Monday, 30 November 2009

Noah's Ark and Advent liturgy for creation justice

My friend Marie Martel is doing scrapbooking and I told her my only experience of doing scrapbooking was with Remembered Bible earlier this year in Windermere. This gave her an idea and she's just done her first "Bible et scrap" on Noah's Ark. I must ask her for an electronic copy of the text she's used here.
Her scrapbook reminded me that one of the British initiatives for climate justice within the churches is called operation Noah - they're having some financial problems at the moment and need all the support you can give them, but they are still doing excellent work as are the Christian Ecology Link.
At our morning service in the ecumenical centre today we used the 350 drum beats liturgy with prayers from the different regions of the world. It worked very well, weaving a rainbow while listening to the drum beats and praying the Advent antiphones. Towards the end of the service after saying aloud the promise God makes to Noah and lighting the first candle on the Advent wreath, we kept silence, hoping that there would be no more drum beats and that the world would not go beyond the 350 parts per million of carbon.
As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest, cold and heat,
summer and winter, day and night,
shall not cease.’
Gen. 8.22

Sunday, 29 November 2009

On Advent Sunday Switzerland votes on whether minarets can be built

Today Switzerland is voting on whether or not building minarets can be allowed according to the federal constitution. The referendum initiative had been put forward by the extreme right-wing people's party. A great way to pile on the pressure to polarise public opinion. Very clever and very worrying, these days the repurcussions will be felt not only in Switzerland.
The early results seem to indicate that the majority will be in favour of banning the building of minarets. Geneva and the Canton of Vaud seem to be voting in favour of building minarets but the German-speaking cantons are coming out very clearly against.
Perhaps there's still time to hope for a late surge of voters choosing the other options.
Not a good day as Switzerland last week took over the presidency of the Council of Europe. One of the priorities of the sixth month presidency is to be human rights.
There are already four minarets in various parts of Switzerland.

Today is Advent Sunday ...

Resistance - the price of saying no and the springboard of virtue

On this Advent Sunday I have been reading more about resistance as I wait for the coming of God's republic of justice and joy.

Jacques Tarnero in the final essay in the book pictured here recalls Marc Bloch citing how Hitler in Rauschning said "We are right to speculate on human vice rather than human virtue. The French revolution appealed to virtue. We should rather do the opposite..."
Bloch comment on this is "That a French person is to be forgiven for preferring the teaching of Montesquieu's revolution to this message: the popular State needs the springboard of virtue".
Tarnero points out that of course many have also been
killed in the name of virtue. Nevertheless, and despite virtue seemingly being an unfashionable term, he claims that it is the (pre)condition for the very idea of resistance. Without the demands of virtue what would the limits be between what is acceptable and what is intolerable.
He ends his essay with this quote from Adam Michnik written from prison in Poland in 1984:
"Dans la vie de chaque homme vient un moment où pour dire simplement: ceci est noir et ceci est blanc, il faut payer très cher. Ce peut être le prix de la vie. À ce moment le problème principal n'est pas de connaître le prix à payer, mais de savoir si le blanc est blan et le noir noir. Pour cela il faut garder une conscience."

Les éditions autrement have brought out a series called "our values" - there are various titles on justice, friendship, citizenship and the one pictured here on resistance.
The series received support from the French mutual insurance company Macif's cultural foundation.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Is our need for consolation insatiable?

I had a gift token for my local bookshop and my eye was caught this morning by a tiny ACTES SUD publication of a short essay translated into French by the Swedish author Stig Dagerman Notre besoin de consolation est impossible à rassasier - our need for consolation is insatiable.
It's a powerful essay on suicide and the absurdity of life, perhaps not the best thing to read at a time of depression.
Interesting that the English translation of the essay will only be published later this year - the French translation has been around since 1981.
Towards the end of the essay Dagerman reflects that the consolation offered by contemplation of the freedom of the sea is interupted by the reality of having "to turn back to the land and face the organisers of the oppression of which I am victim. And will be forced to recognize that human beings give life forms which, in appearance at least, seem to be stronger than the individual."
He ends by saying that his only consolation is "the memory of liberation which bears me up as on a wing towards a goal which gives me vertigo". (As these are fragmentary translations of a translation do try to quote the official English translation which should be out soon - see below.)

Is our need for consolation insatiable? Probably. Just like our need to be listened to, to be heard, to be respected, to be loved. We too turn back to the land and try to face the demands of life and differentiate between those which are absurd and those which are unavoidable! There is dark humour in Dagerman's essay, in the end neither humour nor the desire for freedom could hold him. He took his own life in 1954, the need for consolation overcame him.

Our Need for Consolation Is Insatiable / Vårt behov av tröst är omättligt … (1952). Translation by Steven Hartman, 2009.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

The prophetic word of god honey or bitter bile?

On Wednesday evenings as the nights grow longer and we progress towards Christmas we are singing Holden evening prayer. It's a glorious, simple moment of pleasure, silence, song and music at the end of the day. Even if you have to live without it it's good to have the memory of singing it, restorative spirituality.
Tonight our readings were from Revelation 10 and Luke 18.18-30 (the story of the rich ruler, the camel and the eye of the needle). Tonight I am still reflecting on the themes of honey on the lips and bitterness in the stomach from the book of Revelation. What does it mean to eat the scroll of the prophetic word and for it to be as honey on the lips yet leaden and bitter in the stomach?
People listened in surprise yet recognition - it was quite a shock to have this passage read out. Yet at the end of the Western church year it was powerful to hear this text of contradiction and to reflect on how to speak truth to power, to the princes and rules of our time. Does a prophetic minstry taste first of all like honey yet turn to stone in the belly - giving us that sinking feeling?

Listening afterwards to story of the rich ruler was doubly powerful. What will we give up to follow Christ? What will we take on? The taste of honey and the bitter digestion of prophetic action?
Perhaps it is easier to not listen to the living word ...

International Day for the Elimination of Violence against women

I woke this morning to news that the Britsh government was putting in place educational programmes on violence against women and girls.
I read a good interview with my colleague Nyambura Njoroge about violence against women in the context of her work on HIV with the churches in Africa.

