Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Photos from Budapest

Dr B returned late yesterday from Budapest. He was attending a meeting organised by the Lutheran World Federation on Church and State in Societies in Transformation - 20 years after the huge changes in eastern Europe. You can see some photos here.

Have you tweeted your 140 character résumé of the Bible?

Rather surprisingly one of my colleagues who claims only to have spoken once on a mobile phone today sent me his 140 character version of the Bible. As Theodore Gill is a brilliant editor and theologian (and preacher) it was a rather good good attempt, but it was 23 character too long - yes in twitter the gaps count - remember God of the gaps folks.
Here's his slightly over twitter attempt - I posted an edited version to my twitter feed.

In the beginning God created, then humans got involved & splat. People, slavery, exodus, promise. Kings, prophets, occasional wisdom. Jesus, Spirit, boffo finale.

So what is your 140 character version of the Bible - the Guardian would love to hear from you ...

On not reading ...

This week I don't seem to be reading a book and I notice it. I sometimes joke and say that I need to be reading detective fiction to maintain some modicum of mental stability - it's truer than I like to let on. Of course I still read lots of words for my work as I try to translate thigns but pension fund rules, bye laws and constitutions don't tend to have much of a narrative - even if they are of course important to the story of people's everyday lives!
So meaning at the moment is being gleaned from sitting on the back patio drinking delicious viognier and listening to birdsong and waiting for the first star to some out and the first bats to fly in the twilight. It's not quite as exciting as detective fiction but looking at the moon in the deep blue sky on a hot summer night does have its own charm.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Praying this week for Bolivia, Chile and Peru

This week the ecumenical prayer cycle turns to Bolivia, Chile and Peru. Prayers were led by Martin Junge from the Lutheran World Federation and Maria Chavez Quispe who has recently joined the WCC works on the rights and respect of indigenous people.
It was good that there were readings and songs not only in Spanish but also in Aymara, an indigenous language. Only today I received an invitation to the Swiss association of translators, terminologists and interpreters conference on The World in Crisis and the Translation industry? One of the papers is:

Why the economic crisis is putting a lot of stress on already struggling indigenous South African language, Nico Nortjé, Language Inc., South Africa.
So this morning and this week we pray:
God, we come before you with our longing for peace and wholeness. Nurture us, so that our longing translates into attitudes and actions in our daily life.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Midnight fireworks for the 250 anniversary of Voltaire's Candide

Thousands of people wandered around Ferney until the early hours of the morning, it was a wonderful street party atmosphere, what the French call "ambiance bon enfant". I wandered around with friends, eating a late supper of accras de morue, sushi, samosas and empañadas, washed down with delicious cold sangria. There was a great live jazz band as well as dancing and theatre on the various other stages. We could dance a bit and also discover bits of Ferney not normally opened up to the public. Local artist Aline Rohrbach opened up her studio and garden, specially illuminated for the evening. It was a great way to see her work where she created it, and it showed enormous trust of the public, not to steal or deface anything but to appreciate and enjoy. Voltaire's Candide ends with the enigmatic idea that "il faut cultiver notre jardin", by inviting us into her private space Rohrbach showed that she is doing that, following her artistic inspiration.
In many ways, putting public money and time into the preparation of a municipal fiesta on this scale in a small town was also about "cultivating our garden". It gave all of us a common experience of togetherness, enjoyment, discovery, fun - a sense of belonging. At midnight the streetlights were turned off for 20 minutes, music streamed out of the loudspeaker system and fireworks began in front of the town hall, they were brilliant.
I'm not entirely sure whether municipal fireworks can be described as a a public good, but as I watched them last night I reflected on how important the "feel good factor" is in local, national or organisational politics. It made me realise that it has to be "real", it can't be the political or organisational equivalent of a psychological false stroke. Lots of the entertainment and almost all of the food sold last night was prepared by different Ferney associations, lots of individuals and groups contributed to the event, to "cultivating our local civil society garden". There was a real sense of enjoyment and accomplishment, not of a superficial festival imposed on people from above. Perhaps municipal fireworks are the French town hall version of the three ringed circus I'm writing about in my diploma paper. Anyway it was a great event to encourage us to go on cultivitating the local political and cultural garden.
Interestingly "feel good factor" is translated as optimisme into French in the online Collins dictionary - quite funny really as Candide was written against a Leibnizian concept of optimism!

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Come to today's fête à Voltaire in Ferney - there's even a free late night bus!

Today the centre of Ferney is closed to traffic for the Fête à Voltaire and a free bus between Ferney and Gex has been put in place for this evening to encoruage people to come and join in the fun without using their cars. Different sections of the town focus on Asia, Europe, Africa and South America and Voltaire's Candide will be performed at various stages and by various groups throughout the town. there are more than 34 different food stands offering food from paella to guacamole and drinks from champagne to caipirinha, it's going to be fun if the thunder and rain can stay away!
Read the programme here.

Friday, 26 June 2009

A musical Friday five from RevGal Pals

So here's today's Friday Five from Revgalpals:

The sad news of Michael Jackson's untimely death has me thinking about music and its effects on us - individually, as cultures, as generations. Let's think about the soundtracks of our lives...
1) What sort of music did you listen to as a child - this would likely have been determined or influenced by your parents? Or perhaps your family wasn't musical...was the news the background? the radio? Singing around the piano?

I realise more and more that I grew up listening to hymns and carols but also an awful lot of musical theatre. When I was a child family Christmases would always end around the piano with us all singing carols, my Grandfather playing piano and my mum violin. My working class grandparents were very talented musicians and my mother became a violin teacher when I was in my early teens. She played in all the local Gilbert and Sullivan and musical theatre amateur shows. and we children would often spend Saturday or Sunday afternoons at the dress rehearsals. So part of the sound track to my childhood would be "three little girls from school are we" or "they call it it" or "who will buy this beautiful morning?" Most of my own singing though was at church where my grandparents ran the choir. The music I listened to was nearly always "live". I realise quite how privileged this was now - though at the time I didn't always think it was so great to go to another classical concert. My own rebellion was that although I have a good voice I never learnt an instrument nor can I properly read music - something I really do regret now.

But the more I think about it, the radio was even more part of the family soundtrack as I grew up. BBC Radio 4 is the constant in my life, my third parent and additional educator. When I was child we would always have the radio on in the morning and evening for the news but also for the comedy programmes, plays and book readings. So part of the soundtrack was also Men from the Ministry, Just a minute, I'm sorry I haven't a clue, The Archers, PM at 5pm. This part of the soundtrack reaches right up to today thanks to the wonders of the digital revolution. Frankly neither then nor now is any of this in the slightest bit hip!

2) Going ahead to teenage years, is there a song that says "high school" (or whatever it might've been called where you lived") to you?
This is difficult. Middle school was definitely Abba, Bohemian Rhapsody and 10cc's I'm not in love, but then punk happened and we all started dancing in a different sort of way and music changed. I think it would have to be "Going Underground" by the Jam, for its energy and post punkness edginess, though I also love this. Truth be told I was actually listening to stuff noone else at my high school cared much about at all - Maxime Le Forestier and Marie Paule Belle. Not Plasique Bertrand but real French ballad singers, still love that stuff.

