Sunday, 31 May 2009

Tweeting the Bible in German makes it into the record books

Great news! The Bible in tweet format in German has been completed in record time and by a record number of people.
epd reports here that more than 3,000 people took part in the attempt which started on the first day of the Protestant Kirchentag in Bremen and which ended a day earlier than planned when all of the 3906 passages were tweeted by 11 yesterday morning.
You can read, comment and rate the versions that now exist online - one of the really challenging things was that the organisers decided to let more than one tweet per passage be written, making achieving the target more difficult but allowing for more diversity in the texts written. A good way of trying to get across the Pentecost message. I'm looking forwards to reading the finished product. I also think that my KT group next year are going to have to learn to tweet the parables in French. Meanwhile an old fashioned book format of the tweeted Bible will be published in time for the Frankfurt book fair later this year. Congratulations to all the team, it's been fun.

Jean-Jacques Bauswein's 65th birthday

The Stranzblog is currently on holiday somewhere in the Jura near Champagnole to mark our friend Jean Jacques Bauswein's 65th birthday. It's a wonderful fun weekend with extraordinary cultural and not so cultural discoveries. We bought delicious home-made jam from two women who have set up a small cooperative selling fruit and aromatic plant products, grown either in their gardens or collected from the surrounding countryside. We visited Emmanuel Jobez' Villa Palladian in Syam, and St Claude's Pipe museum. We took the "train des hirondelles", relaxed, got to know others in the group, ate great food and then heard the answers to the quiz we were all supposed to have taken part in beforehand. Stranz/Brown incorportated got "nul points", but still got a prize. I have enough problems understanding cryptic clues in English let alone French.
There is no internet connection where we are staying so you are spared daily updates on our activities. This morning we got up early as I had to interrupt celebrations to lead worship for Pentecost in Ferney as several of our young people got confirmed this morning. It was powerful and moving to hear them confessing their faith, my colleague Bernard preached very well on the Emmaus Road text and afterwards we gathered for drinks and photos garden. I caught up with lots and lots of news from people I hadn't seen for many years, happy and sad stories vivified by the Spirit.
Meanwhile Dr B has been covering the big service to mark Calvin's 500th birthday from the Cathedral in Geneva. It was broadcast on Eurovision this morning. Must see if I can download it or watch it.
In a moment we will head back to the mountains for some wine-tasting before a festival meal at which Dr B will for the first time in his life wear a DJ and bow tie - yes this party even has a dress code. More when we're back and recovered from wine-tasting and assorted festivities. Photos will follow.

Friday, 29 May 2009

New film on the way from Naveen Qayyum

There's a report here from the Netherlands about Naveen Qayyum's new film project following on from the success of Talking Faith which I've mentioned several times before. The new project which has received funding from the WCC and the Council of Churches in the Netherlands is called Building Bridges and looks at relations between young people from different religous backgrounds. More about the new project soon when I know a bit more, Naveen's work is very much worth supporting.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

So what story are you telling at the moment?

Steve Taylor has been writing about daring to tell our wilderness stories. Reading his sermon and reflection made me realise what a huge challenge living and bearing witness in the modern world is for those with faith, it is assumed that Christians are both hypocritical and judgemental, Steve suggest this in his sermon:

One response is to be transparent. To tell our wilderness stories. To stop pretending we’ve got it all sussed. Be real about our struggles. Which could lead to a new perception: Christians are transparent about their flaws. So that’s a first application. If the story of Jesus begins in wilderness, then Christians need to be tellers of our wilderness stories.

Second application is that we need to place our wilderness stories within God’s wilderness story.
Being transparent, making ourselves vulnerable through story-telling is not always easy but only if we dare to do that will we also be open to looking for what Steve calls "Angel moments". As I wonder about my own story being too self-satisfied, easy and boring I found the idea of trying to tell it in wilderness terms helpful. Janet has been saying to me for ages that narrative theology is the way to build up community and building up community is about building up individuals. We all need to tell our stories in real ways and dare to show the cracks.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Manure or sweet hay - what do carry in your back pack?

Giuseppe Platone, the longest serving member of the Kirchentag's international committee said his official goodbye to the committee and the Kirchentag's General secretary Ellen Ueberschär at the beginning of the Kirchentag in Bremen. He also handed over to his replacement from the Italian Waldensian Church on the committee Sergio Manna.
The Waldensian Church like many minority churches punches above its weight. In his speech Giuseppe also said how important it had been for him to feel that the Kirchentag made space for people from minority churches from beyond Germany's borders.
He brought all members of the committee a special present from the Waldensian valleys, called a kippa which is a small basket used to carry everything on peoples backs in the steep mountain farmlands. These baskets are symbols of hard work, minority, sustainable living and very much like a form of basket rucksack.
In a brief and moving meditation Giuseppe spoke about how people would carry all kinds of different things in these baskets depending on the time of year, from manure and seeds, clothing, harvested produce, food, firewood and newly cut hay to feed to livestock or to take down to be stored.
Sometimes the basket is full, sometimes waiting to be filled. It made him think of the biblical verse "bear ye one another's burdens" - though this didn't stop him from giving Ellen Ueberschär a much larger basket than the rest of us, the general secretary certainly has a heavier burden than many of us. As he handed out the baskets Giuseppe also remembered how his own basket had been filled with memories over the years and thought of how we fill each others' baskets with good things. He remembered a visit he had undertaken in the 1990s to many other members of the international committee and how this had cemented relationships and support for the Kirchentag.
As we wished him well we were all pleased to hear that Sergio will be maintaining the Waldensian Kirchentag tradition of an evening of Bible and spaghetti.
Meanwhile Giuseppe will also be leaving his position as the editor of the Protestant newspaper Riforma early next year - the lead article says Mensch wo bist du in Italian. We wish him well with all his new projects.
Meanwhile are you handing out manure or sweet hay from your back pack?

And now for the Calvin celebrations

Well Geneva is an international city, so it's only fitting that a journalist from a British newspaper should come here for this weekend's Calvin celebrations. More surprising is that Andrew Brown has travelled to Calvin City to write about the Chinese. Very interesting and I look forward to reading more from him as the week progresses.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Bishops do it, pastors do it, young and old do it, even I did - go on tweet the Bible in German!

The People at evangelisch.de still need help to fulfil the world record attempt to tweet the Bible by Pentecost Sunday. They are 62% towards their target as of today so please if you feel you can help by tweeting one of the Bible passages in German that still haven't been tweeted.
It's actually rather relaxing to focus on reducing a Bible passage down to 140 keystrokes - though getting the German grammar sorted out is quite a chllange!

Leaving Bremen to pilgrim to Munich and Dresden

I arrived in Geneva and then back in Ferney Voltaire last night and am still reeling from the shock, brilliance and tiredness of all that is Kirchentag. Fortunately there were others at work today who had also been there and were similarly positive about the event - though everyone seems to be complainging about sore feet!
It really will take a while for all of the impressions, meetings and experiences to settle down into one.
As I left Bremen there was a big banner saying "the Kirchentag says thank you!" next to it was another with a count down clock to the next Protestant Kirchentag in Dresden in June 2011 - on Monday it was just 747 days to go. On Sunday I met friends from Bamberg on their way from the closing worship to catching their train home and they gave me a postcard with the Bremen town musicians on a pilgrimage to Munich where the 2nd Ecumenical Kirchentag will take place in May next year. Book the dates for your own pilgrimmage to Munich now - contact other churches near you to see how you can travel there with others. A real ecumenical pilgrimmage.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Pictures and videos of Kirchentag

You can find picutres and videos of the kirchentag experience here.
Now all eyes are turned to the Ecumenical Kirchentag in München - gingerbread hearts with Munich 2010 were being handed out in Bremen. People are being encouraged to set out as pilgrims to Munich - walk or cycle part of the way together with others and make the whole thing a longer ecumenical experience.

