Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Today is international translation day - words matter!

Struggling with a text? Searching for a word? Dictionary not giving you the meaning you yearn for? Take a break and celebrate today is international translation day! When a colleague congratulated me at tea-time today I learnt that this day is celebrated every year on September 30th and has been since 1991. This is also St Jerome's day - the patron saint of translators.

The South African Translators’ Institute (SATI) offers this further information about the day:
International Translation Day offers an opportunity to draw attention to the importance of translators and interpreters in the world. These language practitioners often remain invisible and unacknowledged, yet their work makes a huge contribution to communication and interaction in all sorts of spheres, particularly in today’s globalised world.
The theme for 2008 is “Terminology: Words Matter”. In the South African context, the development of terminology in the African languages still has a long way to go. Some very good work is being done, but there is little coordination of the efforts. Language practitioners at the coalface are often faced with having to come up with suitable solutions on their own. What can be done to remedy this situation? The Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB) is holding a Standardisation of African Languages Terminologies Conference on 25 and 26 September — perhaps some innovative ideas will be forthcoming.
I'm particularly excited about the theme being "terminology: words matter". We're about to get going on beginning ot put our terminology project at work online over the next few months, so this helps to motivate me. Anyway I must remember to take my colleagues a present tomorrow.

Some of the blogs are talking about the day too:
Translating is an art
Thoughts on Translation
Holiday for Everyday

Death,detective fiction and the meaning of life

"Death was darkness, there was not light to be found there. Death was attics and cellars, it smelled raw, of mice and soil, and loneliness."
Henning Mankell, Kennedy's Brain - translated by Laurie Thompson.

I spend large parts of my life (and rather too much of my income) searching out, buying and reading detective fiction - known as "polars" in French or "Krimis" in German. Losing myself in a book was one of the few ways I could switch off from the pressures, pleasures and stresses of parish ministry. Because crime novels are not serious reading it also gives me a gentle guilty thrill to be reading something rather frivolous.
A German colleague once told me that he thought clergy enjoyed detective fiction because of the relatively straightforward resolution of ethical issues, and the classic combat between good and evil. Which just goes to show it really is pure escapism from parish and church politics, real life tends to not find such easy resolution. But reading it is great therapy.
Of course once about 10 years ago I did begin to try writing a bit of clergy detective fiction myself. This too was pure therapy. A difficult member of my eldership occurred as a corpse on page one. The sleuth was a female cleric called, rather predictably perhaps, Gloria, but I never did get beyond page three I think.
So I have to admit that the gentle idle pleasures of reading not entirely serious literature sometimes gives added meaning to my life. And of course some of the better crime novels have serious, campaigning themes to them as well - Kennedy's Brain is one.
Perhaps one day I'll be driven to write again and Gloria will rise from the ashes of my rather lurid clerical imagination.

Monday, 29 September 2008

"Il faut cultiver son jardin"

Voltaire's Candide contains the words "il faut cultiver son jardin" at the end.
In popular speech these days the phrase is used for quite a spectrum of meanings from following one's true passion in life, to giving oneself time away from everyday concerns. Voltaire's original meaning was almost certainly multi-layered. It may have been a swipe at the Catholic Church - we should concentrate on cultivating our earthly gardens rather than the garden of paradise. It may also have been in praise of simple honest work rather than worrying and philosophising about life all the time - get on and plough your furrow. It is a lovely expression, even if these days the garden of Voltaire's chateau here in Ferney Voltaire is in need of a fairly serious makeover.
In recent days, thanks to John and Heather, my own garden has received a serious tidy up. It is dreadful how we manage to be untidy even in the garden. However, this is mainly my responsibility, over the past 18 months I've let the bindweed and couch grass take over so that the poor pasque flowers and most other things apart from the hardiest of lavender, sage and rosemary bushes. Dr B it should be added still confuses crocuses with chives and is not to be trusted with greenery of any kind. On Friday evening Heather brought around her plans for the garden so now we can think about the future, building steps, putting in raised beds and maybe even planting spinach.
We're talking about a space that is just six metre's square with a steep 1.5 metre bank 3 metres in so it's quite a challenge. Anyway it's been wonderful all weekend to wander out there and smell the ripening fennel seed and see more and more of the virginia creeper turning red each day. I think there's alot to be said for letting others cultivate your garden.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Calivin and calligraphy

I spent part of Saturday listening to Edouard Dommen speaking about Calvin, as Geneva gears up to next year's Calvin jubilee marking 500 years since the Reformer's birth. Edouard is a Quaker and an economist, yesterday he set Calvin's theology and activity within the social and economic context of Geneva in the 16th century.
As well as having worked on an English translation of André Biéler's fascinating book on Calvin's Economic and Social Thought, Edouard has put together a wonderful series of quotes from Calvin in four languages for a 2009 calendar which his wife Bridget has then interpreted in calligraphy. You can download the calendar here order printed copies here.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Word of the day - quirn

A quirn is a mill for grinding grain, the upper stone of which was turned by hand.
Quirns were hand mills, using them meant that people didn't have to take all of their grain to the miller and give the tythe to the landlord or church.
Last weekend I had the chance to watch again a fascinating programme about the life of one woman in mediaeval England - Christina a mediaeval life. She lived in the 14th century at a time of famine, in southern England. Almost in an aside the programme outlined how during the year that the famine was at its worst the landlords were actually making more profit.
It also offered us a story about how the abbot of St Alban's Abbey - no doubt worried because he was losing his part of the tythe - ordered that the quirn stones from everyone's house be taken away. He then built a patio with them. While the peasants could no longer mill small amounts of grain for personal consumption at least the Abbot could rejoice in his clever oppression every time he walked out onto his patio.
The church's preferential option for the poor came along only a few centuries later.

The ten commandments of blogging

Ruth Gledhill is reporting that the Evangelical Alliance will on Monday publish the new Ten Commandments of Blogging. You can also read the Times Online news story on this. And here are the commandments:

1. You shall not put your blog before your integrity.
2. You shall not make an idol of your blog.
3. You shall not misuse your screen name by using your anonymity to sin.
4. Remember the Sabbath day by taking one day off a week from your blog.
5. Honour your fellow-bloggers above yourselves and do not give undue significance to their mistakes.
6. You shall not murder someone else’s honour, reputation or feelings.
7. You shall not use the web to commit or permit adultery in your mind.
8. You shall not steal another person’s content.
9. You shall not give false testimony against your fellow-blogger.
10.You shall not covet your neighbour's blog ranking. Be content with your own content.

The commandments are one of the results of the Evangelical Alliance's seminar for Godblogs. Read Ruth's post here.

