Saturday, 28 February 2009

Words to speak of faith - can they be translated?

At KT today we tried to encourage the young people to express their faith - we ended with a bit of time writing confessions of faith you you can find here, en français bien sûr. We read part of the first chapter of John's gospel in depth and then later the parable of the last judgement in Matthew 25. We were trying to get at the deeper meaning behind the words and more importantly what these stories might mean for us.
At one point we were encouraged to beging to express and confess our faith by chosing 5 words from the list below in French. One word and only one was chosen by all eleven of us and only the minister, Bernard, and I chose "doubt" as part of of what we think about when we hear the word "faith". Ah, trust we clergy to undermine everything ;-).
The word everyone chose was the word confiance which could be translated as trust or perhaps as confidence into English, but then I wondered whether I would have chosen trust or confidence so readily in English as I did in French. Avoir la confiance just somehow means so much more than trusting.
Anyway what five words would you choose when you hear the word faith?

Croyance, Certitude, Absence de preuves, Savoir, Espérance, Preuve, Erreur, Science, Confiance, Attente, Crédulité, Conviction, Aveuglement, Tolérance, Adhésion, Intolérance, Vérité, Croyable, doute, Incroyable, Incertitude, Fidélité, Crédible

More blogging to my life

I've been teaching KT today and have finally given in and set up a blog in French to see whther this is a useful way of keeping in touch between our monthly sessions. It's called un sens à ta vie and you can find it here. Please do not expect very regular updates there, I'm finding it rather difficult to keep up with all of my various blogging activities. I'm struggling a bit with the femtheol word press blog because I don't update it often enough (naughty me) for it to be intuitive yet. My dreadful typing is of course even worse in French which doesn't help.
Anyway perhaps I am finding meaning in life by blogging - how sad is that!

By Francine Carrillo

Search still further
go beyond

leave the valleys
tread the grass in the fields

step over the horizon
marry the wind

and you will see
that each step
is a harvest

Francine Carrillo

Brise de douceur
Editions ouverture 2008

Translated from the French

Friday, 27 February 2009

International Year of Reconciliation

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your sister or brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar.First go and be reconciled to your sister or brother; then come and offer your gift. Matthew 5:23-24

While I was in Bremen the WCC organised a public hearing to mark the UN's Year of Reconciliation.
You can read more and also download and listen to podcasts here.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Keep praying for Zimbabwe and support the appeal

At our very moving Ash Wednesday service yesterday we particularly remembered the people of Zimbabwe.
We were also invited by Sidney Traynham to reflect on whether we might be prepared to give up power for Lent as we follow Christ into the desert and towards the cross ...

Links to the Archbishops' appeal here.

A Cyber Psalm symposium for pseud's corner

The irrespressible David Ker has been tagging me again with a challenge to write an abstruse abstract for a symposium set in nearly a 1,000 years time: So what I’d like to do is put out a call for papers at a virtual academic conference to be held on February 29, 3008 in celebration of the 1,000 year anniversary of this cyber-psalm.
We'll see, surely I can write ununderstandable jargon along with the rest of them?
The inspiration for this is David's bizarre but inspired Cyber Psalm 26 of which there is now also a great recording.
Cyber-Symbology in the early-21st Century: Recursive Orality and Cotexting through Cyber-Psalm 26
So here goes:
Title: "An enrooted ecumenical cultural vernacular of Psalmody and the meaning of numbers:From Viktor Borge's phonectic punctuation and inflationary numbers to Dr Who's vortex of time TARDIS as the utlimate cosmic number. Selah. The answer is 42."

From the unknowing cloud of knowing the cybermen's song may still be heard. No counterpoint. Mere fragments of symbol. No tune. Phonetics from an eerie outdated ipod in something referred to as language. All is relative, a dimension somewhere in space. A word inviolate leading to inflated meaning, a Zarathustra moment. This paper will not exist but intimations of its substance may be captured on the ether dumdidum dumdidum dumdidum aahaaaagh Cyber selah 42.

Dance the tango to highlight water mismanagement

Hat tip to me friend Alexandra for this water story from the Phom Penh Post:

han Boline and Chum Van Belle perform the tango as part of Robert Lawrence's international Tango Intervention series in Psar Cha Park, next to Norodom Boulevard. Pedestrians gathered and motorists stopped to witness the team of 20 dancers who performed to raise awareness of water mismanagement in Phnom Penh.

So what are you doing to highlight water and justice issues where you live?
Keep leaving your news, comments and ideas on Seven Weeks for Water.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Drip, drip, drip - Water network blog goes online in four languages

Today the Ecumenical Water Network's blog went online with its first of seven weekly meditations during Lent. This is all about getting Christians and churches to take action on issues of water and justice, to link with one another and be aware of what is going on in other parts of the world.
It so happens that the first meditation is written by me and is called drip, drip, drip. I really loved reading it in translation - my French and German are so much more elegant than if I had written myself - and it's even there in Spanish!
Anyway you can get the meditations via an RSS feed and we really want people to leave comments and tell us about what they are doing to prepare for World Water Day. So please, read, comment and share.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Eat pancakes today but live Lent and love life from tomorrow

Love Life Live Lent is a new way of marking Lent. Instead of giving up chocolate or going on a detox, it encourages people to undertake a simple act of generosity each day. The actions are small and fun to do, but make a real difference in homes, families and communities. Love Life Live Lent began in Birmingham in 2006 and since then over 250,000 people nationwide have participated.

You could also get involved in lowering your carbon footprint for Lent.

Is it possible to green the church? You better believe it if you believe in the resurrection - Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Seven Weeks for Water is back and it's multilingual!

More on this soon but for now here's the press release, the first meditation goes online on Wednesday 25 February and of course you can still access last year's meditations.

For the season of Lent the Ecumenical Water Network (EWN) invites Christians to mark the occasion with reflection and action on water justice.
During the Seven Weeks for Water initiative, theologians and church activists from Africa, Europe, North and South America will
share short biblical meditations for each week along with some campaigning ideas and resources.
The first set of materials will be available on the EWN website from 25 February - Ash Wednesday according to Western Christian tradition. EWN also provides an RSS stream for the seven weeks, which allows groups and congregations to give visibility to their participation on their own websites.
"Traditionally Lent is a time for concentrating on what is essential in life and opening our hearts to our neighbours, for example by fasting and giving to the needy," says Maike Gorsboth, the EWN coordinator. "The Seven Weeks for Water initiative encourages Christian groups and individuals to deepen this experience, reflecting on the concrete issue of water justice."
Another opportunity to highlight the importance of water comes on World Water Day, 22 March. EWN has already put together a collection of resources and links that can help congregations address the issue, inspired by prayer, biblical texts on justice and on water, and the experiences of church agencies with the challenges posed by inequal access to freshwater and sanitation.
The Seven Weeks for Water initiative was first celebrated during Lent 2008. This year, the resources will for the first time be available in four languages - English, Spanish, German and French.