3) What is your favorite music for a lift on a down day? (hint: go to www.pandora.com and type in a performer/composer...see what you come up with!)
Miles Davis Workin' and Steamin'. Jazz wins every time but Thomas Tallis' spem in Allium can sometimes lift me too as can Golden Brown by the Stranglers.

4) Who is your favorite performer of all time?
My grandmother singing "the gentle, gentle the gentle sounding lute". She sang a very beautiful, sweet, natural and unforced soprano, with extraordinary range ... the sound lives on in my memory but sadly I cannot reproduce it. I can remember her smiling face as she sang but I don't even know the title of the song I just remember that line from it and the glorious sound ...
5) What is your favorite style of music for worship?
An international mix. I am very blessed with this at the ecumenical centre. All this week we've been singing Tenemos esperanza, if I had to choose a current favourite song it would probably be Reamo Leboga, starting slowly and building up to a fast dance tempo. At the end of July we're planning a eucharist with a Caribbean flavour: Laylolaylolaylo, Let us talents and tongues employ but also some Brian Wren Break the bread of belonging, welcome the stranger in the land.
What I partiuclarly like is when we manage to weave music and prayer together meaningfully so that the spoken words and the sung words blend.
As with most of life I'm pretty much an omnivore with styles of music for worship, I love singing the Geneva psalter - Psalm 8's "tous les poissons sur les chemins des mers" always brings a smile to my face. Praise God in music not in dirge would be what I want.

Now as a bonus you wanted a video of any of the above well folks here's Humph, lovely guy, great jazz musician, but here he isn't playing. Rest in peace Humph and thanks for the laughter. And if anyone wants to come round to play Mornington Crescent please note that our household applies the Berlin-Prague rules.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Word of the day "fervent"

"Fervent" is written the same way in both French and English but can you always translate fervent by fervent and vice versa - if you see what I mean ... ?
In a French translation I was proofing this week I queried the use of the word "fervent" for committed (as in committed Christian). I'm still not entirely sure about this but after talking it through with my French colleague I began to realise that just because I didn't want to be referred to as a fervent Christian in English, it might nevertheless be the term that ordinary French people would use to express something like committed.
I suppose it must be my latent buttoned up Britishness with added Calvinist undertones that doesn't like the term "fervent Christian" in English. I don't mind being thought of as a passionate Christian, it's a bit more gutsy and sensual, but fervent sounds a bit unreflected touchy-feely-fundamentalist to me. Fervent or passionate I'm certainly getting to be a bit too fussy about words, especially those used to describe what I believe

Ten things they never told me about Jesus

Wild Goose Publications, the imprint of the Iona community, have a new book out by John Bell called Ten Things They Never Told me about Jesus - a beginniner's guide to a larger Christ. If you click on the link you can read a preview of the book mainly from chapter four and a Bible study approach to "Family Values".
What I particularly like about John Bell's writing is how approachable and understandable he is. I don't think I'm going to be able to resist buying this for long ...

Then I wondered, along the lines of all these lists I keep getting tagged on, what are the ten things they never told you about Jesus?

Trust in life with Christian Bobin

"Quand nous ne savons plus faire un seul pas, la vie, elle, sait comment poursuivre. Là où nous désespérons de toute issue, elle en propose des dizaines. Il suffit de lui garder confiance. Il suffit d'aller jusqu'à ce point en nous, si ténu que le désespoir ne peut s'en saisir, comme il fait du reste."
Christian Bobin, La Plus que vive.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

St John's Day - reflections from the South

At morning prayer this morning we listened to readings for St John's Day. Hearing again the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah.
Traditionally today fires would be lit and you would try to jump over them - a bit of northern hemisphere midsummer madness. But as we prayed for Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay we were reminded that even if the churches there also follow the western calender it is now midwinter in that part of the world. Today would be Christmas Eve if the southern church followed the seasonal rather than the imported cultural calender from the north.
As we enjoyed the summer evening with two people from New Zealand in Geneva for just 48 hours, I thought about this and about the cultural imperialism that has too often accompanied the exporting of Christianity.
Then I thought back to the birth of John the Baptist, to his patient feisty mother bearing him into the world full of hope in her middle age. Decades later this uncomforatble prophet of hope would have his head displayed on a platter to serve the whim of a despotic ruler.

The past is another country ...

"Everything is as it was, I discover when I reach my destination, and everything has changed."
Michael Frayn, Spies.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Fifteen books you will always remember

My friend and colleague Emma Halgren has tagged me on Facebook to list 15 books you've read that will always stick with you. Don't take any longer than 15 minutes.
So here's the list I sent her - 11 women and 3 men - yes Vikram Seth gets in there twice (but then I suppose I should count Le Guin 5 times for a quintet)

Fugitve Pieces
Anne Michaels

The Poisonwood Bible
Barbara Kingsolver

The Earthsea (Quintet)
Ursula Le Guin

Testament of Youth
Vera Brittain

The golden Notebook
Doris Lessing

Schloss Gripsholm
Kurt Tucholsky

In the springtime of the year
Susan Hill

A suitable boy
Vikram Seth

An Equal music
Vikram Seth

Is this is a man
Primo Levi

the Handmaids Tale
Margaret Atwood

Pride and Prejudice
Jane Austen

Toni Morrison

Living by the Word
Alice Walker

What I loved
Siri Hustvedt

Empty chairs at climate talks will symbolise those who can't speak

From this week's ENI
By Stephen Brown

When international talks about climate change open in Copenhagen in December, there should be three empty chairs at the conference table, a Church of Sweden expert on sustainable development has urged.

Lutheran pastor the Rev. Henrik Grape wants three chairs left empty at all future talks on climate issues to symbolise non-participants - the poor, future generations, and creation itself.
Read more here.

Sadness and other bits and pieces

I am feeling a bit sad that Aristotle's Feminist Subject and The Wombman's Bible have now gone offline. Grief is perhaps a bit overstated but I'm sad not to be able to hang out there anymore and I secretly hope that their author JK Gayle might have second thoughts. Blogging can become an obsession that takes you away from the rest of your life and sometimes rather than going for the quick blog it's important to set yourself the target of putting your writing skills to more focused use. I shall miss the broadening of my horizons and the feminist and linguistic reading lists from JK's blogs. Life and blogging move on and I shall have to cope with my sadness but not before wishing him well with all his future projects.
I suppose for me blogging is a bit about pulling together a few bits of the ephemera of my life. The perfect activity for my over-active magpie mind. There's an awful lot that never makes it into written form. Thinking about the bits and pieces of my life, about the desperately difficult and ordinarily difficult times that some friends, colleagues and aquaintances are living through at the moment, makes me realise that blogging is also my way of remembrance. A way of remembering the forgotten pieces even if they don't make it into written form. It gives me much to be thankful for and many to pray for.
Tonight my thoughts are (among other places) with a friend in Zimbabwe, a colleague in Malaysia, a friend working on interreligious dialogue in Indonesia, a friend trying to get pregnant another trying to adopt, another whose mother has cancer, a colleague who is grieving ... and many, many other places and many other people.
Perhaps evening time blogging is my own way of practising the Ignatian Examen or saying compline:

Save us, O Lord, while waking,
and guard us while sleeping,
that awake we may watch with Christ
and asleep may rest in peace.

