Thursday, 27 August 2009

A new general secretary for the WCC

Late this afternoon the central committee of the WCC elected a new general secretary. Olav Fykse Tveit will take up office on January 1st 2010 when Samuel Kobia retires.
I am very happy at this news and was moved listening to the general secretary elect speaking while watching from the interpretation booths. you can read the moving and motivating presentation he made in the closed session of the central committee.

What does it mean to be one? To be one is to stand up for one another; to step out of our own interests - for the other, for a higher cause of unity; to stand together in the whole mission of God. We are so much stronger together. The agenda for justice and peace demands that we are one; the agenda for unity theologically.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Beauty and gentleness on a full and busy day

Geneva has been thundery these past two night but this morning was fresh and pleasant, though it soon got very warm. I got to work early to prepare the new booths for the interpreters - really I must take a photo of how fabulous it all looks - especially the brilliant new staircase. I should explain that prior to this the interpretation booths for our main meeting room could only be reached by taking a two minute walk up and down staircases quite a long way away. It was the opposite of convenient. Now that's all changed and it's amazing what a difference it makes to the way that we work as a team between documentation and interpretation.
WCC central committee began with prayers this morning and then a moving moment as members gathered in front of the doors of the newly renovated hall for a time of prayer before the plaque naming the hall after the WCC's first general secretary was unveiled - Visser 't Hooft.
Later in the day as I was walking through the garden back to my office several of the stewards were already at work beginning to mark out a large labyrinth in the grass - they are using stones and a simple piece of string - tomorrow photos of that definitely as it progresses. I'm really looking forwards to using it.
As I was leaving my office towards the end of the afternoon one of my colleagues said something very lovely to me - it's easy for me to forget the good and beautiful things people do and say to me. So it's good to blog and remember gentle goodness at the end of a tiring and busy day.

So what is your favourite biblical verse about peace?

The verse of the Bible about peace I probably quote most is "swords into ploughshares" - "Schwerter zu Pflugsharen", though I also like "And everyone beneath the vine and fig tree shall dwell in peace and unafraid". As I prepare the meditational peace walk we'll be painting this week I'm also interested in verses which link walking and peace.
Anyway if you have a favourite biblical or quotes from other sources about peace or about walking do leave a comment.

Word of the day - les retrouvailles

As the WCC's central committee begins there's alot of greeting and hugging going on in the ecumenical centre as people meet up again after a long time. Les retrouvailles is that - friends, couples, lovers, families, colleagues - meeting up and enjoying time together.
I like the word, but as I write this I can't really find an adequate English word - "reunion" doesn't really do it for me in the same way.
I also like that "une trouvaille" is a find or a discovery, so les retrouvailles is also about finding something precious that has been lost. That's stronger than "reunion" for me.
Meanwhile on my fairly infrequent trips to IKEA I always like to look in the bonne trouvaille - which is the bargain corner, the good find or good finds.
So as friends meet up again over the next week I'm hoping all will feel they've rediscovered something precious.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Sometimes even for me life (also known as work!) takes over from blogging

Apologies for the very infrequent posting here in recent days. The WCC's central committee meeting starts tomorrow and the scramble to get the official documents translated has been underway at rather more than full tilt in recent days, including the weekend. It looks as if we will just about make it - at least in time for the interpreters to have copies of the translations before the speakers present their papers. Phew ... We have all been working long hours.
Today also saw the arrival of the stewards - the wonderful young people who come to global events like this to discover more about ecumenism and work very hard.
The language service has two great stewards working with us who have an impressive range of languages between them - German, French, Spanish, Armenian. It always lifts us to work with young people who bring new insights and fresh enthusiasm to the work. I hope they are going to blog a bit while they are at central committee. We'll see.
Meanwhile, with another colleague I have also begun painting a 4 metre square peace labyrinth for the international day of prayer for peace - it's a bit crazy, but it's good relaxation from translating, editing, timetabling and coordinating. More about that soon.

The brand new WCC website

The World Council of Churches has launched a new look website. It's still in four languages and gives you access to news, events and background documents about the WCC's work but it now focuses the way in to the work through the key words of Mission, Unity and Service. I think it looks really attractive and I know how hard my colleagues have been working to get it ready, so why not have a look around.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

More on justice and mercy

Today the Scottish government decided to release the person imprisoned for the Lockerbie air attack. I was interested this evening to read this in ENI:

The (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland has said it fully supports a decision taken by the Scottish Government on 20 August to release the convicted Lockerbie bomber, Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi, on compassionate grounds.
"This decision has sent a message to the world about what it is to be Scottish," the Rev. Ian Galloway, convenor of the Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland, said in a statement. "We are defined as a nation by how we treat those who have chosen to hurt us. Do we choose mercy even when they did not choose mercy?"
Galloway said in his statement that the jailed man's release was not about whether a single individual was innocent or guilty.

