Monday, 31 December 2007

Not the mystery of suffering

I don't believe in the mystery of suffering. I do believe in raging and campaigning against suffering; listening and simply being with those who are suffering - when and if that's possible. Talk about the "mystery" of suffering often belies some strange religious idea that suffering is good for us, redemptive or "God's megaphone to rouse a deaf world".
Life without suffering is not possible, nor is it life. Of course we search for reasons when difficult or even terrible things happen, but imbuing those things with dubious religious meaning doesn't do humanity much good.
These reflections come courtesy of my wintertime tonsilitus, which was painful and left me rather delirious with fever for a while and worried for a while longer. For people with MS, fever and viral overload increase the risk of the scar tissue (or plaques) in the brain or spinal cord inflaming to cause (in my case) some temporary paralysis. The most difficult part of this for me is learning to be a little bit good and accept it wouldn't be a good idea to go and see another several hundred people in the freezing cold tonight. So far no problems - phew. However, dealing with these issues does not make more holy, nor give me a more direct line to God. And when I'm in pain it's not been redemptive so far - more likely to be peppered with rather more tears and swearing than usual.
Meanwhile in many, many parts of the world far too many people don't even have access to paracetemal or asprin to calm ordinary aches and pains, let alone clean water to take decent, free medecine with. Surely their unnecessary suffering calls us to act for more justice, more equity and more sharing and not to meditate a dubious mystery. Something to ponder and act on in the new year maybe.

Fragile democracy

Particularly with the news this week from Pakistan and Kenya, I've been thinking about how fragile democracy or good governance is. Repression in Burma continues, Zimbabwe remains on the critical list and news from Iraq, Afghanistan or Darfur is hardly heartening.
For me something began to go wrong with perceptions about democracy when the voting irregularities in Florida during the US presidential elections in 2000 were not properly resolved or challenged. How to raise any real sense of concern about the current situation in Kenya when people can just shrug and say "well look at Florida". The war on Iraq having been waged on a supposedly pro-democracy ticket doesn't help cynicism about the democratic process either.
Countries need not only good political structures but also strong political cultures to support reputable local and national governance. Part of that culture is about building consensus but part of it is also about having a strong opposition and real space for debate within society.

Sunday, 30 December 2007

The colour of trust is red

Throughout Geneva, neighbouring France and into the neighbouring Swiss canton of Vaud, many of the local churches have been decorated in red and orange, the colours of the Taizé community's pilgrimage of trust. The pictures above are from this Sunday in the Temple of Ferney Voltaire with Pastors Bernard Millet and Anne Coidan celebrating. Following the service all the participants were invited to a meal at the Roman Catholic Church just 100 metres down the road.
Although the local churches have sometimes found it quite a challenge to respond to the needs of the Taizé meeting, the positive fruits of the effort and prayer can already be seen within and between church communities. Perhaps sometimes in the churches we don't dare enough to go beyond the routine of what we're used to.You can read about some of the preparations here.
We didn't go to Palexpo for the evening service with over 40,000 young people from over 70 countries (unfortunately the colour of my tonsils is also deep red with my fever well in the red too!), but we watched the service on Eurovision. As always with Taizé the music was beautiful and simple with soaring solo counterpoints to the chants. I was also impressed by the brevity of the intercessory prayers - we sometimes try to cram too much theology and preaching into our prayers and forget that they are not lectures but prayers.

Taizé English

Yesterday afternoon we helped welcome some of the 40,000 young people gathering in Geneva for the 30th European Taizé meeting.
Brother Rob was speaking about prayer in the chapel of the ecumenical centre in the afternoon. Meanwhile Rev Setri Nyomi and Rev Chandran Paul Martin were leading Bible study on breaking the chains of injustice in the main meeting hall of the ecumenical centre.
Brother Rob began his talk by saying he would speak in "Taizé English" which made me smile, we often talk about using "ecumenical English" in international church circles so it's good to know we're not the only ones who have this problem.
I was impressed by the simplicity with which the interpretation was organised and the way in which the two speakers spoke in simple phrases helping the consecutive interpretation work well. But what impressed me most was the calmness and attentiveness of the more than 300 young people and also that so many of them chose to stay to pray and meditate in silence. The message about prayer was easy to understand without being simplistic. It helped me reflect on the link between prayer and decision-making and also to think again about how to link work and prayer when not living in a community like Taizé or Grandchamps.

Friday, 28 December 2007

Family festivities and musings about the right tune

By popular family demand we looked for an English-speaking service on Christmas Eve and all went by bus up into the old town in Geneva, past the frozen outdoor chess players in the Parc des Bastions where the Reformation wall is. Nine lessons and carols was on at 17.00 at the Cathedral but we went to the rather less traditional service at the English-speaking Evangelical Lutheran Church. We even sang a carol in Japanese. I rather enjoyed it - in fact I still tend to appreciate worship anyone else has gone to the effort of putting together.
However one of the problems of going to any service with a professional musician and a few liturgists is picking over the entrails afterwards. Was the liturgical dance rather too long? What is the right tune to Away in a Manger or (and more importantly) It Came upon a Midnight Clear? Another divide I fear between the USA and the UK. We had similar problems yesterday with two professional museum managers dissecting the problems with the exhibition at the REd Cross museum (if you have the guided tour these probelms don't really occur).
On Christmas morning I returned to my former parish to worship for the first time since I left as the minister there five years ago. The "Temple" - yes honestly that is what French Protestant churches are called - had been beautifully decorated in preparation for the Taizé crowds who will arrive tomorrow in Geneva and there was glorious singing and music from the organ loft. And of course we sang the French words to the right tunes - thankfully I know of no French translation to Away in a Manger.
More mundanely the French health system has been supplying antibiotics to members of the family as they fell ill - so now we'll try to discover how to go about getting the reimbursements sorted out.

Monday, 24 December 2007

Joyeux Noel

Ferney-Voltaire at Christmas

Saturday, 22 December 2007

So much for living more simply...