Sermon by Daniel Garrone for the closing worship of Kirchentag

I enjoyed reading, translating and then listening to this sermon and the more than 100,000 people at the service yesterday seemed to enjoy it enormously too. The most difficult part was where the English and German translations of the Bible don't quite have the same tone or content. This is a challenge in a lot of the work I get for translation.
The German says Rede und Antwort and the English in the NRSV says "make your defence". Also not helped by the fact the Kirchentag often makes its own translations of the Bible texts it uses. I did not have time for that on Saturday!
Now off to catch my train.

Sermon for the closing service of the German Protestant Kirchentag
by Daniele Garrone
Bible text: 1 Peter 3 9-17
Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called - that you might inherit a blessing. For
‘Those who desire life
and desire to see good days,
let them keep their tongues from evil
and their lips from speaking deceit;
let them turn away from evil and do good;
let them seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.’
Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.

At the beginning of this Kirchentag we were posed a question which is still with us now as it closes:
"Mortal where are you?" The welcome to the Kirchentag added: "This means you and only you." We didn't understand this as a question the church was asking the world as a warning or complaint. From the outset we've heard this question from God as: "Christian, where are you?"
Or even more pointedly "Protestant Christian, where are you?"
I heard "little Waldensian Christian where are you?"
So "you, where are you?"
At the end of this Kirchentag, here and now, the Bible text poses us a similar question and asks us to give account for the hope that is in us.
A Kirchentag of accountability that calls heaven and earth into question? - God wants to bless us even through this.
"Christian, where are you?"

We live in a plural and democratic Europe, thank God! Sixty years of the ba-sic law in Germany, 63 years of the Italian constitution. We are integrated into our society and accepted by it, unlike those Peter was writing for. We are not subjected to hostility and certainly not to organised persecution. We can worship here publicly, even on this "Bürgerweide" (literal translation "citizen's meadow"), this is a real gift!

Our hopeless cries do not rise up to heaven (v.12). We do not suffer for the sake of justice (v.17). We could hardly even claim that anybody casts aspersions on our good way of life (v.16). At any rate, not here.
Elsewhere things are different and not only for Christians …
What form of accountability is asked of us?
How do we enter into debate with out fellow human beings?
Christianity is no longer the formative or even the over-ruling culture of Europe - if indeed it ever was. We are - even in the state churches - reduced to a minority. We are not so much oppressed, rather no notice is taken of us.
Of course there are critical voices, who dispute the Christian heritage of Europe. We should listen to them because they may be a channel through whom God is calling us to repentance.
If Christians - for instance in the debate about the European constitution - proudly talk about the role of Christians in European civilisation - about the Christian roots of Europe - then we should not forget how much violence, intolerance and blood the absolute claims of Christians have given rise to.
When churches talk about human rights and freedom it sometimes sounds as if these human rights and freedoms were discovered by the churches. We must look at the facts: human rights had to overcome resistance based on Christian arguments.
Church positions sometimes have the effect of seeming to want to trump a politically mature world, trying to show the world that has come of age that it would not be able to live without "God" as guardian.
In terms of apologetics, we quite like to argue that there are still the "ultimate questions" - death, guilt, and, today, the beginning and end of biological life. These will still remain the "hunting grounds" of the churches.
Can the One who blesses us, calls us to freedom and gives us hope really be reduced to being a mere guardian of others?
No, Peter's demand to always be ready to give an account to everyone goes in a very different direction!
And that is our call, even as a relatively small minority (and let's not exagger-ated that either!), not to live in a kind of languishing victim mentality. Perhaps this situation will actually mean that the message of hope can come to the fore.
The critical questions which are posed to us as Christians, may also be a source of blessing and healing self-questioning. It isn't enough when, unasked, we simply trumpet something or other in order to gloss over the weakness of our posi-tion.
At the Kirchentag I have learnt that trumpeting is good when a piece of music comes out, but not when a gratuitous piece of advice comes out! Our Christian voice should never be reduced to mere moralistic teaching - just think of that magic word "values"?
I fear ethics has become the area that we hope will attract people's interest, because we do not have enough hope to expect such interest in the Gospel. Protes-tants tend to prefer to do social ethics, Evangelicals to concentrate on sexual ethics and Catholics to be engaged in both areas. All of us are open to the temptation to use ethics as a way to gloss over our own lack of giving account of the hope that is in us. Peter, however, warns us loud and clear, "Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you".
Even between Christians ourselves, in the area of ecumenism, hope is not the first thing we notice. Our frustration is often more in evidence than the courage to dare to do something, we sense more realism than trust, more politics and resignation than vision.
“Christians, where are you?"
Here we are … and we can take Peter's warnings as signposts, as solace and encouragement to take new steps of hope in our situation of being both integrated and put to the test. In the first place these new steps must be led by Peter's words: "Do not repay evil for evil … on the contrary, repay with a blessing."
Whoever lives from blessing, from chewing the cud of the good Word that God has spoken, can only repeat that word and blessing. Whoever lives from the good works that God has done has no other task than to dare to do that which God's action makes possible. Don't you in German say "to offer a blessing", to "hand out" or "share" a blessing? Perhaps we Christians should do nothing more than those things related to the words "offer" and "share".
And we should do this - Peter warns us - with gentleness and reverence or ac-cording to other translations in a friendly and respectful way … Here we have a beautiful way to resist the Zeitgeist which seems to be dominated by the "revenge of God", by fundamentalist speeches, by obsession with truth and identity delusions.
In such a situation it is not enough to be a little bit less arrogant, to be a little less of a know-all, less condescending and old-fashioned.
It is not just a question of style, it's about the issue itself.
It's about the will to seek a dialogue which takes the point of view and criti-cisms of others seriously. This is not a result of relativism or a pick and mix approach to life as is so often claimed, nor is it a result of indifference. On the contrary … it is based on the awareness that only God is holy.
Gentleness is the way "to keep God holy in our hearts", the only way to bear witness to God's ways, without us thinking that these are our ways or trying to sell our ways as God's ways. Gentleness and reverence, friendliness and respect are the signposts along the way that God is calling us onto, without wanting to direct us.
Only in this way can we have a clear conscience. A conscience based not on the hubris of the know-all or I'm always right. A good conscience is not the false se-curity of taking one's own actions as right.
A good conscience is the gentle serenity to able to act and speak in a way that is based on what has been promised and given to us - by God.
A good conscience lives from hope and trust, not from ownership and fear.
It seems to me to be the most beautiful and most important embodiment of the Christian message in the world, in every situation to only say that which is promised to us. To only offer that which has been offered to us - and that was offered to all and for ever. Blessing shines forth from those who live blessing.
" Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you!" (V. 15).
We are called to an apologetics of hope and our only defence is hope itself. We are to defend hope - and not how reasonable or essential Christianity is. Hope -and not teaching or faith in morality. Hope as the first word of our Christian profile when others ask us to offer an account.
Yes, - hope which we can neither prove nor undermine. If hope is at the cen-tre, then the core of our message is no longer what it currently is, what we already have, already understand, what we can substantiate and defend. But rather, quite sim-ply - God himself, who comes and renews and creates until all in the end is com-pleted.
Hope turns our gaze from ourselves and gives us a grace-filled direction be-yond ourselves. The hope that is our driving force, in us and amongst us - is not a character trait or a spiritual quality. It comes to us from outside, it grips us. It is a sur-prise and a discovery in spite of ourselves and the world.
It really is as Luther taught us: The only things that are sure and true and those things that take us beyond ourselves.
If this is so - and even I as a Reformed Waldensian in the Calvin anniversary year can say that it is so - then we can close this 60th birthday of the Kirchentag full of hope!
AMEN

