Thursday, 30 December 2010

Flowers and gratitude

Four weeks ago today I was given a bunch of flowers as a thank you, I was a bit embarassed - feeling perhaps that others deserved flowers more than I did but I was pleased too.
Despite being in a heated wintertime house the flowers lasted well, for once I managed to look after them well and these two lovely spider chrysanthemums which remain from the bunch have added their star-like colour to our Christmas table and may well even last into the new year.
A reminder to me to pass on gratitude and signs of thankfulness to others.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Advent and Christmas 2010

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Some Christmas images

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Radio services and the grace of other people's liturgies ...

Regular readers of this blog (if there are any left after the hiatus of recent weeks) will have gathered that the Stranzblog household is in a state of flux at the moment, heading towards much that is unknown in the New Year. I'm not going to write too much about that here, gradually things will become clearer I hope.
I have spent Christmas very quietly moving from the sofa to the kitchen and to bed - inbetween dosing myself with antibiotics and coughing. It's been almost the first time ever that I haven't been able to go to Church over Christmas and I've missed that. However, I've been blessed to be able to listen to the radio and really appreciated two broadcast services the first from St Martin in the Fields on Christmas Day and the second on St Stephen's Day from Prague - it linked Wenceslas, St Vaclav, the velvet revolution and much more besides. If you follow the link you can read some good blogposts about the making of the Prague programme.
Both services were meditative, meaningful and joyful without being preachy, they were locally rooted and thoroughly international which touched me. You can download transcripts.
Here's a longer extract from Petra Elsmore's meditation:

Stephen couldn’t keep his mouth shut. His speech to the Council goes on and on – covering two pages in my Bible. And towards the end, it becomes a bit of a rant – “You stiff necked people,” he says. “Are your ears full of wax? You worship the law, not the living God”…Enraged, they take up stones and the first Christian martyr is killed.
His words might seem to us now to be inflammatory perhaps. Luke’s story leaves us with an uncomfortable feeling when seen from this side of the Holocaust. But Stephen’s extreme language was born of an extreme time – here was a new branch of the faith struggling to discover its own identity and rebelling against its parent… perhaps it’s helpful to see Stephen’s anger in that light.
Like so many Martyrs, Stephen’s trouble was that he made a nuisance of himself – he spoke out rather than keeping silent. Stephen, like Jesus, like so many who have been killed for their faith since then, died not for the beliefs in his head, but for the actions and the words which flowed from those beliefs. His passion for Christ led him in the end to share his master’s fate.
Here in the Czech Republic, during the days of communism, speaking out could get you locked up in prison, you could lose your job, you could be placed under heavy surveillance and constantly intimidated…. But courageous individuals spoke out again and again throughout those difficult years… people who paid the ultimate price because something in them just had to protest against the injustice and inhumanity of those in power. It takes extraordinary courage to be the one person in 10,000 who is willing to put their head above the parapet and take a stand. In the Czech Republic, often the individuals who did so were artists, writers, performers, poets and musicians. Vratislav Brabenec, a member of the underground band “The Plastic People of the Universe” said "We weren't political, man. We were just trying to be poetical." Asked why the band would not accept government control, he answered: "That's freedom, man, I'd die for that."
Faced with injustice, most people keep their heads down and prefer not to get involved. We like a quiet life, we worry about our reputations, we conform to comfortable social norms. Speaking out always carries a price. And in the West or even in post-communist Czech Republic, it may seem that there is little to protest about… but when we open our eyes to those at the margins of society and to those who struggle to feed their children in a wealthy society, we might think again.
The root meaning of the word ‘martyr’ is to be a witness. Are we willing to take a stand like Stephen, when our faith and sense of justice demands we act or speak and make a nuisance of ourselves for what we believe in?

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Of Holy Innocents

Depending on which branch of Christianity you belong to yesterday, today or tomorrow marks the feast of Holy Innocents. It seems strange somehow to call something so horribly violent as Herod's brutal massacre of the boy children around Bethlehem a "feastday".
Often the date goes almost unnoticed, lost in the lurch from Christmas to New Year, forgotten in the rush to post Christmas sales and the return to work.

As I re-read the story in Matthew's gospel I've been reflecting on the disproportionate violence that the birth of the vulnerable baby provokes. I also wonder how many other times God tries to break into human history and yet is brutally stopped by human jealousy. Today children in so many places are massacred - through poverty, war, abandonment and the awful personal and thoughtless violence of those closest to them ... Herod today can take many forms and does not necessarily rule from a palace.

Often at Epiphany I have preached on how the Magi were not so wise and learned after all. They did not understand Herod's power or obsessions, their learned naivity leads to the massacre and the wailing of the parents ... the vulnerable prince of peace born into violence.

"Warned in a dream" the Magi return by a different route, this gives the newborn Christ and his family vital time to flee from the jealous political power that wants him dead ... and I wonder does God also weep at the spilt blood of the innocent children, does God rejoice that God's own son is saved, are not all children, children of God?

T.S. Elliot in his wonderful poem The Journey of the Magi has the Magi learning and reflecting on their homeward journey, precisely on this life and death paradox in the experience of the birth in Bethlehem. The child born in that place was destined to die and only thus to reign over a kingdom of peace. The gift of myrrh speaks powerfully of the perfumed spices that the women will carry to the tomb after the resurrection ...

were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

Meanwhile, Patrick Comerford, whom I was privileged to meet on my recent trip to Ireland, has written as ever learnedly about Holy Innocent's day here. Here's a taster, but do read his whole post, and the ones that will follow for the remaining 12 days of Christmas:
Oscar Schindler famously said: “Whoever saves the life of one saves the entire world.” He was referring to a well-known teaching in the Talmud: “Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world” (Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 4: 8, 37a) ...
This is an appropriate day to remember those children whose innocence has been destroyed by people working in the Church.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

A celtic blessing ...

God be with you in every pass
Jesus be with you on every hill
Spirit be with you on every stream
Headland and ridge and lawn;
Each sea and land, each moor and meadow,
Each lying down, each rising up,
On the trough of the waves, on the crest of the billows -
Each step of the journey you go

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Hope sleep and laughter - speech by Stephen Brown at the farewell to ENInews staff

'Hope, sleep and laughter'

Remarks at the farewell to ENInews' staff, 16 December 2010

First of all, my apologies. By the end of my remarks you will probably be asking yourselves what I have learned about post-colonial and gender perspectives during my 16 years at the Ecumenical Centre. For, as you will hear, my comments seem to revolve around the 'dead philosophers' society' - all the members of which, in this case, are white, male and European!!

Karl Marx, the German political economist, once wrote, "People make their own history but not in circumstances of their own choosing". It is no secret, I think, that the circumstances that we are marking today are not ones that I, or many of us here, would have chosen.

Rather than dwell on the circumstances, I prefer to concentrate on the first half of the sentence - the opportunity offered in whatever circumstances to make one's own history. Søren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher whose name has sometimes been confused with that of our current president, Anders (Gadegaard), put it like this: "Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forward."

Nevertheless, at an occasion such as this I also need to cast a glance backwards and give thanks for the enormous opportunities I have received over the past 16 years. I am and remain immensely grateful for these opportunities, and immensely proud of what we have achieved at ENInews. I owe an immense debt of gratitude to all those people and organizations who have allowed me these possibilities.

