Wednesday, 6 November 2013

A sermon from Korea on Luke 19

Sermon preached at St John’s Anglican Church, Busan during WCC 10th Assembly as part of the weekend congregational visits to local churches
(You can read mor about how I got on in this friendly local congregation in French here)

Text: Luke 19

When I was young I liked to climb a particular tree in my parents’ garden. I could hide there and be quiet.
The gospel tells us that that Zaccheus was a small person. He couldn’t see over the heads of the holy and pure religious people. They seemed all to be taller than him. These other people also all seem to judge him. Despite one meaning of his name being “pure”, for them he is a sinner: he collects taxes, makes money dishonestly for himself, collaborates with the occupying Roman power.
When Jesus comes to town Zaccheus can’t see what’s happening, so he climbs a sycamore tree. He climbs the tree not because he wants to be quiet but because he wants somehow to be part of the community. 2,000 years ago in the towns and villages of  Palestine a synagogue was not necessarily a building but simply a gathering, an Assembly. Often a tree, a sycamore tree, would be the place where the gathering would take place. So by climbing the tree Zaccheus shows he wants to be part of the community, of the assembly. He wants to at least see Jesus, even though he knows others call him a sinner, even though he knows his own life is not all it could and should be.
And then the story changes, Jesus looks up at Zaccheus in the tree and responds to his desire to be fully part of community by saying “come down I’m going to stay at your place today”. Zaccheus would never have dared to invite Jesus because of how other people would criticize Jesus. But Jesus brings this criticism on himself with his surprise self-invitation.
By calling Zaccheus down from the tree and inviting himself to his house, Jesus transforms relationships within that community, obliging those religious people who think faith is all about judging other people as sinners to think again. Their smallness of thinking needs to be transformed, Zacheus’ money oriented way of thinking also needs to be transformed.
In the midst of a crowd which does not seem to be completely sympathetic, Jesus shows courage and great generosity of spirit. Zaccheus is a son of Abraham, God’s coming kingdom is open to all, not only to those we may think of as pure.
If we are still trying to categorize people into who is sinner and who is saved then God’s generous and challenging kingdom may still be a long way off.

Zaccheus responds to Jesus’ visit and call by being prepared to face the future with less personal wealth, seeking reconciliation and restorative justice with his community. Although he is still small in stature, Jesus’ call makes Zaccheus see that he too has an important part to play in the big story of the kingdom of God. He can walk tall rather than hide up a tree.

I read this story and I wonder whether bankers and money lenders in our own time who have cheated people and countries out of money in the world financial crisis will one day have the humility to recognise the need for transformation in the way the world does business.

I have come to Busan for a gathering, an Assembly. Christians from all over the world, several thousand of us including many young people, from more than 320 Christian churches have come together, to pray, discuss and study together as members of the World Council of Churches. Our meeting is not taking place underneath a sycamore tree but in the Bexco convention centre. But the worship space where we gather does have a tree – though not a sycamore - representing the tree of life from the book of Revelation, it is a symbol of hope for the justice and peace we pray that God is leading us towards.

At the World Council Assembly we have listened together to stories of great pain and suffering from around the world – fears about climate change in the Pacific, stories of women repeatedly raped in war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the sufferings of the peoples in the Middle East and of the Christians there, the deep desire for unity and just peace here in Korea, the call to consume less if our fragile green planet is to survive … the list is long, the sufferings and questions are many
Sometimes we have felt like the one speaking in the book of Habakuk
“O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you "Violence!" and you will not save?”
Yet there have also been stories of hope and transformation: of men and women acting together to put an end to the culture of rape and violence, of emerging new grassroots ways of tackling disease; of entrusting young people with leadership; of people finding the language to speak to one another across religious and cultural divides; of small people finding that they can see and do things, and that their contribution is important.

We also listen to greetings from Christian leaders of different families, from his all holiness Bartolomeo, Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople, from Pope Francis and on Friday morning from Archbishop Justin Welby who (amongst other things) said this:

“I am enjoying a sense of wonder at my small, my tiny place among God’s great Church, which draws together women and men, young and not so young, lay and ordained, from different continents and cultures and different church traditions.”

I was very moved to hear an important church leader speak about his small, tiny place in God’s church. In our world so obsessed with celebrities and people who are rich and famous and big, it is so refreshing to hear a leader talk about having a small place. Recognising that we are small yet important to God and loved by God, is part of the process of allowing ourselves to be transformed by the kingdom values of repentance, justice, peace and generosity.

Jesus is waiting for our desire to become part of those he is gathering, he invites himself into our lives transforming our suffering relationships, our difficulties about how to put things right in our own lives and in the world. Through his courage we too find courage. He is not a famous world brand trying to sell us something, he is the way, the truth and the life. Christ opens the doors of God’s generous kingdom of grace and acceptance for us and for all humanity, and he bids us to become people of the way, following his example of forgiveness and transformation.

God of life lead us to justice and peace.

