Wednesday, 30 April 2008

La calligraphie contre l'oubli

Sometimes ideas come to you in one language and when you try to translate them they just don't sound as good - although the French literally says "calligraphy against forgetting" probably the best way of trying to say what the thought expresses is to say "calligraphy as (a form of) remembrance".
The calligraphy above was by Jan Boyd and is part of an extraordinary book of first names of over 1,000 individuals abused by clergy. The beautiful book of names was presented to Pope Benedict during his recent visit to the USA. Rocco Palmo reports it in more detail in his very informative Whispers in the Loggia blog (if you're a Vatican watcher) and you can find more pictures in a photo gallery of the book's creation from the The Boston Globe:
"Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston presented the book at the historic Washington meeting between the pontiff and five abuse victims from Boston on April 17, midway through a papal trip to the United States during which Benedict spoke out four times about the pain and damage caused by clergy sexual abuse.O'Malley later described the book as "a symbolic way of helping the Holy Father to experience the dimensions of the problem."

There's much I find moving in this report - and in the beautiful calligraphy. Not only numbers but also names have been taken back to the Vatican, I like the idea that this book will be there for centuries to come - a way of saying suffering is not forgotten and perhaps also a way of encouraging churches as institutions to take the issue of abuse much more seriously. It also speaks to me of a creative way of campaigning and getting a very painful and truthful message across to a very powerful person - this was not a shrill way of speaking the truth to power, but I'm sure it was effective and moving.
Names say something essential about our individual identity and the dignity of every human life. I began part of this year's catechism by writing each young person's name in calligraphy. All of our names and lives are written in the book of life and held in the palm of God's hand.
That remembrance is eternal, lest Popes forget.

Photography by John Souza

... and ascended into heaven?

Photo: Martial Trezzini (Keystone)

My friend Simon Oxley is we think probaby the only person in the whole inhabited earth (or oikoumene) to have season tickets for both Servette and Manchester City football teams - not sure whether he's got tickets to any of the Euro 2008 matches, he's very discreet about such things. Unfortunately he's not in Geneva this week to see the unveiling of the latest religious symbol to hallow his favourite sport. I saw this football floating at an unlikely angle in the sky the other evening but until receiving this picture from my colleague Theo Gill did not realise the strategic placing of the ball over Geneva's famous jet d'eau.
Obviously the beautiful game is seeking the stars and becoming more heavenly by the moment. Now I'll just have to go into the centre of town in the evenings to see whether the ball lights up at night time like the jet d'eau does.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Word of the day Vergangenheitsbewältigung

I first came across Vergangenheitsbewältigung when I was studying German history, more particularly the Third Reich. It's not easy to render into English - coming to terms with the past, dealing with the past, surmounting the past ...
The word is so culturally embedded in the complex issues of guilt Germans were wrestling with emotionally, academically and politically in the post war generations, that even if there were a perfect English translation for it we still wouldn't really be able to "sense" the meaning in quite the same way. It somehow really represents a process and not just a concept.
I wonder can we ever deal with the past? I remember visiting non-conformist chapels in English villages and listening to people in the congregations speaking as if the English civil war was a recent event; or French Protestants a decade ago claiming in outrage that the Pope had not shown enough sensitivity by celebrating the main mass of his visit to Paris on St Barthélémy (when Protestants had been massacred during the wars of religion). The list of our very real and half remembered sensitivities from the past is long and we do still feel that pain.
Can memories eveer be healed?
I have a very beautiful calligraphy of a Jewish phrase in German "errinern heist Leben" - to remember is to live. Can we learn to remember in such a way as to help us overcome the past, learn from it and enter the future joyously and with more mutual trust?

Monday, 28 April 2008

Meditation and intercessions from service for world day of prayer for Zimbabwe

Below are two MP3 files one with the meditation by Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda the World YWCA general secretary who comes from Zimbabwe, the other has the intercesisons which were written for the service.
The service was repeated at lunchtime at the Place des Nations under the broken chair outside the UN, in the pouring rain.
And yes we will try to improve the quality of the recordings for the next time but but better something than nothing - and many thanks to the stranzblog's technical assistant for help in getting us this far.


This morning we marked the world day of prayer for Zimbabwe and heard a powerful meditation by Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda the general secretary of the World YWCA - it was both personal, speaking of family members in Zimbabwe who could no longer find enough money to bury their dead, and political, speaking of the hopes, long wait and violence surrounding the recent elections. She spoke from the heart and I can't post a text as yet but I do hope to post an MP3 with her words in coming days.
Later in the service we were invited to write down words of hope and encouragement for the people of Zimbabwe and I wrote in French and English the word "résister - resist". Its the word that Marie Durand is supposed to have engraved into the stone at the top of the Tour de Constance in Aigues Mortes. She was imprisoned for 38 years and did not recant her beliefs.
As I wrote down "resist" I felt both determined and disheartened.
Determined thinking that Nelson Mandela also spent 27 years imprisoned yet managed to resist, maintain his integrity and be released on his own terms.
Disheartened reflecting on the patience, perseverance and sheer staying power working for long term political solutions really implies. Do we really have a stomach for that - in a world where the globalised values of fast, instant and easy are so much more palatable and less demanding to swallow.
We laid our fragile words of hope and encouragement down at the Zimbabwean cross in the entrance hall - at Christ's feet, in the hope of resurrection, of a transformed life-giving future.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Women and men for human rights in Zimbabwe

Visit to get up to date news from people at the grassroots in Zimbabwe. Kubatana is an online resource for activist in and from Zimbabwe. I've just posted some reports from Women's watch giving women's experiences of 28 years of independance. They are put together by Veritas which provides information on legislation issues in Zimbabwe. please credit Kubatan if you use any of the article from their website it's all registered under a creative commons license.

So have you been involved in civic activism today or has your your own political engagement been rather sub-prime lately? As the call goes out to pray for Zimbabwe this weekend perhaps we should be praying for all political systems and political cultures in our world, for their well-being and integrity and for our involvement in civil society.

Below is an extract from one of the women reflecting on independence in Zimbabwe. I think these voices show how difficult it is for people to struggle with their very mixed feelings around the liberator from unjust white rule who has become their present day oppressor. It's worth reading these women's voices if you get a chance and do support

I can vividly recall the image of Independence that is buried somewhere in my mind - Robert Mugabe the guerilla turned leader, Prince Charles and legendary Bob Marley. It embraced such diversity. I was still in school and quite politically naïve but it moved me when I heard the word reconciliation being hailed. Having been one of the first five non-white girls to attend my particular school, I was moved by the Speech of Independence. I needed to know that things were going to change and we would all be embraced regardless of colour, religion, race, etc. under the flag of red, black, green, yellow and white. I face great difficulty when I attempt to conjure up that same passion. I have to force myself to remember that there are many changes to celebrate. We have gained entry into places that were once forbidden - particularly as women in our own right. We are in positions of power and prestige. We are a voice to be reckoned with. We have contributed to changes in legislation, health, education, business and even governance. But then I am disheartened that we still have to deal with the same power dynamics as before in certain spaces. In fact it appals me. Women are being assaulted, raped and tortured. How tragic!!! I really did not want my daughters to grow up witnessing more of the same. I thought we were liberated in 1980.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Liturgy for the day of prayer for Zimbabwe posted

I have just posted the liturgy prepared by WSCF and World YWCA for the world day of prayer for Zimbabwe. You can also find the full text of the call to the day of prayer.

