Wednesday, 31 December 2008

The joy and serendipitiy of holiday radio listening - from the School of Life to quantum physics

Each year after Christmas BBC Radio 4's Today Programme opens up its programme to a series of Guest editors. Lying in bed slurping tea and not thinking about going to work it really has been pure indulgence to listen to some of these programmes.
On Monday Zadie Smith gave the programme both a very literary feel and a sense of her searching in a very plural way for meaning in life. This longer piece of reportage from Liberia into what living in a "failed state" is like was powerful and challenging.
I also really enjoyed the interview with Alain de Botton about the School of Life and its attempts to ink art, psychology, philosophy and literature - followed by a "sermon" on punctuality.
Today's guest editor was Jarvis Cocker and included a very eclectic and engaged set of pieces - a great interview with rugby star Johnny Wilkinson about quantum physics and the meaning of life; two items looked at the links between climate change and the current financial crisis; there's an alternative Zen Buddhist thought for the day and the weather forecast from Greenland! Yesterday guest editor Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor interviewed prime minister Gordon Brown.
All of these programmes are real food for the brain between news bulletins and a wonderful respite from yet another set up falsely contentious argument between two supposedly opposing views. Just makes me realise how much I miss by having to go to work, spending the day at home listeing to the radio and drinking tea should be my New Year's resolution!

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

An interview with Rowan Williams in the New Statesman

You can read James Macintyre's interview with Rowan Williams here. I found it thought provoking, deeply moving and challenging. here are some short extracts but I really recommend reading the whole interview.

Modesty is one of his defining traits. Rowan Williams, whom both critics and allies agree is marked by a rare humility - and even that most elusive of qualities, "holiness" - is said by those who know him to be something of a reluctant Archbishop of Canterbury, called to service by faith, not ambition. "I'm always tempted to say that anybody who wants to be Archbishop deserves to be," he said at our first meeting at Lambeth Palace in October, indicating that any hardships the job entailed were unavoidable. This would be the first of several conversations I had with this private man, whom one friend has described as "a recluse with a social conscience".
...
One thing you quickly learn about Williams is that he is very funny. He once said that Tony Blair was "very strong on God, very weak on irony". The same could not be said of the current occupant of Lambeth Palace. He entertains staff - who affectionately call him "ABC" in internal memos - with impersonations of the television vicar character Father Ted and sharp one-liners. "It helps to have children," he says. His favourite films are Andrei Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev and The Muppet Christmas Carol. "As a family, we've always had a similar sense of humour, which is why regular repeats of Father Ted and Black Books are well up there. I also became a serious addict of The West Wing a couple of years ago."
...

"Most of those casting judgement will not have met him. It is not just that he is the most prodigiously intellectually gifted person almost any of us will have ever met, or will ever meet, and one of the most self-disciplined (in a monastic sense) of people in respect of the daily practice of the virtues and time spent [every day without exception] in prayer - all of which is remarkable enough - it's that he applies all the extravagant gifts he's been given in love and service. He's on the job [of being a disciple] all day every day where most of us flit in and out.

"This is a man who really has glimpsed what it means to live sacrificially, non-judgementally, honestly, generously, truthfully, in touch in a deep way with the wisdom of God. Rowan is uncommon. If only we could just get used to that and enjoy the good news that he's here, he's real, and he's Anglican."

More news of Jestina Mukoko

Roy Greenslade in the Guardian is also now highlighting Jestina Mukoko's situation. She now faces the death penalty after being accused of being involved in a terrorist plot to overthrow Robert Mugabe. Mukoko heads the Zimbabwe Peace Project which provides information about political violence in the country.

"The accusations brought against Mukoko are absurd and baseless," said a statement issued by the Paris-based press freedom watchdog, Reporters Without Borders. "We call on the Zimbabwean authorities to free her and withdraw all the charges at once. Coming after a series of kidnappings, the prosecution of these opposition activists has all the hallmarks of a government conspiracy to sabotage the power-sharing agreement."
A former presenter for the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) and then the privately-owned Voice of The People (VOP), Mukoko was kidnapped from her home in Norton (40 km west of Harare) at around 5 a.m. on 3 December by some 15 men in plain clothes. Thereafter, there had been no word of Mukoko until her court appearance. The police had said nothing, aside from denying any knowledge of her whereabouts.

Mukoko heads the Zimbabwe Peace Project, a human rights organisation that has provided constant information about this year’s political violence in Zimbabwe, where some 200 supporters of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC have been killed since the party’s successful challenge to the ruling ZANU-PF in last March’s general elections.

Meanwhile AP reported this on Christmas Eve:

Les officiels zimbabwéens ont maintes fois lancé ce type d'accusations, et ces accusations largement considérées comme fabriquées de toutes pièces par le régime semblent indiquer que Mugabe n'entend pas céder d'un iota, ni renoncer au pouvoir comme on l'y exhorte de toutes parts.
Pour l'avocate spécialiste des droits humains Beatrice Mtetwa, les disparitions d'opposants, dont au moins 14 ont pu être localisés dans différents commissariats de police par des avocats partis à leur recherche, sont des «enlèvements illégaux».
Me Mtetwa a expliqué que les avocats s'étaient faits chasser du commissariat principal de Harare. Mais dans d'autres locaux de police, ils ont pu constater que tous les militants retrouvés, y compris une mère détenue avec son enfant, n'avaient droit ni à des vivres ou médicaments venus de l'extérieur, ni accès à une assistance juridique.


Monday, 29 December 2008

Praying for peace in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories

This week the Ecumenical Prayer Cycle invites Christians throughout the world to pray for Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Throughout the past year of blogging and preparing worship in the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva it has so often been like this, a country we are praying for through the cycle will be in the news at the time of the calendar. Normally because of the way news works the reason is not positive. Often like this week it is because the country is hardly ever out of the news.

The WCC general secretary has called for an immediate stop to the violence:
“The deaths and suffering of the last three days are dreadful and shameful and will achieve nothing but more deaths and suffering,” Samuel Kobia said in a 29 December statement. He was referring to the “over 300 lives lost, more than 1,000 people wounded, [and] uncounted thousands traumatized” in the Gaza strip as a result of the “bombardment of one of the most densely populated places on earth”. “This must stop immediately,” he added.
The statement reiterates previous WCC calls on “the government of Israel and Hamas to respect international humanitarian and human rights law,” and warns that in the present crisis the use of Israeli military ground forces “would deepen the current disaster”.
"The tired logic of public officials blaming others while denying their own government’s responsibilities has led to the loss of many lives. Governments need now to be accountable for peace."
Full statement here.