Methodist contemporary art gallery now online - and brilliant

Hat tip to Simon Barrow and Ekklesia for pointing to the news that the Methodist Church art collection has gone online. I've been really enjoying looking through the paintings. Simon writes:

The collection is an extraordinary achievement of quiet but committed curation, and includes some very well-regarded twentieth century artists, as well as a number of less publicly profiled (but equally evocative) contributors ...
Like many viewing the collection for the first time, I was taken aback by its quality. If you're harbouring expectations of religious schmaltz or Christian kitsch, forget it. There is some very challenging material in the Methodist Art Collection, as well as unusual perspectives on familiar themes. There is also warmth, colour, craft and hope.
Each work that is online has a commentary, written for the most part by Francis Hoyland
There are also some wonderful works by him which he also writes commentaries for:

I do not think that I am mature enough, or sufficiently detached to give a commentary on my own paintings but I can tell you a few things about them.
Every scene was more or less wrung out of me by experience. It was as if the subject matter imposed itself on me. My wife, my father, my mother, my sister, my friends and children all come into these little paintings, as did my spiritual life and my horror of war ...
In fact, for rather more than thirty years I have been attempting to make a 'Life of Christ' in ninety-one scenes. I am now within four paintings of the end of my fourth try. All prayers and good wishes gratefully received!

The image I've chosen here is The five thousand by Eularia Clarke (1914-1970) painted in 1962. Hoyland's commentary begins:

Eularia Clarke was inspired to produce this picture while eating fish and chips at Canvey Island. She wrote of the fear she felt about painting Our Lord and how she only felt able to include a priest - and only half a priest at that - in the top right hand corner of the painting, as a kind of surrogate for him. Besides this the priest is engaged in the most secular part of the Mass for he is reading the parish notices after he has finished his sermon.

Read more here. I'm going to enjoy going back to this wonderful resource again and again.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Can any of us truly live gently in this violent world?

Hans Uli over on Upside Down Heaven has been writing about Jean Vanier and Stanley Hauerwas' book Living Gently in a Violent World: the Prophetic Witness of Weakness.

I particularly like this quote from Vanier "I'm not interested in doing a good job. I'm interested in an ecclesial vision for community..."
In a later post Hans Uli goes on to reflect on traffic accidents and pacifism, the potential violence of car driving which is very interesting. I don't drive - though I do own a car and am often driven to places in it.
How can any of us live gently in this world where for some of us simply waking up in the houses we live in means that we have consumed more of the planet's resources than any individual in previous generations? My carbon footprint is not brilliant, is it an easy option to then proclaim my peace activism?
In some ways we do ourselves violence by becoming aware of how difficult it is for any of us today to feel we can truly walk gently on the earth that is our common home. Yet perhaps such violent realisation is the shake up, wake up call all of us need so that future generations can even have a chance to think about how they too may live gently on our (still) green planet.

Reflecting on faith and fear as we pray for Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay

I have just posted the liturgy that my colleague Guillermo Kerber prepared for prayers in the Centre this morning.
Our prayers of intercession for Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay included this which works well for many countries fortunate enough to have democratic governments:

Give wisdom to their governments democratically elected, so that they may discern what needs to be done in the name of justice, peace and care for creation. Sustain and strengthen the churches in those countries, so that they remain a prophetic voice unbound by political and economic alliances and with all people there.
Julio de Santa Ana preached an interesting and thoughtful sermon on the link between faith and fear and how despite fear we can continue to bear witness to our faith (the written version was the basis for the preached version). I think I had never quite thought about the link between fear and faith quite in this way before.
In preparation we listened to two versions of Jesus walking on the water, one read in Spanish and that in itself was fascinating. Hearing how two gospel writers tell the same story slightly differently.

We also began by singing Tenemos Esperanza, Federico Pagura's wonderful hymn on the triumph of faith over fear, even the fear of dictatorship and death ... And i've discovered that you can download it on mp3 along with lots of other Latin American music.
It's really very special to begin your Monday morning by singing tango. I did feel blessed and there are not many people who are able to say that at the beginning of the working week.

Called to one hope ...

Three weeks today I shall be in Lyon attending the Conference of European Churches 13th Assembly. The theme of the assembly is hope and a good deal of ground work has gone in to trying to prepare this assembly in a more interactive way with CEC's member churches.
Thoughts and expressions of hope, either in written or picture form have been gathered. You can also download a film with study resources called "Hope - European voices crossing borders":

The film has four sequences:
- A brief introduction (4:50 min).
- Hope for Humanity (11:30 min).
- Hope for Europe and the World (16:40 min).
- Hope for the Churches (17:00 min).

The four sequences in the film aim to set up a dialogue and debate around the theme of hope. They are therefore best viewed in groups to share thoughts and discussions after each sequence.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Dreaming of relevance or maybe going viral - just how do we change the world?

Over the weekend I was thinking about the dream of being relevant or having impact. Over a late lunch today with a friend who has worked in international emergency work and is now in development communication we talked in a bit more depth about various aspects of having an impact. How emergency aid workers are trained to not try and resolve anything other than the immediate problem - food shelter and water for today. Impact is in the here and now, it's about today and not about changing things for ever.
How do we change the world, have impact, touch others with a message that we passionately believe is important? Is celebrity for an idea or an individual the answer - going viral on You Tube the only mark of success? (Watching the media circus of recent months around Susan Boyle has hardly been edifying.)
At the beginning of my year of theological studies in the former GDR in 1989 our course tutor read from and encouraged us to read further Manfred Josuttis' Der Traum des Theologen (published in 1988). It begins with a preacher dreaming about preaching to a packed church, condemning apartheid and the people applauding - a real dream of having impact or resonance. I can still remember the woman next to me muttering under her breath "this is a very macho dream of adulation". Later that autumn there were a few brief weeks when the churches were packed, when the words of many pastors and church people in the GDR were listened to and applauded. Then the Berlin wall came down and the churches gradually emptied again.
The desire to have a big impact is no doubt very human - as is the desire to say that the small impact we are having is more significant than it really is. This need to live the dream of relevance often blinds us to the reality of needing to get on with humble, incarnational work - writing, talking, listening, studying. The lasting relevance of what we do will be in the quality of our message, the integrity of our vision and in the relationships we build, and not necessarily in the brilliance of our fine preaching or super-packaged gimmicks.

Touch the sky to wake the stars

"Pour ou contre Dieu mais pas sans Dieu" Elie Wiesel
This quote begins a chapter with the title Toucher le ciel pour réveiller les étoiles in Marc Alain Ouaknin's glorious little book Dieu et l'art de la pêche à la ligne.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

June weekends of music and culture in Ferney Voltaire

This weekend is the Fête de la musique throughout France and also in Geneva. Brilliant free concerts in the streets and great food to buy a real street party. The Geneva Fête de la musique programme is here, the one for Ferney here. So far today the rain has managed to hold off so the summer solstice frolics can continue through the night undampened.
We'll hardly have time to recover in Ferney before next week's Fête à Voltaire. This I suppose is like the village fête but rather more orchestrated and rather than being based on the patronal festival of the saint it is in honour of our patronal philosopher. You can read more about the plays and theatre in Voltaire's château and throughout the town here. It's going to be fun - all the more so because it is literally happening our doorstep. Unfortunately Dr B will be in Budapest, so I suppose I shall just have to have fun without him.