She recalls the sneers she received in Harare, Zimbabwe, at the 1992 All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) Assembly, when she used the case of Pia Njoki, the woman blinded by her husband in a fit of rage so she wouldn’t see other men. She was accused of washing dirty linen in public.
"We had all cried for Pia. When I wrote my doctoral dissertation, the issue of domestic violence had come up. So what was the dirty linen that I was washing at the Assembly?" she asks.
She was the first Kenyan woman to research and document the contributions of the pioneering Presbyterian Church women who stood up against female genital mutilation in 1928 and later, highlighted the rape of students at St Kizito High School.
"Newspapers are good at covering these issues, but what do we do with those reports to change our society for the better?" she asks.
Not many women realise that sexist, patriarchal traditions, practices and beliefs remain in the church and society. And women’s response to them, even in Church ministry, has been shaped through the eyes of men. Speaking out to offer an alternative perspective then makes one the odd one out and is frowned upon.

I spoke with colleagues about the ongoing power of patriarchy in many international structures.
I learnt about the brilliant idea called circles of names from the NCCUSA. Women not as victims but as role models.
My husband wrote an article today that began:
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu has joined a "Network of Men Leaders" set up by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to combat violence against women.
"You are a weak man if you use your physical superiority to assault and brutalise women," said Tutu in a U.N. video clip to mark the launch of the network for the 10th anniversary on 25 November of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

So what have you been learning on this day, exactly one month before Christmas, a season which in many parts of the world sees a big rise in reports of "domestic violence". Maybe you think it's just political correctness and the situation is not so bad. Of course that's the problem, because it's "domestic" it's hidden, "we shouldn't judge what goes on inside a marriage" which of course is an easy way of siding with injustice in such situations.
In the same way we shrug our shoulders at stories of women raped as part of war and conflict. Margot Kässmann has also come out today and stressed how unacceptable this is. So is anyone listening, have you begun to change the way you behave, are you encouraging men you know to join the white ribbon campaign or ist all a bit too embarassing and "domestic" to mention in polite company?

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Drum beats, bell ringing, musical notes, bead-threading - act for climate justice

Listen to the drumbeat of creation, weave a rainbow, act now for climate justice make the world leaders hear!
The seven days of creations were the inspiration for the liturgy we've just posted online. 350 drumbeats, 50 for each of the seven days of creation. After each day is read out from Genesis so also one of the great Advent Antiphones is read. Colleagues from different regions of the world have written cries and hopes of and for climate justice.

Here are cries and hopes from the Pacific:

Atua! Your Pacific people call out to you, even as the waters continue to rise...
hear our prayer, we who trust in your love!
Atua! Your Pacific people call out to you, even as our land disappears before our eyes...
hear our prayer, we who hope in your love!
Atua! Our strength! Our life! Our love!

Meanwhile the Danish Council of Churches have put together a great liturgy for bellringing including a powerful hymn by Torsten Borbye Nielsen called bells of the world and an English translation by Edward Broadbridge. They've also got a specially commissioned piece of music with 350 notes in it. A stimulus to creativity - will you be ringing bells, threading beads, beating drums, singing hymns - to get the world to hear the case for climate justice?

Here's the two final verses of the hymn:

For though we know
we should rise higher,
we are consumed by our desire;
hear how our earth, ravaged, consumed,
calls for our care, or we are doomed.
May we free Earth from its pain;
give us hope that once again
Your will be done.

In hope and faith
we shall not cease
striving to make a world at peace,
for all that lives, from pole to pole,
from east to west, from soul to soul.
Lord, our God, whose mighty Word
then and now and shall be heard,
renew our Earth!

Monday, 23 November 2009

Does ecumenism make you feel at home or does it challenge you?

One of the themes I return to as I take groups of visitors around the ecumenical centre is the theme of being at home and being challenged.
When I first walked into the chapel in the Ecumenical Centre my first reaction was "oh this is like home". I should explain that I grew up - church wise at least - in what is known as a local ecumenical project. Churches came together and built a new building as part of a brand new town centre shopping complex. In it Methodists, United Reformed and Anglicans could worship together, it was open to the community and part of the life of the town. I hadn't realised that our church council came to Geneva before building work began to have a look at the chapel. Not surprising that the layout of the place I worshiped most Sundays was so similar to the chapel of the place I work at the moment, nor that I should feel at home in it.
That sense of being at home can also speak about how at home we feel with ecumenism.
However, if I feel at home in a space will I then assume that everyone else should, will I even notice that some don't feel at home, if some feel at home do they take all the available space, who might be excluded? If I am busy feeling at home - will I even notice the challenge that comes from others who worship Christ differently from me? Without the challenge that comes from seeing that other Christians think, pray and practise their faith differently from the way I do perhaps no glimmer of ecumenical understanding is possible. Today I often wonder what it means when I, a middle aged, rich woman from the dying churches of the North, feel at home in the ecumenical space - be it the chapel, a meeting or an event. If I maintain my presence in the ecumenical space who might not want to come in, who would feel very uncomfortable? Does it also condemn ecumenism to being something taht is dying?
Lots of questions.
When it was first built the ecumenical centre chapel was really quite Reformed, certainly quite Protestant. Gradually several icons, an inconostasis, an Indian oil lamp, an Armenian cross and much more besides have come into that space. The iconostasis in particular was a real challenge to some Protestant sensibilities when it first came in (I remember Fred Kaan moaning to me about it when he knew we were moving to Geneva).
On the positive side I suppose the Protestant space could be seen as open - a canvass open to all to add their influences. Yet I do wonder alot about many of the assumptions behind that. Assuming that the Protestant space can essentially be adapated to be an ecumenical space is quite a dangerous supposition. Do we suppose we are somehow more "naturally ecumenical"? I know how cross I sometimes get in France when Catholicism expresses itself in a way that assumes it is the only ecumenical space available or when the Church of England assumes that other churches don't need to be taken into account much. Perhaps as a Protestant part of the challenge is that I need to be able to see how unecumenical I can be too.
I suppose what I'm trying to say is that it is sometimes hard to hold on to the dynamic ecumenical interface of feeling at home and feeling challenged - being sure enough of oneself to want to encounter others and be challenged by them.
Understanding and unity are important. For them to have any chance of flourishing we need to come up against and alonside one another. As we open ourselves up to feeling at home and challenged by one another we need to keep our eyes open to notice who is not there. We need to realise that the way we converse and do business in the ecumenical space excludes many.
So are you at home or challenged ecumenically?