"Nor is it about whether he had the right to mercy, but whether we as a nation, despite the continuing pain of many, are willing to be merciful. I understand the deep anger and grief that still grips the souls of the victims' families and I respect their views," said the church leader.
"But to them I would say justice is not lost in acting in mercy. Instead, our deepest humanity is expressed for the better. To choose mercy is the tough choice and today our nation met the challenge. We have gained something significant as a nation by this decision. It is a defining moment for us all," said Galloway.
Reading the Church of Scotland's statement really made me think again about the justice and mercy issue, about our human desire to punish others for what they have done, our wish to see others rot because of what we have lost ... set against the gospel imperative.
This is complicated for me, as I've said in a previous post I tend to choose justice over mercy. What I like about the Church of Scotland's statement is that it doesn't try to be too pious, that it sees mercy as giving something more back to all and not just to the individual.
I am though still left wondering, saddened too perhaps by my own (I think righteous) anger that makes me choose justice over mercy in many, many cases. This tries not to be a mercy that doesn't care about the victims, and yet it is a mercy than the families of many victims will find very hard to understand.
Perhaps those of us who hunger and thirst for justice need to recognise that the merciful are also referred to as "blessed" in the Beatitudes:
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Perhaps the gospel imperative is both to justice and to mercy - a mercy that does not allow for impunity and a justice that never forgets the transformative power of forgiveness.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

And here's the great Youtube on prayer from the Church of Sweden

A briliant prayer website from the Church of Sweden

Over the past few days I've been getting a sneak preview of a wonderful new website by the Church of Sweden. Our friend Marianne Ejdersten has been closely involved in managing this project and the launch took place today. She's had more than a full day with press interviews, radio and tv. It's a top story - pray to God now from your mobile. And of course you can pray in languages other than Swedish, there are already contributions in English, Italian and French.
I love the gentle background music on the site and also the really fun way it chinks and chimes as you move your cursor around. If you want to leave a prayer, select the "Skriv bön" ("write a prayer") tab, and then click on "Skicka" (send) when the prayer is completed, after having chosen a church or cathedral for the prayer to be posted in - the church will then appear on the map of Sweden.

Dr B has also written an ENI story about the launch called 'Believers, seekers and cynics' all invited to online prayer site.

"Prayer has no boundaries, specific forms, locations or special language. Anyone can pray, at any time, anywhere and about anything."

Visitors to the Web site can search prayers by keyword and using hyperlinks, and then place a link to the prayers on blogs, or social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter. Together the intercessions form a hyperlinked "universe of prayers" that the church says is the first of its kind in the world ...

The Web page has been launched in advance of churchwide elections on 20 September when about 5.6 million church members are eligible to vote for representatives on governing bodies at various levels from parish councils to the general synod.

The online venture complements a television advertising campaign on prayer that aims to raise awareness about the Church of Sweden and its work in advance of the elections.

A long night in Berlin that changed my life

This post will go up at about 2am on the night of the 17th to the 18th of August.
Twenty years ago today I had arrived in West Berlin. With our friend Horst, Stephen and I decided to see if we could go over to East Berlin for the day. Horst got through faster as he lived in Berlin and we agreed we would meet at the Alex grill. At Friedrichstrasse I insisted on going through first, ahead of Stephen. I waited and waited and he didn't come through. I went through the horrible metal door where you couldn't see the queues or the border guards phoning to check details. I waited. Stephen didn't come. So I set off for Alexanderplatz, found Horst and we waited some more. It was a hot summer's day, children playing in the water. Stephen never arrived. He had been sent back at the border and accompanied by an armed guard back to the S-Bahn to the West.
This was not the first time he had been sent back at the border but there was a finality about this time, up until this attempt there had still been hope. On that day it became clear that he would not be allowed in again probably ever, mainly because of his links to people in the independant peace movement ...
I spent the day in East Berlin, visiting friends we had in common, telling them about Stephen's situation, listening to their concerns and plans for the coming months, discovering that by chance I was going to be spending the next six months in seminary in Wittenberg with one of them.
I didn't go back to the West and to Stephen until much later in the day - something he to this day still can't really understand. He was pretty hyper and upset by the time I got back. Together with out friends we talked for a long time and then the two of us ended up doing alot of talking in our bedroom.
At around 2.0am we got engaged when I somewhat sardonically uttered the words "if you are trying to ask me to marry you then the answer is yes".
So on a day when it became clear that we would almost certainly not see each other much or at all for the next 12 months, we decided to change our lives and link them. Little did we know that it would lead us to end up living like God in France.
I never did get an engagement ring, never really agreed with them anyway. Nearly two years later we got wed and put on some rather good fairly traded anti-apartheid rings, but that's another story.
Somtimes the best decisions are made in the early hours of the morning.
Many waters cannot quench love.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Memorising light and salvation and praying for the Pacific