So now we have a list of commandments telling us what not to do to so as to blog better, how about "10 permissions" - Ute Ranke Heinemann once rewrote the ten commandments calling them Die Zehn Erlaubnisse.
So what would your ten pieces of positive advice on how to blog be?
Ruth Gledhill probably give a good starting point - even if it is in the English of the King James Bible - calling her piece "Thou shalt ... blog"

Friday, 26 September 2008

Sur le Seuil ~ on the threshold of a new evangelism by Laurent Schlumberger

One of the problems wth theology written in languages other than English is that it can remain almost invisible to the world of the modern day language of Babel.
I am sometimes more than a little frustrated at the ignorant arrogance of some anglophones who express opinions like "literature in English is so rich we don't really need to translate much." If that held true for Protestant theology that would mean no Barth, Bonhoeffer or Moltmann ... no Calvin or Luther. Don't get me wrong I love my mother tongue, its poetry and fluidity and simplicity. So often we tend to think that communication is all about "getting our message out there" rather than also listening to what is going on - perhaps in another language or another culture.
All this as an introduction to Laurent Schlumberger's exceelnt essay on evangelism which I've mentioned before. When I first read Sur le Seuil it was such a relief to find someone putting into words so much of what I was thinking and feeling - in a much more coherent way. Schlumberger was a regional president in on the the French Reformed Church and recently returned to a community work and evangelism position in a local community of the Misioin Populaire.
In Sur le seuil - which means on the threshold - he argues that for French Protestantism there are two models of evangelism which are no longer adapted to present day society - what he calls l'estrade et l'enfouissement : l'estrade could be described as the pulpit, concentrating on the message and leading rather too easily to pride or intolerance; l'enfouissement is more complicated, perhaps it's about getting alongside people and going deeply into the Bible, about activism. Schlumberger says this method risks ending in theological silence. He also adds that in a European society which has beocme more or less ignorant of Christianity and focused on clichés these models of evangelism really don't work.
What Schlumberger proposes is a model of evangelism around encounter, to renew Christian witness . This he claims links belief and acion - it also calls liberal Christains out of their comfort zone to dare to bear witness to their faith in a personal way. This is a huge challenge to French mainstream Protestantism but Schlumberger also very humbly invites local churches to dare to do this, making mistakes along the way.
Something like this book needs to be written and put into practice in many local and national situations throughout the world.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Only in France will your banker talk about the need for unions to protect workers rights

Sometimes I just love living in France.
At a meeting about mortgages with our banker today he ended up expressing opinions about how important it was for workers and unions to protect their rights - this given President Sarkozy's recent utterings on making the French economy more like the US.
I rather like bankers who are in favour of things like national health services, workers rights and a proper distribution of wealth. Just to reassure you that he was indeed a banker he did also advise us about paying as little tax as possible!
Meanwhile last week's Nouvel Observateur asked whether the French socialist party was idiotic. This week's title asks "Où va le capitalisme?" and I love the subtitle - Where is capitalism going? Keys for understanding ...
In a phrase - daylight robbery.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Word of the day ASBO

An ASBO is an anti-social behaviour order. Jon Birch over at the further adventures of ASBO Jesus draws and puts up great cartoons.
The dying church has been much in my thoughts recently travelling through Switzerland and hearing of empty churches; hearing tales from Britain of aging congregations; seeing closed churches in France and hearing the Pope speak of the need for new vocations to the priesthood; knowing the overload many of my colleagues in pastoral charge live under. But the other side to the dying church is the extraordinary vivacity, joy and new expressions of faith that are still to be experienced amongst people who come together because of their Christian faith. And there is also the fact that in places outside western Europe the church is also growing - change is underway.
In this new era in western europe of minority Christianity in a world where religion is an important issue, how we bear witness to our faith is the key.
While another committee meets to try interminably to decide how to reshape shrinking institutions, perhaps the way forwards will be in bearing witness to what it is that gives us life, meaning, hope and transformation, not in wearing ourselves out with trying to maintain all of the structures of the past.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Christian blog awards (UK)

Over at the Church Times blog Dave Walker has posted the list of the winners of the Christian blog and web awards. Meanwhile Ruth Gledhill has also been writing about Christian bloggers.
Anyway here's the Church Times list - I can see I'm going to have to spend a while looking at some of these.

The recipients of the 2008 Christian blog and web awards, organised by Premier, were announced on Friday at an award ceremony at St Stephen Walbrook in the City of London. The nominated blogs and sites were almost entirely different to last year's selection (I went last year and rather enjoyed it).
This year's winners were as follows:

Feeling stressed at work - join a union!

One of the things I lost when moving to France was membership of a trade union. Protestant pastors aren't as such employed and union membership was not possible - a case of colision between two of my value systems.
However these days Dr B is a member of the NUJ and his union has just ciruclated useful online questionnaires about stress and bullying at work.
I do slightly suspect that he's only in the NUJ because our local branch is based in Paris and it gives him an excuse to go to the Christmas party there without me. Want to get out more? Join a union. Of course in the UK there are also clergy sections in several unions, and names such as Unite and Amicus do rather show the chapel roots of British trade union movement.

Pity the poor translator

A friend recently sent me this poem on the trials of the elderly gray translator. I'd not come across it before and can only say that it just reinforces my feeling that I should steer clear of ever trying to translate poetry. Mind you I wonder if being sent this was a gentle hint I should make an apointment to get my highlights re-done! Ah well, at least I haven't torn all of my hair out yet looking for the right word.

Pity the Elderly Gray Translator, by Vladimir Nabokov

Pity the elderly gray translator
Who lends to beauty his hollow voice
And - choosing sometimes a second-rater -
Mimes the song-fellow of this choice.
To sacred sense for the sake of meter
His is seldom traitor as traitors go,
But pity him when he quakes with Peter
And waits for the terza rima to crow.

It is not the head of the verse line that'll
Cause him trouble, nor is it the spine:
What he really minds is the cursed rattle
That must be found for the tail of the line.
Some words by nature are sort of singlish,
Others have harems of rimes. The word
"Elephant," for example, walks alone in English
But its Slavic equivalent goes about in a herd.
"Woman" is another famous poser
For none can seriously contemplate
An American president or a German composer
In a viable context with the word for mate.
Since rime is a national repercussion
(And a local holiday), how bizarre
That "skies-eyes" should twin in French and Russian:
"Cieux-yeux," "nebesa-glaza."

Such boons are irrelevant. Sooner or later
The gentle person, the mime sublime,
The incorruptible translator
Is betrayed by lady rime.
And the poem from the Persian
And the sonnet spun in Spain
Perish in the person's version
And the person dies insane.

Monday, 22 September 2008

From the liturgy for international day of prayer for peace

Ginger Porter and Faautu Talapusi wrote and led our prayers in the ecumenical centre this morning as we meditated on reading the tides, paddling against the current and making new waves for peace.
Having decorated the chapel in traditional Pacific style, afterwards we were invited to a veritable Pacific breakfast feast including a delicious banana, coconut milk and tapioca delicacy.

You can find the service here.
For now here is an extract from Ginger's prayer "reading the tides".

We rowed and paddled hard for many years.
We were caught in storms, rough tides with broken paddles and no hope;
we burned in the day and froze by night;
ith blistered hands and sore feet;
we hungered and we thirst;

we missed;
we wept;
and we prayed.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Rowan Williams preaches on John Milton

It is rather wonderful when an Archbishop who is himself a poet preaches for the 400th anniversary of another poet's birth. His beautifully crafted sermon for John Milton's anniversary is about politics, witness, passion and, of course, poetics. I only wish I could have actually been there rather than catching up on it over the weekend - I know that Annie wanted to be there too, as her choir were singing at St Giles' Cripplegate for the service. You can find the full text of Rowan Williams' sermon here but I include the beginning and end as an encouragement to read the rest. Do also visit the Darkness Visible site put together to create an interactive space for the study and appreciation of Paradise Lost by members of Christ's College Cambridge. I wonder whether I will manage to re-read Paradise Lost during this anniversary year?

