I've been meeting tonight with Evelyne Colongo and Karin Ducret to plan next year's feminist theology sessions which will have the title "Dieu est belle". We've had fun trying to improve the titles for each session - quite fun when there's only one native Franconphone in the steering committee - Karin is Austrian. It's amazing how long such a seemingly short task can take.
Dr B cooked for us, baking wonderful homemade "flameküche", followed by raspberries and cream. He's also set up the outline of a Wordpress blog for the femtheol group where we will gradually be able to post our programme and archive the lectures. As Evelyne is a radio journalist we may even have a podcast or two to post. It will be good to get a quality blog in French about feminist theology going and it will be a good way for us to archive the work of the past 5 years. I'll let you know once it is up and running.
I don't think I'll be exporting my blog to wordpress just yet though - too much work!
Friday, 30 May 2008
I've been meeting tonight with Evelyne Colongo and Karin Ducret to plan next year's feminist theology sessions which will have the title "Dieu est belle". We've had fun trying to improve the titles for each session - quite fun when there's only one native Franconphone in the steering committee - Karin is Austrian. It's amazing how long such a seemingly short task can take.
In chapel this morning we read a long extract from 1 Corinthians 11 and these two verses stuck with me:
For, to begin with, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and to some extent I believe it. Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine.
I'm not sure I understand what this means - then if it means what I think it does I'm not sure I agree. Is in-fighting good or is it just part of the discernment process?
Just a passing thought.
Thursday, 29 May 2008
There's an interesting article on the Religious News Service here by Shona Crabtree on the nameless heroes - and heroines - of biblical narratives.
The article quotes Adele Reinhartz, professor of religious studies at the University of Ottawa, who is the author of "Why Ask My Name? Anonymity and Identity in Biblical Narrative".
Reinhartz notes that while there are actually more unnamed men than women in the Bible, proportionally within each gender, there are more unnamed women."The cultural context that gave rise to the Bible is very male oriented. So it's not only that the culture more highly values males and gives them most of the authority and leadership, but also the text itself was largely authored by men, and so they're naturally going to focus on themselves."
The article also quotes Karla Bohmbach, religion professor at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove as saying that the power of naming starts at the very beginning of the Bible. God named the heavens and the earth, but didn't assign names to Adam and Eve until after they had sinned. Adam was also given the power to name all the animals - and his wife. "Naming denotes a sort of authority over that person". In post-biblical texts, starting around 200 B.C. and going all the way through the 13th century, Jewish rabbis and others bestowed names on the nameless. Assigning names to previously anonymous biblical figures was part of a broader tradition of enriching and explaining biblical stories.
This discussion reminds me of the powerful title of Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza's key feminist theology text In Memory of Her, about the woman who annoints Jesus with perfume and whose story is still told in memory of what she did. Nameless, she often gets confused with Mary Magdelene, Fiorenza reclaims her witness and act of faith.
The article also made me think about names and namelessness in the parables of Jesus which we've been studying in our feminist theology group this year: A sower went out to sow; A man had two sons; What woman does not take a lamp; a rich man ... a wise man ... a foolish man ... wise virgins ... foolish virgins. Somehow I don't want Jesus' parables to be about Freda or Malcolm or Pascal, the situations speak more universally because those involved remain real people but nameless. Perhaps these stories thrown down next to other stories, thrown down next to the story of people's lives, have to have characters who remain nameless in order for us to be able at different times in our lives to name the people and situations in them. Perhaps the characters serve more as archetypes when they are nameless.
There are always stories in our names, identities and power we weave around naming. Does getting hung up on naming people detract or add to the driving force of the biblical narratives? What do you think?
Crabtree's article ends with this thought:
Ultimately, the multiple interpretations and names for unnamed biblical figures speak to the human need for narrative and finding meaning."That's what we really learn from these texts -- the power of narrative and the drive to create it, to transmit it, to think about it, to use it as a way of understanding spiritual truth," said Reinhartz.
Wednesday, 28 May 2008
The problem with the government's project is that it supports the aims of big businees, bringing water to big maize and grain producers but takes absolutely no account of the water and broader ecological needs of the local population.
You can find a letter here on the issue from the WCC general secretary to the Brazilian president Lula da Silva. Get information in your own language about internationa large scale water projects which may have an irreversible effect on local populations. Join EWN's campaign for the human right to water.
As part of a global week of church advocacy participants in Bethlehem are inviting individuals and groups around the world to send them wishes and prayers for peace. Incoming emails will be shared with parishes, schools and organizations in Bethlehem and Jerusalem as part of the action week, which is led by the World Council of Churches.
The messages will remind Palestinians cut off from each other and from the outside world that they are not forgotten, the Bethlehem groups say. The address to use is email@example.com. Prayers and wishes that reach Bethlehem will be posted on www.aeicenter.org.
Some of the emails will be read aloud in Bethlehem's Manger Square on Sunday, 8 June 2008. That evening, people of Bethlehem will form a "living clock" to commemorate six decades of living as refugees and uprooted people since 1948, and 41 years of occupation.
8 June is also the day parishes on five continents will be using a special prayer from Jerusalem church leaders written for the action week.
I already posted the liturgy from the Jerusalem church leaders but you can also access it here.
For further details and the full text of the WCC press release from which this post comes please click here.
May has been the month of press freedom and the UNESCO Courier has marked this with a series of articles about finding our way to information there is an interview with Lydia Cacho Ribeiro, a Mexican freelance journalist who is the laureate of the UNESCO World Press Freedom Prize. Ribeiro, who is also head of a centre that helps abused women in Cancun makes this powerful declaration of faith:
“I believe the role of journalism is to be a lantern, allowing society to exercise its right to know and understand; I believe human rights are non-negotiable. As long as I live, I will continue to write and writing will keep me alive.”