ENI also reports:
"The humanitarian consequences for innocent civilians will be even more grave than they already are if all parties do not immediately end all attacks and begin a new ceasefire," said John Nduna, director of ACT International.
In Jerusalem the Rabbis for Human Rights group issued a statement on 29 December saying, "The firing on Israeli communities adjacent to Gaza gives the State of Israel the right to defend her citizens, but both the Jewish tradition and international law do not allow the harming of innocent civilians."
...
The rabbis said "Many Israelis will quote from the Talmudic Tractate Sanhedrin, 'When somebody is coming to kill you, get up earlier and kill him first'. However, few are aware of how the Talmud continues, teaching us only to use the minimum necessary force and drawing a sharp contrast between defending ourselves against those attacking us, and harming an innocent third-party. These are also principles in International Humanitarian Law."

Today, as Israel declares war, we try to continue to pray for peace.
My peace-campaigning Mother-in-law has also sent me this:

Dear friends,

As we watch the Gaza bloodshed with horror, appalled at how the crisis is spiraling further out of control, one thing is clear − this violence will only lead to further civilian suffering and an escalation of the conflict. There must be another way. Over 280 are dead and hundreds more injured − rockets are striking Ashdod deep inside Israel for the very first time, and the sides are mobilising for invasion. A global response has begun, but it'll take more than words − the immediate violence won't end, nor will wider peace be secured, without firm action from the
international community.
Today, we're launching an emergency campaign which will be delivered to the UN Security Council and key world powers, urging them to act to ensure an immediate ceasefire, address the growing humanitarian crisis, and take steps to build real and lasting peace.1 Follow this link now to sign the emergency petition and send it to everyone you know:
http://www.avaaz.org/en/gaza_time_for_peace/98.php?cl_tf_sign=1
After eight or more years of ineffective US and global diplomacy − and now Gaza's bloodiest day in recent memory − we must issue a global outcry demanding that world leaders do more than make statements if they're to bring peace to this region. The UN, the European Union, the Arab League and the USA should now act together to ensure a ceasefire – which includes an end to rocket attacks into Israel and opening the checkpoints for fuel, food, medicine and other
humanitarian aid deliveries.
With a new US President taking office in less than a month, a real opportunity exists to breathe new life into peace efforts. These latest hostilities require not only an immediate ceasefire but a
commitment from Obama and other world leaders that resolution of the Israeli−Palestinian conflict is at the very top of their agendas. As the whole world is impacted by this ongoing conflict − we should demand nothing less.
In 2006 we mobilised for a ceasefire in Lebanon. For years we've worked to encourage a just and lasting peace, taking out billboards and ads across Israel and Palestine. Now as we head into 2009, we need to come together again to demand a peaceful and lasting resolution, instead of a further escalation of violence. Follow this link to put your name forward for peace:
http://www.avaaz.org/en/gaza_time_for_peace/98.php?cl_tf_sign=1
All sides to the conflict will continue to act as they have in the past if they believe that the world will stand by and allow them to do so. 2009 is a year that things can be different. As we face this
crisis, and the possibilities of a new year, it's time for us to demand a ceasefire and work together to finally put an end to this cycle of violence.
With hope and determination,
Brett, Ricken, Alice, Ben, Pascal, Paul, Graziela, Paula, Luis, Iain
and the whole Avaaz team


Next week the ecumenical prayer cycle invites us to pray for Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Yeman, Iran, Iraq ...

More on root vegetables in translation

While eating breakfast in the wonderful Speisewagen of the Deutsche Bahn I was further edified on root vegetables to discover that Pastinaken (and not Patinaken as I incorrectly copied from various German menus in my recent post) are apparently related to but not the same as Petersilenwürzel (parsnips) - or is this just cheffy trivia that isn't actually true? Are there two types of parsnip? Can you really buy two different kinds of this supposedly similar vegetable in Germany? And why was this important piece of information only on the German and not on the English menu?
So by going to German Wikipedia I discover there may be as many as 14 kinds of parsnip. My personal hypothesis is that parsnips have for years incorrectly been called Petersilienwürzel, but there are two separate Latin names for the two veg Petroselinum crispum ssp. tuberosum and Pastinaca sativa ssp. sativa . As very few people in Germany really eat parsnips this lack of Gründlichkeit in vegetable terminology has hardly been noticed - except by "cheffy" types whose knowledge I admit I did at first call into question over the restaurant-car scrambled eggs.
Unlike more erudite bloggers who know what they are going to write before they post, my posting and research go on at the same time. The issue is now more or less resolved for me thanks to English Wikipedia's entry on parsley - my own culinary ignorance has been the problem all along - now I just need to find some hamburg root parsley to have a taste and see if they also can be roast.
Another type of parsley is grown as a root vegetable, as with hamburg root parsley. This type of parsley produces much thicker roots than types cultivated for their leaves. Although little known in Britain and the United States, root parsley is very common in Central and Eastern European cuisine, used in soups and stews. Though it looks similar to parsnip it tastes quite different. Parsnips are among the closest relatives of parsley in the umbellifer family of herbs. The similarity of the names is a coincidence, parsnip meaning "forked turnip", it is not related to real turnips
Admit it noone apart from me is even remotely interested ... are you? Oh how sad - no delicious spicy pumpkin, parsnip, celericac and carrot soup for you tonight, but we will enjoy ours! And all of these further thoughts on the humble but delicious parsnip were triggered by seeing the translation from the German into French on my Swiss parsnips today, yes you guessed the packet was inscribed racine persil. Anyway further parsnip recipes here and here.

PS. Dr B btw where is the much promised article using Mitropa as the metaphor for European history? I do think you need to join this group as part of your research.