Le Bac Philo - sit down with an exam question and wax philosophical

Last Thursday all those taking the baccalaureate in France sat the philosophy exam with which the "le bac" traditionally begins. It provides some diversion for conversation at dining tables around the country at this time of year and tends to be seen as one of the more difficult parts of le bac.
Marc Vernon
over on Philosophy and Life provides these translations of the choice of questions from this year's philosophy baccalaureate in France

  • What is gained by exchange?
  • Does technological development transform mankind?
  • Is it absurd to desire the impossible?
  • Are there questions which no science can answer?
  • Does objectivity in history suppose impartiality in the historian?
  • Does language betray thought?
Not sure I quite agree with this rendering of number 2 on that list - I tend to think that "les hommes" sexist as it is in French - should probably be rendered by a plural into English and I would probably choose human beings. There is a subtle but important difference between humankind (l'homme) and human beings (les hommes) which may be quite important in a philosophy exam, perhaps so as to argue that because technological development can transform human beings it may also transform humankind.
However all this goes to show that I would almost certainly have chosen to try to wax philosophical on Does language betray thought? All of these discourses on "l'homme" couldn't possibly betray any layers of sexism could they now, rendering "la femme" invisible linguistically betrays nothing at all.
You can read the full list for the sujet du bac by clicking on the link, one of the alternatives is to comment a text by Schophenhauer - translated into French of course.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Life is a verb - a meditative linguistic Friday Five from RevGalpals

This week's Friday five from Rev Gal pals is inspired by Patti Digh's book Life's a verb, 37 days to wake up, be mindful and live intentionally. I don't know the book, not entirely sure it's my sort of thing but here goes ...

1. What awakens you to the present moment?
Walking to the bus in the mornings. Watching the play of light in the chapel. Drinking a cold beer at the end of a hot day. Looking at the ever changing sky. Seeing a friend's face lined with illness, fatigue or sadness. The smell of fresh lavender. Taking time out to drink a glass of wine with a friend.

2. What are 5 things you see out your window right now?
I have my back to a window - looking out makes me realise that there's a weeping tree with leaves and branches dancing in the pre storm wind, very beautiful. There's a large gas-guzzling 4x4 making me think about why in this city of Geneva where public transport is brilliant so many of us still use the car. There are stormclouds gathering, they look ominous but bring the promise of a cooler night if only the storm would break, this makes me think about the stormclouds in my own life and my desire for the freshness after the storm. There is a cedar tree planted symbolically like tens of thousands of others which were planted to reforest the landscape following the war in Algeria. It reminds me that overcoming violence, rebuilding life is a long term project and fragile one. There is also a glimpse of the mountains beyond where the sun is shining a reminder of long term goals, other realities, less stormy places.

3. Which verbs describe your experience of God?
Discerning, being, seeing, dancing, enveloping, judging, enlightening, journeying ... interestingly all of them verbs in the continuous present, indicating ongoing work, something with an unspecified beginning and certainly not yet finished ...
4. From the book on p. 197:Who were you when you were 13? Where did that kid go?
I was a screwed up teenager, a classic oldest child, already an adult, leading youth groups and teaching Sunday School. I loved French and reading. I didn't always fit in well at school. I was very bright but not very focused or disciplined. Actually thinking about it 13 was a key age for me, soon afterwards I started running away from life by getting ill. First psychosomatic then real illness (knowing what I know now of course psychsomatic illness is also illness). I still find it a bit hard to forgive the teenager who pretended to get ill and then really got ill. What's quite interesting is that that child decided to go on a journey and realised that she didn't need to run away but could integrate things by journeying towards meaning and people. Today, of course the integration is never complete and illness is still an issue. I can also see that even running away is part of the journey. The teenager who loved French still does and managed to have a life in which she speaks it everyday and she's still reading for pleasure and therapy.

5. From the book on p. 88:If your work were the answer to a question, what would the question be?
Why does your phone ring so often?

Anyway I leave you with this from Life is a Verb:
Say yes.
Be generous.
Speak up.
Love more.
Trust yourself.
Slow down.

On meaning, interpretation, logos and Sophia

What follows is a quote from part of Suzanne McCarthy's excellent post on Logos and Sophia. Read the whole post here.

The human need for meaning may be met in the Christ (word), but it cannot be the Christ of someone else's mediation, created in the image of someone else's humanity. The notion that the logos/tao/davar are first, along with sophia/hokmah, means that meaning is before and has priority over every interpretation that is known to man or woman.

We can listen to the interpretation of others, but, going back to the allegory of the cave, we must not mistake the human interpretation for the actual meaning of reality. The lesson is that intepretation does not create meaning. Meaning precedes intepretation and not the other way around.

Speaking personally is not that easy ...

I'm never terribly sure how much to share of a personal nature on my blog. I notice as I try to write more or less every day that I hide sometimes behind my writing. I may seem to say something about my life but in some ways I reveal very little about the daily Angst that it is to be me. (My close friends know there's quite alot of that Angst around even if there is also alot of laughter as in my blog's title!) Anyway this post has been a while in preparation and I'm still not sure about it but hey, it's only blogging ...
A few months ago David Ker wrote openly and straightforwardly about living with and through depression. In a comment on that post I wrote:

... I had been thinking that I would write a bit more about what my anti MS drugs do to me psychologically - and physically. Your post encourages me to try to write more personally at some point.
The stresses and strains of daily life and work affect us each differently - and differently at different stages of our life. We are so beautifully and wonderfully knit together as Psalm 139 has it, yet each of us is also a delicate, intricate, fragile balance. My whole life I have tended to live in a way which takes my health more or less for granted and although I listen a great deal to others, it took me a long time to learn to talk about myself or even names my desires, fears and angst.
Thank God for mental health professionals.
I have no cure but do find great solace and respite - healing of a kind - in corporate prayer, in worship that moves me, in biblical surprises.
Ah yes and in reading detective fiction - my mental balance tends to start going skewy (is that a word?) if I’m not reading a crime novel.
This week Suzanne McCarthy has also written more personally on her brilliant and erudite blog on biblical translation.
So do I dare to speak for myself? Hmmm ... I'm not sure. From the outset I decided that I would be open about having MS on my blog sidebar, it doesn't define me but it is part of what I live with. I do feel a bit of a fraud when people offer me sympathy as a result of reading that, or when people think I have some special wisdom because I live with a chronic condition.
Taking the interferon b keeps me on my feet and means I'm able to work and live like others (not I don't say normally, but then I've never really lived "normally"). The drug costs not quite 1000 euros a month and when I first went on the medication that was more than my monthly take home pay. The wonderful French health service pays it all and also 100% of anything else linked to my MS. Both MS and interferon can have depressive side effects, suicidal feelings. In addition on the three nights a week when I take the drug I can get a bit raving, particularly if I don't take a good 1000mg of paracetemal to stop the flu like shakes that come in about 2 hours after the injection.
I suppose in all sorts of ways I feel extremely lucky, even when angst-ridden. My MS does sap my energy but it also gives me a certain strength and determination, and it has taught me alot about living with pain and discomfort - unfortunately it can also sometimes make me even more judgemental of other people, but perhaps that's just my Calvinist nature anyway! ;-) Of course when I have an episode I do also get panicky, tearful and scared.
I suppose the real truth about my life is that it is not my MS but much more being so overweight that has a day to day impact on my happiness and well-being. As I say, speaking personally is not easy and I'm well out of my comfort zone writing that. I'm passionate about life and I live it, quite possibly I shall leave life rather earlier than many but I do hope I shall have lived. I shall have borne imperfect witness to much of what I believe in but I hope I will have shared some joy and experience.
While I was interpreting at the Calvin event last weekend I was deeply moved by some of the comments and discussions about Calvin and the sanctification of everyday life. It spoke to me - as part of my Reformed heritage I suppose. I realised that all any of us can hope to do is to lead ordinary extraordinary lives. The everyday is holy, it's where you meet people and it is where God meets you, it's in the everyday that transformation takes place and the gospel may be heard.
Hmm ... I fear I may think I'm writing a sermon - I did say speaking personally is not easy for me! I suppose I could say this - not being perfect, being aware of my responsibilities and limitations, always thinking about what I have not done ... weighs heavily on my mind and body, however, I do also have a great capacity to enjoy life.
My main problem tonight - I haven't got a crime novel to read!

