Tuesday, 18 November 2008

A calligraphy exhibition by Bridget Dommen

"It is nowhere forbidden to laugh or to eat one's fill or gain new possessions or enjoy oneself with musical instruments or drink wine."
On Monday evening we got to see the originals of Bridget Dommen's calligraphy of Calvin quotes that are in the 2009 Calvin calendar for the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth next year. The originals are all beautifully framed and there are also cards of the different quotes available. The exhibition is on in the entrance foyer of the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva until Christmas.
It's all part of an attempt to try to reclaim Calvin from the prejudices about him which have grown up over the centuries.
At the "vernissage" - which is the wonderful French word for an opening night of an exhibition, meaning a varnishing, as in the varnishing of oil paintings - Douwe Visser, spoke both wittily and powerfully about the impact of Calvin's actual words - he even said he saw Calvin as his liberator.
When our communications secretary John Asling asked me last week to say in two sentences why the Theology Office of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches is doing an exhibition on Calvin, I had to think hard. Of course, it is obvious that the World Alliance of Reformed Churches has something with Calvin, especially in the Calvin09 year when the 500th anniversary of his birthday will be commemorated. No one can claim ownership of Calvin but as the largest global organisation in the tradition of John Calvin the World Alliance of Reformed Churches will most certainly be involved in this Calvin09 year. But still: why this exhibition?
Well, personally I see Calvin as my liberator. He made my Sunday life much happier. Let me explain. As a kid I grew up in a very orthodox reformed family in the Netherlands. Sunday life was going to church twice, in the morning and in the afternoon. No outdoor activities were allowed, except a short walk. I was a keen soccer player but to play that on Sunday was definitely not allowed. And oh how boring was that long, long day. The soccer ball in my room became so attractive. Yes my friend next door, he could play soccer on Sunday but he was Roman Catholic and my father used to say, that they could confess their sins and could continue after that as they liked. Well, I was prepared to confess all my sins if only I could go and play outside. But then on one of those Sundays the word of liberty came. Right from the pulpit in our church. It was during an afternoon service when our minister preached about the fourth commandment, about the Sabbath. He told the congregation in his sermon that we should not be too strict on Sunday because John Calvin himself in 16th century Geneva was now and then sailing in his boat on Sunday! This was a word for me. A word of salvation! The name John Calvin would be forever in my memory. And after the service I asked my mother whether she had listened well to the service. Of course she had. And oh how wonderful were the days when the word of the preacher still had great authority: the Sunday regime in our house became less strict. Thanks to John Calvin, sailing on the Geneva Lake.

You can read the full text of Douwe's speech here. Douwe works at the World Alliance of Reformed Churches as secretary for Theology and Ecumenical Engagement.

:: 2009 Calvin calligraphy calendar, price 15 Swiss francs (10 francs for orders of more than five copies), available from WARC, 150 route de Ferney, PO Box 2100, 1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland, Fax: +41 22 791 6505, Email: warc@warc.ch

Order online at: http://warc.jalb.de/warcajsp/side.jsp?news_id=635&part_id=0&navi=31