More information on the Seven Weeks for Water

Ideas for World Water Day 2009

UN website for World Water Day

Word of the day - Rosenmontag

So today is Rosenmontag (Rose Monday) and last Thursday was Schmutziger Donnerstag (dirty, fat or greasy Thursday - jeudigras rather than mardigras) in those places in Germany which celebrate carnival.
Interestingly, although Bremen is not a strongly Roman Catholic place - unlike most of the places where carnival is marked in Germany - it also has a strong carnival tradition.
Meanwhile the poster is from Dunkerque which has a very strong carnival tradition with tradtional street "cohue" which is something like a musical scrum. It was interesting being in Bremen and thinking that Dunkerque was just further round the coastline even though that means three countries away. I suppose in lots of ways there were more links between the seafaring cities and trading hanseatic cities like Bremen and Bruges than there are today where national boundaries separate some of us from much older traditions.
Anyway pancakes tomorrow and another splendid word shrove Tuesday. Meanwhile here in Geneva traditional carnival food would be "les merveilles" (marvels) which are quite addictive crispy deep fried flat pancakes dusted in icing sugar. "Les bugnes" which you get more in France are small fresh doughnuts also drenched in icing sugar.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Today is Kirchentagsonntag

Today is Kirchentagsonntag and to mark that you can see the Bremen Stadtmusikanten wearing a Kirchentag scarf in this picture.
Meanwhile local people are still being asked to open their homes to provide beds for people coming to Bremen from 20-24 May for the Kirchentag.
There's still time to register if you want to come - I've been looking at the programme it's going to be quite amazing as usual, especially with all the ships in the harbour area. You can book here.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Today is international mother tongue day

February 21 is International Mother Tongue Day. I have spent the day editing text in my mother tongue (English) while speaking in what I call my father tongue (German). Tomorrow I shall go back to the place where I speak my language of prayer (French). The World Association of Christian Communication have put out a statement to mark the day:

A mother tongue is the language a mother teaches her child. It is the umbilical cord linking that child to the community in which she or he grows up. As such, it is a verbal skin of identity, shaping the sounds used to express feelings, meanings, and relationships.

While mother tongue education and multilingualism are increasingly promoted around the world, languages are disappearing. UNESCO’s Atlas on Endangered Languages points out that “the past three hundred years have seen a dramatic increase in the death and disappearance of languages leading to the situation today in which 3,000 or more languages that are still spoken are endangered, seriously endangered, or dying.”

And according to the Living Tongues Institute, “Every two weeks the last fluent speaker of a language passes on and with him/her goes literally hundreds of generations of traditional knowledge encoded in these ancestral tongues. Nearly half of the world’s languages are likely to vanish in the next 100 years.” The globalization of the world’s economies and the rapid growth of digital communications have speeded up that process.

Mother tongues of cultural minorities have always faced challenges. Doreen Spence, a Cree elder, laments the repression of her mother tongue at church-run residential schools in Canada as an assault on her culture, heritage and way of life: “The essence of Mother Tongue is critical: It is the essence of who we are. It is our identity. It is the way we express our Spirit. It is synonymous with our Culture and Traditions."

Go here to read the statement in full - it's also available in French

People of the Book

On the train this week I finished reading Geraldine Brooks wonderfully imagined "People of the Book".
I like the idea that the tiny traces of amost nothing at all that the rare book restorer finds in the beautiful haggadah are the inspiration for imagined stories from the past.
It's a very lovely and literary way of weaving meaning out of something that seemed lost for ever. In the way she has chosen to do that she also offers a vision of the diversity of faiths existing back through history.

Talking Faith gets a special mention at the Karachi Film Festival

I've mentioned Talking Faith before- a film which Naveen Qayyum and Gustavo Bonato worked on following their time as interns at the WCC. Earlier this month at the the Karachi Film Festival it got a special mention:

The jury also would also like to make special mention of the documentary Talking Faith for its courageous and insightful examination of interfaith politics in everyday life as opposed to in a time of crisis, as is the norm.

Read more about talking faith here. You can also organise a screening and discussion of the film and its message of dialogue in your area.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Word of the Day - Feierabend

Sometimes we human beings are just too clever by half, making puns and allusions when writing titles and dreaming up new terms. In preparation for this year's Kirchentag in Bremen we are trying to create a new booklet in English for many of the international visitors. On Friday evening the Kirchentag has a Feierabendmahl - Special Holy Communion or Lord's Supper. But how do you translate that? For the past decade or so we've been using "celebratory communion" to get across the idea that theses services don't always follow traditional liturgies - and feiern in German also means celebrate, have fun, party so it does get that aspect across well.
But holding these celebratory communion services on a Friday evening and calling them Feierabendmahl also has another layer of meaning. Feierabend means the end of the working day, knocking-off time, closing time ... I suppose if I were trying to get that across I might call the service "Thank God it's Friday"! A TGIF eucharist WWJS to that I wonder?

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Ideas on management, change and philosophy

As I try to do some desultory research for my diploma paper I have come across some brilliantly bizarrely titled essays and papers in the plendidly named "Tamara: Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization Science. The truly sad thing about these crazy article titles is that I find them fun, intriguing or even interesting. This is a sad case of me having become a study for Private Eye's pseud's corner ... anyway here are a couple for starters:
Knowledge Management or Management of Knowledge? Why People Interested in Knowledge Management Need to Consider Foucault and the Construct of Power.

Illness, Work and Organization: Postmodern Perspectives, Antenarratives and Chaos Narratives for the Reinstatement of Voice.

That second one almost sounds like something Janet should be using for a remembered Bible seminar.

The Globethics library

By the time this goes online I shall be sitting on a train to Bremen after a 5am start.
As I write this we have just come back from a very interesting evening eating and talking with Christoph Stückelberger who is director of and lives part time in Ferney and part time in Zürich. Globethics have recently set up a very interesting global virtual library - you can find out more here and also sign up for the service. I think it is a really interesting approach to the access to information and scholarship issue. It was good to know that there are people not only having alternative ideas about publishing but also putting them into practise. Sometimes small hard-working organisations like this find it easier to put creative ideas to the test.
One of their most recent publications is "Overcoming Fundamentalism" which Christoph edited together with Heidi Hadsell and will soon be available to download.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Finding light - In a Dark time