(c) Jane Stranz

Friday, 3 May 2013

Buy a book against the luxury of hopelessness

So one of the joys of Germany are the bookshops, and one of the joys of the Kirchentag is the huge bookshop. I love this poster – Faith needs books! Fortunately even with a large suitcase I cannot buy everything I would like, nor should I. But the thing I love about wandering around tables of books I’m not going to buy are the thoughts that just the titles set off, they tend not to be particularly profound.
Yesterday evening I did buy books for my faith, (more about them soon) but I stopped myself buying yet more Dorothee Sölle, though I sense I would love to have her complete poetic works ... (hint it is my 50th birthday later this year) But one title of hers really struck a chord with me “Against the luxury of hopelessness”. How dare we live without hope. Is it the affliction of the well-off to live without hope? Maybe. Perhaps affluent societies, particularly those built on the ethic of competition, with work for many being a desperate experience of social-darwinism. Yet how does telling those who cry out their hopelessness that their cries are a luxury, help them or make help progress. I have neither bought nor read the book ( I feel I ought in honesty to add – yet …) I thought of the hopeless situation in Syria. I thought of my own battles in recent years with a sense of personal hopelessness. Had that tearful and painful battle been a luxury?
Walking away from the temptations of the bookshop, I wondered about the luxury of being hopeless and thought back to that time when I had felt hopelessness so acutely and realised that in many ways I had throughout that time continued to be hope-filled and to continue to hold out hope for others – at least in my preaching. Perhaps some of what I expressed at that time was self-indulgent. 
The Kirchentag theme is “as much as you need” Soviel du brauchst ... perhaps when we indulge in hopelessness then it is a luxury. Many in the world living in truly hopeless situations are busy - getting angry, saving their children, their neighbours, protecting themselves, fleeing and looking for enough food and water to make it through the day. they do not have the luxury of hopelessness.
I suppose the cynical me wonders about the false hope sometimes marketed to us like a commodity. I don't need much of that at all thanks. Enough I am looking forward I sense to another trip to the book tables before leaving Hamburg ... luxuriating in the commodity of buy books about luxury. enough for now.

Remembering feisty lives of those history almost forgot

I'm at the German Protestant Kirchentag in Hamburg. It is as always, brilliant, stimulating, prayerful.
And this is the way it goes, I receive insight from others ...
Dr B attends a Bible study given by Margot Kässmann on the parable of the unjust judge and the widow in Luke 18. Later he tells me about it, brings me the text, telling me not only about the Dorothee Sölle poetry Kässmann interwove into the study, but also talking about the example of Elisabeth Schmitz, who during the years of National Socialism tried repeatedly to convince Karl Barth and others leading the Confessing Church of the need to take up the cause of non-arians in Germany. In 1935 she wrote and published a pamphlet anonymously Zur Lage der deutschen Nichtarier. It was a lucid and sadly prophetic description of what was likely to happen to Jews and others under the National Socilist regime. She sent it to many of the leaders in the Confessing Church. You can read more about her in the German entry on wikipedia and I've quoted in full the passage from Kässmann's Bible study which mentions her at the end of this post.
What moved and shocked me was this - I should know about Elisabeth Schmitz. Decades ago I wrote a dissertation about the Confessing Church and Anti-Semitism. I got a special mention from the jury for what I wrote. Of course that is because at that time my academic adjudicators were as ignorant as I was, few people had heard of Elisabeth Schmitz, copies of what she wrote were just coming to light but were being wrongly attributed to another feisty women of that generation, Marga Meusel. When Schmitz died in 1977, just seven people attended her funeral ...

The witness of so many feisty women and men is lost.
I'm not going to say more, there is no moral to draw from this story, but I am thankful for the researcher's who have brought her writing and action back to us. That speaks to me of resurrection.

Here is the quote from Kässmann's Bible Study yesterday. Perhaps I should add that Bible study in this Kirchentag context was for 7,000 people.
Vor 80 Jahren ergriffen die Nationalsozialisten unter Adolf Hitler die Macht in Deutschland. Eine beispiellose Vernichtung aller Errungenschaften von Humanität und Aufklärung, von Menschenrechten und Religionsfreiheit sollte folgen. Wenige gab es, die das früh erkannten. Ein Beispiel ist für mich Elisabeth Schmitz.
Von 1933 bis 1936 korrespondierte sie mit Karl Barth und versuchte, ihn zu einer Stellungnahme zur so genannten „Judenfrage“ zu bewegen, was dieser aber ablehnte. Im September 1935 verfasste sie ein Memorandum, in dem sie forderte, dass die Bekennende Kirche sich für die entrechteten Juden einsetzen sollte. Sie schrieb unter anderem: „In einer kleinen Stadt werden den jüdischen Kindern von den anderen immer wieder die Hefte zerrissen, wird ihnen das Frühstücksbrot weggenommen und in den Schmutz getreten! Es sind christliche Kinder, die das tun, und christliche Eltern, Lehrer und Pfarrer, die das geschehen lassen!“
Sie wollte den Text auf der dritten Synode der Bekennenden Kirche 1935 vorlegen, aber die Synode beschäftige sich nicht mit der „Judenfrage“. Als Elisabeth Schmitz 1977 verstarb, waren sieben
Menschen bei ihrer Beerdigung ...
Offenbar hat auch diese Frau genervt. Die Kirchen als Institutionen haben in der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus versagt, als es darum ging, die Verfolgten, zuallererst die Juden, aber ebenso Kommunisten, Homosexuelle, Zwangsarbeiter, Zeugen Jehovas und viele andere zu schützen. Selbst die Bekennende Kirche. In ökumenischer Gemeinsamkeit aber haben viele Christinnen und Christen Widerstand geleistet gegen Willkür und Unrecht. Das ist ermutigend. Nicht nachlassen. Weiter beten! Und weiter denken!