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Copenhagen - lies and truth ...

As I listen to the media preparing us for nothing much out of the Copenhagen, and despair, I came across this quote:

Man darf die Wahrheit,
nicht immer auf den neusten Stand der Lüge bringen.

One should not always take truth to the most up to date level that lies have reached ...

By that famous author "Anon".
Like Cassandra those who tell truth are often not listened to, and yet we try to hope ...

Friday, 20 November 2009

Will light dawn in CERN's tunnels as they switch on the HADRON collider once more?

As I came back from the bakery this evening I was having problems just seeing to the other side of the road - the Genevan fog is out tonight with a vengeance. Some of our neighbours work as physicists at CERN and I nearly bumped into one as she was leaving in a hurry and great excitement to get to the laboratory - the fog really is bad.
Here's hoping that the scientists will not be in the fog as they turn on and test the Hadron collider in the tunnels beneath us tonight and over the weekend. Perhaps some glimmerings of understanding will begin to shine through the fog of information, figures and results that the experiments will generate. Anyway I hope it's not another big switch off because of over-heating magnets. Perhaps someone will be bringing home news of the elusive Higgs boson through the above-ground fog.
I do wonder though whether all this underground high tech activity and overload on the local electricity and commications infrastructure might not be the reason for our rather flaky high-speed broadband connection at the moment. Probably not. The real reason for that is the non-service agreement any internet provider seems to write in invisible yet indellible ink into all contracts - "No we won't sort out any problems but we will go on charging you. Merci!" In this household at least the future is certainly not france telecom Orange. I really want a sort of organic, wind-generated and fairly traded broadband connection - or maybe generated by the heat from my compost bin, or driven by the enzymes the worms in it produce - is it too much to ask scientists to look into this?
Not sure that finding the Higgs boson would even resolve the crazy issues I have! But hey let's focus on the meaning of life, the dawn of time and the God particle. After all we need some relief from the post-service economy global monopoly capitalism seems to offer. Maybe that's all religion can try to do too!

Twenty years ago today I was crossing Checkpoint Charlie

Dr B and I were still the only couple separated by the fallen Berlin wall. You can read about it over on Holy Disorder.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Religion gives you fever - and plenty to read

The much awaited issue of Philosophie magazine on the gospels, Paul and revelation has made its way to our household. It's a splendidly eclectic selection of short articles by philosophers on biblical themes. Stanislas Breton says that Western religion gives you fever "the Bible which is the book of humanity also justifies holy wars".
I was really attracted to the title of Vladimir Jankélévitch's article which is "Felix Culpa!" - how can joy be born out of sin. It's an interesting reflection on guilt.
I shall also open up some of the Paul Ricoeur on our shelves upstairs having read the short extract here called "tales of normality" referring to the new testament parables and saying how these normal stories open up the extraordinary.
I'm also looking forward to reading Rosa Luxemburg writing about John Chrysostom and looking at why Christianity failed to bring about the revolution.
Anyway lots of great bits and pieces here to make me think I might one day have time to follow up on some of this ... perhaps there will be time for philosophy if I make it to retirement!

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

An evening on the role of the churches in the GDR at the Eglise Réformée in Ferney Voltaire

On Friday evening this week Stephen and I will return to our former residence at 13 rue de Gex here in Ferney where Stephen will do a presentation/discussion on the role of the churches in the fall of the Berlin Wall and I will read some extracts from my diary - translated into French. Of course you can go on reading his reflections in English on Holy Disorder. But if you speak French and are in Ferney on Friday evening the Temple Protestant in just 5 minutes up the hill from Voltaire's statue.

Venez nous rejoindre!

Cette semaine, nous avons beaucoup entendu parler des événements du novembre 1989 en Allemagne. Mais que savons nous sur le rôle important qu'avaient joué les églises d'Allemagne d'Est avant cet changement?

Le journaliste Stephen Brown vivait en RDA dans les années 1983/1984 et en était témoin. Il a consacré ses recherches à cette influence et a obtenu son doctorat pour ce travail. Stephen Brown nous présentera cette période d'histoire le vendredi 20 novembre à vingt heures au
presbytère de Ferney Voltaire.

Blogs - for daily bread and greater campaigning solidarity

This week the WCC is holding its UN advocacy week in New York, alot of my colleagues from Geneva will be there. However to get a fuller picture of some of the international work involving campaigning by NGOs and others at the UN I've been reading the Ecumenical Women at the United Nations blog for quite a while. There are some fascinating posts there - you can find posts from Cambodia, Kenya and the Middle East among other places: comparing the role of women disciples of Jesus and female followers of Martin Luther King; about female condoms, child brides, shopping and fashion justice, the rich poor divide and much more besides. A few months ago the blog adverstised for new writers and as a result posting is much more regular and more diverse than in the past. It's a useful window onto international campaigns but with personal insights from the authors.
One of the new writers there is Paola Salwan, Programme Assistant for Africa, the Middle East and Europe at the World YWCA and co-founder of the blog Café Thawra, Her blog is in French and English and offers insights into Middle East issues - a special dossier on the Lebanese communist party, where the left is in Middle East politics, as well as promotion of social entrepreneurship.
The Women's desk at the Lutheran World Federation is preparing for next year's LWF assembly with a blog on Give us Today our Daily Bread. As the women in ministries network prepares to meet on the theme of food for the soul perhaps someone would like to write something for their blog. As the issue of food security moves up the world agenda how do women, who grow, harvest and prepare much of the food eaten in the world, think about food justice and spirituality. I'll admit that as a woman who has spent most of her life eating far too much the "stuffed and starved" agenda is one I find particularly challenging. What does the promise of the heavenly banquet mean to those of us who live in permanent food plenty? Lots of issues around food will develop on the blog as preparations for the assembly in July next year advance, so why not drop by from time to time and join the discussions?
(this is a cross post from the Women in Ministries blog)

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

How to get rid of Nicolas Sarkozy? A passing thought ...