The mystery worshipper is desperately needed - in Berlin

I was so looking forward to Christmas in Germany - the beautiful music, going to church, seeing friends, Christmas markets, being in the city of my dreams ... and it was wonderful, all of it.
Though I didn't expect to hear bad sermons - the first so joyless that it drove us to go to church again at midnight on Christmas Eve, where the sermon was better and involved the organ playing the heartbeat of God at the beginning and end very effectively. Then on Christmas morning we tried again - oh dear, more lengthy pseudo-intellectual joylessness - thankfully punctuated by perfect and glorious organ playing, but hey in the end I'm here for the word ...
Both Dr B and I had some theological issues with one aspect of the good midnight sermon but it was at least "preached" and gave food for thought about faith, life, God and values.
In the end a slip in theology but preached as if you want to communicate something you believe is worth sharing, wins hands down over the "I will show you how much I know in a disdainful voice for 25 minutes" approach. The services were perfectly executed but became in the end a triumph of form over content, quite a tragedy as most of the people there will have been in church for their annual Christmas fix.
Now I must do some research to see if something like Ship of Fools exists in Germany, one or two of the churches could really do with some systematic visiting by the mystery worshipper. Narrenschiff anyone?
Perhaps I should add that my own preaching is not always brilliant so I tend to be a fairly tolerant listener to sermons by others - I know how much work it is to prepare and preach them. I miss the discipline of the weekly sermon grind and I have sometimes had to get up very early on Christmas morning to write another sermon - having preached two a day for the previous week or so, I'm sure not all of them were great, but I hope they communicated some passion for the Good News.
I came away from our rather sobering German Christmas experience thinking about how possibly the insitence on getting the liturgy to perfectly dovetail means that everything is rather too orderly and perfect. Fortunately I have also heard some brilliant and simply good sermons in Germany in the past, and I am sure that many were also preached this Christmas.
However, if you like me had a bad sermon experience at Christmas then I really recommend Kim Fabricius' Christmas offering posted on Faith and Theology, you can read it here and here's the penultimate paragraph:
As for me, today I bring you good news about the God disclosed in this child, who happens to be the Word made flesh, the “little Word,” as St. Bernard called him. He has no time for religious fuss, he gives no points for moral rectitude, he is oblivious to all our other divisive cultural constructions, and he would not know theological correctness if it pulled down his nappy and smacked him on the bum. All – all – are welcome at the manger. He simply wants you to come as you are and to be there with him. All very natural, because although there is another world, you will find it nowhere else but hidden in this one.

I also highly recommend his Propositions on Christian Theology - a Pilgrim Walks the Plank, which was my Christmas gift. Preaching is about walking the plank and daring to communicate. In his 9.5 propositions on preaching Kim does say that lousy preaching is "alas, not a status confessionis" - ah well that's me put in my place - the bit about the sermon I am listening to "being my own obituary" also brought me up short. Perhaps my jottings on joyless sermons only say something about me and not about the preaching I listened to ...

Translator gives husband bad translation for Christmas

Oh the humiliation - and it's all my own fault. To say I was unprepared for Christmas would be an understatement - I always am. Anyway this lack of preparation led to Dr B being bought a last minute present of an architecture guide to Berlin. There was also a split second decision to buy the English rather than the German version - in my defence I would say it was shrink wrapped ...
Anyway the book is fascinating - full of irritating facts, opinions, "interesting" architectural walks around the city, historical insights, you know the sort of thing. It was my way of saying I'm willing to smile and be pleased for a few days as you tell me all sorts of things I never up until then knew that I didn't want to know.
Dr B is enjoying it but parts of the book are not well translated to say the least ... ah well let this be a lesson to me to check translations even when buying presents. I'll leave it to him to add some examples in the comments. I do now think there is a gap in the market for a new Christmas game - guessing the original German from the English translation.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Schleiermacher and Christmas

You can tell you are in Germany when you open your daily newspaper over breakfast (OK, it was the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung - or FAZ ) on Christmas Eve and there is a whole page given over to "Bildungswelten"- in this case to an essay by theologian Eberhard Jüngel, on "Christmas Eve" by the 18th-19th century theologian Friedrich Daniel Schleiermacher. Written in the style of a platonic dialogue, the work is set in a bourgeois household on Christmas eve where the protagonists discuss the meaning of the incarnation. First published in 1806, the Christmas Eve story has become Schleiermacher's most republished work, born in 1768 as the son of a Reformed pastor, and educated by the Moravian Brethren (or Herrnhuter) from whom comes the Moravian Star that you see all over Berlin at Christmas time. With time, Schleiermacher grew away from the pietism of the Moravians, and after a time in Halle, spent the last 24 years of his life as a professor at the newly founded Friedrich Wilhelm university in Berlin (rebaptised the Humboldt University after the Second World War). He was also an ecumenist before his time, being an enthusiastic supporter of the union of Reformed and Lutheran churches proclaimed by the the king in 1817. He even wrote a - never enacted - constitution for the Reformed-Lutheran union - and, the FAZ tells us, his academic work suffered in the 1820s because of his involvement to the cause of church union.
In fact, just round the corner from where we are staying in Berlin is the new home of the Humboldt University's Theological Faculty (a far cry from the wooden "shed" near Friedrichstrasse in which the theology section was housed when Dr B studied there 25 years ago). The ground floor lobby of the theological faculty has this saying of Schleiermacher: "Soll der Knoten der Geschichte so auseinander gehen: Das Christentum mit der Barbarei, und die Wissenschaft mit dem Unglauben?" - Shall the knot of history unravel in such a way that Christianity is identified with barbarism and modern knowledge with unbelief?

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Unedifying church campaign

One constant in Germany is that on the afternoon and evening of December 24th Protestants go to church - to get their yearly fix of some well-known Christmas carols. In some places people actually have to queue to get in.
This year in Berlin the Protestant and Catholic churches unashamedly used the Christmas influx to encourage people to sign a petition asking for a referendum on the right to choose freely between the teaching of ethics or of religion in Berlin-Brandenburg schools. In several places we got given the Christmas card pictured here with the call for a free vote in the star above the manger. I'm not very impressed but then that's probably because I've become infected by France's "Laicité".
If there is a referendum and if (very big if) it got through then Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims would all be able to choose religious education or ethics as a regular school subject. Interestingly this tolerant attitude towards religious education also being open to Muslims is not so evident in German states where churches already have the right to teach children in state schools and education facilities - although one excuse that is given for this is that many Islamic congregations are not organised in asociations.
For me the real problem is that the church relies on the right to teach children and young people in schools - and gets state money to do this - and this keeps the numbers of young people asking for confirmation artificially high. This teaching has something to do with faith but less to do with a community of faith. Meanwhile at one of the Christmas eve services we attended the children who were playing around at the front of the church were more or less sent out by the preacher. Perhaps it's about time to learn to connect with young people and children rather than make out the church is some poor victim in this situation in Berlin.

Friday, 26 December 2008

A Berlin Collage



Some pictures from our Berlin visit: Top Row: (l to r) The Berlin office of the Bertelsmann Foundation; a Moravian star; the Schlossbrücke, Unter den Linden; Bottom Row: Schillerdenkmal on the Gendarmenmarkt; Karl Liebknecht memorial, Leipziger Strasse;
Hanukiah at the Hauptbahnhof.

