in anticipation of some of today's Britart, he deplored art that "becomes the satisfaction of vanity and greed … a scramble for good things … of excessive competition, of over-production … this aimless, materialist art". 

He denounced the narcissistic wallow of "art for art's sake" – "this neglect of inner meanings … this vain squandering of artistic power" with its consequence that "hungry souls go hungry away". 

Instead, he urged, art must "feed the spirit" by revealing "the internal truth of art, the soul". This is its prophetic calling in serving society. The artist must "be priest of beauty". Beauty itself is that "which springs from the soul", being anchored in the sacred. 

It was Kandinsky's friend Paul Klee who said that "art does not render the visible; it renders visible". But how? 

Kandinsky's answer was through abstraction. Here I find myself more critical of him. The role of the artist, he suggested, is to separate out the spiritual from the material. Art should be an "advance into the kingdom of the abstract". 

We see this in the geometric abstraction of his later work. Largely gone are the scintillating salsas of dancing colour that made his earlier paintings so magical. 

We might ask: can the spiritual be abstracted from the material? Kandinsky, to his enduring credit, affirms the spiritual on the artistic map, but did he, at the same time, lose the plot by going too far down the road of abstraction? 

Can the incarnate – the infusion of spirit and matter – really be rendered disincarnate? Or has the time come to move towards a new spiritual realism – to art that can represent the outer world (and be able to paint and draw!), but which simultaneously reveals its interiority, its spirituality? 

But why does this matter? There is a local saying that if you throw a stone over a wall in Govan you'll hit an artist. 

The most vulnerable to suffering and with it, to evasions like addiction, are often the sensitive souls, the canaries down the toxic coalmines of our society. 

Such people need art – not pretentious elite art that is up its own backside – but art that recovers meaning, that calls back the soul. 

When I ask hard-pressed folks what they want of art I don't hear calls for the likes of Damien Hirst's For the Love of God with 8,601 diamonds glued to a human skull as "bling on bone". 

I hear people yearning for what Kandinsky saw as prophetic art. Art that reveals hope. Art that breathes the flow of life into the veins.


Alastair McIntosh (photo above) is a Quaker, writer and curator of Kandinsky in Govan.

Talk about bad timing, faithful reader! I have long loved Kandinsky and I used to live in Govan (it’s my ancestral homeland, if you like – as well as being the first place I lived in as a married man). I just came back from a week in Glasgow yesterday! I hadn't heard of this conference, nor had I heard of Govan Folk University, which is hosting it. Might have been a bit hard to persuad Harry (11) and Grace (9) to tag along though.

Friday, 21 October 2011

THIS WEEK'S VISITORS (1,267)


Regular update on the number of pageviews received from different parts of the world in the week just ending.
  1. United States 504
  2. United Kingdom 498
  3. Russia 84
  4. Poland 51
  5. Germany 34
  6. Ukraine 24
  7. India 20
  8. Romania 19
  9. Ecuador 18
  10. France 16

This week's total: 1,267 (last week's: 1,932). These are aggregates of figures from the top ten countries only. Blogger's stats software doesn't show me numbers of pageviews below the tenth-ranking country.

Not a bad score, considering I've been off the grid for a week. I have a lot of catching up to do!

The world map at the top of this post is the graphic that I see on the stats page. The darker the green, the more pageviews from that country. I can see different versions of that map for "now" (whenever that is), "today", "this week", "this month" and "all time" (which seems to mean the last 12 months). They're updated each time I look at them.

WISE WORDS?

This letter appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Wise words?
I cannot understand why Allan Hayes, of Leicester, describes the Bishop of Leicester's description that the atheist position is a tale told by an idiot, as an unfortunate remark (Mailbox, October 7). It was not an unfortunate remark. Of course, the atheist position is a tale told by an idiot.
In St Matthew's Gospel chapter 25 is a parable of the 10 virgins. Five were wise and five were foolish. Humanists, atheists and the secular people, are all like the foolish virgins.
At the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, if they do not get baptised and believe in Him, they will not go to heaven.
Frank Evans, Enderby

MOSQUE ARSONIST

This article appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Mosque arsonist
An arsonist who endangered lives when he set fire to a city mosque has appeared in court.
Somali-national Saleebaan Sheikh-Omar admitted setting fire to the Alforqan mosque, in St Matthews, on June 21 this year.
The Leicester Crown Court case was adjourned until December 14, for the preparation of a psychiatric report.
The 42-year-old defendant, of Claremont Street, Leicester, was remanded back into custody.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

