On the bus this evening two women behind me were talking about this little book which is a guide to how to work out how you might want to vote in France's municipal elections - first round on March 9th.
Local mayors have quite extraordinary powers in France (if you come from a different political culture) and are almost like mini presidents of their villages or towns.
When I got off the bus there was a heated discussion going on in front of the posters of the four different "lists" which are on the official hoardings outside the supermarket.
The commune of Ferney Voltaire has four lists of potential groups who would like to govern this very rich little town near Geneva. I am still not at all sure who I am going to vote for (Europeans can vote in local and European elections - but not general elections - if they've been resident for two years) but I know there is absolutely no way I will vote for the current mayor.
It says it all that his list is called "Une ambition partagée" - shared ambition. I refuse to put a link up to their website - what I think about Pierre-Etienne Duty is not publishable without being actionnable I fear - and he has a load of lawyers in his team one of whom is doing the papers for a house sale for us next week! We also have Ferney avenir, which has a person who was mayor of a neighbouring commune for 20 years as the main candidate, who's good but seen as being perhaps too ambitious. There are some interesting people on the list, including one of our neighbours. Then there's J'aime Ferney, which seems to claim to be mainly apolitical and made up by a group of people who have moved into the area and want to try and change things. One time local politician and journalist Alex Décotte in his brilliant Ferney Candide does quite a hatchet job on them, it's true I haven't found a website for them yet - but then we know people on this list too.
And finally there's Ferney pour tous, we've just discovered we know several people on that list too - and the person leading that used to be the deputy to the current mayor. Really this list needs to unite with the Ferney avenir list otherwise the other two will go through to the second round and we will not really have a proper choice.
Confused, yes I think that's the point - you also need ot buy "aux Urnes citoyens", it only costs a euro. Oh dear, I still find French politics terribly frustrating. It's always more about personalities than about parties and in the end I find it all rather feudal and strange. Anyway more in the days to come as the race hots up!
Friday, 29 February 2008
On the bus this evening two women behind me were talking about this little book which is a guide to how to work out how you might want to vote in France's municipal elections - first round on March 9th.
Today I'm having a day off and instead of slobbing around and watching daytime telly (very sinful and wonderful!) I'm up and dressed and enjoying my leap day of freedom before 9.00 It's wonderful to have the whole day stretching ahead of me and nothing other than the pleasurable constraint of lunch and shopping with a good friend. Fortunately she has the same attititude to shopping I do - it's sort of ok but sitting in a tea shop chatting is the real fun!
Anyway the day began well when I rediscovered in our spare bedroom some books I'd even forgotten I was looking for . As a result I'l be able to take with me on the bus Rabbi Marc-Alain Ouaknin's splendid little book Dieu et l'art de la pêche à la ligne - God and the art of line fishing. It's part of a series published by Catholic publishers Bayard called Qui donc est Dieu - Who's God then? I bought several of them when in parish ministry as they offer very different philosophical perspectives on God and are short and fun to read.
Anyway in the Ouaknin book I found this morning I was delighted to be able to find my favourite quote by the sadly deceased French stand up comedian Raymond Devos "Comment identifer un doute avec certitude" - how can you identify a doubt with certainty? It even made my husband laugh before he had to go to work.
Thursday, 28 February 2008
In our simple morning prayer service today Simone Sinn offered us a wonderful and thoughtful meditation on the word and meaning of wings in the Bible.
The idea of the protective wings of God as a place of refuge in times of fear and tempest; a place of shelter within which to give praise and experience joy; a symbol of righteousness and healing; a symbol for God's tender care and concern; and then finally a powerful and beautiful metaphor for renewal and a soaring spiritual of resistance.
This resumé does not do justice to Simone's words this morning, which were not written down, but you can read her choice of Bible verses below. She prepared a gentle, soaring moment for us as the start to our day.
Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, until the destroying storms pass by.
For you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.
But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
Wednesday, 27 February 2008
Pax Christi has launched an Easter solidarity initiative with Iraq's Christians. The French Federation of the Catholic Press is supporting the initiative as is Réforme. As an ecumenical sign of solidarity all of the Christian press in France agreed to publish the same article by Laurent Larcher on the Pax Christi visit to Iraq. Bishop Marc Stenger, president of Pax Christi France, headed the delegation and my colleague in Paris Didier Crouzet, who is charge of the Reformed Church of France's international work, also took part.
Faced with demands from people on the ground for visas for family members trapped in other countries Bishop Stenger said "We can't do everything but I do commit myself to alert our government and my compatriots to your situation, your demands, your trials and suffering. French Christians will live Holy Week in fellowship with you. They will think of you, pray for you. They are your brothers and sisters, your are theirs."
The World Association of Christian Communicators (WACC) has also been supporting campaigns on issues of linguistic diversity as you can read here.
This quote from novelist Elias Canetti ends of the article,
"There is no such thing as an ugly language. Today I hear every language as if it were the only one, and when I hear of one that is dying, it overwhelms me as though it were the death of the earth.’"
The World Association for Christian Communication "promotes communication for social change. It believes that communication is a basic human right that defines people's common humanity, strengthens cultures, enables participation, creates community, and challenges tyranny and oppression."
Giving people the possiblity to learn and speak their mother tongue is a key part of communication for social change.
Tuesday, 26 February 2008
Some days I do guided tours of the ecumenical centre for groups of visitors - particularly if they are French or German speaking. It's fun and the building has fabulous and powerful stories to tell - a beautiful chapel, a large piece of the Berlin wall in the garden, an enormous wall tapestry from Aubusson and much much more. I love showing people around and answering questions.
Well I do normally.
Today I stood in for a colleague to talk more in depth about ecumenism with a group and suddenly found myself fielding a question in German that I was not at all prepared for. Predictably my brain turned to mush.
The question went something like this - "Could you try to tell us what it is you're trying to achieve with your career and work here."
