Sunday, 30 May 2010

The ecumenical boat

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Saturday, 29 May 2010

The strange story of the car key leading to a milk vending machine

In January we decided we would try to use the car less and take the bus to work. Only one of us drives (not me - Dr B often says he wants to buy himself a peaked cap with "chauffeur de la pasteure" on it!) and it seemed like a good way to try to support our newly improved local bus service. Then of course the chauffeur himself was out of action for quite a long time. Meanwhile our elderly (18 year old) Golf feels rather neglected but still manages to start on the rare occasions we use it.
Today it would have been useful to get in it and go off to the SNCF shop in St Genis but just over a month ago the one remaining key for the car got mashed to pieces in the front door. We've been enjoying telling friends "Now we've broken the key we'll just have to buy a new car!" Finally after breaking into the car yesterday Dr B managed to find the paperwork proving the car belongs to us and thus entitling us to get replacement keys from the garage - maybe by Wednesday this week.
All this as a very roundabout explanation for us taking the Y bus to St Genis Pouilly (a neighbouring town in France which you get to by going in and out of Switzerland on the Y bus) so as to be able to pick up some train tickets as there is no SNCF shop in Ferney. Quite an exploit and I haven't really been back in St Genis since starting my work at the WCC nearly 8 years ago. I was particularly amazed to discover this brilliant fresh unpasteurised milk vending machine in the main street. We bought a litre for 1 euro and very delicious it is too - I really dislike homogenised milk which tends to be what you find most easily in France. If we'd been in the car we probably wouldn't have stopped to try out the milk vending machine. I just posted the pictures to my facebook and received information of a similar milk vending point in Roanne - maybe there are others elsewhere too and in countries other than France too?

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

How to pray - eyes closed or eyes open?

On the last evening of the Kirchentag a special service was held to launch a book which two of our friends Sabine Udodesku and Luca Negro have been closely involved in shepherding towards publication.

It's a wonderfrul resource of liturgical texts, each prayer is printed in six languages and an accompanying CD further languages too. It's a great idea, a very practical way of celebrating ecumenism and is one fruit of the 3rd European Ecumenical Assembly in Sibiu (where this blog was born!).
Called Laudate Omnes Gentes it includes some simple outlines for prayer services and about 40 liturgical songs to accompany the words in many languages. You can find out more here.

By the time the Saturday night of the Kirchentag arrived I was pretty tired so it was quite an experience to be one of about 4000 people gathered in one of the huge halls at the congress centre and to feel the sense of quiet and prayerfulness as we sang and prayed from our cardboard kirchentag "paphocke". I particularly enjoyed the opening Iona chant "come Holy spirit" which we sang in Geneva this morning and which I sense will become a new favourite of mine.

During the service several religious leaders were invited to share something about a favourite prayer. I particularly enjoyed Roman Catholic bishop Gerhard Feige speaking about the ecumenical experience of praying together in former East Germany. Margot Kässmann spoke last and chose Luther's morning and evening prayers, setting out how they offer a framework and the promise of God's angels watching over us whatever happens. By the time she had finished speaking I had tears on my cheeks, what she said came from the heart, was not over personal yet could speak to many.
This Sunday it was the words of Olav Fykse Tveit, our own general secretary, which came back to me. Standing behind the communion table with my colleague Bernard I realised I was praying the Lord's prayer with my eyes shut. Tveit had spoken simply and powerfully of how when he was a boy he had been encouraged to think that to pray properly you had to close your eyes. Getting more involved in ecumenism has led him to understand that he needed somehow to keep his eyes open to pray - even if only metaphorically - to see others, their need and suffering and to pray with them Christ's final prayer "that all may be one".
Since that tired Saturday night I've been thinking about the eyes open and eyes closed question where prayer is concerned
- do we really see others, their suffering, their joy, their concern?
- how do we hold this complex world in prayer before the God who created it?
Sometimes it is only by opening our eyes outwards that we truly see ourselves, only by closing our eyes that we are able to concentrate on the needs of others. Sometimes to see others, to pray for and with them, I need to physically close my eyes, yet the eye of the heart, the eye of prayer needs to be open.