Yesterday on the shortest day of the year my Mother and Brother arrived. I went to the hairdressers and learnt more than I ever wanted to know know about how things are "at home in the Elysée palace with Nicholas Sarkozy". I don't find reading Paris Match very edifying, but some of my colleagues in the French Reformed Church are so convinced that it helps them to keep a finger on the pulse of what people are thinking that they buy it every week. Ah well.
Today we have shopped at the Ferney Christmas market and the supermarket. And our guests have helped us tidy up, throwing out a large number of empty wine boxes after a sortie into our garage to find some kitchen furniture. The neighbours were impressed at the provenance and quantity of the cardboard filling up the recycling bay. A visit to the tip will have to preceed the arrival of Stephen's family tomorrow.
In the meantime unlike Tony Blair I won't be converting to Catholicism before Christmas. It gives religious news watchers something to ponder on. I shall meditate on how this year once more I have not been living much of that simpler lifestyle, there's a call to conversion.

Friday, 21 December 2007

The O antiphons

Christmas cards have started arriving. So far I have managed to write one to our cleaners (who are secular Muslims) and two for my closest colleagues at work. I think that will have to do, I'm beginning to feel less and less guilty about not sending cards as the years go by. I do rather miss not doing my own but hey there will be other opportunites to express myself creatively I'm sure.
Anyway Peter and Sheila Brain sent us a great card, with a riddle and the promise of a Christmas letter inside, which was not a newsletter but the letter O. Very clever.
Anyway the message was simply "O give thanks" and a web address for more information about the great advent antiphons. And from that address you can get to some calligraphic interpretations of the various themes of the antiphons and of course the cyberhymnal plays you the tune.
And here's the riddle:

My first is in manger
but not in stable;
My second's in gospel
but not in fable;
My third is in Shepherds
but not in kings;
My fourth is in people
but not in things;
My whole is en français:
the world reconciled
in the glory and peace of a God-given child.

This O business reminds me of a Christmas sermon I once preached six times in 24 hours in various skiing stations in Savoy. No Christmas dinner that year just a stand up pizza in the only place still open opposite the unheated church. I won't bore you with the sermon, though O was the point - my driver (husbands have their uses) can still recite it. Probably the only thing worse than having to preach the same sermon 6 times on Christmas day is having to listen to the same sermon six times!

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Julia Esquivel - the Word

The following text is from Julia Esquivel's "Threatened with resurrection" - seems like a good title as we prepare for the feast of the incarnation. With thanks to colleagues at WSCF who feature part of it on their simple black and white Christmas card this year.

The Word, for our sake, became poverty clothed as the poor who live off the refuse heap.
The Word, for our sake, became a sob a thousand times stifled in the immovable mouth of the child who died from hunger.
The Word, for our sake, became danger in the anguish of the mother who worries about her child growing into adulthood.
The Word cut us deeply in that place of shame: the painful reality of the poor.
The Word blew its spirit over the dried bones of the churches, guardians of silence.
The Word awoke us from the lethargy which had robbed us of our hope.
The Word became a path in the jungle, a decision on the farm, love in women, unity among workers, and a Star for those few who can inspire dreams.

The Word became Light,
The Word became History,
The Word became Conflict,

The Word became indomitable Spirit, and sowed its seeds upon the mountain, near the river and in the valley,
and those of good will heard the angels sing.
Tired knees were strengthened, trembling hands were stilled, and the people who wandered in darkness saw the light...
The Word became the seed of justice and we conceived peace...
The Word made justice to rain and peace came forth from the furrows in the land.
And we saw its glory in the eyes of the poor transformed into real men and women.
And those who saw the Star opened up for us the path we now follow.

Taizé coming to Geneva in just 8 days

As we get ready to stop work and celebrte Christmas Geneva is getting ready for the arrival of over 30,000 young people for the 30th annual European meeting. Even if you haven't got floor space to lodge some of the young people then you can still invite them to join you for a meal on January 1st. You can still sign up to offer lodgings and a meal.
Prayer and Bible study will be held at various places throughout the city, including the ecumenical centre chapel. Calvin's city won't be quite so sleepy over the holdays this year.
The main Taizé website provides wonderful resources in many languages.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down

This morning we read the meditation written by Nyambura Njoroge in the EAA advent calender. When she invites prayers of thanksgiving for Africa's grandmothers caring for so many she speaks from experience. Many of our African colleagues have lost family members in the HIV and AIDS pandemic.
When I hear the figures of death from disease, from war, from famine and poverty I'm left wondering just how much grief individuals can bear. And we read the crazy religious hope in the Psalms that there will somewhere be comfort for the broken hearted and a lifting-up for those bowed down by grief and toil and poverty ...

Local food for the family flying in...

Well as the end of year deadlines loom large at work and home, I have at least managed to order a local turkey (well actually truth be told two - the local free range French ones are smaller than the hormone plumped up ones from the supermarket). I think I haven't cooked one for about 17 years. However this year I shall have my mum, my mother in law and my brother in law on hand to offer advice - I'm just not quite sure that there will be enough room for all of us in the kitchen.
I'm looking forward to my last day at work and going to the Ferney market to buy all the vegetables on Saturday, it's a lovely atmosphere and they even sell parsnips (panais in French, Petersilliewürzel in German) which is quite an innovation in France. I'm still not sure if they're available here because so many Brits live in our part of the world or because they are also a local delicacy in Switzerland.
Now I admit I'm not looking forwards to finally having to tidy the house. However we do need to move some things off the floor in order to sleep 8 people.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Advent light in the darkness

"The future will be different if we make the present different."
Peter Maurin
"The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us?"
Dorothy Day

Over the weekend I heard again the gospel passage about John the Baptist calling the Pharisees a brood of vipers. I also read as a break from proof-reading a little about the commitment to the poorest in our societies of Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day. And I felt very challenged for meanwhile at home champagne has been delivered and preparations for the feast with our families arriving from England ought to be underway. So much for living more simply.
This morning in chapel our three young interns danced an Eastern dance of light for us as we say goodbye to them. The person who took the you tube film had never done this before so the quality is not great, but the dance of light on a dark December morning spoke better than any wordy sermon. And we heard in various langauges the promise that "word became flesh". Tears will be shed as Beatrice, Ngu Wah and Sina return to Sudan, Burma and Germany. The liturgy they prepared can be found here.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