"A desperate cry from the hearts of Zimbabwe screams across the world.
It calls upon all Christians of every denomination in every nation to focus their prayers, in churches, halls, homes or elsewhere, on Sunday 27th April, 2008 on the critical situation in Zimbabwe, a nation in dire distress and teetering on the brink of human disaster.
Please pass on this message right now to all the churches and Christian organisations known to you and to the media as well as to everyone anxious to rescue Zimbabwe from violence, the concealing and juggling of election results, deceit, oppression and corruption, and to bring about righteousness, joy, peace, compassion, honesty, justice, democracy and freedom from fear and want."

And I've also just seen this report on the BBC that Zimbabwe police have raided the MDC headquarters. MDC are saying that more than 100 people have been arrested and that all their computers etc have been taken. Please join your voices to the day of prayer

The World Council of Churches have also put out a statement about Zimbabwe today.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Argentinian biscuits on sale in Geneva

I have a friend (yes Simon O. I honestly do have at least one!) who blogs in Spanish and who has been promising me that he is going to write a post about the apocalypse. However, when I visit his blog in the hope of reading profound thoughts on the end of the world, they have failed to appear- at least so far. (En plus, he is very shy and I am not allowed to link to his blog, he prefers a more discerning kind of reader to those I get.) Instead I find his blog in raptures about the revolutionary potential of the sale of a particular kind of Argentinian biscuit on the streets of Calvin city - my Spanish is not brilliant and I'm still struggling to quite understand the role of Lenin in homemade biscuit production. For someone with my sized waistline these biscuits could of course be a less than subtle way of hinting at personal apocalypse!
Anyway to learn more about the revolutionary Argentinian biscuits in French or Spanish click on the links. It's possible to make a weekly or fortnightly order and a personalized cake service is also available.
The taste of course is not just delicious it's apocalyptic.

Archbishops' joint statement on Zimbabwe

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have issued a statement on Zimbabwe. In the statement they warn that Zimbabwe is on the brink of "national disintegration" and "spiralling communal violence".
"Faithful men, women and young people who seek better governance in either political or church affairs continue to be beaten, intimidated or oppressed."

At work today a colleague from the LWF has circulated us to tell us of a successful protest at the Chinese embassy in Namibia today, against the Chinese ship carrying arms for Zimbabwe.
On Monday we will carry our prayers and symbols of hope to the foot of the African cross which stands in the Ecumenical Centre's main lobby. It was carved in Zimbabwe for the WCC's assembly which took place in Harare in 1997.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Word of the day - paradis fiscal

In English we speak of tax havens and in French they talk about paradis fiscal or fiscal paradise. Fascinating that we use such religious language for the money of the super rich. Meanwhile it becomes more and more difficult for human beings to get refuge, asylum or a safe haven, but those are only human lives not important things like money, money, money.
I've been interested to read this week about the Uniting Church of Australia's report From Corruption to Good Governance which focuses on gloabl bribery and corruption.

Ecumenical News International quotes Mark Zirnsak, a co-author of the report as saying that that contrary to popular opinion it is not always the poor nations of the world that are the most corrupt.
"Although corruption occurs in most poor nations, it is big business and the wealthy of the world who are usually fostering and benefiting from that corruption at the expense of the poor."

Meanwhile epd the German Protestant news service has in recent weeks carried a story about the need for church development agencies to guard against corruption. Do churches apply the high standards they demand of others asks the paper quoted in the report, written by experts working with Transparency International, Germany. It's a dififcult path for church organisations to tread, trying to be exemplary in their own practice so as to serve as a model to others. Unfortunately churches are often not above reproach in the way they deal with money.

The two reports are calls to greater integrity in money matters for individuals and organisations.

Zimbabwe and South African church leaders warn that action needs to be taken to prevent genocide

Are the tectonic plates finally moving towards some kind of resolution in Zimbabwe? I do hope so, but hope as always is fragile...

The Zimbabwe Council of Churches and the South African Council of Churches have been warning of the possibility of genocide if some resolution to the political situation is not found soon.
Yet it's not about saying the right thing but about doing the right thing, and about agitating and using diplomacy so that the right thing takes place.
A young Zimbabwean I met earlier in the week simply said "keep praying for us". Frankly I sometimes feel that prayer is the wimp's way through such desperate situations. But perhaps to be of any use prayer also has have its own uselessness as a starting point. And despite feeling all this I go on praying - even if sometimes it is more a kind of weeping and screaming than praying.
Do mark the global day of prayer for Zimbabwe on Sunday 27th April. We'll be praying for Zimbabwe here in Geneva on Monday 28th as well as on the 27th.

Talking Faith to be screened tomorrow in Lahore, Pakistan at the Vasakh Film Festival

Talking Faith will be screened tomorrow at the Vasakh Film Festival - 24 April at 5:20 PM in the Human Rights Comission of Pakistan Auditorium, Lahore Pakistan.
The five-day film festival will be showing best documentaries from all over South Asia from 23-27 April. Previously known as the ‘matteela film festival’ the event remains essentially the same showcasing films from Travelling Film South Asia. Details about the festival can be read at Dawn and The Daily Times.
Please continue to support the Talking Faith film and project.

Love to share ~ for world book and copyright day

Here's the Love to Share book prepared by my colleagues at the WCC worship resource office.

Churches, individuals, and Christian and ecumenical organizations are facing challenges when dealing with issues of copyright. Their struggle is intensified because of the larger context of globalization, where the rules of the market dominate and a culture of commodification is everywhere. While it is important to understand the logic of the market and the laws and regulations that apply to intellectual property, there are other issues that need to be taken into consideration.

This document aims to give some direction and guidelines in this task of searching for alternatives to the current situation. It is an effort to raise questions and clarify some possible solutions and alternatives.