I have the UK edition of this powerful anthology first published in 1984. Gertie, my father's sister, gave it to me the Christmas after I began training for the ministry in 1986. My version has a very simple pen and ink drawing of a weeping eye on the front cover, I like the subtitle on this American version though: Images for Survival.
At the time I first got the book the man I loved was busy working for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament - so busy of course that he didn't have time to love me - and I was quite involved in opposition politics and the peace movement, perhaps rather too much for the good of my theology studies!
This anthology has accompanied me as I began to prepare morning prayer and learn about the liturgy. Today it still sits on my shelf at work and is frequently thumbed as I look for inspiration or challenge, an idea or some consolation. Over the years I am not sure I have been asiduous in my reading of it - in fact I'm sure I haven't. This means though that I still stumble on things afresh. Today it was these lines of translated poetry by Vladimir Mayakovsky:
"On the pavement
of my trampled soul
the soles of madmen
stamp the prints of rude, crude words"

The translator was George Reavey and without him I would never have read these powerful words. Sometimes not only the poet but also the translator should be honoured.
Harvard University Press has the following as a blurb about the book:

In a Dark Time is an anthology for the nuclear age, created by two professional psychologists who have ordered their material so that the successive selections reflect and comment on one another, compelling the reader to think about the insanity of war. This book draws on thoughts and writings from more than two millennia: poets from Sappho to Robert Lowell, dreamers from Saint John the Divine to Martin Luther King, Jr., statesmen from Seneca to Winston Churchill, soldiers, churchmen, writers, leaders. Along with them are mingled the voices of people who have faced appalling danger in their own lifetimes--an American schoolchild, a Hiroshima grocer, a plague survivor, a Turkish dissident. Human beings appear at their best and at their worst: as savage warriors, as helpless victims, as dupes of "Nukespeak" and warlike propaganda, and finally as individuals with the courage to say no.

Translating can be dangerous

Sometimes translators and interpreters in Geneva and elsewhere too are know to complain about their jobs. It happens, work and life are not always easy.
Then you read this from the Language Log:
Most translators only have to worry about being criticized for errors, but in Afghanistan the mere act of translation can get you twenty years in prison. An appellate court has upheld 20 year prison sentences for Ahmad Ghaws Zalmai, who translated the Qur'an into Dari, one of the two major languages of Afghanistan, and Mushtaq Ahmad, a cleric who endorsed Zalmai's translation. It appears that no errors have been found in Zalmai's translation: the objection of Muslim clerics is that the Dari translation does not appear alongside the original Arabic text. The prosecutor had asked for the death penalty. Although the court did not impose the death penalty, Chief Judge Abdul Salam Azizadah agreed that it might be appropriate.

Prière matinale de Francine Carrillo

Ce matin
mon vase d'argile
ma paix fragile
m'a glissé des mains
il y a des miettes
de moi
aux quatres coins
de ma vie
qu'il va falloir
assembler maintenant
dans l'infinie patience
d'une mise au monde

Francine Carrillo Braise de douceur
Editions Ouverture

Sometimes, often, even every day ... I cannot pray in my mother tongue.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Homophones from ASBO Jesus

These from the brilliant ASBO Jesus really made me smile this evening. I love homophones. So is truth elusive or illusive for you?

The bread of heaven

Kate Gray has been writing about hungrily reading "Take this Bread" by Sara Miles. It sounds great but I'm not sure I'm going to find it at the next railway station bookstore I go through in Switzerland or Germany.
Communion is an important part of faith - speaking to the parts other faith practices don't reach. Church structures, good or bad preaching, committees, teaching, fellowship, power struggles, rituals, hymn-singing ... may come and go, but communion - this crumbly, messy, spillable covenant in bread and wine will continue to sustain faith in the breadbreaker God.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Politics or the church?

When I was at college one of my tutors who was very active in local politics as I was at the time asked what I was going to do after graduating. I said that I was intending to train for the ministry. "Oh Good" he said "so you are going into politics."
At the time I laughed politely. Now I think back to that conversation and realise how true it is, there is probably even more politics in the church and between the churches than there is in parliaments.
Meanwhile our friend Anders Gadegaard is in the middle of a long campaign as one of the candidates to be the next bishop of Copenhagen. He's also the latest of my acquaintances to have his own blog and even a campaign site. It is of course all in Danish which is a very fine language which I neither speak nor read but which with the help of German and some Dutch I can sort of guess my way around and understand about 50%. I find Danish translations of the Bible particularly fascinating - not really sure why, I just do.

The therapy of reading

On Saturday morning I finally finished reading The Blood Spilt by Asa Larsson. It's not a classic crime novel in some ways but I found it a therapeutic and interesting read. (If you're intending to read it then I should probably warn you that what follows may contain "spoilers".)
I found it a very satisfying read, and have been trying to work out why. It spoke to me at quite a deep level in part no doubt because I left my last pastorate due to a conflict with a retired minister who never accepted my authority. The book depicts quite elemental and base emotions and jealousies that are aroused by the arrival of the woman priest and the way she does her work. As the book opens she seems to be a rather cardboard cut out feminist hate figure but as the story progresses her personality and ministry are fleshed out much more. Despite being the corpse at the beginning of the book Matilda remains its main character throughout, somehow that spoke to me about resurrection.
Perhaps I found the read so satisfying too because it also has a good selection of other strong female characters. It was helpful for me many years down the line to recognise what very deep emotions are triggered by the arrival of a new person who is also a woman in a clergy role. A new woman priest will tend to always be more visible and will represent consciously and unconsciously so many fears and prejudices to some people. I realise now that this is what happened when I arrived in my last pastorate.
When I preached with a view in the parish the lectionary text was the woman taken in adultery, it was passion Sunday. I preached a good biblical, gospel, sermon. I hadn't chosen the text, the text had chosen me and the service went very well.
The retired colleague I later had so many problems with was the only person who didn't shake my hand that morning, he stalked haughtily out of the church barely nodding at me. Not surprising really that after a few years in the job I was thinking up crime novels with some good choices for cadavres on the first page! Only now does it all make sense. It helps a bit to feel a bit less guilty about it.
I don't normally find reading crime fiction quite so meaningful but I'm very glad I picked up this one in the bookshop in Rome. I'm also glad that I was not found strung up from the organ loft in my former parish.(Given that the retired colleague was treasurer of the organ committee this would have been fitting no doubt!)
However, joking apart, the level of harrassment that many clergy have to live with in the jobs is also a form of violence that churches do not readily open their eyes to or admit. The level of harrassment dressed up as theological disagreement that some Anglican clergywomen have to put up with is also I believe deeply abusive in many cases.
Perhaps the very physical violence in Asa Larsson's book has helped me recognise the verbal and political, spoken and unspoken violence I had to put up with. In the book Matilda's ministry continues after her death and the she-wolf still dances in the forest.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Kennings for a creator God by Sarah Hall

Janet and I have been having a bit of a back and forth about remembered Bible and the relative value of the gospel stories and the stories of the Hebrew scriptures. I was thinking about this in church this morning where apart from singing some verses from Psalm 81 we didn't hear any reading from the "old" testament.
I suppose I want to remember the God of the whole Bible.
Anyway Sarah Hall has also got involved in the discussion and as she like Janet is a bit of a poet she's come up with a wonderful set of kennings for the creator God of Genesis 1.
What about starting from the very beginning (a very good place to start) with Genesis 1?