The open door community - discovered thanks to proof reading

One of the ocassional joys of proof reading and preparing text for printing is finding yourself reading something you really enjoy or that simply moves you. So this afternoon I read an article by Murphy Davis, a Presbyterian from the US, who lives and works with the Open Door Community.
"The Open Door Community is a residential community in the Catholic Worker tradition (we’re sometimes called a Protestant Catholic Worker House!). We seek to dismantle racism, sexism and heterosexism, abolish the death penalty, and create the Beloved Community on Earth through a loving relationship with some of the most neglected and outcast of God’s children: the homeless and our sisters and brothers who are in prison."
You can read more about what they do by reading Hospitality which is the journal/newsletter Murphy Davis edits for the community. In the article I was proofing she wrote passionately about the need for prayer to be linked to action and "being", she also gave a moving example of how impossible prayer can be, how being confronted with the poorest and most excluded in society makes prayer as we've known it until then impossible. She also works with the Petra foundation for prisoners on death row in the US. There are some amazing people in the world. I'll try and say some more about what's she's written when I've finished with putting the red pen through some other papers!

Passionate about politics and without a vote

This Autumn saw the 16th anniversary of us living outside the UK. To be able to vote in UK parliamentary elections you must have been resident and on the electoral register in Britain no more than 15 years previously. I'm still a member of the Labour Party - yes I know boo hiss - though given the recent funding scandals and general mess I'm not sure how much longer overseas members will be able to continue having some kind of voice.
As an EU citizen I have a vote in local elections in France and also in Euopean elections but no say in national politics either here or in the country I have a passport for. I'm beginning to realise that I find this quite disabling. Campaigning politics was part of my life until we moved to Geneva. We've been away from Britain for all of the Labour years and now as it all goes pear-shaped I can almost not bear it. I still do not understand how a Labour government could have taken us to war in and with Iraq. The delusion of Mr Blair "I believe I did the right thing"... And yet where politics in my home country are concerned I am completely tribal. I suppose I might just manage to vote Green one day, or Lib-Dem perhaps but I could only consider voting Tory if it meant keeping the BNP out or something like that and even then I'd probably abstain. The sort of choice French voters faced in 2002 when Le Pen was up against Chirac for the presidentials, not quite sure what I'd have done if I'd had a vote, the French Evangelical Mennonite Church - where I was preaching on the morning of the second round vote - issued a strongly worded statement saying that Monsieur Le Pen's views were in complete contradiction with the message of the gospel and calling the faithful to vote.
Anyway on Friday we registered again at the Mairie in Ferney to vote for the municipal elections, next year I'll have a vote again. Of course those I vote for normally lose...

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Looking forward to death...

Flicking through the copy of the New Statesman which arrived this morning I chanced on this quote "Death changes people. We have no idea who anyone is going to be until they die." It's by the playright David Hare in an article about the poet Ted Hughes. So I suppose that's something to look forward to, finally knowing who I was. Even if it's quite interesting in terms of a philosophy of the resurrection, it is rather a shame to not be around to reap the benefits of such knowledge!
The erstwhile prime minister of my country is obsessed with securing his legacy. He may not be dead but any legacy of his will have to be weighed up against piles of dead bodies in Iraq.
So rather than look forward to death or leave the import of my existence to others to cogitate after my central nervous system has shut down, I think I'll just concentrate on finding more meaning in life and allow myself more time to read - tonight a few very short pieces by Walter Benjamin in Kleine Kunst-Stücke. As I was flicking through it I got side tracked by an essay on why when travelling we don't take unread books from our shelves at home but always end up buying crime ficiton at the station. That made me realise that my epitaph will probably be "she was a great reader of pulp fiction". Typical too that I should find such a prosaic piece by so eminent a philosopher of interest (the book is a collection of his satires and short stories).

Friday, 14 December 2007

Swiss politics getting interesting

Over the past few days Swiss politics has been getting quite interesting. I need to be careful what I say because I just show my own pitiful ignorance about all things Swiss - well I do live in France and Geneva the city I work in used to an independant City state until 1815. Anyway, despite this being the land of consensus and referendum and things going on as before, the ghastly Christophe Blocher an extreme right wing politician has not been elected to the federal council and as a result his SVP has pulled out of the coalition. Read more about it in the Guardian. The cartoon here is a spoof version of the anti immigration posters Blocher's party used during the recent elections in Switzerland. Frightening, the richer we all get the more we worry about "losing" out to immigrants. Politics throughout Europe seems to be increasingly moving onto the fear of immigrants agenda. But who am I to talk, daughter of an immigrant in the country of my birth, an immigrant in the country where I live and a migrant worker in the country I work...

Time to read...

I've not had much chance to read since my trip to the UK, I'm lucky that my job often involves reading. Though just writing that in this advent season I realise that probably I spend alot of my time reading and writing emails, and much of the content is not exactly edifying! And I'm seriously considering re-writing the passage in Ecclesiastes with "there is a time to proof-read and a time to read." (proof reading being work and reading being pleasure of course!
As the end of year holidays approach I begin to dream of books I might be able to read. It's great to get ideas about new boks from others too, so I appreciated this piece by Bess Twiston Davis in TimesOnline about books that some well-known religious folk have been reading recently or are intending to get around to reading at the end of year break.
One of my favourite books of recent years has been Alberto Manguel's A History of Reading and I'm currently dipping in and out of his A Reading Diary before switching the light off at night. In my bag I have a book by Christian Lehmann called "Patients si vous saviez..." (Patients if only you knew...). It's subtitled confessions of a general practitioner and I'm really enjoying it on the days I go to work by bus. His life seems pretty frenetic and I just love the way he weaves together personal, ethical and professional reflections while railing against ridiculous administrative procedures and rules. It's good fun but get's me strange looks on the bus as I laugh out loud for no apparent reason.
So soon I really hope I'll have some time to read, like a whole day or two, so please if you've got any book suggestions let me know.