More about Laudate omnes Gentes: Praying together- resources and songs for ecumenical celebrations here.
Photo: Nadine Malzkorn/2. ÖKT

The tempest of the Spirit invites us to the feast of communication

This morning Dr B preached and rather good it was too. He developed the theme of Pentecost as an ecumenical feast of communication.

God's Spirit breaks down the barriers between nations, the barriers of culture, and the barriers of language. Being drawn together, being one, does not mean being identical. It means transcending the barriers that separate us, holding together our diversity in the power of the "breath of God's voice". This is a pronounced and profound experience of communication.
The service also included an absolutely inspired and spirited reading of Acts 2 by our colleague Segma Asfaw from Ethiopia who read in English, French and Amharic. It was deeply moving.

The idea for Stephen preaching had only come about over supper last week as I said there was still no preacher for Pentecost week. "I'll do it" he said. He was lively, convincing and good. He also uses his hands in a very French sort of way these days.
God's Ruach is not something supernatural or immaterial but is "a tempest, a storm, a force in body and soul, humanity and nature". Ruach, says Moltmann, is the "breath of God's voice". (1) So, Pentecost is about communication of all the senses. It is this breath of God's voice that enables God's deeds of power to be heard by each in their own language. Pentecost is the great feast of communication.
You will note that Dr B's sermons have something that mine do not, namely footnotes. I've always accused him of being the real theologian in the household. I'm just the pastor. Anyway it was good for me to listen to him being passionate about faith and a biblical text. I realised that I hadn't heard him preach for about 27 years - Emmanuel URC Cambridge was the last time I think, scene of us meeting over coffee. Meanwhile he's had to sit through countless sermons of mine in three languages. Last time he preached in Geneva I was travelling to Brazil.

Anyway here's a final taste from this morning, you can find the full text here and the liturgy here.
Communication is also to communicate, to share together in the Eucharist, the Lord's Supper, united in the oikoumene in space and in time, transcending the divisions of the world. Here we are called together by the love that unites that which has been divided. At this meal, even the inadequate disciples are accepted. This is the meal of the suffering Lord who is in solidarity with the oppressed, and the meal of the one who has risen, who sends us to renewed action (4). Yet it is also here, that our own divisions in the oikoumene become most apparent and most painful. Our communication together at the Lord's Supper is incomplete, is only a partial sign of the unity to which the breath of God's voice has called us.

Monday, 24 May 2010

"That all mäy be one"

For morning prayer we often follow the readings also used by the Communauté de Grandchamp. On Thursday and Friday last week, the final days of Eastertide and the days directly preceding Pentecost the goepl readings for morning prayer were from John 17.
We often hear the verse "that all may be one" in the chapel of the Ecumenical Centre and use it alot in our work on ecumenism - it is woven in Greek into the tapestry of Christ ascended in glory which covers one wall of our main hall. What was good on Thursday and Friday was listening to the passage in its entirety and realising how the call to be one is repeated throughout.
You can find the order for prayers which my colleague Theodore Gill drew up here. It includes a moving litany for the unity of the church.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Pentecost as translation Sunday

In bed with my early morning cup of tea I listened to a brilliant "something Understood" all about Pentecost as the celebration and festival of translation. You can listen to it again here, it includes an excellent interview with biblical translator father Nicholas King - who says how he sweated blood translating parts of Romans - and concentrates on one verse from Romans 5 in reply to what is the most difficult or impossible part of the Bible to translate.
There's a great reading from an essay by A.S Byatt praising the translators of her work as her most attentive readers. The programme also includes an interview with soemone who has moved to Britain and suggests that her "I" who speaks English is a subtley different "I" from the one who speaks her mother tongue. This is a bit what I feel like with French - and I know how this goes backwards and forwards too - French abstract thinking "infects" the way I preach and think in English.
I think my favourite part of the programme was Jamaican poet Kei Miller's brilliant reading of his poem Speaking in Tongues which you can also hear on the poetry archive. I loved the line "What is language but a sound we christen" and the ending which goes "Each poem is waiting on its own day of Pentecost .... hoping this finally is the language of God and that he might hear it and respond"