You'll note if you go back to the original that I have some days in the wrong order, but the principle holds...

Jesus is fast asleep

We went to church in Divonne this morning and it was very restorative, truly good for the soul. Madeleine, a lay preacher, had prepared a very thoughtful service and a good sermon about the calming of the storm and Jesus being fast asleep in the seemingly out of control boat that is the church! As she saw us arrive closely followed by the professor of systematic theology of Geneva university she laughed and told us we had better sign up next time the minister is on holiday.
I had not been back to the Temple in Divonne since new heating was fitted and I realised that it was the very first time I had been to a Sunday service there taken entirely by someone else (i.e not me). It was of course not perfect but I was deeply moved simply to be there, to hear the words to have time to think, pray and sing, and to enjoy the thoughtful links between the liturgical texts and the Bible readings.
Janet wrote about going to church the other day and I realised just how different my experience was to hers. I was not at all the youngest person present, we ranged in age from around 5 to 85, so at 45 I was in the mid range. Of the 26 people there I reckon possibly only two were purely French.
I realised this morning that singing in French speaks to a very deep part of my soul. It was simply one of those ordinary moments when everything fitted together and I felt I was in the right place at the right time. If going to church can give you that then it's a very special thing, it helped me into the week ahead and helped me relativise some of my panicked angst about nothing very concrete. The sleeping saviour in the boat woke up and calmed my inner storms. Perhaps rather I was woken up to learning to trust a bit more and let go a little more.
All this and beautiful sunny day with views of snow-clad mountians and time with my beloved. Reasons to be thankful.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Remembering the Tower of Babel for strategic global planning

I had a memorable early Saturday morning today up in Geneva's old town in the parish rooms of the Old Catholic congregation where the World Student Christian Federation executive committee was meeting.
Our very simple morning devotions were led by Dan from Mexico and involved eating a tequilla filled chocolate as a way of beginning to understand the shock and surprise the disciples must have felt at Christ's miracle of turning water into wine! Meanwhile I was fascinated to listen to the English translation of John's gospel which spoke of each jar at the wedding in Cana holding two or three "firkins" of water. (The word "firkin" is only one which I have come across relating to beer not wine!)
After devotions I introduced the group to "Remembering the Bible" or what Janet Lees sometimes refers to as "Bible study without Bibles". WSCF is reflecting this year on issues of diversity and identity and one of the Bible texts they are inviting local student Christian groups to study is the story of the Tower of Babel. Janet tends not herself to do much Remembered Bible with the Hebrew scriptures but I really wanted to give this a go today and it was a fascinating experience with this particular group of 14 people who came from 14 different countries, with most of them currently living in third countries.
I began by encouraging them to think about language and language justice as a global issue - this fitted in well because the morning devotions had been in Spanish. What language do we pray in, how easy is it to pray in another language?
Then I encouraged them to try to remember the story in the Bible about language getting mixed up and people building something. I could have brought them pictures but decided not to this time, though I did ask them to imagine a pile of bricks on the table.
They spent some time in pairs remembering the story and we then pooled those rememberings around the table - they were quite colourful and we did spring over into story-telling and interpretation quite quickly which was fun: "There were these people who gathered in New York to build great towers and institutions in Wall Street then the financial crisis and credit crunch comes."
What also came out quite strongly in some of the rememberings was the idea that God was angry with people and destroyed the tower. Some as they remembered the story said they felt it was a story about power, others were trying to piece together bits of the story as best they could. Afterwards one of the young women who has been to the plains in Iran which may be where the original tower may have been, talked to me about that experience and how remebering the story had triggered memories of that visit for her.
What moved me was how everyone seemed to be able to use Remembered Bible easily and how excited we all were by the interplay between telling the biblical story and telling our own story.
Because we only had 50 minutes, and because I didn't only want to do remembered Bible with this story, I then read two different English translations of the story aloud, the second was the NRSV (the translation we tend to use at the Ecumenical Centre) but the first was a translation from 1876 by Julia Smith which Suzanne McCarthy has posted in full in one of her extended and brilliant reflections on translation of these nine verses from Genesis. (Julia Smith's translation talks about "lips" - more female and closer to the original Hebrew - rather than tongue - more male and not as true to the Hebrew)
I wanted to get across the story as a story of meaning through the Remembered Bible method but through some of the translations I also wanted to give some idea of of the story as poetry and a worked at literary text. To do this I read aloud this part from Suzanne's own translation to get across in English the babbling sound of the crafted words in Hebrew:

bake ourselves bricks

fire them with fire
brick for block
bitumen for bond

Now you get the some rhythm, some babble.

We then spent some time talking about what struck us as different in the textual versions of the story compared to our own rememberings. God doesn't destroy the tower nor does God seem particularly angry but we do seem to have internalised that vision of a destructive angry God into the story we remember. This vision of the God of the old testament scriptures being angry and judgemental is one I have tried to work against throguhout my ministry, but it is obviously ingrained through centuries of bad story-telling and interpretation.
So is the tower in the story a monstrous oversized idol with its head reaching up to the heavens? Might the scattering and diverse confusion of languages actually be God's blessing? (It occurs to me now that in terms of canonical shape this scattering of humanity could indeed be read as a blessing or promise for the story comes just before the call of Abraham ...)
Towards the end of our time this morning, one of the group said how much he appreciated the method of Remembered Bible because he is really opposed to prooftexting of any kind, be it from a fundamentalist or liberal perspective. He felt that doing Bible study in the way we just had was going to be helpful as the group tried to seek ways of putting into place a global strategic plan for a WSCF approach to Christian faith and reading the Bible.
Despite having to get up early on my day off I was just grateful for this opportunity to remember the Bible with such a diverse and committed group of young people.

By the way, WSCF will be leading worship in the Ecumenical Centre on Monday 19 February to mark the Universal Day of Prayer for Students. You can use this year's liturgy prepared by young Christians in the Middle East.

Women's leadership in the church

Janet Lees has written some more about women's leadership in the church. I've written a bit about this yesterday too on the Women in Ministries blog. Janet's reacting in part to official figures published in the Guardian about women clergy in the C of E and how they have been promoted:
I also wondered about the story behind the story. For women clergy to lead committees is one story but why do we need ordained clergy to lead committees? All denominations do this: clog up the church bureaucracy with ordained clergy. Why? Particularly when most mainstream churches also struggle with the availability of ordained leadership at local pastoral level. Why do we need priests or ministers, women or men, to chair committees? Of course you are hearing from a totally meetings-phobic person here. I can understand that knowledge and skills in theology and ecclessiology etc. may be required of a committee chair, depending on the remit of the committee. But to struggle for all those years for ordination of women to the priesthood and then celebrate by chairing a committee, however prestigious, well I just don't get it. Please someone, tell me the story of that.