Thursday, 13 December 2007


I've just discovered Thomas Kang's blog called Oikomania - it's about economics and ecumenics, reflections and digressions on economics and Christianity. Thomas quotes lots of stuff in English but writes in Portuguese - not one of my languages but I find I can more or less get the gist of it with vague memories of school Latin. He seems a little surprised by today's ENI story about the Pastor form the Netherlands who sees himslef as an atheist pastor and whose book has gone into a third reprinting. I fear we Europeans are a sad disappointment to the rest of world Christianity. The book "Believing in a God who does not exist: Manifesto of an atheist pastor" sounds quite interesting, but perhaps I'm too influenced by those intellectual french Protestants!
Anyway Thomas's blog is a good read for economists and ecumenists.


At last today I managed to log on to the (restricted area) of the JIAMCATT website - until today my login didn't seem to work. Most normal mortals who are not translators will not have a clue what I am talking about but it has the impressive title of Joint Inter-Agency Meeting on Computer-Assisted Translation and Terminology! Even the open access pages have good linguistic resources to consult (not very beautiful though I admit!) and I'm interested in getting in touch with them next year to see whether the WCC's terminology project could go on these pages. In the meantime I've just been browsing on the restricted pages (yes I admit I also looked at the job offers!). This site appropriately called Eureka looks fun.
Looking again at these translation resources reminds me of an interesting but rather expensive book I saw while doing my Christmas shopping on Amazon. It's called Education as Translation a metaphor for change in learning and teaching. It's by Alison Cook Sather and I only chanced on the book while I was looking for cook books. I rather fancy writing a book on "theology as translation - a metaphor for change in listening and preaching". I don't suppose I shall, one doctorate in the family is enough I think. Sometimes though I sit in meetings and count how many times the words translation or interpretation are used. As with many metaphors there is philosophical interest in translation but not always understanding of what sheer physical hard work it is.

A nun and a journalist blogging from Bali

So sister Pat Nagle part of the WCC delegation to the Climate change conference in Bali has also been blogging. She's a member of an organisation called CAlifornia Interfaith Power and Light which brings together more than 440 congregations. This blog by David Adam of the the Guardian is full of interesting updates, information and opinion pieces relating to the Bali confernce and environmental matters more generally. I love this quote rom his blog - it reassures me that it is not only Church conferences that can be chaotic
"One day to go and a new crisis has emerged at the climate change talks. Not US obstructionism, and not a lack of motivation from the Chinese. No, the greatest threat to the safe future of the planet now seems to be a lack of photocopiers."
Enjoy reading the blogs must get off the blogosphere and get on with something approaching life.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Maori song of longing for light in the darkness

Our annual advent service this evening began in almost complete darkness with one of our colleagues singing a haunting Maori song. As the lights went out so silence fell and the song began our evening meditation. There were brief readings and testimonies in languages from Arabic to Samoan and we spoke out for hope, ending with these very powerful words from Reinhold Niebuhr
"Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime,
Therefore, we are saved by hope.
Nothing true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history;
Therefore, we are saved by faith.
Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone.
Therefore, we are saved by love.
No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as from our own;
Therefore, we are saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness."

Five weeks to get to Bali

graphic: taz
German Journalist Nick Reimer, who works for the Berlin based newspaper 'die taz', finally made it to Bali he decided to try and go by train and boat and not to fly and he's been writing about the experiences on the way. It certainly makes our 27 hour journey to Sibiu earlier this year seem pretty tame. He clocked up 9,000km by train and 3,000 by bus. However, in the end he had to take a plane from Vietnam when the train in China just didn't seem to be going any further.
He's come up with nine pretty tough rules if we're to have a chance of saving the planet - just to give you a taste, flying and eating meat both need to be seen as forbidden. This is a report just 2,500km in, and this is from the Aral sea after just 4,400km. Whereas this one is about the lack of water in central Asia. Nick Reimer also has a climate neutral blog, but it hasn't been updated for a while. Other links to his stories can be found here and here.
Anyway even if his solutions seem to put him with the so-called new puritans (being a non-conformist Cromwellite I think the puritans were rather good) he's certainly pushing for each of us taking responsibility as well as for much greater collective responsibility regarding climate change. I also think it's a very creative thing to do and the journey has obviously taken him through many more environmental stories than if he had flown to Bali straight off. If it takes you longer to travel maybe you think a bit more about how necessary the journey is.

Bali - follow what's happening on the blogs

The WCC currently has a delegation a the Bali conference on climate change, it's been campaigning on climate change since 1990 and doing a good job getting churches to network and raise awareness of environmental issues. Unfortunately my colleagues are not blogging from Bali so I've been trying to plough through some of the other blogs, but there are so many that you'll probably have to do like me and google Bali blog and see what you can find!
But just to get you started Christian Aid has a diary and also a blog from the climate conference in Bali and there is a blog here from greenliving online. My colleague Roger Schmidt from the LWF has also written about the Conference and there are some interesting links from his post. There's alot to read and not much time. Probably need to do some carbon offsetting for all the extra time on the computer trying to find out what's really going on!

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

The ten top tunes on God's Ipod? A pre-Christmas game for aspiring angels

So in an idle moment in the corridor today, while discussing Karl Barth, footnotes and proof- reading, a few of us came up with the idea that we should try and poll colleagues within the department to vote for the top ten tunes on God's ipod (There is probably some branded and approved way that the pod word should be written, personally I hope God has an MP3 player or at least some opensource software that's compatible with the podI thing, otherwise she'll be finding herself lost in the irritations of itunes and unable to get on with the more important task of bringing about a bit more peace and compassion in the world. Ok yes I admit it I've been having one or two problems downloading Radio 4 onto my ipod shuffle!)
Anyway I digress, we've had this idea (proably others have had it too - though I don't seem to remember seeing anything like this on the Ship of Fools website. Sigh, I'm going to have to go and check, at some time tonight I would actually like to switch the TV on and stop blogging) ... PAUSE ... well it would seem not "God's top ten tunes" got no hits at all in Google so this may be a marginally original idea and a game you can all play at home.
However, I should add that we have not quite worked out how to vote or where to vote - someone suggested we could do it via the YouTube site but I'm not sure how that will work. I suspect we may have to call in the electoral comissioners to sort that out. Anyway because I'm the one who blogs I get to decide the rules!
So generally if you are playing alone you can choose your ten top songs for God's ipod.
You could also play the special Simon Oxley rules and choose 10 tunes God doesn't need on God's ipod and I cite Simon's email of this morning to give you the idea (btw I had to correct his German for publication purposes):
"Some tracks not required in heaven:
Stairway to heaven - no need when you are there already.
Eine kleine Nachtmusik- for day and night are both alike to God (Ps 139).
It's now or never - when it's ever...
Oh when the saints come marching in - you wouldn't want it to get too crowded.
Once in royal David's city and assorted Christmas carols - you'll know it didn't really happen like that!
Singing in the rain - sunshine all the way."