Moravian stars

Here's a picture of some Moravian Christmas stars. Defintiely my favourite Christmas decoration. We have a very delicate white paper one at home which we have to piece together in the right way - at the end of Christmas the points can be disassembled and put back into a small box. In Germany you can see Moravian stars all over at this time of year. The Christmas market on the Platz der Akademie has golden stars on top of every booth and the imposing Bertelsmann foundation building on Unter den Linden has them all around the top of the building and over every window and doorway - during the day they are white and at night yellow with the coloured bulbs inside. It looks very classy. Like this one here.
Meanwhile we've been discovering that Schleiermacher was a Herrnhüter (Moravian) and also wrote a Christmas story - more of this soon. This quite small denomination in Germany has an enormous influence on Church life and daily Bible readings in Germany through the Losungen
"Die LOSUNGEN bringen jeden Tag ein Wort aus dem Alten und aus dem Neuen Testament, sowie einen Liedvers oder ein Gebet, ohne jede weitere Auslegung. Sie verbinden Menschen aus verschiedenen Konfessionen und mit unterschiedlicher Frömmigkeit."

They also exist in English and other languages. The daily texts are chosen by lot and it's interesting to see how the verses given to each day resonate as historic events develop. This was particularly the case for me living in Germany as the Berlin wall came down and reunification began.

Herrnhuter churches and cemetries are also very beautiful and calm places. The gravestones all lie on the ground and are not especially imposing large structures, and in the churches often everything is painted white - including the pews. The aesthetics and spirituality of simplicity, equality, beauty and light.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Born in the night Mary's child

The original of this card was done by our friend Heather Budge Reid. I love the shape and smiles and the colours - even on this less than perfect scan.

Happy Christmas to you all wherever you are.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Compline for Christmas Eve

I'm about to go out to Berlin's French CAthedral and am listening to carols from Kings as I prepare. Then we will go out for Heiligabend with a friend of my parents. A quiet and gentle evening ahead.
Meanwhile over on 5 Lobes and 2 Fissures George has written a wonderful Christmas Eve Compline:

The bustle of the day has died away.
Still our minds, focused on the practicalities of tomorrow.
Still our minds to focus on the mystery of tonight.

Almighty God, fragile human – the impossible reality of your incarnation is so far beyond our grasp that we get lost in the ‘how’s and the ‘why’s of it. We only know that somehow the whole of time pivots on this moment. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, but a busy world barely noticed.

Refresh our jaded eyes to read those old, familiar stories once again.

In the sanctuary, a priest is struck dumb by an angel.
God who speaks in silence : when we want to argue our point loudest and longest, you call us to listen.

Teenager becomes woman in an instant “let it be with me according to your word”.
We are proud and jealous guardians of our self-determination, but you call us to obedience.

Young father, exposed to public disgrace for standing by his fiancé.
God-with-us in the chaos of doubt and questioning, you call us to faith.

Carpenter’s son, not the long-hoped-for warrior.
In a world of competition and conflict, you call us to be peacemakers.

Old man finds peace in the consolation of his people, after years of waiting.
God who transcends time, we want everything at the instant of asking, but you call us to patience.

All-powerful God, your incarnation – the ultimate vulnerability – is our ultimate challenge.
We hide behind our veneer of strength, but you call us to radical gentleness.

This is the counter-culture of your kingdom.

The Word became flesh.
Laughing, loving, embracing, joyful flesh.
Greater love has no man than this – that he lays down his life for his friends.
Broken, hurting, weeping, painful flesh.
My God, my God – why have you forsaken me?

The Word dwelt among us.
He worked with us, and walked with us.
Come, follow me.
He wept with us, and comforted us.
Do not be afraid.
He ate with us, and drank with us.
Do this in remembrance of me.
He taught us and prayed with us.
When you pray, say this : Our Father...

Joy to the world! Her Lord is come and will come. Almighty God, fragile human - we rejoice in you, and in you we will find our peace.

copyright (c) George Walsh

Stille Nacht from ASBO Jesus


So here's a fun picture from ASBO Jesus for "Heiligabend".

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Kitsch and Klopse on top of the Fernsehturm

At many times of the year it's difficult to get to the top of Berlin's television tower and its revolving restaurant without queuing, but tonight we managed it and it was great fun in a kitsch rather 1970s sort of way. I think the most kitsch moment for me was listening to Christmas canned music and realising that the version of Silent Night playing while looking over the German capital was an American English version. (Stille Nacht was originally written in German in case you wondered.)
Anyway the Fernsehturm was built by the East Germans for the 20th anniversary of the founding of the country in 1969 and the interior décor is very much of that era. It was fun to be up there looking at the Christmas lights, listening to people at other tables saying "hey, that's where the wall used to go ..."
I ate more delicious root vegetables with my meal, warm fresh beetroot with sour cream served as a side order to Berlin's traditional Königsberger Klopse. It's one of the few dishes which I really like that I have never attempted to make - mainly because Dr B doesn't like capers which are in the sauce. Anyway here's a recipe. Königsberg used to be part of Prussia but is now called Kaliningrad. It was home to philosopher extraordinaire Immanuel Kant, not sure what he would have had to say about kitsch restaurants though.

Folding Fröbel stars and the father of the Kindergarten

I learnt how to make these beautiful eight point stars while studying theology in the former GDR. One of the colleagues I was studying with wanted to make one for everyone at her Christmas service. As I have always loved origami I got the hang of how to do it quite quickly and because we had a lot to make that first time I tend to remember how it goes.
In Germany they are called Fröbelsterne after the educationalist Friedrich Fröbel - he's the person who came up with the concept of Kindergarten. Fröbel built on children's instinct for folding and plaiting to encourage understanding of mathematics so maybe that's why the star is named after him in Germany or maybe he was indeed its inventor.
AnywayI love trying to find time over Christmas to make some of the stars for friends. It's a great activity to do as a group as well - people can help each other out. These days I tend to make the stars out of gift tape like the one pictured here on Flickr because then I don't have to cut the strips up myself and everything slides into place nicely as well - with ordinary paper things can get a bit stuck. What actually works really well is strips of glossy magazine paper - it slides well, the stars look great, you've recycled the paper and I like having words and pictures on the stars.
Some places sell fairly traded stars made from palm fronds - and yes I admit to sitting on the beach in Martinique folding stars and cutting palm strips with my Swiss army knife. You can look here and here for some examples - you can choose to fold them so that the points go inwards, outwards or lie flat and you can also choose to make them so that they look more like shooting stars. I have once seen pictures of very upmarket ones in a Martha Stewart book but on ethical grounds I don't think I'll be linking to those. A friend who was really into patchwork and quilting also made some out of material using quite a bit of starch - and the strips took some preparation because both sides of the material need to be seen.
Anyway making stars is good for the soul, it helps you relax and think and give you something beautiful either for yourself or someone else as well. So what are you waiting for? Follow the instructions here, here or here. If I can make them in a hotel room in Berlin I'm sure you can give them a go.