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Sermon at the funeral of Gertrude Anna Stranz

Sermon for the funeral of Gertrude Anna Stranz
preached on Maundy Thursday April 5th 2012, at St Oswald's Church Croxley Green, just a day before Gertie's 90th birthday. She had spent the last decade of her life in bed and in a lot of pain in a care home.

As I left Paris last night, I slipped a book into my bag by quite a famous art historian, writer and poet called John Berger. The title reads “Hold everything dear” and I just thought, yes that seems right, the subtitle reads – “dispatches on survival and resistance”. That seemed right too.

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was love

Back in the old days in Berlin there were three of them, cousins the same age. Gertie the oldest, her brother Walter the youngest, and in between Greta their cousin. In the trams they got odd looks because together they spoke a strange language, German spoken backwards, a secret tongue only they knew the special grammatical rules to. Then tragically one day Greta an only child fell ill and died within 36 hours. Her parents emigrated to London and her mother Tante Helene moved heaven and earth to make sure the rest of the family, got visas for the UK. Sitting in Sir Stafford Cripps office and insisting he being a lawyer sign the papers for her brother who was also a lawyer.

Ten years ago when we cleared out 49 Frankland Road we found photo albums about Greta and her life which her parents had made – a rose bud on the cover and the inscription “Auch die Knospe ist vollendetes Leben” - Even the bud is life in its fullness, even the bud is life in wholeness.

Without the death of that much loved only daughter perhaps Gertie would not have found herself 73 years ago eating oysters for the very first time on her birthday as the family sailed into exile and in the end safety. My grandfather decided to buy a first class cruise into exile as they were only allowed to take the equivalent of 37 pence each with them.

A dispatch on survival and resistance made from fate and feistiness.

Family history recounts that within less than a year Walter and Gertie were not only speaking fluent English but speaking fluent English backwards …

In the beginning was the Word and Word was faith

Keukchilein, Ta, Gertie was a person of great faithfulness, which could sometimes be expressed in terms of stubbornness and even seemingly wanting to refuse change at times – woe betide the BBC if they changed the times of a favourite radio or TV programme.

She was faithful in her belief in education
Knowing that learning could be fun but also challenging – just like the teaching she loved so much and faithfully gave her life to
She was faithful in remembering birthdays faultlessly – right down to Stephen’s just three days before she died
Faithful in friendship and in family
always  carefully asking “and how are you” with that shrewd look in her eyes waiting for an answer
and coping for the most part admirably when her beloved niece and nephew were rather more slipshod in replying or remembering
faithful too to a vision of society, which embodies in its statutes care for the most vulnerable, equal access as the way to forge excellence
faithful too in generosity, not just of money but of time, of letters and thoughts
faithful to her faith in God

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was hope
There is a crazy, wonderful and essential hope amongst all of us
We can make a difference
Millions and even billions of human beings doing small things
Saving stamps, selling garden produce, keeping records – I don’t think even now that I have tasted more delicious cucumbers than the ones I ate as a child from Gert’s greenhouse
Forging new friendships at the swimming club in your 70s
Campaigning and collecting money
Motivated perhaps by the knowledge that it was other peoples’ gratuitous charity that saved your own life
Behind all this a sense that, good as this world may be, to continue making it a better and hopeful place needs our commitment and creativity now.

In the beginning was the Word
And just before the end
He stripped off his clothes and wrapped in a towel, washed his disciples feet
An extraordinarily intimate, gentle, caring, political, sensual act
“I have done this for you
Will you go on doing it for one another?
Can you follow?”

And he knows what is likely to happen,
this is not a story with a happy end
But if they follow his example it might just be …

One disciple will use his freshly washed feet to walk the path of betrayal, selling out his master for some pieces of silver
The others will try, imperfectly, to follow
They will try to hold dear to the vision, the message, the master
To hold dear to hope, faith and love

We too wonder, can we follow, can we take up the towel and the bowl?

The three cousins who played together and formed such a strong bond back in the old days in Berlin are now finally reunited. Of course whatever language they may speak together now, even backwards, the angels will probably understand.

Of their child who died far too young my great aunt and uncle said “even the bud is fulfilled life”

Of our aunt who has died, perhaps many years later than she herself would have wished
I would like to say “the rosehip too, even the whithered rosehip is fulfilled and good and meaningful life”

We are called not to have perfect lives but to follow the path of the foot washer in intimacy, in faith, in hope, holding dear to the towel and the bowl, daring to believe in resurrection

All of our lives are dispatches on survival and resistance
Let us learn to hold one another and all creation dear

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God and the Word was love.

Let us pray in words written for Maundy Thursday by former archbishop Michael Ramsey

Jesus Lord and Master who served your disciples in washing their feet: serve us daily in washing our motives, our ambitions our actions; that we may share with you in your mission to the world and serve others gladly for  your sake; to whom be glory for ever.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Printemps et oecuménisme at the DEFAP's "Le Monde est chez toi!"

