Thursday, 31 January 2008

Word of the day - meek

I've been reading meditations by Francine Carillo at morning prayer this week. Today she based her poetry on part of a verse from James 1.21b, "welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls."
I'm not fond of the word "meek" and particularly wary of moralists who impose it as a virtue on others - just how meek is it to tell others to be meek? Interesting that the French is "douceur" and not "humilité" - mind you I suppose that too is all a question of which translation you choose. It's interesting that for nearly all of us the implanted word is a translated word. It finds us in translation.


The Kiswahili for peace is amani.
As news from Kenya seems to be teetering over the brink amani needs to be worked for and not only declaimed.
I've just posted the statement from the All African Conference of Churches on the crisis in Kenya to the docs section. In situations of crisis unity - people of goodwill working together to transform the situation - isn't an optional, intellectual luxury, it's the only way forwards out of violence.

We hate our Internet Service Provider

Another update from the post-service economy. Nearly four weeks later and our internet connection is still not working properly. In the process of phoning the inappropriately named "help lines" or queueing in the shop it's been quite a struggle to find anyone with any commitment to resolving our problem apart from us. Of course if we'd wanted to sign up for an Iphone we'd have been treated like gods. Meanwhile the standing order continues to leave our account. It's such a privilege to abe allowed to pay for nothing like this. Grrr...

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Time spent at the temple of capitalism

We have been visiting one of the local cathedrals to capitalism to buy some crémant for a party to celebrate Stephen's doctorate this weekend. It was like a parable of why not to go to the hypermarket - it lures you into travelling ten times further than you normally do along horrible roads, with the idea that there will be more choice and things will be a bit a bit cheaper. Actually of course what you want isn't there and you buy stuff you don't want and waste time looking at inordinate amounts of crud.
And of course tonight the price on the fully computerised price displays is completely different from what comes up at the checkout. So then you have to queue again to get them to give you money back they have stolen from you - and this takes forever and means they steal even more of your precious time and even accuse you of trying to pull a fast one. Aghhh ... A classic exercise in the pointlessness of modern life. The only advantage is that it will make going to work in the morning quite a pleasant prospect.

Alliance of Religions and Conservation - ARC

Yesterday people from ARC the Alliance of Religions and Conservation were visiting Geneva. Today I've been looking at their website and discovering things about their work and campaigns, linking religions and environmental issues. They are working together with the UN on a programme on faith and climate change.

Explaining why they are working specifically with the faiths on this issue UNDP give the following reasons:

The faiths are major land owners – they own more than 7% of the habitable land surface of the planet.

* The faiths are major providers of education and health care world wide.

Buddhist monks in Cambodia are leading tree planting and forest protection initiatives
* The faiths have vast media networks.

* The faiths together make up one of the largest investing groups in the world.

* The great faiths have astonishing outreach: and often faith leaders are trusted where government and military leaders are not.

*Each faith has clear teachings on caring for nature - which they are seeking to implement in practical projects.

ARC seems like a really good initiative, linking interreligious concerns to practical work for the planet.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

WCC solidarity visit to Kenya; Ecumenical accompaniers in Gaza

You can find more information about the WCC solidarity visit now underway to Kenya here. ENI have an interesting report here about Bishop Dandala.
There is also news from some of the ecumenical accompaniers currently bearing witness and standing alongside the situation in Palestine and Israel.

From the dust of dawn to the remains of the day

Sometimes the beauty of the day means that despite the grind of work; despite awful news from Iraq and Gaza and a sense of forboding as events in Kenya unfold, my spirit feels lighter.
Today was crisp and bright and glorious. Red sunrise behind the alps reflected on the snow-topped Jura in the morning, sharp-angled sunlight through the stained glass in the chapel and everything simply glorious. As I walked across the park to the bus in the evening the sunset glowed deep purple behind the bare black winter trees. A perfect winter day.
I don't often feel a sense of glory like this. Beauty and light in the midst of the humdrum. Such days are a blessing. Just now and again the "dust of dawn" can lift you for the whole day.
And the dust of dawn is translated from Francine Carillo's lovely book of weekly meditations "Vers l'inépuisable" mind you la poussière de l'aube sounds rather better than dust of dawn doesn't it. And I'm still not sure whether she intends it as a synonym for Christ, hmm interesting idea.
So no photos of today, sometimes the pictures are better on the radio than in reality.

Monday, 28 January 2008

Continuing to pray and act for Kenya

Several of my colleagues leave tomorrow for Nairobi. As I think about their journey to learn from and show solidarity with the peoples and churches at this terrible time for Kenya, I feel concern for the well-being of those we know. Yet as we pray tomorrow for their visit, we pray also for the many thousands whose lives have already been marked by tragedy, fear and violence.
Is it illusory to still hope that people in Kenya will be able to step back from the brink of ever-sprialling violence? This is the eighth year of the WCC's decade to overcome violence, sometimes I feel as if whenever we manage to take a step forwards the situation in the world forces us to take several back again. Tonight I hear on the BBC news that even Kofi Annan is concerned it may not be possible to find a way back from the current escaltion of violence.
As we wait and hope and pray and despair, people are fleeing and dying.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Write for love...

The French Protestant weekly Réforme has decided to mark Valentine's day this year by inviting its readers to write about love - "il n’y a pas d’amour, il n’y a que des preuves d’amour", wrote the poet Pierre Reverdy (1889 -1960) (there is no love, there are only proofs or tokens of love). So readers are being encouraged to write about a token or proof of love. Judging of the entries takes place on February 14th. Réforme have used a verse from the Song of Songs - to advertise the competition "Ah, you are beautiful, my love ... your eyes are doves."
When we first moved to France in 1991 Valentine's day hardly existed here, now even the Protestants are marking the saint's day, such is the power of the globalised flower and card market!

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Can anger be holy?