In a different article Susan Moeller notes the paradox that "Media have never been more vital for the nurturing of civil society but freedom of expression is now in retreat. No society can be free, open and fair without a diversity of voices. To remedy this situation, students of journalism must first be taught to develop a critical mind."
There are also excellent accounts of the challenges of journalism and access to information in Lebanon and in Africa but this comment on the western media is also a complex challenge.
"[The threat to the media is]The deterioration of press quality. The laziness of journalists, readers or television viewers who want everything reduced to sound bites. What the French economist and politician Jacques Delors calls “fast food information”.
Although I live with a journalist I suppose I too am that lazy reader, much prefering these days the lifestyle sections to the hard news. I want to know the background to the crisis in Burma but I also fill my attention span with restaurant reviews, quick crosswords and entertainment journalism. Thanks goodness for my early morning cup of tea with the BBC World Service radio news.
Yet the sort of journalism that Ribeiro practises is very much about a spirituality of resistance, it's about conviction and belief in what she's doing. It's also about fear, living on the margins and yet daring to be free and to speak freely come what may.
Picture © UNESCO/Aleksandar Džoni-Šopov
Investigation often resembles navigating through a labyrinth.
Tuesday, 27 May 2008
The UNESCO Courier - about which more tomorrow - has a lovely focus article on Koyo, a place for dialogue and exchange between two cultures.
On a piece of cloth spread out on the floor, a poet is painting the letters of his poem in French. He translates it orally into Toro Tegu for the six Dogon villagers of Koyo, in northern Mali, who work with him. Immediately they trace their graphic characters on the same cloth. The poet and the painters are responding each in his own way to the spirit of the place. The work produced here belongs neither to the French nor the Dogon culture – it opens a new space of dialogue and creation.
This idea of opening up spaces for dialogue really interests me becuase these spaces have to be different in different cultures. The French theologian Paul Keller has tried to develop a theory of the importance of the "espace publique" - a very French Protestant way of thinking about public space. In some ways this space for dialogue is about developing a way of thinking about the agora or meeting place. A space where all are equal. The WCC as an institution is often referred to as an ecumenical space, a more open space than pure confessionalism allows for, yet a space within which that confessionalism can continue to exist.
Meanwhile our friend Simon Barrow highlighted Stephen Heap's excellent piece in Face to Faith in yesterday's Guardian. In it Heap, who used to be ecumenical chaplain on the Blackbird Leys estate in Oxford and now coordinates chaplaincy services at the University of Bedfordshire, argues for a more truly secular debating space as a way to help society allow very opposing points of view to actually come to some kind of real dialogue. Heap ends his article:
"A key to a more creative future might be in that word secular, which does not mean a space where there are no claims to absolutes, but one where together we learn to face the undoubtedly real and disturbing conflicts our opposing claims create. It means a level of public discourse in which truth and truth claims are dealt with without ridicule but with a deep acknowledgment that we disagree, at times profoundly so, and yet somehow have to survive together on the same plot of land. Creating such properly secular spaces is a major challenge to which we must rise if our conflicting allegiances are not to tear us apart."
One of the interesting ideas that comes form the Koyo article above is that dialogue is not only about creating a physical space but it's also very clearly about translation and interpretation. And all translation and interpretation is about listening. The Koyo project says something about dialogue being not only about intellectual beliefs but also about the right hand side of the brain. Interpretation is not only about language but also about artistic expression, things that are deeper with words. Unless we somehow learn to engage with those deep feelings that are beyond words then the spaces we create will not really be involved in a true dialogue of convictions. Perhaps it is on those beautiful rare occasions when we are able to do that, that a spirit of understanding begins to emerge and something new is born.
There is an excellent article by Henry Hitchings in the Financial Times essay section on the future of English. It includes this wonderful line which made me smile,"[English] is the lingua franca of computing and technology, of science and medicine, and it is prominent in international business and academia."
Something rather interesting is happening with English at the moment. Sometimes I rather wonder whether English is becoming the language of old testament Babel, offering everyone the illusion of perfect understanding. I called a presentation about the language service I work for "From Babel to Pentecost" - a way of trying to say that we need linguistic diversity, not just different ways of looking at the world but different ways of describing it and conceiving it, different ways of dreaming about it as well.
Actually what Hitchings shows through his reading of books about the past, current and future role of English is how native speakers of English are being overtaken by non-native speakers. Native speakers may actually already be at a disadvantage in international discussions. International English is more utilitarian than native English but it may be a better tool for communication.
He also points to David Graddol's study English Next? Available only as a downloadable pdf from the British Council. It tries to look at what may happen to English over the next couple of generations - more about this and the other books mentioned in the article when I have had time to read them.
Hitchings ends by stressing that English is changing and that mono-anglophones are also likely to be challenged by the shifts in the global speaking of English.
"... native English speakers tend to be complacent about learning foreign languages, because there is a common perception that proficiency in English is “sufficient”. Other people will make the effort to learn English – so do we really need to reciprocate? But the more widespread the ability to speak English becomes, the less distinctive a skill it will be. If speaking English becomes a basic requirement for doing business, advantage will accrue to those who can speak other languages as well – the monoglot Briton or American will seem comparatively unskilled."
Monday, 26 May 2008
I love Dave Walker's cartoons over at the cartoon blog and applaud his campaigning spirit against the forces that are closing down SPCK book shops in the UK.
This cartoon which comes from his Guide to the Church spoke to me today - actually I think the office depicted here is rather too tidy - this cartoon vicar is obviously not working hard enough!
When I showed it to Dr B he remarked "hmm all it needs is the regional council's 5 yearly visit to turn up early on the day you have got stuck in a snow storm somewhere in Belgium."
Oh dear. That was the day I ended up hosting the regional president (think bishop but without a mitre) in my living room which was awash with synod papers and circulars (well the whole house is your office - this is how everyone lives isn't it?). An hour into the discussion the president cannot resist saying, "Jane, I am so glad to see you put my letters to good use." And he carefully extracts a recent missive from underneath the whiskey bottle on the coffee table. As is the way of a truly committed untidy person I felt no shame, but as this was France I took the hint and went to the kitchen to fetch some glasses. Time for an apéro.