I am not as "meetings phobic" as Janet I'm one of those sad people who sometimes quite enjoy a well run meeting. I am concerned though that just as women begin to get some positions of leadership and influence within a few churches in Europe those churches are changing massively. Will that small proportion of women leaders be able to make a difference or find the energy to do things differently? And let's be clear the number of women in these positions is still pretty low despite the supposed feminisation of the clergy.

Meanwhile, given bleating from a small minority of male C of E clergy with "hurt feelings", I feel driven to ask when the talented C of E women who trained more than 20 years ago will begin to ask for compensation for the lack of advancement they receive? Many of them will be retired before they even get a chance to be called to be even suffragen bishops.

In the end, feminist that I may be, the way the debate about women bishops is going takes us away from the reality that ministry and leadership in the churches, whether exercised by men or women, requires vision, humility and commitment to telling the story of the gospel. It's a hard but joyful job. Let's get on with it as a community of women and men.

Many waters cannot quench love. Celebrate love and use Valentine's day to campaign for love and justice.

Today is Valentine's Day and amidst the pink and red Schmaltz there are some more serious reflections and also campaigns on this mid February fesitival of love.
Ekklesia is reporting on the Love Zim campaign:
Zimbabwean Christians will join human rights campaigners in a Valentine’s Day vigil outside Zimbabwe’s embassy in London.
Representatives of Christian organisations including the Council of Zimbabwean Christian Leaders in the UK, Tearfund and other Christian agencies working in Zimbabwe, will deliver a Valentine’s card to the embassy, launching the Love Zim campaign.
Meanwhile ENI has been reporting on how Valentine's day has become an issue in Sudan:
A Christian leader in Sudan has distanced himself from a call by some Muslims for young people to boycott Valentine's Day, who said the celebration could lead people astray.
"I don't think this will have any impact," the Rev. Tut Mai of the Presbyterian Church in Sudan told Ecumenical News International on 12 February. Still, he warned, "They may want to isolate those who go on to celebrate the day."
The Sudan Ulema Authority, a group of Muslim leaders group in Khartoum issued a statement on 10 February urging the country's lovers to boycott the day that celebrates romantic love on 14 February - once a Western occasion but that has spread to many parts of the world.

I can understand some of the concerns. When we first arrive in France over 15 years ago Valentine's Day didn't exist and it is a festival purely driven by commerce here.

Meanwhile Elisabeth Gray King has written a Face to Faith in today's Guardian affiring love and it's celebration, she ends her piece:
When we dare to affirm in the face of all cynicism that love does exist, we see the "I love you" in the unlikeliest of people, and discover new realities. No matter how hard the world is, the core underneath all the pap is the profound reality that love just carries on.

So happy Valentine's Day, don't get cynical about it all, show someone else that love can make the world go round.

Friday, 13 February 2009

How to increase the number of comments on your blog

So after a year and a half of blogging I have now found the foolproof method for getting people to make comments on my blog - write about Apple Macs and suddenly everyone will start leaving comments. This is rather galling when you go to the effort of writing marginally more profound stuff about life, the world and general trivia. Then you discover that the whole world is only interested in converting you into being a Mac devotee, making you too into a worshipper of beautiful over-priced objects of desire produced by a multinational corporation.
The really sad thing is that one day soon I'll probably give in, silly not to really.

And for all you computer virgins out there Apple Macs are computers that have nothing to do with real apples like Cox's Orange Pippin, Worcester Permain, Laxton Superb, Bramley or even Lord Derby.

Audio downloads on the global financial crisis

My colleague Juan Michel has done a series of great short podcasts on economic issues which you can download here.
The first few are in English, then there's one in Portuñol and the last two in French. They offer some global perspectives and voices on trade, money and finance from the World Social Forum in Belem. Happy listening.
Martin Gück (Kairos Europe, Germany) Reforming the monetary and stock markets as crucial steps towards a radical transformation of the international financial system.
Percy Makombe (Fellowship of Christian Councils in Southern Africa, South Africa) The trade aspect of the financial crisis, its effects on Southern African countries and what to do about it.
Wilfried Steen (Church Development Service, Germany) How to improve tax systems - many of which are completely rotten - both at national and international levels by putting them under United Nations supervision.
Rogate Mshana (World Council of Churches, Switzerland) How to make sure that alternative proposals to the current, failing international financial system become mainstream and are taken seriously by the powers that be.
Marcos Arruda (Policy Alternatives for the Southern Cone, Brazil) Banking and loan services should be provided by public institutions in a financial system serving a new model of human development.
Bertille Darragon (Environmental activist, France) The elimination of interest rates and decrease of production and consumption of goods as radical proposals for addressing the financial and environmental crises.
Marta Ruiz (European Network on Debt and Development, Belgium) Eight priorities for a global mobilization of civil society in favour of a new international financial system.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Opening tomorrow in the ecumenical centre in Geneva

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

More on Fairly traded clergy shirts

I was wondering over the weekend whether or not I would do the deed and buy myself a clerical shirt. In ecumenical circles it's easy to feel completely invisble as an ordained woman if you don't "dress up". I've never worn one since being ordained - in France a woman wearing one would be assumed to be going off to a carnival party or something. Even Roman Catholic priests in France don't usually wear collars as to do so is seen to be part of a particular and rather more conservative part of the church.
However Maggi Dawn along with most Church of England clergy does wear a clerical collar and has received one of Butler and Butler's fairly traded clerical shirts to review. You can read her positive review here. I'm pleased to say they even do them in my size which is at the opposite end of the scale to Maggi's.
However, I'm still not sure that I should break with my own practice and actually wear one. Why do I suddenly feel the need to be seen, to be noticed as a female member of the clergy? I suppose it may come from working in a mixed ecclesiastical environment, wearing a clerical collar would be a badge of office and a way of saying the church is plural. But now the big question, shall I wear one to the official reception in Rome to receive our course certificates in June? It might be quite fun to wander around Rome in a clerical collar.
Meanwhile Maggi herself is living in hope of fairly traded silk clerical shirts rather than just cotton ones.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Credit unions can help beat doorstep lending

There's a good piece here on the new United Reformed Church website on the role credit unions can play in helping people find acces to reasonably priced loans and cultivate the habit of saving. Credit unions are a way of building up communities from the grass roots and giving people back a sense of control over their finances and their lives. A really good alternative to the banks all of us love to hate in the current credit crunch.