Lytta Basset. Sainte colère.I particularly enjoy the various quotes Simon Barrow puts on his Faith in Society blog. This quote on anger by Aristotle set me thinking in my rare idle moments this week. The linked article by Gene Stoltzfus on anger and peace-making makes a good point about anger being an ally in igniting firm truth telling. Over the centuries we have somehow edited the elemental force and energy out of our interpretation of biblical texts. It's almost as if we don't like to mix strong emotion with faith, preferring to re-write life and faith as something that is well-behaved and "nice".
Thinking about anger sent me back to my bookshelves and Lytta Basset's "Sainte Colère" which came out a few years ago - called Holy Anger in English. In it she argues that anger is not censored in the Bible. Job for instance dares to voice his anger about the dreadful situation he's in to God; Cain doesn't rail against the injustice of his offering not being acceptable and directs his anger into killing his brother; it's only when Jacob wrestles all night long with the stranger that he receives his new name and extricates himself from a manipulative and unhealthy web of family relationnships. And of course Jesus also gets angry. One of the verses in a hymn from Iona goes "Jesus Christ is raging, raging in the streets, where injustice spirals and real hope retreats". I think it's a good thing to integrate anger into our spirituality in a more positive way than through the Dies Irae, and as most people get more theology from hymns than anywhere else maybe that's one way to do it - though I should add that there are quite a few people out there who really don't like the Iona hymn.
You can read part of Lytta Basset's reflection on turning the other cheek here. That Bible text reminds me of a difficult time once in parish ministry when one of the elders said in discussion of a difficult personnel issue "we must turn the other cheek" to which I responded "but the other cheek you are turning is mine
not yours!" Turning the other cheek is about changing the paradigm of violence, making violence visible and trying to confront it. It isn't about accepting violence, evil and injustice like a doormat and pottering nicely on!
Basset argues that "holy anger is different from spontaneous human anger
; holy anger seeks to ressemble God's anger while not claiming that it ever actually achieves this." A holy anger refuses to appropriate God's anger for itself. It also does not victimise people or create scapegoats and can only bear fruit if motivated by love.
Channelling anger, finding a positive voice for our anger is not easy, yet it's the key to a vibrant civil society and to much campaigning work. It's traditionally been difficult for women and many other marginalised people to get their anger or rage listened to in our societies. Finding a voice for our concerns and anger is essential to our humanity, as is learning to listen to those expressing such concerns rather than telling them to close their lips and turn the other cheek. So that leads me to end this ramble on anger with a quote from Berthold Brecht which I first heard in a sermon in former East Germany as the first free elections were about to take place.
"Even anger against injustice makes the voice grow harsh.
Alas we who wished to lay the foundations of kindness could not ourselves be kind."

Friday, 25 January 2008

Vinicide - an excellent Friday night activity

Our colleague Linda gave Stephen the brilliant card pictured here to congratulate him on his doctorate. A bottle accompanied the card (some very delicious-looking red burgundy) and inside she wrote "what better reason for a spot of vinicide than a successfully completed PhD."
Not too much vinicide this week but tonight is Friday and we've enjoyed some champagne with a bit of the smoked salmon left over from Christmas. Earlier in the week we did drink our only bottle of Le Mas de l'Ecriture from Jonquières in the Languedoc when friends came over for supper.
Anyway the card is by Liverpuddlian artist Steve Best and you can find more of his work here. Alcohol seems to figure quite prominently in it.
Anyway now the doctorate is over perhaps the Herr Doktor will start a wine blog, we'll see!

Praying for unity in Rome

Samuel Kobia, the WCC general secretary, attended vespers at St Paul's outside the walls in Rome this evening. Pope Benedict XVI presided and preached at the ecumenical service which marked the official close to the 100th anniversary of the week of prayer for Christian unity in the Italian capital.
In an interview with L'Osservatore Romano Kobia said "My vision for the ecumenical movement is that by the mid-21st century we will have reached a level of unity such that Christians everywhere regardless of their confessional affiliations, can pray and worship together and feel welcome to share in the Lord's Table at every church." You can read more in ENI here and on the WCC site here. Reuters have also written about the interview.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Youth organisations pray together during week of prayer for Christian unity

Roger Schmidt from the Lutheran World Federation has been been using the youth blog to encourage more youth involvement in the week of prayer for Christian unity. Different church and ecumenical bodies support the call for more invovlement and many of them met yesterday in Geneva to pray, reflect and act. They've also been encouraging participation through social networking sites like Facebook. You can read the Call to Prayer and Action for Christian Unity by Christian youth organisations here.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Water for life

Throughout the season of Lent I'm hoping to have a focus on water issues so any information and interesting links you can send me will be gratefully received.
Meanhwile today I want to highlight the invitation from the Ecumenical Water Network to a summer school on water from July 27th to August 5th based at the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey. You can find the application form here.
"Preserving the world’s water resources and securing access to water for all is one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. In 2008, the Ecumenical Water Network will bring together about 20 young people from all over the world for a Summer School on Water."
You can learn more about the Ecumenical Water Network by going here and looking at the brochure here.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Praying for unity - is it about justice or about prayer?

It's been a busy weekend with a big event for the churches in Geneva and the WCC marking the 100th anniversary of the week of prayer for Christian Unity. Airline timetabling and US immigration did their best to thwart arrangements. Rev. Pierre Wallière from Haïti got stuck in Miami and then in Zürich. He did arrive in time for some in depth conversations over supper with people from the local churches and on Monday morning he preached on the necessity of prayer for Christians everywhere - particularly as a source of support for those living in situations of violence.
Sister Sheila Flynn spoke movingly on Sunday of unity not being possible if the unity we pray for remains indifferent to the millions living with and dying of HIV/AIDS. The women she works with at Kopanang sent her with a message to Geneva - tell them not to forget us. (The picture, like the others in this post is by my colleague Juan Michel and shows Pierre and Sheila at the WCC). Rev. Jean-Claude Mokry preached about how the week of prayer's theme "pray without ceasing" served as a springboard to renew our personal, local and global witness, rooting prayer in practical experience and expression.

So unity cannot only be about in-depth detailed theological papers and encounters but has also to engage with what people experience and prayer can't be separate either from the intellect or from political commitment and deep engagement with society. Unity isn't about a choice between justice and prayer but about rooting them in the same soil.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Alain Blancy on ecumenism

For my friend Alain Blancy, who united in his own life many religious strands, ecumenism was far more than an academic issue. It allowed him the freedom to bring together in his own life elements which otherwise divided humanity. "Can I, with the inheritance of my Jewish past, the past of my forebears, identify myself as a Christian, without thereby being torn apart, without having to betray either Christ or this inheritance? Am I able to live this unity - this 'ecumenism' - in my own body and life, to test out in myself and on myself a new unity, to reconcile that which in the world is divided and opposed? I cannot avoid this conflict ... For me there is no other ecumenism than that which dares to hold together and to practise this repentance and struggle."
Much of Alain's writing and work on ecumenism was published not under his name but as contributed to joint works of reflection by the Groupe des Dombes and other ecumenical groups.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Reporting ecumenically and accurately