However when playing with others you can choose either one or two songs. If you choose one song you can give it a vote of anything up to 10 and if you choose two you can only give each of them votes up to 5.
Another colleague, who has a good sense of the macabre and certainly much better taste in music than I have has provisionally chosen:
Sympathy for the Devil (in its original Rolling Stones version),
Knocking on Heaven's Door (this one by Guns & Roses)
Meanwhile I'll probably be sticking with my original rather tame choices of Spem in Allium by Thomas Tallis and Working and Steaming by Miles Davis. I'll publish the top ten we come up with before Christmas. And if you want to add your lists here feel free.

The One World Trust launches global accountability report

The One World Trust launched its global accountability report today. You can download a copy of the report by signing up here. You can also read more about the report at the Christian Aid website, Christian Aid has been named top non governmental performer in the report which is an achievement to be proud of.
The One World Trust is an organisation which promotes education, training and research into the changes required within global organisations in order to make them answerable to the people they affect and ensure that international laws are strengthened and applied equally to all. They also have a blog about NGOs and IGOs and accountability. Looks as if I shall be going back there it will an excellent resource for my course in Rome on spirituality and management.
The IASB was also credited with one of the top awards for transparency (That's the International Accountacy Standards Board for those of you who like me are rather financially challenged!) and the Global Public Policy Institute is teaming up with the Trust to get the annual report better known.

Archbishop Asadourian of Baghdad

ENI now has an article about Archbishop Asadourian in Geneva.

First European Fair Trade Fair - Premier salon européen du commerce équitable

While preaching at Oullins the other week I learnt that the First European Fair Trade Fair will be taking place in Lyon from 1-3 February next - et oui bien sûr le lien existe aussi en français! Both Oikocredit France and Shared Interest from the UK will have stalls there, so will Artisant Sel. Local churches are planning to help run some of the stands and the whole thing looks as if it's going to be really good. Now I just need to check whether I'm free that weekend!

Monday, 10 December 2007

In solidarity with the Middle East

Archbishop Asadourian of Baghdad (left) spoke at prayers this morning of the ongoing plight of Iraquis and Iraqui Christians in particular. He said Christians in Iraq showed great faith and great love but that it was often extremely difficult for them to find or experience hope after four and a half years of the current conflict. He also drew a parallel between the flight of Christians from Iraq and the wider exodus of Christians from the whole of the Middle East. Will the current levels of conflict throughout the region lead to the complete exile of some of the oldest Christian churches in the world?
We sang in Arabic yarabba ssalammi - Lord give us peace - as our response in the intercessions and then the Lord's prayer in Syriac led by Bishop George. Actually considering how ad hoc our rehearsals had been our singing was rather good this morning, you'll be able to find the full liturgy here (soon).
Meanwhile I learnt today that Rod Benson is now blogging about a visit of Australian church leaders to Israel and Palestine. Rod is Director of the Centre for Christian Ethics, a research centre affiliated with Morling College and the Baptist Church in Australia. As part of the blog you can also vote on whether Israel should end the occupation of the West Bank, there are just three days left to register your vote. Rod has also written about the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme and you can learn more about EAPPI by clicking on the links. There's also an article here from the Washington Post on some Middle East Christians turning to evangelical Christianity, it quotes Michel Nseir from the WCC on the wider situation of Christians in the Middle East.
Reading Rod's profile on the blog I discovered that he also runs three other blogs, reflecting on ethics and theology from an Australian and international perspective, here we go, one, two, three. (And please don't ask me how he finds the time to do all that!)
And finally ever since reading about it on Simon Barrow's Faith and Society blog I've been wanting to mention the Amos Trust's crêche which is made from Palestinian olive wood - it shows a tall wall of separation between the Magi and the stable. The symbolism is powerful.

Photo: Stephen Brown

International Human Rights Day

December 10th is international human rights day, a reminder that human beings everywhere deserve to be treated with equity, dignity and justice. This year the anniversary begins a year-long commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the signing of the declaration, in which, as John Nurser has shown, the World Council of Churches (in formation) and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs played a key role. Many campaigning organisations will observe the day and there are also quite a few liturgies lurking out there on the web and they can be adapted for local use. The photo is from my recent visit to the Red Cross museum here in Geneva.
This day comes at a good point on the Advent pilgrimage as we meditate on John the Baptist inviting us to prepare the the way and then consider how his prophetic voice was put to death to satisfy the vanity of a despotic ruler. Archbishop John Sentamu's clear message on human rights in Zimbabwe yesterday shows just how important it is to remain vigilant and keep campaigning.
The Swiss section of ACAT is calling for an end to violence against women and campaigning in particular against the trafficking of women. The French section of ACAT is encouraging members to sign a petition in support of protesters in Burma who have been arrested. Reporters without borders are protesting against imprisoned journalists. The French section of Amnesty International uses the date to launch their annual campaign in favour of those who try to defend human rights particularly in China, Colombia, Russia, Tunisia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Amnesty UK is organising a poems from Guantanamo reading on December 12th. You can buy multilingual liberty candles from the Swiss amnesty section and also look at their brilliant award-winning poster campaign, various images from it are available here, the caption reads, "This is happening, not here but now".
In France, which sees itself to some extent as the origin of what they still insist on calling "les droits de l'homme" many organisations will be marking the day. Unlike in the UK, politicians here would make the reverse of political capital by publicly criticising human rights legislation, unless of course they are called Jean-Marie le Pen.
For me the day is a good opportunity to see what Amnesty, ACAT or other local human rights groups are doing and to at long last get around to getting involved. Surely amongst all those Christmas cards we're all sending there should be time too to send some letters supporting prisoners of conscience? See what's going on in your area that you can get involved in.
And finally, the following prayer extract comes from the the Rabbis for Human rights website,
"I light this flame of Hanukkah remembering the time when my people were oppressed because of their faith ... As I celebrate the light of freedom today, I pray that I and my fellow citizens shall not be the source of suffering in others, never persecute others because of their faith, never torture others, never be the instrument of hate. May we all be sources of light in the world, not of darkness."