This morning Faautu Talapusi from Samoa spoke and sang from the heart with great calm and authenticity. She remembered how her parents had made her and her two sisters memorise verses from the Bible each week, she was honest about the resentment she felt. But contemplating the challenges of life today and meditating on Psalm 27, she pointed to two constants, the one fear, the other "light and salvation" or as she put it "God's awesome love". Somehow the gentleness and beauty of the verses she was obliged to learn as a child percolated through with a message of meaning and support.
I was moved as I listened to her because I have met so many people for whom a similar regime of rote learning would have broken their spirit and faith. For Faautu that constrained learning did not lead her to memorise resentment but to memorise light, salvation and love.
She also linked this fear and salvation motif to the challenges facing her region of the world today:

For the Pacific Islands, its churches and communities – there is the constant threat of climate change amongst other things – when the water levels rise to the point that our islands are inundated and uninhabitable what then? How do you deal with a whole country without land, not a single inch of land? Is that still a country? How do you take a culture, its people and identity and transport everything to a foreign land? How do you tell people that they must leave the land that buries their placenta, and their ancestors under water? How does one do this?
I was also moved because this week, as so often during the year praying with the ecumenical prayer cycle, the countries we were remembering were facing current crises or grief. The challenge to all of us is to memorise more light and salvation and less fear as we go through life.
God of mercy – we pray for the people and churches of Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Kanaky and Tahiti. We pray that they continue to bring witness to your Word as they struggle against political instability, economic uncertainty and the consequences of climate change.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Memes, diaries, politics and thinking about the past

As you may have gathered from the rather perfunctory posting here life has rather taken over from blogging. My mother and her partner Martin are visiting us (we are all still at the getting to know you and being very polite stage), Dr B is trying to finish revising the German translation of his doctorate before the end of the month and life at work is no less busy than usual.
Today I finally got around to digging out my GDR diary from the cupboard and spent some time reading what I wrote 20 years ago. It was rather a surprising read, much more personal than I remembered. My comment to Dr B was that the diary seems to mainly be about alcohol, sex and politics, "Oh don't worry" he said "you can always edit it ... and get rid of all the politics". It is quite a shock to discover that I obviously was once young. Meanwhile I do sometimes think that my life has had all the politics edited out of it, I miss being active in a meaningful political way.
Then finally getting back to reading my favourite blogs I discovered that I was tagged on a meme by David Ker a week ago already. Bizarrely the passage he wants his blogosphere friends to share their thoughts about also figures in the background to one of the more lurid passages of my diary. I think that the only time I have heard the passage of the children being mauled by bears in 2 Kings 2:23-24 preached on was in East Berlin a month after the wall came down. David, in my bad girl way I will try and get to your bad boy Bible study sometime this week.
In my rather bad girl diary from 20 years ago, as well as encountering my wild younger self in a form I would rather not remember it was interesting to read musings and rants on prayer, ecology, life, the church and liturgy very similar to what I write here. With a bit of judicious editing to protect individuals I'll try and start posting it in real time from October 4th when I began to write it.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Talkin' about a (peaceful) revolution ...

How to make a revolution. Take a bunch of candles, some prayers and some Taizé chants. Encourage people to come together in small groups to pray for peace to write about peace to talk about how to build peace in a violent world. A warning: it may take years, decades even but every little humanising effort can make a contribution.
Twenty years ago in East Germany that is how it started. Yet actually it began long before. People kept civil society as alive as they could by refusing to bear arms during their military service, or by organising telephone trees if someone got arrested, by meeting in peace, ecology or women's groups, by writing undergound papers and journals, by keeping contacts outside their own context alive, by refusing to take the state "Jugendweihe", by going to church, by organising crazy activities like trying to keep a real tally of how many people really voted in the undemocratic elections or measuring the polution from a chemical factory, by refusing to keep their minds closed even if the borders of their country were.
Today many of those who were the key actors at the forefront and also behind the scenes of East Germany's peaceful revolution are still doing ordinary jobs, raising families, looking after churches, organisations, people ... Some have gone into politics but many are still working at the local level. Even though the system has changed they are still trying to keep the flames of civil society alive, just because walls and barbed wire iron curtains come down does not mean that a country's social tissue doesn't need to be worked on. Just because you have the privilege to live in a democracy doesn't mean your only contribution to civil society is when you vote.
20 years ago this weekend Dr B and I set off for Berlin from Brussels. I was about to live through an extraordinary year. Without those previous decades in the GDR of many people bearing witness to other truths, sometimes in quiet and humble ways, sometimes in creative and confrontational ways, then the extraordinary developments of 1989 could never have been.
Listening to the depressing and sad news from Burma in recent days and weeks, Aung San Suu Kyi's trial and further imprisonment, I have been hoping and praying that the efforts of all those working for the good of civil society there may also one day be celebrated. Maybe some of them will also live to see real fruits of their courageous attempts to continue building civil society. Resistance has been deeply costly for many of them.
It doesn't take much to change things for the better - every little humanising effort does play its role. Yet it also takes so much ... courage, commitment, resistance, belief, motivation ... and of course time.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Reflection: Have you seen Christ lately?