On my way home from visiting a friend in hospital I bought myself a "La Croix" special on "Quel avenir pour le Christianisme?" (What future for Christianity?). As soon as I started reading it on the bus home I began to get cross because of the mistakes and suppositions - there was a map saying that the majority of Germans are Roman Catholic, that the majority of people in England Wales and Scotland are Anglicans and that 90% of Swiss are Christians. Added to which the Reformed Huguenot cross was used to designate large tracts of Lutheran Scandinavia...
Given that it's the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity I should probably have been a little more forbearing in my thoughts. La Croix is a Roman Catholic daily paper in France, generally does a good job and often has excellent reporting and think pieces. There's a really good interview with Bishop Margot Kässmann in the magazine for instance, but there are just a few bits that jar and are not quite right.
Reading through the magazine I realised again how difficult it is to write acurately, let alone interestingly about church and religious affairs. It's easy to not get the terminology concerning another church or religion quite right, or to perhaps think it doesn't matter too much and work simply from one's own terms of reference. It's easy too to let one's work from a specific point of view and for a particular audience - in this case a percentage of Roman Catholics in France - to colour both accuracy and objectivity. My recent course in Rome opened up whole new areas of my own ignorance about the structures of Roman Catholic congregations - and my ignorance of Catholicism generally.
So what future for Christianity, let alone for Christian unity, if we can't even always learn the right words to describe other churches

Phone rage

In occasional moments of life not spent working we've been trying to sort out our internet connection which since it was "improved" on January 5th now no longer exists at all! The joys of life in the modern post-service economy means that cock ups like this lead to hours spent on hold trying to follow the intricate sequence of pressing keys and getting our English-accented French accepted when answering electronic voice recognition questions. This morning I finally queued up at the so called "service provider's" shop (where I provided an excellent interpretation service for many of the anglophone clients!). After 45 minutes I was allowed to tell someone about the problem, they then spent some time filling in an online form to let some other office somewhere else know about our problem. I have the very strong feeling that any kind of solution is going to take quite a while yet. Last time we sent them an email it took five days to get a reply telling us to do the things we'd told them we'd already done. Meanwhile it's amazing how the direct debit to pay for these "services" never seems to get forgotten! Sorry about this, I'm having a "grumpy old Jane" moment.
And there's more from Computer Profesisonals for Social Responsibility on the post-service economy here and in the quote at the bottom. I'm rather sad that this was not an original thought of mine but as often an original thought many others have already had - in fact it post-service economy even is already a theory.
"Hirschl goes on to observe that we have moved past the "post-industrial" economy, and are now settling into a "post-service" economy. Labor-replacing technology, as it becomes more efficient and cheaper, invades the realm of service industries, across the board, from investment counseling to Taco Bells and cleaning services. So the pressure is on up and down the line, from executives to the least skilled clerk."

Friday, 18 January 2008

The Kopanang Community Trust

Sheila Flynn who works with the Kopanang Community Trust and the Sithand’izingane Care Project spoke movingly at morning prayers in the ecumenical centre in Geneva this morning about hope and creativity in the face of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. You can read more about the work of the trust here as well as on their website.
Creative needlework and grandmotherly gardening skills are prized in this project. It's so often Africa's grandmothers who end up caring for the youngest generation as AIDS scythes down young parents. Hope in the midst of the pandemic is a question of extraordinary tenacity and a very practical spirituality of resistance, daring to believe there really is going to be a better future.
As the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity opens today with its theme of "Pray without ceasing", we pray for all those who show such spirited creativity against the odds.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Art for humanity -linking fine art and humanrights advocacy

On Friday morning as the launch of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in Geneva sister Sheila Flynn will lead morning prayers. Sister Sheila is a Dominican and also has fine arts training. Among other things she is also involved in a non-profit organisation called Art for Humanity based in Durban, South Africa. It specialises in producing fine art print portfolios, exhibitions, billboards and research projects that advocate various human rights issues in South Africa and internationally. You can see Sheila Flynn's very powerful lullaby of the left behind and much other wonderful stuff. The website serves as an online resource for those interested in human rights, art and social development. It's a brilliant idea and resource.

Does baptism make you a Christian for life?

On the news I saw a report from Rome about the ex-communicated Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo. It would be fair to say that his views are hardly orthodox and I suspect the book he's launching in Rome - Confessions of an ex-communicated Archbishop - is a great money-making opportunity. In his defence of his own right to remain both Archbishop and priest he said something that I disagreed with even more than all the rest - ordination meant that he was a priest for life in the same way, he claimed, as baptism makes you a Christian for life.
Does baptism make you a Christian for life? I couldn't help but think of the Roman Catholic priest I worked with in Annecy who had spent several decades working in Rwanda. At an ecumenical meeting looking at both the positive and negative role of churches in situations of violence, he said that he felt that there had been a problem with churches concentrating on baptising people rather than on bearing witness to and teaching the gospel of respect for other human beings.
So is it baptism that makes you a Christian? Does being a Christian make you a better person?
Responses to those questions another time I think.

Sign the petition to support the trade union campaign for decent work

"Half of the world’s workforce earns less than $US2 a day. 12.3 million women and men work in slavery. 200 million children under the age of 15 work instead of going to school. 2.2 million people die due to work-related accidents and diseases every year."
You can support the international trade unions campaign for decent work by signing the online petition.
This has also been an area where the WCC and the International Labour Organization (ILO) have worked together in past years. There's an interesting review here of a book editedby Dominique Peccoud offering spiritual and philosophical reflections on decent work. Some excerpts from the book can be found here on the YMCA website.
It is good to see international organizations working together on this essential issue.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Magnum opus- from Mr B to Herr Doktor

Doctorate decade officially over - actually it was twelve years...
Examiners and examinee discussed together for over an hour and three-quarters because they were having such an interesting discussion.
The other evening Stephen had come up with the idea of describing East Germany as a "contested democracy" and when he said this at some point at the viva today, the external exminer said - how extraordinary I was just thinking of that term too.
Anyway, what my mother in her inimitable way calls the "fud" - that is how you pronounce PhD isn't it - is really now over. And this last chapter has even had a low carbon footprint. Doctor Brown arrives back by train tomorrow evening at which stage some vintage champagne will be drunk.

