TV Review: BBC1’s The Nativity

20/12/10 | Posted by MattPage

For many of us our first, and possibly only, acting role was in a nativity play. So it’s strange that so few professional actors get the chance to return to their humble beginnings. The 2006 film The Nativity Story was the first time that an English version of the story had hit the silver screen since 1914. Television has tried a few new approaches to the story, such as 2007’s Liverpool Nativity, but a decent, historical attempt at telling the Christmas Story is long overdue.

image
 BBC/Red Planet Pictures/Laurence Cendrowicz

The Nativity is from the pen of ex-Eastenders writer Tony Jordan. As a result it’s a realistic, down to earth story of two ordinary people given an extraordinary calling. But it’s also occasionally a bit too melodramatic or twee. The shots of planets noisily grinding towards one another is a bit distracting, whilst the early stages of Mary and Joseph’s relationship are a little too soppy.

However, as the series goes on, things dramatically improve. Jordan’s script begins to skilfully blend the two different accounts from the gospels of Matthew and Luke, with a touch of scientific theory and a dash of what we know about first century culture. Jordan has talked about this being a “love story” , which some will appreciate more than others, but it enables the script to highlight the importance of these events by bringing the love story and the Christmas story to a climax simultaneously, pulling together the programme’s three main threads to a moving finale.

At its heart The Nativity is a very human take on the story. Gabriel’s appearance to Mary is very low-key. There’s no dazzling light and the scene is shot in such a way that will appease sceptics as well as those of faith. Joseph’s encounter is stripped down even further. We only hear about what has happened because Joseph tells us. It’s one of the best and most inventive parts of the series, holding very closely to the Bible, yet offering a plausible interpretation. Likewise Jesus’ birth is quite realistic, by TV standards at least. We also find that the stories of the Magi and one of the shepherds are fleshed out, and whilst these stories aren’t as engaging as that of Mary and Joseph they do give that final scene a great deal of depth.

As you’d expect from a BBC production the acting is good. Whilst I only really bought into Andrew Buchan’s turn as Joseph once Mary had revealed she was pregnant, from there on in its fascinating to watch him being drawn into the story almost despite his intentions. Mary’s journey is rather different. For her it’s about trying to come to terms with what is happening to her whilst trying to convince the man she loves that she’s been faithful.

Jordan and director Coky Giedroyc are content to take their time over the first few episodes to build their characters, setting up very effective cliff hangers at the end of each episode in an attempt to pull the audience back the following night. Those who take the bait will find it well worth the wait.

Part 1 of The Nativity airs tonight at 7pm on BBC1, with parts 2-4 showing from Tuesday to Thursday at the same

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Except this play once again misrepresents a key element of the Biblical story.

The Magi were never present in the stable (this being a Medieval invention) for as the word of God tells us in the Gospel of Luke Chapter 2,

QUOTE

Now AFTER Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem

...

After coming into the HOUSE they saw the CHILD with Mary His mother

UNQUOTE

Not a new born baby, but an infant, up to 2 years old, hence why Herod order infants up to two years old to be slaughtered.

#1. By Bible Believer on December 22, 2010

Am thoroughly enjoying the programmes. Good acting and so on.

As to BB’s comment, the word usually translated “inn” in Luke 2:7 can mean “guest room”, e.g. as in Mark 14:14 and Luke 22:11, so it may be that Jesus was born in a house anyway. Animals were kept in houses in those days so it may mean Jesus and family were still in the same house when the Magi came a-calling.

#2. By Alan Cossey on December 22, 2010

I think it is wonderful.  Moving and real to life.

Why,oh why do people have to constantly criticize and nit-pick?!

Try and just enjoy it, and appreciate the miracle.God with us.  Can’t get better than that…............

#3. By Marion on December 22, 2010

Alan Cossey wrote:

“so it may mean Jesus and family were still in the same house when the Magi came a-calling.”

Yes, that could be the case, but the point I was making was that Scripture makes it clear that the Magi did not arrive the same night as He was born,
as portrayed in Medievial fiction and this play.

So clearly it is just perpetuating a fallacy.

Marion asked:
“Why,oh why do people have to constantly criticize and nit-pick?!”