The danger of beginning to single out people for particular thanks is that either you read out a long list of names or that people who should be on the list are not there. So, I have decided to thank several categories of people, but these thanks should be understood as inclusive thanks to all of you.

Firstly, I want to thank the colleagues at ENInews I have worked with over the past 16 years: Eddie, Desirée, Danielle, Samia, Laurie, Peter, Valerie, Jean-Michel, Mylah, Doris, and David. Anything and everything that has been achieved is because we have worked as a team. Secondly, I want to thank the moderators and presidents of ENInews governing boards: Margot Kässmann, Jean-Jacques Bauswein, Robin Gurney, David Lawrence and Anders Gadegaard, for their advice, support - and belief in ENInews. Thirdly, the treasurers that I have worked with: Marianne Ejdersten and David Lawrence.

I also want to pay tribute to Jan Kok, who many of us still miss and who died much too young, for his vision and foresight in believing in ENInews and taking the action that made it a possibility (and Libby (Visinand) who did much of the actual work to prepare for ENInews). I want particularly to thank my current colleagues - Peter, Jean-Michel and David - for being such a great team. Particularly in the last weeks and months, we have been able to pull together, make sure the work gets done and support each other in what have not always been the easiest of times.

If I single out one organization, then it is the World Council of Churches. Without the opportunities I received from the WCC I would not be here today: attending the 1983 Vancouver assembly and a receiving a WCC scholarship to study in East Berlin in the early 1980s.

It was in Berlin that I first came across the saying of another 'dead philosopher', Immanuel Kant: "Three things help to bear the hardships of life: hope, sleep and laughter."

Those who know me know of my proclivity to be able to fall asleep anywhere, and almost at any time. But what I want to wish for all of us for the future, is not sleep, but much hope and laughter.

Stephen Brown

Monday, 13 December 2010

Fragments of Advent understanding - a sermon

They held up a stone.
I said, "Stone."
Smiling they said, "Stone."

They showed me a tree.
I said, "Tree."
Smiling they said, "Tree."

They shed a man's blood.
I said, "Blood."
Smiling they said, "Paint."

They shed a man's blood.
I said, "Blood."
Smiling they said, "Paint."

copyright (c) Dannie Abse, Adapted from the Hebrew of Amir Gilboa, 1982

Bible Reading - Isaiah 42:1-4
Matthew 3:1-12
Fragments of Advent understanding - a sermon preached in the ecumenical centre chapel

First the bad news - Manoj and Hielke are travelling so you get me again …
and be warned, next year it will be different you will all be doing the prayers and the preaching!

And now for more bad news:
Sorry but Advent is not all about the cute little baby

So I offer you some fragments

In the knowledge that they will not make a perfect whole

In the hope that this incompleteness will leave room for some of your fragments too

Earlier this year I spent some time whispering into the ear of a delightful, charming and erudite man called Floribert Bahizire, a leading human rights advocate and Director of an NGO in the Democratic Republic of Congo called "La Voix des Sans-Voix pour les Droits de l’Homme"

Six weeks later in early June the world learnt of his and his driver's death in suspicious circumstances. The two of them treated like paint. Their humanity and blood denied.

And in Advent we read and hear Isaiah's words from the suffering servant:

"He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smouldering wick"

And I think oh really?

I hear my mother in law's voice saying to me that she really has had enough of all these prayers saying that God cares for all those who are suffering - "I don't think he does you know. And how does that help them, what is God doing?"


We can all think of people like Floribert - the bruised reeds or smouldering wicks who have been snapped off or snuffed out or raped or beaten - we may even refer to some of them as martyrs or saints

And there are also those too numerous to mention or comprehend who have died in genocide, war, famine and injustice: Armenia, Cambodia, Rwanda, gulags, gas chambers, the disappeared

"He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smouldering wick he will faithfully bring forth justice."

Upholding human rights, upholding the humanity of humanity …seeking to bear witness not to paint but to the blood which courses in all of our veins. It is a painstaking and often dangerous task. Truth creates enemies.

And as I think about that challenge I think of the many times in my own life when I have been more on the side of paint than of blood. Advent is such a time of reflection, a time to contemplate judgement as well as the promise of joy.

Let me give you a small example from parish life in France. It was not a good day. The previous night's elders meeting had lasted until 1am, the morning's meeting of "les amis de l'orgue" - the friends of the organ - seemed to have resolutely decided to become the enemies of the pastor. I walked from my study out into the garden, in need of some springtime hope and as I got to the fruit garden my heart sank, there was the parishioner who "helped" (I use the term advisedly) with the garden with a large pile of twigs in front of her. I could see that they came from my gooseberry bushes which would now have no chance of bearing fruit.

Let's just say I wasn't happy and I let her know it.

She was probably the poorest member of the parish. After the failure of her marriage she had become addicted to antidepressants but had overcome that, her daughter was on methadone, she didn't have a garden of her own. And on this lovely sunny morning even the pastor was shouting at her.

"He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smouldering wick he will faithfully bring forth justice."

His winnowing-fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.

A further and final fragment
A friend is talking about the empty evening ahead while feeling lonely and exhausted after a heavy travel programme. She suddenly said, "I think I shall go home and pray." And I realised she hardly ever had the time or energy to pray and that having and making that time is also a privilege … do I use my privileged praying time well?
Centuries ago St Augustine said "without God we cannot, without us God will not". Prayer and ethics, spirituality and practice belong together
All of us are imperfect pilgrims trying to make those two ends meet.
Sometimes we ourselves are the bruised reeds and guttering wicks

He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth;

Even when things are in fragments the Advent promise carries us forwards.
Because of and despite our limitations we continue to bear hope, to dare to believe

Last week Floribert's successor was here in Geneva, and is taking the work of his NGO for human rights in DRC forwards.

So here's the good news
It is all about the suffering servant baby
About God's vulnerability and choice of the insignificant stable rather than the pompous palace.
About God the almighty accepting even to be powerless and dependent.

In British folklore parents tell their children that babies are found underneath the gooseberry bush - (given how thorny gooseberry bushes are this may say something about British attitudes to sexuality). Two years after the pruning incident in my garden I came home to discover a basket of freshly picked gooseberries on my doorstep. There had been a bumper harvest but I had moved house in the meantime, someone else was harvesting from the fruit bushes I had planted.

We are called to prophetic anger at abuses that treat people like paint and pawns rather than flesh and blood.
But in Adventide we are called even more to be fragments filled with the promise of peace and justice, reeds and wicks pointing to the possibility, to the certainty of future fruit even if we will not ourselves be the harvesters.

For most surely, God's suffering One from the stable will enflame our hearts and redress all that is broken within us.

Copyright (c) Jane Stranz / WCC

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Kennings for Advent are you a lotus eater or a locust eater?

At morning prayer today I invited those of us there to think poetically in kennings about Advent as we reflected on the reading about John the Baptist from Mark's gospel ... as we meditated in silence our reflection was occasionally broken by a kenning. I think I shall try it again for tomorrow.
Sandal untier, water baptiser, sackcloth wearer, locust eater, honey swallower, truth proclaimer, messiah announcer ...

And as I thought about locust eater I also thought about lotus eater and realised to my shame taht I am the latter not the former.