In the end after trying for the jokey response "heaven of course" I'm actually rather pleased they made me think about this. I realised that I do believe in "Unity in Diversity" even if ecumenism is not flavour of the month at the moment. Unity in diversity is a sort of red thread which helps me make sense of life and the world (well a bit anyway). For me it's about a faith that is non-monolithic, continually prepared to learn from others and be humble enough to be challenged by and even integrate ideas and realities beyond itself. The world is not just the way I see it but the way others see it.
Somewhere along the line of my rather tortured response this afternoon I realised that unity in diversity helps me cope with and understand the complexities of life and the world.
Let's just say that while I was speaking I perceivied that it made sense to me somehow - that was probably the moment my brain turned from mush and started thinking in French while my lips still continued speaking German. A moment of pure incoherent coherence.
I've just posted a sermon preached by Paul Oestreicher to the documents section. He preached it on becoming a Companion of the Cross of Nails in Coventry Cathedral but only sent it on to us yesterday. (Paul is on the right in the picture from Coventry above.)
In it he ranges over the healing of memories, peace, homosexuality, war, unity, the church. Only someone with Paul's unique history, spirituality and political engagement can preach the word in quite this way and also incarnate a powerful gospel of love and meaning.
Paul ends the sermon with an invitation to the eucharist which he precedes by reading a poem by the secular Jew Erich Fried. Paul has been able to hold together being an Anglican priest with being Quaker chaplain to the University of Sussex and is a passionate campaigner for peace and justice.
IT IS WHAT IT IS ~ Erich Fried
it is nonsense, says reason
it is what it is, says love
it is unhappiness, says reflection
it is nothing but pain, says fear
it is hopeless, says insight
it is what it is, says love
it is ridiculous, says pride
it is frivolous, says caution
it is impossible, says experience
it is what it is, says love
I've just posted two testimonies from Iraq and from Belarus prepared for the Universal Day of Prayer for Students which the World Student Christian Federation (WSCF) organised.
I am so impressed by the young Christians in Belarus, their spirit and tenacity.Listening to and reading the stories from Iraq was also very moving - praying in the midst of war and being supported by others far away who are praying for you.
This week my colleague Dr Manoj Kurian has written the meditation for the Ecumenical Water Network's Lent blog. 2008, as well as being the international year of languages is also the international year of sanitation.
As well as being vital to human health, sanitation also makes a vital contribution to human dignity, improving mental health and feelings of self-worth.
Remember to prepare for World Water Day by highlighting water issues in your community.
Monday, 25 February 2008
Today was the anniversary of a 1945 bomb attack on Erfurt in which 268 people died in the cellar in which they were sheltering.
Bishop Axel Noack led a service of commemoration in the Augustinerkloster in Erfurt during which a cross of nails from Coventry Cathedral was given to the former monastery which will become a centre of the community of the cross of nails.
I grew up near Coventry with its old war-ruined cathedral open to the sky, the walk from the old to the new cathedral is powerful and impressive. (The official guide says it is to walk from Good Friday to Easter Sunday.) The international reconciliation work which has reached out from the cathedral through the community of the cross of nails since the war is practical, down to earth and deeply spiritual.
When I went to live in East Germany in summer 1989 I spent my first week in the Augustinerkloster in Erfurt. It is a beautiful city and the monastery was the place where Martin Luther took his final vows as a monk. I seem to vaguely remember that Jan Hus also took his final vows there, but maybe not.
After a week in the sublime city of Erfurt I went to stay with Axel and Gisela Noack in one of East Germany's most polluted towns near Bitterfeld. I later spent 6 months working with them at the gentle and not so gentle work of looking after a parish at a time of enormous change after the Berlin wall came down.
So as I feel nostalgia for those times - and my youth - I'm pleased that today Axel received a powerful symbol of reconciliation from my home region.
More about the community of the cross of nails later in the week.
Rev. Simone Sinn from Germany and Rev. Rolita Machila from Zambia led Lenten worship in the chapel this morning. They powerfully wove together a Lenten reflection on Bonhoeffer's poem Christians and Pagans with the gospel story of Jesus meeting the Samaratain woman.
The liturgy they put together for the third week in Lent can be found here. The sermon which they prepared and preached together can be found here. Rolita and Simone both work at the Lutheran World Federation in the department of theology and studies.
I case you don't know the poem here it is in German and in English:
Christen und Heiden ~ Christians and Pagans ~ Poem by Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1944
Christen und Heiden Menschen gehen zu Gott in ihrer Not,
flehen um Hilfe, bitten um Glück und Brot,
um Errettung aus Krankheit, Schuld und Tod.
So tun sie alle, alle, Christen und Heiden.
Menschen gehen zu Gott in Seiner Not,
finden ihn arm, geschmäht, ohne Obdach und Brot,
sehn ihn verschlungen von Sünde, Schwachheit und Tod.
Christen stehen bei Gott in Seinem Leiden.
Gott geht zu allen Menschen in ihrer Not,
sättigt den Leib und die Seele mit Seinem Brot,
stirbt für Christen und Heiden den Kreuzestod,
und vergibt ihnen beiden.
Christians and Pagans
People turn to God when they're in need,
plead for help, contentment, and for bread,
for rescue from their sickness, guilt, and death.
They all do so, both Christian and pagan.
People turn to God in God's own need,
and find God poor, degraded, without roof or bread,
see God devoured by sin, weakness, and death.
Christians stand with God to share God's pain.
God turns to all people in their need,
nourishes body and soul with God's own bread,
takes up the cross for Christians and pagans, both,
and in forgiving both, is slain.
The splendid French circumflex ^ indicates an s has been removed for example côte which can mean coast. So enquête would give you enqueste or perhaps inquest. It often means inquiry and it's interesting that Enquete is the word the German parliament uses for its official parliamentary commissions of inquiry. The German Bundestag chooses the loan word from French rather than the German Untersuchung. Maybe enquete sounds slightly nobler and not so forensic, more open and philosophical and inquiring.
But I've chosen enquête for rather more religious reasons. To be en quête de sens (note the gap between the two words) would not be to be inquiring about meaning but to be questing for meaning. En quête means to be searching, to be journeying. Clergy and religious will sometimes in French refer to a person as being en quête - someone who is looking, searching, questing to find themselves, or God, or meaning or a purpose.