You can write and request a free copy or download the pdf from the internet.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Martha and Mary as role models - a Dragon tamer for the eve of St George's day

I want to return to my friend Karin's diploma essays for the Craighead Institute which I was reading over the weekend. (You can find some discussion of the previous post here - don't think I ever really expected to be quoted alongside Camille Paglia but such are the wonders of the hyperlinked world - merci J.K!)
Karin calls her reflections on Martha and Mary the unity of contemplation & action - you can read the biblical story in Luke 10: 38-42 - and begins in Nuremberg, her home town, in the St Lorenz church where there is an altar to St Martha. (There is also a St Martha church where the altar was originally - and strangely this church is now Reformed, rather than Lutheran)
I was fascinated to discover that Martha is seen as a tamer of dragons and working together with Saint George on the icon at the bottom of this site - mind you I dare say this lack of knowledge of saintly iconography just marks me out as an illiterate Protestant!
Anyway as usual I digress.
To return to Karin who says, "The altar combines biblical records with ancient sources and medieval legends. It also does not hide the conflict between Martha and Mary. However, the Biblical story gets an interesting twist: the iconography of the altar ignores Jesus’ judgement (Luke 10: 41f), instead Martha is depicted as the host, who serves Jesus faithfully and who is asking her sister to do the same. The other pictures of the altar show Martha healing a possessed, vanquishing a dragon and resurrecting a dead person to life."
Karin states that the Martha altar shows an earlier and different sensibility to Martin Luther's harsh appreciation of her, “Martha, your work must be punished and regarded for nothing … I do not want any work but Mary’s, and that is faith.”
that of mysticism:
"Meister Eckhart “moved the still immature Mary to the initial stage of spiritual life, but regarded the mature and experienced Martha as having closer proximity to what is needed.”observing, “Martha was afraid that her sister would get stuck in sweetness and well-being.’ Martha wishes Mary to be like herself … ‘Therefore Christ said and meant: Be calm Martha, she, too, has chosen the good part. This part will get lost from her, but the highest good will be bestowed upon her. She will be blessed like you.
Teresa of Avila
takes the interpretation of the mystics one step further; the concepts – contemplation and action, which Mary and Martha stand for, are complementary: “Believe me, Martha and Mary must be together to accommodate the Lord and keep him with them forever; otherwise he will be served poorly and remain without food. How could Mary who always sat at his feet have offered him food if her sister had not jumped in? And his food is our gathering souls, that they may be saved and praise him in eternity.’”

I have to admit that with advancing middle age I rather like the sound of the "mature and experienced Martha" - but then like generations of capable women I have always rather over-identified with Martha even when I was a lot younger. When I first preached on the passage I didn't quite feel able to follow my mother's exegesis of the passage - which consisted of something along the lines of oh well, Jesus would say that wouldn't he, men always want you to listen to what they're saying - but I can see that many male and female preachers have struggled with the opposing role models that the two sisters seem to offer.
I'm grateful to Karin's work, and that of other sholars, for encouraging women (and men) to dare to integrate action and spirituality and take on realistic and complex role models rather than monochrome or dichotomous ones. Contemplation of Martha and Mary should not lead us to despise or judge either of the sisters - even if the gospel may seem to - we need to find a "sisterly" interpretation - perhaps even wider than that we need to find a "geschwisterliche" (sibling) interpretation - ie a non-gender specific interpretation.
Karin concludes her initial reflections on Martha and Mary by citing one of my favourite theologians.
"For the German Protestant theologian, Dorothee Sölle, Martha and Mary become icons for women’s leadership: “… the best women I know will no longer accept the separation of the two. … legend lets both cross the ocean with Jesus’ disciples to teach and preach, making them act and dream, do the good work and pray, uniting struggle and reflection and, in the process, making the world itself more sisterly.”

So dragon slayer or quiet and careful listener Martha and Mary can speak to us of the ever present creative tension between contemplation and action.

Karin concludes by saying
"Bible studies, contemplation and prayer challenge me to move from activity to prophetic action. Social justice issues demand authentic expressions of my faith ... I realize, that I am part of complex processes in my organization. Martha and Mary teach me to stay focused and to ask for and to seek in planning processes this balance."

Call for a world day of prayer for Zimbabwe on Sunday April 27th

The Anglican Communion News Service has published this: World Day of Prayer for Zimbabwe on Sunday 27th April 2008
A desperate cry from the hearts of Zimbabwe screams across the world.
It calls upon all Christians of every denomination in every nation to focus their prayers, in churches, halls, homes or elsewhere, on Sunday 27th April, 2008 on the critical situation in Zimbabwe, a nation in dire distress and teetering on the brink of human disaster.
Let the cry for help touch your heart and mind. Let it move you to do what you can immediately to ensure this Day of Prayer takes place in your country and neighbourhood.
Please pass on this message right now to all the churches and Christian organisations known to you and to the media as well as to everyone anxious to rescue Zimbabwe from violence, the concealing and juggling of election results, deceit, oppression and corruption, and to bring about righteousness, joy, peace, compassion, honesty, justice, democracy and freedom from fear and want.
May a continual strong stream of prayer and supplication flow up to the Lord on behalf of all the people on this Day of Prayer, exhorting His divine intervention throughout the nation.
“It is by making the truth publicly known that we recommend ourselves to the honest judgment of humankind in the sight of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:2)

Some advice to Zimbabweans
“Who so putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe.” (Proverbs 29:25)
“Stand fast, and do not let yourselves be caught again in the yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1) “Make no mistake, you cannot cheat God.” (Galatians 6:7)
“Do not be overcome by evil but overcame evil with good” (Romans 12:21)

Bob Stumbles, Chancellor - The Anglican Diocese of Harare

The WSCF and World YWCA are planning to mark the gloabl day of prayer for Zimbabwe in Geneva on Monday 28th with prayers at the Ecumenical Centre and also at the Palais des Nations. I'll try to post links to the liturgies and to the events planned as soon as I become aware of them.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Word of the day Tag - as in Kirchentag, Bundestag and Tagung

In the car coming home Dr B. mentioned the problems encountered at work with translations of the German word "Tag". Some of you may think this is pretty straightforward - Tag means day doesn't it? Of course it does, but as often with languages not always! Bundestag is the German federal parliament, the tag part comes from the word tagen to meet, sit or hold a meeting, to parliament if you like in this context anyway. In fact, the lower house of the German parliament is also called the Federal Diet, whence the clue that will clear up the confusion. "Diet" as Wikipedia notes, is derived from Medieval Latin dietas, and ultimately comes from the Latin dies, "day". The word came to be used in this sense because assemblies met on a daily basis which is reflected in the German language use of Tagung (Meeting) and -tag.

Fortunately, no one thinks of translating Bundestag as federal day.

However, when it comes to the Kirchentag or Katholikentag there are a number of translations out there talking about Church days when actually these are Protestant or Catholic church congresses, which it's true do take place over several days.
Anyway I'll be going to Bremen for a planning meeting of the next Protestant Kirchentag in about a month, book the 20-24th May next year if you want to get a taste of this brilliant event. You can find out more from the British Kirchentag website. In May 2010 the Catholic and Protestant congresses will be joining forces in Munich for a joint ecumenical Kirchentag, it's going to be quite something.

On the way - a sermon and liturgy for Easter 5

This week we are praying for Somalia and Djibouti in the ecumenical prayer cycle. You can find the liturgy and my sermon here.
It is Holy Week this week for Christians who follow the Julian calendar and yet Christians who follow the Gregorian calendar have been singing alleluia and saying "Christ is risen" for over a month. This made me realise once more how deeply resurrection and bearing witness to it have to be rooted in the passion and in the suffering of the world.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Paradise Lost and John Milton's 400th anniversary

I have just been listening to a wonderful programme of readings from Paradise Lost hosted by Josephine Hart on BBC Radio 4. The readings were recorded live at the British library at the Josephine Hart poetry hour - Jeremy Irons made for a wonderful Satan.
Hart hopes that by “guiding the reader through the poems in relationship to the poet’s life, I hope to help people read the poetry again – or to read them for the first time.” The relevance of poetry to the world today is huge, it can provide one “with a route map through the world and its worldliness …Without poetry I would have found life less comprehensible, less bearable, and infinitely less enjoyable.”
You should be able to listen to the programme by clicking on the listen again button that should be available soon at this link, it's already up for last week's readings from the First World War poets.