The following reflection was shared by Emma Halgren at morning prayers today.
You can find the full liturgy here.

Reflection: Have you seen Christ lately?

As the road outback unfolds like a ribbon, I look for the telling signs of a Christ-like figure that matches the road and the image within my mind.
Gnarled old trees bend to usher me on through corrugations and dust and casually I look in case I see the Christ within my mind.
An emu runs with a determined stare followed by several more, ignoring me and my road ahead, passing by until it is no more.
The faded homestead now left empty and bare flickers through the mallee scrub. A house, once a home of laughter and tears, now stands open to the elements and years and still I look for the Christ in my mind: could I possibly see Him here?
The whitened bones of a lonely steer glisten in the heat of the day, discarded and broken though once prized and nurtured; surely I couldn’t see Christ here.
A family of four, wide eyed and expectant, welcome me into their home. Their hopes have been sucked dry by the cancerous drought, as day after day the rains pass them by.
Could it be here that I find the Christ in my mind?
In the distance ahead a ramshackle pub quivers in the heat of the day and in the silence of the bar a knowing nod welcomes me this day.
Words are spoken of good times and hard, a laugh, a curse is mixed with what was needed to say and a departing handshake all cracked and hard sees me on my way. Could this have been the Christ of my mind?
As the night sky closes and the birds call their rest in the dark protective trees and as silence falls in the great outback, I know that I have seen Christ in all of these.
Dennis Cousens
Frontier Services Cunnamulla Patrol

A prayer froma friend leaving Geneva


God our creator and friend,
Let us not take those who are with us today for granted.
Help us to remember that we are only with them for a very short while.
Help us to love them as Jesus loved all those he met,
For he knew that even tomorrow they could be called back to you.

Let me not take these people for granted,
Let me not be blind to all the gifts and talents they have.
Help me to appreciate, especially, the simple things they do
-the sound of their voice,
-the jokes and stories they share,
-the work they’ve done for others.

May the hard things they do to me not cause me to forget that down inside they are good,
created in the image of God.
Give me the strength to always seek out that which is good in each person.

Help me always to remember my own giftedness,
To focus not only on my weakness but also on all the good in me, for I too was created in your image!

Help me to remember that each person here is a gift that has been loaned to me for only a short while.

Adapted from: E. Hays, “Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim” p.196 (adapted from an Aztec prayer)

Monday, 10 August 2009

ANZAC biscuits and Maori chanting on St Laurence's Day

It's the summer and many colleagues at work are on holiday but prayers in the chapel have continued and have been enriching these summer days for those of us who are around and able to get out of bed in time to attend.
This week the ecumenical prayer cycle moves to Australian and New Zealand and colleagues from that part of the world blended together many elements into a moving a stimulating service which included some wonderful Maori chanting and some great modern songs celebrating creation.
In the reflection Revd Michael Wallace first invited us to remember St LaurenceOne of the seven deacons in Rome during the time of Pope Sixtus the second, Laurence was in charge of distribution of alms to the poor. In 258, the emperor Valerian put to death numerous priests and deacons. When Pope Sixtus was beheaded in this persecution, the prefect of Rome demanded that Lawrence surrender to him the riches of the Church.
Lawrence asked the prefect for three days to gather together the church’s wealth. He then worked swiftly to distribute as much Church property as possible to the poor. On the third day he presented himself to the prefect, and when ordered to give up the treasures of the Church, he presented the poor, the crippled, the blind and the suffering and said, "Behold the treasures of the Church!"
This act of defiance led directly to his martyrdom on August 10th.
Lawrence defied the oppressive power of his day. In spite of the threat of death he kept his focus on serving Christ and his people. Even though the church lost a deacon it gained encouragement to resist the powers of evil. Laurence is remembered for his courage and his focus on not only serving but also valuing the poor.

There was also a powerful reflection on how the church can begin to speak to young people who gather in churches particularly on ANZAC day, moved by stories of those who died in wars far away from home nearly a century ago. What Christian message do we want to share with them?

The fragility of our cultures creates a situation where the demands and values of commerce can override everything else. Commerce threatens to fill the space of culture and religion, and sideline history and shared meaning.
Yet in this context a powerful spiritual yearning still arises. Despite their highly secular worldview and alienation from faith, people want to be part of an heroic and inspiring story, to believe in the kind of self-sacrifice that is displayed in the life of St. Laurence and Blessed Mary McKillop.
At the end of the service we were offered ANZAC biscuits. A sign of women's frugal work for peace.
Find the full order of worship here.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

And 20 years ago this weekend ...

Twenty years ago this weekend I set off for Brussels to spend a week with DR B in Brussels before setting off for Berlin together and the beginning of my East German adventure. I know that when I crossed the border into East Berlin later in August I had far too much luggage but I have absolutely no memory of how I got to Brussels nor what I did with all that luggage - surely I must have sent it on ahead to Berlin? Interesting what we remember and what we don't. I have no memory of leaving Oxford and London for Brussels, but I clearly remember setting out from Brussels for Cologne to spend the day with my parents who were on holiday there.
I should really by now have prepared some posts for Holy Disorder for later this month as I shall not have time to add much in upcoming weeks as life will be very busy at work, and my mother and Martin are arriving for a week. We'll see what I manage. Meanwhile Dr B has been writing quite alot - inbetween the long hard slog of revising the German translation of his thesis.