Today's the day

Stephen took the Eurostar to Britain yesterday. He will be having a few tense hours this afternoon at the department of German studies at the University of Reading defending his PhD. He's already spotted typos, so there will be corrections. Nearly there I hope ... But I probably shouldn't say that, he gets superstitious about such things. Fingers crossed. Good luck!
There's another interesting post from Tom Heneghan which seems appropriate, all about the retirement of the pastor of the Nikolaikirche in Leipzig.
So if you want to know something about the "Transformation of Dissatisfaction into Dissent: The Conciliar Process for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation in the German Democratic Republic", I know Stephen would be very happy to enlighten you.
(And of course a University of Reading sounds very appropriate but it's pronounced redding and is quite a big place between London and Oxford.)

Monday, 14 January 2008

Breakdown in faith transmission while supermarkets sell the Bible

In the international setting of Geneva and in ministry in Reformed congregations, I am sometimes struck by how illiterate about the Bible many "educated" westerners have become and how well-versed in the wealth of Bible stories many Christians from the global South are. My friend Janet Lees, a speech therapist and theologian, in her work in inner-city Sheffield also noticed that for many Christians the "remembered Bible" which people carry within them needs to be valued and unlocked to let the stories speak and build people up. Maybe in our multimedia, remote control society valuing oral and inner versions of the Bible rather than concentrating always on the written text is a good initial way forwards.
So I was fascinated to read on Tom Heneghan's blog that a new translation of the Bible into French is selling like hot cakes in supermarkets and large book chains. Are people just buying it as a cheap way to make their bookshelves look good? How many of them will actually get read?
Meanwhile both Protestant and Catholic churches in France talk about the "crise de la transmission" - the breakdown in communicating the faith from one generation to another. I wonder whether podcasts of the Bible would sell out so quickly ... of course they don't look quite so good on your bookshelves and probably cost rather more to produce than printing books. But creativity has to be the way forwards to give communication and transmission a chance.
I was intrigued at a meeting between church communicators in Sibiu earlier this year by a young Dutch journalist who talked about how she had organised public readings of a new translation of the Bible into Dutch, including getting prostitutes to read the story of Rahab for instance.
Anyway the Bible certainly seems to be in the news, ENI had a story last week about the Orthodox Archdiocese of America and the American Bible Society providing Bibles to Greece to replace the many thousands that were destroyed in the terrible fires over the summer. In December CWM reported that 50 million new Bibles are being printed by Amity press in China.

The 100th Anniversary of the week of prayer for Christian Unity.

My colleague Kersten Storch who works in Faith and Order at the WCC has written a short piece on the history of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity which runs from 18-25 January every year (the article is also available in German, Spanish and French). For the past six years she's been involved in preparing the Week of Prayer together with representatives from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Kersten has also guest edited an issue of the Ecumenical Review, with articles looking at the history of the week of prayer and at different traditions of praying together across the world. It will be coming off the presses next week.
We've also been working hard preparing an event here in Geneva with the the local churches. There'll be a service in the chapel preceded by a round table discussion with people from South Africa and Haiti chaired by Swiss Radio journalist Michel Kocher.

From 14 January to 1 February United Nations Committee monitoring discriminaiton against women

Today sees the beginning of the UN committee on the elimination of discrimination against women. The report from France is due on 18 January and it wil be interesitng to see if there's a trace of it anywhere in the French media - let alone the French churches!
"The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women will hold its fortieth session at the Palais des Nations in Geneva from 14 January to 1 February 2008 to review the reports of Bolivia, Burundi, Saudi Arabia, France, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Morocco and Sweden on how those countries are implementing their obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women."
You can read more in the UN press release here, meanwhile women everywhere mainly have to be content with change taking place slowly and gradually. Feminists like me have of course to remember that we're not supposed to make demands or be too shrill, that might damage the cause ... more than patriarchy ever did I suppose. OK rant over.
Francoise Gaspard who represents France at the committee is an interesting woman. Involved in both politics and academia, she was one of the first openly gay French politicians and in 2006 began teaching the first French course on homosexuality at the prestigious Science Po.
Anyway I'm not sure whether you can follow podcasts of the proceedings at the UN but maybe this is the wake up call to find out what the situation of discrimination of women is like where you are.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

The Baptism of Christ

The (western) lectionary marks the baptism of Christ today. The mosaic on the left is at the entrance to the chapel of the ecumenical centre in Geneva. It is a copy of a 10th century Byzantine mosaic and was given to the WCC by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. You'll also notice on the floor beneath the mosaic the beginnings of waves of water built into the marble floor. As we walk into the chapel we walk through the waters of baptism, reminding us of our common baptism in Christ.
I've always been interested in art depicting Christ's baptism. Partly as a result of Charles Brock's creative teaching of the theology, symbolism and meaning of baptism by using a copy of Pierro della Francesco's Baptism of Christ. If I'm travelling through Trafalgar Sqaure in London I always try to make time to go and see the original which is in the National Gallery.
If you look carefully at della Franceso's painting you can see that although Christ is being baptised in the Jordan he is somehow standing on dry land in the middle of the river. Perhaps this symbolises the link with the children of Israel crossing the red sea on dry land and also crossing the Jordan on dry land. The river is in the shape of a serpent with Christ symbolically trampling down evil, it seems also to flow out of the side of a building in the distance, like the waters of life in Ezekiel 37. Perhaps the tree where the strange angelic figures with the transluscent wings are standing is a reference to the tree of life in Revelation 21 and of course there's much more to find and muse upon in the painting. Having bored countless confirmation classes with theses details there was no chance I was going to miss an opportunity to do the same here!
Anyway credit where credit is due, I discovered the national gallery online paintings thanks to Deirdre Good's wonderful and award-winning blog On not being a Sausage.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

Words against woes - Mots contre Maux!

Today I had catechism again with the young people. It's very much a joint enterprise - we learn at least as much from them as we manage to teach. We looked at the problem of evil and suffering with them today. I became a storyteller and told the tale of the Magi visiting Herod the dictator - rather more briefly than in my sermon earlier in the week. Afterwards we got them to write letters of lamentation and protest either to Herod or to God ( we all found that quite therapeutic!) and then we read some passages from the book of Lamentations, from Job and from Psalm 22 "My God, my God why have you forsaken me?".
Later still we painted posters, pictures and ideas for overcoming evil. One of them painted words in the colours of the French flag calling for help to all people who are disadvantaged, others painted stars and colours of hope shining to overcome evil. I came up with "an alphabet of responsability - words against woes". It works rather better in French "Un ABCédaire de responsabilité: mots contre maux", which literally means words against evils, but the two words mots and maux are pronounced exactly the same.
What in part inspired this was being in the same room where a few days previously I had joined the newly founded local section of ACAT (Action by Christians Against Torture). Working against evil is about a spirituality of resistance, it's about plodding on, writing letters, raising awareness of the problem of prisoners of conscience, struggling against the death penalty, month after month, year after year. Doing the boring, repetitive abc work. It's also about being willing to be in a tiny, sometimes rather disorganised and unfocused minority. A spirituality of resistance is also about making do with small insignificant changes some of the time, picking oneself up and starting over when all seems lost.