Now this as a taster from Rowan Williams:

To begin with a resoundingly obvious remark: Milton believed profoundly in words. He worked out of a pervasive confidence that his language could sound the depths of truth and communicate them in such a way as to change human hearts. In his long writing life, he found very diverse ways of expressing this: beginning with the musical, extravagant idioms of the earliest poems with their rich classical allusiveness and dancing rhythms, he goes on to establish himself as a prose polemicist of immense - sometimes scurrilous - vigour, and writes what is probably the greatest apologia in any European language for free debate in the public
arena. He becomes a servant of the revolutionary government, using his skills for the wholesale reformation of a society (and incidentally laying himself open to many of the charges he had so unforgettably formulated in his own polemics against censorship). And then, already shaken by personal and political disaster and by his irreversible blindness, he embarks on the most ambitious project of all, 'to justify the ways of God to man': in a startlingly different poetic style, severe, insistent, but with even more metaphorical abundance than before, he dramatises the fall of the angels, the inner counsels of the Trinity and the first disobedience of the human heart

The poet cannot finally avoid the summons from confident speech to the brokenness and harsh linguistic economy of witness; the disciple cannot avoid the summons from heroism to silent fidelity, knowing only that this has been God's way of transforming the world. 'If we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him'. Milton, poet and disciple, faces this as reluctantly as any great or heroic figure ever did. Yet face it he does – patchily and reluctantly, but truthfully; and so must we.

John Bell offers Sunday worship on women in the scriptures

John Bell, of the Iona Community, a well-loved writer of hymns and prayers, led Sunday worship on Radio 4 this morning, exploring women's often-neglected witness in the scriptures. You can listen again here for the next seven days. Some time in the next two weeks a pdf of the service will also be available to download. It was beautifully crafted, thoughtful and though-provoking.

Pax - giveaway art as a sign of God's grace?

I was intrigued by Maggi Dawn's post about Michael Radcliffe's PAX art project and the whole concept of Free Art Friday. PAX (part of which is pictured) was the artist's response to having witnessed an act of violence outside his house, trying to put something with a different message back into the community.
I found reading about the project very moving. Putting art freely into a troubled local community over the summer months spoke quite deeply to me of God's grace; allowing it to get kicked around and roughly used and hoping that somehow some of the essence of its message might get through speaks of real commitment to witness - and also of Christ's own passion.
Through reading I discovered that Michael belongs to Moot which describes itself as creative and explorative Christian activity in the city - just shows I need to get out online more.
The other reason I was interested in putting artwork with the word PAX on it out in the community is that most of my recent calligraphy has been of the word peace in various languages. Now I'm inspired to try and do something a bit more creative both with my own daubings and with the many works of art colleagues painted as part of our international day of prayer for peace service last year, now I know why I couldn't bear to throw those precious pieces of paper away. I't's also good inspiration as today is one year on and once more the international day of prayer for peace.
Thank you Michael for this creative approach to practical theological witness and art, good luck to you and to Moot. And hattip to Maggi Dawn once more.
You can see more of the Free Art Friday works here.
Photo by Michael Radcliffe.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Gardening with Martin Luther ..and Roman Catholics ... guest post

The Protestant churches in Germany are launching the Luther Decade this weekend, a 10-year series of events leading to the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's "95 Theses", the event often seen as marking the Protestant Reformation. The great and the good are gathering at the Castle Church in Wittenberg, where Luther is said to have nailed his theses, for a special service on 21 September. (The picture shows the Wittenberg Stadtkirche, which towers over the market place.) Already on 20 September, the first sod was cut in Wittenberg for the Luther Garden, where 500 trees are to be planted between now and 2017. Churches worldwide are to be encouraged to adopt one of the trees that are planned for the Luther Garden and also to plant a tree themselves to denote a link with the birthplace of the Reformation. Meanwhile the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Walter Kasper, has, in an interview printed in a German newspaper, said that Roman Catholics can learn from Luther. ENI reported that Cardinal Walter Kasper encouraged Catholics to read Luther's commentaries on the Bible, and his "hymns full of spiritual power", the German Protestant news agency epd reported."One will then discover a Luther who is full of the power of faith, whom one cannot simply make Catholic, whom we find provoking and even alien in many respects, but from whom even Catholics can learn."

Praying against the currents and makings new waves -

Ginger Porter from American Samoa has prepared a vigil of peace for the international day of prayer for peace in three parts:
Reading the Tides (a time of thanksgiving)
Against the Currents (a time to listen);
Making New Waves (a time to act)

Ginger is working in the Decade to overcome Violence office for a year as the decade focuses on the Pacific Islands.
I love the idea of praying against the currents - and seeing this as a time of listening and discernment.
I've just posted the full liturgy to the docs section and you can find it here. It will be the form for our prayers on Monday morning at the ecumenical centre. Meanwhile chains of prayer for peace and many other activities are taking place to mark the day.

Words from Tom Allen's funeral

Bishop David used Tom Allen's own words to begin and end his eulogy at Big Bulky Anglican's funeral this week.

"Death is not an unforseen accident, not something left out of the scheme of our Creator. Rather it is something natural in the sight of God … As we give thanks today, we are also given a blessed opportunity. We are each given a loving invitation to trust in God, and let him turn our fears into faith, our sorrows into joy, our loneliness, into divine companionship."

"When we have done everything, and said everything, we realise it isn't enough. At death we come to the end of human knowledge. We are left to the mercy of God. Comforting it is, therefore, to have a God to trust in, and one who has perfect love, absolute knowledge, boundless forgiveness and infinite patience. God is love, and that is a glorious fact to lean upon now. "

Tom's family were encouraging us all to listen to "life's a miracle, we've got to make the most of the passing moments" (prefab sprout) if we couldn't get to the funeral.

You can read the full text of the sermon here posted by Raspberry Rabbit - Bishop David has also put it on his blog but that seems to be down at the moment.

Friday, 19 September 2008

50 years of women's ordination - the Church of Sweden celebrates

This has come from ENI today:
The (Lutheran) Church of Sweden is about to mark the 50th anniversary of its decision in 1958 to ordain women as priests, and cathedrals in all of the church's 13 dioceses are to hold services to celebrate the anniversary.
"With our jubilee, we wish to celebrate that the Church of Sweden is a church of equality, and that we can deepen this conviction together in the future," said the Rev. Boel Hössjer Sundman, the church's project manager for the commemorations.
A special celebration service will take place at Uppsala Cathedral on 23 September at the beginning of the denomination's governing church assembly. A seminar the previous day will focus on church leadership in a changing world.
The events will culminate with the diocesan services on 27 September, the date in 1958 on which the Church of Sweden took the decision to open its priesthood to women.

This year marks the 91st anniversary of the first women ordained to the Christian ministry in Britain when Constance Coltman Todd was ordained by the congregational Union of England and Wales. A year before women in Britain had the vote.