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Applauding Archbishop Sentamu

Archbishop John Sentamu has cut up his dog collar on TV saying that this is what Robert Mugabe has done to people's identities in Zimbabwe. He said he won't wear his dog collar again until Mugabe is out of power. You can see the clip of this and the full interview by going to the BBC at this link. He called on the world community to unite against Mugabe. I can only applaud Sentamu for the powerful way he did this. This is someone who has lived and suffered under Idi Amin's dictatorship in Uganda and is proving to be a true modern day prophet.
Rev Ishmael Noko, LWF general secretary and himself originally from Zimbabwe, strongly condemned Zimbabwe's unprecedented brutality government earlier this year. Rev Setri Nyomi, general secretary of WARC, similarly expressed concern in a letter to the African Union asking that pressure be brought to get Zimbabwe to turn away from injustice. ACT (Action by Churches Together) have also recently alerted their network to the growing humantarian problems for "vulnerable Zimbabwians in South Africa".
Earlier in the year we held midday prayers for peace and justice in Zimbabwe, Ishmael Noko spoke very powerfully about the critical situation the country is in. I'll put a link to the liturgy here.

Public transport - things are getting moving

Picture from the SNOTPG - Site non officiel des TPG

Well this weekend sees a true revolution for those of us working in Geneva the No 5 bus will go directly to the airport, making it even easier to travel to distant places (btw it is now over 15 months since I flew anywhere). The new timetables comes in across Europe this weekend - one utter miracle is the French SNCF discovery (in Rhone Alpes anyway) of what the the Germans call "Taktverkehr" - no this is not about Germans being tactful but it is about trains running at the same time past each hour, so it looks as if we 're going to have a regional train to Lyon every two hours (supplemented by TGV's inbetween leaving in the more usual, less regular French way).
The other big news is that the Genevan Z bus is now going to go over the border, just like the F bus does to Ferney. There have been problems with this in the past because of the Schengen accords and the French Prefet of the Ain (the department we live in) actually once blocked a Swiss bus from Nyon from crossing the border into Divonne, saying it was illegal! Not great for the people trying to get to work.
Anyway the population in our region has been rapidly rising over the past decade and there has been a huge amount of new building. Meanwhile the right wing governed communauté des communes has not exactly moved fast to think about an integrated transport policy. For a while I got the impression that the policy was traffic jams and road deaths. So now it's really good that the Noctambus on Fridays and Saturdays will go as far as Gex, young people won't have to try and hitchhike home on a dangerous piece of road - and even we could stay in Geneva until after midnight. There's also an alternative Genevan public transport website which has a great video of the inauguration of the new tram and lots of interesting information and forums where people can rant about late buses and changes in the routes etc. It may be the place to start the campaign to get bendy buses on the F bus route.
I suppose you've guessed, I do not drive, hence my interest in public transport, just occasionally you may think I'm a train spotter! Anway if we're going to do anything about global warming public transport has to be part of it.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Whether a cross, crescent or crystal, it's red

I have just come back from visiting the international museum of the red cross and red crescent with the young people from KT in Ferney. I think they particularly enjoyed being in the earthquake simulator. I found being in the small room covered with photos of very young children who survived the Rwandan genocide very moving, just the idea of looking through pages and pages of photos hoping to see your child is quite heart breaking. We had a really good lively guide who knew how to speak to a younger audience and who explained the story of the red cross, crescent and crystal to us.
Language issues were also part of the exhibition on emergency aid where there was a "hit and miss" board (translated as "top et flop" into French!!) looking at how emergency aid actually got through to people in the Tsunami for instance. One flop was a huge amount of medecine that had been sent from various countries but noone had checked that the languages on the packets could be read locally. In the end it cost a large amount of money to incinerate the lot.
Much food for thought and highly recommended if you ge the chance while in Geneva - it's only taken me 14 years of living here to get there!

Friday, 7 December 2007


I've been reading some of my recent posts and realised that I am getting a bit "preachy" in tone or kerygmatic as we say in theological circles. Which gives me a chance to plug the ship of fools website which I enjoy because it's just a bit strange, and I like the sub-title "a journal of Christian unrest". I love the mystery worshiper reports, partly because they sound so awful and also they remind me of home! But I also like lurking on the kerygmania bulletin board, particularly to see whether those involved in the dicussion of John's Gospel a verse at a time will ever reach the end, I suppose if I joined in progress might be faster but I'm not sure. Then there's kitschmas full of things I never wanted. I think I like it because it makes fun of the trappings of faith. So before I try to make yet another sermon out of that I shall stop and encourage you to all go there and find out for yourselves.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

My first MP3 file - The Lord's prayer in Syriac

So here it is my first MP3 file on the blog and it's of the Lord's prayer in Syriac. All credit to Father Jean Kawak and the choir of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Damascus. Happy listening and happy praying.

