Friday, 30 April 2010

Fallen walls of shame are symbols of hope

Dr B took these and other photos at a short ceremony at the end of the day around the two large pieces of the Berlin wall which are in the garden of the Ecumenical Centre. In the public park of Grand Saconnex a special sign was put up today to point the way to these pieces of the wall in the ecumenical garden. At the same time another sign was erected pointing in the opposite direction to a boat shaped commemoration by the Vietnamese community who were received by the commune of Grand Saconnex in the 1970s after fleeing across the seas.
The local Swiss authorities all turned up dressed in full regalia, I always find this rather wonderful and it made us smile to watch them walking through the car park and up to the pieces of the Berlin wall. It seemed right and Swiss and a good honouring of local democracy and civil society.

The WCC general secretary Olav Fykse Tveit welcomed the local authorities saying:

I'm old enough to have seen this wall in its former place in Berlin. One of the worst experiences of my life. It was a sign of what humanity should not be and should not do, to separate those who belong together.
I am grateful this wall is now in pieces and these pieces are signs of hope and of the future. They are signs that it is possible to make a difference.
We have a "prophetic role" to tear down what should be torn down and to "have a vision" This is our calling from God. To bring together what belongs together, to be one.
He then handed over to Jean Fischer who is a former general secretary of the Conference of European Churches and was in the at role when the wall was given to CEC. It's always interesting to compare what we thought we knew about the pieces of the wall with what Jean told us in his speech

I made a request to have two pieces of the wall the when in Berlin the week after the wall came down. Heard nothing for months and then got a telephone call from a colonel in the German army who said, your two pieces of the wall are here, please send a lorry to pick them up.
The wall was put up in 1961 but fell in several hours. The wall of shame and the Iron Curtain was destroyed. CEC had since WW2 tries to keep links between the free world and the Soviet ruled world.
There are new walls in Cyprus, in Ireland. A report in Le Monde from Belfast recounts how more and more walls are being put up to keep the communities apart. Never has the city been so calm, never has it been more divided. More and more people say "High walls make good neighbours".
Jean ended by calling for walls of shame around the world to be brought down - from Mexico to Israel, from Belfast to Cyprus - both the physical walls of shame and the shameful walls of racism, exclusion and poverty.
More photos here.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

More on reconciliatory leadership

During one of our sessions at the staff planning days yesterday there was a picture of a herd of elephants to remind us of Bishop Duleep Chickera's wonderful Bible study on reconciliatory leadership

here's a quote from the study:

And finally and perhaps most importantly, grievance, in Christian spirituality is always an invitation to growth in unity, mission and witness. An illustration from the community life of elephants may help us understand this better. (In fact a study of the community life of elephants is a fascinating exercise and may even have some lessons here for the ecumenical movement! For instance the leader of the herd is always a female and when young males become troublesome they are driven out of the herd by the mature females !!) Recent research tells us that elephants communicate through murmuring sounds in their stomach which can be heard only by the herd and for quite a distance too. One of the most common “stomach” communications from the matriarch to the rest of the herd, is “let’s move”. Similarly in Christian spirituality the murmurings of people is God saying “Let’s move “ and wise Reconciliatory Leadership will see this as an invitation to a fresh experience of unity, witness, mission and growth.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Laughter on hearing the gospel

There is an ancient Easter tradition of laughter - Das Osterlachen in German. I thought about that this morning as we gathered in the chapel for prayers led by Faautu Talapusi and listened to Matthew 6:25-34 read superbly as ever by Theodore Gill. He read the passage in a quite ironic and humourous tone ending:
"So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today"
Perfect for staff planning days!
The gospel made us smile and even laugh out loud, was our laughter "knowing", were our smiles foretastes of the resurrection or just rueful accecptance of the post-modern gap between the gospel call and the day that lay ahead?
Even as I smiled my eyes were full of tears, unaccompanied we had just sung "Here I am Lord" one of our friend Suzanne's favourite songs, but she is no longer there to play for us. I had problems getting through verse three, my voice breaking with emotion.
That morning time play between laughter and tears helped me accept my emotions as both important and as unimportant. The trouble of today may be enough to make me weep but I should not worry about weeping tomorrow.
Laughter speaks so much of something opening up and being released within us and tears are in many ways similar. Perhaps both can be harbingers of resurrection.

Stories from the edge with ASBO Jesus

Looking at Jon Birch's brilliant cartoons on ASBO Jesus is one of my guilty pleasures. In recent days Jon has been posting a series of very powerful black and white images originally drawn for Dave Wiles' book Stories from the Edge which is published for the Frontier Youth Trust.
these two don't really need any further comment from me. You can follow up with comments of your own here and here.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Sour dough or yeast? And can I still be baker ... random thoughts

When I was 18 and working in Germany I bought a wonderful baking book "Das ist Backen"and have spent much of the rest of my life reading it, translating recipes from it for friends and just enjoying going back to to look at the pictures. My mum still remembers me coming home from Germany with it and the ensuing kitchen chaos as I made "Schwarzweissgebäck" and special new year's "Glückschweinchen". It was my main source for bread baking recipes when I was a student (before I got a copy of Elizabeth David's wonderful English Bread and Yeast Cookery) but there were problems in store for me because I didn't understand anything about the German concept and reality of "Sauerteig". I had never really used rye flour or any kind of slow rising yeasts and it took me quite a while and lots of talking with friends who were bakers to begin to understand and create my own sour dough.
I was thinking back to those times as a student when I would bake twice a week and how my bread changed over time as I discovered how to use sour dough and really enjoy the flavour it gives to bread. This morning in our staff Bible studies at work we were reading parables of the reign of God in Matthew's gospel including one of my favourites of the kingdom being like the leaven that a woman kneads into the dough. Leaven is yeast but it's different from yeast. It's a slower, more natural way of raising the dough and it adds a different flavour to the bread. Here in France baguettes made with levain naturel really taste better. Industrial yeast produces a different flavour and a different crumb to the bread.
Sour dough, leaven, can even raise heavy, dense flours. The stiff-knecked, tough and dense dough of humanity can be risen with leaven - slowly, tastily, thoroughly. But either leaven or yeast require kneading, the work of the kingdom requires some elbow grease but is also a mystery. In the end it's not a question of whether I still bake bread (I live 30 metres from a great boulangerie so no not often any more) but rather about whether I allow bakerwoman God to knead the stiff-knecked stuff of my life. Will I give God's leaven the time it needs to mysteriously work in my life and in the lives of those around me?