Is Biblical truth not important?  Is a television production made by unbelievers not to be compared to the real story given in the Word of God?

Marion wrote
“Moving and real to life.”

More real to life that the accounts given in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke?

Marion wrote:
“God with us. Can’t get better than that…............”

Surely the miracle of the Son of God dying on the cross as a redemption for sinners was even “better” than the nativity?

#4. By Bible Believer on December 23, 2010

I’ve just watched the first three episodes on iplayer and I think it’s fantastic.  Lovely to see it without the usual assumption that everyone blithely accepted the child was the son of God, except Joseph for the space of about five verses.  I really like the way that Mary is portrayed as a real person, rather than the very separate superhuman perfect mother figure we often get, who is difficult to identify with.  There is a lot to like here, particularly the way people’s likely reactions have been thought through.

I also noticed the Magi anachronism thing, but I really don’t think it matters in any way, does it?  Biblical truth is important, but if this serves to make the important Biblical point (that the Magi did come) then I think the usefulness of complaining about the inaccuracy is limited.  Facts are not always the same as truth - unless you think that an important part of the Christmas story is that the Magi came much later?

#5. By Jon of Kent on December 23, 2010

Jon of Kent states:

“Facts are not always the same as truth.”

Are you really claiming, since we are discussing only facts as written in Scripture, that these are not necessarily the truth?

If so, you deny the truth of the Word of God.

#6. By Bible Believer on December 24, 2010

My point is that the important truth of the magi is that they came, who they were and so on.  What is the importance of _when_ they came?

I think the fact that the time of their arrival is entirely unimportant is shown by the fact that the gospel simply doesn’t state it.  We have to rely (unreliably, I think) on inferring from things such as the use of the word “child” - when Matthew (for it is he, not Luke!) doesn’t even use the word “baby” at any point at all.

What difference does it make to any of your understanding of God when they came?  (That is what I mean by “truth” - facts can stand in the way of our right understanding of God, if we don’t put them in their proper place.  Perhaps I meant “facts can stand in the way of truth”)

Also, I don’t deny the truth of the Word of God, since Jesus is the Word…

#7. By Jon of Kent on December 24, 2010

This was a very good production of the nativity, well acted and nicely brought together in the final episode. I was genuinely moved by the birth and stable scenes. The purpose of such programs should be seen as one of enlightening a society of non believers and making them think. With such productions the story can be brought to life.
Sticking to the Gospel narratives in a very strict manner would actually produce a very short and somewhat empty story. As I’m sure ‘Bible Believer’ knows, very little is said of the birth and early life of Christ.
I must agree with Jon that the time of the magi’s visit is not that important. The important thing is getting the good news to the people. In a world where TV plays a central role in so many peoples lives, a drama of this quality, giving the message of Christ’s birth must be a good thing.

#8. By Geoff on December 24, 2010

As a pracising Christian I thank you for you for your lovely ,simple ,respectful depiction of the Christmas story.Yes,some poetic licence,after all it,s television,but who cares.

#9. By g.hennig on December 24, 2010

Wonderful, wonderful.  So moving and beautiful.  How much we should respect Mary and Joseph for caring for the Saviour for us.  Thank you BBC.  I will never forget it.

#10. By joan vl on December 24, 2010

I feel my Christmas is now complete after watching the final episode last night!

After a stressful time worrying about presents, driving in snow, entertaining, etc it all sort of fell into place - and nothing else mattered more than that baby in the manger.

Happy Christmas everyone.

#11. By Marion on December 24, 2010

I didn’t manage to see it, but for the film to be for an unambigous Christian Nativity rather than a re-reading,it would of course,need to affirm both the divine and human persos of Jesus.
Because there can be such a presumption that it would, might not mean that it actually does.