Copy of Our Father.mp3

Praying against bullets

And they shall beat their swords into pruning hooks...
As ever on work days Tuesdays to Fridays we gathered this morning in the side chapel. On the side altar is the Coventry cross made out of pieces of shrapnel which fell on Dresden and Coventry in the second world war. It's a powerful symbol of the pain of the past and of hope for the future. Yet for me it also represents enormous creativity and the capacity for transformation even in the face of the terrible weapons of war.
News had reached us of the shootings in Nebraska. Also news from our own network of a death by shooting of a friend in the Caribbean and of a colleague's brother in law critically injured by gun crime in South Africa. And in the ecumenical prayer cycle we rememebered Sierra Leone and Liberia, both countries which have known much about living in the ever present fear of bullets. Countries in which a Lutheran church project transforms bullets into small crosses for sale as symbols of hope.
So against news of bullets and memories of snipers and war we offered our prayers.
Our insignificant and powerful words and thoughts and songs, against bullets.
Of course we know that other bullets will be fired, yet we still gather and try to pray.
Prayers against bullets and for peace. Perhaps a way of trying to beat swords into ploughshares.
You can read our liturgy here, but wou won't be able to hear Theo's wonderful voice, leading us through to sharing the peace as we began the working day.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Singing the Lord's song ... in Syriac

A colleague has just sent me a MP3 file of the Lord's prayer being sung in Syriac. The recording was made in Damascus in the Syrian Orthodox Church there and apparently the wonderful Father Jean Kawak was directing the choir.
Despite being quite good at languages I've always had problems singing in languages other than English. I realise now that it's because I can't really read music - well I can see it going up and down a bit on the page you know but by the time I've told my voice to try and follow it's usually a few beats too late! Of course now I really regret all of those times I refused to practise the piano or violin. So it's going to be interesting to see how I manage to learn to sing the Lord's prayer in Syriac. Now if only I understood how to load an MP3 onto my blog you could all try it. Maybe I'll manage it by Lent - not sure whether that refers to learning to sing or doing the technical MP3 stuff.

Holden evening prayer

For a few years we have been singing Holden evening prayer by Marty Haugen in the chapel of the ecumenical centre here in Geneva on Wednesday evenings during Advent and Lent. You need a strong singer to lead it and a good pianist but the music is easy to pick up and I always end up humming and whistling it for the rest of the evening. I like that about the disicpline of prayer and song, it stays with you even if you go initially out of a feeling of duty rather than joy.
The version we sing was written in 1985-86 during the winter when the community at Holden village is in almost complete darkness for much of the day. I love singing it through advent and then taking it up again in lent as the days begin to lengthen. For me starting advent and singing this is in some way like coming home and I think that says something about good liturgy. However, not everyone seems to like Haugen's music, perhaps over-exposure means that even good things pall after a while.
Anyway I've discovered that there's a also a new Holden evening prayer, which sounds rather less traditional but it still isn't Palestrina so it won't please the Haugen detractors.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Feminist theology with Regula Strobel - what kind of kingdom do you believe in?

Regula Strobel came to speak to our feminist theology group tonight. She's well known as a preacher in German-speaking Switzerland through the Wort zum Sonntag, and is now in charge of equality and family affairs in one of the Swiss cantons (Aargau). As well as being a communicator and preacher she's also an academic who has published widely on feminist perspectives on the theology of the cross, the theology of sacrifice. I rather like the idea of calling a moratorium on sacrificial theology! Most of the links are in German.
This evening Regula spoke in French - Karin Ducret had translated the whole paper - about the kingdom of God, asserting that it was not something special, achievable only by the heroic, but that the kingdom is something normal and within our grasp. I'm going to read her paper before saying much more, but we got into some reflection about how to say kingdom of God differently. Regula's idea is that the kingdom is not about the rule of a monarch but that the kingdom represents community values that are deeply embedded within human beings and which completely go against the dog eat dog culture, by naturally offering models of cooperation, justice and festivity. We came up with some interesting alternatives for kingdom of God - Reich Gottes in German being even more problematic than kingdom in English because of Reich having been the word the Nazis used to describe their empire. Here are a few, many of which are not that new and some of which only work in French, republic of God, commonwealth of God, network of God, web of God and the "Empreinte de Dieu" - which I suppose means showing the footprint or mark of God. Anyway any new ideas readily received, I'll even translate them into French for the group next time!
And now I'm quite excited because this book Found in translation seems to be all about the network of God. Thanks to David Bolton's blog for giving me that link. Note to self, must read more theology.

Little Gidding early in the morning - while trying to sort out the work life balance

Until this morning I thought Little Gidding was simply one of the stanza's in T.S. Elliot's the Four Quartet's Which begins:
"Midwinter spring is its own season
Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown..."
and ends with quotes from Julian of Norwich
"And all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well when the tongues of flame are in-folded into the crowned knot of fire and the fire and the rose are one."
But lying in bed this morning after being rudely awakened by the alarm I'd forgotten to switch off we listened to BBC radio 4's prayer for the day I learnt that it is actually a place where a religious community grew. Anyway I really appreciated Canon Noel Vincent's morning meditation (full text below).
In the meantime blogging seems to have become my main way of dealing with the work-life balance, well at least I seem to watch a lot less TV as a result. Of course you have to have some kind of life in order to be able to blog so maybe that helps with the balance too!Here 's Noel Vincent's prayer for the day:
People are rightly concerned nowadays about their work/life balance.They reach a point where more money doesn't bring increased happiness,and pressure of work means they're missing out on more importantthings - children growing up, keeping themselves fit and healthy andpursuing activities which add quality to their lives. It's not a new problem. Nearly 400 years ago two men decided to adjusttheir lives to make space for the spiritual side, to enhancerelationships within their families and to express their concern forthe needy. One of them was the well-known politician, poet and hymn writer,George Herbert. The other was a successful businessman few have heard of called Nicholas Ferrar. The Ferrars moved their extended family into an abandoned and dilapidated hamlet called Little Gidding, closeto the village where Herbert was Vicar. They restored the manor and the church and began to live a simple life. They got on with their work and met together regularly to pray. And importantly, gave time to sharing meals and valuing each other. In 1977 the community was revived. A group moved once more into LittleGidding and adopted a similar rule of life. It's the centre of an informal religious community that accepts members from any Christianbackground, ordained or lay, married or single. They have non-resident members too who accept the discipline. A significant part of their common life is to value silence andexamine priorities. To quote part of the rule, all members reviewtheir lives "to find the right balance between prayer, work andleisure; and their use of money and other resources".

Help us Lord, to take time to examine our lives, to make properuse of the resources we have for the benefit of all, and, forourselves, to find time to spend peacefully in your presence. Amen

Pray without ceasing - more on the week of prayer for Christian Unity

The local churches in Geneva are planning an event at the Ecumenical Centre for the 100th anniversary of the week of prayer for Christian unity. I've posted a brief meditation in French I gave at one of our preparatory meetings, other resources in French, English and other languages can be found on the WCC site.