Later this week I am invited to attend lunch for the 10th anniversary of the Ecumenical Adovocacy Alliance which campaigns on food justice and HIV. May I should suggest the locust eater-lotus eater idea to them. Probably it's too literary to work ...
Anyway at least morning prayer got my brain working.

Antiphonally yours ...

Time for me to confess that I am always rather grumpy about Christmas - I'm not quite sure when this started, I think when I was at university and received presents I just didn't want and felt bad about it all. So I took refuge in doing night duty at the Samaritans and taking Christmas services. Now in recent years I have been privileged to travel - last year to Venice, before that Berlin. It feels a bit selfish, but I'm happy trying to do Christmas my way for now.

I am terrible at buying presents and not even very gracious at receiving them and yet I love the Christmas story, the repetition of words and narratives that continue to speak to me. And I love the wonderful quiet liminal time of waiting that is Advent.

This morning we prayed the great Advent antiphones for the first time this Advent, I love the images, the memories of candles lit in the past and the glory of the music to O Come O Come Emmanuel - Chantez chantez il vient à notre appel combler nos coeurs Emmanuel. That French version "he comes to fill our hearts" is one I particularly love.

This morning's liturgy, during which we were privileged to hear John's gospel and the passage from Genesis read in Chinese by visitors from the China Christian Council, can be found here - with antiphones of course!

Monday, 6 December 2010

Memories and writing

Our friend John Asling has left the Geneva rat race and is working as a freelance writer in Blackheath, London. I've just been reading a great short story he's written called "The Memory Girl".
I so admire him for trying to follow his creative drive and just get on and write. Maybe I should learn from his example ...

Thanks John for sharing, but most of all for writing.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Holding hands in a warm grasp whatever the weather

Over the past year I have been on a steep learning curve about Norway, a country I have only visited once - though I did rather like it and celebrated my 40th birthday there under the midnight sun!

In one article I read some months ago about the Tromso outdoor winter film festival I came across the phrase "In Norway there is no such thing as bad weather just bad clothing".

I thought of this today as the World Council of Churches general secretary Olav Fykse Tveit, who is Norwegian, attended his first private audience with Pope Benedict XVI. Tveit and other colleagues at the WCC thought carefully about gifts for the Holy Father, in the end taking an inlaid wooden box from Syria as a reminder of deep concern for and solidarity with the people and Christian communities of the Middle East. Inside the box were some more personal gifts, a book of poetry by Olav H. Hauge which contains in Norwegian and English one of Tveit's favourite poems by Hauge "The Dream we Carry".

Rather more unusually one of the other gifts was a pair of Norwegian woollen gloves. Since coming into office at the WCC Tveit has tried to rehabilitate the meaning of winter, as a time for reflection and preparation. Communicators sometimes find this a bit difficult to deal with as there is also much talk of ecumenical winter. Tveit's clear message with the gloves was that however cold the actual or ecumenical weather there are always ways in which we can reach out to each other, support one another and walk hand in hand to carry forwards the work of unity and being one together.
I like the idea of this ecumenical reaching out to one another whatever the weather, a warm grasp across the divisions, inspired by epigramatic poetry: carrying the dream ... To advance Christian unity perhaps we all need to think not about how bad the weather is but how we can metaphorically clothe ourselves in such a away that we can still reach out in warmth to one another.

The photo is from the Osservatore Romano who have a further piece about the visit here.
And here's a link to the transcript of Vatican radio's interview with Tveit, in German.

We have become a published author!

On Monday evening there were strange scenes in our household as champagne was drunk despite it being the beginning of the week. At last we received a copy of Stephen's book! The publisher's had tried to send one last week but a different - also quite interesting book - arrived instead. We knew it was at last published because a Facebook friend told us her copy had arrived!

Anyway, it is cause for much rejoicing. The foreword has been written by Dr Margot Kässmann and Dr B has benefitted from a veritable harem of German proof readers. Thanks to all of them.

He is trying to say that he will be doing an English version soon, but I think I may need a holiday before that!
Anyway claim to have already sold out of copies but maybe they'll stock up soon, so to buy Dr B's book for now you can go to the book depository here.

Looking forward to God's dream of peace ...

My friend Annegret Kapp has just posted the first of a series of videos to the WCC's Facebook page.
"There's less than 24 weeks to go until the beginning of the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation. To get ourselves ready, each week we'll hear a vision for peace from one corner of the earth. We start of with the Rev. Eilert Rostrup, who reminds us that God's peace includes just relationships between human beings... and between humanity and the rest of creation."

Really hope we can do a video like this of the textile artists who will be putting the stitching peace exhibition together.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Ecumenical Winter ...

As the Norwegian general secretary of the WCC says all seasons have their advantages. Winter is a time for reflection but also for preparation. It made me smile to see our new poster for the Peace Convocation in tropical Jamaica amidst all of the Swiss snow!

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Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Midwifery for the barren - Advent thoughts

Midwifery for the barren

She is caught, between two men and her passion
She is caught wanting to give birth to the future
But has lost her voice
They control the money and the power
She no longer even controls her emotion

For a seemingly endless few weeks the belly of her future seemed empty
She was bereft of tomorrow
No heartbeat could be detected
But the pain and the tears...

Small everyday petty betrayal gnawed at her sense of self
Yet the depression has been a tool
And now she senses the future might once more be quickening
How to overcome her fear and midwife a future
Shining with a passion for integrity and not hatred
How to midwife a future of light and meaning

So this barren woman will bear the birthpangs
And the pushing
And the long hard labour
Yet if the men who know the joy of having children
Insist on carrying away the power as their right
The future will continue to be stillborn
And the only one to notice will be her
For they are lost in their dreams of control

She will not let her intellect be appeased
Nor her sense of humour depart
Without laughter the future will remain barren
Without joy there is no heartbeat
Even and especially the barren have a stake in the future

Throughout she will be challenged by her own preaching
And the vision she received through her tears
Only together can they do this
Only together

Will she find strength once more in generosity
And learn to go forwards, wounded but not bitter
Controlling the story … and giving it away

On being a midwife - are women really that subversive

I had a wonderful and powerful conversation with a good friend today. We talked of midwifery and the pain of our roles, trying to birth something into being and being hindered and held back, sometimes by not daring enough to be ourselves, to take on what my friend calls "our grace-filled subversive role as women". She pointed to the five women cited in Christ's genealogy in Matthew's gospel as being powerful subversive models in different sorts of ways:
Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and "Miriam of Nazareth" - as my friend always calls her.

These women, inscribed through grace into the history of a male saviour, bear the future subversively, carry children in their bellies and give birth to the future despite everything - being seen as prostitutes, foreigners, wife of the wrong man, single mothers ...
Of course even the men God chooses to write salvation history through are hardly the handsome hero types - Moses has a speech impediment, David is the youngest son (and becomes more than just a bit of a philanderer), Abraham is such a man's man that he pretends his wife is his sister to get himself out of a sticky situation ... Cain kills his brother, Jacob steals his brother's blessing...

Then of course there is Joseph. If he had dared perhaps Shakespeare would have said Joseph was cuckolded by God. Earlier this week my friend challenged we female midwives to think about Joseph as a midwife, certainly as a birth attendant, at Jesus's birth. So many male partners are the only ones there to help new life into the world, to tend to the women they love at this most critical of times. Just as there are female doctors so there are also male midwives.
As we trangress and bend gender roles all of us take on some of the power of the subversives.
That subversive power is graced by God.
Happy Advent, happ waiting.