#12. By phil on December 25, 2010

Instead of blending the two versions of the births of Jesus into one, it should be realized that this is doing an injustice to the two different, but true nativity stories as told by Lucas and Matthew about two real Jesus children being born to different parents, both named Mary and Josef, in different places (Bethlehem and Narzareth) in ifferent times (the Matthew child before and the Lucas child after the death of Herodes). How the two Jesus boys, representing love and wisdom, merged into one at the disappearance in the temple of Jerusalem and how Jesus of Nazareth then grew up to become the vessel for the cosmic Christ being at the baptism by John in the river Jordan is part of the revelations disclosed by Rudolf Steiner in his lectures in 1912 entitled “The Fifth Gospel”. Great drama for a new film or series. See also my blog
http://willehalminstitute.blogspot.com/2009/12/de-vero-anno-on-birthday-of-jesus.html

#13. By Robert Jan Kelder on December 25, 2010

Thoroughly enjoyable. Tony Jordan has done a very creditable job. Harmonizing is of course risky, but within ‘folk memory’, which is where most keep their Christmas memories, this version contains more than enough of the core truths from scripture, to serve its purpose as a contemporary re-telling of the nativity story. Bears comparison with the 2007 movie “The Nativity Story”, and in some parts much better.While you feel he may have been influenced by that retelling, the portrayal of the development of the relationship of Mary and Joseph was particularly well done. I also liked the way the three Magi had their own distinct characters. My hope is that BBC do put out a DVD, and that it becomes available in a format that is usable here in Japan. Given it’s accessibility, I’d be very happy to use it in my work,particularly with High School students.

#14. By Brendan Kelleher svd on December 29, 2010

Brendan Kelleher completely and perhaps conveniently ignores my point (and the reference to my blog “De Vero Anno) that if you really want to do justice to Lucas’ and Matthew’s rendition, which without a doubt completely contradict each other, you must tell the complete and unabridged Nativity Story as one including the two births of two different Jesusses from two different parents both named Josef and Mary, from two different places (Nazareth and Bethlehem). One boy named Jesus was born during the reign of Herod (Matthew)in a house where he was visited by the Three Kings, and the other (Lucas) after the death of Herod in a manger where he was visited by the shepherds. How and why exactly this mystery came about and what followed it is explained in the lectures called “The Fifth Gospel” by Rudolf Steiner (available on Internet http://www.rsarchive.org/Lectures/GA/index.php?ga=GA0148). Why do we assume that we know it better that the contemporary writers?

#15. By Robert Jan Kelder on December 30, 2010

Hiya (fellow) Bible-Believer,

You wrote, “(Me) - “so it may mean Jesus and family were still in the same house when the Magi came a-calling.”

(BB) - Yes, that could be the case, but the point I was making was that Scripture makes it clear that the Magi did not arrive the same night as He was born, as portrayed in Medievial fiction and this play.

So clearly it is just perpetuating a fallacy.”

Mt 2.1 (NIV) says that the Magi came to Herod *after* Jesus was born and then it was after that that they arrived at the house where Jesus was. Looking at this again, I agree with you that the most natural way of reading this is that they therefore arrived some time after the birth and not as shown in the Nativity programme. However, the KJV is a bit vaguer (“when Jesus was born”) and could be read the way the programme handled it. How’s your Koine Greek? Is one way correct and the other wrong?

Alan

#16. By Alan Cossey on December 30, 2010

#15 Robert,
You wrote, “...Lucas’ and Matthew’s rendition, which without a doubt completely contradict each other…”. In what way do they “without a doubt completely contradict each other”? What is contradictory about them?

Alan

#17. By Alan Cossey on December 30, 2010

Thanks for your question Alan. I will try to answer it in three instalments, because of the limitations imposed on the length of the text. 
To begin with, the genealogy is different; Lucas traces his parentage upwards to Nathan, the priestly son of David, and then beyond to Abraham and even Adam, the son of God, while Matthew starts with Abraham and descends to David and his other kingly son Salomon. There can be no doubt that two different persons are referred to.
This is also borne out by the following contradictions.
(to be continued.)

#18. By Robert Jan Kelder on December 30, 2010

Their time of birth is different: the Matthew child was born during the reign of Herod i.e. before 4 B.C.,was visited by the Three Kings in a house and fled for his safety to Egypt, while the Lucas child was born in a manger only after the death of Herod, when the danger of being slain was no longer present, and was visited by the shepherds. Both boys were born of different parents, both named Josef and Mary, but the Lucas family lived in Nazareth (L. 2:3), while the Matthew family lived in Bethlehem (M.2:1).
These are more outer, material differences; more spiritual is the difference in their character. The Lucas child represents the love and compassion aspect of humanity, while the Matthew child is the representative of wisdom. That is why the parents of the 12-year old Lucas child could were so surprised that their child when he was lost and found during the time of Easter (Passah)in the temple of Jerusalem was seen there debating with great insight and wisdom with the rabbi’s.