Walking the labyrinth

I walked the grass labyrinth which has been cut into the lawn in Crêt Bérard this morning - it was rather lovely with mist rising over the alps and Swiss cows grazing nearby. There is something wonderfully reassuring and calming about the sound of cow bells. Everything was green and watered by the huge thunderstorm we had on Friday night. The particular labyrinth they have cut into the grass is based on one at Sens in France (that name makes me smile as "sens" is not just a place name but also has the sense of "meaning").

The Crêt Bérard labyrinth is set out in front of a lovely old oak tree. It's discreet and you can miss it if you don't know it's there. It was wonderful to lose myself in its meandres and turns, thinking for a moment that I was getting to the centre just after starting, then being surprised once I truly reached the centre that it still took a long time to get back out again. It was a very gentle 20 minutes - plein de sens!

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Trying to understand along with the angels

Since beginning to study theology I rather deserted the Good News translation of the Bible into English. Last night I was asked to read 1 Peter 1.1-12 in English at evening prayer in Crêt Bérard and they only had the Good News Bible in English (printed in China of course!). I was more than pleasantly surprised at how well it read. I particularly liked verse 12: "These are things which even the angels would like to understand." It made me smile as I read it, a verse which could sum up the whole Bible!
It so happens that I prefer the French equivalent of the Good News Bible La Bible en français courant, for both public reading and private devotions. Perhaps I shall have to go back and rediscover the GNB in English too.

Random thoughts on Mark 5.34

I am interrpeting this weekend for a group of pastors and church related community workers at the wonderful Crêt Bérard centre on the hilly above Lake Geneva just outside Lausanne.

Ginny Klein from the USA tries to encourage people to think about how the unconscious judgemental and perfect child in each of us can get in the way when we're are in counselling relationships with people, and more particularly in daily life! Learning to leave off beating yourself up for not being perfect.
So in this context what does your translation of the second part of Mark 5.34 say? Is it a plague, a scourge, an affliction, illness or perhaps even a whip that best translates the Greek mastigos, mastix?
One of the group leaders today came up with a fairly free translation into French "Go in peace and don't take your whip with you."
I love these little bits of translation things that come up, I know though that they will stick in my brain somewhere. A bit like crumbs of html code!

Friday, 7 August 2009

"Remember the ladies"

To end the week of prayers for the USA and Canada Theodore Gill shared this wonderful quote with us during prayers this morning.

From a letter of Abigail Adams to her husband John Adams
as he helped to frame the Declaration of Independence in 1776:
• Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.
• Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember all men would be tyrants if they could.
• If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.
• It is really mortifying, sir, when a woman possessed of a common share of understanding considers the difference of education between the male and female sex, even in those families where education is attended to... Nay why should your sex wish for such a disparity in those whom they one day intend for companions and associates. Pardon me, sir, if I cannot help sometimes suspecting that this neglect arises in some measure from an ungenerous jealousy of rivals near the throne.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

A reading for Hiroshima Day

Our colleague Theodore Gill has been leading an extraordinarily powerful series of morning prayers this week. You can find today's order here. This morning's historical reading was this:

The opening of Hiroshima, by John Hersey (1946)
"At exactly fifteen minutes past eight in the morning, on August 6, 1945, Japanese time, at the moment when the atomic bomb flashed above Hiroshima, Miss Toshiko Sasaki, a clerk in the personnel department of the East Asia Tin Works, had just sat down at her place in the plant office and was turning her head to speak to the girl at the next desk. At that same moment, Dr. Masakazu Fujii was settling down crosslegged to read the Osaka Asahi on the porch of his private hospital, overhanging one of the seven deltaic rivers which divide Hiroshima; Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamura, a tailor's widow, stood by the window of her kitchen, watching a neighbor tearing down his house because it lay in the path of an air-raid-defense fire lane; Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge, a German priest of the Society of Jesus, reclined in his underwear on a cot on the top floor of his order's three-story mission house, reading a Jesuit magazine, Stimmen der Zeit; Dr. Terufumi Sasaki, a young member of the surgical staff of the city's large, modern Red Cross Hospital, walked along one of the hospital corridors with a blood specimen for a Wassermann test in his hand; and the Reverend Mr. Kiyoshi Tanimoto, pastor of the Hiroshima Methodist Church, paused at the door of a rich man's house in Koi, the city's western suburb, and prepared to unload a handcart full of things he had evacuated from town..."

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

"Tainted" communion ...