Local ecumenism in the global context

Last night I attended the AGM of the local council of churches. We have a strange Swiss style problem - all of the member churches pay their membership fees so we have (relatively speaking) quite a lot of money in the bank. However, we don't really have an ecumenical project or much ecumenical impetus in the bank somehow.
However, we were meeting in Onex last night where the five local churches from different confessions have strong ecumenical links going back decades. As the meeting discussed prospects for ecumenism in the canton of Geneva, the minister of one of the evangelical churches in Onex encouraged us to see ecumenism happening at the local level. In Onex during 2009 there had been no fewer than 47 meetings, meals and encounters between all five of the town's Christian confessions. Local ecumenism based on live encounter is alive and well, perhaps at the cantonal level our job is to try to link up and communicate more of what is happening at the local level.
Anyway having been worried that the meeting would not be very energizing I came away with lots of questions but also with ideas that could take things forwards.
From an international perspective being involved with the local churches in the city where our organisation happens to be based is a challenging experience, it brings me face to face with the weaknesses of ecumenical structures but also the brilliant tenacity, creativity and openness of the people of God. The global church is the local church. The local church is the global church.
It was in many ways just another boring meeting, but it was also in many ways a blessing.

Monday, 26 April 2010

The day the peace came - a story of resurrection

Our service this morning focused on peace, the promise and hope of peace. The WCC's general secretary, Olav Fykse Tveit opened and closed the service and also preached a very personal and pastoral sermon on what real peace can mean.
His text was from John's gospel 20.19-23 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." and he told a story his mother had told the family time and again, the day the peace came to Norway, to Oslo.

One story my mother told again and again with a never ceasing joy in her eyes was the story of when the peace came. It was almost as if peace was a person: with a real presence, coming, being, breathing, staying.
Tveit went on to talk about how the rumour of the peace spread and then could be seen by three concrete proofs: people talking freely with one another on the streets, the Norwegian flag being flown even though it had been banned and the burning of the paper blackout curtains on the streets.
The feeling of what the coming of peace means, can only really be experienced by those who have been living with the fear of war, the burden of injustice, the tension of waiting for the day of peace and new life to come.
The more I see the realities of life for many people in this world, in different kinds of conflicts and injustice, the more the story of when the peace came becomes a story of hope and solidarity: listening to the longing for justice and peace; longing that something wonderful will happen, that it must happen …
At the end of the service just before the final blessing we shared the peace, having just sung "la paz del señor" we moved around sharing the peace with one another. It worked well and was quite moving. In an ecumenical setting we cannot share the eucharist but we can share the peace, it's another way of affirming communion and fellowship.
As the service ended I reflected on how it is narratives of meaning, stories of hope that tell us as much about the resurrection as simply retelling the gospel story. The stories of hope, peace and resurrection that we tell can go on being told after we ourselves are dead and no longer here to tell them. The narrative of hope continues, the story does not end. It's particularly true of stories our parents and grandparents tell us.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Colocaterre for all of us as colocataires

I made it to church here in Ferney this morning which was good. It helped me reconnect with folk in the parish and was good for the soul. Bernard preached on the Alliance biblique theme for last year of "colocaterre". It's a terrible pun but quite clever - "colocataires" are people who share the rent or the tenancy lease on a property. Colocaterre means we need to think about how we live together on planet earth (the pronunciation is identical, French is dreadful for homophones).
When I came home from the service I realised I missed a reading from the New testament. We had readings on the jubilee from Leviticus - making it clear that the earth belongs to noone - and Psalm 8 was also read as part of a celebration of creation.
I suppose what I felt was missing was resurrection hope in the face of the degradation of creation, particularly as we were still singing Easter responses. It's interesting that I didn't really notice this lack until I came home, a long time after the post worship coffee and chat.
So how do we live together as fellow tenants on planet earth? At the end of his sermon Bernard challenged us to think about what we might be willing to give up so that there could be more consistency between what we say and what we do on the issue of ecology. It all fitted in quite well for me as earlier in the week I finished the editing and preparation of texts for the next issue of Ecuemnical Review which is all about churches caring for creation and climate justice.

Ferney dans la rue - local democracy and protest

Yesterday morning Alex Décotte was wandering around the Ferney market with a sign around his neck protessting at the plans by our town council for the redevelopment of the centre of Ferney. He told us to visit the Ferney dans la rue site. I'm actually in favour of some of the plans but it's important to go and check the PLU (plan local d'urbanisme) at this stage and to offer complaints, alternatives and comments before it's too late. One of the challenges for Ferney is that all around the communes have alot more land than Ferney does and across the whole of the Pays de Gex housing developments have been taking place without even a hint of a structure plan or green belt. The past 10 years have seen a mushrooming of building projects. So there are good reasons - not least public transport and reducing the number of car journeys - for trying to develop the centre of Ferney rather differently. However one big challenge in our area is the lack of social housing and the current plans would lead to some of the existing social housing being taken down (particularly hideous stuff built cheaply in the 1950s and 60s) but those living there at very low rents at the moment may not find anything similar in the new project.
Anyway there is a series of public meetings underway on the PLU and of course the opposition is getting organised as well through Ferney dans la rue.
Décotte comes from an old Ferney family and is a journalist. He has been involved in writing the local satirical magazine and now website "Ferney Candide". He was on the town council here in Ferney for a while just after we moved here, but he's really happier involved in satire, campaigns and opposition politics.
I suppose what I like about the project that our council has put together is that it is ambitious. I'm not convinced by the collective's claims that it involves the destruction of greenery (a tarmac car park with a few trees on it?) and I think the town deserves a bit of a rethink to encourage people to walk and use public transport.
Anyway all this to say that things in Ferney are set for quite a political battle over the coming months. Should be fun, it makes the British general election campaign seem quite tame.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Angels against my inner demons

Another picture of one of the icons from the exhibition in the chapel: the angel of prayers.
Throughout this week I have been wrestling with some inner demons: the usual stuff of feelings of lack of self worth, rage against my uselessness and an inability to even glimpse the future (or so it seemed). Loving other people is one thing, learning to love myself is another.
And then there came the angels. I should perhaps explain, I am Reformed, I'm not really into angels particularly ones that look like this beautiful one painted by Didi Marmoud. And yet ... I do occassionally buy strange guardian angel knick-knacks to give to friends and have rather wacky magnetic guardian angel on the oven door.
In human form angels have helped me this week with the inner wrestling and wreckage. It won't have been easy for them, I'm not always open to help even when I know I need it. The angels have come in various forms: wearing suits and ties, lipstick and jackets, jeans and dreadlocks, designer clothes. Some listened, some talked, some brought me gifts, some walked with me, some gave me encouragement, some hugged me, some gave me advice, some watched me weep. Angels are messengers and this week I have been blessed by the silence, the words and the gentleness of my angelic visitors. Like the artist Tirabosco last week when he was decorating the water carafe I would put a halo over each of them, each is blessed and they have blessed me by opening up more than glimpses of the future again. Ah yes, and the angel bearing Italian earings inside a late Easter egg was particularly appreciated - I'm just a material girl really and one day I really should do a blogpost about my earring fetish!

Miroslav Volf on justification by grace

On Thursday morning I read this extract from Miroslav Volf's Against the Tide at chapel. This is from a wonderful essay called "Shopkeepers Gold".