There are two things missing from Dave's cartoon
- there is nothing on the chair for those seeking pastoral help - it helps people feel rather better if they have to move the last month's newspapers off the chair before they're able to sit down;
- the phone should be ringing invisibly under a pile of papers somewhere, it will of course stop just as you find it.
This week the ecumenical prayer cycle encourages churches to pray for the people of Botswana and Zimbabwe. The liturgy from this morning is posted here. We placed dried dead branches into a vase during a prayerful meditation. Then as we said the psalm together a colleague from South Africa placed a single green branch of flowering lilac in the middle of the vase of dead branches as a sign of hope and life triumphing and growing.
No sermon this morning just silence as we let the words of Christ from Luke 4 sink in. All of us had heard the news - about the renewed election campaign, about attacks on Zimbabwean refugees, about fears for the safety of opposition leaders and followers.
We prayed, we sang and we hoped ...
ENI has reported that open air prayer services are being banned in Zimbabwe.
So I admit it, I waste time. On Sunday afternoons I while it away looking aimlessly at yesterday's newspapers; I drift into the garden and don't do the weeding; I worry pointlessly about tomorrow and next week and my life, sometimes for hours; I dream about tidying my office and doing some calligraphy; most sinful of all I watch gardening programmes on the telly ... and of course I also worry that i'm so stressed
There is a good essay called Time on our Hands by Steven Cave in the Financial Times (there's that word again!). He reviews three books on time and says this:
"How is it we have such a wealth of time, yet never enough? How can it be that our supposed lives of privilege feel so pressured? Three recent books tackle this paradox from different perspectives and come to surprisingly similar conclusions on how we can become masters of our own days: by reclaiming control of our calendars and by appreciating the value of the moments that make up our lives."
Now of course you'll just have to make time or take time out to read the article or maybe one of the books below.
Time: A User’s Guide
By Stefan Klein
Translated by Shelley Frisch
Penguin £8.99, 342 pages
Making Time: Why Time Seems to Pass at Different Speeds and How to Control It
By Steve Taylor
Icon Books £12.99, 288 pages
Publié par Jane à l'adresse 06:05
Sunday, 25 May 2008
The French Protestant weekly Réforme has reproduced an article by the philosopher Paul Ricoeur speaking about an ecumenical eucharist concelebrated by Protestants and Catholics at Pentecost in May 1968. Clergy and lay people participated in an act which was seen as trangressing the rules of both Protestant and Catholic churches at the time.
In the article he says that the eucharist was rooted in the experience of fellowship with the students and workers. Liturgically the May 1968 Paris eucharist was rooted in the tradition of the church. Ricoeur say this act by "a fragment of the people of God" in no way claimed to form a new church but was rather about setting up signs and symbols which society could understand. That group also made a clear decision to not keep their celebration to themselves. This was not a clandestine eucharist but a prophetic sign to the churches.
Ricoeur's article is followed by extracts from a May 1968 radio sermon by Georges Casalis
"Ils clament et réclament : la beauté et la justice, la poésie et la paix, l’amour et la profanation de l’argent, et déjà le monde nouveau s’exprime sur les ruines des barricades et des systèmes pédagogiques périmés."
Trying to understand 1968 has been one of my enduring challenges while living in France and working in the church here. I've had countless conversations - particularly with more conservative Roman Catholic colleagues who would trace all of the ills of current French society back to May 68. When you've grown up in a completely different culture it's very difficult to fully appreciate the strong feelings around all the arguments. It doesn't help that I was not quite five in May 68.
Saturday, 24 May 2008
This post has been in gestation for a while and is still not quite what I was intending but that's how it goes between what you think you want to write and what you actually manage. I began reflecting on the experience of exile due to a passing remark my colleague Manoj Kurian made in a sermon preached on Ezekiel 36 and the return from the Babylonian exile.
He said something about how those returning from exile didn't even know their own langauge anymore and this set me thinking about language and exile.
I can remember feeling a powerful sense of loss as the rabbi sang the burial liturgy at the Jewish funeral of a friend's husband. This was how generations of part of my family would have been buried yet it was not a language remaining members of the family understood anymore. All the deceased British relatives I remember have been cremated and their ashes scattered, the only surviving graves of anyone in my family are in the Jewish cemetry in Berlin. I wonder what was sung at those funerals or whether my very secular Jewish forbears simply held a non-religious ceremony?
The picture posted above is of the garden of exile at the Jewish museum in Berlin - it's also known as the E.T.A Hoffmann garden. It's made up of 49 pillars. Walking between them in the garden is a disturbing experience because the cobbled ground between the pillars rises and falls in a very uneven way. You have to look down and watch your step to avoid falling over but if you don't look forwards you can easily bump into the pillars. Light falls in a strange way between the pillars but if you look up you see not only the sky but also the evergreen leaves of the olive trees planted at the top of each column.
In exile you stumble and don't know the way forwards, in exile you have to look up for the light and for the evergreen signs of hope - but doing this may make it even more likely that you fall over flat on your face.
Today Palestinians are in exile from and in Israel. Olive trees are uprooted. Walls are built between homesteads and farmlands. Must justice for some always mean oppression for others?
Sometimes I think that exile is all about cognitive and incognitive dissonance. The German-Jewish phrase "to remember is to live" has had deep resonance for me throughout my adult life as I try to piece together what it means to me to be a second generation refugee in the country of my birth. Does my remembering have to oppress others?
The way we choose to piece together the past as individuals and as societies can have profound impact on the present. I've studied the history and religious politics of the Third Reich in depth yet until relatively recently I have tended to avoid studying the Middle East in the same way. I feel uneasy, as if my past ignorance was a way of avoiding integrity. Almost as if my own personal journey to find meaning in the garden of exile was more important than transformative justice now.