Swords into Ploughshares on World Aids Day

Today is World Aids Day.

Here on the Franco-Swiss border the world has turned not red but white as the heaviest snowfall in decades hits this part of the world. Many of the local campaigning plans for the day have had to be rescheduled, that's weather for you.

Colleagues at the Ecumencical Advocacy Alliance in Geneva launched their Advent Calendar today. It's a thoughtful and beautiful resource with contributions from around the world. It lasts for the whole of Advent - right up until January 6th which is Christmas Eve in many Orthodox countries and churches. So you get to wait and reflect for quite a bit longer.

Today's opening reflection comes from Canon Gideon Byamugisha, Christian Aid's HIV AIDS goodwill ambassador:
"Our faith insists we develop a prophetic imagination that works towards safer, healthier and more peaceful, equitable and fulfilling living that makes war history."

Week after week I talk to visitors groups about sowrds into ploughshares - the key text from Isaiah and Micah which begins this year's Advent readings. It was a surprise to see the text through this different lens of health and peace. Making war history also means working for just health for all.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Advent ist Dezember - well not quite

In order to try and cut down on earlier and earlier Christmas commercialism the German churches have run a campaign called "Advent ist Dezember" Advent is in December. the only problem being of course that it isn't quite only in December most years.

Be that as it may I am enjoying two wonderful German Advent calendars. The first is pictured here and comes from "Der andere Advent". There are lovely pictures, reflections and poems on each daily double spread and it's deeply satisfying as well as being fun.

The other was brought home to me by Dr B and is the epd Advent calendar it's made on 25 cards like the "do not disturb" signs you hang on your door in a hotel. It's beatifully produced and I'm looking forward to reading the thoughts and biblical texts for each day.

And then also today my Alternativity star boxes and Epiphany boxes arrived, I'm looking forward to giving these away over the next few days.

Meanwhile my colleagues at the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance are calling on folk to sign up for their daily online Adventcalendar. They launch on world AIDS Day December 1.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Women at the table ...

I have just returned from the installation of Rev. Martin Junge as general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation. It was a lovely service, with glorious music led by Rev. Terry Macarthur, who is so full of enthusiasm and creativitiy.
One lovely moment I particularly liked was towards the beginning of the service when we sang Tenemos Esperanza. Martin left his place on the front row and came and joined us in the choir, accompanying us on his guitar and leading the singing of the tango rhythym and words in Spanish. It was good moment of the leader being one of the people, it symbolised something but it was also very authentic.
The other moment that moved me was having two women celebrating communion. There were so many women clergy and women bishops processing in alongside male colleagues. It was a colourful and heart-warming sight.
Having two women at the altar was also a real choice. On the United Nations Day for the Elimination of violence against women I was proud of Protestant churches who know that sometimes it is important to set up signs. This was one for me at least. So many photos of church events only have men on them, this said to me gently but surely, we are willing to share power, to give up power to try to begin being more fully a community of women and men together.
Earlier in the week I had listened to what I consider to be complete nonsense on the radio from some male clergy in the Church of England who were putting forward the argument that having women bishops or women clergy discouraged men from going to church. Oh dear they obviously haven't realised how much their own leadership seems for several hundred years to have discouraged men from coming to church - or maybe they haven't noticed.
Anyway this ought to be about celebration. A good, tuneful and colourful service to which some serious thought about signs and inclusiveness had been given. I felt nourished and blessed... and I so enjoyed singing such great music.
Martin also preached a great sermon which you can read here.
Oh yes and I tweeted the whole thing at
Sorry about my dreadful typing!

Monday, 22 November 2010

Dealers in purple - a sermon

Well here is my sermon from this morning. I think I shall call it "dealers in purple". I enjoyed praeching this morning, despite my sinusitis. Sometimes things just work and this simple service marking the UN's day for the elimination of violence against women on November 25 worked well by re-using material from earlier in teh year but framing it differently

Psalm 1
Acts 16 11-15

Blessed are those who build community for they will be blessed with the future

So, Brothers and sisters, women and men
How are you feeling this morning?
Are you feeling happy - thank God it's Monday!
Like those who meditate God's law in Psalm 1 do you feel like a tree planted by a stream of water?

Perhaps not (particularly given how very cold it is in the chapel this morning)
Perhaps you are feeling fatigued
even at the beginning of the week
perhaps compassion fatigue has set in
or commitment fatigue
perhaps you are wary and weary of new campaigns and challenges.

More than 20 years ago in one of the most privileged environments in the world I experienced the awful complacency and cynicism compassion fatigue can create
I was studying theology at the University of Oxford and all students for church ministry that year were invited to an all day ecumenical seminar organized by Christian Aid (I’ll spare you the details of how much of an ecumenical achievement it was to simply get all of the denominations to agree to such a day.) We gathered for prayers, there were lectures and workshops on various issues linked to development and advocacy. All of the workshops were able to take place with one exception. Almost noone had signed up for the workshop on women and poverty - I still remember Michael Taylor then director of Christian Aid, challenging us pretty forcefully about both our understanding and our commitment. He faced us with our own smugness and complacency about political correctness. Across the world then as today, the poorest of the poor are women. Of course this doesn’t mean that there are not men living in abject poverty – unfortunately there are of course millions of men and boys suffering from the iniquities of poverty, injustice and war. For every unjustly poor man there is an even poorer woman.

A Monday morning meditation is not the place to remind you of the statistics, you can easily look them up on google yourselves. But it is not a coincidence that some of the key areas for achieving the millennium development goals have to do with women’s health and the access of girls to education.
Later this week the UN will mark once more the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against women. A reminder of one of the additional burdens women across the world bear.

However, before I continue in this perhaps rather ranting tone, I think I should remind myself of a couple of lines by one of my favourite poets and also invite all of us not to a rant but to a celebration:
The German poet Berthold Brecht wrote
"Even anger against injustice makes the voice grow harsh.
Alas we who wished to lay the foundations of kindness could not ourselves be kind."

Today I really don’t want my voice to grow harsh – not only because I’m nearly losing it thanks to my sinusitis. Today I want to point to the possibility and the reality of what we achieve as a community of women and men together. I don’t want to focus yet again on women as victims. I want much more to encourage us to commit to what we can do together as women and men.

Particularly this week when the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the World Council of Churches will mark the publication of a new book “In God’s Image From Hegemony to Partnership – a church manual promoting positive masculinities”

So with Fulata (on Friday) we looked for a positive female biblical role model who could speak to the community of women and men and we decided to choose the story of Lydia for this morning’s meditation.
The first person on the continent of Europe to become a Christian, to hear and believe in the good news is a woman – without her many of us here might never have become followers of Jesus Christ. She gave generations afterwards a future.

Lydia invites those with the message she believes in into her home, they are persuaded by her invitation.
She allows them close to her
She shares with them, together community is built

The evangelisers will move on

But one evangeliser will also stay put, in her own community, living out her baptism in her own place, converting those she comes into contact with through family life and business
Truly she is blessed with the future.