At lunchtime today I got back from the DEFAP Forum which has been taking place in Rouen over the weekend. It was a splendid, fun and well organised event with a great ambiance and took place in Rouen's Halle aux Toiles which is a great venue. Several of my FPF colleagues were also there including Marianne Guéroult of the Mosaic project, she had a great stand with loads of activity and interest in the different projects that the migration churches are involved in. Apart from going round and drinking up the great music, atmosphere and exhibitions I met up with lots of people and had useful discussions with lots of folk about ecumenism and much more besides.
Officially though I was there to lead two sessions at the afternoon workshops "Un printemps oecuménique est-il possible et avec quel language aujourd'hui?" It was great to do two busy sessions with motivated and very talkative people. Of course our time was limited so it was important to try and give everyone the possibility to say something simple about the theme without full scale discussion. So I spent time on the train to Rouen cutting out flower petals ... twas ever thus with the crazy Stranz woman. Everyone in the groups received 4 or 5 petals and then after some introduction from me on the theme I encouraged people to write words on their petals in response to my saying the word "springtime". We got a wonderful series of words and phrases in response - I'll copy them up tomorrow (oh no do I sense procrastination ...). Everyone of course got to say their words and phrases about springtime out loud. Those petals were gathered up while the second word was given to the group, that word was of course "ecumenism" - I do wonder if I had given the words in reverse order whether the results would have been diffierent ... generally there were very positive responses to the ecumenism question - that surprised me. I think the two that really struck me were "le projet originel" and "river with many tributaries which has problems finding its estuary".
Discussion was so intense that we didn't have time for the final phase which was to make flowers out of our ecumenical sprintime petals so I have done that this afternoon on the wonderful parquet floor of my Paris appartment. they look better than I thought they would and I think they're quite fun. A bit of artwork for the ecumenism of the people I've been talking about on and off in my new job. the theme of the even also helped to frame ecumenism in terms not only of the "other" who is the world "chez moi" but also to think of ourselves as the world "chez les autres". Being a Protestant in France is still quite exotic for lots of people.
It was important to be at this mission event which only takes place once every four years and it helped encourage me to think about the work of the FPF in terms of missional theology.
Anyway the other great thing about these ecumenical sunflowers is that at the opening worship everyone received a packet of sunflower seeds. I suspect those will not have quite such variegated petals as these paper ones.
Here's the packet of seeds with the wonderful verse from Mark's gospel about the seed growing the harvest on its own. better get planting!

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Doing one track ecumenism, two track ecumenism or one and half track ecumenism ...

Dr B and I have escaped Ferney Voltaire and Paris and we are in the glorious city of Assisi. Of course we travelled by train - wonderful! Difficult to even begin to describe how lovely and fascinating it is. Photos to follow I promise - I took so many today and last night as we wandered from church to Basilica to cafe and from one stunning sun-drenched view to another - yes I admit some wine may have been involved. I always say I only have three words of Italian "Pizza, pasta and prosecco".
We are here on holiday but attending an international ecumenical conference "Where we dwell in common, pathways for dialogue in the 21st century". And yes finally, despite many promises to the contrary, it seems to be galvanising me back into blogging. Let's see if it lasts. We are staying at the Domus Pacis which is right next door to the amazing Porziuncola basilica - I even made it there at 6.30am for lauds this morning. This afternoon we returned there for the conference's opening prayers which included a stirring sing of "All creatures of our God and King" one of the best loved English versions of St Francis' wonderful Canticle of creatures or Canticle of the sun.
At the introductory session late this afternoon, Gerard Manion, who together with Ecclesiological Investigations, is the very lively emminence grise behind the event, gave us a useful introduction to what he referred to as one and a half track ecumenism. Now if like me you haven't been keeping up to date on the latest diplomatic and international terminology (not really something a translator should admit to) you may not quite know what this is about (there are some good definitions here). The idea is to think about two sets of railway tracks which run parallel to one another, track one might be the high level diplomats or heads of states (in church or ecumenical terms perhaps heads of churches, institutions, training facilities, universities etc), track two might be civil society actors, or warring factions in a conflict (in ecumenical terms this might be your grassroots, those teaching young people say, practioners, campaigners, organisers, the young peoplethemselves, you can make your own list depending on different contexts). One and a half track is where we try to get the parallel tracks to cross over. I always love seeing that on railway lines when one line joins another or crosses over it - the lines make such lovely patterns and I've always been fascinated by points and getting trains to go in particular tracks. Anyway, one and a half track is about the transformational act and possibilities which open up when you dare to try and get crossover between the different tracks.
What I really like about the image is that it is essentially very simple and that it comes from a strong conflict resolution background. It is also based on the idea that ecumenism is not just for the specialists, it needs the contributions of all involved to renew the pathways to dialogue for the century ahead.
What was really great about this introduction is that I can now also see that in a small way Gerard Mannion also put this into practice by asking each of the people on the organising committee to share a hope for the conference with the plenary. It's a model which sees real interplay between people, theologians and leaders. You'll gather I quite like it, certainly gave me food for thought, but there's more to come. Yes, that's right. no blog posts for months and then just like the 38 bus, three come along all at once! Meanwhile hope you like the graphic which comes from the Ecclesiological Investigations website.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Shush! I have become an ecumenical bureaucrat

