Prophetic Photography?

Prophetic Photography? by easyrew

I took this picture in 2007 whilst at MK Summer Camp in St. Ives. As I was wandering around the town during some very rare free time, I spotted this row of cottages and took a photo. I remember thinking at the time how I’d love to return to St. Ives without the responsibilities & constraints of Camp and stay here [stunning location]. Next week, by chance, that’s exactly what I’ll be doing, in this very property. It’s been booked for a few months, but as I looked on the website this afternoon, I suddenly realised that I recognised the property. After a quick look through my photos from 2007 I found this. Small world after all…

Peace Pagoda

The PointRecently I’ve been challenged about the use of an inappropriate image for a Christian project. What follows are my reflections on whether or not using the image was wise or appropriate.

When setting up a new project recently (Hope MK) and putting together the website, I selected a number of images which unmistakeably represented Milton Keynes. These each featured iconic scenes or landmarks from across the city: Xscape building, the Point, the central railway station, road signs, inside the shopping centre, the Stadium:MK (home to MK Dons).

However, one of the images caused a bit of a stir: the Peace Pagoda at Willen. I had selected this as the main image which was to feature on our earliest promotional material.

When our first ‘teaser’ cards were handed out at one youth group they asked why we were using a Buddhist Temple to promote a Christian event. An interesting question. We had a brief discussion within the core planning team and didn’t see a huge problem with it. Then a few weeks later we received an email in relation to the project which, whilst otherwise supportive, made it clear that they didn’t agree with the use of the Peace Pagoda image as it ‘portrays the wrong image for a Christian event’. At a later meeting we discovered that another individual had reservations about the image, and had initially dismissed being involved in the project as they assumed (based on the image) that it was an ‘inter-faith’ project.

All this led to lots of discussion and a great deal of reflection.

Initially the ‘problem’ image was chosen without much thought to the fact that the Peace Pagoda is a Buddhist monument. It was selected because it is one of the most iconic MK landmarks, with a beautiful sunrise which I felt inspires awe towards the Creator God & signifies the coming Hope (light of the world). It was that simple. A little naive perhaps – but as a lifelong resident of MK, to me the Peace Pagoda is simply a landmark and has no strong religious connection.

I had almost dismissed the earliest comments on the basis that the pagoda is not a Buddhist Temple (as had been stated) but just a monument. As I thought about the issue further, I also did a little research and realised that the pagoda is symbolically significant in relation to the Hope MK initiative too: being the first Peace Pagoda in the Western world, it was ground-breaking and a powerful unifying symbol (both things we aspire to for Hope MK). Of further significance is the fact that behind the pagoda is the ‘one world tree’ which is covered in prayers and messages of hope – a symbol of people’s faith and hope for a better world.

Xscape MK Central

After plenty of reflection & discussion, I decided that personally I don’t have an issue with the use of the image. The fact that it’s a Buddhist monument doesn’t cause me any alarm. A Peace Pagoda is a monument designed to inspire all races, colours & creeds towards peace – that seems to me to be something that Jesus, Prince of Peace, encouraged and indeed prayed for (John 17).

The creator of the pagoda was committed to non-violence & reconciliation – a man of peace. He campaigns against nuclear weapons, for world peace and social and moral justice in the world. He sounds to me like the kind of man who is working towards Kingdom goals without even knowing the King. In Mark 9 Jesus said ‘whoever is not against us is for us’ (v38-41). Admittedly Jesus wasn’t specifically referring to a Buddhist monument – but I think it is applicable in this situation. We’re hoping to work in partnership with some non-Christian organisations in order to serve the city. On other projects, I’m happy to be associated with people & organisations who don’t share my faith, but believe we can work together towards a common goal.

There’s one final Biblical precedent which came to mind as I’ve been reflecting on this issue, and which more directly relates. In Acts 17 the Apostle Paul uses a secular statue to communicate the Gospel. Paul refers to a statue which has been dedicated to ‘the unknown god’. He had no fear of affording the statue power or credibility by using it/referring to it. He seems absolutely convinced of the sovereignty of God, and instead uses the statue to point the ‘locals’ to the God that he knows instead.

But whilst I didn’t have a problem with the use of the image, we still had to discuss and resolve the issue of the misunderstandings the image had caused about Hope MK. As a result we decided to stop using the image (once pre-printed materials had been used).

Stadium MKOn a slightly flippant note, I suggested that if we rule out the peace pagoda on the grounds that it doesn’t give the right impression to use a non-Christian religious symbol to represent/promote a Christian event, we should probably also stop using the Stadium:MK image (on the grounds that football is practised as a religion by many), the Xscape image as it is a shrine to Capitalism , and the image of The Point as it is home to a bingo hall.

What do you think?

Reflections on an Adventure with the Holy Spirit

A few weeks ago I went on an adventure with the Holy Spirit. It still excites me to think about it… [read about it before you go on…] Since the adventure, I’ve been reflecting on and processing a number of aspects of it. In fact, for the first few days I could do little else! Here are some of those reflections…

Imago Dei

I like to engage in a little informal ethnography from time to time. By which I mean I’m a people-watcher. Not in a creepy way you understand. I like to observe people as they go about their business. Whether I’m enjoying a coffee and watching people outside, or at the next table, I’m fascinated by people. As I observe I try to build up ‘their story’ from what I see: sometimes their interactions with others, sometimes their appearance. I find it fascinating.