Meanwhile, Christ's College in Cambridge (UK) has launched a website for the 400th anniversary of Milton's birth. It is really worth visiting as you can download podcasts of the Lady Margaret lectures on Milton as they take place thorughout the year.
But what is really wonderful is the Darkness Visible site put together to create an interactive space for the study and appreciation of Paradise Lost. It's been put together entirely by members of Christ's College. The motivation behind it was "why we love Milton" and it has really great energy and some great articles and ways in to the epic poem, its plot, characters, art political and religious background. A fabulous resource because of course Milton does matter.

Visit the Walker Art Gallery's Art in the Age of Steam

Picture: S G Hughes, Travelling on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway
© The Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, Telford

If you still haven't made it to Liverpool for its year as European City of Culture now's the time to buy your train ticket and visit Art in the Age of Steam which Stephen's sister Myra, who is senior exhibitions officer at the Walker Art Gallery, has been very involved in organising. Michael Palin opened the exhibition on Thursday night and apparently the exhibition has been good and busy over the opening days. There's an excellent article on the exhibiiton here and a nice piece by Catherine Jones on Palin in the Liverpool Echo here.

And of course while you're in Liverpool you mustn't leave without visiting the Anglican and Catholic cathedrals, the International Slavery Museum and taking the Ferry 'cross the Mersey.
One of the things I'm really hoping to do on one of our next visits is to take a boat from Liverpool to the Imperial War Museum North which was designed by the visionary architect Daniel Liebeskind.
Now I just need to look at my diary for the rest of the year and see whether there will be time to go to work with all these holiday plans. Hmm...

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Management, women and biblical role models

I've spent some of today and yesterday proof reading some really good essays that a friend has written on female biblical role models as a way of reflecting on leadership and management challenges women managers face today. She's been taking the same course in Rome on management and spirituality that I'm taking at the moment and reading her reflections has been useful revision of some of the course.

Two of the biblical women she's chosen have really set me thinking. The first is Miriam, sister to Moses and Aaron. I've not really thought before about the passage where she challenges Moses' authority and is excluded from the camp for 7 days because of her leprosy - you can read the story in Numbers 12. Feminist scholars today often attribute the original Song of the Sea in Exodus 15 to Miriam and there are even attempts to piece together a Song of Miriam and to show how later versions of the Exodus story increasingly gave the main liberating role to Moses. You can find some interesintg rabbinic questions and answers about Miriam's leprosy here.
But what interested me is the idea that Miriam is excluded from the camp, although she has certainly not been any more uppity than Aaron - but the woman speaking out and encouraging her brother Moses to treat his wife properly, will always be more harshly treated than the man doing the same. Criticism from women will always be harder to bear for some male leaders and for patriarchal societies. So somehow the text has to punish her, the narrative has to make the woman be the one who has to carry the shame for the whole family. But the interesting thing is that the people wait for Miriam, they will not move camp until she is once more with them. She was the one whose song had led them out of slavery, she spoke up on their behalf. somehow there are traces left in the narrative of something other than her humiliation.
Neverthless I think that for women leaders, perhaps particularly in the church, the metaphors around exclusion, blame and speaking out are very powerful. A narrative that can still carry us forwards with some force and some big questions still to answer. It is of course individual women leaders who answer those questions in the way they lead. Somewhere along the line societies and organisations also need to be challenged about the blaming naratives they often write for women.
Theother female biblical figures my friend wrote about was Huldah. You can find her story in 2 Kings 22: 8-20, and 2 Chr 34: 15-28. My friend (whom I haven't named because I haven't asked her) chose Huldah in the first instance because she is a little spoken of but powerful role model.
As Arlene Swidler puts it: “The authority to pass judgment on this initial entry into the canon was given to a woman. At the beginning of the Bible we find Huldah; in her we discover the first scripture authority, the founder of biblical studies.”
And because according to Jewish Tradition, Huldah conducted an academy in Jerusalem and her example encouraged the early Church to ordain women to sacred office. It was Huldah who led Jean Calvin to argue in favour of the government of women. And Huldah also inspired women in the 19th centruy , such as the Calvinist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who The Woman’s Bible.
Huldah was the first woman to set out the canon, to decide on what was the word of God. Charting the way that happened in the multi-layered Hebrew scriptures - through socio historic and feminist methodologies, wondering about whether she was a pawn in a male game which sought to abolish the cult of Asherah (Y-hw-h's wife) also gave me much food for thought.
How do we as women and men in both church and society hold on to our integrity? Recognize the hidden agendas and mixed motives others may have, and yet not use that as an excuse not to take a stand and speak out? Huldah is a fascinating and satisfyingly complex rôle model for women in leadership roles today, many more layers to discover and much feminist and other scholarship to devour on the subject.
My friend wanted to take me out to a concert to thank me for reading her texts but I think I should take her out to say thank you for giving me so much food for thought. Intellectual stimulation is good for the soul.

Mosques and cathedrals - by a guest blogger

Walking up a small street in Famagusta in Cyprus you come to what can only be a gothic cathedral, in this case, St Ncholas' Cathedral, except that (apart from the damaged twin towers), it has a completely unexpected feature - a minaret next to the left tower - an almost perfect example of Gothic architecture that is now a mosque.

Said to be based on Rheims Cathedral in France, building started in 1298 when the island was under the control of the Lusingnan kings (who were also crowned kings of Jerusalem in the cathedral). After the 16th century conquest of the island by the Ottomans in which the cathedral was badly damaged, Latin Christians were expelled from the island and the cathedral was transformed into a mosque with the addition of a mihrab and minaret and the complete destruction of all art depicting human figures. The frescoes were whitewashed and the altars were demolished.

(A colleague from Geneva remarked that he felt at home here because the Calvinist reformers had done something similar to St Pierre's cathedral during the Reformation in Geneva.)

Still, the building exists in a time warp because (apart from the damage to the towers) the architecture was preserved and it was spared from any baroque additions.