Provisional translation from the German

Your hand for ecumenism - WCC youth interns blog

The five WCC current youth interns helped run the stand in the market of possibilities at the Kirchentag. They brought creativity and vitality to the stand and we had young people queueing up to draw around their hands and put up their hands for ecumenism.
Emma, Katarina, Packiaraj, James and Mark have also started a blog which I hope they manage to keep up. I'm looking forwards to reading it and hearing more about their impressions of Kirchentag.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

In the rain, not exactly singing but sort of ...

Dr B just sent me these words written by Wolfgang Borchert which features in Das Leben der Anderen.

Stell dich mitten in den Regen,
glaub an seinen Tropfen Segen.
Spinn dich in das Rauschen ein
und versuche gut zu sein.

Stell dich mitten in den Wind
glaub an ihn und sei ein Kind.
Lass den Sturm in dich hinein
und versuche gut zu sein.

Stell dich mitten in das Feuer,
glaub an dieses Ungeheuer
in des Herzens rotem Wein
und versuche gut zu sein.

And here's an English translation from Youtube
place yourself in the middle of the rain
believe in the blessing of its drops
spin yourself in its whirring
and try to be good

place yourself in the middle of the wind
believe in it and be a child
let the storm come into you
and try to be good

place yourself in the middle of the fire
believe in its monstrosity
in the red wine of the heart
and try to be good

Friday, 22 May 2009

Stuffed or starved? A European obsession with chicken breasts wrecks the Cameroon market in locally produced food

All afternoon "stuffed or starved" was the focus of the Future Centre at the Kirchentag. I was interpreting for Cameroon rural activist and anti-corruption campaigner Bernard Njonga.
He explained how because of a perceived need to supply the growing urban popoulation with cheap food, the Cameroon government started importing frozen chicken pieces from the European Union. These chicken pieces are created as a by-product of chicken breast production. The frozen chicken was so cheap that it undercut the locally produced chicken, driving small sustainable farmers out of business.oon session
Hans Herren began the afternoon by giving a brilliant summary of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development. He did that in just 11 minutes and given that even teh executive summary is 29 pages long that's quite something.
What was interesting in the various rounds of discussions that followed his presentation was how reluctant the representatives of the German farmers were to leave the present model of cheaper production at any price for the planet. Herren stated that in order to prevent people starving the enormous research that IAASTD had undertaken showed clearly that supporting women, small scale farmers, paying them to farm sustainably would bring food closer to those who really need it, take people out of starvation and also help manage the planets resources. He also showed how cheap food policies and the obsession with eating red meat leads to a muon footprint.
A fascinating afternoon. Not just food for thought but food for transformation.

Migration on the high seas

There was a demonstration at the event I was interpreting for yesterday against an organisation called Frontex. The outdoor stage in Bremen's harbour area had a fairly small seating area in front of it so the representative of the company had the placards facing him the whole time - and quite some heckling too. The panel discussion was on how migrants who try to come by sea are treated. Frontex are one of the the private firms that the EU uses to coordinate oversight of the patrolling and security of its external borders.

The panel began with a passionate introduction from Stefan Schmidt captain of the Cap Anamur which five years ago saved 37 Africans who were in the Mediterranean because the small vessel they were in had sunk. When he then landed his boat in Italy he and two other senior members of his crew were taken in for questioning and he found himself facing trial, a four year prison sentence and 400,000 euros fine for "aiding and abetting illegal migrants". Schmidt has now founded an association which does not take sides on the migration debate but tries to gather information about what is actually happening to migrants on the seas.
The main panel discussion included the German minister of the interior Wolfgang Schäuble and François Boko the former minister of the interior of Togo who had fled into exile when the political situation in his country became dangerous, with executions and killings.
Naïve that I am I had not realised that today even coordination of external state borders is outsourced, I imagine that the excuse from the EU is that this is a way of avoiding creating a Europe-wide body to do the work. One of the effects of course is that it diffuses responsibility for who is at fault when their are violations of refugees' or migrants' rights.

Desiring God

This God who is my God, the right object of my desire and my love, is the quintessence of my inner self and therefore by no means identical with it.
Hannah Arendt

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Word of the day "macht"

It was only when reading the press release about a Kirchentag presentation by Joachim Gauck entitled "Macht Spiritualität Macht?" that I realised that the word macht has more than one meaning. As a noun it means power and as a verb it means make. "Does spirituality make power?"
Gauck particularly addressed this issue by looking at the experience of people in the GDR 20 years ago when the system collapsed and people had to try and take responsibility rather than complain about those at the top. His speech is not yet online but I look forward to reading it. The issue of spirituality and power is an interesting approach to analysing political and social change.
Gauck was for many years in charge of the authroity dealing with access to the papers gathered by the Stasi in former East Germany.

Tweet Bible world record attempt at the Kirchentag

So the German world record attempt to tweet the whole of the Bible during Kirchentag is well under way. If you go here you can join in with a selection of some of the biblical passages still to be rendered into 140 character bits - of course you will need to tweet in German!

Jetzt geht es wirklich los! Today things really get started

So today things are really getting started with Bible studies and podium discussions and midday singing and much, much more. Our WCC stand is set up and ready for business in the Market of possibilites and today's Kirchentag visitors will still have last night's music and the beautiful candle light floating around the city of Bremen in their minds as they begin today.
I'm off to the Harbour area to interpret this morning and then back there this evening for the Bread for the World international reception. Hope also to get back to the WCC stand and the International Centre at some point. Meanwhile, apologies to regular readers who think I'm writing too much but I'm also trying to give some English updates abotu Kirchentag to folk who are a bit lost here.
Have a great day - Mensch wo bist du? Ich bin hier in Bremen!

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Do women ministers lay more importance on relationships than on power?

So the Rheinischer Merkur also has an article about women ministers which claims they lay more importance on relationships and less on power and that as a result they are changing the picture people have of the clergy.
I'm always wary of articles like this which state something in the opening paragraph which is based more on opinion than reproting. The article itself is interesting charting the path of three women in the German Protestant Church and pointing to this having not always been an easy decision.
But I wonder - does anyone ever go around and ask male ministers whether people find it easier to talk to them today, whether the way they were brought up helps or hinders them in their job, whether they are interested more in power or in the inner life?
In the last thirthy years things have changed massively for men in the church too.