So it has happened. I have become an ecumenical bureaucrat. I suppose I'd like to think I'm a rather unlikely bureaucrat, (though I am a good administrator, that's not the same thing). I suspect my ecumenical skills lie more in ecumenical enthusiasm and ecumenical activism. Maybe I'm a bit of an agitprop ecumenist - both in the sense of agitation and propaganda and in the sense of theatre - wanting to tell the story.
Today in my newly acquired role as bureaucrat I took part for the first time in a national bilateral dialogue meeting between the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran and Reformed churches in France. Together with Franck Lemaître o.p. I am "co-secrétaire" to the group. Today I learnt the ropes by looking over his shoulder as he typed over the minutes of the last meeting to begin to create today's minutes! He's obviously an old hand at being a bureaucrat, he also has perfect handwriting and seems to know instinctively when to take notes and when to let the discussion just flow on. Very interesting - and of course writing the notes does give you power to some extent. One of the problems I have at the moment is that years of consecutive interpreting between French and English means that I naturally tend to take notes in the language other than the one being spoken. So I had to make a conscious effort to just take notes today - there isn't too much in English in my jottings, though I did have to shake myself back to the task in hand once or twice: "stop thinking about how to translate that and concentrate on the content".
The group meeting today was newly constituted and set to begin a fresh round of dialogue based on looking at previous ecumenical accords in France relating to marriage and baptism, with a view to providing more up to date guidance - given how much society and the churches have changed over the past 40 years there is real need for this. So there was quite a bit of brainstorming going on, it was a lively and good natured meeting and a privilege to listen in and even contribute to such a group.
One thing that the group also wanted to think about from the outset had to do with "reception" - how will we get the fruits of our reflections and writing to those people who will find it useful. So we are trying to build some thinking about communication into the dialogue from the outset which can't be a bad thing, and may also have some impact on the shape and content of the dialogue. The hope is that the group will be able to work fairly quickly on the tasks it has set itself.
One of the main reasons for this is that the previous "comité mixte" ended up meeting for around ten years and produced the report pictured here "Discerner le Corps du Christ". This time the comité really hope to meet for less time and to write a shorter report. Seems like a perfect project for an ecumenical activist turned bureaucrat to act as secretary in such circumstances. I started the day rather worried that I wouldn't be up to the task and ended thinking what a real pleasure it had been.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Ouff! So, perhaps now back to the blog ... of ecumenical springtime ...

Well, this evening it seems to be happening. I seem to feel that I have at last properly arrived in my new "home" in Paris. Finally the internet is working (getting a phone line installed took two months!) and I am actually at home and well enough to contemplate blogging (I've had a nasty bout of bronchitus the past 10 days). Tonight will be the first time in two and a half months that I have slept eight straight nights in my own bed in the flat here and I'm also looking forward to spending every night between now and December 24 in the same place too. Some of the time I've been away from Paris I've of course been in that other bed which is mine (or at least partly mine!) in Ferney Voltaire, but much of the time away has been been visiting local ecumenical groups in different parts of France, on speaking engagements or representing the Fédération Protestante de France (FPF) . Perhaps I should start a special guide to overnight stays and food in some of France's religious houses. So far I would have to say that the delicious mixed vegetable and parsnip soup eaten on a stormy evening in "Douvres la Délivrande" would top my list of delicacies. (The photo of the sky is from there.)
I am also getting the opportunity to pray with other Christians in many different places and this is a particular joy. I must start taking photos of the chapels where we share in these times of silence, song, word and prayer ... sometimes of course the prayers take place just in meeting rooms too. So far my two favourite chapels have been at the Frères de la Campagne in Meaux and at the Domaine St Joseph in Lyon.
To say that my learning curve has been steep would be an understatement. Doing everything in French, especially almost everything I write, has made me hyper aware of my failings with the language and more hesitant than I might usually be. Things take longer too ... though I find writing pretty hard work in English too truth be told. The French have an amazing capacity for frontal learning in "colloques" etc and I think I am used to having more tea and coffee breaks in my life! I had also forgotten just how bad I am at learning names and how tiring starting in a new place is ... I didn't expect to miss Stephen as much as I do, but conversely I am also really enjoying time on my own in my still rather empty but getting more comfortable by the moment flat.
Part of me had hoped and expected that in starting this new job I would somehow just press a switch and the past would be forgotten or transformed. Ah well. I suppose you can guess it wasn't quite like that ... Another reason I have not been blogging. When you wake at six in the morning in tears it is sometimes better not to bore the world with all that. That intensity of grieving, welling up from the unconscious and taking me unawares seems at last to be passing. Much as I have learned about myself through it, I am deeply, deeply grateful that it seems to be ebbing. More about this time as I move forwards. But it has been good for me to be silent on the blog front for a while, though perhaps the healing would have been faster had I been writing.
Anyway as for my new job, it is extraordinary and terrifying and brilliant and hard work. I hover between feeling like a complete fraud (whatever made me think I was an ecumenist?) and thinking, yes I think I may have a real contribution to make here. Honestly though, I have been having quite a bit of fun, you could look at some of the videos my colleagues made of me here - folk seem to particularly like the bonus one. I am working with a group of extremely hard working and talented colleagues, there is a mass of great creative work going on based from the FPF. It has been balm to my soul in this new environment simply to be trusted. I had forgotten what that was like and how very beautiful it is. On this Sunday evening the thing I give thanks for most is "la confiance", it a very lovely French word and a great feeling.