So être en quête is a bit like being on pilgrimmage, not just on the journey of Lent but the meaningful journey of life.
Sunday, 24 February 2008
Over the weekend thanks to catching up with Dierdre Good's wonderful blog I've learnt that "The Torah: a Women's Commentary" was launched in December last year - and that it sold out within five weeks. You can read more about the project on the Women in Reform Judaism site and also in the article Deirdre cites by Jane Lampman. It's the first commentary on the Torah to be written by Jewish women scholars. It is about women claiming their spiritual inheritance, just as the five daughters of Zelophehad claimed their earthly inheritance in Numbers 27.
The Commentary has been 13 years in preparation. Now I just need to try and get someone to do something similar in French, though I imagine there would be more of a market for a German version.
However my real problem is how am I going to find enough time to read all these books I'm finding out about on the internet. I'll have to apply for six months study leave!
You can see details here of some of the prize winning artwork from the comptetition organised by Protestantisme et Images. The overall theme of the competition was "Je te dévore ou je te parle" based on Genesis 2.4 to 3.24 - "I devour you or I speak to you". You can see the exhibition if you're visiting Paris between March 8-16th as the exhibition is part of the Christian Festival of the Marais at the Bastille Reformed Temple.
The poster is based on Sophie Jaton's witty take on the theme inspired by Eve eating the apple but also by Alice in Wonderland eating and growing. She also took inspiration from theologian Bernard Rordorf's article on Genesis 2-3.
Personally I particularly like Sylvie Potard-Tschiember's "flesh of my flesh" which won second prize.
I'm writing about this now as a reminder to myself to get out a bit more - the original exhibition took place in Geneva and I'm only reading about it now it goes to Paris, typical!
Today the Ecumenical Prayer Cycle moves to France and Germany. One is the country I live in the other the country where my father was born. For the whole of my childhood and youth Germany was two countries and not one. Breslau, the German city my Grandmother was born in and where my great grandfather was the city architect has been part of Poland, as Wroclaw, since the end of the second world war.
The shifting border between three countries in that part of the world has been much fought over. I can remember being shown ossuaries filled with the skulls and bones of the war dead in small Catholic chapels in villages near Wroclaw.
When not living in the country of my birth I seem to have lived mainly in borderland areas. Ten kilometres down the road from Dunkerque was the Belgium border with French spoken on one side and Flemish on the other. Vlaanderen, Flandres or Flanders is however a cross border region, Flemish is still spoken a bit in the villages on the French side of the border. Over the centuries generations of European soldiers have lost their lives in battles and wars fought over Flanders fields, war graves can be found in the middle of fields of wheat. Cartridges and other debris of the first world war still rise to the surface in some parts when the fields are ploughed.
When I lived in West Berlin the border was only 2 kilometers down the road and although the same language was spoken on both sides it certainly was not permeable. The Berlin wall with its watchtowers and death strip ran through the middle of the forest, late in the night you could hear "Allied" tank manoevres. Despite being a powerful and violent symbol, the wall finally came down through people power and not fire power. A great moment of hope.
These days it would be easy to think I live in a sleepy backwater - not entirely untrue either. But the history of this part of what is now France has also been marked by wars of religion and violent repression. The Bailliage de Gex was Protestant when it became part of France in 1601. Versoix and Grand Saconnex were Catholic and part of France until they became part of Switzerland in the post-Napoleonic Congress of Vienna in 1815. Geneva was for a short time under Napoleon the capital of the French département du Léman. The fields I travel through to work have been fought over in political and religious conflicts.
As the ecumenical prayer cycle invites prayers for the peoples and churches of France and Germany this week and for Switzterland next week I shall focus on praying for the healing of memories and for lasting peace in the borderlands of the world.
Saturday, 23 February 2008
Sieben Wochen Ohne is a Lenten campaign of the German Protestant churches. It's 25 years old this year and was born when a group of journalists and theologians had the idea of doing something during Lent that stemmed from the desire to change lifestyles. It was launched in Hamburg initially but the media liked the idea and it quickly spread to other parts of Germany. According to Stern magazine aproximately one in five Germans take part in Lent campaigns of some kind, giving up a luxury during Lent. That's quite impressive.
This year's slogan is Seven Weeks Without Waste and it fits in well with other Lenten campaigns for a carbon fast. I suppose you've also guessed that Seven Weeks for Water took its inspiration from the German strapline - though I do hasten to add that it was drawn up over fair trade coffee rather than after a night on a pub crawl.
So now I suppose it's confession time. My own Lenten observance has quite frankly been pretty pathetic so far. I'm good at having the right ideas (orthodoxy) but not so good at doing the right thing (orthopraxis). Reflecting on my own many and various failings I realise just how demanding and complex anything like spiritual discipline is in the way I lead my life. Time to listen to my own sermons and act upon them I suppose.
The general title of the German campaign is not just seven weeks without, but seven weeks without being stingy. It's not only about giving something up but also about about generosity and solidarity.
The name éthiquable is a brilliant pun and clever bit of marketting, fair trade in French is le commerce équitable, by changing the letters around you get the idea of ethical trade not just fair trade. It's also not too far from the French for label which is étiquette, giving the idea of an ethical label.
Of course the French word étiquette is used in English to describe how you are supposed to behave properly in polite society - more about being falsely charming than behaving ethically.
Friday, 22 February 2008
We've just returned from a farewell dinner for a friend who is returning to Canada after nearly 7 years working in Geneva. It was a fun occasion in a very busy restaurant in the heart of Paquis, Geneva's red light district. Sitting next to me I had someone who speaks fluent Kiswahili, Swedish and English and opposite me someone who speaks Zulu, English, German and some French. Always good for a linguist to feel humbled!
Saying goodbye is in some ways an integral part of life for Geneva's international workers. It's also one of the reasons that some of the local population find it hard to connect with people working in the international organisations, they've seen too many former friends move away. Writing a card for Callie, I realised how transitory many friendships here are. It's easy to let work dominate so you don't even get to know people as well as you would like. Then before you realise it years have passed and you or they have moved on.