60 years of the Grundgesetz

While the Kirchentag is celebrating its 60th birthday Germany is also marking the 60th anniversary of the German basic law or Grundgesetz. This is an important date, some political scientists say it takes three generations (or sixty years) for democracy to really take hold. Of course the Grundsesetz has only been the basic law for some citizens of the Federal Republic for 20 years part of Germany. When it was first written it was not intended to be a lasting constitution, as it clearly saw itself in terms of being an interim constitution drawn up to regulate political life in one part of the country before unity of the two parts of Germany could be achieved. There were discussions in 1989-90 as to whether it could really serve as the basic law for both parts of Germany. Dr B will no doubt add more to this.
The graphic comes from the Rheinischer Merkur and looks to me very much like a take on some artwork Klaus Staeck did in 1990 called Ordnung muss sein. Anyway, despite not at all being my usual reading the RM also has a feature about the GDR, Leipzig and the road to German unity.

Folded boats gently swim against the stream

As people streamed to the Bürgerweide for one of the Kirchentag's opening services some of the boats pictured here were being carried out from the service into the different parts of Bremen. Each carried by two people (a bit little like a pantomime horse) they moved as if they were bobbing on a sea of people and very gently making progress against the stream of people coming in the opposite direction. It was a powerful and beautiful image.
The special hymn which has been written for the Kirchentag "Mensch wo bist du?" also takes up the theme of the ship on the sea, knowing or not knowing where it's going. As we fold boats at the evening of encounters I shall think about small boats making gentle progress against the stream. More for my reflections on a spirituality of resistance - I always knew that origami was a deeply theological activity.

Singing and dancing from Kenya and Greenland

International visitors to the Kirchentag always get a special welcome. This year despite the credit crunch more than 3,500 people from overseas will attend. For the first ever Kenya has topped the list as the country with the highest number of visitors, for many of the Kenyans this is their first time outside Africa, they have taken holiday from work to be here and their flights will have cost them proportionately much more than the Europeans will have had to pay for their travel.
their presence really changed the atmosphere at the international welcome hour as well. When the choir from Nairobi began to sing the Kenyans in the hall sang along, clapped, stood up and became part of the praise, their presence changed the dynamics in a good way. to their voices from the south was added an extraordinary voice from the North, from the "roof of the world". A singer from Greenland invited us to close our eyes and listen ... so we did and it was quite extraordinary: a breathing, howling, quiet, loud lullaby-screaming song without words. Amazing.

The Kirchentag is 60 but remains forever young and has no thoughts of retiring

The German Protestant Kirchentag is celebrating its 60th birthday this year. Independence, faith and responsibility for the world have been the guiding themes over the years.
The Kirchentag remains a very young event, huge numbers of scouts and young people from youth groups attend, the music and atmosphere are always great.
And with a Kirchentag every year for three years (rather than once every two years) there's lots of work to do from 2009 to 2011, loads of volunteers to keep motivated and big challenges to meet this year in Bremen, next year in Munich and in 2011 in Dresden.
It's been fascinating to be part, in a very small way, of the discussions about whether the Kirchentag would manage to do three events in three years - rather than two in four. They took the decision that it was easier to maintain the volunteer networks by asking them to do a bit more than by closing down the Kirchentag for three years. It's hard work for everyone but they are certainly not planning for retirement any time soon.
Bookabout the Kirchentag here.

People from the URC in the International Centre















So it just had to be the case that some of the first people I meet in the international centre were from the United Reformed Church. Later in the week the IZ as it's called will be so busy that we might not have spotted one another. anyway here are some quick snaps of Richard Mortimer URC deputy general secretary, Peter Colwell who works at CTBI, Sheila Brain who representant the UK on the international committee of the Kirchentag also on the snaps are Jonathan who has just been appointed as an Archdeacon to the diocese of Europe and Margaret - sorry folks I didn't get your surnames.

Visitors from abroad to German Kirchentag

Later this morning we shall learn just how many visitors from outside Germany are coming to the Kirchentag. There was high emotion yesterday when over 100 Kenyans arrived at the main railway station just as the rehearsal for the opening worship was coming to an end. Most of the international visitors are lodged with local families to give them a real taste of German life in the region the Kirchentag takes place in. It's quite challenging logistically to match up host families and visitors. anyway we hope that the visitors arriving from Kenya had a good night's sleep and will be ready for the openign party tonight.
Find out more about Kirchentag in English here.

Origami openings for the Kirchentag's first Kirchentag of ships

Not sure I shall have time to blog much today we have meetings of the international committee this morning and afternoon. At some point I hope to meet up with other WCC colleagues arriving on the night train, we'll see what we manage. Meanwhile, I still cannot read my own blog from the hotel but hope to get to the press centre and go online in a less censored atmosphere once there. Perhaps I'm trying to do a bit to much and should go with the flow more!

Anyway tonight at the evening of encounter there will be about 50 huge origami boats which will be part of the carnival-style procession throught the streets. Visitors to the evening of encounter will also be able to fold their own smaller boats which will have Bible verses on them and then attach them to their rucksacks etc. I'm looking forward to doing a bit of origami at the Kirchentag.
Bremen has wonderful old port area and several large ships have come here especially for the Kirchentag - I think I'm due to interpret in one on Friday. The Kirchentag's youth centre is based in the harbour area away from the exhibition grounds. Perhaps some of the flotilla of paper ships which actually get to float.
Colleagues from the WCC have been busy setting up our stand so come and visit us there in the market of possibilities.
Edit: Found one of the bigger folded boats outside our meeting today and can finally post photos because I'm in the press room and not dependant on the hotel blog-banning internet!

Looking forward to the evening of encounter at Bremen's Kirchentag

Tonight at 18.00 the opening worship for the Kirchentag will launch the evening of encounter. More than a quarter of a million people are expected to attend and run lots of small and larger stands with food, games, music and much much more. The evening is due to draw to a close with a huge samba dance through the old city streets and with a specially commissioned son et lumière with singers and musicans performing all around the park that surrounds the city. This city likes carnival.
Bremen has promised an evening of encounter for all the senses. Now we just have to hope that it won't rain.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Expand the common good

Listening to Nicola Bullard and Vandana Shiva in conversation at the final thematic session of the Global Network Congress was fascinating. Both insisted that transformation isn't about the big idea, the era of the meta project is over. Bullard said that one of the most important things she had learned was that being involved in the process was important. Getting involved in those processes often means that many small changes begin to take place. Part of the work of critical involvement is then about patience and trusting the process. It is much more important to get workable local projects going, to use horizontal networks as a way of encouraging people to reconnect with reality again, this is also where our creative action and creative thinking can be worked through.
Shiva spoke movingly about the importance of local identity and the need to revalue the local after all of the delocalisation that has been taking place. Both insisted that the addicts of the current economic model have no new ideas and that this is a good time to to start promoting news ideas.
They ended with the idea of trying to expand the common good. The only way to counter the fragmentation of life is to reclaim the commons, those things such as air, water, land, seeds, healthcare, which belong to all of us together. This is a bit like the creative commons form of copyright but more about a creative way of resisting patenting and commercialising the whole of the basis for life by using our common creativity and energy, by identifying and affirming what it is we hold in common.

Gardening is the way forwards ...

Volltaire is the one who said "il faut cultiver son jardin" - he meant it of course as much philosophically as practically, though he did drain the marches and plant vineyards and gardens around the château in Ferney. The philosophical finding expression in the practical.
Asked where she saw hope for transformation underway today Vandana Shiva replied that she found great hope for transformation in biodiveristy itself. "Things will emerge even if you do not have a meta pr ject. Even five years ago who would have predicted how many people throughout the world would be turning to gardening. Everyone used to say Oh I don't have time to garden. It's a key way of reconnecting ourselves spiritually with the earth, of grounding ourselves. We also learn to grow our own food."
I like gardening as a model for transformation - mind you my own is in a rather slow process of being transformed. Not quite sure what that says about finding new economic models. When I get back to Ferney i shall have to listen to Voltaire a bit more and cultivate my inner and outer garden a bit more.

