Friday, 30 November 2007

An Advent Calender for World Aids Day

Click on one of the below thumbnails to view the day and devotion.

December 2007

January 2008

© 2007 Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance
Material may be photocopied or quoted as long as credit is given to the source (author and Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance “Keep the Promise” Advent calendar).

As well as preparing worship resources for World Aids Day the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance has this year put together an excellent Advent calender of daily readings, pictures and meditations. Many of the meditations are written by people living with Aids.
It's really one of those things I wish I had dreamt up myself, I can just imagine the time it took to coordinate but it is brilliant. It works as a printed calendar, as a downloadable resource (in two sizes A4 and US letter) and as a daily meditation web resource to click on as in the graphic above. It is profound, it's beautiful, it's easy to use and it's also multilingual - so far it's available in English, French, Spanish and Russian but I heard today that they have also just got a version in Finnish so watch the EAA website all you Finnish speakers, it will be up there soon.

Keep the promise!

"May our prayers be the foundation for action to keep our promises, and hold others to theirs, so that future generations will not live in a time of AIDS."

Take the lead - preparing for World Aids Day

Photo (c) Stephen Brown/ENI

I attended an excellent service for World Aids Day in the Ecumenical Centre chapel. It was prepared by the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, the World YWCA and local Genevan AIDS groups.
The liturgy was written by three women Rev. Elizabeth Hernandez Carillo, Laura Figueroa Granados, a Baptist theologian, and Guillermina Plascencia Favila, a social worker and advisor to the Semilla de Esperanza, a project that works with boys and girls who live with HIV.
It included a powerful moment when we all stood to look at the red ribbon and remember people we knew living with HIV and AIDS and then turned away from the ribbon one after another literally turning our backs on the problem. This was linked with prayers of confession, and turning back to listening to words of forgiveness and hearing the gospel. It worked well, as did the handing on of small candles to each other saying "Take the Lead".
You can find the full liturgy in English, French, Spanish and German on the EAA website and worship resources from other years here.
Anyway after this powerful service written and led by women we were handed the full text of the World YWCA's Nairobi Call to Action.

Everyone's playing the Vatican board game

I have now found the ultimate Christmas present for my Pope-watching husband it is a board game called Vatican and features six cardinals who seek to become papabile. Sounds fun, no doubt if we did a Reformed one it would involve either preaching very long sermons or working very long hours, or possibly both. Sounds a bit too much like real life to me. The sad thing is that Stephen really would love a book about Joseph Ratzinger's theology for Christmas.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

The Templeton prize in Paris

So after travelling round England, drinking champagne and lots of Earl Grey tea, spending a bit of time with family and friends I took train back Paris straight to the Maison du Protestantisme where the Eglise Réformée and the French Protestant Federation have their headquarters. Going there felt more like going "home" in many ways than going the the URC's Tavistock Place headquarters in London. For the first time in many years, though, I felt the pull of London, its energy and vitality, yet travelling back to France did really feel like coming home.
The serendipity of travelling by rail meant that I was coming through Paris on the evening when the John Templeton Award for the European Religion Writer of the Year was being made, so I offered my services as interpreter and had a very interesting evening.
Tom Heneghan was awarded the prize and gave an excellent short speech in which he spoke quite a bit about the difficulties of translation when writing about religion. He mentioned two key terms that I come across in my work very regularly and which are almost untranslateable. the first is the French term laicité - which as he explains, could mean separation of church and state, or secularism. But often laicité in France is a sort of mind set, which justifies excluding religion from the public arena. The other term he mentioned is ökumene der Profile which is a phrase coined by Bishop Wolfgang Huber. Together with the Brown-person I have come up with "profile-based ecumenism" for this (as opposed to consensus-based ecumenism) - but maybe an ecumenism of profiles is better and anyway you still need a good sized footnote to try and get the meaning across. Over supper later we wondered aloud whether ökumene der Profile is more about ecumenism or more about profile - that is confessional profile - I suspect it is just a way of making confessional profile seem ecumenical, but perhaps the point is that you can only be ecumenical if you're really clear where you're coming from.
The point Tom Heneghan is making is that the speaker knows what he's talking about but once you translate this into another language and context it becomes almost un-understandable.
Anyway I promised to link to Tom's blog which is really good and also to leave some comments there, maybe you should do the same.

Bad girls and good theology

The URC headquarters are just round the corner from St Pancras and on my visit there I could not resist spending some time (yes and some money) in the book shop. I bought quite a lot of liturgy books, mainly from Wild Goose publications - the imprint of the Iona community. But one book I bought and then read straight away - on and off all through the night - was Susan Durber's Preaching like a Woman. It was a really heartening and interesting read. I've long admired Susan's sermons and quite a number of them are included in the book. She manages to be both erudite, literary, biblical and relevant to the concerns of those hearing the word.
It is the introductory parts to each section which I found particularly stimulating and helpful for setting out an intellectual framework for preaching. It rang very true for me and I realised reading it how much preachers forget to reflect theologically on the act of preaching itself. I shall re-read it over coming days - in a slightly less champagne-fuelled state. The book really deserves a much wider audience than only those preaching like women. Anyway it's also good that a person so committed to excellent and challenging preaching recently took up the post as Principal of Westminister College Cambridge - a place training future preachers in the URC.
And the reference to Bad Girls has to do with the film that was playing late at night in my hotel room as I was reading Susan's book. It's a movie that offers a different take on the Western with 4 "fallen" women as the strong leads in the film. In a way, as with much that Susan Durber says in preaching like a woman, it is all about telling the story differently, finding a new way in.
Anyway as they say "Good girls get to go to heaven, bad girls get to go everywhere!"