When good friends move away you are somehow no longer the same. It's hard to maintain relationships over large distances even by email. The serendipity of a shared cup of coffee and a listening ear at just the right moment is not something even the internet can offer. Friendships are important and I very often don't invest enough time in those I've shared with over the years. Appologies if you're a friend I've neglected over the past two decades or so.
I've just come across this wonderful scientific site by Martin Chaplin which tells you masses of things about water in a really accessible way. When I was at school I remember being fascinated in chemistry by the idea that there was something in the atomic structure of water molecules which means that a bit of air gets trapped when the temperature falls so ice floats rather than sinks.
Of course I've bored generations of young people in catechism and école biblique by using ice cubes to explain the idea behind the theology of the trinity - as you breathe on the ice cube so it melts and you can see both water vapour, water and ice - it's the same substance in three different forms, like God is: Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer - or for patriarchal traditionalists among you Father ,Son and Holy Spirit, "God in three persons blessed trinity". As I am not entirely convinced on every single day of the week by the theology of the trinity myself, I'm not sure that I have done much more than confuse lots of children and young people into thinking that God is a melting ice cube. This just shows my commitment to educating future generations into growing up to be as confused as I am. Living with confusion is what modern life is about isn't it?
Anyway the fact that ice floats might seem like a completely usleless piece of knowledge, but the structure of this tiny little molecule which traps air and makes ice float is the building block for all life. If ice sank rather than floated then all that yukky rich mucus and mud at the bottom of the ponds from which amoebas and life emerged would have been smothered before it could be born.
On good days, when even the trinity seems understandable and believable, I do reckon God must have had something to do with the structure of H2O. Water is the most amazing stuff and even chemistry lessons can get you thinking about God!
Thursday, 21 February 2008
At the end of International Mother Language Day I've been rather tired. That mainly had to do with the WCC central committee having finally ended (and nothing to do with the wine I've drunk this evening!). I always forget what a relief it is when these big meetings end. Yesterday evening it was such a wonderful feeling on the bus home to be thinking about what I would be cooking rather than wondering whether the take away pizza place would still be open! Last night I cooked for Paola and Andrea who worked as stewards with me during central committee, it was really good to relax together and to eat some home-cooked fare and finally have some time to actually talk about what their studies and plans are.
Tonight we've been eating raclette with friends and telling silly stories about what is "polite" in our various cultures - in a mixture of German and English.
Meanwhile UNESCO has launched the international year of languages in Paris and I would encourage you once more to read the UNESCO courier and also to study Don Osborn's Website on African languages, technology and development.
Languages matter. How many words did you use today?
Wednesday, 20 February 2008
In preparation for International Mother Tongue Day tomorrow I've just been visiting the Foundation for Endangered Languages Website and also looking at material on the Rosetta Project which seeks to build an archive of all documented human languages and there is also more on language and development on the Partners in Language Development site.
Yesterday lunchtime the WCC launched the French edition of an HIV/AIDS pastoral counselling manual called Listening with Love (well in French it's called Ecouter avec Amour). Nyambura Njoroge who coordinates the WCC's EHAIA programme spoke about how this valuable tool has been translated into many languages to help churches build capacity in this key area of health and accompaniment. Later in the discussion Manoj Kurian who works more widely on HIV/AIDS with the WCC said how important it is in Africa, Asia and many other places to translate health and counselling material into local languages. So I went to host and interpret for a book launch and ended up talking about languages (and eating the delicious cakes made by my colleague Linda's mother!).
Anyway below I have posted a long extract from the Foundation for Endangered Languages site which points out that when a language dies much more is lost than simply linguistic knowledge. For health, for development and for counselling keep talking, protect your mother tongue.
"There is agreement among linguists who have considered the situation that over half of the world's languages are moribund, i.e. not effectively being passed on to the next generation. We and our children, then, are living at the point in human history where, within perhaps two generations, most languages in the world will die out.
This mass extinction of languages may not appear immediately life-threatening. Some will feel that a reduction in numbers of languages will ease communication, and perhaps help build nations, even global solidarity. But it has been well pointed out that the success of humanity in colonizing the planet has been due to our ability to develop cultures suited for survival in a variety of environments. These cultures have everywhere been transmitted by languages, in oral traditions and latterly in written literatures. So when language transmission itself breaks down, especially before the advent of literacy in a culture, there is always a large loss of inherited knowledge.
Valued or not, that knowledge is lost, and humanity is the poorer. Along with it may go a large part of the pride and self-identity of the community of former speakers.
And there is another kind of loss, of a different type of knowledge. As each language dies, science, in linguistics, anthropology, prehistory and psychology, loses one more precious source of data, one more of the diverse and unique ways that the human mind can express itself through a language's structure and vocabulary."
For centuries Christians in the western Catholic Church prayed in Latin in formal worship.
In the chapel of the ecumenical centre and at many international church gatherings a tradition has grown up of praying the Lord's Prayer all together but each in our own language. At least once during the service everyone gets to pray in their mother tongue, or in the language they feel most comfortable praying.
I've been reading alot this week about the link between good sustainable development work and nurturing mother languages. For spirituality to come from the heart, the language we pray in has to have deep meaning and imply connectedness. Not sure whether for more sustainable spirituality we should also nurture mother languages or whether perhaps the mother language of prayer itself is what needs to be nurtured.
Tuesday, 19 February 2008
This week it's my colleague Simon Oxley who's written the Lenten meditation on the Seven weeks for water blog. How can you be an advocate for water where you live?
Monday, 18 February 2008
Things have not been easy at work today, painful even.
As the long working day drew to a close I remembered this blessing from the WCC Vancouver assembly worship book. I used it last week for the meditational space at my course in Rome and thought of it again today as I reflected on what motivates me in my job. It's something to do with the unity of all humanity despite everything...
As the earth keeps turning, hurtling through space,
And night falls and day breaks from land to land,
Let us remember people - waking, sleeping, being born, and dying -
One world, one humanity.