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Five books that have changed the way I read the Bible

J.K.Gayle over at Aristotle's Feminist Subject has tagged me on a five book meme about the books that have the most lasting influence on how I read the Bible

Tonya and Daniel of The Hebrew and Greek Reader have posted their lists and have tagged some of us. Seems they'd been tagged in a meme by Ken Brown (of C. Orthodoxy), who writes:

1. Name the five books (or scholars) that had the most immediate and lasting influence on how you read the Bible. Note that these need not be your five favorite books, or even the five with which you most strongly agree. Instead, I want to know what five books have permenantly changed the way you think.

2. Tag five others.

You can read J.K.'s answers here. Ever the high-achiever he has also added a further 10 you can read here. You can also read Suzanne McCarthy's five here.

This meme was difficult for me and I'm still not sure that I'm quite happy with what I have decided on but here goes:

1) Faith and Fratricide by Rosemary Radford Ruether
Reading this book for my undergraduate history dissertation made me a theologian. It helped me with my personal struggle to believe in the God of the whole Bible.

2) All desires known by Janet Morley
My original copy of this book was published in a simple green card cover with a golden symbol on the cover. It is very dear to me. These beautiful prayers sing to me of women's contemplation and creativity. Helping me to not only read the Bible in a different way but pray it with a different voice.

3) Fulbert Steffensky or Dorothee Sölle, I think today I shall choose Feier des Lebens and not Die Hinreise. I read both of these books during my year in East Germany as the wall was coming down and society there was in transformation. It was only on the eve of Holy Week in Greifswald that I learnt for the first time from Arndt Noack that Steffensky was Sölle's husband. These two books for me make a trio with Charles Elliott's Praying the Kingdom which I also read during that year. I read the Bible passionately, prayerfully, politically, partially, pointedly ...

4) André Chouraqui's translation of the Bible into French. There will always be another meaning waiting to break out from the text at you thanks to talented and daring translators. The first time I heard Chouraqui's rendering of the Beatitudes something fell into place for me.

5) This has to be a novel. Novels are where I get my theology, they are what send me back to the Bible with new eyes, ears and understanding. It could have been the Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver but it will actually be Beloved by Toni Morrison. A former lover sent me the copy I first read and it blew me away, even though it was his way of saying his beloved was another. I read it weeping for my lost love, struggling to understand the amazing English and occasionally thinking about the Old Testament essay I should actually have been writing at the time. This complex narrative speaks deeply to me about all of our need to tell our story in a meaningful way, to tell the story with others.

So there's your five (with a sneaky 3 extra) but I have made my choice for now.

SORRY forgot to tag anyone so here goes I tag:
Novice blogger, Maryann, Dr B, Skelter and Sustain if able Kiwi.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Share the ecumenical prayer cycle on your website or blog

If you click here you can download a piece of code to put the ecumenical prayer cycle onto the sidebar of your website or blog.
Sie können dies auch auf Deutsch machen!
Vous pouvez également faire ceci en français!
y en español!

More prayers from and for Brazil this week ...

This week the ecumenical prayer cycle focuses on Brazil and I've just posted the reflections and prayers that colleagues wrote to the docs section.
As well as sections on violence and the challenge of cultural diversity, it also includes this on land and food:

As a sign of resistance against transgenic products we can see the campaign in defense of the native seeds, and agro ecology as sustainable and viable response, supported by the practices of the peasant’s community’s challenge the monopolizing advances of the biotechnology companies. The women of the Via Campesina are working with the concept of food sovereignty and justice. Through their testimonies all the society faces the reality of the paper and cellulose monopolies and its artificial forest or green desert.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Théologie totale and the future for gender and systematic theology

Thanks to Ben Myers' blog I have been reading Sarah Coakley's article on Is there a future for gender and theology?
In it I have come across the term théologie totale which is probably something I should add to our terminological database at work. You can find a résumé of Coakley's article here. I really like the idea of a théologie totale methodology, one which takes the spiritual and mystical search for God as seriously as the academic search.
Anyway I'm looking forward to reading more of Coakley, sounds as if her systematic theology will be an interesting read alongside Grace Jantzen's philosophy of religion. Theology that seeks to integrate the spiritual is surely worth working towards.

Harry Potter and the art of slow translation

Regularly I get asked for quotes on how much a document or book might cost to translate. It's a normal part of my job to do these sorts of quotes. Translation is an expensive business, life would however not be more interesting if we all spoke the same language. But the other really big problem is not money but time, often alongside a quote for money goes a quote for time "So how long do you think it will take?" is how these conversations begin and I say "hmmm you want it yesterday I suppose ... "
It's difficult to explain to people that translation takes time, that translators aren't machines and that if your text is more than 2000 words long it will probably take more than a day to translate. Then Harry Potter came to my rescue. As the books about the child wizard began to take off the later volumes were kept secret even from the translators until the day of the English publication. Even with all of the money that J.K. Rowling's publishers had available, and their army of proof readers, revisers and checkers - to say nothing of the money they had - it still took them at least 5 months to get the different languages out. It's an example that people seem to have at least some understanding for, after all we don't have quite such human or financial resources at our disposal. Nor unfortunately will much of what we translate get read by quite so many people.
I was thinking about Harry Potter and the art of slow translation while leafing through a new magazine we've got at home. It's in French but it's called Books - l'actualité par les livres. Many of the articles in it are longer book reviews translated into French from a variety of other langauges and it is a really brilliant read. I've just finished reading about "The Bloody White Baron" and noticed that the original English review was published in February this year. It takes time for things to get published in other languages, this is June's magazine.
Where books rather than just articles are concerned it can often take longer than just a few months to get the translation done. On Friday this week we'll go and eat with Edouard and Bridget Dommen. Edouard, who is a Quaker, is one of the translators into English of André Biéler's chef d'oeuvre on Calvin's Economic and Social Thought. The original was first published two years before my birth more than four decades ago. The good news is that getting the English translation done has inspired a Chinese publication which is now finished but looking for a publisher(read more in the Calvin special magazine in English here). Translation is a slow and hopeful process, often also a labour of love.