So here are a few glimpses of things I would have blogged about had I been blogging ...

  • A great photo of myself and an Orthodox priest in full liturgical regalia sitting on the front row of Les Etats généraux du Christianisme both of us taking notes on our Ipads - the photographer just couldn't resist. Now we just need to see if Apple do religious sponsorship!
  • Explaining my job to a young Tunisian woman while waiting for the RER to (not) arrive. "Oh but you should become Muslim" she said. An interesting conversation on day one of my new job and her fourth day in France!
  • The shock as an Orthodox priest drove myself and my Roman Catholic colleague to the railway station in Caen on a short cut through the red light district made up of old camper vans each with a candle lit on the dashboard. Most of the women came from Africa.
  • The deeply beautiful and moving sound of over 150 bishops singing in Gregorian plain chant in front of the Grotte de Lourdes and the Roman Catholic bishops conference. I was one of only four women present.
  • Having lunch with my church president and him deciding we'll go back to work to have a coffee as the price for an espresso in the local restaurants is to say the least prohibitive and would be a sizeable percentage of our salaries!
  • Still, but still getting lost in the Gare St Lazare ... ugh.
  • Enjoying the beauty of Paris even if I have so far done nothing cultural whatsoever.
  • Must try and say something at some point about L'histoire de la virilité and all the stuff about la théorie du genre.
  • A wonderful conversation about the Ecumenical Prayer Cycle with a woman who has for over ten years been updating the country information and writing new prayers in French for this wonderful ecumenical resource. A great link between my former and new jobs and i get to join the group this week!
  • And finally lunchtime today. We ate with the brothers at the Couvent St Jacques and I felt very privileged to be at table with four very eminent ecumenists: Hervé Legrand, Michel Mallèvre, Franck Lemaître and Stephen Brown. I'd like to say that I held my own, but really I have no illusions, but strangely I didn't feel too much like a fraud, just like I might need to have a different kind of conversation to be able to make my contribution. Ok I admit it, I was completely out of my depth. I think it was at this point that I realised that living with Dr B is a bit like living with a Protestant Dominican!
Enough I'm back on the blog, still alive and beginning to find my way around my new life. I am enjoying it. And one day I will blog about the infamous line "Bar à whisky, 500 mètres dans cette direction!" For now perhaps all you need to know is that I wander around talking to folk about ecumenical springtime. It's not a bad life.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Evening prayers for justice and peace

I wandered around the house in a rather desultory attempt to think about things I might need in Paris and ended up putting a mainly rather pretentious choice of books into my case - and also managed to leave behind the detective fiction book which might at least have had a chance of actually getting read!
Almost at the last minute I took this small book down from the shelves in my office in Ferney and this evening I have prayed in my hotel room according to the Monday evening order of prayer.
Each Day and Each Night by J. Philip Newell offers simple orders of prayer for the morning and evening of each day of the week. Each day has a theme and Monday's is justice and peace - you can get a taster here. It also has a lectionary of Bible readings for each day. Each day's morning and evening prayer begins with verses from the wonderful Psalm 139.
I know that in moving to Paris the one thing I shall miss most from my previous job is praying with others in the chapel on an almost daily basis. So I know that I need to find simple ways of encouraging myself in the discipline of prayer. I'm glad at the intuition that simply made me slip this into my bag, it spoke to me in all sorts of ways tonight to be praying for justice and peace, two of the key areas of work underpinning much of what the WCC does. It helped me look back to the Peace convocation this year and forwards to the WCC's assembly "God of life, lead us to justice and peace". It has been such a blessing to be able to pray with others so often in a very beautiful place, now I shall have to try and find different ways to frame my days with prayer. Much of what I feel at the moment has to do with a sense of very deep loss but also of profound thankfulness. The reflective Celtic but also quite Ignatian path through a simple office of prayer that Philip Newell sets out certainly helped me tonight to name that and stay with it a while. I'm sure the morning and evenign prayers will help me through these first few weeks of a very new existence.
It is going to be fun but it is also going to be chaotic and hard work at times. I will need discipline to make up in part for being less involved in preparing and leading public worship.

The opening prayer begins:
...O Christ of the lost
and betrayed
come close to me this night
that I maycome close to you

The closing prayer ends:
Who keeps watch
over us this night?
Who but the Christ of love.

This is what happens when you spend your life taking tomatoes out of sandwiches - you get asked to join a blog called BLT!