Let us go from here in peace.
I finally got to worship this morning which was prepared and led by members of WSCF (World Student Christian Federation). The worship included a wonderful array of languages, including a sung version of the Lord's prayer in Arabic and the epistle chanted I think in Finnish. The sermon was preached in French by a young woman from Africa.
Today is the Universal Day of Prayer for Students and this is an ecumenical day of prayer going back to 1898 which is very impressive. You can access the full liturgy and preparatory notes here. You can see how you can get involved in the Student Christian Movement here.
The reading from the Hebrew scriptures for the day of prayer is Joel 2.28-29
I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.
At the Bible study following worship WSCF we heard powerful testimonies about the work of young Christians working together and praying together from SCM leaders in Baghdad and Belarus. Then we were asked to try to answer the following questions:
* What do you hear and learn from your sons and daughters and slaves today?
* How might young people today learn from these texts?
The other text was from 1 Timothy 4-11-16:
These are the things you must insist on and teach. Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhorting, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders. Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.
Pray today for students everywhere and for those who are desperate to learn and have no access to even basic education.
Sunday, 17 February 2008
© UNESCO/Maro Haas
Thanks to Don Osborn's comment on my earlier post about the International Year of Languages I've discovered an amazing amount of extraordinary work linking mother languages to sustainable and long term development work and also to a whole host of other issues. I'll try to blog a bit more about them over the days ahead.
Meanwhile Don has posted a list of ideas and links about the year of languages here.
He's also involved in a project called Bisharat about which more another day.
Anyway what's your mother language? I have a mother tongue (English) and what I sometimes refer to as a father tongue (German) which I didn't really learn properly until I was 18. I also have an adopted tongue, French which I was fairly fluent in by the time I was 12. I'm happiest swearing and counting in English, praying in French and telling my husband off and drinking beer in German!
This afternoon at 16.00 the central committee will join with people from the local churches in Geneva's St Pierre Cathedral for a service to celebrate the WCC's 60th anniversary.
His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew will preach at the celebration this afternoon.
You can read about Patriarch Bartholomew's strong involvement in environmental issues on the Web site of Religion Science and the Environment. The site of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople also has a lot of information about this Orthodox Church and carries full texts of the Patriarch's 1st September messages. September 1st is creation or environment day in the Orthodox Church. Learning about this tradition has led other churches to try to have a "creation tide" or time for creation in their traditions. You can read more about this on the Christian Ecology Link site.
We need to learn from one another, both within the church and beyond the church. Learning about and from one another allows for more creativity, more humility (our own concerns cannot always be centre stage) and more effectiveness.
Our service of celebration this afternoon looks back over the past 60 years but also forwards to how we can renew the spirit of ecumenical learning in each new generation. In order to "stay together" we'll have to be willing to continue learning from one another.
© UNESCO/Maro Haas
As someone who suffers from claustrophobia I've always assumed that this was English word to translate the German Platzangst. Catching the bus with Tony Coates this week, who is staying with us during central committee, we got to talking about how some languages have words for things that other languages have no concept of. Apparently there are two different words in Spanish for corner, depending on whether it is an internal or external corner - very logical if you think about it. As we were trying to find other examples Tony then came up with the opposite, a word in German which means both claustrophia and agoraphobia. A literal translation of Platzangst would be "space fear" - originally it was an academic term for fear of open spaces but became used in everyday speech for fear of enclosed spaces. Interesting how languages evolve.
Saturday, 16 February 2008
Fernando Enns' book on the Peace Church and the Ecumenical Community was launched at central committee this week. There is an ENI story about Fernando's book here.
Fernando is a Mennonite from Germany, but born in Brazil. He's professor of theology at Hamburg University.
Together with others he led yesterday morning's reflections at the central committee on the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (IEPC) which is due to take place in 2011. At the end of the morning session a rainbow of fabric with a globe suspended in the middle was raised to form a canopy in the entrance foyer. Unfortunately that was the moment the batteries in my camera ran out!
Anyway later in the morning the central committee voted to hold the IEPC in Jamaica, so we'll be singing the convocation's theme Glory to God and Peace on Earth to a reggae beat!
Friday, 15 February 2008
Marloes Keller from the Netherlands has a blog about ecumenism. She's a member of central committee and takes good photos from the floor of the meeting as well as writing with humour and insight about the processes of the meeting. This post has a great shot of the slide giving advice on how to move forwards in consensus mode if the meeting is not agreed. Consensus is the form of decision-making that the WCC has been using since the last assembly and it's been interesting to see the central committee growing into this more iterative way of decision-making.
Marloes ends this post by saying that ecumenism is making her world larger but then asks whether it is also increasing her faith? (My understanding of Dutch is limited so I apologise if that's a mis-representation.)
Anyway Marloes is a communicator and web editor of IKON which is the interchurch communicaitons tool of the Netherlands. There's some really fascinating stuff on the site including part looking at the Bible the Koran as holy books of two world faiths.
This is Andrea from the Brethren Church in Uruguay she's sitting here in the Russian interpretation booth and enjoying watching central committee proceedings from up above.
The booths are like an eyrie to look down on the assembled people.
It's quite fun to be able to flick between the different interpretation channels and listen to the different languages. Both Andrea and Paula who've been working with the language service for central committee are already good linguists themselves with an impressive spread of languages between them.
This is Paula from the Protestant Church in the Netherlands. As the ecumenical prayer cycle encourages us to pray for the Netherlands and Benelux countries this week it's good to have people from those countries with us.
On Valentine's day she and Andrea decortated the windows of the booth with multi-coloured hearts. I should also add that they were also both punctual, worked hard and managed to maintain interest in the discussions and presentation of the meeting - sometimes quite an achievement!
Thursday, 14 February 2008
At lunchtime today Gérald Machabert who's working with the WCC as a French writer this week told me about the sudden death of Daniel Jouve. The news has made me sad all afternoon.