Monday, 15 June 2009

The paradoxes of Calvin's thought by François Dermange

At the Calvin event yesterday afternoon François Dermange who is dean of the Geneva Faculty of Theology and professor of ethics gave a brilliant 7 minute introduction to the paradoxes of Calvin's thought.
It was however one of those moments that was slightly unnerving as an interpreter, the speaker had sent two versions of his paper in advance, it had even been translated into English - just enough to lull you into a false sense of security. Then as he started to speak his text was projected behind him but in German, while I was listening to his voice in French and trying to interpret him into English. He didn't read his text at all but spoke freely on the 8 different headings he had developed and got rid of one of them on the way to make up time, I think 5 became 4 but we still ended up at 8 rather than 7. Fortunately he didn't change his headings so I just about managed to keep up (I have a recurring anxiety dream about interpreting philosophical and theological French and the word "rhubarb" coming out of my mouth!).
The 8 theses that Dermange developed on the paradoxes and underlying energy to Calvin's thought were:
Providence and Christology; Humanism and the call to holiness; Gospel and law; the Christian, acting and acted upon; the individual and the church; Idealism and pragmatism - the radical nature of ordinary life; Love and justice; Calvin saint or Prophet?

I found it helpful to think about Calvin's thought and work in terms of dialectical paradoxes but I particularly liked what Dermonge said about the radical nature of ordinary life for Calvin, it sort of helped explain me to myself if that makes sense:

"The Christian way must be lived by everyone where they are, in their family, their jobs, their political commitments. the radical nature of their vocation runs through ordinary life, simple things ..."

Thoughts on liberation and images of God from Brazil

Three colleagues from Brazil led a simple and powerful liturgy this morning in the ecumenical centre chapel as we prayed through the ecumenical prayer cycle for the peoples of that Amazonian and diverse country.
The meditaional prayers which are not yet in written form, focused on the need for transformation in our lives and that of society.

I particularly enjoyed the wonderful tonal atonality of the hymn Momento Novo by Ernesto B. Cardoso, and also this from the affirmation of faith:

I DO NOT BELIEVE IN THE GOD of good fortune of the rich
nor in the god of fear of the wealthy
nor in the god of happiness of those who rob the people.

I DO NOT BELIEVE IN THE GOD of false peace
nor in the god of justice which is not of the people
nor in the god of venerable national traditions.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Moritz Leuenberger on John Calvin and Calvin Klein

Moritz Leuenberger was the main speaker at this afternoon's Calvin event in the Temple de la Fusterie in Geneva. Leuenberger currently heads the Federal Department of Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications and has been president of the Swiss confederation. He's a member of the Swiss Social Democratic Party.
The son of a Reformed pastor, from Zwingli's home town of Zurich where a play has been put on to mark the 500th anniversary called "Calvinism Klein" - yes it's all about religion and underwear! Germanophone rather than Francophone Leuenberger claimed to feel rather daunted at being asked to make such an address in Geneva on Calvin, epsecially after discovering in one reference book he consulted that Calvin is considered to be the father of classical French, he nevertheless gave his speech in extremely elegant French. He managed to be self-deprecating, funny and show real understanding of Calvin.
He also made four key points based on his understanding of Calvin and of reformation:
We need to reform our lifestyle with regard to nature
We need to reform the chain of solidarity
We need to reform the market economy
We need to reform our values

He also played with the image of two US presidents standing in Berlin - Kennedy denouncing the moral bankruptcy of communism and then decades later Clinton standing on the same spot and saying "everything is possible". In our current financial crisis we know that the anything goes model of unregulated markets has not been helpful. "Immoderation and greed have come to figure as driving forces of our financial activities ... bankers have been found to be bandits ... it is in our interests to marry ethics and market."

Leuenberger's full speech will be available tomorrow in Le Temps and in the NZZ, in French and German respectively,

Throughout the afternoon I was struck by how often different speakers underlined the fact that Calvin was not a killjoy but passionately believed that justice was the expression of love. As a second generation Reformer he structured the church, set limits but also transformed society insisting on the importance of education, work and the economy. The other key idea that was underlined was how Calvin insisted on the sharing of power between several people and on transparency and good governance:
"Given the imperfection of human beings, the kind of government which is most acceptable is a model where several persons share power, supporting and admonishing one another." (Calvin, Institutes Vol. IV ch XX)

No women speakers at Calvin 500th anniversary event

I spent most of this afternoon interpretting for the official national celebration by the Swiss Protestant churches of Calvin's 500th jubliee. It was a fascinating, thought-provoking and in many ways brilliant event. I'll say more about what some of the speakers said in a later post.
However, when I finally got outside for the apéro (interpreting is thirsty work) my way to a wine glass was hampered by several women who wanted to talk to me about why there had not been a single woman amongst the speakers (of whom there were at least nine).
Little had I expected to post about women in the ecumenical future and then immediately afterwards attend an event that completely underlined the point about the need for the inclusion of women in the ecumenical present. One woman pastor also remarked that often that when there are no women on the panel then the ecumenical dimension doesn't get mentioned. Another woman who is her cantonal church's president and whom I had never met before, said in almost her first sentence to me "They have got to start listening to our bottom-up approach. This top- down approach isn't working if it doesn't take any notice of us."
To be fair the issue of Calvin and his favouring women's education etc. was mentioned at the event but in rather an embarassed half a sentence as suddenly the panelists realised that there was not even one woman amongst them.
I have been involved in so many church events where men mutter about and question "women only" space. When a space or event supposedly for the whole church just assumes that it's ok for it to be a men only space, this passes without a murmur. Fortunately at the worship following the event the preacher was a woman.

What role will women play in the ecumenical future?

Late on Friday a friend asked me to try and write a sound bite response to this question about the role of women in the ecumenical future. Not sure my reply was what she was looking for - not really short enough I fear. But it set me thinking about how I think the ecumenical future might look.
So often we choose to write history (of ecumenism or any other movement) in a way that looks at the "great achievements" of the past, the successful campaigns, our role in overcoming apartheid or in maintaining links across the iron curtain. The problem with writing the past in this way is that it can almost oblige us to think that the future of ecumenism is in mega campaigns and huge impact. In our more globalised and more fragmented world the networked bottom-up approach may bear much more fruit in the long run. This may also be good news for the role of women in a movement that will be more organic and have more grass-roots relevance.
Last year the WCC held an essay competition on ecumenism for young theologians. Reading some of the essays and meeting with the young theologians who won the competition was quite a challenge. In postmodern ecumenical Christianity we may see fewer internationally known ecumenical heros but there may be more opportunities to feel that we are all part of world-wide Christian family, holding all of that together and giving it form and direction are the challenges. I suppose this could be seen as an ecumenical living with fragments that I've been jotting about quite a bit recently.
Anyway in what I wrote yesterday I highlight two roles for women in the future of ecumenism. One is in the key relational work of building up networks, linking them in to practical work and keeping the global and local perspective in mind at all times. The other is the role of figureheads, women leaders, role models. It isn't enough for women to be doing so much of the work and never break through to leadership roles. I realise that this could be seen to go a bit against the future era of ecumenism not being one of heros (or heroines). It's really my way of saying that there will continue to be challenges to women and their role in the ecumenism of the future, we will still need to stand up and be counted. Lip service to women's issues is not enough, we need women to be appointed to top jobs on their own merits. Congratulations to the German Protestant Kirchentag on this front which has had three female general secretaries in a row. In the ecumenical future we will all need male and female role models to look up to. Not people who are perfect, but people who encourage us to think differently, who live out their faith in a way that helps us live out our own, people who despite their failings we can take seriously.
Of the world's thirteen or so Christian World Communions very few have ever had a woman leader - I can think of Jane Dempsey Douglas who was president of WARC, there have been others perhaps but not many. What not having female role models does to women is push women's concerns back to the domestic, the parochial. Not enough of that female learning, talent, experience and savoir faire is percolating upwards in our churches at the moment. The ecumenical future needs much more clearly to be one of a networked community of women and men.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Reading, partying and working ...