For a long time I never ate raw tomatoes, then in my late 20s I got quite partial to the little cherry tomatoes and nice ripe vine tomatoes in salads. I Rome I got slightly obessesd with the very sweet mini plum tomatoes. Even now I suually offer the tomato bits in restaurant salads to Dr B. What I really take exception to though is tomatoes in sandwiches. On planes and trains, in cafés and bars I order a sandwich and then spend time opening it up and removing the (what I consider to be) utterly horrible slices of tomato, the sliced version of the fruit just gives the bread and everything in the sarnie a sort of yucky texture and flavour. Out vile slice!
Given this, it was quite funny that I should be invited to post occasionally on a blog called BLT. In this case though it's not bacon lettuce and tomato but Bible Literature and Translation and it's certainly not just a sandwich.
Two folk whose blogs I admire and have been following for several years - J.K. Gayle and Suzanne McCarthy - blog there alongside Theophrastus and Craig R. Smith. These folk are all seriously knowledgeable about biblical translation, which I am not. One of the reasons I read Suzanne and Kurk is because I learn so much. Anyway the blog is about community building as well as exchange of ideas and information about the Bible, translating and literature. They would like me to add my voice which I am happy to do, though it won't be often unfortunately as I shall have to start blogging or doing some web based work in French in coming months, improve my typo 3 skills and more besides.
Anyway I have two initial posts in gestation for BLT and neither of them is about tomatoes you'll be pleased to hear. Writing this is my way of saying, please be a bit patient guys your Paris correspondent will be joining you soon! I was just not in any fit state over the past few days to do blogging of any kind, let alone try to learn Wordpress. So the best I can do is dedicate my first post from Paris to BLT.
I have however arrived in Paris, despite antibiotics and general sinusitus induced lethargy I managed to pack a suitcase and get myself here. Work begins tomorrow, wonder if there will be sandwiches for lunch?

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Beauty, surprises and the generous liturgy of friendship and prayer ...

It had not been easy to find a date to go out for a drink together, and I was quite surprised that I was expected at the ecumenical centre reception for 17.00, I even got an sms reminder. Wow we must be having some serious fun ahead of us starting this early. In honour of a night on the town I even put on some mascara - with hindsight this was perhaps not a good idea!
I met with Maike and she took me not out to the bar but into the chapel - that place of course for the real gluttons and wine bibbers! In the side chapel were quite a number of my colleagues gathered very quietly and Maike explained that they simply wanted to say thank you by organising Holden Evening Prayer in such a way that all I had to do was to be there.
I was very moved - hence the problems with the recently applied mascara and the depserate search for a hankie in my bag (I've learnt from facebook they had even discussed this eventuality before my arriving - this of course is what friends are for).
A group of my friends had been preparing for a long time, rehearsing the piano and flute and solo parts since August, tonight was the first time they sang and played together. It was a very beautiful moment, and the liturgy should be beautiful but not perfect. I thought back to Stephen and Sara Padre, Itonde Kakoma, Luke Smetters, Colin Williams, Annie Osbourne, Michael Wallace and many others who have introduced and sung Holden with us since 2004. It is so good to know that the singing will go on, especially as more musicians know the parts. It reminded me of all of those times when I have come to the end of very busy days in the office and felt that perhaps the most important thing I had done was pray with others.
Tonight was truly "leitourgia" - the work and praise of the people, many were involved in reading the wonderful selection of Bible verses chosen by Ruthann, in the music, in the preparation. I know how much coordination that takes so I felt very blessed.
The liturgy is the space that frames our grief, joy, distress and doubt. This was the space where I could finally allow some tears to fall in public as I grieve at leaving a job I love, recognising my failures, seeing too some achievements and simply accepting that moving on is painful at this time. Tonight my tears were for the first time about leaving these wonderful people and this wonderful space, rather than tears about that which is broken in the present and the past. No more struggling is needed. Singing and praying to God held all of us in that moment together in love.
This was the second time this year I have received a sign of pure grace. It is quite hard to receive such creative, simple generosity. But I realised that grace has that capacity to transform and heal. The thirty minutes of tonight's service was a special gift to me, nourishing me with joy despite the tears.
Thank you all very, very much.
And so to Paris where I hope to occasionally say the Beatitudes with others at midday according to the tradition of les veilleurs.
But for now simply gratitude.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Putting part of the puzzling ecumenical picture together

My great WCC colleagues Marc-Henri Heiniger and Muriel Bataclan invited me to talk about the history of the ecumenical movement to group of people from specialised ministries who are at Bossey for some days of quite intense ecumenical formation. I haven't time now to say much about what I said - tho' I did manage to record it on my new Ipad. But our session ended in the sunshine trying to put together the ecumenical river - it's such a good metaphor - the puzzle of ecumenism.
Anyway I also have a video of the group doing this but I think I need a bit of advanced technical assistance before posting that - maybe tomorrow, it's too long as it stands now.
Anyway it was a good experience for me to speak with the group on this topic just a few days before ending my time working at the WCC. As ever it was a real privilege to speak with them and I did promise them I would try to post at least some photos before the end of the day. I also ended what I shared with quite a big plug for social media in building ecumenical capital: be authentic, be active, be nice.

So I should be ... but instead I am involved in many forms of perfect procrastination