parsnips - parsley root - hamburg parsley

If you mention the word Petersilienwürzel to most Germans they will say they've never heard of that vegetable and think you are talking about the root of the parsley plant. Translate the word back into English and you get some interesting wrong translations - I'm not a botanist but what is Hamburg parsley?
Anyway last night in Berlin I discovered a synonym for Petersilienwürzel - Patinaken, recognized only because slices of that delicious and noble vegetable the parsnip were served on top of my fettucini. That word on the menu - Patinaken - is closer I suppose the the French for parsnip which is panais. However most French people don't know the delights of this wonderful root vegetable either.
Fortunately the Ferney Voltaire market sells panais - both organic and non-organic - so I'm able to indulge in the delights of the parsnip at home.
There are other root vegetable translation problems la bêterave could be a mangold (bêterave fouragère) or a beetroot (bêterave rouge) - of course bêterave means a root for beasts and you can also get sugar beat, la bêterave à sucre. Meanwhile in the borderland place we live we also hear the word rutabaga but that should actually be used for the swede.
I think it is time the EU began promoting better root vegetable knowledge

Monday, 22 December 2008

Christmas reading on the train

By the time this gets posted we shall be on the train to BErlin and I shall be dipping in and out of this wonderful Virago Book of Christmas. It's an anthology of women's writing about Christmas put together by writer Michelle Lovric. My copy was given to me by a friend some years ago but I didn't read it at the time and have just started perusing it properly this year.
Last night I read a wonderful extract of a letter by Rosa Luxemburg to Sonja Liebknecht full of how she was keeping her spirits up despite being in prison. It reminded me how much I enjoy reading Luxemburg, maybe I'll be able to find more of her letters while in Berlin.

The centre of the universe

The BBC is reporting that Pope Benedict XVI has paid tribute to 17th-Century astronomer Galileo Galilei.

Galileo used his scientific methods to demonstrate that the Earth revolved around the Sun and not the other way around.
His view directly challenged the church's view at the time - that the Earth was static and at the centre of the universe.
Galileo was accused of heresy in 1633 and forced to publically recant his theories.
He lived the rest of his life under house arrest at his villa in the hills outside Florence.

This made me pause and think about how culturally blinkered most of us are - how easy it is to think our own experience is the centre of the world, the axis around which things turn. How easy also to impose that if we have the power to do that.
Sometimes in a bus or crowded place I look around me and am almost overcome by the sheer numbers of we human beings. The concept of all of those thoughts, prayers, angst, self-certainty, self-doubt, grief, love, joy, shopping lists ...
A real cacophany of consciousness reaching towards God perhaps or just there, existing as a challenge to me thinking I am the centre of the universe.
Galileo saw that existence was bigger and so different from what had been thought before.
Am I open to the immensity of this incredible vast universe? Or will I just respond to the vast size of the universe and teeming human diversity by trying to define my own identity more and more by insisting more on my individuality or on my relatedness?

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Réforme's Christmas stories

Last year Réforme had a competition for Christmas stories and this year you can read the winning story online even if you aren't a subscriber to Réforme.
The winning entry written Nativité by Annie Timbeau-Rapin who works with travellers was read as part of our Christmas festival service in Ferney this morning - the first time I've heard the words "emmerder" and "putain" spoken out loud in church - other of course than muttered by people talking about my sermons!
You can read many of the other stories written for Christmas here. A translation project for me I suppose.

Peace labyrinth for Christmas summer solstice

As the northern hemisphere heads for the winter solstice this means it's mid-summer in the south.
Steve Taylor reports that in Christchurch, New Zealand on Latimer Square a peace labyrinth has been installed for Christmas. You can find more pictures here and here.
I love the idea of distributing driftwood stick people in the city and then inviting people to bring them to the driftwood stable in the straw labyrinth.
We have a good friend who is moving to Christchurch New Zealand in January, she was saying that she would miss celebrating Christmas in wintertime. Perhaps though she will have another summer solstice labyrinth to look forwards to next December as well.
I particularly like the quote from Queen Lucy which ends the quote from the peace labyrinth website.

Walk the labyrinth and find moments of peace at Christmas. If you have found one of our driftwood people, bring along with you to the labyrinth.
This Christmas, Side Door Arts Trust, under conceptual artists Pete & Joyce Majendie and with the support of various churches, will be constructing a large scale interactive straw bale labyrinth (750 bales) on the theme of peace, based on the labyrinth designed for St Paul’s Cathedral, London.
Within the labyrinth there will be a number of art installations with different themes: world peace, peace in the community, peace in the family, peace with God, personal peace etc.
Thousands of driftwood people will be dispersed around the city inviting those who find them to the labyrinth, where they may leave the driftwood person amongst the ever-growing crowd of their peers gathered around a small stable in the centre of the labyrinth with a light inside (‘”Yes,” said Queen Lucy. “In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.” – C.S. Lewis)

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Advent conspiracy and noel no hell

Gilles Boucomont an ERF minister in Paris was behind the video clip Noël No Hell and is quoted as saying this about his expectations of the project:
Juste un peu de vérité et d’espérance en temps de crise et de mensonge... Entre le Père Noël et la "fête des lumières", entre la course aux courses et la sur-consommation, nous tentons de glisser le message de la pauvreté de l’Enfant-Roi (le vrai, lui) né dans l’étable de Bethléem.
(Just a bit of truth and hope at this time of crisis and lies ... between father Christmas and the different "light festivals", between racing to shop and over consumption, we're trying to slip in the message of the poverty of the infant king (the true one) born in the stable in Bethlehem.)
You can read an interview with him here and read the words to the songs on a Roman Catholic blog here and visit the clip's facebook page here and also read an article in Réforme here.

Si votre ordinateur peine, allez sur cette page







Thanks to Maggi Dawn I've also been watching a video by Advent Conspiracy
who say this on their site:
The story of Christ's birth is a story of promise, hope, and a revolutionary love. So, what happened? What was once a time to celebrate the birth of a savior has somehow turned into a season of stress, traffic jams, and shopping lists.
And when it's all over, many of us are left with presents to return, looming debt that will take months to pay off, and this empty feeling of missed purpose. Is this what we really want out of Christmas?
What if Christmas became a world-changing event again?

I particularly like their focus on water, but the video messes up the frames on my blog so you'll just have to watch it here. Their slogan is "give presence".

book crossing

This week I was given ein freies Buch and I discovered Bookcrossing, a term which apparently has been added to the OED.
n. the practice of leaving a book in a public place to be picked up and read by others, who then do likewise.
(added to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary in August 2004)


Years ago I remember reading about a school giving a teddy bear away and sending him around the world asking people who travelled with him to send a postcard to the school to tell the children about his journey and where he was. This is a similar idea but with books and it's agreat way of recycling books you're not likely to read again.