Just over a week ago I celebrated communion. Week in, week out in my last parish appointment I celebrated communion at least twice a week and frequently more often. My vocation is to the word and sacrament. Of course many in the church throughout the world still use scripture to dispute a woman speaking, preaching or celebrating. Over the past ten days I have horrified at the story of "reserved untainted communion" being available at Blackburn cathedral to those who don't want to receive communion that has been consecrated by a woman.
Claims about this being about "trying to be inclusive" and "all being done very discreetly" are quite frankly a travesty of the eucharist. And they still dare to say "This do in remembrance of me" ...?
There is also an international ecumenical aspect to this. Blackburn is in a "local ecumenical partnership" (an LEP) with the German Protestant Landeskirche of Braunschweig. Sometimes I hear "ecumenism" (in this context usually relations with the Roman Catholic Church) being used as an excuse to not progress with women's ordination, to ministry, priesthood or as bishops. Interesting isn't it that noone seems to worry over much about what theologically dubious, "discreet" measures like this may have on ecumenical relations.

You can read more about it in David Watkinson's article from the Lancaster Telegraph:

CATHEDRAL bosses have been criticised for offering “untainted” Communion bread for those who object to it being consecrated by a woman priest.

Opponents in the church have branded giving those who object to women priests the alter-native of Communion bread consecrated by a man as “unacceptable and disgraceful”.

Blackburn Cathedral has introduced the choice in the wake of the installation of Dr Sue Penfold as a residentiary canon.

The cathedral’s canon, Andrew Hindley, defended the arrangement.

He said: “It was agreed by all the clergy and cathedral chapter that this was the best way to handle what we call a mixed economy.”

He said the congregation could choose whether to receive Communion blessed by Dr Penfold, or Communion blessed by a male priest, at the main cathedral service on Sundays at 10.30am.

Canon Hindley added: “The position of the Dean and the Bishop is well known.

"This situation is not ideal, but we are trying to be inclusive.”

He said Dr Penfold was appointed to Blackburn Cathedral to reflect the “broad views” of the Church of England.

An announcement was made to worshippers when the policy was introduced last year, but the policy is implemented in a “very discreet manner”, according to Canon Hindley.

But Sally Barnes, from the group Women and the Church (WATCH), said: “To turn it into a buffet is unacceptable and disgraceful.

“Women are being labelled as tainted.

“Women are not tainted, but the hierarchy of the church is not able to grapple with this.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Word of the day l'auberge espagnole

It is no secret that I am not a tidy person. My other quite particular and tidy translator colleagues doubtless despair of my mess sometimes. However, all it takes is a visit to my husband's office to see mine as a fairly orderly space. (He'll probably edit that last sentence to oblivion within moments of reading this!)
"Auberge espagnole" is one of those nationalistic little phrases that get into languages - like to take French leave (the equivalent in French being to take English leave - filer à l'anglaise). The implication is that a Spanish hostel or inn would be a bit chaotic, a bit of a hodgepodge, a place where you have to take pot luck (by the way a pot luck supper in French is called a repas canadien).
I have also seen the term auberge espagnole used as a congretational model for churches - not trying to be all things to all people but trying to offer different ways in to faith and being church. Of course it appealed to me - perhaps a subtitle to be blog should be auberge espagnole, what a shame I don't speak the language!
Since my time at the CEC assembly I've been pondering what an auberge espagnole model of communication might look like. As we set up the communications work for the assembly I was quite excited by the fact that we had freedom to try and get messages about the assembly out there. It was fun to encourage people to blog or tweet - to offer thoughts, concerns, campaigns or groans and not try to control or santise things. It was very energising and generated quite a creative space that may have looked chaotic but actually led to everyone working as a team on the different parts that made up the whole.
In terms of the work I have been doing on leadership I suppose it's a bit like the three-ringed circus. It's very different from the control approach to communication - of which I suppose the Lambeth conference last year would be a prime example. (I leave Dr B to comment on that as he was there and found it extremely frustrating.)
Of course any good communicator will need a bit of both - a bit of the auberge espagnole approach and a bit of the control approach. The control approach can unfortunately have its roots in fear and sometimes leads to never daring to communicate anything. The auberge espagnole approach could be seen as muddled and it does rely on high levels of trust within the team.
Whether choosing a control or an auberge espagnole model for the work that's being done, working on building trust in congregations or organisations of any kind is never wasted. As I begin to contemplate the writing of my diploma for the Craighead Institute I am more and more interested in the role of "intangibles" like trust, confidence and motivation in organisations. Vision, leadership and integrity of purpose can offer inspiration for generating trust and other intangibles. I suppose that may not sound like the picture of a church near you, but I'm learning that even healthy organisations are not perfect!