The whole Bible in six years

On January 1st this year the French Protestant Federation launched the Bible in six years project. Until now the various member churches of the FPF tended to have different lists of daily readings, so it's a way of trying to create a wider sense of belonging to the same tradition through reading the same texts each day. It also includes the Sunday readings of the (Roman Catholic) lectionary.
The other thing I like about this project is the attempt to read the whole of the Bible rather than just the bits that we like. When I was preaching on the lectionary every week I got more than a little frustrated with what often seemed like a reduction of the Hebrew scriptures to yet another bit of deutero-Isaiah - as if no other part of the old testament might have anything to say to us.

Friday, 11 January 2008

Praying for Kenya

Even when I cry out, "Violence!' I am not answered;
I call aloud, but there is no justice. (Job 19:7)

At lunchtime today the chapel was particularly beautiful with sun streaming in.
We gathered to pray for peace and reconciliation in Kenya. Emotion was high and tears fell as we remembered friends, family and colleagues caught up in the violence; medical staff working in desperate conditions; houses, schools and churches burnt down; men, women and children killed.
Silence, song and words expressed our sense of helplessness.
Yet we dared to hope and we prayed.

The cross is the way of the lost.
The cross is the staff of the lame.

The cross is the guide of the blind.
The cross is the strength of the weak.

The cross is the hope of the hopeless.
The cross is the freedom of the slaves.

The cross is the water of the seeds.
The cross is the consolation of the bonded labourers.

The cross is the source of those who seek water.
The cross is the cloth of the naked.

The cross is the healing of the broken.
The cross is the peace of the church.
(St. Yared, Ethiopia)

More light shed on Epiphany

My colleague Dr Manoj Kurian was inspired after reading my epiphany sermon to write some reflections of his own which I've posted in the documents. He begins his reflections by looking at the meaning of the words Darsana and Mgoshi in Sanskrit, he then moves on at the end to look at the tragedy caused by the Magi looking for salvation in the wrong place.
Meanwhile Pope Benedict XVI also preached a very good epiphany sermon which you can look at here. The sermon was preached at St Peter's and the next day the Pope took up the theme of the Magi once more in an address to the diplomatic corps.
The sermon makes an interesting link between Babel and Epiphany, which despite being a linguist I had not thought about before.
Epiphany, the season of light as gradually our northern hemisphere days begin to get lighter and longer. We all need the courage of the Magi to overcome the darkness.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity on Facebook

I had a fascinating day earlier this week doing some liaison interpretting for a French journalist visiting the ecumenical centre. She was from La Croix, a Catholic French daily paper, the paper is writing features about the way the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity will be marked a number of cities in Europe including Moscow, Prague and Geneva. As is often the case when interpretting I learnt a great deal about what my colleagues do.
I learnt that my colleagues Natalie Maxson and Roger Schmidt, together with others from the WSCF and World YWCA and YMCA, have not only called for more youth involvement in the week of prayer for Christian unity, but they're also using facebook to encourage young people to get more involved in doing things during the week of prayer for Christian unity. They've got quite a number of young people signing up and are encouraging them to meet with other Christians for Bible study, prayer, social action or worship during the week of prayer and then to share experiences and ideas on facebook.
As for me, I'm still paddling in the shallows where facebook is concerned, at least it will give me something to talk about with the young people at KT tomorrow.

10th International Bonhoeffer Congress in Prague - bursaries available

This week Keith Clements, former general secretary of CEC and chair of the 10th International Bonhoeffer Congress, sent information about the Congress which will take place in Prague, Czech Republic, 22-27 July 2008.
The theme will be Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Theology in Today's World - a Way between Fundamentalism and Secularism? The theme will be treated not only by an impressive panel of plenary speakers beginning with the Professor Jürgen Moltmann of Germany who will give the keynote address, but also in over thirty seminars on a wide variety of particular topics by scholars from many different parts of the world.
Further information about programme, accommodation, costs etc. is available on the Congress website.
Keith also added that thanks to the generosity of some donors the Congress is able to offer a number of scholarships to cover the costs of registration and accommodation at the Congress for participants who would otherwise not be able to participate for financial reasons. Priority candidates for such bursaries will be participants, especially students, from Eastern Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia. Please publicise it through your institutions and networks of communication, and wherever you have contact with people whom you consider could qualify for consideration. Application forms can be obtained from the Congress office in Prague see and by going to the Congress website.
Meanwhile for more information about Bonhoeffer, there's a good bibliography here on the Bonhoefferian blog and there are many other sites in various languages about his life and work. The Cambridge Guide to Bonhoeffer edited by John de Gruchy looks interesting. Keith Clements' is one of the people who has been involved in the project of editing the new translation into English of Bonhoeffer's work and lectures widely on Bonhoeffer and other contemporary church history issues. His most recent book on Bonhoeffer and Britian is reviewed here.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

"Freedom is always the freedom of those who think differently"

The quote is from Rosa Luxemburg, whose writings were fairly freely available in former East Germany. Twenty years ago this month at the January 17th official East German commemoration of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg (socialist heroes as a result of their execution during the 1918-19 revolutions), homemade banners were quickly unfurled by members of opposition groups. One of the banners read "Freiheit ist immer der Freiheit des Andersdenkenden" the quote from Rosa Luxemburg. Another read "Those who don't move can't feel their chains".
We're listening to a Radio Berlin Brandenburg programme where many of those who took part in this counter demonstration are telling their stories of arrest - many of them before they even got to the demonstration, and some of whom were arrested a week after the demonstration took place. One of the things that became clear is that there are still different understandings of what actually took place then, between, for example, those who hoped that by taking part in the protest would speed their explusion to the west, and those who wanted to stay in East Germany to work for political change. A number of those who wanted to stay in East Germany were transported from prison to the West.
Many of the peace and human rights groups met in churches; the printing press and environmental library violently closed by the state was in the Zionskirche; as news of the arrests spread so hundreds gathered to pray in Berlin, Leipzig, Magdeburg and Erfurt. Conviction took those people onto the street, determination to think differently.
Eighteen months later after the peaceful revolution of autumn 1989 many began to discover that it was in some cases those closest to them - the father of their children, the lawyer defending them - who had betrayed them.
Resistance and opposition is not an easy path. Nearly 90 years ago, being one of those who thought differently meant that Rosa Luxemburg herself met her death.