BookCrossing is earth-friendly, and gives you a way to share your books, clear your shelves, and conserve precious resources at the same time. Through our own unique method of recycling reads, BookCrossers give life to books. A book registered on BookCrossing is ready for adventure.
Leave it on a park bench, a coffee shop, at a hotel on vacation. Share it with a friend or tuck it onto a bookshelf at the gym -- anywhere it might find a new reader! What happens next is up to fate, and we never know where our books might travel. Track the book's journey around the world as it is passed on from person to person.

Anyway the book I "caught" in Geneva this week is Aurora's Anlass by Erich Hackl, set in pre-Franco Spain before the civil war - perfect for my long train journey to Berlin on Monday.

Puzzling at life

I've posted to the docs section my short meditation from the advent service held on Wednesday evening. The service was based on the liturgies on peace that the WCC worship office has prepared for Advent, you can find them all here.
As part of our act of commitment everyone received one of the wordle cards with a jigsaw shaped piece cut out of it so that the peace wordle could show through.
Our lives are not so easy to resolve, sort out or live as jigsaw puzzles are. We are left not just puzzling but also perplexed. I have been wondering if Advent and Lent are not for me to some extent times to puzzle and be more perplexed. I try to find a missing piece but actually discover so much more that is missing, so many other pieces I want to search out and understand. As the celebration of the incarnation draws closer I hope I shall manage to put my Advent puzzling aside and receive the gift of the vulnerable child born also for me.

Here are some extracts from the meditation:

But we are of course still left with the puzzle
Around us here in the chapel you can see that words have not so much become flesh as taken on colour
On fragile paper in many languages, by the ordinary artists and poets that we are
We have painted the word peace in our own and other languages
We express something of our hope for the incarnation of God
Our hope for Christ the Prince of Peace
...
As we puzzle at the meaning of our own lives
And puzzle at daring to believe in peace
Perhaps this poetry and art which surrounds us this evening will also teach us generosity and practical solidarity
As we look forwards to the promise of the Word becoming flesh amongst us
And to swords across the world being beaten to ploughshares.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Postcards to another country

Looking at the lovely andere Zeiten site I came across these lovely cards which have the intriguing title in German Karten nach Anderland which can mean cards or maps to another country. they sound really lovely and are an ivitation to think in a different way while you're travelling, they include prayers and meditations as well as things to journal about and cards to send to friends while you're travelling to invite them to share your experience as you travel to another country.
It made me think of the World Social Forum's slogan - another world is possible.
Advent is about waiting for that very different country where Christ's kingdom will be born. It's also about trying to follow the map to that very different country. I think these cards are a lovely idea.
And remember um outro mundo é possível!

Religion can influence parenting

My best friend Janet Lees was part of the multi-disciplinary group who produced the study 'Religion, beliefs and parenting practices' for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Janet was researcher to the project in the Department of Sociological Studies at the University of Sheffield. Janet is a United Reformed Church minister and a speech therapist.
Even more amazing is that Janet handed in her Phd at the end of November, just a week before her fiftieth birthday. She's also had this book called Word of Mouth published with the Iona imprint Wild Goose in recent years and she's very involved in Vision4Life which is being launched in the URC this month.

Here are two quotes from the paper:
Britain is a multi-faith society whose population has become more culturally and religiously diverse in recent years. Some existing research studies have associated religious observance among parents with their children’s positive social development. However, terrorist attacks, the rise of 'Islamaphobia' and some high-profile child abuse cases within faith communities have resulted in negative publicity concerning the influences of religion on families.

Parents in the research saw the transmission of religious values as a way of providing direction for their children and creating a strong base on which they could build the rest of their lives. Most young people said they appreciated and respected their parents' values, even though they might eventually choose to hold different beliefs. They expected to make their own career choices, but recognised that parents had a contribution to make in influencing or advising them. Some also said there were career choices of which their parents would disapprove, especially if they were thought to involve religious taboos such as gambling, alcohol or indecent behaviour. In general, the idea of pursuing a religious vocation did not appear to attract the young participants, although some thought it would please their parents.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Wordles for worship


One of the joys of blogging is discovering seemingly pointless stuff out there on the internet that you then find a use for. In my case this usually means a liturgical use.
So earlier this week I realised that I needed to put the word "peace" in various languages into a Christmas card from which a jigsaw shaped piece had peace cut out ... and I thought "oh dear I'm going to have to design something." Then as I was walking home I suddenly realised that I could wordle peace in many languages and see if that would give me what I needed and it did. I like this one because it looks just a bit like a Christmas tree. The result was printed on bright coloured A5 paper and looked good.
Some of the other attempts have been saved here. I have to admit that my first peace list was rather Scandinavian in weighting and my first peace wordle came out with the word Fred writ large. Even though I try to agitate for using many languages I wasn't sure this would really get my message across.
Anyway now you know about wordles you too can find a liturgical use for them, do let me know what it is - I suppose I should try and feed a sermon in sometime but I'm worried that might make the whole system crash!

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Alternative Advent in Germany

This is one of the beautiful photos from the der Andere Advent calendar from Germany.
The idea is to encourage people to have 12 minutes of silence each day.
There are lovely stories to make you smile as well as encouragements to more solidarity and reponsibility.
The photos for the Sundays in the calendar especially encourage thinking about waiting. There are also reader forums for people to exchange their experiences and prayer concerns.
A more Christian approach to Advent and Christmas is not about being more judgemental or more of a killjoy but about truly living in the moment, recognising God's generosity and learning to be more generous and grace-filled ourselves. Learning silence is part of that.

Advent singing for an open table

Many of the best loved French Advent songs come from Roman Catholic song writers. One of my favourites is "laisserons-nous à notre table..." by Michel Scouarnec and Jo Akepsimas.
Is there space at our table for the stranger? Do we have time to danse with the foreigner at our parties? Do our words leave space to listen to the stranger?
The French is of course much more poetic than this early morning approximative translation. It struck me today that the hymn is an Advent meditation on the beatitudes and a call to more solidarity as we prepare to celebrate the feast of the incarnation.

Laisserons-nous à notre fête un pas de danse à l’étranger ?
Trouvera-t-il, quand il viendra, des mains tendues pour l’inviter ?

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

You know you want to protect the German language

Tony Patterson has written a fun but interesting piece in the Independent on attempts to protect German language in the constitution.

The campaign to defend Die deutsche Sprache has not been launched by some obscure group of language professors, but from one of the main centres of German political power: the party of Chancellor Angela Merkel. Her ruling conservative Christian Democrats are poised to copy France and enshrine the nation's language in the constitution.