Well I should be packing, getting organised, doing all sorts of things to clear my desk, finish writing projects and get ready to move to Paris. So of course instead of doing any of that I am actually returning to the blog at long last - and yes there is a great deal of tidying up to do here too of course, because almost all of the information about me and about Dr B needs to now change. You have been warned, you may turn up and discover the builders have been in and painted everything white! though rest assured minimalism is not really my style.
Yes I am moving on Friday this week! And on Thursday this week I go to Lyon for my first day conference in the new job. Pictured here is what the appartment in Paris I shall be living in looked like when I visited 2 weeks ago. The Chef de chantier looked a little worried when I said I was hoping to move in on September 30, he looked a little better when I said but it's ok if it's only at midnight!
Anyway you can see that my future colleagues can see straight into my place so you will understand why the only thing packed so far are 6 sets of Ikea curtains bought on special offer last week. I shall have to remember not to wander around this dwelling naked, unless all the curtains are drawn!
Then of course I had a little jaunt to and from Prague on the train - I was interpreting for the Conference of European Churches, I think for now we'll just say it was another one of those ecuemnical meetings, after all I do want them to invite me back.
Then this morning I said yes to talking to a group of specialised ministries folk at the Château de Bossey and that was great fun (for me if not for them!), but really I should have been packing ...
anyway Dr B drove me to the SNCF (even regular readers of this blog may not know that I do not have a driving licence) and I am now the proud owner of an Abonnement Fréquence for the whole of France, in Germany this would cost 150 euros, in Switzerland about 150 CHF, in France 650 euros ...
So I really should stop blathering on here and pack, but you know what? My wonderful colleagues gave me an Ipad as a leaving gift and I'm trying to learn that and then I took some really cool photos at the Ecumenical formation session this morning and I think today is the perfect time to learn how toedit the video I took and then I'd really like to write something about Prague ... and of course before I pack a second suitcase I really should empy the dishwasher. Yes, perfect procrastination when you cannot focus! More soon folks, who knows I might even tidy the house!

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Our favourite coffee cups

Sadly all but one of our favourite coffee cups have now lost their handles. I was given them by Tante Lotte nearly thirty years ago so I suppose they have seen sterling service, and even then they were at least second hand, she always shopped at the local flea market. We're sad to see them go though, they are the perfect size, shape, coulour, feel, weight ... and those rogue handles that keep breaking are just a wonderful shape, perfect for holding. Anyway the saucers have fared better than the cups so we shall still have the memory of the cups when eating desert off the saucers.

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Saturday, 24 September 2011

The outward journey to Prague ...

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Wednesday, 14 September 2011

An attempt at some kennings "en français"

What follows is a list of some my attempts at kennings in French. It's not a form that should work in a romance language but it was helpful for our feminist theology group last night and made us think about language for God and faith in different ways. I'm not sure the resutls are really French - what would the Académie française say about such neologising! Of course because of the way French works the kennings are the other way around to in English or German. These are all loosely inspired by Jesus in the gospels.

Pêcheur d'homme et de femmes
fouetteur d'injustice
Raconteur de paraboles
Quitteur de tombeau
Chemineur de route
parleur de vérité
ballayeur de poussière
metteur de lumière
prometteur de l'Esprit
assureur de paix
maudisseur de figuiers stériles
pasteur de brébis perdu
aube pascal
levure de farine
ensemenceur de champs
lecteur de la synagogûe
chasseur de vendeurs
prieur de Gethsemané
rompeur de pain
verseur de vin

You can find some kennings in English here and here on my blog.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Playful wisdom - transgression and mysticism at feminist theology

I have come home from tonight's feminist theology group richly blessed as ever and laden with gifts, including a copy of Grace Jantzen's A Place of Springs. I am so delighted! I also got some very special Faverger chocolate and a splendid bottle of Ecrivain Poète Genevan wine.
Tonight was the last time I shall be with the group for quite some time as it really will not be possible for me to get back from Paris on a regular basis to be with them. This is a shame because the programme for the year ahead is really interesting: "Obéissance et transgression: Créatrices et créateurs à la suite de Dieu".
So we began tonight with an apple on the table as a symbol of trangression and its desirability. I spoke about mysticism and integrating spirituality and faith for this first session and we did various exercises - writing down the name of a woman and man who had been important for our spiritual formation, either folk known to us or historical figures or even ficitonal ones. Each of us spent some time, in the silence of our hearts comparing these two figures - had their influence been different because of their gender, is their a male or female spirituality or mysticism? We held on to and "contained" these thoughts as I went on to lay out some thoughts from Sarah Coakley's book Powers and Submissions about how "kenosis" the notions which have grown up around self-emptying have been seen in extremely different ways in by feminist theologians such as Rosemary Ruether and Daphne Hampson. In her book Coakley works carefully and persuasively through the text in Philippians 2 to offer a non destructive basis for kenosis as a foundation for spirituality. Tonight I was trying to pick up the different ideas around kenosis as a way of trying to move us towards thinking about who the God we pray is - I admitted taht despite decades of feminist theology I have deeply internalised a judgemental God - fortunately not the only God I have internalised but part of teh God I pray to. As we were workign through some of this I asked everyone in the group fot try to write some kennings and encouraged them by offering some that I had written earlier. I wasn't at all sure about using this form in a raomance language but it actually worked quite well. As we had some anglophone folk at the group tonight and I was interpreting myself into English most of the time it worked well as I tried to kenning what people said in French back into English. Two of my favourite ideas about God that came out of this exercise ( and I wish I'd had the presence of mind to write them all down but hey...) were "joueuse sagesse - playful wisdom and berceur d'enfant which I suppose I would translate as lullaby singer - what a glorious image of God.
I am so grateful to this group which has been my lifeline to sanity, theology and laughter over these past 7 or 8 years. I shall miss our time together but hope to drop in from time to time so as to transgress together.
We ended by reading Chouraqui's wonderful translation of the Beatitudes - en marche les matriciels - Get up and go may mercy be born from you...
A wonderful evening. And my kenning for God was "love maker". Maybe all these years of fem theol are finally having a bit of impact!

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Versailles les Diaconesses de Reuilly

Some images for my time of transition ...

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