Could the hope for the inner cities lie in part in the retrieval of the doctrine of justification by grace? How could dead streets receive life from a dead doctrine? Imagine that you have no job, no money, you live cut off from the rest of society in a world ruled by poverty and violence, your skin is the "wrong" color - and you have no hope that any of this will change.
Around you is a society governed by the iron law of achievement. Its gilded goods are flaunted before your eyes on TV screens, and in a thousand ways society tells you every day that you are worthless because you have no achievements. You are a failure, and you you know that you will continue to be a failure because there is no way for you to achieve tomorrow what you have not managed to achieve today. Your dignitiy is shattered and your soul is enveloped in the darkness of depair.
But the gospel tells you that you are not defined by outside forces. It tells you that you count - even more, that you are loved unconditionally and infinitely, irrespective of anything you have achieved or failed to achieve, even that you are loved a tad bit more than those whose efforts have been crowned with success.
Imagine now this gospel not simply proclaimed but embodied in a community that has emerged not as a "result of works" (Eph. 2.10). Justified by sheer grace, it seeks to "justify" by grace those whoa re made "unjust" by society's implacable law of achievement. Imagine furhtermore this community determined to infuse the wider culture, along with its political and economic institutions, with the message that it seeks to embody and proclaim. This is justification by grace, proclaimed and pacticed. A dead doctrine? Hardly.
As I was reflecting on the social significance of justication by grace, I remembered a passage from Nietzsche's Thus spoke Zarathustra ... "O my brothers, I direct and consecrate you to a new nobility: you shall become begetters and cultivators and sowers of the future - truly, not a nobility that you could buy like shopkeepers with shopkeepers gold: for all that has a price is of little value."
Justification by grace, I thought, musing on Nietzsche's profound observation, is so deeply at odds with our "shopkeeper's culture". It takes the price tags off human beings not so as to devalue them but so as to give them but so as to give them their proper dignity, a dignity not based on what they have achieved but rooted in the sheer fact that they are loved unconditionally by God. Divine love is that indispensable nourishment for the human soul of which the prophet speaks when he calls, "Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters: and you that have no money come buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price." (Isa. 55:1)

I shall now try to stop quoting large chunks of Volf but really recommend the book, deeply satisfying. Go out and buy a copy! I feel profoundly challenged to think about how to "love in a time of petty dreams and persisting enmities". I often feel caught in petty dreams and persisting enmities, reading Volf's has helped me once again to see my faith as the key way through that. I like the way he speaks about faith rather than spirituality too.
The book is a real reminder of why societies need intellectuals and why Christianity needs thinkers.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Allegiance and rebellion in against the tide

I've been leading morning prayers at the end of this week. Yesterday and today as well as a Bible reading I've offered the handful of folk at morning prayer a short extract from the wonderful Miroslav Volf book Against the Tide. Volf's writing is extraordinarily powerful and I could post quotes from every essay, really profound spiritual writing. Here are the passages I read for colleagues this morning, from an essay called "Allegiance and rebellion" which recounts some of his thoughts on the Good Friday he was naturalized as a citizen of the USA.

On my application form for naturaliztion I stated that I would not bear arms. To demonstrate the sincerity of my convictions, I appended a brief statement explaining that in communist Yugoslavia I had been persecuted partly because of my pacifist stance. The explanation didn't help. To be exempt from the obligation to bear arms in the United States, I had to be a member of a recognized religious body with an official pacifist position.
During the interview about my application for citizenship, my interlocutor tried to persuade me to change my mind.
"A stapler is an 'arm'", said the exasperated woman behind the counter.
"I use a stapler every day" I responded "but not to kill people."
"We don't want you to kill people!"
"So we agree?"
"But would you not defend your wife and children?"
"I will defend but I will not kill."
"There are mean people out there, ruthless autocrats you know."
"Yes I was born in the former Yugoslavia."
"Then you should know better. "
"Maybe I do," I said.
Later another official listened for about ten minutes to my dozen ways of saying I will defend but not bear arms and then suggested a compromise. At the place on the form where I had checked that I will not bear arms, she drew a line and wrote. "Will defend." I initialed, and was granted permission to become a citizen - citizen Volf, who will defend without bearing arms ... except staplers, of course.
A day or so after I was naturalised, I received a congratulatory card from my in-laws. It featured not a patriotic slogan but this quotation:
As citizens, Christians share all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers ... They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives.
The passage was from the early second century Epistle of Mathetus to Diognetus. The words put in a memorable way the dialectic of distance and belonging, of strangeness and domesticityx, of surpassing the laws and obeying them. A word of welcome appropriate to citizen Volf, who for the first time would be celebrating Independance Day as an American citizen - a citizen whose ultimate allegiance is to a polity ruled by the crucified Messiah.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

An iconographer's prayer - God as the artist of my life

As a Reformed Christian I come of course from an iconoclastic tradition so it has been interesting to reflect on the meaning of icons and art, to find myself challenged by and "chosen by" the artwork on display in the chapel. The artists have put up prayers with the icons they are displaying and the one I've translated here is the iconographer's prayer - it spoke to the iconoclast that I am. I particularly like the idea of God being the artist of my life.

Your Spirit breathes where beauty is created
Come to my aid
In my prayer let me become an icon which reflects your being
Guide my spirit
Inspire my movements
Enlighten my looking
Put your word onto my lips
For you my life will then become a work of art, a sacred work.
May those who look at me be able to recognize you.
Blessed are you Lord for having made me as your brush;
You who are the artist of my life.

(Translated from the French)

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Breastfeeding madonna

This icon shows a breastfeeding madonna, which according to this post here is something the Vatican has been trying to promote to put across the idea that Christ was fully human.

The Paintbox of possibilities

Another photo of the exhibition in the chapel, this one with the palette of pigments at the entrance and showing some of the visitors. The chapel does not have holy water to remind us of our baptism at the entrance but we walk through virtual water at the entrance. This is where the paintbox of possibilities is positioned, a reminder of the creativity and recreativity of baptism perhaps.

Colours for the icon that is your life

I really like the icons which are part of the exhibition in chapel but in many ways this is my favourite photo of the expo. This is a box of beautiful pigments, it's clear that it's in regular use by an artist. Like any artist's palette it speaks to me of the world of creative possiblities, of new art that may be created, of the openness and discipline that creativity requires.
I suppose in many ways I simply want to find a brush and use these pigments and paint ... instead I suspect the computer calls, but then that's just another kind of palette in many ways.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

St Michael and the Dragon

So you can see how great the icons lookagainst the wood of the chapel.