Reports are coming in this week of Ségolène Royal sacking her closest aid on her wing of the French socialist party - after a huge row. That wing of the party was apparently called espoir à gauche, hmm perhaps nul espoir à gauche is more fitting - the hopelessness of the left. There really does seem no hope for the left to gain power in France ... or maybe there is...
This evening Dr B has come up with a cunning plan and a unity candidate. The only person he reckons could really bring people on the French left together is Danny the Red - also known as Daniel Cohn Bendit, a fascinating and rather fun idea because he has the potential to get support from the far left to the centrists. He's a clever campaigner too.
It probably wouldn't work though, because people will prefer Sarkozy's venality, celebrity and nepotism.
Anyway if Danny does stand as the Left's unity candidate remember you heard it here first!

Advent liturgies, prayers and songs on the theme of peace

"Telling peace"some new resources for Advent on the theme of peace have just been posted to WCC website. This year the material was prepared in Asia. There is music to listen to and learn all available under creative commons license.
Included are liturgies for the four Sundays of Advent and worship outlines, prayers and ideas. The music is available in MP3 and pdf format.
You can also access last year's Imagine Peace material which was prepared in Latin America.

Monday, 16 November 2009

The Archbishop of Canterbury on human well-being and economic decision-making

Rowan Williams has been giving a lecture today at the TUC Economics Conference. Its powerful stuff - as almost everything Williams writes is. Here's an extract which struck me particularly as we heard today that in Copenhagen a binding decision on climate change may not be possible:

'In reality', writes Kenny Tang, a leading Asian expert in sustainable development, 'there are only two sources of wealth in the world today: the wealth that flows from our use of the Earth's resources and ecosystems, all powered by incoming solar radiation (our natural capital); and the wealth that flows from the use of our hands, brains and spirits (our human capital)' (CRISISnomics, Credit and Climate, p.114). It is a sharp reminder that exactly the same threat lies ahead in both the ecological context and the human – the exhaustion of resources, the depletion of natural capital and the shrinking of human capital by the abuse of brain and spirit that results from social fragmentation and from personal stress and lostness in inhuman patterns of working.

Word of the day "Tankstelle für die Seele"

epd reports that a second motorway church may be inaugurated on the A9 in Germany. This time it is a Roman Catholic Tankstelle für die Seele that is being planned. The phrase made me smile as I'm sure someone had alot of pleasure coming up with it. "A filling station for the soul" would be a translation I suppose, I like the idea, perhaps because I have spent most of the day beginning to sort out various medical matters. I could do with a filling station for both body and spirit!

Using literature to understand organisations and selling experience

The two most important things I learnt on my course in Rome were: that poetry may contribute more to understanding organisations than scientific description can and that organisations have emotional lives - they can be depressed, harrassing, passive, aggressive, well-balanced, manic, joyful, laid back etc.
Over the weekend I've been reading a fascinating essay in The Expressive Organisation by Barbara Czarniawska "Identity lost or identity found? Celebration and Lamentation over the Postmodern view of identity in social science and fiction". It really encourages people who are thinking about organisations to use new models, expecially those from literature and the social sciences.
She ends by supporting the ironic view of understanding organisations (or perhaps life?). Irony as an interpretational tool for understanding organisaitons is actually even more liberating than poetry for me!

I stand by the ironists and shall draw support from Anthony Giddens who says 'in general, whether in personal life or in broader social milieu, processes of reappropriation and empowerment intertwine with expropriation and loss.' It is not up to us to make the final count, but to depict and interpret the phenomena of the postmodern era. In order to be able to do that, we have to abandon time-honoured frames of reference and look for new ones, not out of disrespect, but out of curiosity, to better catch up with the times.
She also cites the work in the book picutred here, saying that today it is all about selling experience and memory - fascinating ...The Experience Economy: Work Is Theater & Every Business a Stage

Sunday, 15 November 2009

The German twitter Bible gives an insight into the best known parts of the Bible

So Dr B has returned from his 20th anniversary tour of East Germany and Berlin with a copy of Und Gott chillte - which is the whole Bible tweeted in German. I've been reading the introduction and it's interesting, though not so surprising to see that there are favourite bits of the Bible which got tweeted again and again. The challenge for was to get the whole Bible tweeted - even the more obscure bits - as part of the world record earlier this year.
In the end more than 3000 of us contributed tweets - including Dr B and myself. Tweeting in German is quite a challenge as German words are of course longer!
Anyway the introduction to the twitter Bible says that as they started tweeting at the Kirchentag it became obvious that people wanted to tweet the creation story, Noah's ark, the birth of Jesus and passages from the Song of Solomon. Isaiah was apparently not on the favourites list. Interesting that we create our own Bibles which are a reduced version of the original.
Anyway I'm looking forward to reading Und Gott chillte as part of my Advent observance. However, to get the full variety of the different tweets I'll still have to go the twitter website. It seems that the editors chose their favourite tweets for each Bible passage and haven't published every tweet that was written. Maybe one day there will be some interesting German hermeneutical studies on how these redactional choices were made!

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Passing thoughts about thorns, humility and leadership

I first heard the passage below being read aloud in the chapel in the Predigerseminar in 1989. In the midst of the huge political upheavalof the GDR's peaceful revolution, Gabriele who led that morning's "Andacht" simply let the text speak for itself.
I was surprised and pleased to find it again the other day at the beginning to Stephen Cottrell's splendid little book "Hit the Ground Kneeling". I'm not sure I've come across it in any of our Sunday lectionaries, which is a shame. I have used it in some youth work and training sessions with elders though.
Reading it through again now I wonder about whether bramble or thorn bush would be my favoured translation and I must go and check whether the Hebrew word is the same as the bush which burned and was not consumed in Exodus and whether the Septuagint translation for thornbush is then picked up in the gospel term for crown of thorns. This is how linguists think I suppose - even when they have a bus to catch and must write fast!
None of the other trees wanted to give anything up in order to sway over the other trees - not the olive its oil, not the fig its sweet fruit, not the vine its glorious juice and wine. So the thorn bush, the bramble, accepts. The thornbush is an uncomfortable symbol of humility in the Bible, it is about a different kind of leadership. Today reading this text I was struck rather by the way the supposedly greater trees don't want to take up office, they want to hold onto their current roles and riches and place in the scheme of things and not chance the risk or humility of leadership. Them holding on to their power and riches and roles makes the leadership role of the brambly thorn bush yet more difficult. Easier to be a celebrity than a leader? Easier to hold on to riches than follow vocation?
A fascinating and powerful parable which is deeply prophetic.