Meanwhile the Lutheran World Federation has this month reported further moves amongst its member churches towards women's ordination:

The Bolivian Evangelical Lutheran Church (Iglesia Evangélica Luterana Boliviana - IELB) celebrates 70 years of existence today, 7 September. At a special liturgy marking the event, several women will be ordained pastors while others will receive the authorization to administer sacraments and proclaim the Word.
During the celebration, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) General Secretary Rev. Dr Ishmael Noko and Bishop Jessica R. Crist, Montana Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, will ordain two women and five men, and authorize three women and ten men to carry out church functions.
“It is an encouraging sign and strong signal that 15 out of the 16 LWF member churches in the Latin American and Caribbean region now ordain women. The LWF has accompanied the discernment of the Lutheran church in Bolivia in a respectful way over the last decades. The values of inclusion and participation of men and women in the full life and ministry of the Church are thus given strong expressions,” noted Noko in view of the first women’s ordination in the IELB.

Recipes from la CULTina

Not only did la CULTina in Bern have wonderful tshirts but they also do a great series of postcards to advertise their presence in the city. There's fun information about "cooking for people who like it hot" and also some great recipes which you can find here. They include spicy baked pumpkin with cinnamon and caramelised onions, lobster with coriander sauce and a Bedouin meat dish. (So you'll need your German English dictionary to get the complete picture but translating recipes tends to be more motivating than much of what translators get to do!)

Capitalism in crisis?

What fascinates and frustrates me about the current global financial crisis is how the "market" is spoken about as if it is some kind of ailing person with a psyche and illness, yet we don't seem to really be able to diagnose what the problem is. The market as some kind of brooding malevolent-benevolent brooding force over us
The sub-prime casino approach doesn't seem to have provided the one thing that the markets seem to need even more than cash and that's the immaterial and intangible "confidence" or "trust"- these are values not normally quoted in numbers on the stock exchange which often have rather theological overtones.
So perhaps the world financial market needs a bit of psychotherapy to rebuild its confidence. It must be terribly difficult holding turbo-capitalism together after all.
I think I prefer to place my confidence in a dependable but fragile and vulnerable God rather than in the vagaries of a psychotic financial market.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

The elemental pain of the past

I've been watching "Who do think you are" - the BBC genealogy programme - which had Ainsley Harriott tracing his roots back to the Caribbean. It was a story of slavery, inhumanity and poverty but also of heroism, pride and overcoming adversity.
Watching him visibly angry and moved looking at a plaque to one of the slave owners of his great grandparents, I reflected on the elemental pain of the past. He stomped out the church after saying he hoped the plaque would fall down and be reduced to dust - why should a slave owner's name be remembered in marble.
I am sometimes surprised at how moved I can still be by the story of my father seeking refuge from Nazi Germany. The pain of some of what happened in the second world war is still very much with me even though it was not my direct experience. Listening to Ainsley Harriott this evening I realised that this is true for many of us both as individuals and as groups, communities and nations. It's often an elemental diffuse and blaming rage, the pain at the past which we cannot change.
Reflecting further on the contributions made at the Promised Land Conference I recognise that understanding, coping with and transforming powerful memories from the past is part of the key to finding a lasting, just and peaceful political settlement for Palestine and Israel. Acknowledging that those feelings continue to provide some kind of framework for the way we read the Bible is also part of the hermeneutical task that scholars are having to face up to.
A colleague who worked for the WCC's decade to overcome violence said that if he had responded to all of the proposals to do healing of memories seminars he would have done hardly anything else - he wished he had more time. Healing the pain of the present is already enough of a challenge, healing memories is an even more painstaking and complex task. The way we teach and tell history is in the end very much part of truth and reconciliation.
It is right to rage at marble plaques to the oppressors of the past. It's important to work for understanding and towards healing in bitterly divided communities. This is the hard work of peace.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Word of the day - La gauche durable

So in French sustainable development is le développement durable. In Tuesday's Le Monde Robert Solé quotes the French socialist leader (or should that be one of the leaders?) François Hollande as saying that following the "union of the left" in 1981 and the "pluralist left" in 1997 perhaps a new slogan for gathering the left could be "La gauche durable" so I now wonder whether this should best be translated as the sustainable left or the long-term left?
Hmm ... looking at the Labour Party in Britain, the Parti socialiste in France or the SPD in Germany really the very last words that come to my mind are durable or sustainable. All three parties seem to be imploding, really it's just a question of which of them will be in the wilderness for the longest ... which does rather make me sad. I shall, God-willing, probably be a pensioner before the left has another chance.
And of course I still do not understand what possessed Blair to go into Iraq. The left involved in a completely illegal not to say unsustainable war. I'm glad I don't have to listen to his confession.
Anyway Robert Solé's article entitled "A Rose by any other name..." can be read here. He ends it by saying "Peut être en effet qu'une gauche bio pourrait avantageusement remplacer la gauche light."
Sometimes a rose by any other name still stinks.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

The simple blessing of catching a later bus

This morning I was blessed by a friendly conversation. Just someone asking a question and my thoughts came out in words and I saw that I'm struggling through difficult decisions more than I realised. If I had been 45 seconds earlier at the bus stop this morning and I would not have bumped into my listening angel, who said very simply she would pray for me. It was not said lightly or cloyingly and I realised I hadn't heard those words for a long time.
This evening I was further blessed by reading Maggi Dawn's post on taking my own advice.
Maggi wrote to friend:
"Regardless of what is sensible, and regardless of what you think you "ought" to do, which of the courses ahead of you makes you feel alive, makes your heart open wider, makes you feel hopeful and as if the future is opening up not closing down? That is the route you should go."

Earlier in the post she wrote about consolation and desolation in Ignatian spirituality:

Ignatian prayer, which has among its principles the idea of consolation and desolation as modes of discernment. Ignatius defines consolation as "Every increase in faith, hope and love, and all interior joy that invites and attracts to what is heavenly, and to the salvation of our soul, by filling it with peace and quiet in its Creator and Lord." Desolation, he says, is "What is entirely the opposite of consolation … darkness of soul, turmoil of spirit, inclination to what is low and earthly, restlessness arising from many disturbances which lead to lack of faith, lack of hope, and lack of love. The soul is wholly slothful, tepid, sad, and separated, as it were, from its Creator and Lord."

Thanks to my morning angel who walked me to my office and my evening angel whose blog I lurk on, I do feel some real consolation. I also recognize what a privilege it is to have decisions to wrestle with.

Foolish wisdom - feasting and fasting

Rudolf Renfer who is director of human resources at the Lutheran World Federation prepared a very thoughtful liturgy on wisdom for our prayers on Monday morning this week. He based his thoughts on Matthew 11.16–19
“But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places and calling to their playmates,
‘We piped to you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”

Here are some short extracts from Rudolf's sermon:

"It is not easy to find an adequate attitude or life style. If we want to challenge the current economic and social systems, we might need to lose our heads, our traditional common sense, our diplomacy, and stand on the side of all those whom no one wants to stand for ...
So, John and Jesus are put together under the word of wisdom. Those who can understand John and Jesus will live under God’s wisdom. Sometimes fast, sometimes feast ...
What saves us is the force of grace, or the conviction that we believe in this crazy John and of course even more in this fabulous Jesus Christ who will save lives and communities from damage, in order to live – and why not even here in the Ecumenical Center – with the dimension of foolish wisdom which will be justified through our daily actions and through our daily work, in spite of all adversities ...
This will be sometimes through repentance and fasting, and sometimes through joy and dancing, even if the world around us thinks that we are mad or not serious."