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Icon exhibition in the chapel

I had a real Martha and Mary moment this afternoon and it was quite funny. I was busy preparing the "apéro" for the opening of the icon exhibition and wanted to take a drink to our two artists who were in the chapel. Walking from the apéro table into the chapel I suddenly realised that I was completely missing the main event, there were lots of people looking at the icons, enjoying the music, looking around and talking gently. It was a wonderful moment - I suddenly realised that the real party was taking place in the chapel not around the crisps and wine bottles outside!
Many of the people who came in today had never been to the ecumenical centre before and it was agreat opportunity to talk about our work and meet new people, including a very engaging man who works as a clown and wanted to come dressed as a clown and do a talk on God, humour and spirituality. Not really something that someone who writes a blog called of life, laughter and liturgy could really say no to!

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the hospitality of Abraham and Sarah

This is just one of the many wonderful icons currently on display in the exhibition in the Ecumenical Centre Chapel this week and next. This is an interpretation of the famous Roublev icon and is painted by Didi Marmoud who gave a very inspiring testimony at the opening this afternoon about how painting icons had brought her back on to the path of faith and finally also back to church.
What is fascinating about this interpretation is that it includes not only the three persons of the Godhead and Abraham but also Sarah who is bringing the bread. i don't think I've seen an interpretation like this before but I really like it - as did the members of the feminist theology group who turned up for the "vernissage" today.

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Monday, 19 April 2010

In my own language ... the word of God

This morning two of my colleagues turned up to chapel with Bibles in their own languages. I found it very moving to see them marking their Bibles with the texts to be read and then listening to them reading for us during the service. In Arabic and in Samoan we heard part of Genesis and of John's gospel. In some ways, we didn't understand a word, yet we knew and trusted that this was the language of their heart, the Bibles they use and know their way around. And we followed the text in English with our eyes, some of us translating the words on the sheets into our own more familiar languages. These are texts that are familiar.
What a privilege to read, hear and know the word of God in our own language, yet also in community. Together we proclaimed one biblical passage antiphonally - Collosians 1.15-20 - a real confession of faith, using English as our common language.
There is always one moment of glorious spiritual cacophony during the service as we say the Lord's prayer each in our own language. It's a special place, with special people ... but then so are all places and people gathered to listen and pray.

On being an icon - a sermon by Theodore Gill for the opening of an icon exhibition

This morning we gathered in the chapel surrounded in a more visible way than usual by a great cloud of witnesses as most of the icons for the icon exhbition by Josette Laissue and Didi Marmoud were already in place.
Outside Geneva airport was silent as Northern Europe remained under the grip of another kind of cloud - many of our colleagues including the WCC general secretary were trapped in airports in various places across the world. We'll have to see who has the most interesting home-coming story!
Theodore Gill led our prayers and a meditation on icons which you can read here. At the end of the service just before the blessing he called us all to be icons and bear the image of God through our lives into the world. It was a nourishing morning service, here are two extracts from the beginning and end of Theo's sermon:

Icons have been described by admirers as windows into the kingdom of heaven, and also as mirrors that aid us in our spiritual self-reflection.
“Icon” comes from the Greek word for “image” – it is used in the Septuagint, the early Greek translation of Hebrew scripture, when God is said to create humankind in God’s own image (the word applies neither to a man nor a women, but all of “humankind…male and female”; Gen.1:27). And the word appears again in the hymn near the beginning of Colossians, when we are told – somewhat paradoxically, it has seemed to many – that Jesus Christ is “the image of the invisible God” (Col.1:15).

Whether the art on display represents a set of windows to heaven or mirrors for reflection, or some combination of the two, icons invite us to consider our own potential as images of divine love – and to re-conceive our own lives as a means of portraying the reality of Christ in the world.

The icon painters prayer

Two wonderful French Roman Catholic icon painters are holding an exhibition of their work in the chapel of the ecumenical centre from Monday 19 to Friday 30 April. they began hanging the icons on Friday and the chapel looks quite different.
I shall try and post at least a photo a day of the icons - some of which have prayers next to them. For now though I've posted the prayer of the icon painter in French, maybe later in the week I'll get around to doing some translations ... maybe means I have good intentions and no will power ...
In the meantime you can already access the liturgy for Monday morning here, part of it includes a responsive reading of part of Colossians:

He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation;

More about the exhibtion soon ...

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Reading against flow - going against the tide ...

So we returned from Berlin with lots of books. Our house is full of books. I have recently ordered lots of books by post and so has Dr B. So what am I reading? A library book of course! One of the risks and benefits of having my office in the library is that I walk past the display of new books to get to my office which is how I ended up checking this book out today. Very glad I did, my bus got stuck in traffic and it's great and easy read, but also profound and moving writing. Here's an eminent theologian linking life, faith and theology quie unapologetically. It's wonderful.
Each piece is only about three book pages long. Perfect for reading on the bus! Flicking through it before I decided to take it home I got hooked by a piece entitled "not by sausage alone". It recounts Miroslav Volf's search for a "kulen" sausage and how he finds a devout and wise man who makes sausages and reads his Bible - blessed indeed are the sausage makers!
Here are two quotes from that piece:

"If the Bible is the book you read then your conversations will likely concern the deep questions of life rather than skirt them."
"But that loss (the loss of biblical literacy) is small compared to the moral, spiritual and intellectual impoverishment that comes from letting our lives be saturated by the superficial instead of being immeresed into the profound."
There are some beautiful personal pieces: on the adoption of his first child - called "ambiguity and grace"; on perceiving God's delight through the delight of a child in a parent; on married love; on grieving for a friend who died in a psychiatric hospital or for his father ...
The writing has great physicality, humour and honesty but it also shows deep spirituality. Here are some more quotes from "Evil and evildoers".
"Doesn't calling a person evil make us go after him with a vengeance, seeking to eleiminate or at least neutralize him?" my friend protests. "It all too often does," I agree. But it should not. God's love is broad enough to include evildoers, the worst of them. We know this because Christ died for their salvation no less than for the salvation of the rest of us who are one and all by nature God's enemies. To call someone evil is not to place her beyond the pale of God's redemption. Similarly, to call her evil is not to exempt ourselves from the obligation to love her. If our enemies are hungry, we should feed them; if they are thirsty we should give them something to drink. Instead of being overcome by evil, we should overcome evil with good.
I worry when I hear politicians speak of bin Laden as the Evil One Who Hides. But I would worry even more if we were to refrain from naming morally reprehensible acts, and those who commit them, as evil."
I suppose just the title of this book really spoke to me and deeply challenged me "Against the Tide - love in a time of petty dreams and persisting enmities"
It made me wonder about my own capacity to truly love in the midst of my own desperately petty dreams and persisting enmities ... my pondering was not as edifying as Miroslav Volf's. Do I just kid myself that I am going against the tide when really the way I go is also with the flow of an individualistic culture which loves far too little.
You can read a preview of the book by clicking here.

Angels and mermaids - testing the Genevan waters

So here are some of us tasting and testing Geneva water and also getting the artist Tom Tirabosco to personally decorate one of the water carafes for the WCC general secretary Olav Fykse Tveit. When Tom heard that we were from the World Council of Churches he changed the picture he was drawing from a mermaid to an angel, even adding a halo! Not quite sure what this means about the idea people have of religion.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Not walking on water but drawing on water!