#19. By Robert Jan Kelder on December 30, 2010

This mysterious, complete change, or rather fusion, of character between the two Jesus boys, is explained by Rudolf Steiner in his “Fifth Gospel” (check it on the internet) by the fact that the two children had become one, soon after which the Matthew child withered away and died. The Lucas child, now enriched with the acquired spiritual wisdom, grew up to become the Jesus of Nazareth, the earthly vessel for the incarnation of the cosmic Christ, the son of God, during the baptism by John in the river Jordan.
Both gospels, in other words, tell the whole truth; there is no need to “juggle them around” to try to fit the contradictory aspects into a so-called harmonious but artificial construction that does not do justice to the double Nativity Story of two Evangelists.
For more details, see my blog “De Vero Anno – On the Nativity of Jesus Christ”

#20. By Robert Jan Kelder on December 30, 2010

P.S.
Conclusion: All these so-called contradictions arise from the unsubstantiated premise that there was, and could only have been, one Jesus child born.

#21. By Robert Jan Kelder on December 31, 2010

#18
Robert,
Re the genealogies, this is a problem though there are possible explanations, e.g. one being traced through Mary and one through Joseph. What looks to me like a good explanation can be found at http://www.jewsforjesus.org/publications/issues/5_6/genealogy.

No need for two Jesus’s both with parents called Joseph and Mary.

Alan

#22. By Alan Cossey on December 31, 2010

#19
Nope, the time of the birth is not different. Matthew tells us it was before the death of Herod, i.e. prior to spring 4BC. Luke does NOT tell us Jesus was born in a manger or that he was born “only after the death of Herod”. Where did you get that from? It tells us he was *laid* in a manger. Luke does not tell us where Jesus was born, apart from it being in Bethlehem and at the time of the first census when Quirinius was governing in Syria.
Again, you say that the family lived in Bethlehem (Mt 2.1), but Matthew does not say this. You seem to have read stuff into the text which is not there.

Alan

#23. By Alan Cossey on December 31, 2010

#20
Robert,
You wrote, “This mysterious, complete change, or rather fusion, of character between the two Jesus boys, is explained by Rudolf Steiner in his “Fifth Gospel”
(check it on the internet) by the fact that the two children had become one, soon after which the Matthew child withered away and died. The Lucas child, now enriched with the acquired spiritual wisdom, grew up to become the Jesus of Nazareth, the earthly vessel for the incarnation of the cosmic Christ, the son of God, during the baptism by John in the river Jordan.”

Where does it say this in the gospels? Are you seriously suggesting that Matthew and Luke are not talking about one Jesus, but rather that there were two Jesus’s, both with:

1) A step-father called Joseph (Lk 2:4-5, Mt 1:18-21)
2) A virgin mother called Mary (Lk 1:34, Mt 1:18)
3) Born in Bethlehem (Lk 2:4-6, Mt 2:1)
4) Both of whom then lived in Nazareth (Lk 2:39, Mt 2:23)?

Where does it say the Jesus referred to in Matthew died?

Alan

#24. By Alan Cossey on December 31, 2010

Alan,
The genealogies are the most important and definite indication of the two Jesus children, they cannot be reconciled or reduced to one birth. The explanation offered by the site suggested is not satisfying; it is simply not true that the one line is tracing Mary and the other line Joseph. Check it out yourself.
Mt. 2:1 tells us that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, i.e. that his parents lived there, L.2:4 tells us that Joseph went with Mary, who was pregnant, from Nazareth (the town where they lived) to be registered in Bethlehem.
For details I refer (again) to my blog De Vero Anno http://willehalminstitute.blogspot.com/2009/12/de-vero-anno-on-birthday-of-jesus.html
This is an interactive translation project of a book by the Swiss Grail researcher Werner Greub. Inspired by your questions I am going to add the second chapter entitled “A Chronology of the Gospels”, which has been translated from German to Dutch. Here you will find well-reasoned answers to your questions.
Robert

#25. By Robert Jan Kelder on January 01, 2011

#25
Robert,
You state, “Check it out yourself.
Mt. 2:1 tells us that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, i.e. that his parents lived there”. Your “i.e.” does not follow. Yes, Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Mt does not tell us they were already living there. Mt just does not say one way or the other. Mt tells us where they were *after* Jesus’ birth when the Magi arrived.
You are putting words into his mouth.
Yet you are quite happy to believe there were two Jesus’s living in Nazareth, both born of a virgin named Mary and both with a step-father named Joseph?