A time warp of a rather different kind is just a couple of kilometres to the south. During the Turkish invasion of Cyprus Famagusta was occupied by the Turkish armed forces (the centre of the old town was said to be predominantly Turkish Cypriot), while the suburb town (and beach resort) of Varosha was predominantly Greek Cypriot. Its residents fled the Turkish invasion (thinking they would soon be back once the fighting was over) but the suburb has been sealed off as a prohibited area for the last 34 years - the hotels are still there, but still marked by the fighting, as are the cafes and the churches.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Sartorial ecumenism

Tom Heneghan is writing some interesting posts about the Pope's vist to the USA, I particularly liked this one about George Bush taking some of the Pope's best lines. Maybe there's been a defection of a Vatican speech writer?
There was also a fascinating interview last week in Réforme with one of the Vatican's translators who is a Lutheran woman from Austria. (Only available to subscribers unfortunately.)
Meanwhile the Washington Post has an article about how Benedict is going back to more traditional forms of Papal dress and setting a trend amongst clergy outfitters as a result. Though apparently the red shoes are definitely not Prada and it is heretical to suggest such things!
It also refers to an Orthodox bishop who apparently said that a change to more formal forms of ecclesiatical sartorial dress "means Benedict wishes to unify the Eastern and Western churches."
I was also marginally inspired by Rocco Palmo's comments in the article that "this Washington tour would be watched by Catholics intrigued by ceremonial beauty. By those who want to "understand what is hidden." In other words, he said, "10,000 liturgy geeks."
Reading that I realised that somewhere along the line I have become a bit of an ecumenical geek - not quite sure that there's 10,000 of us though. But I did wonder what sartorial ecumenism might be.
Interestingly, in the Report of the Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC in 2002 the recommendation was that clergy not wear ecclesiastical dress to lead prayers at WCC events, in order to respect all sensibilities. However, many local ecumenical events, in Geneva and France for instance, encourage clergy to wear full dress as this shows the eccesial diversity at ecumenical servicesm (amd perhaps helps them be more photogenic and media friendly).
Anyway I am generally rather sartorially challenged and tend these days more than ever to dress down, even to lead worship. However, whatever women wear is always looked at more critically than men. Goodness only knows what would happen in the pages of Vogue if there ever was a female Pope.
So is ecumenism about dressing up or dressing down? and does the Orthodox bishop quoted as saying the Pope's dress is proof of his wants to unite the eastern and western churches see that as a positive or negative thing?

God and the beautiful game

Today saw the launch of Lausanne' theologian Denis Muller's new book called le Football ses dieux et ses démons.
You can read the introduction online by clicking on the link - and anything that cites Walter Benjamin in the first paragraph can't be too bad, however French books still nearly always have their contents page at the back so you can't really get an idea of what argument will be developed from the intro!
Anyway attempts at linking theology and football maybe will lead to a greater understanding of football as a religion. One passing question is whether televised sport is the new opium of the people?
Oh well while you ponder on that, "allez les bleus!"

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Get ready to read, get ready for world book and copyright day

Today I came back from lunch to find a small present on my chair. One of my colleagues in the library had put a small book and book mark issued specially by le Lobby suisse du livre (the Swiss book lobby) for world book and copyright day which will take place on April 23.
The book is only a dozen pages or so of a beautiful essay by a Genevan poet, journalist and traveller Nicolas Bouvier called Sur les routes du Pakistan, la descente vers l'Inde.
The story doesn't just make you want to read but also makes you want to travel. The Swiss book lobby's slogan is "Lesezeit ist Reisezeit ~ Lire c'est voyager ~ Leggere è viaggiare" - to read ist to travel or reading time is journey time.
Thinking about copyright I remembered that my colleagues in the WCC's worship resource centre have recently brought out a book on copyleft which is called "love to share" and is about intellectual property rights, copyright and the Christian churches. You can get a download of it here.
"While it is important to understand the logic of the market and the laws and regulations that apply to intellectual property, there are other issues that need to be taken into consideration. This document aims to give some direction and guidelines in this task of searching for alternatives to the current situation. It is an effort to raise questions and clarify some possible solutions and alternatives."

And if you're wondering why April 23 is World Book Day than you can read this from the UNESCO website - the idea comes from Catalonia and is linked to St George's day. Now who was the patron saint of books? Actually I think I'm more interested in having a national holiday to have some reading time - national sofa, cup of tea and good book day, yes please.

"23 April: a symbolic date for world literature for on this date and in the same year of 1616, Cervantes, Shakespeare and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega all died. It is also the date of birth or death of other prominent authors such as Maurice Druon, K.Laxness, Vladimir Nabokov, Josep Pla and Manuel Mejía Vallejo. It was a natural choice for UNESCO's General Conference to pay a world-wide tribute to books and authors on this date, encouraging everyone, and in particular young people, to discover the pleasure of reading and gain a renewed respect for the irreplaceable contributions of those who have furthered the social and cultural progress of humanity. The idea for this celebration originated in Catalonia where on 23 April, Saint George's Day, a rose is traditionally given as a gift for each book sold."

Write your own wedding

Jeltje Gordon Lennox has a book of inter-religious wedding ceremonies which has just been published by Labor et Fides.
A few years ago Jeltje set up Ashoka an inter-religious association which offers education and spiritual accompaniment. Jeltje is a theologian and minister and also a qualified psychotherapist. Ashoka offers an alternative inter-religious catechism for children and young people. It also offers personal accompaniment for weddings, funerals, births and other life events.
Many Protestant churches encourage people to write their own marriage services and in most European contexts outside the UK the legal ceremony cannot take place in church thus offering alot of freedom for developing lituriges.
I've not managed to read a copy of Jeltje's book yet but I'm pleased it's come out and that two more on births and funerals will be coming out soon. It represents some of what is really happening at local level where a very high proportion of weddings and funerals are ecumenical and inter-religious.
Where weddings are concerned anything that helps couples write their own vows and personalise the big day has to be a good thing.
For the moment the book is only in French but as Jeltje is trilingual perhaps she'll be working on another language version as well.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Beyond anthropocentric answers to the parable of the good Samaritan

Yesterday morning Jooseop Keum, who arrived in Geneva recently as programme executive for mission at the WCC, preached a fascinating and wonderful sermon charting his own hermeneutical journey with the parable of the good Samaritain - from Sunday school, through theological school, to Minjung activism against military dictatorship. He drew together this hermeneutical journey by speaking of the powerful silent interfaith witness of four priests, Buddhist, Roman Catholic and Protestant, who walked silently, slowly and painfully 400 kilometres in Korea from the site of a proposed mud-flat land reclation site to Seoul. They walked the 400 km by taking three steps forwards and then bowing down and prostrating themselves (Sam Bo Il Bae). They said nothing but in Samangeum at the life-rich mud flats, they distributed a leaflet of protest. News of their walk spread over the three months it took them and by the time they arrived they had been joined by thousands from different religions.

"In the statement, the priests had said, “We hear the cries of numerous living creatures in Saemangeum every night.” “The lives in this mud flat called us to stop the wind of death in the name of development.” “Therefore, we, as priests of Korean religions, begin Sam Bo Il Bae for the repentance of all human exploitation against nature.” They declared, “The lives in this mud are alive and breathing, our neighbours as much as humanity!” This statement was a strong request for the repentance of modern humanity. It requires us to convert our way of life from emphasizing only material riches. The message of the four priests echoes that the other living creatures have the same nature and value of life from heaven as each human being. They affirmed, “the spirituality of co-existence in the network of life is the only way to heal the sin of our greed.”
These four priests read together the story of the Good Samaritan from an entirely different perspective. They approached the text beyond an anthropocentric view. They interpreted that all creation is the neighbour of humanity. In their method of protest, they chose not a struggle but Sam Bo Il Bae, which is a traditional ascetic discipline for repentance in Korean Buddhism. They expressed their message as an act of asceticism like the suffering of the lives in the mud flat. As is the way of a Roman Catholic retreat, they did not speak out in spoken language during the discipline, but prayed as a whole body for three months. This was a soundless spiritual echo to all Koreans."