On Saturday afternoon the Ecumenical Water Network encouraged folk at the ecumenical centre to join in the water days organised by the Services Industriels Genevois
We had good fun at the event which was organised with simplicity and style - face-painting and plastic water bottle ten pin bowling for children, great local organic food to learn about, some fun water taste tests and free local cordials to drink. We also took a Geneva water quiz and won some fun plastic collapsable cups to be able to drink ordinary rather than bottled water wherever we are. Our responses also got put into a prize draw for being able to switch on Geneva's famous jet d'eau. The fountain is the symbol of the Genevan water company.
One of the other fun things was having the Bande Déssinée artist Tom Tirabosco decorate the water carafes being sold to encourage us to drink local water and also help support a project in Kisumu providing drinking water. The carafes are made locally from recycled glass and very stylish.
Detailed programme here.

Bowl away the plastic water bottles

This was just one of the great fun activities that the Société Industrielle Genevoise (SIG) organised about water. Geneva water has as its symbol the city's wonderful Jet d'eau. We even got to do a taste test of Genevan tap water over and against French and Swiss branded bottled water - for me the tap water won out - definitely tasted best.
So for those of us who do have access to drinkable tap water let's try and kick the habit of bottled water. It can be up to a 1000 times more ecological to drink tap water rather than bottled water. It makes sense.
Thanks to the Ecumenical Water Network for telling us about the event. Lots more photos and short posts from the event about to follow - one day I really am going to have to learn how to deal with photos, for now you'll just have to put up with multiple posting.

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Friday, 16 April 2010

Anger, rage and pain in terms of finding your voice

Some years ago a friend died from cancer. She was not ready to die and she was angry at the disease taking her life, her energy, her creativity, her future. She was an extraordinarily talented artist.
In the end she managed to say good bye to those nearest to her, and months before the end she asked me to take her funeral. I was still in parish ministry at that time and when I didn't spend my Mondays off at calligraphy class I would spend Monday with her.
On the day that I came back from my neurologist with the confirmation that I had my second MS incident - and therefore had MS - she turned up bringing with her the most perfectly arranged posy of flowers I have ever received and took me out to the lakeside to have ice-cream. I suppose my ministry to her was that I allowed her to be angry, and she knew how to be angry - not only at God but also at others. At the end of some of those Mondays I would sometimes be exhausted, partly because of the energy and integrity of her anger. It was her way of finding her voice in a desperate situation.
At her funeral one of the hymns we sang was Now the Green Blade Rises to Noël Nouvelet, it's a hymn I hope people might sing at my own funeral, it speaks deeply of resurrection and new life. However, there are also other words to this tune where one verse begins "Jesus Christ is raging, raging in the streets ..." Elemental anger is so rarely part of our spirituality and yet any reading of the Psalms whould help us see how important "imprecation" and expressing prayerful anger in pretty colourful language can be.
I've been thinking about my friend and her brilliant and frightening anger and also about the challenge of the this year's theme at our feminist theology group - finding your voice, finding your way. How do we find our voice when we are angry and raging? It's a particular challenge for women I think. Our societies find it hard enough as it is to listen to women, to treat our input as of equal value; we are immediately seen as "aggressive" when we challenge people or issues (when a man would be seen as "tough").
So what does this mean for finding our voice, for me finding my voice? I've revistied an old post on anger and on Lytta Basset's Holy Anger and in many ways I almost feel I have nothing to add - and I would still use as my starting point the great quote from Brecht: "Even anger against injustice makes the voice grow harsh. Alas we who wished to lay the foundations of kindness could not ourselves be kind." As I consider my own anger and rage - which is different from that of my friend in her illness, but no less elemental - I wonder about how I can possibly speak in a way that can be heard given the passion of emotion. I wonder too about whether given strong emotions I am even able to listen to myself and hear my own voice or know what it might be?
My friend in her pain at her situationi did not question her right to be angry, perhaps I too as an angry and passionate person need to accept this about myself and learn to find my voice.
Meanwhile I give thanks that at my friend's funeral I preached about beauty and creativity, and that anger was part of that.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

First woman elected to head the Christian Conference of Asia

Today Rev. Henriette Tabita Hutabarat-Lebangat became the first woman to be elected to head the Christian Conference of Asia. According to ENI she will take up office as the general secretary of the Christian Conference of Asia at their Chiang Mai headquarters later this year.
This really marks a change so let's hope it opens the door to a woman maybe heading one of the world confessional bodies or even the WCC. (This post has been edited following Faautu's comment below where you can read about the two women general secretaries of the Pacific ... it does seem to be taking time for women's leadership to be accepted so let's see how things progress!)

You can read more on the CCA assembly here and also the full text of the WCC general secretary's keynote address to the CCA. In that he also welcomed Lebangat's election as an "an important milestone in the ecumenical movement."

Open Bible projects in Portuguese and English as well as German

This week I discovered that there is not only a German creative commons Bible project but also one in English and in Portuguese.
There's a good discussion over on Peter Kirk's Gentle Wisdom about some of the challenges and philosophy of producing an open source Bible translation. I still think it's a great idea. As with any Bible translation though the real issue will be keeping the momentum going, coordinating the project in the different langauges and moving forwards. Anyway it's also opened up the world of free software, social coding and Github to me. Oh dear so much to know and just not enough time ...

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

To learn to speak, learn to listen ... at feminist theology

Claudine Haenni Dale spoke to our theme of "trouver sa voix trouver sa voie" at our feminist theology group last night. Claudine is in training to be a lay reader in the Anglican Church and is a human rights lawyer who has specialised in work on the prevention of torture and victims rights.
She chose two texts - the call of Samuel and Moses' response to God's call - to speak personally about her own quite recent journey of faith and the different emotions and sensitivities about speaking on behalf of others, finding her voice as a woman, pitching the message to the audience.
How do you, as a woman with a concern for the legal rights of non-combat people and a responsibility to communicate that to the military, find your voice when speaking to a group of 200 16-18 year old soldiers in central America? How do you speak and listen to those you visit in prison?
Claudine spoke movingly and with great humour and humanity about finding her own voice, the conversion experience of finding her way back to faith (her "way") through being invited to sing in the church choir, her choice of Anglicanism as the right place for her faith.
As we find our voices do we do it - when learning the local language say - in order to blend in so as not to be noticed? Or in so as to be able to use that voice in whatever language to plead a cause, our own or the cause of others? Claudine moved around alot in her youth, learning different languages in order to not get noticed - at least not stand out because she didn't speak the local langauge.
Yet how do we ever dare to speak of faith, in particular as women who have often been excluded from this role for many centuries in most of the Christian churches? Do recent converts have to right to speak in front of others? Does the fact that women preach and lead in some churches today mean that what is said is listened to less?