I go to morning prayer to pray, have my horizons widened and learn new things

This week through the ecumenical prayer cycle we are praying for Canada and the United States. This morning the focus was on Canada. We listened to a recording of the wonderful Huron carol translated by Jean de Brébeuf, prayed some wonderful and very funny words by Karl Barth, listened to verses from John's gospel. In preparation for the gospel reading we listened to an extract from Stephen Neill's, A History of Christian Missions, The Penguin History of the Church 2nd edition (US printing), Penguin, New York and London, 1986, p.171

A veil of romance has concealed from the world what life among the Indians was really like. With noble courage they combined unbelievable squalor, treachery, and bestial cruelty. Conditions of life for the missionaries were miserable; communications were so difficult that at one time the rule had to be made that no more than three drops of wine could be allowed for each Mass. The constant wars between the Indians threatened the peace of the mission. In 1642 Father Isaac Jogues was captured by the Iroquois and brutally tortured. He managed to escape, but in 1646 returned among them, saying Ibo et non redibo, “I shall go but not return”. His prophecy was true; on 18 October 1646 he was murdered, to be followed the next day by the young layman, Jean de la Lande, who was his companion. Worse was to follow. In 1649-40 the Iroquois fell on the Hurons and practically exterminated them; the three Jesuit missionaries Brébeuf, Lalemant, and Garnier were tortured and burned alive. This was practically the end of the mission. Various further attempts at missionary work were made throughout the area which is now Canada and the United States, but with little lasting success. The missionaries were, in fact, watching the tragedy of the red man. Neither Britain, France, nor Holland comes well out of this.
The inhuman cynicism with which the white man engaged the Indian in his own
quarrels, setting Indian against Indian and Indian against European, makes one of the most shameful passages of colonial history. To make things worse, “drink and the devil had done for the rest”; the Indian could not resist the temptation of the white man’s fire-water, and here as elsewhere the supply of alcohol to a primitive people was almost tantamount to deliberate murder.

Find the ful order of morning prayer here, recommended for Barth's prayer if nothing else which includes the inimitable lines:

Be the Lord of the well-fed and of the underfed,
and also of those who are called to speak and write,
whether they produce creations that are good or not so good.

If tonight I learn how to transfer the audio files from my Nokia we might even be able to offer podcasts of morning prayer soon. However, I susupect this may require technological skill I do not yet have ...

Bread is perishable

To hunger and thirst for righteousness is to recognize our neighbour’s hunger as well as our own. It is essential for us to keep in mind that a loaf of bread has no purpose in itself. Bread is meant to be shared – blessed, broken and given to the imperfect and undeserving – so that we, the imperfect and undeserving, may be transformed. Bread is to be offered in Jesus’ name to neighbours and even to enemies, for it is intended for all the world.
You can read the notes for Theodore Gill's sermon on the Bread of Life here.

Monday, 3 August 2009

The bread of life - a daily challenge and promise

My friend and colleague Theodore Gill preached on the "bread of life" this morning. It was a good sermon with much food for thought - so to say.
We had a large ecumenical group of visitors from Stuttgart in prayers this morning. Next year the Lutheran World Federation will hold its assembly in Stuttgart on the theme "Give us today our daily bread". Theo underlined how important the communal theme is - "our" daily bread not "my" daily bread. Like the manna that the Hebrew people gathered in the desert, bread is also highly perishable.
I managed to record Theo's sermon on my new gadget - now I just need to get all my different gadets speaking to one another and I might even be able to post it as a podcast - if I can remember how to access my box file. Ah the trials of blogging and the technical age! Perhaps Theo will just give me his notes ...
Meanwhile you can find this morning's liturgy here and a link to the splendid LWF cookbook "Food for Life".

Word of the day "la peopolisation"

The weekend Le Monde which was waiting for us in our letter box this evening has the most wonderful word "peopolisation" on its front page. I am sure this cannot be a word that has got past the Académie française and although I do think I have heard it before I had not seen it written down. I love that the French version of an English word (that of course does not exist!) is spelled as the French would say it rather than according to the outre mer anglophone spelling conventions:
"Les People" (celebrities) becomes "la peopolisation" (the celebritisation?).
The word gave me great pleasure when I saw it today, yes it is sad to be a word spotter, but this neologism shows just how much celebrity as a concept and a value is changing not just our culture and our values but even language itself.
Arte, the brilliant Franco- German tv channel is running a programme on how the private life of politicians is invading the public sphere. Given the antics of Berlusconni and Sarkozy recently this is perhaps not entirely surprising, the serious point is that "celebrity" serves the same purpose that Marx once assigned to religion - the opium of the people. Celebrity culture distracts us from the real political issues, we learn to care more about who is sleeping with whom, what brand of trainers they wear, where they take their holidays, and other often quite interminable trivial nonsense. Meanwhile debate about what kind of society we might want to build or be part of is sidelined. We are too busy aspiring to have our moment on the red-carpet or in the limousine, wanting to be one of the super rich ... and feeling rather dissatisfied and unhappy with our ordinary non-celebrity lives.
So are you one of the "Peopol" or are you happy just being a human being?

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Look into your neighbour's eyes or walk on by in fear?

There are things I really like about living in a smallish place in France. One is that when you go out for a walk people you don't know at all will greet you with a "bonjour madame, bonjour monsieur" as you walk past. It makes for a slightly more sense of belonging that the rather more standoffish British way where you might just marginally acknowledge someone as you go past.

