My social media is awash with a tidal flowing in and ebbing away of responses to images of children on a beach: in…and out…and in…and out…
There are the political responses, pointing others to how they can petition the Government to take in Syrian refugees, or lobby against the arms trade that has resulted in those children being on those beaches.
And those are right and necessary responses.
There are the practical responses, pointing others to how they can contribute to the welfare of those who have made it to Calais.
And those, too, are right and necessary responses.
But I also see, washed up alongside these, the admission – the confession, the cry - ‘I don’t know what to do with my emotional response to these images.’
And that matters. We matter. Not because we are executing a manoeuvre that makes this all about us, that buries the physical victims in plain sight; but because if our hearts are to remain soft towards our neighbour we must recognise that we have been affected, and we must handle ourselves with care in order to care about others.
So I want to offer another response, pointing others to the role of the arts in helping us to articulate and engage with our own emotional response.
This is why the church, while being political (not party-political, but political nonetheless; we are, after all, a kingdom, trans-ethnic people of a trans-geographic territory with a Rule of Law fulfilled by loving God, and our neighbour as ourselves) and practical, must also be patron of the arts, partner in the arts, and participative producer of the arts.
Some, deeply committed to the church, would argue that the church ought not to be patron of anything; would argue that such a stance betrays a hangover of Christendom, a love of worldly power. I disagree. No one else is championing the arts, and they are essential to our wellbeing, helping us to imagine the world in a different way, seeing beauty even in brokenness.
This month and next, Sunderland Minster is hosting an exhibition or exposition of artists for peace – an exposition that has grown, from when it was first conceived, in response to so many conflict zones, so many dispossessed children, to become an international event both in the sense of attracting contributions from around the world and in the multiplication of venues. The exposition, under the banner ‘All We Are Saying’ presents the responses of artists – in painting, photography, sculpture, mixed-media, spoken word, music – to events that move us, emotionally, but demand an engagement with how we have been moved.
The works themselves are, in the first instance, the artists’ engagement process: one that involves time, and also draws on years of time. But in the sharing they become a gift to others, offered that they may help a wider body of people explore their own emotional responses. And they will include opportunities for visitors to respond physically, to add their own contribution to all we are saying (is give peace a chance).
It might not be possible for you to get to Sunderland, or any of the other hubs where ‘All We Are Saying’ events will be taking place. But you can look out for opportunities closer to home. You can also take part in ‘All We Are Saying’ through making an origami peace dove, or writing a postcard for peace, and sending them to Sunderland Minster – instructions, here.