We returned to the call of Samuel in order to speak, in order to receive the call, the vocation he was counselled by Eli to listen. If we learn to listen to both words and what is left unsaid we will begin to find authentic voice and perhaps also our authentic way. In terms of faith this does not necessarily mean that we always have to find words to preach, things to say; it does mean we need to listen to God in ourselves and in others and bear witness to what God is showing us, doing for us and giving us.
I'm sure that as the week progresses I shall return to some of these thoughts but as we spoke last night I realised what a privilege it is to be part of this group where we both listen and speak. It is a space of liberation and grace.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Take the Seven Weeks for Water survey

Over at the Ecumenical Water Network we'd really appreciate it if you could take the Seven Weeks for Water survey - if you complete and submit the form you also get a chance to win a copy of the Earth from Above pictured here.

Monday, 12 April 2010

The gospel - how ridiculous

In his sermon this morning Jooseup Keum said "how ridiculous" referring to Jesus washing his disciples feet. It really set me thinking about rationalitiy and spirituality, belief being foolishness to the Greeks and all that. It's too late for me to say much more for now, but it was a good start to the working week.
You can find Jooseup's thought-provoking sermon in full here but here are two extracts:

It was a lonely way. Jesus' way to the cross was a lonely way.
Nobody dared to walk together with him, even his disciples, maybe even us.
Imagine him, imagine his journey, he who is walking alone toward a cross. He carries all the agonies and sad stories of powerless people there. Somebody has lost their son, someone is crying, and someone is beating someone, someone is attempting suicide – can he provide any hope in their lives?
In the Gospel of John, Jesus is claiming the way is through washing the feet of his disciples. How ridiculous!
There are many ways in the world – motorway, bullet train and flight – however Jesus chose a tough, very lonely and slow way; off road. He is walking alone on a long endless mountainous path down to Galilee and waiting his disciples and us there. On his way to Galilee, he creates a new community of hope and love

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Baptism with flowers or at the ocean

Last Sunday in Pankow there was a baptism as part of the Easter service. All of the children at the service - and there were lots there - were invited to come forwards and decorate the baptistry with flowers. We were sitting so far back in the packed church that we didn't see what it looked like until we went forward for communion. It's a lovely way of involving people it also reminded me of the German tradition my father brought into our family of decorating the table place of the person whose birthday it was with flowers from the garden. Baptism is about rebirth, a new beginning with Christ so I think this is a lovely tradition particularly for churches which have large old baptistries like this.
Meanwhile David Ker baptised his children on Easter Sunday in the Indian ocean. Read about it in a great post called "what water baptism means to me", sounds like a wonderful way of making baptism both special and part of life. The photos are beautiful too.
Of course you can find different perspectives on Holy Water over on Seven Weeks for Water. Next year we really must get someone from the Pentecostal churches to write a meditation for us.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Käthe Kollwitz - sculpting for peace

So here are the photos I took at the memorial in Berlin to all victims of war and violence. This sculpture is a copy of a work by Käthe Kollwitz, a mother cradling her dead son. Stephen first introduced me to Kollwitz's work more than 25 years ago and I still find it very powerful and deeply moving.

My first ever blogpost from a high speed train

Dr B and I are sitting in the restaurant carriage of a German ICE train which left Berlin Hauptbahnhof and goes all the way to Interlaken - we'll probably get off in Olten or Bern to catch a connection to Geneva and then take the F bus all the way home. It's been a great time away and also the final phase in Dr B's healing process. On Monday he's going to go back to work, it will have been nearly three months. This week in Berlin has been a real holiday and re-integration to life for him and he seems to have grown in strength as the week progressed - being in his favourite city no doubt helped that, as did having the family from Merseyside with us, it was great fun.

As you can tell this post is really just an excuse to show off how totally connected we now are thanks to our splendid little vodaphone prepaid "surf stick" (I assure you that is a German word!). Bizarrely this German provider will not only give us good value 3G connectivity in Germany but also cheaper connectivity in France than any of the solutions available there. Sometimes cartel capitalism offers the consumer no choice at all and that's the case with mobile connectivity in France at the moment, so we are returning from Berlin with two of these surfsticks. However this is perhaps the moment to launch the campaign for a common European mobile phone with roaming at no extra cost.
You can find out more about sim card deals and options in various countries from a great blog on mobile connectivity here. The guy writing it has 8 sim cards just for Germany which seems a bit over the top to me, he even has one to switch on the heater in his car. Not something we need, we just take the bus.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

What is lost is only there in black and white - wandering around the new national gallery in Berlin

Yesterday after walking in the mid day sun in Tiergarten some of us went to the New National Gallery which is in part of former west Berlin that was in no-man's land. The Berlin Philharmonie and Herbert von Karajanstrasse are part of the same space. The whole area around Potsdamerplatz was destroyed at the end of the war, then with building of the wall there was not much reason for business to move there so major cultural buildings were put up in the space. The 19th cnetury church stands in the middle of all of these museums and concert halls, there are no flats or houses in site, yet from the outside at least the church seems to offer some kind of ministry to the world of the performing and decorative arts.
Meanwhile with the fall of the wall Potsdamerplatz became the place where the "triumph of capitalism" needed to become visible and just further down from the Philharmonie is an enormous shopping centre. It's quite a strange bit of city architecture - born of war and the divisions of history. I do wonder at the hubris of the new development - although of course I visited the shops too.
The permanent exhibition at the gallery tells the story of German history through the art and artists of the time - or maybe that should be it tells the story of German art through its history. At various points in the exhibition there are black and white reproductions of "lost" works - mostly art willfully burnt and destroyed befor the war. It's a powerful way of pointing to the holes in the collection - at first you don't quite notice that something is different.
The 20th century art in the gallery is challenging and powerful stuff, trying very often to tell a story with brash colours and satiricial themes - even if the horrors of the Third reich later went well beyond satire. The colours and lighting of the famous painting by George Grosz particularly struck me yesterday. Looking at the paintings I thought about how Christians and church leaders sometimes go on about the importance of the prophetic word, speaking the truth to power. Yet here were artists - often atheists or like Max Beckman questioning "God's mistakes" - who were painting, sculpting and drawing their perhaps much more prophetic view of society. One of the figures in Grosz' painting is a judge who could be mistaken for a cleric ...
uncomfortable and powerful viewing.
Meanwhile I was rather less convinced by Rudolf Stingel's carpet and chandelier installation in the upstairs area. Also black and white but it didn't quite tell a story for me but then I've never been very fond of patterned carpets.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Resurrection - Easter, Emmaus and Ecumenism in a sermon by Theo Gill