There was of course another reason Fulata and I chose Lydia
She was a dealer in purple 
Purple - the colour of the women’s movement,
the colour of nobility and royalty and riches
Was she a well off business woman or a poor worker selling on the dye she worked long hours to make? Scholars differ

When I think back to that ecumenical day in Oxford and particularly to the female colleagues I trained alongside from the Church of England, I admit to feeling a little sad and angry.

Not one of those women training with me can yet become a bishop and exercise the leadership of oversight in their church. When we were training together we still didn’t know whether they would be allowed to even become priests.
None of them can officially deal in purple yet … some have already retired before this will be possible for them.

(Perhaps I should add that I come from a church that doesn’t deal in purple for either men or women, those who exercise oversight have in recent decades included women. We did though ordain the first woman to the Christian ministry in Britain in 1917 – a year before women in that country had the vote. And just over two years ago we appointed the UK’s first woman church leader at the national level.)

All of us need to overcome fatigue and reinvigorate our commitment. One of the ways I do that is by reading detective fiction, issues seems to get resolved more finally than in some theological circles. I tend to feel that much of the best detective fiction is written by women. I was though surprised when re-reading one of my favourite authors Sara Paretsky - to find detective fiction also offering me encouragement and not just escapism:

"you must live in hope, the hope that your work can make a difference in the world."

Let us never fall into complacent fatigue
But let us never forget to celebrate what we are able to do together as women and men, men and women.

As I was thinking about some symbolic action we could all participate in together in this morning's service I realised that a really important practical thing we can commit to together would be to stand together as women and men for climate justice.

Annegret and I have prepared some of the posters and at the end of the service I invite you to hold the posters and take one another's photos with you mobile phones and cameras and then upload them to the campaign part of the WCC website as part of the photo petition. (or on facebook)
The posters read:
We Care for Creation
Climate Justice Now!
And this is my favourite, I think they used to say love your neighbour even when he plays trombone but this one says: Love your neighbour: Fight climate change

It is only by being together as the community of women and men who follow Jesus Christ that we will be able to combat climate change and so much else besides.
I pray that we may continue to build and celebrate that community.
In that way, bishops or not, we shall all exercise oversight and be dealers in purple, bearing witness to our baptism.

Blessed are those who build community
For they are blessed with the future


Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Another passing fragmentary thought ...

Today we sang Holden Evening Prayer and it was like coming home. I chose some poems on silence by Thomas Merton and R.S. Thomas to accompany the service. There was simple pleasure at gathering and singing, keeping quiet and listening together.

At morning and at evening prayer today I read from Leonard Cohen's Book of Mercy a good friend gave me yesterday. I had never come across his writing before and reading his 50 psalms has really been blowing me away to say the least. Very powerful.

But now looking back on my day and given all my recent pondering on fragments, I wonder whether my praying and practice of spirituality are not in some ways mere fragments of longing, for God and for myself. Does that make sense?

Anyway here is one of Leonard Cohen's Psalms (rendered into slightly more inclusive language):

Blessed are you who has given each person a shield of loneliness so that they cannot forget you. You are teh truth of loneliness, and only your name addresses it. Strengthen my loneliness that I may be healed in your name, which is beyond all consolations that are uttered on this earth. Only in your name can I stand in the rush of time, only when this loneliness is yours can I lift my sins toward your mercy.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Powerlessness and grieving for the future ...

Reading again about Henning Luther's theology of fragments and his idea that we all have some fragment of the future, a hope for future development, a longing (I bet the German word he used would have been the glorious "Sehnsucht") to go beyond what we are in the present, made me realise that part of my problem in recent months has been grieving for a future that will never take place.
Grief doesn't always make for clear sightedness - blinded by tears it is not easy to see either within or without. But just because one version of the future is no longer possible does not mean that there is no future. Anyway what right do I have to grieve for a future which never "belonged" to me anyway?
As I have been thinking about grieving and fragments, tears and trying to see both myself and the future more clearly I've also been thinking about power and powerlessness. People who know and experience me would probably be surprised to hear me talk about feeling powerless. Sometimes I wonder whether claiming to feel powerless isn't a bit of a cop out, a way of trying to be a victim or perhaps another way of avoiding taking responsibibilty for "things". Perhaps deep within I also recognise that claiming to be powerless can often be a way of denying the power I do have.
From the perspective of feminist theology where the image both of a God who weeps and of celebrating a God who is vulnerable and powerless has been important to my theological formation, I fin it then challenging to be the weeping person experiencing some powerlessness. Perhaps what I'm trying to say is that despite wanting to celebrate these more vulnerable, less almighty images of God I still have problems integrating them into my deeper spiritual understanding. Deep within me resides the judging God of my childhood; the weeping, vulnerable, alongside God I preach of and beleive in, and seem able to convince others of, is often absent for me. The integration of what I believe and what is going on within me is certainly still fragmentary at the best, and I realise that I am even here only partially able to name it.
Then as I was writing this, a gift from a friend came to mind. She sent me this quote:
"When I dare to be powerful--to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid." It's by Audre Lorde.
So perhaps as I wipe away my tears and remember my sense of powerlessness I must also dare to name and own that power I do have and simply move forwards. It may be painful, but I am sure it will also be joyful, for I have always known laughter and humour and that is a profound blessing.

More fragments ...

I have been re-reading an interesting article by Sören Asmus I am more than you think - Fragments and Diversity within. The essay explores identity and how the idea of fragments can actually help to put identity together. I was particularly struck by reference to Henning Luther's theology of fragments as formative for identity - fragments of the the past, fragments of the future and fragments of relationships to others. Asmus writes about interesting elements from on how we construct modern identity citing Anthony Giddens, Bonhoeffer and Amin Maalouf amongst others, but I think what I like is how he ends by pointing to the idea of developing a pilgrimage identity as a way of holding things together in a tension of movement. It's not easy for me to explain why I find this so moving and meaningful at the moment but I do. Here's how the essay ends, with a prayer from Jan Comenius:

As we are called to live our lives as being on our way to an aim which we will not fulfil, but which is promised to us, we might as well learn to develop the identity of a pilgrim people: the awareness that we do not “hold an identity”, but we are called to become what we are not yet. The theologian, pedagogue and reformer, Jan Amos KOMENSKY (COMENIUS), being a migrant for most of his life, expressed this attitude:
“I thank my God, Who has wanted that I shall be a man of longing for all my life. I praise Thee, my saviour, that You have given me on Earth no native country and no home. Thereby You saved me from the folly to mistake the accidental for the substantial, the way for the aim, the striving for the peace, the shelter for the home, the wandering for the native country.”

Monday, 15 November 2010

Reconciled diversity begins at home as we try to pick up crumbs ...

This morning the World YWCA and YMCA led the service in the chapel as they began their international week of prayer.

The service was drawn up by Terry MacArthur and Luzmarina Campos Garcia, you can find it at the end of the Week of Prayer booklets after the daily meditations. The service was a simple liturgical reflection on women building a safer world and used the encounter between Jesus and the Canaanite woman to focus our thoughts and prayers. She who says to Jesus but even the crumbs you might give to the puppies would be ok for me ... was it Chutzpah or humility?