It's been a busy week following my return from Rome and today we are catching up with ourselves in glorious sunshine on the hotest day of the year so far. We are gradually restoring the house to what we would call normality - but which I would hesitate to call order. On Thursday we hosted a leaving party for our friend Sidney who left Geneva this morning and will begin work in Zimbabwe next week. Hope both he and those he'll be working with will be safe.
Meanwhile work has been busy with preparations for next month's Conference of European Churches assembly in Lyon and with translation work coming in for two other big meetings later in the summer.
Fortunately in the midst of all this I do have a good book to read and keep me sane. I was just about to write that without a book to read I often feel as if I'm losing the plot ...

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

More on mission and leadership from Rome

Well this is really just another excuse to show you the fabulous views from the GB ambassador's residence in Rome. Brother Helmut Rakowski pictured here hosts a blog for the mission office of the Capuchin Generalate. Helmut has material in a wide selection of languages on his site, well worth a look.

One of the other members of the course also writes an occasional blog called Daily Gems.

Terre et mère at feminist theology

This extraordinary quilt was born out of rage at George Bush's decision to go to war against Iraq. Its title is a play on words Terre et mer would be land and sea but terre et mère is land and mother.
The upper part of the quilt is the rage against war and incalculable violence reaching upwards, the bottom part is women's tears falling and dropping downwards.
If you look carefully you will see that the rage and grief are held together by stitching that represents old-fashioned corsetry lacing - women bracing themselves to hold emotions together reaching upwards in anger and downwards in grief.
As we gathered our thoughts and reflections on "Dieu est belle" we also shared prayers, poems and personal stories about how we were reaching more understanding of the multi-layered feminine, masculine and simply other nature of God.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Un homme sur deux est une femme

Almost untranslateable into English - it just doesn't make you smile in the same way - "one man in two is a woman". Anyway it's on the dust jacket of the book Paroles de femmes by Josée Lartet-Geffard and Benoîte Groult.

I'm off later this evening to the final session for the current academic year of my feminist theology group. We've been looking at "Dieu est belle" and will spend some time this evening sharing about what we have leart about our own images of God over the year.
Next year our group will change as Karin Ducret who has been a mainstay of the organising committee will step down. I'm still not sure how we will cope without her but tonight we will celebrate her contribution with words by women - paroles de femmes. Everyone is bringing a quote by a woman to put onto a long folding card for Karin - some of the quotes from members who can't be there tonight are absolutely brilliant and I'll try and post some of them here and to the théologie féministe blog when I have time to be in touch with my life again - France Quéré, Christiane Singer, Thérèse d'Avilla and Elisabeth Dufourcq to name a few

JPIC - now where have I heard that word before?

One of the many things that I learned on my Rome-based Craighead Institute course on leadership and spirituality is that JPIC is alive and well in the Roman Catholic Church. Many of those on the course spoke about Justice Peace and the Integrity of Creation groups in their international congregations. This struck me because in many Protestant churches this is not so much the case. It showed me just how much impact the first European Ecumenical Assembly in Basel and also the worldwide JPIC process must have had in Roman Catholic Church. It also brought home to me quite powerfully just how parochial and partial my knowledge is.
What is also interesting is how much the phrase "integrity of creation" seemed to be used by the Catholics I was with on the course. I was surprised but also pleased. I can remember how when the term first came out many conservative theologians were up in arms, saying only God had integrity and that creation could not of itself have integrity (indeed the German and French translations give slightly different renderings - Bewahrung and Sauvegarde respectively). Given what we have finally begun to understand about climate change I am very glad that it was the word "integrity" that was chosen for creation in English. What integrity have we left to creation or to the many generations who might have been able to follow on from us had we acted less carelessly?

Monday, 8 June 2009

Support calls for Aung San Suu Kyi's speedy release by writing 64 words

64 words for Aung San Suu Kyi is a web initiative encouraging people around the world to write, speak of record 64 words to support the campaign to release her from custody before the upcoming Burmese elections. She is the world's only imprisoned Nobel Prize winner

Aung San Suu Kyi is Burma's imprisoned Democracy leader. The brutal dictatorship that rules Burma has detained her for over 13 years for campaigning for human rights and democracy.
Visit the site to leave your 64 words to support democracy in Burma.

Political depression ...

While I was lying comfortably in my Wagon-lit coming back from Rome I received regular sms updates on the European election results. Not a good day for British politics and time surely to turn to reinvigorating political culture ... Perhaps one day Britain will wake up to being part of Europe rather than living in some sort of disdainful superior separation. It doesn't seem to be about to happen any time soon. When Jean-Marie le Pen came second in the French presidential elections in 2002 it was a wake up call for France, will these election results wake up Britain?
I did however finally smile when I got the Euro results for Ferney Voltaire and discovered that Madame Françosie Grossetête had topped the poll (Ms Big Head for the UMP - boo hiss!) and I was really rather delighted that Daniel Cohn-Bendit and José Bové's brand of left-wing Green party came in second place with a very low score here for the far right.
Overall though I shall go to bed sad wondering how I too can re-engage in the building up of healthy political culture.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Some fragments for the journey

All that follows will seem pretty gnomic to anyone other than me but here are some bits and pieces, some fragments that got stuck in the crevices and which I'm trying to live with.

"I dwell in possibilities" Emily Dickinson

Always see oneself on the boundary

We are narrative people

It is necessary to listen deeply with an open heart

Things can get lost in translation and things can get lost in psychology

Where leaders can't take up their role others can't take up their role either

If organisations have emotional lives they also have pathologies

The role is the meal not the menu

How to cope with toxic behaviour in organisations

When there is no leadership people resort to power

How to tell the story
of learning
of spirituality
of beginning

There is no such thing as a minor language

watch for anxiety in the system
the qualitative is as important as the quantitative

How to encourage adherence to a different yet unknown future

faith is our most important resource

this he said is my body broken for you
a fragment
I dwell in possibilities
in crevices

He, she and it ...

While I have been musing on leadership and a systemic approach to organisations Suzanne, J.K. Gayle, Peter Kirk and others have been having a very interesting discussion on whether the logos is he, she or it. It's interesting that French translations of the prologue to John's gospel often choose la parole for logos or le verbe - which become elle (she) and il (he) respectively, except that as any translator knows il and elle need more often to be translated as it.
When I was at college our group of linguists developed a sort of code patois which would begin "He is the pizza! I eat him every Friday." (Fortunately the hapless German student in Heidelberg who first pronounced this phrase never heard us.) Pronouns are notoriously difficult when you're learning a new language, though prepositions are even more of a challenge. What Suzanne and others have highlighted is the sometimes silent, sometimes strident, ideology behind biblical translations of pronouns supposedly referring to one of the persons or attributes of the Trinity.