I thought about this last week at the end of Bossey's interreligious summer school while listening to two young women - one from Palestine one from Israel. The young Jewish woman spoke about how difficult she often finds it walking down the street in the area of Jerusalem where she lives. She wants to be able to reach out in peace to all. Despite her work in peace-building she recognized every time she was on a particular street just how hard, how impossible it is for her to meet the eyes of others on the street, to greet them with a look or a smile or even words ... the deep sadness she felt at this situation almost led her to even give up the idea of trying to learn with others in an interreligious environment beyond her own.
The young Palestinian woman spoke about how hard it was to know anything about the "other" when you are simply holed up in your own territory and not allowed out. You can see the others you wish to reach out to on the other side of the fence but you cannot reach them. Even if you made a sign to them it might be misinterpreted.
Both of these young women are now back "home" on different sides of the fence, seeking somehow to overcome barriers of mistrust, fear and injustice.
So who will you be walking past today, will you be looking at and acknowledging at them, smiling perhaps? Or will you be walking on by in fear, preoccupation or indifference?
It seems right somehow that the next major seminar in Bossey this summer will be on healing of memories.

Pasteur, pourquoi pas toi?

For nine years I spent one weekend a month in Paris or Montpellier interviewing candidates for the ministry of Reformed Church of France. It was often a humbling experience, it was also very energising to be part of the church's recruiting in this way. So it was fun and also quite moving to see and hear some of the people we interviewed back then speaking on this short video, which tries to encourage people to think about being ministers. Pasteur(e), pourquoi pas toi? So what is the vocation God is calling you to?

Comment devient-on pasteur ? Quelle est leur motivation à faire ce métier ? Au quotidien, comment vivent-ils leur engagement, leur ministère ?

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Those who resist do not speak the same language

A lazy Saturday morning gave me time to go to Ferney's wonderful book shop and to indulge ...
Now I have begun reading Suzanne Césaire's Le grand camouflage and I am fascinated by her feisty and tragic life story and the extraordinary power of her language.
During the second world war she edited the literary journal Tropiques in Martinique with her husband Aimé Césaire. Tropiques was a politico-poetic journal, the formal abstract poetry often needing to be read between the lines and certainly up to the end to get the message. It was finally banned by the Pétainist censors in May 1943 by a censor who had at least read the work. Suzanne Césaire penned their response:
Nous avons reçu votre réquisitionnaire contre Tropiques.
"Racistes, sectaires, révolutionnaires, ingrats et traîtres à la Patrie, empoissoneurs d'âmes" aucune de ces épithètes ne nous répugnent essentiellement.
"Empoissoneurs d'âmes" comme Racine au dire des Messieurs de Port Royal.
"Ingrats et traitres à notre si bonne Patrie", comme Zola au dire de la presse réactionnaire.
"Révolutionnaires", comme l'Hugo des châtiments.
"Sectaires", passionnément comme Rimbaud et Lautréamont.
"Racistes", oui. du racisme de Toussaint Louverture, de Claude Mac Kay and et Langston Hughes, contre celui de Drumont et d'Hitler.
Pour ce qui est du reste, n'attendez de nous ni plaidoyer, ni vaines récriminations, ni discussion même.
Nous ne parlons pas le même langage.

Reading this made me smile and admire the wonderful defiant spirit of the letter. It also made me pause and reflect on my ongoing theme of resistance and a spirituality of resistance. Do those who resist not speak the same language as those they seek to resist? How far do you have to give ground in order to get some of what you want? The situation varies according to the context of resistance - do you compromise to save a life, your job, family, livelihood? One thing I do understand by learning a bit more about Tropiques is the vital rôle of poetry, song, language, the arts and creativity in keeping resistance alive. I would also add prayer to that list, though I am sure Suzanne Césaire would not have. Her daughter Ina writes this of her at the end of the book:

"ma mère militante avide de liberté,
sensible à toutes les douleurs des opprimés,
rebelle à toutes les injustices,
éprise de littérature et férue d'histoire ...
ma mère active féministe avant la lettre ...
ma mère qui croyait plus aux luttes qu'aux larmes ...
à la santé fragile, mais à l'infatigable ténacité .
I should add that although Tropiques included two women on the editorial board it is only recently that Suzanne's own rôle has been more widely recognised - many interviews about Tropiques only ever refer to the more famous men!

Repeating Islands has some interesting background in English to the Césaires and on these writings in particular. Here's an extract:
The essays collected in the volume have a single place of origin-a memorable spring day in April 1942, which the Césaires spent walking on the Absalon forest near the Mont Pelée volcano in northern Martinique with a set of new friends: René Ménil, André Breton, his wife Jacqueline Lamba and their daughter Aube, André Masson, Cuban painter Wifredo Lam and his wife Helena-all of whom later acknowledged that their lives had been changed during that day spent in the moist and luxuriantly tropical forest.