Ana Vilanueva from the World YWCA danced both for mercy and with joy as we listened to music and readings from the gospel story. We received small pieces of brioche - as it came into my hand I realised I had not eaten breakfast - and we reflected on our lives in fragments, in crumbs - the bits and pieces nature of things. Later as we ate the bread we recognised the responsibility to transform even the tiniest crumb into hope.
And as I thought about the fragments and pieces of my life I realised that reconciled diversity - something we talk about so much in the ecumenical movement - it begins with me. With my ability to live with the inconsistent and jarring and lovely and loving and petty and good and laughing and weeping and clever and stupid and preachy and gentle parts of myself - and with all those pieces others are busy reconciling in their own lives...

Here is part of the text on crumbs from this morning:

Crumbs. We have so many in our lives. A crumb is a fragment of bread. A dispensable small thing that we easily throw to the dogs or in the garbage.
Have you ever felt like a crumb? Have your people felt like a crumb?
Despised, betrayed, dispensable? Have you ever treated somebody else like a crumb?

(The woman holding the crumb, takes it with the other hand and eats it) But we are not crumbs. We fight, shout, pray, get educated, hold together in the face of pain and suffering.
And we want more than crumbs. At this moment, while the crumbs come to you, you are invited to name the ways you have been overcoming fear, despair, exclusion, oppression, pain. Hold the crumb in your hands.

(after people get the crumbs)
Crumb, a dispensable small thing that in the mouth of a wise woman became an irrefutable argument changing Jesus’ way of thinking and acting. We continue being called to transform crumbs into bread, pain into company, exclusion into inclusion, oppression into liberation, despair into hope.
We are invited to eat the crumb we have in our hands as an affirmation of faith that our crumbs are being transformed into bread.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

World YWCA and YMCA week of prayer - women creating a safer world

This week is the World YWCA and YMCA's week of prayer. People from the two organisaitons will lead prayers this Monday in the Ecumenical Centre.

Each day of the week there are meditations on the theme of women creating a safe world and there's a good liturgy for groups to participate in. The booklet with the thematic material also contains daily Bible readings for the whole of the year ahead to be shared with the wide constituency of the YW and YM. Two organisations doing tremendous work across the world.

You can find the material online here and I should of course declare an interest as I wrote the daily meditaions and had good fun doing so. I shall be reposting some of the material here as the week progresses. Meanwhile I look forward to praying with all working for change so as to create a safer world for women and girls, a safer world for all.

Silence in the mind - with RS Thomas

I am trying to tidy up and as is so often the case I get sidetracked into actually looking at and then reading and now blogging about what I find in the various prehistoric levels of my desk and office.
Just now it is this poem by R. S. Thomas, it fits in beautifully with Elizabeth Gilbert's book Eat Pray Love which I'm reading at the moment and also with conversations I had while at the Church of Ireland Christian Institute in Dublin at the end of last week. Silence, the search for prayer and contemplation, the freedom which that gives.
I once described my desire to live in community to a colleague and admitted that I would of course have been "a noisy, nosey nun". Yet the discipline and the outer quiet of monastic life still appeals to me greatly, partly of course because I know I would take my own inner noise and turmoil with me wherever I may be.

Many years ago at Great St Mary's in Cambridge I attended a poetry reading and conversation with R. S. Thomas. I remember a shy, self-effacing man, who tried hard to give what he felt were adequate answers to the students and professors present that evening, yet the rootedness of his poetry spoke for itself.

Today I came across this in a book I should be putting on a shelf but which I shall continue to flick through for a few moments longer before teh noise of teh mess in my office finally calls me back to attend to it.

But the silence in the mind

But the silence in the mind
is when we live best, within
listening distance of teh silence we call God. This is the deep
calling to deep of the psalm-
writer, the bottomless ocean
We launch the armada of
thoughts on, never arriving.

It is a presence, then,
whose margins are our margins;
that calls us out over our
own fathoms. What to do
but draw a little nearer to
such ubiquity by remaining still?

"I'm so terribly sorry I think I may have to be taken to hospital ..."

Life has been busy. Despite a wonderful autumn holiday, I have been a bit stressed and also, well let's just say sad of late. Being a woman in my late 40s (I don't think I like writing that very much!) I'm also facing a problem of irregular sleeping patterns - many women experience this as the menopause begins.

On Tuesday evening nearly a fortnight ago we had as ever a wonderful encounter at our feminist theology group led by Anne Claire Rivolet. I was terribly tired and hadn't eaten anything much all day (anyone who knows me will know how rare that is!) until I got to feast upon a slice of Cornelia's delicious pecan and chocolate cake. (Cornelia provides tea, coffee and edibles to start our evenings.) The evening went well - as almost always - and there were nearly 20 of us there. I was very tired though - I had been interpreting non-stop all morning and been up late.

As we spoke about living in God's present, the session was also quite emotionally charged - at least for me.
Then while standing around chatting after most people had left I suddenly found myself saying to the person opposite me "I'm terribly sorry I think I'm having a stroke. Maybe I should go to hospital." I had suddenly found my tongue and lips not doing what I wanted - as if they had gone to the dentist. I was quite frightened - except that I was also quite calm, I wasn't at all sure whether actual words would come out of my mouth and be understandable.

And then after about 45 seconds, maybe a bit longer I was fine again and didn't need to go to hospital. But it was all a bit of a shock.

I'm so used to living in denial where my MS is concerned that I am not prepared for its more strange manifestations. The last time something like this happened to me was about 4 years ago when my left hand stopped working for about 30 seconds.

After we had all calmed down, one of the women said to me laughing "You know I think I'm always going to remember you apologizing for disturbing things by maybe needing to go to hospital for something serious." Oh dear ...

Anyway thanks to all who looked after me and drove me home. Afterwards I had something to eat, went to bed, slept and was up and well the next day.

So I give thanks.

Meanwhile a colleague who travelling in September was not so fortunate and is still receiving care for the stroke she suffered while in Scotland. Lois you are in our prayers, may your recovery be full and may all be well, especially now you are finally back in the US and closer to friends and family.

Between the past, present and the future at feminist theology

It is nearly two weeks since our feminist theology evening with the excellent Anne Claire Rivolet.
We are this year looking at "Between the past and the future, living in the present" at our encounters this year and Anne Claire invited us to have both a personal and biblical approach to the question of "living in the present"
She began by asking whether "living in the present" or "living the present" (the French is Vivre le présent) is the same as "consuming the present, building the present, suffering or being subjected to the present". What is the present that the God of Jesus Christ gives us to live?
She ended this introduction with the brilliant phrase "my faith inscribes me in a different time to my watch!"
She then asked us to think about the kingdom, God's commonwealth which calls us to be actors in the present. We then spent some time thinking personally about an image from our own lives that brought this idea together for us. Anne Claire also encouraged us to think of a gospel or biblical passage which heléped us see this more clearly.
As always we came up with come wonderful examples - livign in the present is looking at the wheat rather than the tares, to not look at the speck in others eyes or even the beam in our own but to focus on what is growing and good. some spoke of the joy of simple Christmas pleasures; of the joy of recognizing that one's church is outside the church and being in the present of unconditional welcome of the other...

My favourite story was of the heavily pregnant 42 year old single woman who distributes communion in her local Catholic church. Living in God's present, included fully by her church, carrying the future and knowing it will be her baby and God's child, offering a present taste of the kingdom to those receiving the host from her hands.