Jooseop ended his sermon by encouraing us to interpret the parable of the good Samaritain in a way that does not only care for human beings bu for the whole of creation, saying:
"The question, “who is my neighbour” is a call for us to hear all the cries of suffering creation and humanity with sensitive ears of spirituality. It is a calling to commence a pilgrimage of the Good Samaritan, who was Jesus himself as the Suffering Servant, for life in all its fullness."

You can find the full liturgy for the service here.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Word of yesterday - collation

Yesterday evening I preached at an Anglican service of collation which was part of choral evensong.
The venerable Colin Wiliams was being collated, and became an honorary canon of the Cathedral of Gibraltar, in recognition of his work as general secretary of the Conference of European Churches.
I always feel a little strange preaching at evensong as traditionally the altar candles are often blown out before the sermon, but this wasn't the case last night. (And I'll spare you my thoughts about the first hymn - Good Christian Men Rejoice and Sing.)
I couldn't resist the temptation of doing a little etymology of the word collation in the sermon.

Anyway here's an extract from the sermon to bore you all- entitled Christ our collation:

So for a linguist and translator it's been a fascinating journey to look at dictionary definitions and tease out a translation of this ancient term that might have meaning for us today.
The first thing that struck me is that in ordinary non-ecclesiastical usage, collation has two almost contradictory meanings
The first meaning being a painstaking bringing together or comparison of documents, texts or pages before binding (interestingly this meaning also became the technical term for the careful comparison of the Latin vulgate Bible translation with the original Greek and Hebrew)
The second almost contradictory meaning is a corruption of the first
meaning a hotchpotch, a stew of bits and pieces. Things brought together with almost no care or pain taken.

Collation is also used to refer to some arcane parts of Scottish or the State of Louisiana's inheritance law - but I'll spare you all that

a light meal that may be permitted on days of general fast.
any light meal.
(in a monastery) the daily practice of reading and conversing on the lives of the saints or the Scriptures at the close of the day.
the presentation of a member of the clergy to a benefice, esp. by a bishop who is the patron or has acquired the patron's rights.

When the Emmaus two meet the stranger on their road from Jerusalem
Christ offers a living
a resurrected collation to the disciples
it is an oral not a written comparison
He shows them
who had called him ignorant because of his
lack of awareness of recent current affairs in Jerusalem
that there is much more to understand in the witness of scripture than they in their grieving ignorance had so far understood
He walks with them, explaining and sharing stories and meaning with them
And his painstaking, living, bread-breaking collation lifts the scales from their eyes and they see, they perceive - meaning and life differently
Christ's collation and bringing together of stories sets them off immediately on a return journey - not dragging their feet with grief but filled with a joyful good news

Anyway it was a real honour to preach for Colin's collation and it was also an education.

MS awareness from 14th to 27th April

The MS Trust begins two weeks of raising awareness about multiple sclerosis - in French the abbreviation for MS is SEP for sclérose en plaques.
Much as I applaud the work of the trust I don't think I'll be doing this over the next few days:
One of the highlights for MS Awareness 2008 will be our abseil down Millers Dale Viaduct in Derbyshire!
Hmm ... maybe not. But the trust describes itself as the definitive source of information for people living and working with MS and the website is a good place for people in the UK needing information on the illness and its treatment.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Global Day of Action for Darfur

Today is the Gobal Day for Darfur. Celebrities have been pictured smashing toys as a way to focus attention on what is happening to tens of thousands of children in the region.
Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said: "World leaders have let Sudan - and some rebels - get away with murder. "Millions of Darfuris struggle to survive on aid handouts under the daily threat of being raped, beaten or killed."
There's a good reflection on Darfur from the United Church of Christ here which also includes the prayer quoted at the end of this post.
You can also read articles on the recent WCC solidarity visit to Sudan here.
What is distressing is that so little progress has been made since last year's day of action. It's great that so much creativity has gone into trying to bring about change and justice but sad that it's so hard to get long lasting commitment to change.

Prayer for Darfur

Almighty God, you have promised to hear your people when the pray in faith. We pray that your church Mission in Darfur continue to be successful. You have seen the suffering of our people in Darfur. We pray for your Divine intervention and touch the stone hearts of people. That the government of Sudan and the United Nations find better understanding in regards to the UN Peace Keeping Force.

We pray, Lord God that the different factions will unite themselves for peace dialogue so that the inhuman war atrocity stops soon, and that the discrimination between the tribal groups may cease.

This we pray through the Risen Lord, Jesus Christ.


Rt. Revd. Ismail Gibrel Abudigin
Diocesan Bishop of El Obeid

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Youth organizations call for resolution of Zimbabwean crisis

The World Student Christian Federation (WSCF) and the World Young Women's Christian Association (WYWCA) have called on the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to take immediate action to resolve the crisis in Zimbabwe. The SADC is meeting today April 12th in Lusaka, Zambia.

"Mindful of the recent bloodshed in Kenya, the WSCF and the World YWCA urge SADC to facilitate the restoration of the rule of law, and integrity of independent institutions with urgency towards the peaceful resolution of the political crisis."

The statement goes on to make eight clear recommendations for action by the SADC including these:

"1. Support and provide the necessary protection and guarantees that enable the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to announce the Presidential results that demonstrate the correct verdict of the people.

2. Urge the political parties to desist from interfering with the work of ZEC and enable ZEC to immediately announce results of the presidential vote taken on 29 March.
3. Hold accountable all those engaging in acts of political violence."

You can read the full statement here.
You can also read the press release on the letters written on the Zimbabwe crisis by the WCC yesterday here, which call for this "critical situation [to] be addressed as a high priority of the international community until peace, justice and stability again become a reality in Zimbabwe".

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Do women's prayers reach heaven?

This was the question a female colleague asked earlier this week after being asked to lead prayers for a group of church leaders- and yes of course "church leaders" is long hand for "men"!

One thing is clear though, some male Anglican bishops are doing their best to stop prayers by ordained women take place at all. I am shocked to hear tales of Anglican bishops standing with their arms crossed at the ordination of women - very publicly showing at the moment that they should have been laying hands on the ordinand in consecration that they do not agree with this practice of their church. They could of course discreetly sit down or leave the church but no doubt that wouldn't give them the attention they need in such distressing circumstances.
A much larger proportion of women than men serving the church as priests are non stipendiary and recieve no payment. Meanwhile the bishops taking such a high moral stance at the ordinations are being paid to not do the thing they are supposed to. I do love a gender based division of labour!
The thing that shocks me most about such appalling abusive behaviour is that in any other organisation it would be called what it is, harrassment.
I think I would find this attitude easier to understand and forgive if I heard a similar number of stories of the same bishops washing the feet of the women priests in their diocese or even asking in humility for understanding, but such tales don't seem to be forthcoming.
Somewhere along the line sexism has been confused with theology.
So sisters keep praying, there is someone listening, promise.