You can find the full sermon text here and the liturgy and Bible readings here.

The ground under your feet - Nancy Cardoso on the promised land

At the promised land conference in Bern Nancy Cardoso from Brazil offered a wonderfully evocative paper entitled "The poor will possess the land" reflecting on what promised land might mean from the experience of the landless workers movement.
She argued that the prevailing global economic discourse is literally pulverizing the ground beneath people's feet; instantaneous communication means there is no longer a sense of territory and without that there is no longer a "far away" or "distant" no longer a sense of place "but only images of places" ... "What we are experiencing is not the end of territories, we are experiencing the invasion of the territories by the logic of accumulation and profit."
Speaking about Brazil she said "our history is the history of all forms of systematic violence against the land and the peoples of the land." Then going on to chart some of what the MST, the landless workers movement, does to try to address the issue of land including drawing up a document called "the poor will own the land".
She went on to say that "Exodus 3 is not about the election of one people, one ethnicity, one territory, one state ... it is about a faith experience that is understood and explained from the perspective of the poor ... God chooses a social class! And a project of liberation of the land. this is how the poor will own the land. The biblical narrative is not an ornamental detail, an ancient text. Not utopian at all, the biblical narrative is the memory of the hopeful materialities of the oppressed, their struggles and journeys for the land needed and promised"
I find Nancy Cardoso's use of imagery and language to get across her message very powerful. She always manages both to weave something new into the biblical text and also to tease something very new out of it.
As she left the conference she said she really felt as if her thinking too had been changed and she had much to reflect upon as she returned to her own context.
In some sense finding practical ways of confessing one's faith helps us reclaim the land beneath our feet and not let it be pulverized by the forces of so-called "free markets" carving up the world. A different more solid and earthed world is possible.
The photo of Nancy is by Henri Veldhuis.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Message from the promised land conference

The message from the promised land conference in Bern was published today along with a press release from the WCC and from the Federation of Swiss Protestant churches.
Meanwhile Henri Veldhui from the Netherlands has posted a lot of photos and comments about the conference to his website, you can find them here.
The conference message ends:
Let us continue, then, to build trusting relationships that will allow for transformation which can come about only through continued dialogue and constructive confrontation in the spirit of Christian unity.
Let us continue in developing a theological discourse about land, life on the land and living together in the land that is sensitive, promotes respect among ourselves and with others within both intra-Christian and inter-religious contexts, particularly in dialogue with Jews and Muslims, and which avoids any kind of teaching of contempt. One important focus of this development will be theological reflection on international law and human rights.
Let us affirm that a new discourse on these issues develops as a new generation emerges. Therefore, our churches should commit themselves to ecumenical and inter-religious formation.
Let us continue to critically and creatively examine notions of the "Promised Land", rediscovering in the Bible and in our traditions life-giving metaphors for promoting justice, peace, reconciliation and forgiveness for the fullness of the earth and all its inhabitants.
Let us open this dialogue to include approaches to reading the Bible and doing theology that have emerged from other contexts of conflict, landlessness, dispossession, oppression and exclusion so that we might more rigorously analyze the conflict, interrogate ideologies like antisemitism and Christian Zionism, and contribute toward peace making and peace building in Palestine-Israel.

My wonderful mad mother

Here's my mum, Betty, on a fun run (or rather brisk 5km walk) to raise money for her local Parkinson's disease society. Pease note how beautifully the pink wig goes with the balloon and tshirt!
Amongst her many other activities she chairs the local Pakinson's disease society, something she took on while she was still nursing my dad who lived with the disease for over 20 years.

Back from the promised land ...

Returning home from the Promised Land Conference in Bern where I was interpretting is quite strange. I feel as if something important and special took place in the theological and political discussions at the meeting, it was an enormous privilege to be there and listen in on animated, passionate and erudite debate of this kind. Much was also said about language, finding a new language and appropriate terminology for the discussion to be able to be taken forwards - though I admit my own language problems were rather more prosaic - trying to get the speakers to slow down enough for us to have half a chance of interpretting their thoughts into another language! Anyway, I have come away proud of my colleagues at the World Council of Churches who put so much effort and thought into preparing the conference.
It was also an eyeopener for me - as I know so little of the churches in Switzerland outside Geneva - to see the commitment of the local Reformed churches in Bern Jura Solothurn to the issue of a just peace in the Middle East. This is long term theological commitment and their involvement not just in the issues but with the people in Palestine and Israel really spoke to me of a spirituality of resistance and a faith that believes in painful engagement.
I have come away from the conference having learnt a great deal, had extraordinary conversations and my mind stretched. I also feel personally challenged. More of that as my thinking develops and some other catch up thoughts on the conference as the week progresses.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

An evening at Bern's house of religions

On the final evening of the Promised Land Conference in Bern participants went from a session discussing the final message of the conference to an early supper and chance to look around Bern's House of religions in the reclaimed factory building where the project is currently based. The house of religions association has existed since 2002 in Bern and is unique in Switzerland. They will have to move out of the factory where they are at the moment at the end of 2009 as the building is set to be demolished. However, an ambitious project is underway to build a house of religions which would house separate places of worship within its walls for each of the religions participating in the project. After nearly a decade of moving around it will be quite a new departure for the project to have a building of its own if they manage to raise the money.
Meanwhile what was really wonderful about where they are now is how "real" it all felt - there are exhibtions (the calligraphy above), a series of wonderful photos, architectural displays of the new house, and space for both a Hindu temple and an Islamic prayer room which are housed in the current building. One of the local Muslim communities arrived to break their Ramadan fast as we were leaving last night.
Switzerland has a referendum on the cards next year asking for no new minarets to be built in the country so the issue of religious understanding is high on thepolitical agenda at the moment.
At the end of her speech welcoming us last night the president of the association said that running the association was not always easy, with its fair share of conflict as well as harmony but she hoped that, although many of those involved in trying to promote interreligious understanding often feel as if they are in exile, the project was part of setting up signs to the place we want to be.

Sad news of the death of big bulky Anglican

Returning from Bern this afternoon I was sad to learn of the death of Tom Allen who wrote the big bulky anglican blog. His blog managed to be both wonderfully eclectic - from Ikea to Greenbelt via reflections on the mission of the church - and focused on the context of his work, being a cleric who listened to great music, read alot of theology and cared alot about his work. Tom had recently moved to Scotland to work with Mission to Seafarers.
Details of the funeral here.

Pope Benedict XVI in France

You can follow Pope Benedict XVIth's visit to France via Bernadette Sauvaget's blog updates on the Réforme website. And of course La Croix also has updates and it's own blog here called un Pape, un blog - a Pope, a blog ...