In this time of exchange I realised and was able to speak about some of my own recent pain and sense of hopelessness. The biblical image I chose to focus on was of the grain growing in secret from Mark 4:26 - to focus on what is growing now almost unnoticed until suddenly it is time for the harvest.
I spoke about how in recent months I had discovered how destructive of the present it is to live without any sense of the future, or any sense of having a role in making that future. As I said that with a heavy heart I also recognized how much this is the case for so many, perhaps even the majority of the world's population. Subjected to the adversity of the present without being given any real stake in the future.
I was also able to say though that in my personal depression something had broken through the previous evening, a kindly offer to take me home, an attempt to rebuild trust. Strangely it was only as I began to see the future again that I realised how much I had been missing it and weeping for it. Yet somehow the seed of it had been sown and was busy growing, I sense there is a long way yet to go until harvest yet I can see that perhaps the fields may turn green and then gold again.

As our discussion moved forwards looking at how the present is the time of revelation, God is revealed in the here and now. Given to us in our own time. Our human time when it is penetrated by the time of God becomes an incarnation.
Much of what Anne Claire shared with us and encouraged us to share together showed how it is spiritual understanding, the work of wisdom and spirituality which help us piece together understanding and commitment to God's future-filled present. this made me think of the work of Sarah Coakley and Grace Jantzen, both working in the area of feminist theology and both insisting on the insights of mysticism and spirituality for theological understanding. A great shaem that neither of them have been translated into French.

Anne Claire is about to move from her responsibilities at the Ecumencial Centre for Catechism here in Geneva to become part of the Swiss religious broadcasting work based in Lausanne. She'll begin on December 1 so we wish her well with this new professional challenge and with her recent marriage. Our thanks to her for imbuing our present with a sense of God's ongoing future. That's what helps us go on living and find meaning in the here and now.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Paint, pray, sleep ...

So I admit I am reading "Eat Pray Love" at the moment - and surprising myself by finding it very satisfying - (oh I do sound horribly sniffy) - it's a good read and full of insight.

Meanwhile here are some traces of my time in Dublin at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. I can't really photo the great conversations I had there but I'm pleased I took my paintbox out for an hour or so. Good for the soul.

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Thursday, 11 November 2010

Afghan quilt - girls in Germany and Afghanistan stitch together relationships, meaning and hope

So here is an image of the wonderful quilt which was hung at the brilliant Verbal Arts Centre in Derry on Monday. The motto of the Verbal Arts Centre is "tell your story" (more about that later) and this quilt tells a powerful one. Young girls in Afghanistan embroider squares which they then sell in order to be able to pay for their schooling. Each of the squares of this quilt has one of those embroidered squares at its centre but the quilt was made by schoolgirls in a very multicultural part of Germany - each square has the name of a different country or of a German region sewn in writing onto it.
The quilt represents cooperation, learning and solidarity across borders. It also represents the possibility of building relationships in adversity. Young women helping one another without even knowing each other. Stitching a different future and offering all of us hope that things are already changing simply because of small and beautiful initiatives like this.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Cast lead ... bullets, bombs and blood ...

These are photos of the extraordinary textile art work by a German artist Heidi Drahota which is part of the Human cost of war exhibition in Derry. It's called gegossenes Blei - Cast Lead. This was the name given to an Israeli led action action against Gaza. Casting lead is of course also a game played at new year when molten lead is poured into water and you interpret the shapes. So we interpret the shapes of this poured lead ...
Those pretty hanging threads in this textile art are traces of bullets cast into bodies and houses.
Before knowing the story of this piece I was struck by it apparent beauty and technical accomplishment and then you begin to understand the reason for the metal in the red, the bloody mess of war and destruction - the human cost ... the human cost.

You can find the full catalogue of the exhibition here.

The Exhibition is curated by Roberta Bacic who has been organising major textile exhibitions of pieces of popular and professional work which tell a story both in Derry and internationally since 2007.

Another extraordinary day of rainbows, picking up threads and trying to understand creativity

So today I have been at the Tower museum in Derry visiting the exhibition called the Human cost of War which is made up of some stunning textile art and put together in part as a response to remembrance Sunday. I began the day coming in on the train through glorious countryside and seeing a rainbow rise from the sea, I ended it listening to a man from Kabul speaking about his hopes for the political and social situation for his country. I have listened to a woman speak about how her house was machine-gunned, another woman speak about her fear as a child that God was on the dictator Franco's side because this was what was written on the coins; I've seen young people brought into the story of the Chilean dictatorship by Roberta Bacic's wonderful story-telling; I've seen needles threaded and concepts struggled with and seen how creativity needs midwifery; and I've struggled to see how we could visualise just peace or an ecumenical theology of the cross; and I have stood in front the the poured lead quilt made by a German woman as a result of the the "cast lead" campaign against Gaza and been stunned by its beauty and then understood the terrible painful story it tells. The dangling silver globes are bullets ... this is blood and not poppies of remembrance ...
And then the huge red quilt of scraps of cloth for the number of people who died in "the troubles" here in Northern Ireland ... the scraps with teddy bears on them represent the children who died ...
so I have soaked all of that up and ... try to process that which it is not possible to process - pain, creativity, history ...
And meanwhile here in Derry the new peace footbridge is being built so that CAtholics and Protestants can walk to each others communities.

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Tuesday, 9 November 2010

An amazing day at Derry's verbal arts centre

So here is apost to say, yes I am still alive, I have had avery busy and enriching past week and now today have been in Derry in the first phase of commissioning an exhibition for the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation next year. I will try to post more about what I've been up to at the launch today at Derry's Verbal Arts Centre of an extraordinary quilt made by young women in Afghanistan and Germany. More about that in a later post - yes I promise I will get back to actually blogging soon! Meanwhile some photos will get posted like these of the word jugglers which I really couldn't resist.

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Sunday, 31 October 2010

Chichester Psalms for Haiti

Last night we attended the wonderful Psalms for Haiti event at the cathedral in Geneva. It was very moving - beginning with an extraordinary noise for 35 seconds representing the noise of the earthquake.
A superlative choir and wonderful readers sang and spoke the Psalms in many forms.
Canon Ogé Beavoir, Dean of the Episcopal Theological Seminary, Port-au-Prince spoke movingly of the Haitian people's spirit and also of their need. the event was a fund raiser for rebuilding the Anglican Cathedral and its related social and educational facilities which were extensive before the quake.

The event opened my ears to Leonard Bernstein's Chichester Psalms, which I've never heard before. Last night's choir and organ gave at least as good a rendition as the full orchestra youtube version I've posted here. I also really enjoyed Arvo Pärt's de Profundis and all of the rest of the music and readings - especially the readings in creole. Thanks folks, it was WONDERFUL!
I've posted the full order in French and English here.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Psalms for Haiti 30 September Cathédrale St Pierre Genève 18.00

All are warmly invited to 'Psalms for Haiti', an ecumenical celebration of music and meditation.
When: 30 October 2010 (TOMORROW) at 18h00
Where: St Pierre Cathedral in Geneva's old town
The event will commemorate those who died in January’s earthquake. Choral music and accompanying words of reflection will facilitate a spiritual exploration of some of the best- and least-known Biblical psalms.