Daniel was the ERF's regional president when I was the minister in Ferney-Voltaire. We didn't always agree about things - two Protestants together rarely do - but we spent long hours in the car late at night visiting young ministers starting out in churches. I learnt alot from him. There's no one to share any of those stories with now.
Daniel returned to local church ministry in Bergerac in 2006, his wife Evelyne is chaplain to the Fondation John Bost.
"Feras-tu un miracle pour les morts ? Les trépassés se lèveront-ils pour te célébrer ? Dans la Tombe peut-on dire ta fidélité, et dans l’Abîme dire ta fidélité ? Ton miracle se fera-t-il connaître dans les Ténèbres, et ta justice au pays de l’Oubli ?" (Psaume 88, 11-13).
The WCC general secretary Samuel Kobia today gave a wide ranging report to the WCC central committee currently meeting in Geneva. He began with questions about what our hopes, fears and anxieties for our churches were. You can read the full text of the report here and a report about it here.
It particularly interested me to think about how a global organisation can position itself to be responsive at a time of such rapid change in the world. It fitted in with some of what I had been discussing and learning about during my course in Rome over the weekend.
World-wide bodies need more than ever to engage with the local, with national and regional concerns. But what is the best way to do that? Perhaps naming hopes, fears and anxieties for our churches is one way to start to find a way forwards.
I've been interested at this meeting and at other international church gatherings to notice how much people want to tell their own stories. All of us somehow want to make our own contribution, to say what we think, to get our country or point on the agenda. But how much time to we really make for listening? How much space do we actually make for the "other" in our need to tell our own story? Somehow I think the space we leave for the other in the way we tell our own story is where dialogue, ecumenism and unity might begin. And of course every generation needs to learn anew both to tell its own story with integrity and to truly listen to otherness.
Today at the WCC central committee we were able to welcome our two new member churches - they were voted in as full member churches yesterday but their representatives only got to Geneva today, thanks to delays in their flights.
The two new member churches are the Independent Presbyterian Church in Brazil and the Lao Evangelical Church, the first WCC member church from Laos.
Following their official welcome cakes were cut and shared amongst delegates, visitors and staff at the coffee break.
Given that many Christian churches still have theological issues about sharing communion or the eucharist, the cakes were a good celebratory symbolic shared meal ressembling an agape.
The word fellowship is translated either as communauté or communion into French and as Gemeinschaft into German. This can lead to problems when translating theological documents - a fellowship is not the same as a communion but they can both be rendered by the same German word - which also can mean community! Trying to work out what the author may mean is often quite a challenge.
Fortunately fellowship with chocolate or raspberry cake is easy to translate into most languages and cutures.
Jerry van Marter, diretor of the Presbyterian News Service is in Geneva for central committee and writing for ENI. He's just come back from Russia where he wrote a blog as well as powerful news stories. It's interesting reading Jerry's blog about how missionaries living in Russia cope with learning the language, getting on with the challenges of church and daily life, and diaconnal work.
One of the things I love about working in the ecumenical centre in Geneva is how those coming through the building open us up to new perspectives and facts.
With the WCC's central committee meeting at the moment, there are even more people than usual around to tell stories from their contexts over coffee or lunch.
It's been compelling and very moving to listen to people from the churches who have been living through the recent terrible violence in Kenya. Several have lost friends and family members and had to seek refuge themselves. It's been horrifying to hear that at some points children and schools became a focus for the violence. Yesterday we heard that St Paul's Univeristy in Kenya, in particular the theology faculty, have managed to regroup all the students. I cannot imagine what it must be like to study in such difficult circumstances, but we are all hoping that things will continue to remain calm and that trust can begin to be rebuilt.
Earlier in the week over lunch with Eden Grace, a Quaker form the USA who lives in Kenya with her family, I learnt both of her own evacuation from the Quaker mission to a Mennonite guest house in Nairobi but also about the Quaker mission to the Luhya people. You can read reports on Kenya here from a Quaker perspective.
It was fascinating to listen to Eden talking about the evangelical mission of the Quakers in Kenya and the fact that more than half of the world's Quakers are Luhya. Also the form of Quaker worship practised in Kenya is very different from what European Quakers might be used to - not at all so much based on silence. So a lunchtime talk over coffee really opened my horizons and educated me.
Meanwhile the St Paul's University, the Quakers and so many other humanitarian and church organisations working in Kenya are trying to tentatively and courageously work their way back to a more peaceful normality. They need the suport of our prayers but also our generous practical and financial support.
Wednesday, 13 February 2008
Evidently I actually only write in different ways about the same thing. The latest post on the Ecumenical Water Network blog is also about a spirituality of resistance. Please try and visit the EWN site and do leave your comments and ideas about water issues and campaigns, water prayers etc. Remember to prepare for World Water day on March 22nd!
Rev Dr Walter Altmann from Brazil, the moderator of the WCC central committee, gave an interesting address encouraging member churches and individuals to persevere in ecumenical endeavours and not lose heart, even if the road seems long.
Altmann ended by saying, "The ecumenical movement most needs those who are able to persevere. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to grant us that gift of perseverance, and the willingness to move ahead". You can read the full text of his address here.
I enjoyed listening to Altmann's address because I had been so involved in thinking about my own dying denomination over the weekend. The idea of perseverance - for unity, for the gospel - made me think about how very counter-cultural this long term, slow paradigm could be today. We are so used to instant and immediate news, results, change etc. Instant unity in some kind of easily-available effervescent soluble tablet just isn't the way forwards. Yet when change happens so fast how can we nevertheless link the long term slow perseverance with a responsiveness that is both caring and prophetic?
As usual I don't have any answers to my own questions. But I do have an image from my adopted church culture. Marie Durand with a group of other women was held prisoner in the Tour de Constance in Aigues Mortes for 38 years during the wars of religion. It is said that over the years she and the others engraved into the rock of the wall "résister" - still quite visible if you visit today. Keep going, persevere, don't give up hope or faith. It's a powerful story for French Protestants even today, about how even a tiny minority can keep faith. Seems a good thought to end the day on.