I particularly liked this paragraph which calls Denglish a poisonous porridge:

the move is also an attempt to guard against what many see as an insidious and virtually unstoppable corruption of German by "Denglish", the increasingly widespread incorporation of English words and phrases. Denglish has infuriated the German academic world. The writer, Matthias Schreiber, recently described the phenomenon in Der Spiegel magazine as, "A poisonous porridge of magma which is burying a whole cultural landscape beneath it".

Support the ACT appeal for Zimbabwe

Today I attended a small reception by the Zimbabwe Geneva advocacy group. Both Marlon Zakeyo of WSCF and Michael Hyden from ACT International spoke movingly of campaigning and practical efforts to protect people in Zimbabwe from starvation and disease. We collected money for the ACT Zimbabwe appeal and will continue to do that tomorrow at our evening Advent service. ACT works particularly with Lutheran World Service and Christian Care in Zimbabwe.

Meanwhile the Rev. Ishmael Noko of the Lutheran World Federation has sent a letter speaking of anguish and outrage at Zimbabweans’ suffering to church leaders in southern Africa. ENI has also reported this:

The general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, the Rev. Ishmael Noko, has in a letter to Lutheran church leaders in southern Africa expressed anguish and outrage over the increasingly worsening crisis in Zimbabwe.
On Robert Mugabe's current leadership role in the country, Noko noted that while many Zimbabweans paid the ultimate price during the struggle for freedom from colonial rule, the "independent government that they fought for has turned liberation into repression, and finally into calamity".
Noko appealed to heads of LWF member churches in the Southern African Development Community area to push the region's governments "to take the further steps necessary to bring an end to the suffering of the people of Zimbabwe, which is also the suffering of the whole region", the Geneva-based LWF said in a 16 December statement.

Never without my department

I few months ago I wrote about how the French government wanted to remove the number of the department from French number plates, something that had led to a cross party alliance to oppose the idea. Well, in the end the government backtracked and a departmental number will still have to
be on the plates. On 12 December the interior minister unveiled the new style of plates. So citizens movements have won out again and we can still play the game of guessing which number is from where on long distance trips in France.

problems with a Bible translation in India

ENI is reporting the following story about problems with a Bible translation in eastern India. Here's the full story:

A dispute over the translation of a Hebrew word meaning "green" or "leafy" tree in the Old Testament of the Bible has led to vociferous protests by local people in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand.

The controversy concerns a passage in the Book of Deuteronomy (12:2), which states, in the English translation of the New Revised Standard Version, "You must demolish completely all the places where the nations whom you are about to dispossess served their gods, on the mountain heights, on the hills, and under every leafy tree."
Problems emerged when local activists spotted that in the translation into the Kurukh dialect, the tree was referred to as a "Sarna" tree, a species that local rural people, referred to as tribals, hold in great reverence.
Tribal activists had burned an effigy of Roman Catholic Cardinal Telesphore Toppo, a former president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India who in 2003 became the first tribal person from India to be elevated as a cardinal.
"It was never intended to hurt the local sentiments and we have acted immediately as soon as it was brought to our attention," said Soma Bhatkar, who represents the Bible Society in India in Jharkhand and Bihar. In early December she had convened a meeting of secular scholars on the subject and collected more than 600 copies of the translation available in bookshops. These will be corrected with non-controversial phrases such as "green trees", she noted.
"The Bible should not be a cause of hurt to any one," B. K. Pramnik, the general secretary of the Bible society told Ecumenical News International from his headquarters in Bangalore. "So, we have promptly withdrawn the available copies of the translation that were printed 10 years ago."
Acknowledging the translators made an "unintentional mistake", Pramnik said the society had also appealed to local congregations to bring the Bibles for correction to its regional office in Ranchi as more than 2000 copies were printed when the translation was released.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Don't you just love the global capitalist perspective

I'm sure you will be delighted to know that both Societe Generale and Credit Agricole said they had ''negligible'' exposure of below 10 million euros each in relation to the Madoff scandal.
Words fail me.
I'll try to work out whether I can afford to pay for my morning coffee tomorrow.
Meanwhile in Zimbabwe people are dying of cholera you may have heard about it.

Do nothing Christmas

I'm enjoying reading Stephen Cottrell's Do nothing Christmas and perhaps I should also treat myself in the New Year to Do Nothing to Change Your Life. Apparently in 2007, Stephen Cottrell, the Bishop of Reading, handed out egg-timers to commuters at his local train station to highlight the value of time spent in stillness.
I really appreciate his clear and simple prose and the carefully researched quotes. Writing with this kind of conciseness takes real discipline.

Each day’s reflections, which serve as prompts for quiet periods of rest and contemplation, conclude with practical suggestions for further thought, prayer or action – ranging from reviewing your charitable giving, to creating homemade gifts, seeking out vulnerable people who might be alone this Christmas, or bringing back family mealtimes. The accompanying website is here: http://www.whywearewaiting.com/

This ‘Advent calendar with a difference’ offering readers “another way of celebrating Christmas, where its joys and promises can help put life back together again” rather than risk it imploding with “all the conflicting demands and expectations” that the season can bring.

Far from a killjoy’s manifesto, the book’s brief, down-to-earth daily reflections take their cue from the trimmings and trappings of contemporary Christmas – from buying the turkey to the office Christmas party. Each ingredient of the modern Christmas is given a twist, encouraging readers to consider their preparations for Christmas in ‘slow motion’: to create time amid the Advent rush to rediscover the real joys of the festival by taking time to look afresh at how to prepare, and wait patiently, for the celebration of Christ’s birth.

Take the Christian Aid Copenhagen Pledge

Click here to take Christian Aid's Copenhagen pledge on CO2 emissions.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Free internet access at the travelodge on Vernon Square London

Sometimes I get cross about having to pay money for old rope.
At the travel lodge hotel I stayed at in London this week I had a choice of buying 24 hours wifi access for £10 or £20 for a week. As I was staying for two nights I took the week but my voucher is still valid until Thursday evening. So here's the voucher code TLZQREPVIF. My small contribution to the downfall of global capitalism - probably I'll discover this is illegal.
Perhaps there is a website out there which lists free vouchers like this - when I have a moment I'll try and find out.

Hans Ruedi Weber and my understanding of mission

I gave a 10 minute presentation on my understanding of mission this week. My basic idea was that mission is about vision, conviction and two-way story telling.