The parable and prophecy of the trees in Judges 9

The trees once went out
to anoint a king over themselves.
So they said to the olive tree,
“Reign over us.”
The olive tree answered them,
“Shall I stop producing my rich oil
by which gods and mortals are honoured,
and go to sway over the trees?”
Then the trees said to the fig tree,
“You come and reign over us.”
But the fig tree answered them,
“Shall I stop producing my sweetness
and my delicious fruit,
and go to sway over the trees?”
Then the trees said to the vine,
“You come and reign over us.”
But the vine said to them,
“Shall I stop producing my wine
that cheers gods and mortals,
and go to sway over the trees?”
So all the trees said to the bramble,
“You come and reign over us.”
And the bramble said to the trees,
“If in good faith you are anointing me king over you,
then come and take refuge in my shade;
but if not, let fire come out of the bramble
and devour the cedars of Lebanon.”

Thursday, 12 November 2009

The Russian Orthodox church set to break off relations with the EKD is reporting that the Russian Orthodox church is set to break of relations with the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) because of the election of a divorced woman, Margot Kässmann, as its new leader.

Hmm ...

Meanwhile, my friends Simon and Simon would I think like to read Margot Kässmann's sermon at the footballer Robert Enke's funeral which took place at a very ecumenical service in Hanover today (You will both have to learn German boys!). The Catholic priest leading the prayers held up Enke's goalkeeper's gloves, given to him by the player. Enke - Hanover's and Germany's goalkeeper had been suffering from depression and took his own life.
Kässman began and ended by citing the football anthem "You'll never walk alone" in a German translation adding that it would seem Enke was walking alone in his own private darkness and depression, but Kässmann also brought the idea full circle, tracing the ways we take in life, talking of the enormous fragility of life, of grief and trying to trust in God, despite feelings of revolt.

Und alle Fans sollten das wissen: Robert Enke würde nicht wollen, dass ihm jemand auf diesem Weg folgt! Er hat das Leben geliebt und wünschte sich Wege zum Leben.

Werden wir daher stille. Bringen wir unser Mit-Leiden vor Gott, indem wir Lichter anzünden, für Robert Enke, für seine Familie, für alle, die gestern Abend mit betroffen waren. Suchen wir Wege zum Leben!

Halten wir an der Zuneigung zu Robert Enke fest auch über seinen Tod hinaus, den wir so schwer verstehen. Über die Schwelle des Todes hinaus können wir ihn nicht begleiten. Aber wir dürfen der Zusage vertrauen, dass Gott uns über diese Schwelle trägt und auch Robert Enke bei ihm geborgen ist. Sodass auch auf diesem letzten Weg gilt: You´ll never walk alone.

Into the promised land or into the desert?

As I think back to the end of the GDR 20 years ago a theme I return to is that of the promised land or the desert.
In large part this is because of an encounter with a lecture by Jürgen Ebach early in my time in Wittenberg. About a week before the GDR was due to celebrate its 40th anniversary in early October, Ebach was on a tour of some churches in the GDR, speaking in particular to ministers, theology students and church workers. He spoke passionately about developing a theology that takes failure seriously - sometimes those who fail are the greater heroes (I remember being rather surprised at the time that he mentioned Scott of the Antarctic in this respect - probably because I assumed it was a story not much known outside Britain). Moses who receives the promise of the promised land never actually gets to live there and only glimpses it from afar before death.
It is only now though that I realise how very carefully thought out Ebach's lectures were and also how deeply pastoral. It would not have occurred to him or to any of us that the Berlin wall would no longer be there 6 weeks later. So underpinning what he was saying was a deep commitment to using the biblical texts about the 40 years in the desert leading to the promised land as a resource for reflection and resistance for the context of the churches in the GDR - perhaps for the next forty years. Are you so sure that you have been in the desert for 40 years? Are you sure that you are not only now leaving Egypt?
I can see now that he was trying to encourage the leaders of the church in local situations to continue to dialogue with biblical texts and let them speak to their situations. In a way he was saying, your struggle is going to go on, how are you going to help the faithful wrestle with the fact that after 40 years there was no promised land - and although I have often thought about and returned to his lectures it is only now that I can sense this layer in the insights he was sharing.
So was the opening of the wall the promised land? I can remember being a bystander as people voted for the first time in March 1990 and then again twice more that same year - the enthusiasm already beginning to wane.
So I wonder ... if Jürgen Ebach revisited his lectures today what would he try to say to the tiny minority churches in the former GDR? Are we all in the promised land or are we in the desert? Is state communism more or less of a desert than social market economies? Is capitalism the only promised land available? Where is the wicked Pharaoh we are fleeing from - even though we also yearn to be back in those fleshpots of the past when faced with the rigors of desert living?
Meanwhile I can't help thinking how very clever the CDU was with its horrible election slogan of Wohlstand für Alle - it really tapped in to desires for the future and offered quite a greedy promise. Of course the biblical land of promise is not one where all have good incomes but rather one in which the basic necessities of all can potentially be met. A land in which there will be pasture enough for you to milk the sheep and pollen enough for you to harvest honey. God won't be raining the manna and quails down from heaven. It's actually the promise of a semi-nomadic lifestyle in a slightly less difficult environment rather than a completely nomadic existence in a mainly hostile environment! Trying to sell that in your political programme may be rather dififcult.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Lakritz, Latein und grosse Wäsche ...