Big HeartedOne thing we were reminded of during the the Big Hearted event was that every individual is made in the image of God (imago Dei). As we were sent out into the town to seek people we were reminded of truth. It is amazing how that one fact changes the way you see people, and the way you respond to them. It shouldn’t – but it absolutely does. I need to remember that not just as I’m walking down the street, or sitting in a coffee shop, but also when I’m in difficult situations with ‘difficult’ people. It can change your perspective and your attitude – if you’ll let it.

Conservative Charismatic

I said previously that I stepped way outside my comfort zone on that Saturday afternoon, but I didn’t really explain why.  As you may have gathered from my ‘people watching’ habit mentioned above, I’m an introvert rather than an extrovert. I’m much happier in my own company or that of friends, than I am trying to engage with people I don’t know (however ‘nice’ they might be). Small talk is not a spiritual gift I possess, which makes things even harder. So to head out onto the streets to deliberately engage with people I don’t know (especially with such a ‘strange’ motive & message) was a huge challenge for me. Honestly, if it wasn’t for my team members I’d probably have bottled it and not engaged with anyone.

But the greater challenge & discomfort came from the necessary reliance on the voice & guidance of the Holy Spirit. My background is in fairly conservative churches, where the Holy Spirit’s presence is understood but rarely exhibited (I think that’s a fair comment – if not, I’m sure I’ll be corrected). Don’t misunderstand me though, I believe that the Holy Spirit speaks to me & guides. I very clearly feel His leading as I work, as I minister, as I study and even as I do various bits of administration. But it is very much according to His timing and not mine. But with this exercise we had just 5 minutes to pray and hear from the Spirit. I felt a huge weight of pressure from that.

But my main reflection on this aspect of the day is to note that none of the clues which led to our ‘treasure’ were from my list. I’ll admit that I wasn’t hugely confident when I wrote my clues down (not least ‘Top Hat’) but they were all I felt I’d received, so had to go with it. I absolutely believe that the Spirit was at work that afternoon, and in the way it was described He would be by Chris Duffett. But I need to be more in tune with and attentive to the Spirit’s voice. I’ve learned over time, and through painful mistakes, to recognise and be obedient to His leading, but I pray He’ll open my ears to hear His voice too.

Greater Things

I was secretly pleased with myself that afternoon; pleased that I signed up for what (for me at least) was the most difficult & uncomfortable workshop option, and pleased that I didn’t bottle it. However nervous I felt, I still went, trusting in God all the way. Well, doubting just a little at times, but broadly stepping out in faith. As I’ve reflected on this and the previous point, I’ve come to the conclusion that greater confidence leads to greater courage. A greater confidence that the Spirit is at work, is interested in *everyone*, and is willing to speak and direct us to them for ‘divine appointments’, leads to a greater courage to step out beyond our comfort zone. And as that courage is rewarded with story after story of God at work, so the confidence and courage increase.


As I’ve thought back to what happened with our group that afternoon, one piece of Scripture keeps coming to mind. It’s the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-42). Towards the end of a conversation during which He treats her with the kind of love & respect she deserves but doesn’t often receive, He reveals knowledge of this woman that no stranger could possibly know. She runs away saying to anyone who will listen ‘come and see a man who told me everything I ever did – could He be the Messiah?‘.

This phrase came to me as we were talking to Den. We’d approached him with this strange story of looking for treasure, guided by the Holy Spirit, and as we shared the clues one by one, his face changed. Suddenly he realised that God was interested in him, and knew all about him.

As far as I’m aware Den & David still haven’t made it to church, which is a little disappointing. But it doesn’t cause me to doubt the power of what happened. I’m confident that the Holy Spirit was at work that afternoon, through the obedience of three men walking around town feeling slightly awkward, and in the life of a man called Den. Even though he’s not come through on his promise to go to church*, he will always have the knowledge that God knows him (and knows more about him than he’d care to admit), loves him, and sought him out. [*let’s not pretend that we can only ‘do business’ with God in church – that’s for another day!]

And Finally…

Chris DuffettI’ll close with one further reflection on that passage which I hope will be encouraging to Chris as he  continues the Big Hearted tour & his year as Baptist Union President. The woman goes away changed from her experience with Jesus. He revealed to her in word & deed that He was the long-promised Messiah. She ran away and told others about Him (the first female evangelist!), and they believed because of what she told them. And others came to see Him for themselves, and put their faith in Him too.

I pray that today, tomorrow or in a years time, something about Den’s experience will cause him to share it with others, and that through him, others will come to put their faith in Jesus.

Chris started the day by saying that it was about ‘looking at how others can get what we’ve got through the Holy Spirit‘. It’s probably too early to say ‘mission accomplished‘ – but it’s a step along the way.