LWF demands release of Zimbabwe election results

As the situation in Zimbabwe gets ever tenser, the Revd Dr Ishmael Noko, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation who is himself from Zimbabwe, has issued a strong statement calling on the authorities to release the election results.
"Rev. Dr Ishmael Noko, has expressed great concern for the situation in Zimbabwe, and called on the country's authorities to release the results of the recent elections without further delay in order to allay growing tensions and suspicions ... Noko stressed the elections' significance for Zimbabweans who "long waited for this day, and they went to the polls, standing in queues for hours, in order to lodge their vote." The unconscionable delay of the outcome "does not correspond to the legitimate expectations of the citizens of Zimbabwe. The unacceptable vacuum of information concerning the election outcome only encourages speculation and suspicion. The longer the delay, the greater the potential for unrest," he stated."

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Women arise in Bulawayo to demand election results

The BBC have just been carrying pictures of women in Bulawayo marching openly on the streets and demanding release of the Zimbabwe elections results. It was moving to watch them carrying their banners saying "Women Arise" and walking calmly through the streets asking clearly for justice and democracy. This is not easy fearlessness but a reclaiming of the streets for integrity, justice and the hope of rebuilding a failing country despite the real fear of violence and repression.

Meanwhile the South African Council of Churches put out a strongly worded statement on the situation in Zimbabwe, which among other things says,
"...the completion of credible elections is but one hurdle that Zimbabwe must clear on the road to peace, justice and economic stability. Given the mandate conferred on the South African government by the SADC Peace & Security Council, we believe it is time for President Mbeki to move beyond his policy of "quiet diplomacy" in Zimbabwe. We urge the South African government to work vigorously to promote the timely publication of election results and to prevent any violence or crisis from emerging in the wake of this historic election.
We salute the Zimbabwean churches who, against all odds, continue to provide hope to the many people who are struggling under the present economic and social conditions in Zimbabwe."

Keep praying for the people in Zimbabwe, keep praying for justice.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Parables in Matthew 13 at Feminist theology

When you only read or hear the parts of the Bible which are in Sunday lectionaries you miss out so much.
This evening at our feminist theology group Anne-Claire Rivollet (who is the Roman Catholic director of the ecumenical catechism centre in Geneva) gave us the whole of chapter 13 Matthew's gospel to read, dissect and discuss. In the end we also put it back together again by asking ourselves whether our own Christian vocation is in some way a parable.
Anne-Claire began by saying Jesus taught in parables perhaps not to be understood but to encourage people to search further to go deeper into their lives. In some way although they can seem very familiar parables come from elsewhere and encourage us in some way to go elsewhere in our own lives.
Chapter 13 in Matthew groups together many familiar parables in an extraordinarily intense parable teaching session. When you only read one or two parables at a time you don't get the same impression as when you read them all together like this.

As always with any longer reading of the Bible, I always discover things I don't ever remember having read before. Tonight it was a small parable that I almost want to call the calligrapher's parable. Here it is:

"And he said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.’"

So I suppose I'd better keep training for the kingdom of the heaven ... hmm sleep I think.

Not just prayers but justice for the Philippines

This week we are praying through the ecumenical prayer cycle for Indonesia, Timor Leste and the Philippines. On Thursday April 10 the WCC will host a forum calling for a stop to killings, disappearances and attacks in the Philippines. Human Rights Watch has recently said that justice is absent from recent killings and disappearances.
Rceiving the invitation to the Forum has put me on a steep learning curve about what the Universal Periodic Review is and how it can help to bring objective standards into the way human rights legislation is applied in any given country. It's about strengthening the way international law can help protect individuals and societies facing severe breaches of their human rights and is seen as a new chapter in human rights.
So, this week the Philippines needs not only our prayers but also for us to take seriously the cries for justice and human rights.

Stop the Killings in the Philippines
Has any one been convicted?
Have the kllings and dsappearances sopped?
Why are civilians and human rights defenders being attacked?
Why are the people hungry and angry?
What can the Universal Periodic Review and the UN Human Rights Council do?
Hear the Cries and Pleas for Justice of the Victims: Forum on the Real Human Rights Situation
Moderator: Marie Hilao-Enriquez, Secretary General of Karapatan
Hon. Teodoro Casiño, Member of House of Representative, Bayan Muna partylist, whose political party has the largest number of members killed
Father Rex Reyes, Secretary General of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, who represents the churches who are under attack
Jonathan Sta. Rosa, survivor-witness and brother of slain United Methodist Pastor Isaias Sta. Rosa
Ms. Joan Carling, Leader of Cordillera Peoples Alliance, an indigenous peoples organization
Ms. Monika Baumann, Theresaladeli Foundation

Midday art, spirituality and current affairs at the Fusterie

Following on from the midday Taizé prayers held each lunch time during the preparations for the large Taizé youth gathering held in Geneva at the beginning of this year, the Temple de La Fusterie is opening its doors each lunch time for prayer, art exhibition, music meditation and short lectures on current affairs.
You can find out more here.
Most of the week there are different forms of prayers at lunchtime but on Thursday there are speakers on diverse issues, from journalism to particle physics research at CERN, from the integration of migrants to the meaning of suffering.
Taizé prayers will be held on Wednesdays; on Mondays and Tuesdays a time of prayer linked either to music or contemplation of a work of art will be offered; and on Fridays a changing programme of "A word for our times".
Doors open every day between 12.30 and 13.30 in the heart of Geneva's commercial and banking district and they're putting on lunch as well. Something not to miss if you're in the centre of Geneva between now and the end of June.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Bearing witness to the situation in Sudan - pray for peace, act for peace and justice

"The church's presence proves to people God is not asleep."
This is just one quote from a moving session at work this morning listening to colleagues who have just returned from a series of visits to northern and southern Sudan.
At the same time as many spoke of the Sudanese people's enormous resilience and tenacity they also mentioned the ever present challenge of peace-making and the desperate problems encountered by internally displaced people who return to what had once been home to discover a devastated infrastructure, leading them to often have to flee their one time homes for a second time. The biggest challenge following the Comprehensive Peace Agreement is ensuring its implementation. Issues of peace and security are even more pressing for whole communities in areas of the country where the weapons of the Lord's Resistance Army rule with terror and mean people cannot grow crops or sleep in their own beds.
Then there is the sense of responsibility, or perhaps we could call it lack of action, by the big international players on the situation in Darfur. Surely there is more that the five permanent members of the UN security council can do to bring about meaningful change?
Our general secretary Samuel Kobia closed our session this morning by reminding us of the important rôle in history that the WCC has played in the region, brokering the Addis Ababa Peace Agreement in 1972 and helping to set up the Sudan Council of Churches. The huge change in the rôle of the SCC from being a big agency providing services with over 400 employees, to now being more of a facilitator enabling churches to do their own project work and having only 30 staff, brings big challenges for the churches as well.
Reflecting on this morning's session I realised that there was one story of engagement that really showed me that change and hope are possible and that we can all play a part in transforming society. A youth intern from Sudan who worked at the WCC in Geneva on worship and spirituality last year is now very involved in leadership of her local congregation. She has launched a branch of the Tamar campaign which seeks to struggle against gender based violence and abuse. The project she's set up in her local congregation is proving to be a useful platform not only for young women but also in encouragin young men to discuss issues of sexual violence and abuse. More proof that youth programmes empower people to go back and help transform and empower their local congregations.
The church showing people God is not asleep!
Pray for peace, act for peace and justice.
The photo above shows Sudanese Christians worshipping at All Saints Cathedral in Khartoum.