The post-modern journey in the garden of exile is one where even our mother tongue may seem to be a strange language. The paradigms of meaning and power shift quickly. Yet I nevertheless believe that it is possible to act for and speak up for justice, to take sides for what is right rather than what is easy. Finding words and deeds that do justice to the desperate situation in the Middle East leaves most of us tongue-tied.
Jews for Justice for Palestinians seeks to tread this path. I somehow seek to tread this path by posting here the liturgy for the International Church Action for Peace in Palestine and Israel.
So I walk in the garden of exile with my desire to want to integrate the personal, my personal history, with current international politcal concerns. And I experience deep dissonance, disconectedness and rage. And I long for hope, perfection, beauty and green shoots against a blue sky. Perhaps none of this is appropriate in the post modern age and I should just be happy at picking up bits of meaning and sense and patching them together as I am able to. I suppose that even in exile I want the story I'm telling to have grammar and syntax to be woven as a whole. But perhaps the tongue-tied language of exile is the only way to begin to patch life and history together.
So in case you were wondering the 49 pillars in Daniel Libeskind's exile garden could stand for seven times seven - a multiple of the number of perfection despite everything. That in any case is how I choose to tell the story but there are other interpretations, you'll just have to search for them and tell that story yourself.
How do you get the spirit of Christian ecumenism into a large glass window?
Earlier this week I spent a fascinating hour and a half with Nicholas Perrin, one of the artists presenting a stained glass window project for a new glass wall to be part of the renovated main hall in the ecumenical centre in Geneva.
Although I am quite creative, I've never had to try and verbalise theological and ecumenical ideas in a way that may help artists conceive their work. Nicholas showed me coloured sketches and ideas that he and his two colleagues had begun to work on. It was challenging to not react immediately and say - I like that, don't like that, not sure about this - but rather to try and think about what the task was, explain some of the religious background and offer encouragement.
I think at one point I said I thought one of the sketches was a little bit too well-behaved and that the colours needed movement, disturbance and spirit.
After talking with him I realised that the problem with my own artistic ideas is that I know what I want to try and do but my skill level is far removed from what I'd like to create. The creative process, even for the much more skilled than me, is one of discipline and application but also of letting go and trusting to intuition and spirit.
Reflecting on that says something to me about discipline and intuition in spirituality. Prayer needs colour and imagination but it also needs discipline and frameworks.
I've posted a morning prayer liturgy in celebration of sexuality and love to the docs section. It was put together by Sabine Udodesku and others in the WCC worship and spirituality office for the meeting of the WCC's sexuality reference group taking place this weekend.
Simple celebrations of our sensual, sexual, loving lives are not easy to find. Fitting these concerns into a 20 minute morning prayer is also quite a challenge, perhaps this can encourage others to develop liturgies on this theme. Here's a taster of yesterday's prayers:
"Here, together, coming to meet with you, we become conscious of you as the reality, the true basis of life.
Life is your gift – air to fill our lungs, bodies, which we can transform into energy: but the gift was made ours. We have chosen life not just eternal life. Red-blooded, food-loving, friendship and love-seeking life – such as Jesus enjoyed at the feasts of publicans and sinners.
We affirm life, we choose life, we are here for one more day of life and we say ‘yes’ to it."
Thursday, 22 May 2008
Publié par Jane à l'adresse 18:59
Wednesday, 21 May 2008
The following comes from Francine Carillo's book "Vers l'Inépuisable". One day I'll get around to translating some of it but I'm not really all that good at poetry. For now I'm just going to stay with my rather splendid typo of "routed uprootedness" I'd not spotted that homophone before. Anyway this is a meditation on John 21.6 "Cast the net to the right side of the boat ..."
de nouvelles alliances.
On peut alors
mais la voix
à nous délivrer.
et parlera encore
jusqu'à ce que
et sa promesse déborde
copyright (c) Francine Carillo
Tuesday, 20 May 2008
Dr B.'s just come back from a day with an international church group that's looking to rethink its online Web presence. For part of the day, he said, the usual suspects and names were thrown around, b2b (business-to-business), b2c (business-to-consumer) and c2c (consumer-to-consumer). Anyway, he said, he's invented another idea - w2w, or "worshipper-to-worshipper". After all, the Web changes the relative dimensions of time and space so that, quite literally, a worshipper in Malawi or Zambia can be linked to another in Romania or in Mexico. The World Council of Churches already has its online Ecumenical Prayer Cycle that turns through the whole of the world throughout the year, linking Christians together week after week. Now isn't that maybe the "communio sanctorum" that Luther talked about?
Today I interpretted Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu into French, and it was great fun!
You can see him here in a photo taken by my colleague Peter Williams talking with some of the 60 French school children who happened to have organized a visit to the ecumenical centre on the same day as our Nobel Peace Prize visitor.
It was a wonderful event with standing room only in the main hall. All of us would have happily listened to the speaker for hours. You can read the WCC story here.
One of the problems with simultaneous interpretation is that you can't really take notes. But even while trying to render him into French I was deeply moved by the way he spoke about the huge evil that humankind is capable of but the even more overwhelming power for good humanity is capable of.
When I was a student I had a Christian Aid poster of Tutu on my wall which said "I wonder which Bible people are reading when they say religion and politics don't mix". Today he mixed politics, spirituality, history and sheer energy in a way that renewed the motivation of the older as well as the younger generation. It was great.
Photo WCC/Peter Williams
Monday, 19 May 2008
John Bell of the Iona Community has written wonderful songs and hymns for a time of grieving which can be downloaded here. The CD and books can also be bought online here.
While not really tidying my office this weekend I came across my copy of the book of reflections and writings called The Last Journey which includes some powerful straightforward prayers which. Translating some of what Bell has written into French helped me write prayers of my own that were less concerned with poetry and more with saying it like it is. Where grief is concerned that's important to me, not false platitudes or hope.