From Geneva to Solentiname

At our feminist theology group last night Guillermo Kerber opened up the group to his passion for Latin American theology, his passion for justice and equity between rich and poor and also to the world of Alejo Carpentier, Jesus the storyteller and magic realism - both as a literary and theologcial tradition.
It was a gentle but empassioned tour de force taking us from the riches of banks and international organisations in Geneva to the Gospel of Solentiname; from base community readings of the Bible, - see, judge, act - to subtle differences between the theologies of Leonardo Boff and his brother Clodovis Boff.
We were reading the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, wrestling with the gulf between the rich and the poor, celebrating the fact that Lazarus at least has a name unlike so many other nameless poor, expressing distate with the idea of the burning kingdom of the dead, and trying to find a way back from this text of terrifying judgement to hear the call to conversion in our own situation. One of the ideas I'm still working with following our discussion is metanoia as discernment in crisis. I also reflected that the first time I read the Gospel in Solentiname was in East Germany. Tonight while googling I've discovered that the French version only now exists as a rare book and was originally translated from the German rather than the Spanish.
Alors maintenant quelques liens en français pour mes lectrices (et lecteurs) du groupe, concernant Ernesto Cardenale et son Evangile selon Solentiname, la théologie de la libération, Jon Sobrino, et une conférence à écouter en ligne de Odair Pedro Mateus ainsi qu'un entretien ave lui sur la théologie de la libération. Sa femme Katarina Vollmer Mateus interviendra dans notre group au mois d'avril. Alejo Carpentier en français. Bizarrement j'ai découvert que l'évangile selon Solentiname a été traduit en français mais depuis l'allemand!

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Guillermo Kerber at the feminist theology group

I persuaded my wonderful colleague Guillermo Kerber to be the only male speaker at our French feminist theology group this year. He's passionate about Latin America and Latin American theology - you can listen in French to a lecture he gave on liberation theology at the University of Geneva here. Our group are looking at the parables this year and Guillermo chose to shock and confront us with the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. A way of looking at questions around justice, riches and poverty. More about this tomorrow when I've had a chance to sleep!

Monday, 7 January 2008

Forgetting the massacre of the holy innocents

Preparing the sermon I preached today and then talking about it with people over lunch has led me to wonder why almost all major Christian traditions mark the massacre of the holy innocents between Christmas and Epiphany - when almost noone is in church? Why does the text not seem to appear as part of the Sunday lectionary? (To be fair, in the past when these dates were fixed churches were perhaps alot fuller than today.)
There seems to be a need to hide away this embedding of one of the gospel stories of the incarnation in a context of horror and violence. We prefer saccharine and a curtailed narrative, to having to wrestle with the reality and issue of violence.
We confuse Good News too often with niceness, pleasantness or not being offended. And all too easily in our so-called educated age we seem almost unable to struggle with complex and challenging narrative.
I can see that people could feel "assaulted" by a violent biblical text in church, but surely the challenge is not to sanatise the Bible and its stories but, as Simon Barrow eloquently argues in his Faith and Society blog, to encourage theological education and training. The emphasis on training and education is something I really appreciate about the Eglise Réformée de France. Sometimes it can become a bit over-intellectual and not quite earthed enough but rather that than sacharine I think. Rant over, promise.

Christmas Day or Epiphany

For those following the Julian calendar today is Christmas day. Over lunch with an Orthodox colleague from Georgia and a Lutheran colleague from Ethiopia I discovered that Ethiopian Lutherans also celebrate Christmas day on January 7th. I wonder now whether that is also the case for Baptists or otehr Protestants in majority Orthodox countries. Up until lunchtime today I would probably have said that only Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas at this time - just shows how ignorant this professional ecumenist can be!
Meanwhile for those of us following the Gregorian calendar and the Western lectionary we are now at the feast of Epiphany. My two Anglican colleagues Colin Williams and Michael Wallace celebrated the eucharist and led worship, and I preached. The chapel had been carefully prepared and there was a strong but discreet odour of incense for epiphany. Afterwards we drank orange juice ate galette and some lovely home made cake.
It was good to preach in English again after a period of abstinence and I enjoyed writing the sermon which you can read here.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Happy epiphany - fêtez les Rois!

The photo is of a delicious galette des rois from our local bakery, the boulangerie de la Fontaine in Ferney - about 40 paces from our front door. For epiphany the tradition is to hide a "fève" (literally a bean, but these days more likely a small ceramic trinket). You cut the galette into the number of people about to eat it and one person gets the portion with la fève and they get to be crowned king or queen and also to choose their "consort" for the second crown.
However, if you have ever tried to cut up a soft cake with a hard piece of porcelaine hiding in it you will know that the knife will often hit the porcelaine so there is also a tradition for deciding who gets which piece. The youngest person in the family hides beneath the table as the pieces are distributed and says who should get which piece - they don't know where the fève is of course. My neighbour, a young working mother of three trilingual young boys, has developed her own method, she saves the fèves and crowns from one year to the next and stuffs several extra into the galette so that noone is too unhappy.
It's a lovely tradition, a hidden secret treasure in the cake to celebrate the kings. And the frangipane filling is of course delicious, but you can also get apple or raspberry fillings and in the south of France a brioche-style galette is more traditional. All go well with a glass of champagne of course but we had ours twice over at brunch time today with coffee and tea. Olive and then three-year old Pauline were our successive queens. It's a good and simple excuse for inviting friends over in the new year. You can eat galette until the end of January.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