A community worker for the United Reformed Church, Simon Loveitt, has highlighted the dangers of so-called ‘doorstep lending’ where borrowers may be charged exorbitant interest rates. He was addressing a conference organised by the Evangelical Alliance called ‘Life Beyond Debt’.
Simon Loveitt said the current difficulties in the financial markets had made credit harder to come by. But those who have a poor credit history or who are unemployed, had never found affordable credit freely available. For them, obtaining a loan usually meant using a sub-prime lender, who might charge an annual percentage interest rate of between 170 and 300 percent.
He quoted a documented case in York, in which a woman was offered a one week loan for £320, which attracted £80 interest over the seven-day period. When calculated over a twelve month period, the equivalent annual percentage rate would be more than 2.6 million percent!

Don't only water your own garden

This evening I've been interpretting for the closing ceremony of the Bossey Ecumenical Institute's graduate school. It's always a moving ceremony as the students from so many different countries of the world receive their certificates amidst friends from the local village of Céligny and from the University of Geneva.
This evening the Institute's director Father Ioan Sauca encouraged the students to be leaky watering cans, ones which water not only our own personal garden but which also water the pathways along which they go from well to garden.
[You can read one version of the story of the broken jar here. I've heard other versions told in my time but I find the image powerful and moving. Through our vulnerabilities and imperfections other people and places can nevertheless be watered and brought to full bloom - a little bit like the parable of the seed which grows and bears fruit in Mark's gospel.]
Meanwhile Professor Andreas Dettwiler from the University of Geneva theology faculty encouraged the students to listen to Origen when he said if you are on the path you are going in the right direction. Rather a lovely idea but at first I only really understood it by interpretting it into French - si vous êtes en chemin vous êtes sur la bonne voie. (And no, although it's very unprofessional of me, I haven't checked with copies of Origen's work to see what official translation in English or French might be.)
Taking the experience of living in ecumenical community back "home" is a challenge. We are caled to bear witness to our experience of Christ and to the potential for unity in Christ, to do that in a leaky way, in a way which lets seeds germinate and bear fruit and flower.

Monday, 9 February 2009

More detective fiction

Waking up in my "wagon lit" with a view over the snow clad Swiss mountains I began reading some new crime fiction. Asa Larsson's The Blood Spilt has a female clergy woman who runs a women's theology group as the victim of a brutal attack - she's left hanging from the organ loft.
I'm relieved that the action is not set on the Franco-Swiss border but in northern Sweden otherwise it might have seemed a bit too close for comfort. It's very well translated for the most part, though of course I enjoy nit-picking with some of the English at times too.

Puter problems and solutions

This is the first post on my brand new msi Wind netbook. My old laptop developed a critical hard disk error and it has already been resurrected once so we've decided to branch out with this mini puter which was waiting for me on my desk when I arrived from Rome this morning. Meanwhile we'll see whether we can still get an IDE hard disk for my distinctly tatty old laptop case. Fitting bits and pieces into old computer shells is almost as much fun as building IKEA furniture and allows for new forms of getting irritated with one another.
Other people are trying to win me over to the idea of buying a Mac. I think I'd rather have a few expensive holidays and still have enough for another netbook. Anyway Dr B has threatened divorce or, worse than that, no technical support if a Mac comes into the house to stay.
I do understand the attraction of Apple's stuff, objects of desire in the fetishism of gadgets but for the moment I try to resist its siren calls. After all no computer says it can actually dream up your blogposts for you.
Update: The MSI Wind has an "undocumented feature" of dividing the hard disk into two parts, loading the programme files onto the C: drive but then also setting default save to the C: rather than D: drive - Dr B has dealt with this problem now and created a default save to the D: drive. Phew, there are problems out there that we techise don't even know about. Picture provided for Gustavo - mine is white and has a QWERTZ keyboard and not the dreaded AZERTY keyboard.

Septuagint translated into German

This comes from today's ENI:
A German translation of the ancient Greek version of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, has been presented jointly in Berlin by representatives of Protestant, Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, concluding 10 years of cooperation.
"Such a project is a good and visible sign that ecumenical work with and on the Holy Scriptures can succeed," Bishop Joachim Wanke, the chairperson of the Pastoral Commission of the German (Catholic) Bishops' Conference said at the presentation of the book on 28 January.
The Septuagint is said to have been translated in ancient Alexandria somewhere between the 3rd and 1st century BC by 70 (Septuagint) translators in 709 days in 70 separate hermitages. It is the oldest of several translations into Greek, which was then the lingua franca of the Mediterranean. The Septuagint is seen as having unique insights regarding the textual transmission of the Old Testament.
More than 80 translators were involved in the German version including Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox Christians, who consulted with Jewish scholars on questions of translation and interpretation. The result was a collective effort uniting Christians and Jews.

:: Septuaginta Deutsch. Das griechische Alte Testament in deutscher Übersetzung. Published and edited by Martin Karrer und Wolfgang Kraus in co-operation with other experts. ISBN 978-3-438-05122-6, Price: 59.00 euro. Published by the Verlag der Deutschen Bibelgesellschaft Stuttgart.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Today's referendum in Switzerland

Over at Upside Down Heaven Hansuli is blogging about today's referendum in Switzerland - the results will come in while I'm on the train.
This is the beginning of Hansuli's post:
This weekend the Swiss people vote on whether or not to extend the European Union's freedom of movement for workers to Bulgaria and Romania. In principle this extension is a natural part of the Swiss agreements with the EU, of which Switzerland is unnaturally not a member, but has to negotiate its inter-dependence piece by piece. Some young Zealots have succeeded in demanding a referendum on this extension of free movement. They claim that crime will go up and unemployment, while the Swiss welfare system would be undermined. At the writing of this there is solid and increasing evidence that the referendum fails and that the extension of freedom of movement will prevail. Sigh...

With thanks to the sleeping partner of this blog

I have a secret researcher who knows his way around the internet for research purposes like nobody's business. He also happens to be my sleeping partner in other ways too - though we haven't slept in the same bed much recently. Anyway he's sent me some fascinating links to articles or abstracts of articles on various aspects of leadership - and the easiest way for me to keep track of them is to blog about them. Thanks Dr B!
There's an interesting article here on the organisation of resistance which shows how much our politics of protest movements have been changing in recent decades.
Then there's something interesting here about improvisation which I think is a fascinating challenge to institutions who try to set everything down and control it. I love this one because it's a sort of remembered Bible methodology of organisations. Great fun and all about improvisation - yes a narrative theology of business administration. This I really like!

Improvisation provides a way for businesspeople to become more entrepreneurial, and for businesses to teach and evangelize entrepreneurship across their networks.
When you script your narrative, your decision-making becomes binary. There are only two options:
On-script and off-script. All the energy goes into one of two areas: Wrestling reality into your scripted vision; and re-writing the script to fit reality.
Improvisation, by contrast, is a narrative engine. It invites participation, liberates good ideas, and challenges players to work at the height of their intelligence. The improviser knows that there are limitless options for action in every scenario and that if the fundamentals are followed, the story will take care of itself. Your energy and focus goes into performance, into making each and every moment of each and every scene count. Those moments add up, and turn into a compelling narrative. Freed of having to practice what you preach, you will have the much easier task of preaching what you practice.
With improvisation, players can shed themselves of unproductive energies and the fog of useless
communication that keep problems from being solved, and useful change from occurring.
With improvisation, players live in a world where clarity, sense of purpose and a spirit of teamwork prevail, and what can be achieved is exactly what Viola Spolin promised all those years ago: Communication, Learning and Transformation.