Meanwhile Tom Heneghan at Reuters FaithWorld blog has made several interesting posts about the Pope's visit including one about the Pope's speech warning against fundamentalism and literal readings of the Bible.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

An evening at the Bern House of Religions

This evening participants at the Promised Land conference will be attending a public event at the Bern House of Religions. Words of greeting will be given by Bern's Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities.

Philosophical utopias at the Church of the Holy Spirit

It was obvious on the first evening of the Promised Land consultation that the Heiliggeist parish right next to the railway station in Bern is very creative, taking its role as a church in the heart of city seriously. Getting the renouned Swiss yodeller Christine Lauterburg as part of the welcome for international guests was one sign of that.
Another sign is the regular monthly silent vigil for peace and justice in the Holy Land. Quite a number of participants from the meeting joined people from the City of Bern at the vigil at lunchtime on Friday and listenend to the commitments of the local group and experiences of Valentina Magiulli who was for several years the international coordinator of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel.
Then today I picked up a flyer for a series of early evening lectures and discussions on Utopias - how philosophers develop their thinking of a perfect world. Again all happening at the Heiliggeist church, just at the right time of day as people leave work but just for an hour and a half so they can still can home and have some family time as well. Looking at it I wished I lived in Bern and could take part in the discussions. I particularly like the title of the fourth evening which goes "And everyone can go and fish ... The idea of a society without cares or needs - the dreams of the young Karl Marx".
So now I'll just have to see if I can't organise something similar in Geneva or Ferney - I like stealing other people's good ideas sometimes. The final evening of talks asks "Are we tired of utopias?" and I found that particularly challenging after listening to and interpretting theologians talking about the hopes, possibilities and impossibilities of justice and peace in the Middle East.
Are we tired of justice, of peace, of hope?
As Heiliggeistkirche means Church of the Holy Spirit I do hope that the Spirit will continue to inspire us so we can dream dreams of future possible worlds even as we also try to find the energy for working on pragmatic solutions. But to believe in the future dream people need to see rather more trace of justice and peace in their everyday lives.

Cycling for peace

This story from ENI gives a whole new twist to the phrase "on your bike". Again the non-passive approach to peace making, stand up, get on your bike, pedal for peace.

"Eight cyclists from Europe have spent three weeks travelling through the Holy Land to highlight the need for a just and peaceful resolution to the Middle East conflict.
The bicycle journey, the third of its kind, began on 14 August in the Jordanian capital of Amman, where the riders toured the city and visited a Palestinian refugee camp. They then spent the remainder of the trip, cycling through Arab communities near Nazareth and Haifa in northern Israel, and Palestinian communities in the occupied territories.
"Starting the Peace Cycle for me was very much about my own faith, which shapes my feelings about justice and humanity," said Laura Abraham, 42, a British citizen who co-founded the peace cycling project in 2003. Participants aim to draw attention to the situation of the Palestinians, and to call for a peaceful and just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "

Friday, 12 September 2008

Zimbabwe - thoughts, prayers and solidarity still needed

I've just posted a statement by WSCF welcoming the setting up of the new inclusive government.
You can also find details here of issues that aid agencies are facing now that the ban on NGOs has been lifted.
There are also reports that a march for peace organised this weekend by the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance has not been allowed to go ahead. the email I received said this:
"Police in Masvingo, a Southern Eastern town of Zimbabwe have withdrawn approval that had been initially granted for a Zimbabwe Christian Alliance Peace March ...
The Peace March would have started at Mucheke Township on Saturday morning under Police escort and gone through the tourist town, which is home to the Great Zimbabwe Ruins. It would have culminated in an event at the Masvingo Civic Centre where political parties would have
recommitted themselves to peace. Solidarity messages would then have been read from civic society groups and a huge turnout was expected as women from the Churches had confirmed their participation."

Stand up, get your hands dirty, peace needs the proactive

Speaking at the last panel of the day on Thursday at the Promised Land Conference, His Emminence Archbishop Elias Chacour spoke passionately and not from a written text (always a challenge for the interpreters!). He told wonderful and painful stories about his ministry in Galilee, about having become a refugee in his own land.
He is a passionate believer in non-violence but this doesn't mean he believes in being passive or letting injustice go unchallenged.
As a speaker of eleven languages he also pointed to how taking a new look at the translation of the Beatitudes could help us reconsider the basis of our Christian commitment.
Translators rendered the Aramaic, Hebrew term "ashreï" that Jesus would have used and gave it the meaning of the Greek "makarioï" which in French or English is often rendered as happy or blessed. But "ashreï" has rather the meaning get up or get going, debout or en marche in French. Archbishop Chacour quoted André Chouraqui's translation into French of the Beatitudes which takes this challenge up and also seems to fit well within the framework of the overall message and movement of the gospel of Christ.
Chacour insisted that "peace needs the proactive, don't sit down, stand up, get your hands dirty" he said. "If you are hungry you will fish all day trying to find something to feed yourself and your family ... if we truly hunger and thirst for justice then we will do likewise."
So try reading the beatitudes differently replacing the words "blessed" or "happy" with "stand up" or "set out." One step on the way to becoming proactive for peace.

Chouraqui translated not only the old and new testaments but also the Coran into modern French. As a linguist he tried to show the links in the language for God between Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It was powerful to hear him being quoted by a Palestinian Christian Archbishop yesterday. Linguists do like to think that we can help in some small way to change the world.

Matthew 5 by André Chouraqui
1 Et, voyant les foules, il monte sur la montagne et s'assoit là. Ses adèptes s'approchent de lui.
2 Il ouvre la bouche, les enseigne et dit:
3 "En marche, les humiliés du souffle! Oui, le royaume des ciels est à eux!
4 En marche, les endeuillés! Oui, ils seront réconfortés!
5 En marche les humbles! Oui, ils hériteront la terre!
6 En marche, les affamés et les assoiffés de justice! Oui, ils seront rassasiés!
7 En marche, les matriciels! Oui, ils seront matriciés!
8 En marche, les coeurs purs! Oui, ils verront Elohîm!
9 En marche, les faiseurs de paix! Oui, ils seront criés fils d'Elohîm!
10 En marche, les persécutés à cause de la justice! Oui, le royaume des ciels est à eux!
11 En marche, quand ils vous outragent et vous persécutent en mentant, vous accusent de tout crime à cause de moi.
12 Jubilez, exultez! votre salaire est grand aux ciels! Oui, ainsi ont-ils persécuté les inspirés, ceux d'avant vous."

From a status confessionis to a hope for miracles?

This quote from Hannah Arendt came at the end of a paper by Adolfo Ham given at the Promised Land conference I'm attending in Bern at the moment.

"It is not the least superstitious, it is even a counsel of realism, to look for the unforseeable and unpredictable, to be prepared for and expect 'miracles' in the political realm. And the more heavily the scales are weighted in favour of disaster, the more miraculaous will the deed done in freedom appear; for it is disaster, not salvation, which always happens automatically and therefore must appear to be irrestible."

Adolfo Ham who is from Cuba put forward the thesis that "the problem which concerns us in this meeting can only be solved in status confessionis: when the three Abrahmic religions pray and act together to establish a permanent and just peace in Palestine."
He began his paper with a a quote from Louis Massignon, "Let us pray that the tears of the dead be stronger than the shouts for Vengeance!"