Monday, 3 December 2007

Call for youth participation in the week of prayer for Christian unity

Roger Schmidt, a colleague who runs the Lutheran World Federation youth desk here in Geneva, has posted a call from young people for more youth participation in the 100th week of prayer for Christian unity which will take place in January 2008.
It's great to see there's someone else blogging from the ecumenical centre. Must try and find time for a coffee with him soon.

From Windhoek, Baghdad, Tehran or Lahore

In my rather irreverent way I've been wondering whether there is a collective noun for a gathering of bishops? I suppose a gathering of cardinals could be called a conclave but I'm not sure with bishops - maybe a conference? And of course in the ecumenical context the collective noun would have to include bishops from a wide range of churches - even some Reformed churches have bishops.
This passing irreverent thought was triggered by a sense of privilege. Week after week we meet and pray with, listen to and talk with, an enormous variety of people passing through the ecumenical centre - from groups of young people to bishops, archbishops and cardinals, people bearing witness to God's word in so many diverse and challlenging situations. It's easy when working in an international organisation to get a bit blasé about these cross cultural encounters. Easy too not to make time for them and to always allow pressing current demands to take over.
This morning Bishop Zephaniah Kameeta from Namibia preached as we began advent and sang "O come, o come Emmanuel..." He has been a strong advocate for both justice and for reconciliation in his country. Next week we will listen to the Armenian Archbishbishop of Baghdad, who will be attending a WCC consultation on accompanying churches in situations of conflict. Archbishop Asadourian has spoken widely, as has Canon Andrew White, about how the churches cope living in the extreme violence of Iraq today.
When and how will this crazed warfaring madness end?
So as bishops and church leaders gather to reflect on how to accompany churches and religious communities in situations of conflict, there's a responsibility to not let their story go untold and to search for hope somehow.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Advent service in Oullins

I led worship and preached at Lyon-Oullins this morning and really enjoyed it. It's a while since I've led a full service with communion in French and it was an important reconnection for me. It was good to be in the parish's new worship room too, which was a set of very dilapidated garages last time I was there! We had fun with the music with a saxophonist and flautist busking rather well when the pianist had to go out unexpectedly with his young daughter.
I didn't preach a very literary sermon but I tried to weave stories from the world church into reflections on the Bible readings. you can read my attempts (and others) at beginning to get towards a sermon on the desperate preacher website. I used to go there quite regularly when I was preaching once or twice a week. I found the lectionary forums very useful, reading back forums is only possible if you pay now but it's a really useful resource and I sometimes think I should set up something similar in French - but then Francophone Protestants all tend to know each other wheras the joy of the English speaking forum is that it's relatively anonymous.
We follow the Roman Catholic lectionary most weeks in the French Reformed Church which means that apart from the Psalms we almost never read anything other from the Hebrew scriptures than Isaiah, some bits of Jeremiah and the occasional bits of Genesis and Exodus - (I am rather over exagerating but I do wonder sometimes). Anyway this morning I rather liked the fact that the tone of judgement came from the gospel reading in Matthew 24 and grace came from the "old" testament Isaiah version of the swords into ploughshares text. Swords into ploughshares is one of my favourite texts, as (in the Micah version) it was the slogan of the independant peace movement in former East Germany. Vigilance and peacemaking seem good themes for the start of Advent.
Working on the Matthew text also helped me gain a little perspective on the crazy way I lead my own life, it's a challenge to all of us who can't see the wood for the trees sometimes and get almost obsessed with the banality of getting on with stuff.
Anyway no more for now, off to watch that great peace-maker (not) Tony Blair on the telly.
Oh yes the painting in the photo is by a local Lyon artist who used to live in the parish house in Oulins. I'll try and find out what her name is.

A man of integrity - time with Georges in Lyon

Well I've just got back from my preaching engagement in Lyon,another 400km round trip by train. It was at long last a spanking new TER(Train express régional) train, almost identical to the one we caught in Romania to go to Sibiu, the Conseil régional in Rhone-Alpes does at long last seem to be waking up to the idea of how important public transport is to our region but by the time we have anything like an integrated system the glaciers will probably have all melted.
Anyway rant over, I spent yesterday evening with a friend from the Commission des Ministères (CDM) whom I had not seen for several years. Georges is a born manager, reliable, trustworthy, willing to put himself out for others and for the church. But also willing to say things as he sees them, be combative and have the odd row with folk if need be. He comes from Alsace originally and manages somehow to be the perfect mix of Germanic directness and Gallic charm. Almost more important to the English houseguest he also knows how to make a proper cup of tea!
Now in his late seventies and a widower he's been working almost full time for the past 18 months or so trying to sort out one of the Protestant diaconal institutions near Lyon. It employed 35 people and offered nursing home care to the ill and elderly. He is pleased that the solution has protected all 35 jobs by finding an organisaiton which wanted to buy the business activity but not the buildings, so the financial problems have been resolved wihtout selling off the family silver. The church has been so lucky to have someone so professional and good humoured to do this. He's managed to protect the interests of both the institution and of the workers and those being cared for. It's been hard work and he's ready now to think a bit more about himself and whether he should move to a smaller house.
The situation Georges described to me in the association in trouble was all too familiar. Not enough people in charge with the will to see through the changes. This has to do with renewal and commitment to civil society and how difficult it seems to be for many people to commit to anything longterm, particularly when the going gets difficult. Life is so full of conflict anyway - at work and home - that it's perhaps natural to just absent oneself from voluntary commitments when the going gets tough. This is a real problem for churches, managing our committees, finances and discussions is also theological work. Too often we spend precious time discussing simple things at great length while still not actually taking decisions, then we don't make time for the real work of reflection and finding new direction and energy.
Stephen calls meetings like that, whether in the church or in politics, like attending something where you are being asked to watch non-drying paint dry.
Anyway here are some links about civil society, this is probably an area I need to think about for my management course. The Reformed have traditionaly been quite into good (church) governance and administration - though I think Calvin himself may have been rather into controlling civil society and society generally.