What kind of chicken are you?

I had my first experience of the world café methodology this morning and enjoyed it - although when you're interpreting it's not always easy to get a sense for things. It seemed to go well and there are a lots of interesting things to read on the cards that have been put up with ideas and comments. The Kirchentag will be using this methodology for the first time this year at the forum on Israel and Palestine. It will be interesting to hear how it works.
Martin Robra ended a session this afternoon by asking the panellists what story they would give to a young person from Germany wishing to transform the way things currently are.
Vandana Shiva said she would tell a young person in Germany today a story that a young man from Germany told her at the Kirchentag about 15 years ago. He was unemployed at that time, on the scrap heap literally and figuratively, so he had started collecting rubbish and taking it away to make compost out of it and recycle it in other ways. Shiva was herself already very involved in campaigning to protect biodiversity and stop life itself becoming a commodity. At one point in their conversion the young German man suddenly said to her "Now I get it. You are an organic chicken and you can already eat organic food, but you are trying to stop them put you into the battery chicken farm. Me I've been thrown out of the battery chicken farm and told I'll never be able to feed myself. What I think is that the two of us should meet at the gates to the battery farm and work at changing things."

World Cafe methodology

I had my first experience of the world café methodology this morning and enjoyed it - although when you're interpreting it's not always easy to get a sense for things. It seemed to go well and there are a lots of interesting things to read on the cards that have been put up with ideas and comments. The Kirchentag will be using this methodology for the first time this year at the forum on Israel and Palestine. It will be interesting to hear how it works.

We condemn the poor to capitalism and only offer the rich socialism

Welf Werner Professor of international economics at Bremen's Jacob's University was invited to speak at this morning's sessions of the Kirchentag's Global Network Congress meeting on "The most pressing global challenges and possible solutions".
The five challenges he offered and attempted solutions for in order were:
1) Climate change and environmental resources
2) Poverty
3) Economic crisis
4) Economic globalisation
5) The crisis in values and community
Werner is not only an economist but also an economic historian and set his reflections within the wide sweep of the past 200 years.
While warning that economists are open to deluding themselves he neverthelss made tentative proposals for solutions, speaking in particular about Amartya Sen's capability approach.
Any economic and social solutions we propose have to be tested against whether they foster people's capability to access education, health, food, water etc. It is in this area that values and community are of key importance.
One of the problems with the US economic model that is being sold worldwide is that it condemns the poor to live under capitalism - no universal health care or education provision, the individual has to foot the bill. Meanwhile the rich live under socialism - bankers' mistakes are being paid for out of taxes on everyone, they don't have to take responsibility for their errors and the state bails them out. The poor have to pay the price for getting ill, the rich don't even pay for their mistakes.
Responding to Werner's analysis Nicola Bullard addeed that resisting the individualisation of risk, for health, housing, water, sanitation eetc, was a key area to work on. She also insisted that it was important for NGOs to put issues of power and politics much more clearly onto their agendas. The financial institutions are not neutral entities but places of power and there is a need to use the current crisis to reinvigorate our democracies.

Mortal where are you? Mensch wo bist du?

So I got given my Kirchentag's scarf yesterday. It's long and pale blue and has two cloud like bubbles saying on one "Mensch wo bist bist du?" and on the other "Hier bin ich!" (I have a photo of it but cannot upload it - same old, same old banning problem!!)
"Mensch" is a really wonderful word but tricky to translate, sometimes I just think we should translate it by the Yiddish mensch but that is a bit of a cop out! So do you use people, person, human being, humanity, men and women - what do you do? In the case of the Kirchantag theme in English what was finally opted for was a return to the King James translation of the Bible - not one I usually recommend - and the word "mortal". In many ways "Adam" in Genesis also means Mensch.
You can see that this is an ongoing issue in German to English translation by comparing older and more recent translations of Bonhoeffer's poem "Christians and Unbelievers" which begins "Menschen ...". One well-known translation begin:

Men go to God when they are sore bestead,
Pray to him for succour, for his peace, for bread,
It scans very nicely but it's not right. If my memory serves me right there is a very good new translation of the poem by Alan Gaunt in Rejoice and Sing perhaps Dr B can add it to the comments. The French of course have no such quibbles and just settle straight away on "les hommes vont à Dieu ..."
Mortal where are? Still trying to work out whether God really did create them male and female?

Anyway, as my recent reading of Grace Jantzen has been encouraging me to think less in terms of being mortal and more in terms of being natal, I'm having to change tack again here at the Kirchentag. In many ways though the approach to mortal humanity being promoted here is much more Jantzenian (I admit I enjoyed writing that) than using the word mortal may show. Much of our discussion at the Global Network Congress is about trying to find creative ways through impasses at global and local levels, tapping into our energies and possibilities to give birth to a new future.

Christen und Heiden - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Menschen gehen zu Gott in ihrer Not,
flehen um Hilfe, bitten um Glück und Brot,
um Errettung aus Krankheit, Schuld und Tod.
So tun sie alle, alle, Christen und Heiden.

Menschen gehen zu Gott in Seiner Not,
finden ihn arm, geschmäht, ohne Obdach und Brot,
sehn ihn verschlungen von Sünde,
Schwachheit und Tod.

Gott geht zu allen Menschen in ihrer Not,
sättigt den Leib und die Seele mit Seinem Brot,
stirbt für Christen und Heiden den Kreuzestod
und vergibt ihnen beiden.

Monday, 18 May 2009

The stranzblog is banned

Since arriving at my rather upmarket German hotel I have not been able to get through to the Stranzblog. Instead whenever I try to got to my blog I get this message:

Banned site.
You are seeing this error because what you attempted to access appears to contain, or is labeled as containing, material that has been deemed inappropriate.

Fortunately technical assistance back in Ferney Voltaire has suggested a work around which means I can still get to the back end but not see the published blog. I also don't seem to be able to upload photos. Maybe it's just a plot by the hotel to make me pay for a better internet connection, anyway it is very irritating and will mean that tehre are even more typos than usual. Sorry abotu that folks.

An inspiring evening with Vandana Shiva - "you don't find hope by sitting in a chair"

For the third time the Kirchentag is holding a Global Network Congress bringing together some of the German speakers and specialists with many of the speakers from elsewhere in the world. It's a privileged time for networking and also for going into some issues in greater depth. This year's meeting is a little smaller than the two previous meetings, but still very diverse. Because there are slightly fewer of us we've been able to use less formal methodoligies and have a good question and answer session with our main speaker.