There's more on improvisation here.

Meanwhile my wily researcher has also come up with some rather more sobering articles on how the fetish of change and leadership can lead to failure.There's also a very interesting new take on the obsession with branding being something we should beware of as it is what your organisation does and how it does it which will actually count much more in the networked world. (Funny thing that it's called witnessing in church circles!)

Now I must do a bit of time management and stop blogging, otherwise I shall miss my train!

Doodling, drawing and finding a vision

Today was great fun as we started putting "graphic language" into practice by doing some more work on the PATH process. I was one of those doing the drawing this morning and it was quite a challenge to try and visually capture abstract terms like uniting or transformation and try and use the different coloured pens!
I can already tell that I am just going to have to try and get hold of David Sibbert's Fundamentals of Graphic Language. You can read more about another group's experience with the method here and here.
We really like the fact that in the vision stage everyone can contribute and there is no hierarchy or prioritisation in the vision stage of this planning tool. Also for cultures which are more visually and orally orientated it is a great tool because the graphic you all work on together is the minutes of the meeting - no really need for someone to type up a report - it is also more easily memorable. I can see how useful it could be in community work for instance.
Anyway I hope to do a bit more of this and I've decided I really want to practise doing the star people because they are so much nicer and more expressive than the stick people I usually doodle. Thinking about leadership in this more playful way makes it less frightening and also frees up our creativity to envision things differently and also to face difficulties more strongly as we go forwards.


On my first morning in Rome I woke remembering a dream and its atmosphere quite clearly. I don't remember dreams very often. Normally I hear more about Dr B's vivid active dreams than I ever recall of my own.
In my dream Dr B and I together kept trying to avoid a rather tedious and boring woman. For the most part we managed quite well but as is the way with dreams the person you're trying to avoid keeps turning up. She seemed familiar but in the dream I never recognised her.
After waking up though I realised that the boring person I'm trying to avoid was quite probably myself!

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Reading Job

If I had not gone to the English eucharist which the course in Rome organised for us on Saturday evening I would not have been listening to Job but to Isaiah this weekend. The Revised Common Lectionary and the Roman Catholic Lectionary do not always mirror one another. One day I ought to write a dissertation comparing lectionaries in different Protestant, Anglican and Catholic traditions, though with any luck someone else might have already done this and so save me the trouble.
My friend Kersten, who has recently taken up a position as a chaplain in the Netherlands, says that she is shocked that the biblical texts which many lectionaries propose for Sunday worship reduce the Hebrew scriptures more or less to the Psalms and bits of Deutero Isaiah. The Torah, the part of the scriptures most meditated and commented on in Judaism, is only rarely proposed for Sunday worship in Christian churches.
Anyway the following passage from Job brought a smile to my lips despite myself. It's a harsh view of life. Job is not just desperately unhappy but very nearly suicidal.This is strong stuff and I feel it rings true for so many people today as well.
Interestingly the gospel text linked with this in the lectionary is the healing of Peter's mother in law - one of those nearly nameless women we tried to remember at our feminist theology group on Tuesday, she doesn't have a go at God like Job does but gets up and starts serving the men. Hmm!
Anyway here is part of chapter 7 of Job, a wonderfully powerful psychological study. His harangues of God certainly strike with chord for me.

‘Do not human beings have a hard service on earth,
and are not their days like the days of a labourer?
Like a slave who longs for the shadow,
and like labourers who look for their wages,
so I am allotted months of emptiness,
and nights of misery are apportioned to me.
When I lie down I say, “When shall I rise?”
But the night is long,
and I am full of tossing until dawn.
My flesh is clothed with worms and dirt;
my skin hardens, then breaks out again.
My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle,
and come to their end without hope.
‘Remember that my life is a breath;

my eye will never again see good.
The eye that beholds me will see me no more;
while your eyes are upon me, I shall be gone.
As the cloud fades and vanishes,
so those who go down to Sheol do not come up;
they return no more to their houses,
nor do their places know them any more.
‘Therefore I will not restrain my mouth;

I will speak in the anguish of my spirit;
I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.

World Water Day and strategic planning

The words strategic planning are not normally ones I would find inspirational or particularly energising, but after our leadership course this afternoon I may actually change my mind. Christine Anderson and Jo Kennedy (director of the Craighead Institute) introduced us to the PATH tool (invented by Jack Pearpoint, Marsha Forrest and John O'Brien) - PATH stands for planning alternative tomorrows with hope and you can find out more about it here.
What I liked about it is how collaborative and colourful the approach was, lots of really good idealistic energy was generated by concentrating first of all on the vision and then working backwards from there to achievable, realistic goals and priorities. All this was mapped out in front of us in a very transparent and artistic process and we ended by signing up if we were able to commit to doing something to realise the plan.
The issue we concentrated on was water. In particular the UN Water decade and how we can try to mobilise our congregations, churches and ourselves to get more involved in the global campaign for water justice. Of course it gave me the perfect opportunity to talk about the Ecumenical Water Network and get generally rather over excited about water. Anyway World Water Day is on March 22nd - what are you planning to do to mark the day this year? Meanwhile the Ecumenical Water Network is intending to do seven weeks for water again this Lent so watch out for that at the end of the month.
So it all goes to show, strategic planning isn't boring at all, actually it can be a great tool for advocacy!

Friday, 6 February 2009

MS research and justice in health research

I've learned today about new research potentially linking MS to vitamin D deficiency. Delighted as I am that progress is being made in research and prevention of the disease I suffer from, this news set me thinking. Part of our management course today was to reflect on how justice and peace issues are dealt with in the agendas of our different organisations and churches. After the flowering of interest and commitment to these issues in the 1970s and 1980s the way that institutions talk about them now is rather more low key.
Yet justice touches almost every single area of our existence - none more so than health. Tomorrow we will for instance apply what we have learned so far in our leadership training to the single issue of water. Water is essential for life and for good health. Yet access to clean drinking water, to water to irrigate crops, to sanitation is often restricted. Politics and profit begin to matter more than people.
Yesterday I read about our friend Pauline Mackay starting her new job at Church World Service in New Zealand. I was shocked to read that ninety percent of the world's health research is on diseases affecting 10% of the world's population. Huge sums are put into research into MS and I am truly very grateful - my expensive drug, for which there is as yet no fairly traded version, keeps me healthier than if it didn't exist. Meanwhile diseases affecting huge numbers of the world's population remain in the research twilight zone. No money to be made out of selling drugs to poor people, they don't have insurance so their illnesses will go almost unnoticed. Another case of market forces being deadly ...