My own resurrection moment was to be sitting in Cafe Einstein eating my fresh fruit muesli this morning and thinking about colleagues gathering in the chapel and not having to worry about any of it! I do admit that I was a bit sad not to be able to sing one of my favourite hymns "Now the Green Blade Riseth" but it is wodnerful to be on holiday. Yvette Milosevic prepared the service and Theodore Gill preached on the Emmaus text and on Psalm 118: "A Song of Ascents". I wasn't there to experience him preaching but judging by the very approving text messages I got it obviously all went well. [Yes, the stranzblog has spies everywhere! ;0)]
More to the point Theo just sent me the text of his sermon and it was a very enjoyable read and had me chuckling. It makes some very good points about whether we really will all be able to recognise Christ together in the breaking of the bread if our ecumenical fellowship remains incomplete at Christ's table. Easter, ecumenism and Emmaus - are we on the way to full eucharistic fellowship, do we even want to be on that way?
Full text of Theo's sermon can be found here, but here are a couple of extracts:

those two travelers on the road to Emmaus were not the last would-be followers of Jesus to go wandering off on their own, in the wrong direction…
(my wife and I spent Easter weekend in Avignon – a majestic medieval city, but also something of a hiccup in the history of western Christianity… a bridge too far…)
No, they would not be the last to head the wrong way, only to be pulled up abruptly, to be forced to turn around and start over again on the ascent to community.
Nor were these the last disciples to be found standing, sad and dejected, so absorbed in a sense of confusion, doubt and abandonment that they momentarily lost the plot of the gospel narrative. Maureen Dowd, a columnist for the New York Times, wondered just this past weekend: “Why does the church seem more prone to self-pity than self-reflection?” I believe the answer to that question is that disciples are only human – and we disciples require regular doses of revelation to rekindle our hearts and minds.
Sometimes disciples go astray. For more than sixty years, the constitution of the World Council of Churches has held out as a chief goal of our movement the establishment of one, common eucharistic fellowship, so that we together may join in sharing the one bread and together may recognize Christ in our midst. We feature this vision of “one eucharistic fellowship” in our WCC promotional brochures, but…
What have we done about that goal, lately? Have we made six decades’ worth of progress in this area? Or four-and-a-half decades’ worth, since Vatican II?
My wife and I have known one another for forty years. She comes from one tradition of Christianity, and I come from another. Whenever we have taken communion together in the same service of worship, the action has been considered illicit by someone or another. Will we ever share the same bread, licitly? Perhaps at the feast in the kingdom of heaven…? Again, I wonder: What are we honestly doing to hasten the day of a common eucharist, in this life?

What is "strong" leadership, "strong" government - reflecting on the day the election is announced in my home country

It's not really surprising that I think about a quote from Heinrich Grüber's memoirs as I wander around Berlin this week. Grüber describes in his memoirs how he voted for Hitler - as did many others of his class and background - because he wanted "strong" government and the experience of Weimar democracy had been of weak ever-changing government.
Today the election will be called in Britain to take place in just one month's time. It's quite interesting chatting with our family about their voting intentions - our oldest nephew is (shock horror) probably going to vote Tory - but we've also been having discussions about voting systems, whether it's better for democracies to have change after a decade and the place for conviction in politics. It's fascinating to see how approaches to democracy and voting systems are very culturally determined. Do I want strong government or good government?
At a personal level I've also been thinking about "strong" leadership and our need to embue these words which tend to be seen as male virtues with value. Is the only way of describing leadership positively to be seen in macho language? Of course women are also strong and it is very much a female virtue as well. But surely goodness, integrity, mid-wifery, artistry, brick-laying, sculpting and many other things may offer us more useful images for the sort of government and society we want rather than this steroid obsession with strength.
Grüber learnt the strength of saying he was wrong to vote for Hitler and took up resistance to teh regime he had voted in very quickly. There is strength in recognising when we have been wrong, it's called humility and it's not a bad virtue for politicians and leaders to learn.

Stolpersteine - history under your feet

Late last night going back to Nollendorfplatz with our friends Horst and Gaby they showed us two Stolpersteine in the pavement just outside an ordinary house in a side street.

I hadn't come across these small local memorials to people who were deported during the Nazi time. My research this morning tells me that these "stumbling blocks" - more than 1800 in Hamburg and 1600 in Berlin - have already become the world's most delocalised memorial. They were the idea of the artist Gunter Demnig and have spread outside Germany to Austria. The great part of the project is that it involves local people and schools in the research and also to raise money to make the blocks. It is about discovering the lost stories of local people who were forcibly removed. A real example of how the artistic imagination can encourage research, build community today with a sense of the past.
Here's an extract from wikipedia about the project:

Schools, relatives, and various organizations investigate facts about people, who were deported or persecuted during the regime of Nazi Germany.Once the investigation work has been done, Demnig manufactures a concrete cube of 10 cm/ 4 in, which he covers with a sheet of brass. Then he adds the writing “Hier wohnte” (Here lived), the name, year of birth and the fate: mostly the date of deportation and of death. The Stolperstein is then put down flush in the pavement/sidewalk in front of the last residence of the victim. The financial requirements are covered by donations, collections, individual citizens, contemporary witnesses, school classes, or communities. One Stolperstein costs €95.

Monday, 5 April 2010

History: how do we live with it?

We have been walking aorund in an overcast Berlin and seem to have already packed masses in to the day and it's not yes 18.00. Time now for a rest and a think.
The flats where we are staying overlook the extraordinary memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe, just around the corner is the Brandenburg Gate with on one side Unter den Linden and on the other the Strasse des 17ten Junis ... We caught a bus this afternoon on the corner of Rosenstrasse, where the non-Jewish wives of Jewish imprisoned men protested against the imprisonment of their husbands just around the corner from the Gestapo headquarters. Read more here and in Nathan Stoltzfus' book Resistance of the Heart.
We spent time going around the exhibition about the path to German parliamentary democracy in the German Dom on Gendarmenmarkt, (the English title is: Milestones - Setbacks - Sidetracks and the German title Wege - Irrwege - Umwege). This was the exhibition that used to be housed years ago in the Reichstag before the wall came down and the German parliament finally moved back there. It was interesting to go around it today with young people who are about the age I was when I first went around it with my father. Some of the most powerful images were those of the total destruction of German cities at the end of the war.
Looking the French Dom opposite led us to talk about the French Protestant refugees who had been welcomed by the Elector of Brandenburg following persecution in France. And then we went on to Bebelsplatz and looked down through the glass in the ground onto the completely empty bookshelves beneath - this, the square just next to the Kaiser's palace and opposite the university, is where the Nazi's famously burned books early in the Third Reich. Yet thousands walk past without even noticing this very discreet monument or memorial ... walking over history.
From here we walked up the Unter de Linden and went in to what was formerly the tomb of the unknown soldier following the first world war and which became a memorial to the victims of fascism in GDR times and which now - rather than an eternal flame and goose-stepping soldiers - houses an absolutely wonderful and desperately powerful sculpture by Käthe Kollwitz with the simple dedication "to all victims of war and violence". I had never been inside before and didn't know about this change which deeply moved me. The scupture shows a woman cradling her dead son. Not only the male soldier "heros" of war are remembered but the ordinary families suffering violence, a huge difference in how history can be viewed and the conscious placing of women at the heart of remembrance.
After that we headed to the Reichstag, for coffee and cakes, but also to show the family Richard Rogers' extraordinary dome. The building of parliamentary democracy in Germany has become a worldwide tourist attraction, it really makes the building belong to the people, makes what happens in the building a bit more attractive too. Politics can become a bit more fun if its architecture is like this.
So our day has been a little bit like an exercise in a historiography of public buildings and official monuments.
Walking up and down in the dome, looking across the once divided city, seeing the golden domes of the synagogue and cathedrals, looking at the hideous and beautiful highrise buildings of capitalism and socialism, the victory column and gate of the princely past and the huge sky, I thought about the huge discontinuity and continuity that are part of German history. Then I wondered about how nations build up national myths of continuity - some have integrity, others less so. What is amazing about wandering around the central parts of Berlin is how the ambiguity of continuity and discontinuity are made visible in the ways exhibitions are organised and memorials are built.
How do we live with history? My neighbour in Ferney recently said to me "We need to remember that wherever we put our feet the dust we are walking through is the dust of humanity". I felt that very much today walking around the city where my father was born. He was 15 when he had to leave and yet this is the city his daughter still wants to return to. My way of living with history perhaps.