I decided not to do a power point presentation but to use props instead - I'm still not sure that this was quite the right thing to do, but I wanted to make the point that we already have all the tools and technology for mission - and those tools are the people of God reading God's word, interpreting and acting on it together. When Hans Ruedi Weber explains a particular method in his book Experiments with Bible Study - which requires people to remember together images of the church in the new testament and then make a sketch of each them - he says that of course you can do this with an overhead projector, paper and markers but also says that he also used it in Indonesia where the mains tools to hand were sand and sticks and this worked just as well. The great thing about the method is that it uses the Bible people have within them and that this is triggered by the remembered Bible others have - it's the coming together of these versions that can create our picture of the whole - it's also clear that this is not about having a mission but about "being" mission.
Anyway my three props for my presentation were a pair of glasses, a pair of sandals and a stone.
The glasses were about mission needing vision, about seeing things afresh, about how perspectives change depending on your viewpoint. But I think vision is also about advocacy about trying to change the way people see things, as well as perhaps seeing things from their point of view.
The sandals were about the process and pilgrimmage aspects to mission. Sandals may seem a bit hackneyed but I chose them for the images of setting out, of walking to follow Christ who walked - there's something quite important about speed there, going forwards but at a speed where others can still keep up with you. The sandals also speak about trying to walk in other people's shoes, about how uncomfortable that can be, about how shoes rub our feet. Sometimes we want everything to be comfortable, yet perhaps we are more in mission when we are up against the rub.
The rock was about content and conviction, about the reason for mission, about the gospel, the good news, the word. But that content is complex - it's about Christ as both cornerstone and stumbling block; it's also about the people being called and encouraged to see that they are living stones.

I'm still not really sure that this presentation worked - particularly not in this reduced blog format - but I want an evolving and becoming understanding of mission not a beautifully framed and perfect definition.
Then of course after I've given my presentation I got sent this international poll in a computer-generated translation from the Danish. Between the mis-translations the poll seems to suggest that a majority of people in the survey do not support the idea of people trying to convert others to their religious beliefs.
Perhaps in the end all that we can do in our post-modern world is throw down stories and experiences next to one another. Parables are what Jesus told, perhaps we just have to dare to walk with folk and do the same.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Unable to resist temptation

Wandering around a bookshop yesterday I was unable to not buy the book that had this quote on the back page
"Do you see that, Alex? "asked Dominick. I could see the long black pole of the Letna metronome jutting into the sky.
"There used to be a statue of Stalin there. But they blew it up, and now we have the metronome that almost never works."
"What does that mean?" I asked.
"I like to call it progress."

It's from A Cure for Solitude by David Whiteman. Now I just need to read the rest of it

Friday, 12 December 2008

A poet protects and transforms a railway station




Wandering around the new St Pancras is fun and this evening I've particularly enjoyed looking at the wonderful engraved calligraphy of some of John Betjeman's verse that is set in slate circles on the upper concourse. The wonderful statue of Betjeman by Martin Jennings is also surrounded by calligraphic engraving. It makes for a lovely poetic pilgrimage around the station.
Betjeman had been the driving force behind efforts to save the station when it was threatened by development plans during the 1960's and the sculpture stands as a tribute to the man who made their redevelopment of the station possible. Yet more about poetry and transformation ...

Today's the day Switzerland joins Schengen

This is the day that Switzerland joins Schengen. This goes some way to explaining a change from green to blue in what our local border guards wear. This detail had been worrying Dr B for some time.
Anyway here is the story from google news even with a nice map if you click here.

One of the quirks of the Schengen agreement is that for the first time in 84 years the Swiss will have to start patrolling their border with Liechtenstein. The tiny principality, wedged between Switzerland and Austria and with a population of only 35,000, is expected to join the borderless zone at the end of 2009.Until then, the 26-mile (41-kilometer) border will be monitored around the clock by closed-circuit television and mobile patrols, an effort that border guard chief Damian Curschellas says is unlikely to net many criminals or illegal immigrants. Because Liechtenstein has no airport, the only way to get there without passing through a Schengen country first would be to parachute out of a plane, said Curschellas good points. The biggest change will be for some non-European nationals living in Switzerland who previously needed a visa to travel to Schengen countries, a requirement that will now be dropped."If you're Bolivian with permanent residency in Switzerland, for example, you can now goto France for up to three months without applying for a visa," said Michel Bachar, spokesman for Geneva's border guard corps.

However there are also bad points for people visiting Switzerland from outside the EU as this report from Trinidad and Tabago makes clear:

Citizens of this country will soon be required to be in possession of visas to visit countries of the Swiss Confederation. The new Swiss visa requirement will take effect tomorrow as a result of Switzerland's association with the Schengen area-which are regions in Europe without systematic border controls. Switzerland will therefore be obligated to adapt its visa requirements to those of the common visa policy for Schengen member states as of December 6.As a consequence, all Trinidad and Tobago nationals and passport holders will require a Schengen visa to enter Switzerland and the Principality of Liechtenstein

Thursday, 11 December 2008

The ethics and politics of translation

There is something so satisfying about travelling by train, particularly through three countries and two capital cities. As usual in Paris I went to the wrong platform of the ligne D of the RER but I still made it to the Gare du Nord very easily to catch the Eurostar to London. The most stressful part of the journey was definitely the car journey to try and catch a bus or a tram. We forgot that when the snow falls Geneva becomes gridlock city. Five minutes later and I would have missed the train.

On the train I began reading Henri Meschonnic's Ethique et politique du traduire.
Just the title and the first page have triggered so many thoughts that I didn't get much further than musing, but I'm already looking forwards to the return journey on Saturday - just the chapter headings give you an idea - The meaning of the language not the meaning of the words, Why we need a bit of Bible in philosophy, Grammar - to the east of Eden, Religious texts in translation - God or Allah? and my favourite: "Embibler la voix" enbibling the voice ...
I realised that when translating the title into English something interesting happens that illustrates some of the points he's trying to make in the book - "The ethics and politics of translation" in English makes singular nouns into plurals and also turns the verb traduire into a noun. To me at least it immediately sounds more pragmatic and less philosophical than the French. This is a follow up book to an earlier one called La poétique du traduire - the poetics of translation.
On page 2 Meschonnic says:
"La poétique est aussi une éthique, puisqu'un poème est un acte éthique car il transforme le sujet, celui qui écrit et celui qui lit."
I love the idea of a poem being an ethical and transformative act and I read this just after having read this in an article by Alain Houziaux about Christian Bobin and his poetic prose:
"Le succès de Christain Bobin pose une vraie question aux Eglises: est-ce que, pour un large public, la poésie spirituelle n'assure pas aujourd'hui une fonction que les Eglises et les religions ne savent plus ou ne veulent plus assumer: celle de la consolation?"

As I read that I thought of Rowan Williams, theologian, church leader but also poet. I also remembered interpreting for Alan Falconer, former director of Faith and Order, and beingintrigued by his idea that perhaps what we needed to do to achieve deeper Christian unity was to read and write more poetry ...