I will do it only once, Lord,
though my whole life moves towards it.
So I pray for a good death
when the time is right,
when I have finished my business,
when I have come to terms with my mortality.
in the small and large losses of life,
in the giving away of fond possessions,
in the parting of close friends,
in the changing of job, house or church,
may I sense a meaning in loss
and have a foretaste of resurrection.
copyright (c) John Bell
From Allan Boesak's Open Pastoral Letter to the Zimbabwean Church:
"But there is another world, where people actually matter, where dying children have a face, where abused women have a body and a soul; where hunger and illness are not statistics but a cry to heaven. This is aworld where we know that people die because decisions are being made,where people can be held responsible for these decisions and for their consequences and where God is reminded of his promises. This is a world where people pray and fight for justice and peace to embrace,and where we believe that God's shalom must become part of our humanreality. This is a world where caring and compassion are not strategic or incidental but real and at the core of our life together, of our being human in the world. That world knows about Zimbabwe because it cares for the people of Zimbabwe. I come from that world. I recognise what I see in Zimbabwe because I have seen it before, here in South Africa. I know tyranny when I see it, and it is in Zimbabwe as surely as it was in South Africa."
You can read the full text of the letter on the ENI site.
Friday, 16 May 2008
The Germans call it "to live like God in France" (Leben wie Gott in Frankreich) which means I supose living it up. So tonight in a gentle way that's what we've been doing.
One of the problems with owning too much wine is that everyone knows you like wine so they bring you more. Our wonderful polyglot friend Olive ( who speaks 6 or 7 languages including Russian, Arabic and Ketchuan) recently turned up with some bottles cleared out from her cellar. So with a friend we've managed to commit vinicide on a bottle of wine as old as our marriage - a 1991 Lynch-Bages Pauillac. Yes I know it almost sounds as if I know what I'm talking about but actually I'm just typing what the label says. It was however delicious and even nicer for being drunk with a very simple meal.
Finally talk meandred on to paradigm shifts, what they are, whether the world is going through one at the moment with the fuel and food crisis, how you explain what a paradigm shift is. S tried to tell me about how a paradigm shift is like putting bags of sugar on the shelf one at a time over a period of time and not noticing that they are there until there are so many that they bring the shelf down. I still wonder whether many paradigm shifts actually happen rather more subtly than that though. Then I wondered about whether the gospel passage about new wine and old wine skins etc. is also about paradigm shifts in some way - I shall have to revisit the text.
Although vinicide does stimulate the beginnings of philosophical discussion it doesn't always help with seeing the arguments through to conclusion of some kind. In this case the paradigm shift seems to have fallen asleep on the sofa ... this is what happens when you live like God in France.
Wednesday, 14 May 2008
On Tuesday morning my colleague Rogate Mshana who heads the WCC's economic justice work preached a wonderful Pentecost sermon on the cosmic ever-present Spirit. In the written version there are unfortunately fewer of his wonderful jokes and asides - laughter and humour being a gift of the Spirit too perhaps. Just a reminder that reading a sermon can never replace the live experience (I know, I know just a pastor's attempt to get folk to go to church!)
Anyway here are some extracts from Rogate's passionate Pentecost preaching:
"I believe that women understand better than men the power of the Holy Spirit, because they are in themselves an embodiment of God’s Creation, from whom by the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus was born. When my non-Christian neighbour milks a cow early in the morning she always places the first drops of milk into her mouth and then spits this into the sky in the four directions - North, South, East and West - to thank the Spirit or the creator for the blessing of life that she finds in the milk. I call this the Cosmic Spirit."
"This is the same Spirit which prompts an Indian woman to apologize to the tree for taking a lemon fruit during the night because guests have come and the tree is expected to sleep without disturbance. Or when my mother prays after planting beans to ask for the creative germinating power from God. I call this the Spirit of all living things. It is the same Spirit which prompts women in the Amazon to embrace trees and the Cochabamba people struggling against privatization of water to engage in active non-violent resistance. I call this the Spirit of respecting common goods. It is the same spirit that leads Bishop Desmond Tutu to initiate the Peace and Reconciliation Commission as a solution to the legacy of apartheid. This I call the Spirit of Reconciliation."
Monday, 12 May 2008
Our friend Simon Barrow has put this wonderful quote by biblical scholar Walter Wink on his blog:
"I listen intently to the Book. But I do not acquiesce in it. I rail at it. I make accusations. I censure it for endorsing patriarchalism, violence, anti-Judaism, homophobia, and slavery. It rails back at me, accusing me of greed, presumption, narcissism, and cowardice. We wrestle. We roll on the ground, neither of us capitulating, until it wounds my thigh with 'new-ancient' words. And the Holy Spirit is there the whole time, strengthening us both."
I hadn't come across that quote by Wink before and I love the way he talks about wrestling with the word until it somehow wounds us. I think it's brilliant to use the wrestling and wounding motif from the story of Jacob to talk about the engaged reader of the Bible. I often use Hans Ruedi Weber's idea of the Bible being the "book that reads me" but at the moment - after a hard weekend of sermon writing - Wink's idea of it being the book that wounds with which I wrestle speaks to me even more of the attempt to shake meaning out of life and experience in the light of the ancient texts. It also fits in well with Arthur Frank's book on the Wounded Storyteller which I'm reading at the moment.
So why do you read the Bible and what best describes your experience of doing that?
Sunday, 11 May 2008
I preached on Ezekiel 37 and John 20.19-23 for Pentecost this morning.
The title of the sermon was "Trouver sa voix ~ trouver sa voie" which is a play on words in French - it means finding your voice, finding your way. I enjoy the act of preaching - it is often very different from the preparation and how you imagine the sermon will be. I particularly wanted this morning to speak to the young people but it also needed to come from the heart of my own experience - sometimes preaching is the perfect therapy and that was certainly true for me today. Of course all preachers need to be careful about preaching becoming the externalising of their own psycholigical and faith hang ups, but sometimes the text, the event and the preacher just click and it's special to be part of that.