MAPPING FAITH & PLACE: 1st SEMINAR



Faithful reader, won't you welcome please, guest blogger Rosemarie Fitton:
I attended the first seminar of a project, Mapping Faith and Place, run by Leicester University, "investigating the significance of South Asian religious and cultural heritage in Leicester's urban landscape." This took place at New Walk Museum and Art Gallery. There are two further seminars to run next year followed by a public conference. I was wearing a number of hats, firstly as the creative director of Heterarchy, my interior design practice, based here in Leicester, secondly as an academic from DeMontfort university and thirdly, after George had asked me to write a blog about the seminar, as a member of the Leicester Council of Faiths. 
The seminar was organised by Dr Deirdre O'Sullivan and Dr Ruth Young, both from the School of Archaeology & Ancient History at Leicester University. 
There were a series of talks which were preceded by an introduction to the project by Dr Chris King, who had originally conceived and obtained funding for the research; Dr King, formerly of Leicester University, is now based at Nottingham University.
Dr King outlined the purpose of the project which is for academics and non-academics to work together to share knowledge and insights in order to gain an understanding of Leicester's cultural and religious landscape. In this series of seminars we will be looking at ways to take the project forward and how to best connect with people from the different communities. 
Dr Deirdre O'Sullivan and Dr Ruth Young talked about the work that had already taken place, which has resulted in The Faith Trail, most of the work for which was carried out by students at Leicester university. There is a website and booklet which accompanies this part of the project.
We then had a talk by Linda Monkton of English Heritage, who is head of research policy for places of worship. She spoke about the National Heritage list for England which includes an on-line database of all nationally designated heritage assets and the National Heritage Protection Plan, which is a framework for the key priorities for research over protection issues. She was very interested in finding out ways that English Heritage could foster good relationships with local contacts in the different faith communities. 
I then gave a talk on the work my company had carried out on the interiors for the new Swaminarayan Hindu temple on Gypsy Lane, which opened on the 8th-9th October. Describing how we had become involved in the project and how we set about the design process, to create interiors which reflected the rich cultural heritage of the Swaminarayan faith yet in a more contemporary style.
Rupert Allen, Assistant Church Buildings Development Officer for the Diocese of Coventry and Leicester spoke about the re-use of historically significant buildings and ways in which these could be sympathetically re-ordered to accommodate the new occupants.
In the afternoon we had lively discussions which initially looked at the issue of the Leicester orthodox synagogue which has recently been put up for sale, and the significance of religious buildings and their heritage as "sustainable sacred space".
This was followed by looking at ways to move the project forward and what the major issues were for the different faith communities in terms of buildings and the built environment and other groups who had an interest such as English heritage and academics.


Thanks Rosemarie, your contribution is much appreciated. I look forward to you having future stints as guest blogger.

Monday, 17 October 2011

HUMAN RIGHTS MUST ENCOMPASS ALL COMMUNITIES


Suleman Nagdi's First Person column from today's Leicester Mercury:
Human rights must encompass all communities 
Intentions need to be clarified before a UK Bill of Rights is created, says Suleman Nagdi 
The Government is seeking to change our centuries old political tradition by changing our unwritten constitution into a American-style Bill of Rights. Such a proposal has a few creases which need to be ironed out. In a democratic society, justice demands a proper and measured response in strict accordance with rules of law which have been established over time and following centuries of experience and formulation. 
Our laws should afford every citizen trust and confidence in the system. Security is of paramount importance to preserve our rule of law and the fabric of our society. It is also essential to uphold civil liberties regardless of the circumstances and the crime in question, as this is the hallmark of our society. One does not exclude the other, and both are necessary for the future success of Britain. 
A proposed Bill of Rights seeks to rectify some of the perceived shortcomings within the Human Rights Act in order to repeal it. The main "interference" Prime Minister David Cameron wants freedom from is the prohibition on deporting foreign nationals to countries where there is a real risk they will be tortured. 
Numerous UN Conventions and the European Convention have been drafted to create a set of minimum standards by which all human beings can expect to be treated. Their right to life and freedom from torture is a basic and fundamental right which all nations agreed would be protected. We must contextualise a potential UK Bill of Rights within the framework of wider International Human Rights law so that the provisions which were established over six decades ago are not breached. 
A UK Bill of Rights must also tackle the inherent weakness of the Race Relations Act of 1976 which only gives protection to Jews and Sikhs as racial groups while excluding others, including Muslims, Hindus and other faiths from its definition. This policy is wholly inadequate and leaves groups such as British Muslims vulnerable to religious hate crimes, which are on the rise. This policy is even more obtuse in light of the fact that the governmental, media and other sources continuously refer to Muslims as a distinctive community.The rights and welfare of all British citizens, regardless of their beliefs, ethnicity, colour or gender must be considered. 
A Bill of Rights can provide a unifying force in a diverse society, but it will not do so if it ignores the contribution of many countries, and most cultures, to the human rights values recognised throughout the world today and turns its back on the international Human Rights treaties which virtually every modern Bill of Rights is based on. Furthermore, a UK Bill of Rights must be all encompassing applying universally to all four component countries of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales so as to ensure universal consistency.

Suleman Nagdi is spokesman for the Federation of Muslim Organisations.