In memory of Alain Blancy - Arved Bielchovsky

Today my good friend Alain Blancy would have been 81. I never got to his 73rd and last birthday party in January 2000, I was recovering from my first MS attack. But later that year I did go on a Franco-German in-service training course for pastors at Chambon sur Lignon, where Alain was a "witness", living with the group for the whole 10 days and sharing his memories and reflections of his war-time experiences.
Alain was born "Arved Bielchovsky" in Berlin in 1927. He and his older brother Edouard were both baptised as Christians despite coming from a German-Jewish family. His mother left Berlin for Paris after Hitler came to power in 1933. Though not close to the church she enrolled the children in the Protestant scouting movement. After the outbreak of war things became very difficult. Edouard was interned at Gurs (where it seems he received a Bible possibly from the Cimade) from where he and Alain attempted to escape across the Pyrennees but were captured and taken back to Germany as prisoners. In prison in Cologne the jailor allowed them to keep the Bible so long as they hid it and it was at this time that Alain remembered first reading the Bible.
When telling the story of his war years Alain would often say that there were many angels and archangels who protected him and Edouard. The jailor in Cologne was one. Somehow he never managed to find or perhaps even destroyed, evidence of the brothers' baptismal certificates - finding those Christian documents would have been proof-positive for the Nazis that they were Jewish.
Perhaps as a result of the Cimade or the Confessing Church, Edouard and Alain ended up working as prisoners in the Bethel institute for much of the war. Even there though they could be taken away as forced labourers for work elsewhere such as in the Uranium mines. When this happened one of their colleagues at Bethel set out to rescue them. First getting the Director to write official documents demanding their return for the essential war-work of the institute, he then put on his most impressive uniform (which was the one he wore for the volunteer fire service!) and set off, managing to get their release into his custody and declaring every time their papers were checked on the homeward journey "important transport of prisoners", daring someone to contradict him. He was one of the archangels, showing both courage and ingenuity.
After the war both brothers were true to their prayer and promise in the Cologne prison - "if you bring us through this you will be our God" ( from Jacob's story in Genesis 28 ) - and became pastors after finishing their studies - Alain was taught philosophy by Paul Ricoeur. In addition to various parish positions Alain was also deputy director of the ecumenical institute of Bossey for 10 years and a member and eventually Protestant co-president of the Groupe des Dombes.
I think of Alain very often. So many of the books from his library are now on my shelves and I often come across his name at work as well. His story was similar to that of my father's - both born to German-Jewish lawyers in Berlin. Yet my father always said he wasn't Jewish, saying this was an identity forced on him by a dictatorial regime. In many ways Alain was a father in faith to me, struggling, albeit differently and more eruditely, with questions about the God of the the whole Bible or the question of God after genocide.
I shall make some further posts of Alain's own writings in coming days, first in French and once I have time in English. I've also posted his funeral service and the sermon I preached. ENI published this tribute to Alain after his death.

Cafe culture gives up smoking

Today was our first sortie in Ferney's café culture since the January 1st ban on smoking. Now you can even see people at the next table and don't need to take all your clothes to the laundry after a cup of coffee at your local! It's quite interesting that the British media are so interested in the application of the ban in France when actually all the way along Germany has been extremely resitant to the ban, and managed to get delays and some special case exemptions.
This great bit of EU legistlation does not apply in Switzerland of course, so to get a taste of what French café culture used to be like all we need to do is go over the border. With the ghastly Phillip Morris a major local employer I imagine it may take a while to get around to a ban in Switzerland.
Meanwhile the tobacco industry is still intent on exporting the tobacco epidemic to the developing world, as this article from the International Development Research Centre makes clear. The opening quote states
"Tobacco is a major threat to sustainable and equitable development . . . In the developing world tobacco poses a major challenge, not just to health, but also to social and economic development and to environmental sustainability."
Bellagio Statement on Tobacco and Sustainable Development, June 1995
I managed to give up smoking in 1989. Late in the evening after a whiskey with friends I do still very occasionally long for a puff or two on a large Cuban cigar - probably more for the sense of decadence than the nicotine hit - but I'm not sure I'd even enjoy that anymore. As far as I'm concerned French café culture just got a whole lot better.

Friday, 4 January 2008

Sustainable church?

I've been reflecting on what a sustainable way of running the church might be. Reading some of the clergy blogs about the exhaustion following presiding services for the feast of incarnation also gave me food for thought. The decline of many of the traditional churches in Western Europe means that many clergy perform something akin to palliative care for institutions that are radically changing or dying.
Returning to my former parish over recent months and on Christmas Day also made me re-examine whether my own way of ministering was at all sustainable. I think I was driven by guilt rather than by grace for much of the time. Part of me can see that halving the number of services the church has each month is more sustainable, but when you have done 7 years of two or three services a Sunday starting at 9.15, it's sometimes a little difficult to see that change come in and to see it work well!
Lots of what is written about sustainable church on the web seems to be about using fairly traded food and green energy like this church tries to and like the Christian ecology link encourage churches to. There isn't masses about working styles and sustainability. The church is essentially about working with people which always requires an enormous investment of time - and is also fabulous, fun and frustrating. Pastoral care is always a privilege but it's usually completely knackering too, but maybe that just says something about me.
Surfing on the web the Church Action on Poverty approach to sustainability seems interesting. It looks at the creation of sustainable jobs and working environments by evaluating the political and social context and structures. As I prepare to go to Rome again in a month for the second part of my course I think I need to challenge myself about management and sustainability. I suspect that means challenging myself about setting sustainable expections. Hmm...

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Consequences and quizes...

This time last week we were sitting down to a game of consequences with our families, it was gentle fun and also noisily hilarious at points. Our youngest nephew Edwin currently has a very scatalogical sense of humour. One story line involved me meeting Tony Blair in a faeces-infested sewer - I won't tell you what the consquence of that was!
This evening as part of my surfing I came across this quiz thanks to Tom Allen's splendid big bulky Anglican blog (just his reading list is an education). If you click on the link you can take the quiz too and it will tell you which theologian you score as. Special note for feminist theologians, there is not a single woman theologian on this quiz, so no chance to come out as a Dorothee Sölle, Julian of Norwich, Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza or France Quéré. Sigh ... one day. Anyway if you can cope with the non-inclusive language it's quite fun.
Unsurprisingly the two Reformed theologians in this household came out as Jürgen Moltmanns. Mr B at 73% and me at 67%. My other scores may indicate that I'm not a theologian at all - I didn't get above 47% for anyone else. Where Mr B's 67% Schleiermacher came from is still a puzzle. Nevermind, holidays are made for such desultory pleasures, even if there were too many quesitons involving hell for my liking. I suppose I really ought to make up my own quiz and add some women to the list!