It only cost 50 pfenning and was published by the Protestant publishing house in the GDR. Just 50 pages long and five short stories from five different authors.
The first is a love story by Siegfried Lenz and this is what I've been reading again this evening. It brings back lots of memories of being in the chapel in the cellar of the Predigerseminar in Wittenberg. That was where I first heard Lenz's love story told. It put a smile on our faces early in the morning and one of the line's in the story became a sort of code "Willst Lakritz?" - do you want liquorice - it was a way of trying to laugh at the crazy pointless necessity of studying theology in the middle of a revolution. Repeating that phrase also reminded us of the importance of story, of being touched by a narrative beyond our own - despite being caught up in that crazy political narrative. Remembering this little story helped us have a bit of control somehow - and it made us laugh.
What I love about this tiny pamphlet-like book is its lack of pretention but also its pure goodnaturedness, here are five really great short stories for reading aloud or reading alone. Enjoy. What a wonderful thing for a church publishing house to offer people living under communism - quite simply a good read, enjoyment, pleasure. Feed your mind and your imagination. Tell your story.
For me reading this story again also conjures up strong GDR cigarette smoke, the smell of the coffee grounds being brewed in the small kitchen outside my room and the image of us sprawled and talking in the corridor, telling stories, testing out our narratives.
The truth is that I have never much liked liquorice at all. However, narratives have a strange twist and part of my GDR story was about falling in love with the person I heard telling the Siegfried Lenz story. I was falling in love with someone while being in love with (and engaged to) another person who was a long way away. Most of that story was not written in my GDR diary but it forms part of the context and prism through which I look back to what it was like to live through a revolution. A time of heady personal emotions as well as of politics.
So what about you, willst Lakritz? Do you want some liquorice? What's your story?

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Reading, writing, thinking, sleeping ... Berlin 20 year on

Dr B has gone to Berlin from Brussels without a map. He has been writing both on Holy Disorder and for work about the Berlin wall and has been quoted as a "historicus" in a Dutch newspaper which made me smile.
He may now be in Brussels without a map but he has been travelling from Geneva to Berlin to Brussels with my GDR diary, which he's also been typing into the blog. You can read my 10 November 1989 entry here and scroll around on Holy Disorder for some of the other entries. Later in the year a radio diary in German will be posted.
So what will we do when the 20th anniversary year is finally over on 3 October next year?

Aristotle, leadership, communication, self-seduction, story-telling and transparency in the postmodern organisation

"The leader of tomorrow will be the communicating leader," says one of the reviews of the final book of my recent orders for my leadership diploma which arrived today - not a moment too soon. There is even more food for thought in this than in the previous books. The Expressive Organization seems in many ways to be about using imagination as a tool to unlock multi-disciplinary and holistic approaches to understanding the problems and potential answers facing contemporary organizations.
In the final part there is even a bit about using Aristotle's "on Rhetoric" to forge links between strategy and communication (Not sure what JK Gayle over on Aristotle's feminist subject would make of that).
The opening chapter in the Rethinking Identity section is called "Scaling the tower of Babel: relational differences between identity, image and culture in organisations". Some of the other sections are: The symbolic marketplace, Reputation as strategy, Organisations as brands, the Value of storytelling and Communicating Organizations.
The two chapters I'm most looking forward to reading are: "Valuing expressive organizations: intellectual capital and the visualisation of value creation" and "Identity lost or identity found? Celebration and Lamentation over the Postmodern view of identity in social science and fiction". That last one almost sounds like one of my more pretentious attempts to find a title for one of my sermons - or maybe a crime novel!
Now I just need to decide which chapter to read on the bus tomorrow morning as a preparation for morning prayer hmmm... perhaps "Organisational identity as moral philosophy: competitive implications for diversified corporations."

Monday, 9 November 2009

With candles and with great courage ...

Today at lunchtime we met at the pieces of the Berlin wall in the garden of the ecumenical centre for prayers. A visitor from outside the house asked "so which side was in the east and which in the west?" I explained that it would not have been possible to paint the eastern side with gaffitti. This led me to say during our prayers that we were lighting the candles on the wrong side - it was not Helmut Kohl who brought the wall down but people with candles and courage on the other side! Even though the sun had come out I also said that the weather reminded me of an Iona peace liturgy for a rainy day - choose a symbol that will work on a wet day - not a candle! The wind did manage to blow out alot of candles - and the rain managed to deal with the rest later in the day.
I shamelssly plagiarised what Stephen has been writing on Holy Disorder to put together the simple liturgy. Using also my own diary extracts from that extraordinary year in the GDR - that's where the idea for using Psalm 126 came from. I also remember Friedrich Schorlemmer at the end of a particularly difficult day simply saying to us in Wittenberg, let's close this session by singing the Luther peace hymn which is why I chose Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglich to end with. I can remember being very moved by its wonderful minor melodies and the fact that everyone apart from me knew the words.
I also love the footnote at the bottom of The love of God is broad like beach and meadow - saying that the GDR government was concerned that the words of the hymn were criticising the state using religious language! It was good to sing one of Fred Kaan's hymns in translation after listening to a tribute to him on the radio last night.
So for 20 minutes at lunchtime we celebrated the spirituality of civil society that changed the world. coming home this evening I have heard a story of women walking together today across the peace line in Northern Ireland and of people trying to remove the wall in Palestine ... it seems right to use this anniversary as a starting point to overcome the barriers and divisions of our own times.

Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
‘The Lord has done great things for them.’
The Lord has done great things for us,
and we rejoiced. (Ps. 126)

Breaking bread on the morning of the day the Berlin wall fell ...