Alan

#26. By Alan Cossey on January 01, 2011

Alan,
Not quite. I believe to distil from the context that the Matthew Jesus was born and lived in Bethlehem and only after the flight to Egypt (was) settled in Nazareth, in close proximity to the other Jesus family, where the two boys became bosom friends until the mystical union in the temple. I believe the Matthew Mary was a maiden and that the conception occurred unconsciously in the temple under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Where does it say Joseph was the step-father? Certainly not L.2:4,5.
During the translation of Greub’s chapter “Chronology of the Gospels”, that I hope to post soon, perhaps in instalments, I came across this sentence about the time difference: “Varus was succeeded by Cyrenius, who reigned in the years 3 and 2 B.C. Luke mentions him as governor during the birth of the younger Jesus (L.2:3). Therefore, the birth of the younger Jesus must have occurred in his tenure: 3 or 2 B.C.”
So again, one cannot get around the genealogy.
Happy New Year
Robert

#27. By Robert Jan Kelder on January 01, 2011

#27
And a happy new year to you too, Robert.
Again, I have to ask you where you get the stuff you are asserting. You say there were two Jesus’s who, “became bosom friends until the mystical union in the temple”. Where does it say they were “bosom friends”? Where does it speak of any “mystical union in the temple”?
You seem to have a very creative imagination. That can be useful in life if you work in advertising, but not when you are trying to understand what a passage of text actually says, old fruit.

Alan

#28. By Alan Cossey on January 01, 2011

Alan,
What the Bible says is true, but also what at the end of his Gospel, John says: “But there is much else that Jesus did - so much, that if it were written down in detail, I do not suppose the world itself could hold the written records.” Christianity is a living religion, is it not? And according to my long reading and research (as an old fruit) of anthroposophy, especially “The Fifth Gospel” given by Rudolf Steiner, this is the Christian revelation of the 20th century, where you find many of the things I posted in great detail and depth. They are, at least, a possible explanation, a hypothesis to be taken seriously, in the face of the otherwise glaring discrepancies in the two Gospels that cannot reasonably be denied when only one Jesus birth is assumed. My blog or other literature on that theme available on internet offers more info.
Old Tutti Fruit

#29. By Robert Jan Kelder on January 01, 2011

#29
Dear Tutti Fruit (we’d better stop this or they’ll start talking about us).
So you are asking me to believe that your old mate, Rudolf Steiner, managed to find the resolution to a problem which was there for 1900 years and which no-one had noticed before? Are you saying that the stuff about your two Jesus’s, e.g. them being bosom friends and having some mystical union in the temple” are not actually in the gospels, but depend entirely on the credibility of Steiner?
What are your thoughts on Jude 1:3, which speaks of the “faith delivered once for all to the saints” (not delivered partly, awaiting the rest from a bloke called Steiner)?

Alan

#30. By Alan Cossey on January 01, 2011

Alan,
I am not asking you to believe anything, only to (re)consider some things. These things are, it is true, not all found explicitly in the Gospels, but they do not contradict them either, instead often complement them, even where necessary. Okay, the faith as such, as Jude rightly says, has all been given, the mystery of Golgotha, the incarnation and resurrection of Christ is the central point of world history and human evolution, but not the interpretation of it, over which there is so much strife even within the Christian flock. And many leave the faith or change over to Islam or whatever, because they cannot reconcile the many contradictions or find the necessary explanations lacking. It was especially for these people that left the Church that this bloke Steiner brought relief, including this once fervent unbeliever, yours truly.