Vandana Shiva is a passionate and engaged speaker - not always easy to interpret as she assumes we have the same level of knowledge she has of the abuses of the free market in world trade. I do not always find it easy to remember much of what I've interpreted - you can't listen, take notes and speak in another language at the same time, well I can't anyway. Vandana Shiva is an eco feminist and I was very struck by the lack of mightiness in the alternative models she tried to offer us this evening. She used organic and nurturing images, encouraging drawing on inner creative strength as a source of hope in the same way that a mother will nearly always make sure that their child has something to eat. Much of her campaigning has been against the obscenity of multi-nationals buying the patents to seeds - one example she gave was how cotton seed used to cost about 7 rupees a kilo before the seed patent was bought by Monsanto and went up to 1700 rupees a kilo. In less than a generation cotton farmers went from being rich to being poor. She spoke of the finding creative commons ways of owning patents to seeds, so that local communities can continue to be sustainable. She actually called this kind of local community building being itself a seed that can give others hope. She ended by quoting Gandhi's model of oceanic circles

But it will be an oceanic circle whose centre will be the individual always ready to perish for the village, the latter ready to perish for the circle of villages, till at last the whole becomes one life composed of individuals, never aggressive in their arrogance, but ever humble, sharing the majesty of the oceanic circle of which they are integral units.
This way of thinking about things very much chimed with the "natal theology" by Grace Jantzen that I am reading at the moment, it was helpful for me to hear these more practical and less philosphical applications of the same underlying idea.
Read more about Soil not Oil.

World record attempt to tweet the Bible



At the German Protestant Kirchentag the participants are going to be encouraged to tweet the whole Bible during the three to four days of the meeting.

Yes it's official you can follow me on twitter

Sorry folks I have given in and am giving Twitter a go. I shall try and tweet in English and German this week from the Kirchentag in Bremen where there will be a world record attempt to tweet the whole Bible in German. Now in german I think that is zwitschern.
We'll see what else I manage to write. I'll be on my way to the bus stop by the time this gets posted, maybe I'll even manage to tweet from the train as there are now internet hotspots on parts of the German system. We'll see!

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Interesting article on social trust and immaterial values

There is an interesting article on a Dutch website here, it's about religion and development. I like the idea of giving hands and feet to immaterial values ...

Social trust is found where people trust the good intentions of others and are confident that others can carry out their intentions within their social and institutional contexts. The importance of social trust for relationships and effective cooperation in development contexts needs no argument. But how do we ‘give hands and feet’ to this essential, but immaterial value?
The issue of trust and other intangibles in organisations is something I'm trying to build into my paper for the Craighead Institute. It's not all that easy to get your head around but as I watch a tidal wave of trust wash away swathes of British politicians it's easier to understand just how important the immaterial is to every organisation.

Finally the beginnings of another conversation about Walter Benjamin

We have been waiting for another conversation about Walter Benjamin for over 25 years so Friday's Le Monde des Livres has given us much food for future conversation with an article entitled "WB, un rebelle en exil" reviewing both Bruno Tackels' Walter Benjamin. Une vie dans les textes and Antonia Birnbaum's Bonheur Justice Walter Benjamin.

The reviewer senses that "rather than interpreting Benjamin's writing through his life Tackels shows how his work was in many ways Benjamin's way of questioning his own existence."

It is a beautifully written review

[Les deux livres] nous permettent de mieux prendre la mesure d'une pensée aussi intempestive qu'inépuisable, qui irrigue - par des canaux parfois secrets - le plus vif de notre modernité.
and one word in particular from the review of Antonia Birnbaum's book sticks with me. Her book is based on a "shard" - une écharde - of an idea in Benjamin's doctoral thesis. One idea, two words, leading to a whole book. I think that is wonderful. It reminded me of Simone Sinn's preaching on Maundy Thursday on the idea of fragments, somehow I am finding great consolation in the philosophical, theological and linguistic potential of shards and fragments.
Now as for that conversation about Walter Benjamin, I rather feel we were too busy reading, writing, translating and packing to talk much about him - we really must set a date for a café des philosophes!

Words, words, words ...

Not stories, not even parables just words, opening up new worlds, new thoughts, new paths ...
absconce, décombre, cauchemardesque
I love words.

Churches and Christians prepare ecumenically for European elections

Various religious and church groups are trying to work ecumenically to put concerns on the agenda of the upcoming European elections. Ecumenical Voices' publication pictured here is available in three languages. The website has useful links to Climate Change and Environment, Peace and Development, Migrant and Refugee Protection, Poverty and Social Exclusion.

Meanwhile Ensemble pour L'Europe - Together for Europe have been organising meetings and events in various countries in the run up to the elections. Réforme, La Croix and other Christian media in France helped sponsor a day conference in Paris yesterday. The meeting brought together more than 25 Christian communities and movements from France and is linked in to a wider European movement of more than 150 communities and organisations.



Saturday, 16 May 2009

Poetry, waste, war and leadership ...

I have just been watching a programme by Jeremy Paxman about Wilfred Owen, the English First World War poet. My mother taught Owen's poetry at school while I was growing up. It was interesting to learn that Owen's poetry only really became part of common cultural heritage in the 1960s.
Listening to the well known lines from Owen's poetry, and the less well-known lines from his letters home, I reflected on how horrifically wasteful humanity is of human beings. Yet in the crucible of desperate, vile battle poetry can sometimes flourish, even if it can take us decades to appreciate and recognise green shoots of pure genius sprouting in the terror of the battlefields.
Watching Annie Leonard's "the story of stuff" last night, I was moved in a similar way to how poetry sometimes moves me, as she described how wasteful of human beings, their lives, their dignity, their dreams and aspirations the systems are which underpin our ridiculous push to consume, buy, own and possess. I began to understand that in some ways today's consumerism is the underlying conflict which those of us fortunate to not live in present day warzones live with.
Churches too can be terribly wasteful, treating employees as commodities, putting up with the "collateral damage" of ministerial stress and congregational distress. Nine years on the ministries commission of my church have shown me how wasteful churches can be of talent, relationships, possibilities for renewal, chances for reconciliation ...
The question for church leaders from elders to archbishops, from patriarchs to sacristans is how to lead with humility and integrity, and yet also be decisive. So many of our leadership models come from the commercial warzone, are these appropriate models for the church? As the church in Europe at least becomes far less maintstream, more minority and counter-cultural will we not also need models of leadership which can inspire us and yet perhaps not necessarily offer us impossible ideals of perfection and effeciency? These issues around models of leadership and what alternatives may be vialble interest me as I work on the paper for my course in Rome.
Meanwhile I have not yet read Stephen Cottrell's Hit the Ground Kneeling nor have I looked much at the poetics of management. It strikes me though that poetics and creative theory may have more to teach us in developing new management models. As we try to be some of the green shoots of hope, creativity and beauty amidst the ongoing attrition of consumerism, perhaps the discipline, metre, craftedness and creativity of poetry may help to free up ways of perceiving what some of those models could be. Poetics may also be the way to help integrate spirituality and leadership while practising integrity and showing humility.

Looking back to Basel 1989 at Holy Disorder

Dr B has been writing about the many anniversaries marked this year in Germany. He's also written in more detail about the 20th anniversary of the 1st European Ecumenical Assembly held in Basel from 15-21st May 1989

In no church assembly before or since Basel has the ecumenical agenda been so affected by and linked to the dynamic of political changes in Europe," said Joachim Garstecki, a Catholic theologian who served as an advisor on peace issues to East Germany's Protestant churches, and who traveled with the 24 activists to the Swiss city (see Episcopal Life's pick up of an ENI story).

Do you have too much stuff?

We've been watching The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard. I really recommend it. It lasts about 20 minutes and gets the message across about trying to build an alternative to our unhappy consumer obsessed culture.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

What is it we want? Get me some truth ...

It was more than very sobering to be back in Britain during the current scandal about MP's expenses. Very unedifying and saddening.