Reading Herta Müller in Berlin

Going round the splendid independent bookshop just off the Kollwitzplatz I bought myself some books by Herta Müller whose work I've not read before. I'm reading a very slim volume called Der Fremde Blick oder Das Leben ist ein Furz in der Laterne. The language is wonderfully precise and poetic, the subject matter and setting - totalitarian Romania - less so. Harrowing but brilliant writing. It's also interesting to read someone writing in German about the Romanian context as I wander around Berlin that has changed so much, holds so many diverse and complex memories for me, and where I almost don't understand the underground map anymore.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Happy Easter!

We are drinking tea in Pankow following a really wonderful Easter service at the church of the four evangelists which was led by Ruth Misselwitz. What I found particularly heartening were the large number of young families and children at the service which was full, it was traditional and simple and real. I was deeply moved simply to be part of it, to realise how deeply I still know the German liturgy by heart and what a privilege that is too. I'll write a bit about some of my complex Easter emotions later - I was in tears for parts of the service but there was laughter too, as the children stormed back into the church carrying their Easter chocolates, just as the final communion thanksgiving prayer was being said at the altar!
For now I'm a little too close to the emotion of it all and truth be told I'm actually just trying out my new Easter egg, a German vodaphone dongle which means I can connect across borders much more cheaply and practically than via my mobile phone. It took non-technically minded me precisely 90 seconds to set it all up. I'm impressed. You won't be able to stop me tweeting now - must be all those Easter chicks!

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Night train to Berlin

The stranzblog arrived in Berlin just after eight this morning. We set off on the night train from Basel and were served breakfast in our sleeping compartment which we ate watching very familiar territory go by - Bitterfeld, Wittenberg, Jüterborg ... place where I was living and preaching just 20 years ago. It was wonderful to be in the city so early on Saturday morning, really crisp and cold but also very sunny and very lovely.
So we have already walked along the Spree, been to the Hakescher Markt, Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate and more importantly had a deliecious brunch on Kollwitzplatz as well as visiting the nearby bookshop - (ok it's true I did not come away empty handed, more about that later.)
Tomorrow Stephen's sister Myra, her husband Tom and the three children will join us. These few days in Berlin are our rather belated 50th birthday present to her. We also hope that they are the beginning of the final phase in Dr B's recovery. Berlin manages to energise him so let's hope he doesn't get too exhausted.
Meanwhile on Wednesday a real gathering of the clans is planned as my mother, her sister Doreen and her partner Martin also arrive in Berlin for the afternoon. They are on a church twinning weekend near Magdburg. We are going to have to find quite a noisy cafe to be able to cope with all 10 of us for Kaffee und Kuchen that afternoon. Should be fun if we mange to meet up though.

Friday, 2 April 2010

A poem by Elizabeth Jennings for Good Friday

It always seems to me that prose is not enough for some days, for some events, yet I've never really be able to write poetry - or not poetry I think much of or that says what I would like it to ...
On Good Friday I turn to poetry, and this year as last to Elizabeth Jennings

We nailed the hands long ago,
Wove the thorns, took up the scourge and shouted
For excitement's sake, we stood at the dusty edge
Of the pebbled path and watched the extreme of pain.

But one or two prayed, one or two
Were silent, shocked, stood back
And remembered remnants of words, a new vision.
The cross is up with its crying victim, the clouds
Cover the sun, we learn a new way to lose
What we did not know we had
Until this bleak and sacrificial day,
Until we turned from our bad
Past and knelt and cried out our dismay,
The dice still clicking, the voices dying away.

Elizabeth Jennings Collected Poems

Running away or becoming hyper active - how do you respond to Good Friday

On Good Friday I often return to Charles Elliott's reflection and challenge in his book Praying the Kingdom where he encourages the reader to practise a form of one of the Ignatian exercises where you inhabit the person of Mary at the foot of the cross contemplating the crucifixion.
A harrowing experience, watching the one you have brought in to the world dying a dreadful and seemingly pointless death.
Elliott recounts two main responses to taking part in this spiritual exercise. Many men respond to the exercise by fleeing the scene, leaving so as not to have to contemplate the unbearable. Many women respond by trying to tear Christ off the cross, be desperately trying to do something to stop this terrible travesty of all that is good.
But we are called in the midst of a political spirituality to simply be witnesses to that which is terrible and awful, to dare to live with it - not accepting it, not running away from it, not believing that we can stop it - simply surveying the cross and seeing it for all that it is, the terror, the horror, the pain, the injustice.
Sometimes though it's hard to stop running, sometimes it's hard to stop doing and just be in the terrifying space of another's pain.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

What book should I read on the train to Berlin ...

So do I want to be pseudo intellectual, pure pretentious or just authentically myself in my choice of reading matter for my holiday in Berlin?
I suppose the choice is theology, poetry, biography or crime fiction - realistically of course I still have 500 pages of Stieg Larsson to read so I suppose that will win out in the end.
Really what I want is the one thing I don't have - a really great novel I haven't yet read. Any suggestions?

Foot washing - the dream ...

On Maundy Thursday I always have crazy day dreams that the kings and queens and presidents and primeministers might be found at the local homeless shelter washing people's feet. Or that the CEO of a top company will wash the feet of the cleaning personnel - or maybe make coffee for the secretaries ...

These days of course such events would simply be part of the constant barrage of the celebrity round of photo opportunities.

Such gentle focused sensitivity, such practical sensuality in Christ caring for his disciples' feet, washing them and preparing them for the way ahead.

A crazy dream that the great of this world, the true leaders will have humility enough to care - enough even to care for the betrayer.

If I am not ready to take up bowl and towel I am not ready to lead.