On the morning of 9th November 1989 I was one of the twenty or so ministry students at the Predigerseminar in Wittenberg. We had 10 day modules allowing for a four day weekend beginning after lunch on the Thursday. The Thursday mornings were for our "Auswertungsrunde". Believe me you cannot really understand the groan that this even now inspires in me unless you have been through this kind of evaluation with German theologians who are all direct and critical of the methodologies and content of what and how they are learning ... it is quite indescribable. Of the 25 of us sitting around the evaluation table that morning four people were founding members of three of the different new political parties in the GDR, several had taken part in the big Berlin demonstration on October 7th, one of our lecturers had been a speaker at the huge demonstration in Berlin on November 4th. These were some of the biggish fish in the small GDR pond.
Everyone around the table knew someone who had been imprisoned, several had seen the violence first hand. Together we had begun the prayers for renewal in Wittenberg, experienced and led Reformation Day and Buss und Bettag, learned about liturgy and preaching.
We were young but adults, full of hope, getting ready to have that hope dashed, cynicism was there under the surface. During the previous week we had begun to receive reports of the police brutality towards thos imprisoned in Berlin and Halle at the beginning of October. We had read some of those reports out at our morning prayers and wept and raged. Our emotions were elemental, we were living through a revolution yet everyone was away from home and would rather have been at home with their own peace and church groups, going on the demonstrations with their friends and family - apart from me ...
I had suggested - ever the liturgist - that we should end each 10 day module with a communion service. So after two hours of telling each other what we thought of one another in no uncertain terms, we moved from the painful evaluation table not to the upper but to the lower room where a simple round table is set with bread and wine.
I clearly remember Friedrich Schorlemmer bringing flowers to the table at the last moment and my being deeply moved by that. In my memory they were pinkish snapdragons, but perhaps my memory fails me - surely they could not have survived so far into the season, that must have been on a previous occasion, one eucharist speaks of and reminds one of another. I remember the flowers though, from one of those eucharists and I remember Friedrich's face and body as he place this offering of beauty on the table. (Dr B has my diary and we will see whether my memory was wrong.)
I presided at our round table eucharist and I spoke of remembrance, of my Grandfather being arrested in the Kristallnacht raids and taken away to Sachsenhausen concentration camp 51 years earlier. And so with stories of brokenness, pain and hope all around us, having shared hard and gentler words with each other, we broke bread and drank wine in memory of the one who was broken and shed for us.
Next to me as we prayed and felt the bread and wine in our mouths, my friend U began to sob, tears rolling down his face. He is not ashamed of his grief and emotion. As I think back to that morning my hand remembers the feel of his jeans as I placed my hand on his leg in an attempt not to quiet him but simply to offer comfort and in some strange way to say yes this is what it has been like.
Twelve hours later U and many of the others were spending the night at the impromptu street party on both sides of the wall. The feast of memory became the party of liberation.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Don't treat the earth like a turkey!

Find out more here. Gilles Boucomont pastor of the Eglise Réformée du Marais in Paris has been developing quite a brilliant internet presence for the church for the past few years. He's keen to get the message of Christmas and of the gospel across and helped get the Noël Nohell video made last year and also Dieutecherche - God is looking for you. This year the project is encouraging us to sign up for a facebook advent calendar, promising the present of a daily status update, in French of course.
Meanwhile today this caught my eye on the noel autrement section of the site which has some of the French campaigning material on climate change.
Let's stop roasting the earth as if it were a Christmas turkey!

Happy birthday Axel Noack!

Axel Noack is 60 today, which means that 20 years ago, one month and a day after the GDR celebrated its 40th birthday and just a day before the Berlin wall came down he was celebrating his 40th birthday,
Axel and his wife Gisela were ministers in Wolfen until 1997 then he was elected bishop of Magedeburg. He very selflessly stood down from being bishop this summer so as to allow for just one bishop to be elected to the newly united Protestant Church in Central Germany - the bishop of Thuringen having already retired.
I arrived at the Noack's manse in Wolfen at the end of August 1989 after a conference in Erfurt and stayed there 10 days while waiting for my second GDR visa before beginning my studies in Wittenberg. The evening that I arrived the youth group came round for their home coming festivities following the recent cycling tour Axel had taken them on to Poland. Getting those visas had taken alot of negotiating in that difficult summer, as West German embassies throughout the Eastern Bloc were filling up with East Germans trying to leave for the West. It was not often that official foreign travel visas had the box for mode of transport filled with the word "bicycle". Years later when we visited Axel and Gisela in Magedeburg they came to fetch us at the railway station by bike.
They opened up their home to me during that extraordinary year that I was in the GDR. I often spent my free long weekends from Wittenberg with them and then I worked with them for six months and moved into the empty manse in Greppin, where Stephen later joined me. It would be difficult to say how much and what I learned from them. I saw the strains and stresses of daily life in the manse, saw how each of them integrated their spirituality into their ministry in very different ways, travelled with Axel to voter information evenings and sessions on East German Church history, cycled with Gisela to visit some of the Mozambicans living in the town and help with youth and children's work.
All the time during those 6 months where things were constantly changing Axel tried to make sure he took photos of some of the important images. He was also working tirelessly on building projects and church administration in the church district. A person of enormous integrity with a huge capacity for work. He is now teaching church history at the Halle-Wittenberg and working particularly on the history of the churches in the GDR, the university will be holding a special event for him on December 14th where he will give the guest lecture on "Obrigkeit". Stephen saw him at the Churches Candles Controversy event he was at I'm glad to hear he was looking and sounding well on the eve of his birthday.
Axel I am so glad that you became a theologian and not a mathematician, long may you raise your authentic East German voice in working on the history of the churches during the 40 years of the GDR. Alles Gute zum Geburtstag - Happy Birthday!

Saturday, 7 November 2009

1989 and all that ...

So Dr B is travelling around Germany again on another installment of the 20th anniversary commemorations. Tomorrow he will be at the Gethsemane Kirche in Berlin and he's blogging about it all on Holy Disorder. He has take a copy of my GDR diary with him and is posting some of the entries from 20 years ago in real time. It's quite a shock for instance to discover that I wrote in my 1989 diary of a revolution on 7 November that Otto Lambsdorff's proposal to tear down the Berlin wall was a ridiculous idea (I have never much liked the FDP or any of its leaders past or present I should add in my defence - of course I see that as a sign of good taste, but it just shows you that good taste doesn't always lead to sound judgement!)
You'll have to wait two more days to read what I wrote on 9 November I hope he is going to post that bit - but it's quite wierd to discover one's earlier self in this way.
Meanwhile Stephen was also commissioned to write a more reflective piece on the fall of the wall, there is a further article by Konrad Raiser and comments by Samuel Kobia.

give yourself to time ...

If you would find eternity, give yourself to time. this seems like a tremendous paradox; if you desire the eternal, give yourself to the temporal. If you desire God hold faast to the world. If you want to find god be faithful to the world.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Surprised by advance grief ...