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Pentecost roses and the Holy Spirit as a girl who can't say no

Peonies are called Pentecost roses - Pfingstrosen - in German. This is their time of year in Europe - even if Pentecost is a very moveable feast. They are one of my favourite flowers - those pictured here are some rather girly pink ones, blousey and over blown but still glorious and perfumed. The petals gradually drifted down onto the table, perfect Holy Spirit roses.

I've been having my usual semi heretical theological thoughts about the Holy Spirit at this time of year - in my second year of ministry in the north of France I famously preached on "La Sainte Esprit" and the congregation were not sure until half way through the sermon whether my French was having a seriously off day or quite what I was up to. Pentecost surely has to be the time for surprises, joy and transformation, and in my book a bit of fun too.
My heretical thoughts this year are partly generated by the retirement party of a good friend this week. Yvette will be much missed on the worship committee of the ecumenical centre and many other aspects of the centre's life (we even wrote her a special psalm). She's simply a wonderful person who gets things done.

Thinking about how to say thank you to you Yvette on behalf of the worship committee a line from a song came into my mind. Not a holy song from Thuma Mina or Agape or any other hymnbook but a rather saucy ditty from Rogers and Hammerstein’s musical Oklahoma which starts “I’m just a girl who can’t say no …”
I suppose I thought of that because for the handful of us still left on the worship committee you have been the person who says yes, often even before the question has been asked.
In my heretical way, I suspect that God’s energetic, creative, comforting, gentle, challenging, spirited Ruach is actually also in part “just a girl who can’t say no…”
So I've been thinking about the Spirit as the naughty girl of the Trinity the one who doesn't say no - I am sure of course that this is not at all appropriate for the serious theologian that I am not. I think what I like about the idea is that it puts something of the playfulness of the Spirit back into the personality of God. It also puts something of the idea of trangressing boundaries, pushing against norms and calling to a very different way of being.

Tomorrow morning I shall lead worship here in Ferney as four of our young people ask to be confirmed. They have chosen Bible passages and written confessions of faith that are personal and hearltfelt, something of the Spirit of Christ has touched them, my hope is that the same spirit may continue to help each of them say yes to life and faith as they move through life.

Googling "I'm just a girl who can't say no" I came across not only a load of Youtube renditions of the song but also some interesting academic articles on women and obedience, women and saying yes and no
These results are discussed in terms of their implications for reassessing the role of refusals to resolve some of the contradictions around expectations of obedience and assertiveness, while recognizing the interests which benefit from keeping girls and women obedient.
So does the naughty girl Spirit encourage us to be obedient or assertive? Which form of repentance and conversion does the Spirit encourage in you in your context today - resistance or submission? (Interesting that the French title of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers is Résistance et soumission - resistance and submission)
So as I pray "come Holy Spirit" I shall pray for a greater spirit of resistance for those who are too obedient and that the great Ruach may grant all of us discernment about what we are to say yes and no to in life.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

An early morning disarmament poem from Kurt Marti

Abrüstungschoral - Kurt Marti

Wir preisen Dich, Göttin Gott
die Dunie eine Waffe gebrauchst,
die Du Tote ins Leben erweckst,
Feinde als Gescwhister entlarvst.

Wir bitten Dich, Göttin Gott,
steck uns mit Deiner Liebeskraft an,
weck Gefühl in uns und Mitgefühl,
gib uns Mut, gewaltlos zu sein.

Wir danken Dir, Göttin Gott,
die Du Lust am Lebendigen hast,
die Du gegen Vernichtungen kämpfst
für den Sieg der Gerechtigkeit.