Women bloggers meet - in Ferney Voltaire

Recovering from high fever and a particularly vicious strain of tonsilitus last week it was great to have people over for a simple supper and lots of talk. Annie has just moved to Geneva and you can read her Blog here and George(ina) was travelling through on an ecumenical holiday after finishing her exams, you can read her blog here.
For me it was a real learning experience listening to them talking about the enormous challenges facing mainstream Christian youth organizations in the UK today. I realised that I have been away from "home" a long time and that I really am getting old. In 20 years the whole church youth scene has completely and utterly changed. It was also a stark reminder of just how weak many of our national ecumenical structures are, making a lot of the international work difficult too.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

La CULTina

Food at the opening reception of the of the Promised Land ecumenical consultation was provided by people dressed in shirts which said “Küche für Leute mit Sharfsinn” which could be translated as “cooking for people who like what’s hot”. Seeing the T-shirts I was intrigued and found papers and postcards on the tables explaining a bit more about la CULTina which is a training restaurant for young asylum seekers and refugees. It offers them a skill they can either take with them if they return or which makes them more able to enter the job market in Switzerland if they get their papers. They call their programme “the hot recipe for cultural understanding” – it’s not just about training people it’s also about raising awareness of other cultures in Bern. The food was great, beautifully thought out, well presented and most importantly delicious!

Yodelling really is an art form

As participants arrived from Ramallah and Edinburgh, from Vancouver and Beirut, from Dar es Salaam and the Hague they gathered at the back of the Heiliggeist Church in Bern and mingled over drinks and tasting Swiss cheese before the official welcoming speeches began.
Christine Lauterburg, a musician specialising in yodelling, encouraged people to move from the buffet to the pews by singing and playing her hand accordion, moving amongst the people. Her singing, accompanied on various instruments, punctuated the welcome speeches and led participants back to the buffet table at the end of the official greetings. It was glorious, unexpected and great fun adding just the right lightness of touch to the proceedings. Yodelling like this really show the human voice off like a musical instrument, it made us smile and lifted our spirits proving once more that folk music is great art.

Political stability would help spirituality flourish says Swiss diplomat

Only long lasting political stability and economic prosperity will help true spirituality flourish said Jean Daniel Ruch at the opening ceremony of the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum which is taking place in Bern and concentrating on the issue of the “promised land”. Ruch is the ambassador at large for special assignments of the Swiss foreign office.
Quoting St Exupéry who said “on ne craint que ce que l’on ne connaît pas” (we only fear what we do not know) Ruch pointed out that it is more difficult today for Israelis and Arabs to meet than it was 20 years ago. This highlights the role of countries like Switzerland which try to work for human rights, for more stability in the region and also promote dialogue as a key part of that.
In his opening remarks Ruch said that although it was important not to confuse questions of land and religion, it was also the case that religion could be hijacked by politics and vice-versa. He mentioned studies which showed that only 20% of the Israeli settlers in the West Bank gave religious rather than economic reasons for settling the area and added that it was nevertheless the views of these 20% that dominate the political agenda.
Europe has had a long-lasting impact on the Middle East and bears a responsibility for what has happened in the region from the time of the Crusades, through the Balfour agreement and the holocaust. There is a duty to contribute to a solution.

Change begins at home

I'm pleased to report that our friend Simon Barrow is back on the blog after a busy summer and he's posted these two good quotes about change beginning with ourselves.

“Instead of being so eager just to reform others, let us also make a serious effort to bring about out own transformation.” - Dom Helder Camara

“We can move in the direction of justice, but if our personal relationships don’t become more human, we haven’t moved in the direction of the reign of God and, in the long run, we will discover that our point of arrival is just another form of tyranny.” - Arturo Paoli, liberation theologian

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Back to Bern, this time for the promised land

Am off to Bern to interpret for a few days, I suspect that there won't be much of an internet connection. The consultation will include contributions from Harvey Cox and Othmar Keel amongst others so I'm quite looking forwards to it - despite as always feeling very edgy about the interpretation task and whether I'll be up to it. You can read about the consultation here.

One challenge for churches addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the fact that it takes place in a land that different religions consider holy. A conference in Bern will discuss the concept of the "Promised Land" and related theological issues with a view to help more churches become advocates for a just peace.

The big switch on for the big bang today

You can listen live to reports from the BBC's Andrew Marr about the switch on of the hadron super collider beneath our feet here in Geneva - though I do wish they'd stop saying the tunnels are beneath the alps - the tunnels are at the foot of the jura in France and Switzerland. Anyway I hope to be able to listen again to it later in the week. The BBC have been lucky to get privileged access to CERN for the switch. Marr was claiming they were the only journalists allowed in to the switch on. More about the programmes here.
My friend Evelyne Auberson has also done a "juste ciel" on Radio Suisse Romande on the big bang and the Cern experiment. I'll add the listen again link when I can.
Meanwhile if satire is your thing you may prefer to read this article which says scripture scrolls have been foudn which say the world will end on September 10 2008. hmmm ... well if it does no one will be reading this. The article says:

The Vatican and leading Islamic Clerics as well as Jewish leaders have pleaded with the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) not to switch on a giant particle accelerator designed to unlock the secrets of the Big Bang after ancient scrolls, predicting the end of the world this Wednesday, were made public.
The scrolls, written in Arabic and held by the Vatican are revered by Muslims and Christians who agree that the documents are real and authentic - they have been kept secret until now.
The scrolls claim that on Wednesday September 10 2008 - 'The Oceans will boil and the sky will turn black - from within the bowels of the earth will come a terrible fury - Armageddon comes and the doomsday arrives for all.'
"I'll be honest" said one Priest "I am worried. We asked CERN not to turn on the machine but they won't listen - they are doing it."

Before you all start going out fact checking and starting a new conspiracy theory the version of this I recieved had a line at the top saying: The story below is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious. In case you were wondering that means it's not true, ok.
A colleague has also remarked that the only balck hole he's noticed so far is the CERN live webcast. That's right folks the screen is, well, black.

Choosing to be a goat's cheese maker was a theological choice

Georgette Gribi started our feminist theology series on "Dieu est Belle" by saying that choosing to be a goat's cheese maker was as much a theological choice as anything else. Gribi teaches at Geneva's Ecumenical Theology Workshop (AOT) and makes goat's cheese.
She gave us a tour de force introduction to the Song of Songs as we pondered whether the wife in the love poem could be a feminine face of God. She rightly corrected the question pointing out that the lovers in the Song of Songs do not marry, but said that perhaps the female lover (l'amante) might show us a feminine face of God.
We had a wonderful and quite extraordinary discussion talking about desire and passion; the God of desire and our desire for God; the dangerous, passionate and unreasonable quest for God that the lovers could represent; the extraordinary mystical sermons of Bernard de Clairvaux on the Cantique.
We also pondered and gave thanks for the inclusion of this wonderful erotic poetry in the biblical canon. It has challeneged writers across the centuries - generating almost as many commentaries as the Psalms in the Middle Ages. It is also this love poem that is the reading at the Jewish festival of Pessach: the feast of liberation celebrated with the poetic words of passionate love.
Anne Coidan summed up by saying that she felt looking at this text helped her to connect with God as a being of desire. Quoting Mary Balmary she said that we are created in God's image but it is our work to try and resemble God. She felt that rehabilitating desire was part of that.
For my part it there is a phrase from Monty Python that I just can't resist at the end of this evening - "blessed indeed are the cheesemakers." Thank you Georgette for a wonderful evening I'm just sorry we didn't get more of a chance to talk about theology and cheese.
You'll soon be able to read her paper on the new theolfem blog. The blog is still under construction but you can find many of the papers from past years there already and our programme for this year. Oui mes amis c'est en français!