While entrance is free, a retiring collection will raise funds for the reconstruction of Port-au-Prince’s Episcopal Cathedral complex. Personal testimonies and a multi-media display will provide information about the wide range of social and educational projects run by the Cathedral - both before and after the earthquake.

If you can't attend but still wish to donate to the reconstruction efforts, the Swiss postal account of ARCH (Association anglicane pour la reconstruction de la Cathédrale épiscopalienne de la Sainte Trinité en Haïti) is:

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Beautiful sunny autumn days

As I walk across the garden to my office in the Ecumenical Centre Philip Potter Library, I walk past two beautiful Japanese Acers. They have been giving me enormous pleasure on a daily basis for many, many years. On the day this was take the "bise" was blowing strongly yet the leaves persist for a few more days their extraordinary changing colour heartening in the freezing of the encroaching dark of the autumn days. Bright sunshine and autumn colours are really part of the joy of recent days, alongside stunning sunrises and sunsets.
Every year another branch of these small but quite old trees dies back, as I wonder and rejoice at the colours I also worry that perhaps next year I will no longer be able to admire their wonderful leaves.

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Water privatisation no thank you!

Seen at the tram stop on our recent weekend trip to Berlin!

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Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Le jour de la nuit - the day of the night

This Saturday is "Le jour de la nuit" across the whole of France. The idea is to switch off all municipal lights so as to be able to observe the night sky, the stars and enjoy the biodiversity of darkness. It really sounds like fun. Ferney is going to take part, though not Geneva as the idea doesn't seem to have spread to Switzerland yet.
There are several fun things taking place including a night time walk to look at excessive private lighting and the problems of light pollution. The local astronomy club is setting up telescopes in the garden of the Maison St Pierre next door to where we live so that we can all look at the winter night sky. Find out more here.
Meanwhile I just love the play on words of "le jour de la nuit" which means both the day of the night and also the daylight of the night. In spiritual terms I also love the idea of the night and the darkness also being holy. I think Sautrday night might be quite fun - and also the big switch off will really help to reduce carbon emissions - maybe we should be having more days of the night. That night is also the night we all get to sleep an hour extra as the clocks go back, so the switch off will last an hour longer too!

Monday, 25 October 2010

Beech, lime, birch, hazel and oak - an arboretum of angels and an invitation to dance

One of the wonderful things about being in Berlin for 28 hours was that our hotel was less than 5 minutes away from where Stephen used to live in Georgenkirchstrasse. The former East Berlin Missionshaus is now the Berlin Brandenburg Church's offices. The church and theological book shop that was always there is still open and doing good trade it would seem. I remember visiting Stephen in 1984 and buying my first book by Christa Wolf from the shop.
On Saturday morning I did of course buy books - a couple by my former professor Friedrich Schorlemmer and one by Margot Kässmann - but I was particularly looking for the little wooden angels you can see pictured here which come with accompanying cards, biblical verses and quotes by theologians. In the past I've always bought them for other people but this time I wanted to keep at least one for myself ... I've still not decided which it will be though.
These little Schutzengeln or guardian angels have different names - your angel of freedom, your angel of clarity, your angel of constancy, your angel of departure, your angel of equanimity ... and many more. Each one is made out of a different kind of wood which is supposed to go with the idea that the particular angel represents. For instance the angel of clarity is cut from lime tree wood which is both easy to cut and very strong. I was also though fascinated to learn that in Germany there is an old tradition of planting limes on the village or town square, the place of gathering but also building dance floors into the tree. The Tanzlinde also probably served as the place of judgement or court. The kind of clarity that also invites all to the public dance seems like a wonderfully angelic thing to me. Reading about it reminded me of the role of the sycamore as the place of religious gathering in the gospels. Trees are like public buildings in old communities and these extraordinary old Tanzlinden look as imposing as some old market halls.
As I read the angel cards I have brought back with me it strikes me that in any human life we need a whole arboretum of guardian angels to encourage us in difficult and challenging times, helping us ever to go into the future. I love botanical gardens and arboretums, so next time I go to one I shall try to learn more about the qualities of the different trees and think about them being messengers of those qualities in my life. An invitation to continue the dance.
You can see more images of the dancing limes here.

Knock knock - is God there?

Our wonderfully upbeat and authentic colleague Faautu Talapusi gave a bravura performance at worship this morning. It was a beautifully simply crafted service with readings from Psalm 121 and Luke 11:5-13. The idea of the neighbour knocking at night time on the door is what set Faautu writing her poetic sermon which was very much also performance art with each knock knock accompanied by knocking on the lectern:

Knock, knock…
Knock, knock…
The times I am facing are rough
The times I am facing times are tough

What I noticed now re-reading the sermon is that somehow as the poem progresses it is no longer an individual in distress knocking but somehow God knocking - hey notice I'm here, see how I try somehow to hold things together for you.

Knock, knock
Knock, knock…
God’s love is ever persistent and unconditional…for you and me

Read the full text here.

Thanks Faautu

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Henning Mankell's Italian shoes and the gentle hand of love and meaning

"There are two sorts of truth: trvialities, where the opposite is obviously impossible, and deep truths, which are characterised by their opposite also being a deep truth." Niels Bohr

We are on the train from Berlin back to Switzerland. I've just finished reading Henning Mankell's wonderful book Italian Shoes. It's always a little embarassing to be reading on a train and find yourself moved to tears, but by the time the book ended with a satisfying new beginning my eyes were streaming, somehow thought my heart was smiling.

I'm used to reading Mankell's detective fiction which is great if a little bloody, but have been a bit disapointed with a couple of the other novels by him which I've read. Italian Shoes is different.
I'm not going to give the plot away - in some ways there is no plot but it is very deeply about the threads of life being picked up again. Not without extreme pain, not without violence, not without wrong moves and death but there is a powerful sense of future and meaning by the time the written story ends and the future starts to open up.
I've been wanting to find a really good book that would satisfy me in the way only a good novel can and as so often happens I found it in the railway station book shop and didn't know I had fallen on treasure when I bought it. I just thought "Ah a Mankell I haven't read yet ..."
It is deeply life-affirming book but not at all in an easy or trite way. Hope comes in the form of Italian shoes but not in some kind of consumerist way. The book charts the freezing and thawing of the Swedish island landscape, the painful thawing and flowering of rebuilt relationships.
One of my theology professors used to say - read novels to understand theology. As with all good fiction Mankell's book is not only about one theme but about complexities woven together in the compelling stories of human beings and their interchange with each other and the natural world.
Three quotes begin the book - one is that at the beginning of this post from the physicist Niels Bohr the final one is from Swedish writer Sigfrid Siwertz and goes "Love is a gentle hand which slowly pushes fate to one side." A wonderful idea beautifully expressed - if only it could be more true!

And the third quote which actually opens the book is all about shoes ...
"When the shoe fits, you don't think about the foot" Chuang Chou.

This book really fitted me at the moment, its concerns, its tone and the surprising theme of hope ... quite simply a good read, what a blessing.

Sunrise ... in Berlin

Yesterday morning's sunrise in Berlin seen from the Hauptbahnhof as I arrived from my overnight sleep from Basel. Such a surprise and blessing to have had glorious weather for these few stolen hours in my favourite city. Now as we listen to church bells ringing across Friedrichshain we get ready to return to Geneva, but it has been wonderful to be here, to be with frineds and to think about the past and the future.