Today over coffee someone showed concern for a person I love and emotion welled in me. My watering eyes and suddenly uncontrolled emotions told me something about how deeply fragile and vulnerable life is. Perhaps I was also surprised by how much I love, how deeply I care. Despite living in France I am not all that easy about showing deep emotion - my buttoned up British upbringing is still part of me. Great at empathy except for those I care most for!
I avoid seeing how quickly life is flying by. Not having children in part encourages that - there are no people in our daily lives growing up and learning from us, challenging us, wanting and expecting us to go on living.
Perhaps awarenes of the fragility of life is also a way of countering the shallowness of much of my daily life. So tonight I celebrate the fragility of life and my brief understanding of it today, perhaps I will also begin to understand more fully that passion is also personal and not only political. And perhaps also see and be with my own vulnerability and not always try to overcome it.
In one of Janet Morley's eucharistic prayers the sanctus begins "holy, holy, holy vulnerable God ..." I like that. Allowing myself to experience my own emotional and physical vulnerability - and to care about the real vulnerability of those I love - may just mean I begin to glimpse deeper understanding of the God I proclaim, the God who did not disdain vulnerability in any way.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

The answer is sleep ...

This morning on the bus I particularly enjoyed reading Bishop Stephen Cottrell's splendid little book Hit the ground kneeling. It is about debunking some management and leadership myths and looking at things differently. It's great.

"We're looking for someone who can hit the ground running."

Cottrell's comment is:
"But when someone hits the ground running, there is no guarantee that they are going in the right direction."

Cottrell is bishop of Reading and has written two similar books to this one but more about how we can do less and simply enjoy life - Do nothing Christmas and Do nothing to change your life.

You can read a sample chapter here. Here's an extract that made me laugh:
Remember the story of the bishop who went to see his spiritual director and told him all his troubles. The wise spiritual guide sat back in his chair and advised the bishop to sleep more.
"Why?" asked the bishop.
"It will limit your opportunity to do further damage" came the

I live with someone who is very committed to sleep, now at least I know why!

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Did Naomi traffic Ruth? an evening at feminist theology with Fulata Mbano Moyo

I'm still reeling from the shock of a contextual Bible study at our feminist theology group. My brilliant colleague Fulata Mbano Moyo led us in reading chapter 3 of the book of Ruth. But before that she spoke movingly of her own background as a child of the third wife in a polygamous marriage, her experience as a widow and mother of three. "Why is it that when a husband dies that women are often consoled by pastors and congregation that now God will be their husband. Yet when a wife dies the same pastors and congregation will console the husband that he will be able to find a younger wife?"
Fulata encouraged us to think of the trafficked women in Geneva and not to forget that contextual Bible study is about transformation. We thought about how few choices trafficked women and men have.
Then we read chapter 3 of the book of Ruth. For the first time I read it with the idea that Ruth could be seen as a trafficked woman - that Naomi could be seen as a formerly trafficked woman who encourages another woman to follow the same path, because of course there is no other path. In some ways Ruth is even a surrogate mother, bearing Naomi a child - at the end of the book everyone says "Naomi has a son".
An extraordinary and very though-provoking evening, rich in exchanges.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Thin places from Sharlande Sledge

Sharlande Sledge on thin places:

‘Thin places’ the Celts call this space
Both seen and unseen,
Where the door between this world
And the next is cracked open for a moment
And the light is not all on the other side.
God shaped space. Holy

Of thin places, remembrance and discipleship

We had an Old Catholic Eucharist for all souls' day in the chapel this morning - presided by Jean Claude Mokry the priest of the Old Catholic congregation in Geneva and the liturgy was mainly in French. We lit candles around the icon of the resurrection in remembrance of loved ones, were treated to lots of incense and ended by singing A toi la gloire.
Colin Williams preached a shorter version of the sermon I've just posted to the docs sections. What I particularly liked was the way the sermon moved between the Celtic idea of a thin place and linked this to modern-day discipleship and the historic events we are currently marking from 20 years ago. Here's an extract but I really recommend you read all of it. A rich sermon for early in the morning.

All Saints Day is all about proclaiming that we are called to play our part in revealing the glory of heaven in the humdrum existence of our everyday world – the glory of heaven which admits of no division, the glory of heaven which admits no foes nor friends but one equal communion and identity, the glory of heaven where there is no sound of warfare but the harmony which comes from profound fellowship. In and through the Christian Gospel the boundary between earth and heaven is so thin that that glory bleeds into our world – and our calling as servants of the Gospel is to play our part in making that thinness even thinner.
The Christians of the city of Leipzig in the East of Germany knew that 20 years ago. 20 years ago Communist rule in the east of Germany was in its death throes. We know that now with the benefit of hindsight. The Christians of Leipzig don’t know that then. They had no reason to know that within a very few weeks the Berlin Wall would fall and oppression would be at an end.
Our calling is no less clear than it was for those followers of Jesus Christ twenty years ago in Leipzig. To make our community, our city, our world, the whole of the earth a thin place.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

The first 25 trees are now growing in the Luther garden in Wittenberg

Here's a photo of the LWF general secretary Ishmael Noko planting one of the first 25 trees to grow in Wittenberg's Luthergarden in preparation for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017. You can read more here on
Setri Nyomi general secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches also planted one of the trees.

Commenting on the significance of planting trees, Nyomi said that the 16th century Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin were “bold agents of change such as a tree planted by water. The periods of heat and drought have come and gone, but the ‘trees’ they planted continue to bear fruit.”

“It is fitting that churches should plant trees as a symbol of commitment to God’s creation at this time when world attention turns towards the Climate Conference in Copenhagen in December with its focus on the impact of environmental destruction.”

Churches throughout the world have been invited to sponsor the planting of one of 500 trees in the garden on the Elbe River and to plant a tree in their home communities. The gesture is meant as a symbol of the influence of the Protestant Reformation throughout the world and as a sign of reconciliation and interconnectedness among the many branches of Christianity.

I've written before about this idea when it was launched last year and you can also find out more here. I think it's really great.