I was trying to encourage the young people and all of us to find our voice in order to find our way. As I was preaching I realised how very different the sermon would have been if I'd been preaching in England or even just in English - I'm not sure that English non-conformists have a shared identity any longer in the same way that French Protestants do.
Dr B is rather sad that I haven't been doing a series of sermons on Dr Who but that is not part of cultural heritage here. As it was, I began by talking about the experience of slavery in the US and sang a bit from Dem Bones, dem bones dem dry bones and ended by getting everyone to sing in Yoruba a simple song called "Wa, wa, wa emimimo ..." come, come come Holy Spirit.
Anyway having found my voice I now just need to find my way!
Saturday, 10 May 2008
Tomorrow I shall preach in my former parish in Ferney for the first time since I left 6 years ago. It's Pentecost and five young people will be asking for confirmation, two of them for baptism on profession of faith. This morning Bernard and I have been hanging up the various "spirit-filled" works of art the young people painted at our KT session last week.
And now I'm wondering about my sermon and instead of writing it I'm doing this. Surprised? I'm not. When I'm in sermon-writing mode even the washing up or the weeding in the garden begin to seem attractive. Of course the sermon is there, sort of in my head, now I just need to get it out. I have strange fantasies of being able to press a special part of my earlobe and get a print out from my mouth. Hmmm...
I am preaching on Ezekiel 37 which is a wonderful passage - it's what inspired the song "Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones - now hear the word of the Lord". When I was in the north of France I took a regional youth service and did a dramatic rendering of the text with young people running around the church being the spirit of the Lord coming from east and north and west and south and pulling back the large cloth which was covering the dry bones, only to reveal an inflateable skeleton. Bones filled with breath. In Genevan Protestant circles the preferred translation for Holy Spirit is "souffle saint" (rather than Esprit Saint) which means holy breath.
After that service in Dunkirk we put the inflated skeleton into the front passenger seat of our British mini - that's right in Britain they drive on the left and in France on the right. If you didn't know better you might have thought the skeleton was driving.
Now if I was really into procrastination I could go down to the garage and try to find which box dear old skelly is in. However, I hear the spirit calling - "Get on with it Jane, otherwise you won't be allowed to watch Dr Who tonight." Oh well better leave tidying the garage for another day, shame really. At least I have a title for the sermon but more of that tomorrow, after the preaching of it is over.
Thursday, 8 May 2008
Today, on the 60th anniversary of the foundation of the state of Israel, a joint declaration for a just peace was launched in the Independent by Christian leaders. It has a very impressive list of signatories.
"We recognise that today, millions of Israelis and Jews around the world will joyfully mark the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the state of Israel (Yom Ha'atzmaut). For many, this landmark powerfully symbolises the Jewish people’s ability to defy the power of hatred so destructively embodied in the Nazi Holocaust. Additionally, it is an opportunity to celebrate the wealth of cultural, economic and scientific achievements of Israeli society, in all its vitality and diversity. We also recognise that this same day, millions of Palestinians living inside Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and the worldwide diaspora, will mourn 60 years since over 700,000 of them were uprooted from their homes and forbidden from returning, while more than 400 villages were destroyed (al-Nakba). For them, this day is not just about the remembrance of a past catastrophic dispossession, dispersal, and loss; it is also a reminder that their struggle for self-determination and restitution is ongoing. To hold both of these responses together in balanced tension is not easy. But it is vital if a peaceful way forward is to be forged, and is central to the Biblical call to “seek peace and pursue it” (Ps. 34:14). We acknowledge with sorrow that for the last 60 years, while extending empathy and support to the Israeli narrative of independence and struggle, many of us in the church worldwide have denied the same solidarity to the Palestinians, deaf to their cries of pain and distress."
You can read the ENI story on the declaration here.
One aspect of the statement gave me some pause for linguistic thought about how important it is to have many different translations of the Bible. Although the quote from Psalm 34.14 is from the NRSV translation of the Bible, the quote from Isaiah 32.17 used by the authors of the statement comes from the Contemporary English Version.
Jean-Claude Verecchia, who led the team which did one of the most recent French translations of the Bible, has defended the need for new translations, stating that having new translations is the best guard against fundamentalism.
Each translation brings out different aspects of ancient texts. Perhaps one of the things that having many different translations shows us, is that we use the text to say what we want to, yet the text often has even more to say. Someone else will use a translation of the text to say something different. There can be fundamentalist translations just as there can be fundamentalist users of translations. There will always be more meaning to break forth from a diversity of translations and interpretations, but sometimes we find simplistic truths easier to cope with.
Anyway, as we meditate today on those things that make for peace, here are some versions of Isaiah 32.16-18. And for more discussion of biblical translation do visit the Better Bibles Blog.
Honesty and justice will prosper there, and justice will produce lasting peace and security. You, the LORD's people, will live in peace, calm and secure, Every mountain and hill may disappear. But I will always be kind and merciful to you; I won't break my agreement to give your nation peace. (Contemporary English Version)
Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness abide in the fruitful field.
The effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust for ever. My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting-places. (New Revised Standard Version)
Justice will dwell in the desert and righteousness live in the fertile field. The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever. My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest. (New International Version)
Publié par Jane à l'adresse 23:36
This is the poster, launched today, for the Bremen Kirchentag which will take place from 20 to 24. Mai 2009.
The phrase on the speech bubble coming from heaven is from Genesis 3.9 "Mortal, where are you?"
I think it works well on all sorts of levels. It expresses both real searching by God for humanity, "folks where are you?", but can also express frustration "what is it you are gettting up to?"
Anyway reserve the dates now, details of how to book come in the autumn. It's always a wonderful event.