A leadership of protest and resistance

On my way back from my management course today I've been thinking about the preposition "of". A leadership of protest and resistance means not only developing leadership skills that can harness the positive forces of protest and resistance in society, help to shape them peacefully and give them focus on justice, it also means looking at what causes protest and resistance within our organisations when faced with change.
When leadership teams can identify the roots of the resistance they are encountering then it can often be helpful for them to look within their own teams to see the presence of that resistance there too.
Very often organisations get leadership which embodies the same contradictions and inertia the organisation claims to want (in part at least) to break out of.
We also had a very interesting time thinking about the problem of moving from mandate to application, from mission to action. Often we may feel that the mandate or mission is not strong enough, or that there is a lack of commitment to getting things done whereas, as Christine Anderson pointed out to us, there is a real need for robust processes to support the mission and it realisation. We Reformed tend to be process people so this made a lot of sense to me and I rather like the phrase "robust processes".

Looking back at life

Hat tip to Prodigal Kiwis for the following which is an interesting Ignatian development along the lines of Marcel Proust's famous questionnaire, though quite a bit shorter, less literary and more clearly religious and Christian in focus. Martin Luther is said to have said "even if I knew the world was going to end tomorrow I would still plant an apple tree today", even if we know life is over this is not a reason to stop the process of reflection and reevaluation that drives our spirituality and action forwards.

The questions were adapted by
Wilkie Au from a reflection proposed by Anthony de Mello S.J. “Imagine,” he says, “that you are going to die today. You want to spend some time to write down for your friends a sort of testament for which the points that follow could serve as chapter titles”:
1. These things I have loved in life
Things I tasted,
Looked at,
2. These experiences I have cherished:
3. These ideas have brought me liberation:
4. These beliefs I have outgrown:
5. These convictions and values I have lived for:
6. These things I have lived for:
7. These risks I took:
8. These sufferings have seasoned me:
9. These influences have shaped my life (person’s, occupations, books, events):
10. These scripture texts have lit my path:
11. These things I regret about my life:
12. These are my life’s accomplishments:
13. These persons are enshrined in my heart:
14. These are my unfulfilled desires:

Thursday, 5 February 2009

A lasting legacy?

I've been wandering around Rome for most of the afternoon, getting lost in a warren of side streets and being continually amazed at how much there is to see at every turn. Taking in the view from the Colosseum to the former Imperial Forum and the more than 2000 years of architectural history you can see as you look around is a very humbling experience. Any one of the churches, palaces or grand buildings that seem to line every street may well have a fascinating story to tell. Sometimes you can clearly see a new rococo entrance that has been stuck on top of a much older surrounding and there are so many styles and ages of building jostling for attention.
It made me wonder what the truly lasting legacy of this or any other city is - what do I remember of Rome, the sheer amazing history of all of it, the contrasts, one small perfect sunlit courtyard, the taste of a mouthful of pizza?
Two lines from the Psalms came to me as I was picking my way through the cobbled streets - trying to remember to look up and also look where I'm going (falling over is a speciality of mine). The first is from Psalm 8 which I love to sing in the beautiful traditional French setting:
What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?
When confronted with the scale of the building in Rome it is hard not to feel that one's own contribution to history is pretty insignificant. At the same time though I had another verse from Psalm 90 going through my head and it's only since I've got home that I realise it must be a French translation that had become my inner version:
accorde-nous ton amitié,
et donne à nos travaux un résultat durable ;
oui, donne à nos travaux un résultat durable.

If I were to translate that back into English I suppose I might say something like:
"grant that our work may have a lasting impact"
Interestingly though the English translations and the Segond French translation say something rather different, with not quite the same force:
establish the work of our hands for us—

yes, establish the work of our hands. (NIV)
Affermis l'ouvrage de nos mains, Oui, affermis l'ouvrage de nos mains!

treat us with kindness
and let all go well for us.
Please let all go well! (CEV)

But as I was progressing around Rome and looking at all the extraordinary work of human hands I began to wonder if today it is still a prayer to pray - this idea that we should have impact, a lasting impression. Already my carbon footprint will have a lasting impact on the earth's ice caps, I surely don't want that kind of legacy. Of course I would in some way like to believe that I will have made some lasting contribution to the forces of good on our small green planet. I do rather hope that by the end of my life I may have learned to tread more lightly on the planet than I am doing at the moment.
But then Psalm 90 also has an even longer term perspective, the perspective of God's eternity. Even the mountains and seas of God's good creation are in constant life-giving, creative movement.
You turn us back to dust,
and say, ‘Turn back, you mortals.’
For a thousand years in your sight
are like yesterday when it is past,
or like a watch in the night.

You sweep them away; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning;
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers.

Spirituality, resistance and leadership

I'm in Rome for the last but one session of the management course run by the Craighead Institute which I've been following for the past 18 months.
One of the areas we will be looking at over the next three days is "resistance" and I brought with me to read in the train Dorothee Sölle's Mystik und Widerstand which goes deeply into issues of mysticism and resistance.
Depending on whether you are trying to bring about change which you see as necessary or whether you are resisting what you see as bad practice or wrong thinking will of course colour the way you think about resistance. It can be both a positive and negative force, conservative and radical, and discerning between those forces is not easy at all. For instance, do I resist change because the change doesn't serve my personal interests; because I prefer the status quo; because my power is undermined by the change or because I truly believe the change is wrong and won't bring any real benefits given the pain and upheaval of change?
It strikes me that these are also issues which the churches in the secularised west are facing as they see their traditional place in society changing and sometimes try to hold on to the temporal power and status, while claiming also to stand for religious values. It's not an easy path to tread with integrity and if we look at churches in situations of resistance in history it's easy to see that it has been a painful path, a journey upon which many of those who you thought shared your faith will not join you.
If you too are having problems picking your way through the moral minefield of Christianity in a post modern world you may find Simon Barrow's essay on the subject interesting.
Towards the end of his essay he says this:

One of the major tasks of radical Christianity ... is to break open the text again for those for whom it has become buried in ideology. [5]
In conclusion, it is important to remind ourselves that there are discernable and valuable subversive traditions within Christianity (Quakerism, Anabaptism, liberation theology, radical evangelicalism, progressive Catholicism, and so on), which revolve around from what I'd call ‘the Jesus trajectory’ - and which undermine both top-down churchianity, the Christendom settlement (the dangerous alliance of the church with power) and knock-down metaphysics.
You can't read such radical traditions as generating simple spiritual, moral, theological and political prescriptions, of course. And I wouldn't want to. It's more about cultivating a new and ethos for living, alongside and with others. Far more challenging.