Work days are long at the moment - but the frosty early-morning sunrises are quite spectacular.
I came straight back from the night train from Rome to the WCC executive and central committees. It's always hard work but quite good fun as we have a full complement of translators and interpreters working with us and it's the one time we get to actually talk with colleagues regularly about translation and language issues.
Unpicking the meaning of rather tortuously phrased English is my main contribution to the general undertaking. What's interesting is that I often find I have to read difficult to understand bits of English aloud before I can get my head around the meaning.
The real blessing in all the sorting out of documents and trying to get the right pieces of paper to the interpreters on time is the group of stewards we're working with again. Paula from the Netherlands and Andrea from Uruguay are working with the language service and they're really doing a great job and are also interested in the meeting.
More about the meeting and perhaps even some pictures once I've had time to charge the batteries in my camera!
This was a question that came up several times over the weekend in Rome at the course I'm taking on management in international faith based organisations.
I've been wondering what an actuarial report about the United Reformed Church or the Eglise Réformée de France in 2050 might look like. Over lunch on Sunday I talked to one of the other participants about how hard it is to even imagine the changes underway in our societies. I noticed a catch in my voice and sadness in me as I said that I didn't think much of my denomination in England would still exist in 2050.
Many of the Roman Catholic religious congregations talk about the particular charism of their order, and I wondered about what the charism of English non-conformity is or has been. I do feel sad that generations after me in my own country may grow up without feeling its influence or even knowing what it might be.
The challenge for the churches in western Europe is learning how we might lead and bring about change rather than simply be overtaken by massive decline. Grieving is part of that process, things do need to die for new things to take their place, it still makes me sad though even if intellectually I can make sense of it.
Saturday, 9 February 2008
Tom Heneghan along with others is trying to understand what the Archbishop of Canterbury was trying to say in his interview about Sharia law. You can read Tom's posts here, there's also an ENI story in the news in brief section of the website.
What strikes me reading through the reactions to Andrew Brown's comment is free article on the Guardian website, is just how tinder box dry feelings and opinions on anything to do with Islam are at the moment. Where will this heightened emotion around religious issues actually lead us?
Publié par Jane à l'adresse 20:01
Led today by Jim Christie the course I'm attending in Rome on management and spirituality
looked at marks of healthy and unhealthy organisations. Jim based some of what he said on one of the books by Robin Skynner and John Cleese Life and How to Survive It.
He encouraged us to have a psychodynamic approach to analysing our organisations. However hard organisations try, staying still is just not possible, things are simply always changing. Treating organisations as psychological entitities and linking that to the systemic analysis and wider understanding of context and culture that we're trying to develop on the course, is a fascinating process. Applying it in small group work to some tricky situations people had encountered was really helpful.
Reading the article we received beforehand about healthy and unhealthy organisations was however a warning to all who complain about the organisation they work for. Often unhealthy organisations attract unhealthy people - so it may not be the organisation it may be you! (Of course I don't really beleive that about myself!)
I've lent the notes I've been taking in French to some of the francophone participants overnight, maybe sometime over the next few days I'll have time to give set out the seven markers of a healthy organisation.
The two that stick with me for the moment were affilliative attitude (about which more some other time) and open communication, which is personal and not just administrative. It sounds so simple and straightforward yet I know all too well just how difficult it can be - even in Parish ministry. Communication requires effort and creativity.
Anyway this evening I shall ponder all of this over some food at the wonderful Sardinian restaurant just around the corner.
Friday, 8 February 2008
The Stranzblog is currently in Rome attending a course on management and spirituality. Travel was via the night train - it's now 18 months since I took a plane and I'm trying to do all my European travel by train. Acommodation in Rome is courtesy of Giorgio and Luca - who are wonderfully hospitable.
Today we've been looking at systemic analyses of organisations - it's been quite a discipline to go deep enough to see what is going on in the various systems that make up our organisations. Trying to know everthing about a situation and gather ever more information is not the only thing analysis requires. Looking at the issues from new angles, depersonalising them and seeing issues and crises that occur as the product of of the systems that produce them was what we were trying to do today.
As I look back on the day I can see how liberating a systemic approach is. It helps to stand back from the need to firefight the human psychodramas what sometimes rage within any organisation. I thought particularly about how this approach could be helpful in getting churches going through crises to stand back and better understand what is happening to them and causing tensions run so high. So often we find it easier to "blame" human beings rather than looking at the systems which have produced situations.
It's helpful too for religious organisations to use a tool which comes from another discipline. Of course no organisation is exactly like any other, but looking at religious organisations in this way helps to desacralise them, but there's quite a bit of resistance to doing that too!
Anyway, more about this in days to come - if the upcoming central committee of WCC allows any time for blogging.
Thursday, 7 February 2008
And I won't even ask the question about are you a virgin.
I chose the parable of the wise and foolish virgins for my session leading the feminist theology group. It's quite interesting reading commentaries in English or in German and then speaking in French. There is relatively little indigenous European francophone feminist theology - there is a good francophone section of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians however. There's been relatively little feminist exegesis on the wise and foolish virgins. Interesting.
One thing that struck me following our group's discussion was how together we came up with many of the key critical remarks about the parable that erudite commentators have sweated over - why is the bridegroom so late; where do they wait out in the street late at night like that; what oil sellers would be open at midnight; the harshness or lack of solidarity of the "wise" virgins and the neither generous nor merciful "kyriarch" or bridegroom.
I shared both my own feelings about the text and then some insights gleaned from Vicky Balabanski's very interesting article on the parable, called Opening the Closed Door. It's in a book of articles by Mary Ann Beavis called The Lost Coin, Parables of Women Work and Wisdom.
I'll just mention two things from Balabanski's article that I really hadn't thought about before. the first is that the story can really be read as a story told by men to men. "Well there were these ten virgins and five were wise and five were foolish..." She points out though that despite promising beginnings as a rather good stag night story, the bridegroom locking the door to the foolish virgins does rather put paid to any fun. (To be fair she puts this rather more elegantly and subtly than I just have but then I can always be relied upon to lower the tone.)