#31. By Robert Jan Kelder on January 02, 2011

Alan
After almost three days (and nights) of hard work inspired in part by your persistent queeries, I have finished the translation of “Chronology of the Gospels - The Jesus Mystery” by Werner Greub and posted it on the blog of my Willehalm Institute.  If you or anyone else for that matter can find the time and interest to read it, I would be interested to hear what you think of it.
In any case, thanks for your questions.
http://willehalminstitute.blogspot.com/2011/01/chronology-of-gospels-jesus-mystery.html

#32. By Robert Jan Kelder on January 03, 2011

#31 and #32
Hiya Robert. You speak of the idea of two Jesus’s as being an “interpretation”. It isn’t an interpretation; an interpretation is based on what the text says. Instead your mates have come up with a brand new idea and tried to make the gospels fit it. I had to chuckle when I read the article and it said, “Obvious solutions are suspect in favour of more complicated and unlikely ones, which are, if possible by an amazing somersault, offered as a ‘New Chronology of the Gospels’.” Are you saying that the idea of two Jesus’s, both born of a virgin Mary and both living in Nazareth at the same time is less complicated than the Christian (and everyone else’s apart from your lot) view that Jesus as one person?

“...  the prejudice that Matthew and Luke describe the same birth…” made me smile as well.

Cheers,

Alan

#33. By Alan Cossey on January 03, 2011

Hello Alan,
Our discussion is going in circles. I refer again to my basic point: the genealogy given by Luke and Matthew cannot be reconciled or reduced in any way or form to one and the same Jesus, whether we like it or not. The site you referred me to that attempted that completely failed to do this, and neither can any clear thinking, unprejudiced reader. It is not me who is inserting any (new) idea, but those who refuse to accept the divergent meaning of the texts. I propose we stick to this main and all-decisive question of the different genealogy: Accordingly, the Luke Jesus is a descendent of Nathan, the son of David, while the Matthew Jesus is from the line of Salomon, another son of David. Thus is from where the bloodline splits in two. There is absolutely no way in the world that these divergent bloodlines can be interpreted as resulting in one Jesus. It is not me but you, my dear fellow, who is doing a salto mortale by claiming anything else.
Cheers,
Robert

#34. By Robert Jan Kelder on January 05, 2011

#34
Hiya Robert,
I agree. We may have come to the end of the fruitfulness of our discussion. You are of the opinion that the genealogies cannot be reconciled, whereas I am and see the idea of

* two Jesus’s,
* both born of a virgin,
* both virgins being called Mary,
* both Marys being pledged to be married to a Joseph,
* both Jesus’s being born in Bethlehem and
* both Jesus’s being brought up in Nazareth

as being incredibly unlikely.

Thanks for the chat. I hang out on the BBC Christian Topic Message Board at http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/mbreligion/F2213235 if you are ever up for another chat.

Alan

#35. By Alan Cossey on January 05, 2011

Alan,
Thanks for our tip to continue our “chat” on the BBC Religion Messageboard, which I’ve taken up with an attempt to summarize what I believe the Mystery of the Two Jesus Children as part of the greatest mystery on earth entails,
Cheers,
Robert

#36. By Robert Jan Kelder on January 14, 2011

I thought it was beautifully done and very moving I actually cried, well done BBC this is the true meaning of Christmas

#37. By Liz on January 15, 2011

It was absolute rubbish. In the Bible there is no “stable” - the Greek word, katalouma, means “guest chamber” and is mistranslated “inn” for some bizarre reason; there is therefore no “innkeeper”.
Can anyone really imagine a Jewish family NOT giving hospitality to a newly wed couple expecting their first child?
Joseph and Mary took the baby at 6 weeks to Egypt - after all that was required of them in the Torah, as we read in Luke 2 v 39.
The Magi had to have been there before then, not after 2 years as some fairy stories have it.
The BBC thing was just as bad as most Church “Naivety Plays”, and they are generally filled with nonsense.

#38. By Adrian Glasspole on January 18, 2011

How sad to read such a vitriolic posting from Adrian.

Many have been deeply moved by The Nativity - please let’s try and be tolerant and patient - it’s what our Lord would want surely…..........

#39. By Kes on January 18, 2011

Does anyone know where I can buy tony jordan’s Nativity on dvd

#40. By simon on June 25, 2011

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