An encouraging Emmaus meditation from Ted Karpf

How foolish are you and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.”

Rev. Ted Karpf preached at a service for World Health Day this morning. Coming from the World Health Organization which is just a few hundred metres from the Ecumenical Centre chapel he reflected on how he had begun his international career as a WCC intern. He gave a cogent and passionate sermon on the challenges of recognizing the links between health and climate change and noted that this year marks 60 years of the WCC, the WHO and many UN institutions.
It was good for those of us currently working in the ecumenical centre to be linked in to our own history of engagement, campaigning and prophetic action on health and climate change and to link all of that to the pressing need for meaningful action in our own time.

Let's hope we will be wise enough to listen to all that prophets have spoken.

You can read the whole sermon here but here's a taster:

"Can you not call all of us to a reckoning of our spiritual and material values, which if left untended can lead us down the road of apocalypse and destruction? I call upon you in your capacities for justice and peace, for prophetic witness and faithful caretaking to be a model to the world, a light to the nations of what people can do to address environmental degradation and human consumption. Forget not your high calling and faithful witness. Let your hearts burn with demands for restoring to the creation to wholeness and shalom."

10 Commandments for water use - A guest blog

The water shortage in Cyprus is the country's most pressing political isssue, after the division of the Mediterranean island into Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot areas, Christian communicators were told by Cypriot journalists during a meeting of the Europe region of the World Association for Christian Communication. Indeed on the last day of the meeting, the Cyprus Sunday Mail appeared with the headline, "Water scramble spells eco chaos". This followed the introduction of cuts in supply to water boards at the beginning of April. Whereever you go in Cyprus you will see wind generators such as the one pictured here, which are used to provide power to extract water from boreholes. However, the Sunday Mail reported, drilling for water has seriously depleted underground water resources, which are increasingly contaminated with seawater and susceptible to chemical pollution. "As the fresh-water level drops. there's increasing intrusion from seawater," says Ioanna Panagiotou, press officer of the Cyprus Green Party. Some local authorities have now introduced water cuts, while the minstry of agriculture is considering small-scale desalination units, but thies, too, may have adverse effects and not be cost effective. The Sunday Mail published "Ten Commandments" to help conserve this precious resource drawn up by Cyprus resident and environmental consultant Brian Ellis, and which are applicable not only in Cyprus, as the water crisis is a global issue, and the Ecumenical Water Network also has suggestions and ideas on protecting water "as a gift of God", more details at

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Surtout la santé

Athe beginning of each new year people offer one another best wishes for the year ahead and many in France will often say "et surtout la santé" - which means "and good health above all else". One of my parishioners would regularly say this to me and I have to admit it used to irritate me more than rather. (I think my ungraciousness may have had something to do with her having chopped down my carefully planted gooseberry bushes, but I digress.)
Tomorrow is World Health Day marking the founding of the World Health Organization and an invitation to reflect on global health issues.
But as well as being a subject for national and international policies, global campaigns and constant raising of awareness, health is also very much about individuals and communities. Health is personal and like much of what is personal, it's also highly political.
A friend who has spent part of recent months trying to work through some of the physical and psychological issues around her surgery gave me The Wounded Storyteller by Arthur Frank. I'm enjoying beginnning to read it and will also look at some of Frank's other work.
It's good for me to reflect on what illness may mean for me personally, and also on how I tell my story and help encourage others to tell their story. It is easier to overcome pain and chronic illness when you know that you can get the care you need if there is a crisis.
One of the global aspects to health issues is that so many stories remain untold. With health the focus in the media is often on fabulous new drugs and technology rather than on community empowerment and appropriate technology. The push to privatise and commercialise health means that many people in developing countries aren't always able to become wounded storytellers, and thus subjects of their own health rather than objects of someone else's health programme.
So World Health Day for me will be an opportunity to give thanks for the great drugs and care I receive and for the opportunity to become a wounded storyteller in my own right. I am a very privileged person.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Translators do it with dictionaries - or maybe through web discussions?

Thanks to J.K. Gayle's fascinating blog intriguingly entitled Aristotle's Feminist Subject on translation, feminism and rhetoric (and much more besides) I've been reading some fascinating posts on the Better Bibles blog. It's going to take me around about the rest of my life to go through all of the links J.K. has listed but it's a fascinating way in to some of the issues that translators of the Bible and other texts are trying to tackle. The various blogs document just some of the enormous effort and soul-searching translators go to to get texts to speak to us with the integrity, beauty and passion of the original.
One of the things that interested me in my brief perusal of the posts today is how those writing a post on a translation issue to do with gender feel they have to warn others in advance of this unpleasant subject matter and encourage people not interested (or enraged or bored??) by such isues to click away. Nasty disease gender issues, horrible thing feminism, click away folks.
In our feminist theology group there are often participants who ask whether we couldn't tone down the word feminist to feminine theology. Ah well, if that weren't the case I suppose there wouldn't be much left to do, discuss or discover.
Anyway I shall try and add some of the Bible translation blogs to my blogroll over coming weeks and must have a look to see what's available in a similar vein in French and German. One of the great things about the internet and blogging is that it links translators together in an ongoing conversation.

Peace be with you to incarnate the resurrection

My colleague Shanta Premawardhana preached an interactive Easter sermon on Monday (click on the link to read the sermon). Shanta began by greeting us with the words Salaam alleikkum and encouraging us to greet one another:
"Let me greet you with the words our Lord Jesus Christ used to greet his disciples when he appeared to them in the upper room: Salaam Aleikkum. If the risen Christ were to approach you in the guise of your Muslim neighbour, he might greet you in the same way. And of course, most of you know the correct response - Aleikkum Asalaam! Would you turn to you neighbour and say Salaam Aleikkum and respond with an Aliekkum Asalaam!"

This way of encouraging us to share Christ's peace with one another, made me think once more of how Christ's followers are called in some way to "incarnate" the resurrection. (I think my use of the word incarnate is a poor translation of the French incarner - probably the English should be embody.) Perhaps incarnation of the resurrection is what makes for the mission of God which Shanta speaks of later in the sermon.

Following the sermon we said an interesting affirmation of faith which included this:
"We believe in Jesus, the risen Christ -
who meets us on every path;
who greets us with respect, names and calms our fears,
and bids us walk and talk as
children of the Light;
who is always going before us into our workplace and playspace."

You can find the whole order of service and full text of the affirmaiton of faith here.

So, salaam aleikkum, peace be with you!