The other thing I appreciated was her insistence that the word phronomos, which is the Greek word used to describe the wise virgins, does not have the same meaning as sophia the word used for the wider biblical form of wisdom. I found it quite liberating to think that clever and well-prepared as they may have been, the wise virgins were not acting particularly ethically. Anyway, if you get a chance to read Balabanski's paper then do, I'm not sure I agree with all of it but it certainly gives you something to think about.
At some point I shall post my notes in French from the evening to the documents section of the blog but knowing me that won't be for a while yet!
The Ecumenical Water Network is encouraging people to use Lent to focus on water as a human right. Each week during Lent a biblical meditation will be posted on a Seven Weeks for Water blog here, (depending on how your screen displays things you may have to scroll down to find the meditation). There will also be some campaigning links on different issues linked to water each week.
The water network would also really like to know about local and naitonal campaigns so leave information and links in the comments section of the Seven Weeks for Water blog.
Photo by my colleague Maike Gorsboth who is the coordinator of the EWN.
Monday, 4 February 2008
A guest blogger writes:
Today (4 February) is the 102 anniversary of the birth of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The anniversary of his death is on 9 April. Lent often falls between these two dates, and the recently published, "A Year with Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Daily Meditations from His Letters, Writings, and Sermons", offers one way to use Bonhoeffer's words to move through Lent. Since his death, many hundreds of books, dissertations, and articles have been published on this German theologian whose life and death for many people reflect the "cost of discipleship" about which he wrote.
Much less well known in the English-speaking world, however, is the Catholic priest Max Josef Metzger, whose life and death at the hands of the National Socialists has many parallels with Bonhoeffer. Metzger was born on 3 February (the day before Bonhoeffer, albeit 19 years earlier, in 1887). He was executed on 17 April 1944, just under a year before Bonhoeffer was executed. As a result, as for Bonhoeffer, Lent often falls between the dates marking Metzger's birth and his death.
Max Josef Metzger worked as a military chaplain during the First World War, where he became convinced that “future wars have lost their meaning, since they no longer give anybody the prospect of winning more than he loses”. After the war, he established the Peace League of German Catholics and sought links to the international pacifist movement, and began to work with Protestant Christians, particularly in his peace work. He was especially involved in the International Fellowship of Reconciliation. He attended the first World Conference on Faith and Order in 1927 as an unofficial observer. In 1938, he founded the "Una Sancta Brotherhood," a group devoted to Christian unity. He was arrested several times by the Gestapo. In 1943, Metzger wrote a memorandum on the reorganization of the German state and its integration into a future system of world peace. He tried to have this memorandum delivered to the Swedish Archbishop of Uppsala, Erling Eidem, but was denounced by the courier, a Gestapo agent, and arrested on 29 June 1943 (Bonhoeffer had been arrested two and a half months earlier). He was executed the following year.
Bonhoeffer, saw in the nascent ecumenical movement an "ecumenical council [Konzil] of evangelical Christendom" called to "bear witness to the truth and the unity of the church of Christ with authority" and to "speak a word of judgment about war, race hatred and social exploitation". Metzger, for his part, while in prison in 1939 wrote to the Pope urging him to convene an ecumenical council to which Protestants would be invited. He thought an ecumenical council would not be possible without extensive preparation, but that on the other hand it ought not be postponed. Twelve outstanding theologians drawn from countries where divisions exist most strongly could be commissioned to contact a similar number of outstanding persons in the other Christian churches to arrange a series of confidential conversations. A report would then be submitted to a pontifical commission to be studied with a view to preparing for a general council.
Like Bonhoeffer, only in the mid-1990s was Metzger officially exonerated posthumously by the Berlin high court.
It is said that while in prison, Metzger used every scrap of paper he could lay his hands on to write poems and meditations. In 1952, a small book of Metzger's letters and poems from prison was published in English. One of the poems is called, "In the Condemned Cell":
Already in the dusk I see Death with his scythe,
Reaping his harvest of bloody, human sheaves.
My heart, craving for life, cries out but not alone;
A million hearts protest with me but in vain,
For Death mows ruthlessly and still the war is raging ....
Lord God Almighty, doth thou see our cruel fate?
Saturday, 2 February 2008
Easter is really early this year, you can read some of the history and background to why the date of Easter changes in an article by Jay Scott Newman here.
I should really have started by saying Easter is early in the western church, because this year as most years Christians will celebrate Easter on two different days. So the western date this year is March 23rd but the date in many Orthodox churches is April 27th. You'll need to understand things about the Gregorian and Julian calendars, the vernal equinox and the Jewish feast of Passover and also about how the moon and planets move.
Confusingly the western and eastern calendars sometimes work in such a way that Easter does fall at the same time, like last year and then again in 2010 and 2011.
My colleague Dagmar Heller from Germany has written a good background piece about the challenges and issues involved in trying to agree a common date for Easter you can it read it here.
Friday, 1 February 2008
The WCC is currently involved in a solidarity visit to Kenya. My colleague Juan Michel has written an article you can find here about how churches are trying to respond in the current crisis. In the article Canon Peter Karanja, general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) describes the the country as "on the verge of genocide". The Anglican Archbishop of Kenya Benjamin Nzimbi is quoted as saying that even though religious leaders "are being pulled so much by their tribal feelings ... they have been working hard together before, during and after the election asking people to choose peace and prevent chaos". Nzimbi also says "We need your prayers for people to come back to their senses ... We must bring Kenya back where it ought to be."
You can find photos of the visit here.
"Dans le rire, l'humanité nivelle ses différences et efface ses rides" Monique Proulx.
~ "Through laughter, humanity irons out its differences and rubs out its wrinkles."
I came across this wonderful quote on the Terre d'échange series of cards by Belgian firm Claire-Vision. I'm always on the lookout for quotes for sermons or calligraphy and they put great words together with wonderful photos.
Then of course I struggled as always with the translation. Should it be in or through laughter, should it be equals out or irons out its differences ... translation is all about making decisions and learning to live with making the wrong ones sometimes.