Based (I think) on fantasy football - in which you choose your favourite football team from all the available talent - fantasy politics has a non-party approach to nominating your favourite - and it is hoped most competent - people for the various top jobs to create a government cabinet. Historical and geographical variations on the main theme can also be played - thus even dead people can be nominated in the historical game and in the geograpahical game even those not eligible to be elected (ie foreign nationals for British, French or Brazilian elections etc) can be proposed for the top jobs - the great thing is you can play this for any country - I'll check before I post this to see whether there is a fantasy US presidential politics or maybe even a fantasy European Commission. (OK ok it would seem that fantasy football may have started in the US about American football - as opposed to football for the rest of the world:)
However, recently I've been wondering about fantasy religion. Partly it was Tom Heneghan's Faithworld blog about speculation hotting up about the next candidates for Pope. Don't worry I'm not going to suggest we play fantasy Pope or fantasy conclave just yet.
This is fantasy religion - what do you want in your religion. It's not about personalities, it's about issues and qualities.
So here are the rules:
- five qualities you want in your religion;
- which religion you think currently best has that quality;
and you're not allowed to vote for any religion more than twice.
So here I think are my five for today:
For a profound sense of the holiness and otherness of God - Judaism and Islam
For a deep understanding of change and decay - Buddhism
For a real connection to mother earth - indigenous religion, paganism, Celtic Christianity
for life triumphing death and evil - Christianity
for scholarly endeavour and questioning in faith -- Reform Judaism
So what are the qualities you want in your fantasy religion and in which religion do you see them?
Wednesday, 7 May 2008
The service this afternoon was led by Geiko Müller Fahrenholz and you can read other short texts by Lukas in the liturgy you can find here. Geiko also gave an excellent address but I won't be publishing that here as we will be seeking to put it in the Ecumenical Review.
In the Apocalypse in the Gospel of Matthew, there stands the strange sentence: "And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold." (Matt. 24:12) Because of the hopelessness of the situation, love is transformed into indifference or even into bitterness.
The witness of the church is hit at its very heart through this process. It freezes. It is therefore perhaps the most important task of the church, to point to the source of Christian love. Its flow does not depend on the course of history, but rises above all human history: God is love. And every act of love has meaning in itself, or more precisely it has meaning in and of God, and is therefore not ultimately dependent on finding legitimacy on the level of this world.
… The Church may say much that is correct … But it will only be able to truly engage with the people of this age if it does all it can to not let its love go cold. This is why the simple phrase "God is Love" belongs both at the beginning and at the end of any confession that is to answer the challenges of this age."
Tuesday, 6 May 2008
Dominique Cadel, who is a Franciscan sister working in the Geneva region, gave us wonderful multiple ways in to the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin in Luke 15.1-10. She first offered us a study of the text and a spiritual meditation on it which concluded with a prayer by St Francis of Assisi from 1224. She showed how even all that time ago St Francis was sensitive to wanting to blend both masculine and feminine attributes of God. This is lost in English of course as justice is not "la justice" and wisdom is not "la sagesse". Those with some Latin or Italian can get a sense of how Francis played carefully with language by reading at his Canticle of the Sun though the English translation "Sister moon, Brother sun" gives some idea of what he managed. Dominique prayed a different prayer of his with us tonight, one which had more feminine than masculine nouns for the attributes of God.
After that she moved on to the feminist heart of the exposé based on readings from Mary Ann Beavis' book The Lost Coin, Parables of Women, Work and Wisdom. In particular Dominique translated large parts of Linda Maloney's article "Swept under the rug". Tonight was probably the first time that a Francophone audience had any exposure to some of this scholarship. Once more it made me realise just how important translation is for the exchange of ideas, particularly with the grass roots.
Before I finally go to bed I want to mention two things Dominique highlighted from her reading of Beavis and Maloney. The first was how the parable of the lost coin has almost been forgotten while the parable of the lost sheep has spawned countless icons and religious paintings of the good shepherd. We don't have similar altar pieces with pictures of God the good sweeper holding up a prized coin to the light when found in the dust - of course that God would have a broom in her hand and her skirts hitched up and be bent double to find the tiny but prized lost coin.
The second thing that moved me was the fact that the act of finding is rejoiced over not individually but with a whole community - this is the case for the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son - each of the parables end with a party. It's possible that the shepherd and the woman would spend more on the party than they had originally lost. This speaks of "finding" being a re-establishment in community and relationship with others - perhaps also with God. The joy and party also speak powerfully of finding not being about personal possession but about community celebration, right relationship - noone is counting the cost of the celebration - it's the natural outcome of finding and being found and precious. Perhaps it can say something to us about generosity.
Anyway more about the wonderful parable of the lost coin again soon - it's my favourite.
And we are hoping to launch a blog in French for the members of the group soon and it will ahve all of this year's studies on it.
I've just posted my colleague Manoj Kurian's sermon to the document section. We were remembering colleagues who have recently moved on from work in the ecumenical centre and also those who have recently begun work here.
Manoj used this context and the Bible texts to preach on investing in people. As an international health care professional he knows alot about the crisis in human resources in health systems around the world. So often rich nations entice nurses and doctors trained in poor countries. At the same time we maintain quite dreadful rhetoric about people coming from abroad to "steal" our jobs. Wanting to have it both ways.
Anyway Manoj insisted on God's investment in human beings as the only way forwards:
"Have you ever thought what it would have been like if God so so loved the world that God gave the world -
God’s only document;
or God’s favourite strategy;
or perhaps in God’s name a grant of a few billion Francs;
perhaps a new temple or tall cathedrals;
or a vast new diocese;
or a great new organization;
appoint a new political leader;
formulate a new ideology;
maybe even design a smart weapon to tame the world!