When you have lived outside the country where you were brought up for a long time, things like this also serve to underline the huge changes in culture and attitudes that have ocurred over that time. You take with you a rather idealised idea of "home" as it was when you left and find that this is not the place you visit when you actually go back there. When values change it is not necessarily always for the worse of course.
But the current scandals make me wonder about the myths that any society makes about itself. Britain has underlying myths - many of which I don't particularly share and some of which came from the culture of the ruling privately educated class - about "stiff upper lips", "pluckiness", "fairplay", tolerance - not much of that showing through in the way MPs have behaved, nor in the way the media and public relish all of the sordid details of this completely unregulated anything goes expenses system. Neither the wonderful magna carta (another myth used to underpin the supposed brilliance of the British democratic system) nor the rules of the "mother of parliaments" seem to have ways of coping with this crisis, which is one of confidence in those who govern. Perhaps this is one of the places an unwritten constitution takes you ...
There are though also responsibilities with wider society and not just with indivduals for what is happening at the moment, the way British society and the media builds up and demolishes celebrities, and anyone in the public eye, makes me wonder about the something for nothing culture that has developed in recent decades.
Seamus Milne writing in today's Guardian has called the "expenses scandal a toxic boost for anti politics" and added that "the scams are a legacy of New Labour's get-rich, ideology-lite culture. The remoralisation must go far beyond the Commons."
In under a month Europe goes to the polls. Will the far right and other fringe parties get more votes in the UK as a result of this scandal? Will British democratic culture and practical politics recover?
As we flew out of John Lennon Airport today we walked past the quote on the photo above, we both just burst out laughing. As we went through the security checks which rather resembled a cattle pen approach to the management of human beings our laughter soon faded. The stark "you will conform to the measures we have put in place" message was a reminder of participation in the war that put the travelling public at higher risk or terrorist attack.
We come home to news that Ryan air will charge customers a compulsory £5 for checking in online ... compulsory because there is no other other way to check in! What a rip off. The British public has no choice but to put up with these ruses of capitalism to get them to pay more money. Meanwhile, many of those who are supposed to be representing the interests of ordinary people are protrayed as lining their own pockets. The message loud and clear is that there's not much point in getting involved in trying to change things, everyone's just out for themselves.
I still try to hold on to the ideal that this is not the case but then I ask what is it we all want? To get rich quick and easy, to bank the cash on shares in our demutualised building societies, to make easy money at any cost so long as it is for ourselves, to see our children long to become cash rich celebrities?
Building the societies we all really want to live in will take deeper values than that. Truth, honesty and integrity will be good places to start.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

From Geneva to Hoylake

We've taken a couple of days out to celebrate my sister in law's fifitieth birthday. It's fun and restorative to spend time with family and we ate at a fun restaurant in Hoylake this evening before returning for desert to "chez Eileen" for strawberry gateau, devoured by those aged from 12 to 94 with great delight. It's been a good couple of days.
Back to Geneva tomorrow.

Monday, 11 May 2009

"I love you and there's nothing you can do about it" - Kagina's story

Off the cuff, our colleague Rogate Mshana told a wonderful story today as part of our chapel service this morning as we prayed for Tanzania and Kenya. We listened to the passage from John's gospel where Jesus calls his disciples to love one another and assures them that they are his friends if they fulfill his commandments.

Rogate reflected on this by saying it is by our doing rather than by our thinking that we fulfill the commandment to love. After telling us the story of Kagina he invited us to turn to our neighbours and say "I love you and there is nothing you can do about it". It made us all laugh and smile but it was a powerful way to begin the week at work, several of us were saying it to each other throughout the day.

I should add that Rogate didn't know he was going to be saying anything until I cornered him as he walked into chapel and said wouldn't you just like to say a few words ... I'm so glad I dared to ask.

Kagina’s passion to be loved
A long time ago when I was young in Tanzania we used to see a man who was living alone in our village. This was not normal. His name was Kagina and people knew him by only this one name because there was no other person with such a name in the village. Kagina worked on his small farm and cooked for himself. As children we never asked why he was not married and raising children like us. We were, however, curious to know how he could be happy without connecting himself with others. Then we realized that he was talking to someone in his house. He would prepare his food and then put it on the table. But instead of eating the food right away, he first stretched himself on his bamboo bed and then imitated a sound of another person calling Kagina to come and eat because the food was ready and would get cold. Kagina would reply to himself that he was a bit sleepy but then the other Kagina would say, “My friend even if you are tired and sleepy it is good to eat together, you know that I cannot eat without you, I love you, please come.” Kagina would then sit up and go to eat, pretending he was eating with someone. He did this every day till he was old with age and died.
The story of Kagina is about loving one another especially around sharing a meal together. He wanted passionately to be loved and share a meal with someone else as an expression of this love.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Dirtying our hands with newsprint

This wonderful quote from Charles Baudelaire has been cunningly stuck over some newspaper distribution points near the railway station in Geneva.
"I do not understand how a pure hand can touch a newspaper without a feeling of revulsion".
On the last morning of my week's holiday we felt no such disgust feasting on a veritable banquet of German, French and English newsprint. A real lazy morning holiday breakfast treat though it's true our hands were a little grubby by the end.
The real problem with the weekend papers is that they are full of reviews of yet more books to think about reading and buying, just after I've spent much of my week sorting ours out and discovering not to anyone's surprise that we still do not have enought space to shelve them all!

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Multiple identity - the faith(s) of Felix, Abraham and Moses Mendelssohn

You may be able listen again to a fascinating programme about faith, identity, integration and music made by Sheila Hayman, a descendant of Felix Mendelssohn's sister Fanny

I’d always known about the Mendelssohn connexion, and I’d always felt the sense of not quite belonging in our family – my father has been, in his life, a Jew, a Lutheran, an Anglican, a Quaker and a Moslem - but I’d never connected the two until a family gathering four years ago, when I heard about Moses Mendelssohn for the first time.
The programme charts Felix's response to and promotion of Bach's music and also shows how his dual faith inheritance can also be traced in his music.
Hayman talks to conductor Kurt Masur, an Aryan boy in 1930s Berlin, forbidden to listen to Mendelssohn, and Claus Moser, a Jewish boy in Berlin at the same time, forbidden to listen to Beethoven and consoled by Mendelssohn. Steven Isserlis shows how Mendelssohn's own struggle between his two faiths can be heard in his music.
The Moses, Abraham and Felix Mendelsohn story is of integration, translation, language learning, of taking the path of rationalism and then of conversion when this did not fully satisfy society of the time. It is also interesting to see something of a dual perspective coming out as his work progresses, one part of "Elijah" is regularly used in Orthodox Ashkenazi synagogues as the scrolls are returned after being read. Even though it is not Jewish music as such it sounds Jewish and so is sung.
The story is of course also one of anti-semitism, Wagner and Schumann's musical anti-semitism - no doubt fuelled by not a little professional jealousy - and wider anti-semitism in German society of the 19th and 20th centuries. Despite the last practising Jew in the family having died in 1870s, Mendelssohn's descendants in the 1930s including Sheila Hayman's father, either have to flee or to distance themselves completely from their Jewish roots in order to survive.
Meanwhile it struck me that the two pieces of music most chosen for traditional weddings in Britain are by Mendelssohn and Wagner.
The programme is a moving account of the struggles of a mixed identity, bringing together philosophy, religion and the arts, well worth a listen if you get the chance to hear a repeat. There is also an interesting personal account of how part of the family escaped the death camps here.