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Tageslosung - Daily Bible Readings

The German Herrnhüter have prepared daily readings of Bible verses called the "Losungen" since 1731. You can reach their site here.

Today's reading was perfect contradiction to the world economic and food crisis:

Der HERR wird zu seinem Volk sagen: Siehe, ich will euch Getreide, Wein und Öl die Fülle schicken, dass ihr genug daran haben sollt. Joel 2.19

In response to his people the Lord said: I am sending you grain, wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied. Joel 2 19

Interesting always to see the German and English against one another like that. Interesting to meditate God's promise of plenty in a world of the huge gap between those who have and those who don't.

Crepúsculo - Pequenos Escritos Ecumênicos

My hardworking and very discreet colleague Odair Pedroso Mateus has brought out a book of some of his writings in Portuguese.
The articles have intriguing titles like A Reforma Protestante em uma frase - The Protestant Reformation in one sentence, or Metafragmentos intercontextuais - Intercontextual metafragments.
Even though my Portuguese is as good as non-existant (I can order a caipirinha) I can see that these essays are written with care and conviction. It takes real discipline to write so concisely and clearly that even someone with just a vague memory of Latin can begin to see what you're hinting at.
It's a small book but the thinking is strong. Crepusculo is twilight, the time when the stars begin to come out. This star burns brightly.
I think if you go here and click on contato you might even be able to order a copy.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Can scribes be trained for the kingdom of heaven?

My colleague Theodore Gill offered a splendid meditation to the European press officers as they began their meeting on Friday - as is the way I didn't get to read it until today. It's starting point was this wonderful one line parable from Matthew's gospel:
And he said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old." (Matthew 13.52)
Theo then moved on to look at Jeremiah 36 as a model for communications officers
In Jeremiah 36, Baruch (Jeremiah's scribe) does appear in public repeatedly – until sympathetic courtiers advise him to go into hiding, if he and Jeremiah have any sense. One of these courtiers, Elishama, is described as ha-sofer, the king’s scribe. Baruch and Elishama, two communication secretaries, representing different interests;one warns the other to lay low, if he wishes to avoid prison or worse. So there was honour among professional communicators, at least in this case ...
You can read the rest here.
Now I need to find a one line parable about translators being trained for the kingdom of heaven.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

St Paul's press officer ...

This morning I preached at one of the Genevan Anglican churches for the meeting of the press officers' network of the European churches (PONEC).
You can find my sermon here, in it I wonder about how very good St Paul's spin doctor must have had to be.
Towards the end I also mention Laurent Schlumberger's excellent book Sur le seuil - les Protestants au Défi du témoignage - on the threshold Protestants faced with the challenge of witenssing to their faith. In it he argues for a renewal of bearing witness to our faith in a way that is honest about doubt but also doesn't get lost in intellectual discussion forever. I forgot to add in the sermon that Laurent moved from being a regional president in the Eglise Réformée to serve as minister to a "mission populaire" in Paris. Witnessing to faith is not (just) about writing books but really about getting onto the threshold and amongst the people.

Writing the sermon and revising it I thought about how hard it is for people to deal with conflict in the church - many of us cannot cope with muscular discussion. Over the decades our culture of debate has become less feisty. Just as society is becoming more diverse and plural we actually seem less able to cope with debate and disagreement. Easier to reduce church for praying and listening to nice things about God.
Anyway as ever I digress, here's how the sermon ends:

"Before I finish I’m afraid you are going to have to allow me one final linguistic aside. There is a wonderful German word Schwellenangst – it means fear of the threshold, fear of knocking on a new door, doing a new thing, being on a new threshold.
But God has not given us a spirit of fear of the thresholds where the witness to our faith takes place, but a spirit of dynamic power, passionate love and wise discretion.
So may God's Spirit truly blow a hurricane of wise discretion, love, and power calling us to live on that threshold where we bear witness to the faith and keeping all of us - 'on message'."

Friday, 5 September 2008

Call from India to pray for Orissa

The National Council of Churches in India has released this:
As a symbolic expression of solidarity with the suffering people, NCCI is inviting all its constituents, including Churches to dedicate 7th September 2008 Sunday Service to the people of Orissa. The WCC has encouraged the global ecumenical community to join in this prayer. The General Secretary of LWF and the General Secretary of WCC have appealed to the Prime Minister of India for effective intervention to address this serious concern.

You can find the prayer service here (scroll down). This is an extract from the confession of faith:

We experience and witness the Call of Christ amidst the pluralistic tradition and situation of our country. We are called out to be a People, who will be instrumental for the creation of a new world order. A world order, where Justice and Peace will be the corner stones.
We are drawn from innumerable diverse situations of caste, class, gender and race - into the liberative vision for a new Humanity - as shown by Christ. In this journey of ours, adversity has crossed our path. Each encounter with such adversity, is a test for the resilience of our Faith. A test for our love and commitment to Christ’s teaching.

Earlier in the week ENI also reported:

The Global Council of Indian Christians in an appeal to India's National Human Rights Commission on 2 September urged it "to take steps to see that the Christian institutions [in Karnataka] are not penalised for this action of solidarity and peaceful prayer for the victims of violence in Orissa [state]".

More than 30 000 Christian schools and colleges across the country had remained shut on 29 August to protest at what they said was orchestrated violence against Christians in Orissa that has claimed more than 20 lives and left more than 50 000 Christians refugees fleeing their homes to escape attacks by Hindu extremists.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

The big bang - it's nearly ready to happen again

Beneath our feet in the Pays de Gex in the amazing tunnels of CERN's particle collider the final preparations are underway for the big switch on next Thursday - which just happens to be September 11th ...
The Guardian has produced a wonderful bluffer's guide to the large Hadron collider (LHC). There's an excellent article by Michio Kaku on why the extremely tiny blackholes the collider may produce will not gobble up the universe. It is nevertheless expected that protesters will gather outside CERN's main entrance just up the road here on Wednesday next week.
Stephen Hawking says this in an article in the same part of the Guardian:
"Some have asked if turning on the LHC could produce some disastrous, unexpected result. Indeed, some theories of spacetime suggest the particle collisions might create mini black holes. If that happened, I have proposed that these black holes would radiate particles and disappear. If we saw this at the LHC, it would open up a new area of physics, and I might even win a Nobel prize. But I'm not holding my breath."

Meanwhile it always makes me smile that the French translation of the big bang is "le bing bang".
Anyway I do hope that CERN will still be open for me to visit at the end of the year - there's a three month wait for the guided tours and I'm sure they wouldn't still be taking bookings if they were worried about black holes.