No! For the salvation of humanity, God gave a caring human being. He was vulnerable yet strong; audacious yet obedient; humble yet never shied away from truth. "
Monday, 5 May 2008
Nathalie Leenhardt has written a piece for Réforme on the difficult path to forgiveness and reconciliation in Rwanda. The article is called Victimes et boureaux - victims and torturers or oppressors. She reports how Christians find it just as difficult as others to forgive the enormity of what has happened. Yet worshipers at the Presbyterian church she visited were encouraged to pray not only for victims of the genocide but also for forgiveness those who committed the crimes, even for those who remain indifferent to what they have done.
This weekend at the ERF synod in Toulouse pastor Elisée Musemakweli, president of the Presbyterian Church of Rwanda, gave a powerful address citing how the tragedy was forcing the Church to bear witness to the Gospel in new ways. The trauma that comes out in the national week of mourning early in April is difficult to cope with for everyone; facing up to the terrible rape and violence that many women have experienced stretches even those who are most able at pastoral care; households headed by traumatised children also challenge the church to find a new way of relating to families and their needs.
I was particularly struck by Musemakweli's insistence that he and his delegation had come to both listen and to share their own experience as a minority church. Taking home ideas from a tiny national church here but also sharing ideas and challenges from the Rwandan and African context.
"alors qu’en Occident l’Eglise est devenue presque une parenthèse inutile à cause d’une sécularisation offensive, au Rwanda, une bonne partie d’intellectuels n’ont plus confiance en l’enseignement de l’Eglise à cause de son implication dans le génocide."
While in the west the church has become an almost useless parenthesis due to overt secularisation, in Rwanda large numbers of intellectuals no longer trust the teaching of the church because of its implication in the genocide.
Not sure I want to think of myself as being part of a useless parenthesis, but it is always sobering to hear an outside opinion of one's own institutions. However, the call to stand up for what is right, to say a word that can be trusted, is quite possibly the only way forwards for bearing witness to the gospel of Christ. For how many centuries still will the collusion of the churches in Rwanda be remembered - for as long as we remember Christians killing each other in religious civil wars in Europe, for as long as we remember Christians justifying Apartheid, for longer? While we obsess over correct doctrine and saying the right words - we forget so easily that our actions speak louder than our words and often for centuries longer.
Sunday, 4 May 2008
We have a wonderful local association which was set up to fight against a 16 screen multiplex being built in one of the small local towns. It would have completely killed off independant cinemas in our area and they've succeeded twice in fighting off big-business initiatives of this kind. You can visit the Culture et cinéma website and also find out more information about the five continent film festival they run.
The great thing about this small festival is that there isn't a jury, just the obligation to have at least one film from each of five continents.
You can find this year's full programme here. What's good is that they are also doing a screening in Geneva this time and showcasing some shorter films by students from the Geneva film school.
The festival closes on May 18th with Manana by Cuban film maker Alejandro Moyo.
Lots of the screenings will be followed by discussions with the directors. The whole thing is run by amateurs trying to do something for their local community and the public get to vote on their favourite film.
So now our household is faced with the question will we actually make it out of the house to the cinema? Here's hoping we do.
Friday, 2 May 2008
Who was it who said that history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce? Marx probably. (Yes, I know I could google it and find out but hey, life's too short.)
France has now had just over a year of a celebrity obsessed president - it has truly been a triumph of style over substance.
London, it would seem has now elected a mayor who is one would have to say not even a triumph of style.
I am sad and concerned about the current state and the future of western European politics. No, I think despair would be a better word ...
I had been going to Toulouse this weekend - the wonderful pink city at the foot of the Pyrennees where I started blogging last summer - but there was in the end no real need for another English interpreter.
The Eglise Réformée de France (ERF) is holding its national synod there this year. Last year there was a joint synod with the Eglise Evangélique Luthérienne de France (EELF) in Sochaud at the Peugeot car museum - as we began to move to union between the two churches.
Pastor Majagira Bulangalire is chaplain to the synod this year. Originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Majagira has a breadth and depth of religious, theological, political and inter-cultural experience. As well as being an ERF pastor he's currently president of the community of African Francophone churches. I can remember him speaking very movingly of how he (just) lived through and fled desperate political events in DRC. He's a thoughtful and prophetic interpreter of one culture to another.
In the short introduction he's written on the ERF website entitled "a church on the move" he says this: (scroll down for my late night quick English translation.)
"La question posée par ces différentes rencontres est celle de la pérennité de l’évangile au sein d’une société qui se mondialise et qui est en continuelle mutation. Question ancienne mais toujours actuelle et vivante : l’ERF ne se devait-elle pas, des voeux de ses fondateurs, de demeurer le lieu d’une réforme permanente ? C’est dans tous les cas une des exigences de l’universalité.
L’Église est désormais appelée à une interrogation constante quant à son rapport à la culture, à la société dans laquelle elle a à agir. Il lui faut désormais être, aujourd’hui plus encore qu’hier, d’avant-garde et prophétique.
Elle se doit de prévenir et de s’adapter, sans pour autant trahir le message. Elle doit efficacement être présente sans toutefois vendre et/ou perdre son âme. Exercice périlleux mais toujours à recommencer. N’est-ce pas le sens du texte de Luc 14 : 28 - 33. Renoncer pour suivre, c’est s’interroger, pour survivre et faire vivre !"
It has to both warn and adapt itself, but without betraying the message. It needs to be present without selling or losing its soul."
You can also read Majagira's sermon for Sunday May 4th here.
Today we are "making the bridge" or "taking the bridge". This does not mean that we've become civil engineers overnight just that we're taking an extra day's holiday following yesterday's ascencion day holiday (which in France was a double holiday because it was also May 1st - France also has public holidays on May 8th for VE day and on Pentecost Monday. Switzerland doesn't have May 1st or 8th but also has ascencion and Pentecost Monday.)
So here we are on our happy holiday bridge to the weekend. I think I'll have to spend some serious time sitting on the sofa thinking about all the tidying up I could do...