Suzanne ends her post:

I fear discovering that I have worshipped the masculine singular pronoun all my life instead of a living God.
There's a good thought for Trinity Sunday.

Under my skin ...

Things do get "under our skin". It's a way of saying that we carry an issue or a person close to our hearts, in our senses, that something has become almost part of our flesh or unconscious. Perhaps it's also a way of saying that we have become almost too sensitive to something or someone. I sense it's incarnational as well.
The French don't say under my skin but they do speak about supposedly over-sensitive people being "écorché vif" which literally means skinned alive but is used to mean hyper-sensitive to insult or injury.
All this because I've been remembering the first volume of Doris Lessing's autobiography, which is called Under my Skin, as I am reading her imagined memoir of her parents Alfred and Emily. In it she imagines her parents lives as if the First World War never happened, as if neither had to take the terrible trauma of that event into their lives. In her imagined version of their lives they never marry and so she would never have been born. In the second half of the book she looks again in more detail than she did in her autobiography at their actual lives, it seems to me that she seeks to understand them and somehow liberate them from the constraints of what war, poverty and convention did to them - and her.
Yet it was in part that testing childhood which gave us one of the most acute and searing literary talents and imaginantions of our times.

"I was born with skins too few. Or they were scrubbed off me by . . . robust and efficient hands." Doris Lessing

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Living with fragments or fragmentation?

Amongst many themes we are looking at during this final weekend of our leadership training session is the issue of trying to hold on to a vision of the whole and avoid fragmentation.
I've been wondering whether I really understand or believe this since I heard it for the first time yesterday - after all I've been blogging quite a bit about fragments in quite a positive way recently. I suppose though that "living with the fragments" is not the same as being in a state of fragmentation. I think I could even grope my way towards saying that living with the fragments is actually a way of resisting fragmentation and keeping the whole in view - or trying to keep the whole in view.
Part of me also wondered though, whether this insistence on having to keep the whole in view is not also quite a Roman Catholic way of looking at the organisations and congregations of religious life. A way of saying "don't forget you belong to the church", don't forget the higher authority. Perhaps I'm wrong about this, after all Presbyterian Reformed have a strong sense of authority for church order residing the systems and structures of the church, of authority being shared. This is also not fragmentation.
One of the phrases Christine Anderson used today that really appealed to me is how those in apostolic consecrated life (of the 32 participants on the course I am the only one for whom this is not the case) today are called to "live in the crevices" of society, alongside the people a fragmented society has forgotten. Perhaps this is actually another way of talking about and calling people to live with the fragments.

Was Calvin more Catholic than Luther?

That was the somewhat provocative question at the end of the second of two lectures- "Calvin et sa vision de l'Eglise" - by Pastor Alain Amoux to launch a Calvin exhibition at the Reformed church in Ferney-Voltaire (writes Dr B while Pastor Jane was in Rome meeting the UK ambassador to the Vatican). Alain Amoux pointed out that while for Luther the structure of the church was largely a matter of indifference, Calvin developed a highly structured theology of the church. (Ironically in the 19th century the position got reversed with Lutheran theologians more and more insisting on a high theology of the church and Reformed becoming more and more diverse, or as Amoux put it, "happy anarchists" as far as the church is concerned.) In part, suggested Amoux, Calvin took the church more seriously than Luther because Luther died before the start of the Council of Trent, while Calvin was active in Geneva while the council was taking place - he was therefore consciously or otherwise developing an alternative to the ecclesiology being developed in Rome to reconquor a Protestantised Europe. In the first lecture - "Calvin humaniste" - Amoux traced the contribution of Calvin to, among other things, the French language, ironically largely overlooked today in the "catho-laique" France. Calvin started off in a brilliant career as a writer and administrator and became a theologian of the church largely by accident, through the force of events.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Calvin, Gilead, Home and the Orange Prize

A friend who had been attending Geneva's Calvin 500th anniversary celebrations last weekend, tipped me off to Andrew Brown's interview with Marilynne Robinson who has just won the Orange prize for her book Home.

I've not yet read Home but enjoyed her previous book Gilead alot so I'm glad to have a new book to look forward to.
Here are some quite extensive extracts from Brown's post - he interviewed Robinson when in Geneva last week, his proposed radio programme about Calvin sounds very interesting, but we'll have to wait for that.

There are two remarkable things about Marilynne Robinson, who won the Orange Prize for fiction: she's a very good writer, and she's a very serious Christian. Her two most recent novels. Gilead and Home, have retold the story of the Prodigal Son from different viewpoints, set in a small town on the Iowa prairie in 1956. "Retelling" is not what you think when first you read them; then the overwhelming effect is of being told a story, and hearing a voice, for the very first time. But both are, in fact, books about the workings of grace in human life, just as Brideshead was. But they are Calvinist, not Roman Catholic, and their pleasures are very much more humble ...

The link between joy and beauty and the apprehension of God is one which is very vivid in Robinson. I interviewed her last week in Geneva, as part of a Radio 3 programme I am presenting on Calvin (Smashing the Idols goes out on August 30); and she gave an extraordinary justification of Calvinist Christianity as making possible the modern novel.

"One of the things that has really struck me, reading Calvin," she said then, "is what a strong sense he has that the aesthetic is the signature of the divine. If someone in some sense lives a life that we can perceive as beautiful in its own way, that is something that suggests grace, even if by a strict moral standard ... they might seem to fail."

Calvin gets such a bad press for being a killjoy, closer of the theatres etc., that it's more than a little refreshing to find a modern novelist talking in other terms about him and about grace.
As we were queuing to sign the visitors book in the staircase outside the British ambassador's this evening I found myself humming Psalm 8 in French from the Geneva Psalter (a little touch of Protestant resistance in Catholic Rome - and it is a lovely melody, I particularly like tous les poissons sur les chemins des mers) - Robinson mentions Calvin's translation of Psalm 8 towards the end of Brown's post.

Meanwhile you can also read an interview from a rather different perspective with Robinson by Emma Brooks here.

And Dr B has contributed this link to Marilynne Robinson's book of essays, "The Death of Adam", which include the theology of Calvin and the hstory of the Puritans. As the review in the New York Times put it, "Puppet theories of human nature are always out to dissuade us from thinking words like nobility, honor, courage, loyalty, love and virtue actually mean what the dictionary tells us they mean. Robinson urges us to take another look." Another review states,
Perhaps the most serious charge against Calvin by his modern detractors is that he was ashamed of the human condition, that he denigrated our common humanity. Robinson meets this criticism honestly and head on. She points out that Calvin's attack on his own humanity and on our common humanity arise from his exalted view of what we human beings were created to be and are capable of be coming. His apparently dark assessment of human nature can be understood only in light of the dialectical relationship between our sinful nature and our nature saved by grace. Rather than being "inhuman and world-hating," Calvin's theology is quite the contrary. His description of our fallen nature is given only for purposes of contrast to our saved nature in Christ.