Champagne, gossip and decadence

So here is a not very good photo of Europe's longest champagne bar which is at the new St Pancras station - the Eurostar trains pull up alongside and the the seats in the booths are heated. How do I know that? Well I spent four hours in the bar gossiping and catching up with a colleague from the United Reformed Church on the night before I went back to Paris. And you need those underseat heaters, some of the waitresses were wearing gloves and it wasn't only because the champagne is chilled! Despite the decadent setting we nevertheless talked quite a lot about theology - well that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

The complexities of going "home"

Well I have returned to Ferney from my travels round England and France.
Getting away from being umbilically attached to my computer and the internet was definitely good for me. Travelling through the landscape of my childhood and adolescence also aroused quite complex feelings. Things change so much and going back to Britain is almost like visiting a foreign place for me. I suffer from something like reverse culture shock, as if I totally belong and completely do not.
But the thing I love most about being in the family "home" - apart from my mum of course - is the view from the back of the house. Living now in the fabulous and dramatic mountains round Geneva I sometimes long for the rolling green landscape I grew up with. The view stretches from the garden over 80km to the Malvern hills and the Welsh black mountains - well it does on a clear day and as you can see on these photos the weather was rather more mixed while I was there this time! Fortunately on the day Stephen and I got married the view was perfect and the garden holds many happy memories of the wonderful party with friends and family. Don't know what we'll do if and when my Mum decides to sell up and leave.
So it was restorative to wake up in what used to be my brother's bedroom and see what the view was doing. Meanwhile the family cat was dying of kidney failure, my mother tripped over and smashed a saucepan and gratin dish into her chest and we went shopping.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Talking to Gertie

My Dad's sister, Gertie, or Keukch as we call her, now lives in a residential home in the north of London and I spent a couple of hours with her yesterday. It's over a year since I last saw her. Apart from mealtimes she no longer gets out of bed and is handicapped mainly by terrible arthritus but also by the wasting effects of a small stroke a few years ago.
Above her bed in the home is a wonderful photo of her in her white lab coat performing an experiment in the school chemistry lab where she taught. It's a great picture of her in her prime, surrounded by chemicals and strange glass bottles, and completely in her element.
I was tired yesterday by the time I got to Rickmansworth and cross with myself that I hadn't thought a bit more about what we could talk about. Health or how she is feeling isn't a good issue, not becuase she complains overmuch about herself but because she sometimes imbues my own illness in rather saintly terms, as if I either need to be treated as a hero or with extra compassion and I prefer to avoid that. I suppose too that I know that she is really very unhapy to be living as she is now but I sense somehow she doesn't have the physical or emotional energy to approach a conversation about that. She has lots and lots of visitors and yet somehow remains lonely and seems not really to know how to say anything more than banalities.
In the end we talked about family history, who in the family had married German-Germans and who Jewish-Germans thus sealing their own and their children's fates. Keukch and her two younger cousins Renate and Anne-Marie are the last ones left in Europe of that generation, a final cousin Greta lives in Buenos Aries. None of those female cousins had children of their own. Yet Gertie played a very important role in Richard's and my life when we were young children, playing brilliant games with us and taking us around London in the school holidays. Travelling up to see her going through Baker Street and Harrow on the Hill and all those stations on the metropolitan line was extraordinarily evocative of childhood for me: catching tadpoles, walks in the woods, learning to play scrabble, picking vegetables from the garden, going to Kew gardens and of course exploding experiments in the school lab. She was extremely generous with both her time and her money. And we were generous with our indifference and irritation as we became teenagers.
I left feeling more than usually guilty, promising to myself that I will try and go and see her soon, knowing that I will get too involved in work again to make that time. I can tell that visits which focus on family history and stories from the past help her - and they also interest me. Somehow I feel that if she had been a person in one of my congregations the visit might have been a bit more profound, I might have dared to go a bit further in the conversation.

From Geneva to Paris and on to St Pancras

So despite the notices to the contrary my train left Geneva on time last night. The most hair raising part of the journey was as ever the taxi ride across Paris to my brother Richard's flat, there were one or two moments when I thought I might never make it across the channel.
This morning I also wondered whether I'd make it onto the Eurostar without breaking my legs on the 5 flights of beautiful but slippery wooden stairs down from Richard's.
The journey by Eurostar was uneventful except it was amazing to be travelling so fast in the uk - the British part of the journey is now really the shortest part and seems mainly to be in a tunnel.
It all rather spoilt me for the onward journey to Birmingham later in the day which was at a rather more usual (UK) train speed.
Anyway here are some pictures - a bit of a mess but I hope technical support back in Ferney will deal with these problems. I'm looking forward to exploring St Pancras in a bit more detail next week when I spend a few days there. Today I negotiated the Metropolitan line and went out to Rickmansworth to vist our aunt Keukch, also known as Gertie.