Taste the honey and change the world with the secret life of bees

How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth! Psalm 119.103
I've spent this afternoon at the hairdresser's reading Sue Monk Kidd's lovely book The Secret Life of Bees. I've not seen the film released last year but it's great to read a book with a strong set of female characters. I also felt it more successfully incorporated the feminine into the notion of God than I felt the rather forced attempts in The Shack managed to.
Kidd's book has some great scenes with a Marian communion done with honey cakes and some quite strange annointing of a statue of Mary with honey. But essentially it is a story of searching for forgiveness and unconditional love. It is also about courage and adversity, daring to try and change the world rather than only search for personal fulfilment and understanding.

Friday, 8 May 2009

In memory of great aunt Milly
















My great aunty Milly died last November and tomorrow morning her ashes will be scattered on mountains overlooking the Mawddach estuary in Wales. She was my maternal grandmother's last remaining sibling and was in her early nineties when she died. For several decades she owned a cottage half way up the hills overlooking the Mawddach estuary. We spent many very happy family holidays there, no running water, outside toilet facilities and no car access - it was wonderful. It is one of Europe's most beautiful estuaries but these images just speak to me of childhood, time out and holiday.
Aunty Mill never married but was "everyone's favourite aunt", she was also a good friend and a much trusted employee, ending as PA to the boss which was probably code for helping to run the business. She was generous with smiles, money and time at the cottage, and managed to combine being a shrewd business woman with being very unjudgemental of individuals. I suspect she was often the peace maker in various family upsets and she certainly seems to have been the one everyone was still talking to even when they weren't speaking to each other.
Quite a number of her nieces and nephews will travel to Wales tomorrow. She was a special lady.

A Friday five on insects or should that be bugs ...

So below is this week's Friday five from Revgalpals and because I am on holiday I can do this early in the day for once. I'm rather inspired that it is about insects. However the linguist in me does note (sorry I must have woken up in a prissy mood!) that the American term bug is not a complete synonym for insect as it includes other creepy crawlies that are not insects.
As I was walking the beach today, I was surprised and delighted to find it swarming with ladybugs. The sweet little red beetles are one of my favorite insects and also my daughter's blogname--though as of this morning she was thinking of changing it to Butterfly. I'll keep you posted.
This got me thinking about spiritual insect trivia: Did you know that medieval mystics and theologians esteemed the bee for its dedicated work and transformation of ordinary ingredients into sweetness? That Spider Woman is an important creator Goddess to many Native American tribes? Or that Francis of Assisi was reminded of Jesus not only by lambs being led to slaughter, but also by worms (think "I am a worm and no man" from the Psalms)-- so he picked them up and took them out of stomping-vulnerable spots?!
In that spirit, this week's Friday Five is a magical mystery tour through God's garden of creepy crawlies!

1. Ladybugs or ladybirds? Pillbugs or roly-polys? Jesus bugs or water skeeters? Any other interesting regional or familial name variations?

When I saw that today's five was about insects the first thing that came to mind were the chocolate May beetles (Maikäfer) that you can find in the shops in Germany at this time of the year - and flying in the silly youtube clip. Not to be confused with Marienkäfer - literally Marybeetles or ladybirds. Then I wondered why are they called ladybirds or beetles of our Lady, this is a gap in my knowledge of trivia that I must fill. So it seems that because ladybirds chomp their way through thousands of aphids and so protect crops peasant farmers saw them as a gift from the Virgin - our lady's beetles. They were also seen as giving protection from witches and the evil eye.
Meanwhile "avoir le cafard" - literally to have the cockroaches - means to have the blues.
I also love the French word libellule for dragonfly and remember learning it at school, it has an interesting etymology too.

2. Stomp on spiders, carry them outside, or peacefully co-exist?
I love spider's webs - though not when tacky and full of house dust. In my more merciful moments I have been known to carry spiders outside or trap them in jars. In our household it would be me who would catch or kill them, my partner is not fond of creepy crawlies but doesn't enjoy the crunchy sound of killing them either.
I'm not so squeamish, must be growing up in the country. When I lived in the south of France our student kitchen had an invasion of cockroaches and I would go in regularly to squash them with the bread knives, it was quite satisfying but didn't have much impact on their numbers!

3. Favorite insect?
Now I understand more about their importance to the whole of life on our planet it has to be the bee. This week I was walking along a path and saw an enormous bumble bee which seemed to be trying to get at the polen in the fallen blossom cases on the path. What fascinated and impressed me was the mini huricane of air its helicopter wings were generating. The tiny blossom cases were literally being lifted off the ground. It made me think about the so-called butterfly effect - the idea that a butterfly flapping its wings in South America could create storms on the other side of the world. Watching that energetic bumble bee I could really believe it capable of causing quite a storm.
More seriously though I am planning to put bee and butterfly friendly plants into my new garden.

4. Least favorite?
No contest here. Definitely the mosquito. Not only does it bite and transmit disease it also makes one heck of an irritating noise depriving me of sleep. I am fairly convinced that it is not part of God's good creation.

5. Got any good bug stories to share?

A friend who is a bit of an entomologist went through a phase of mounting a large and a small weevil in tiny museum-like cases. Under the first large one in careful script it would say "a weevil" under the second it would say "the lesser of two weevils". With the same friend and my brother in law I climbed up to my parents loft on my wedding day (in my wedding dress!) to show them the long-eared bats that nest there. The friend however was more interested in the special bat-dung eating beetles he found there!

Bonus question: share a poem, song, quotation, etc. about insects.

This has to be Gerard Manley Hopkins
My good friend Rowenna Reamonn, whose funeral I took nearly seven years ago, made a very beautiful series of prize-winning quilts based on the first line of this poem.
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying, What I do is me: for that I came.

I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is —
Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

gaps, inbetweens and fragments ...

"The love of God and for God resides in a gap"
Julia Kristeva,
Tales of Love

This short quote came to mind as I read Maggi Dawn's post cited below about Jeanette Winterson saying that creativity is in the space inbetween the interior and exterior struggles. It also reminded me of Simone's Maundy Thursday sermon and the theology of fragments.

Bits and pieces, fragments, gaps, inbetween ... sooner or later perhaps I shall perhaps craft some kind of narrative drawing this together, or maybe just tell parables instead.

To risk or not to risk ...

Earlier this week Maggi Dawn, in a reflection on the Good Shepherd lectionary readings from last Sunday, gave a number of examples of how risk taking is essential to life and very much part of the gospel. I particularly appreciated her citing of Jeanette Winterson

Winterson ... talked about the light between two darks - the dark of interior struggle and exterior struggle. The Light is the creative space in between.
Risk is quite interesting as a value. On the one hand we try to encourage "young people" not to engage in risky behaviour yet on the other hand something that is at least packaged as risk is sold to us sometimes as the sexy, new alternative. Does giving things a more, at least supposedly, "risky" veneer make them more attractive? Maggi wrote a really good second post on the subject, relating risk to the good shepherd values in a different way, was the community John was writing for one so frightened of persecution that the call to risk going outside the fold would have been very real for them?
I remain in two minds about risk - the gospel has a double message of absolute grace and security at the same time as a real call to go beyond, to leave the comfort zone and set out in trust. As I try to discern what the call to leave comfort and trust in grace may mean for me I begin to see that the greatest risk may be in getting too comfortable and assuming that this comfort is grace. Reflecting on what Maggi has written helps me to see that I need to take the risk to trust in grace.