A falling tree makes more noise than a forest that's growing

While typing I've been listening in the background to a French tv debate about Africa, triggered by recent events in Kenya. It's always interesting to listen to francophone perspectives from and on Africa - in this case looking particularly at progress in Sierra Leone and elsewhere but also potential serious future problems in Guinea Bissau and Guinea.The debate focussed on the fact that Africa is a diverse continent, with a diversity of political systems and problems and not a single entity.
One of the speakers said "A falling tree makes more noise than a forest that's growing" - an African saying apparently. Meaning that bad news makes the headlines but that strong signs of hope hardly even make the news. Meaning here that despite great cause for concern we shouldn't forget to tell the story of the forests of hope growing.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

Speaking on the last day of the old year to several hundred young people who gathered in the ecumenical centre in Geneva as part of the Taizé, the WCC general secretary Samuel Kobia concluded his reflections on "the word of God is not in chains" with the famous quote above from Margaret Mead.
True encouragement that young and old together small groups of us really can change the world. Kobia looked at historical and contemporary witnesses such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who wrote of hope from third reich prisons, and the young woman writing the Baghdad burning blog. Throughout history and across the world people resist being silenced, refusing to let their words or God's word be enchained.
Kobia looked at a number of things which can keep us in chains today, doubt and fear, poverty and prosperity. I was particularly interested in hearing him say that slavery to materialism and a senses of meaningless can also be a source of "enchainment" - if that's a word. This certainly made me think about my own life. Maybe it's the lot of a Protestant cleric in particular to feel the need to offer meaning to others and yet feel that one's own life lacks meaning. Hmm ... much to think about there.
Anyway, the crowds of young people who came to Geneva because the message of Taizé offers them meaning and encouragement in their lives, have now returned home. I think Calvin's city has been changed by their visit. I hope this different way of celebrting the new year will be part of what helps them and all of us to be part of small, thoughtful groups which change the world.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Statement on the situation in Kenya by WCC General Secretary

The WCC general secretary Samuel Kobia, who is Kenyan, has made a statement on the current political crisis and violence which you can access here.
In it Kobia says,
Now is the time for leadership and statesmanship for the good of the nation from the leaders of Kenya's two main parties, the Party of National Unity and the Orange Democratic Movement. As leaders, they must turn urgently from partisan postures and negotiate in good faith to reach a non-violent, political solution to Kenya's electoral dispute.
and concludes
The violent perversion of public life in Kenya at present cannot be accepted in a New Year or at anytime. After the immediate measures are taken, and while the current troubles are still fresh in the nation's mind, it will be necessary to have a frank and thorough appraisal of underlying constitutional and electoral issues that have damaged previous Kenyan elections as well as this one. We register this concern now in order to strengthen the rule of law, improve governance and save lives in Kenya in the future.

Keep music live on New Year's day

We treated ourselves to some culture at the German congregation's new year concert yesterday evening. It was a wonderful, surprising and educating mix of Gershwin, Brahms, Schoenberg, Grapelli and Bach - among others - on piano, violin and guitar. Karsten David Schmitte was the violinist - he and the young guitarist did some wonderful jazz improvisations and he's quite a showman. The wonderfully talented Luise Askani played piano, she's also one of the organists at the church here in Ferney (and the mother of six young children). At the concert we discovered she's also a specialist of 20th century piano music. Getting to know her and her husband Hans Christophe Askani has been one of the pleasures of 2007. Her choice of music and wonderful playing on New Year's day certainly meant that my musical horizons were broadened early in 2008.
First new year's resolution, we must get out more.

Photos from Taizé - keeping the faith

I've written about Peter Williams' wonderful photographs before. He works part time for the WCC and part time as a freelance. The photos he's taken from the Taizé meeting in Geneva can be found on the epd website here, Peter's photos do really tell a story.
You can find more on the WCC website but also on the Keeping the Faith website which uses photos from the oikoumene as a way to encourage all of us to keep faith and to keep on telling the ecumenical story.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

2008 is the UN year of languages

Yes it's all about languages in 2008! This is the UN international year of languages - though as you can see from this article there seems to be some dispute about what this actually means - lost in translation perhaps? Sorry cheap joke.
There are some fascinating websites on languages out there and I'll try to give some regular updates on my surfing as the year progresses.
The folk running the language log do a great job and some of their work has been published as a book wittily titled Far from the madding Gerund. They even have a post about science, theology and global language change.
Meanwhile on the Eurolang website you can learn that Estonia has launched a linguistic beauty contest - how brilliant, and how totally subjective!

Now in case you didn't know 2008 is also the year of the potato and of course they have a really lovely official website, but at least it is in five languages. And you can read about other years here - with comments by Kermit!

Visit Liverpool capital of culture in 2008

So January 2008 marks the beginning of Liverpool being one of the European capitals of culture. One of Stephen's party tricks on a relaxed evening is singing "In my Liverpool Home" - I must try and make a podcast of it sometime. Anyway it's his Liverpool home not mine and I've only gradually been finding out about it over the years. 18 months ago we stayed in Liverpool itself rather than with family on the other side of the Mersey and it was a real discovery to learn about the rich and sometimes painful history of a very exciting and vibrant city. The two cathedrals, linked appropriately by Hope Street, were highlights for me, both built in the 20th Century and quite amazing places inside. The view on a clear day from the top of the Anglican cathedral is also quite spectacular - there's a lift most of the way up but you walk up past the bells on that last part.

I found the walk around the circular more modernist Roman Catholic cathedral very enriching, as much in terms of colour and art as in terms of prayer. I was struck by how much care had been taken with the notices and explanations in both places. Quite a challenge to me as an untidy non-conformist, for faith to look attractive it needs to look as if someone cares about it - and notice boards, tidying, cleaning and dusting are all part of that. I am squirming as I think about the mess of papers, books and matches in the various pulpits I've inhabited. Ah well, even the Reformed beauty of simplicity needs attention to detail and maintenance.
Any way, Liverpool is also a city of museums. Stephen's sister Myra is senior exhibition officer at the Walker Art gallery and very involved in the John Moore's competition as well as responsible for the Art and the Age of Steam exhibition later this year.
I had not realised how much the past wealth of Liverpool was built on slavery, the elephant tusks and African heads in the stonework on the city hall are one sign of this. The history is explored at the recently opened International Museum of Slavery I haven't been there yet but Stephen took friends from Berlin around in November, as part of a radio programme they're making about Liverpool, I'll post a link to it once it comes out.
"They will remember that we were sold but they won’t remember that we were strong. They will remember that we were bought, but not that we were brave."
William Prescott, former slave 1937

Happy New Year from Ferney Voltaire

So here are some photos from the new year in Ferney, a procession from the Taizé service at the Roman Catholic Church down the main street to the English-speaking evangelical congregation called Crossroads. They will be sharing a meal and music from different countries. Photos, as often courtesy of my live-in roving photographer.