This is the final poem in a collection by Swiss theologian and poet Kurt Marti, it's called DU Rühmungen. I read this on my way to the shower this morning. On this sunny quite peaceful morning I felt quite inspired by the idea of a disarmament choral.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010


I've been busy. Kirchentag is like that. It tends to take up not only all of the available time but also more than the usual amount of enregy too. Nick Baines has been blogging about his time there and seems to have enjoyed it - i'm quite jealous about him seeing Küng and Motlmann in action.
I spent most of my time at the WCC stall in the Agora and had a fascinating time getting people to write tweets for us and engaging wtih people about ecumenism and the WCC's work. I'll admit to looking forward to my beer at the end of each day - even if it was for the most part not the marker of the end of the day but just an opener to the next shift of writing and translating. Anyway, it's taking me a while to recover from the backlog of work following Kirchentag, so normal blogging service will return only after a while - I have two big writing projects to deal with this weekend as well as several hundred pages of proof reading ... more from me soon, who knows I might even have some thoughts about ecumenism to share with you!

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Sermon from the opening service of Ecumenical Kirchentag

I have just posted the English translation of the sermon from the opening service of the 2nd Ecumenical Kirchentag to the docs sections youa can find it here. It was a dialogue sermon between Bishop Friedrich and Archbishop Marx and worked well. "That we may have hope ..."
Interesting how many references there have been to the issue of child sex abuse in the church in the opening service through the prayers and then through the greetings from the Bundespresident Horst Köhler. The issue does seem to be being faced squarely - at least now.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Building the WCC stand at the Ecumenical Kirchentag in Munich

Have spent part of today putting together the WCC stand at the Kirchentag. We have twice as much space as we expected so it's been quite challenging but fun too - I have really great colleagues and we'll finish tomorrow. If you're in Munich come and visit us in Hall A 6 stand E28.
And on Wednesday we begin tweeting - more on our twitter feed soon.

At the EcuKirchentag in Munich

And it is simply wonderful!

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Monday, 10 May 2010

Neither of us is in any way an athlete but my husband has just won a part share in two gold and two siver medals

On the stranzblog he is known as Dr B. However in real life he is called Stephen Brown. Late on Sunday evening he learnt from his colleague Peter Kenny that the small news agency they run has won two gold and two silver awards at the Associated Church Press awards.

Anyway, congratulations to Peter, Stephen, David and Jean-Michel at ENI News. you can read more about the award here you can also subscribe to ENI headlines here.

The posters pictured here were put together on our dining table while I was at feminist theology last week. The things men get up to when the women are away.

Here's part of Dr B's article from today:
Ecumenical News International has won an Award of Excellence as the "best in class" religion news service from the Associated Church Press.

"What impressed me about ENInews is the breadth and depth of the reporting," said award judge Leon Alligood, a journalism professor at Middle Tennessee State University. "The writing was well edited and engaging."

The award for work done in 2009 was presented on 8 May to Peter Kenny, editor-in-chief of Geneva-based ENInews, at the annual ACP awards ceremony in Arlington, Virginia. ENInews also received a second award of excellence and two awards of merit for its reporting.

The Award of Merit in the "Best in Class: News Service" category, went to Washington-based Religion News Service, which works in partnership with ENInews in distributing news to other media. An honourable mention was shared by Baptist Press, which was noted for its coverage of Kyrgyzstan and El Salvador, and Presbyterian News Service.

In the "Editorial Courage" section, ENInews won the Award of Excellence for its coverage of the World Council of Churches, one of the four founding member organizations of the news agency (

"This is editorial courage at its best - great journalism in the watchdog tradition. Great risk for the writers, but the audience wins," commented judge Andrew Herrmann, the managing editor at the Chicago Sun Times.

If the entry point is the top of the head where is the exit point

I said I would write a little more about our feminist theology group with Anne Ramoni last week but I've been hesitating about doing so because of a particular word and because some things are quite personal (oh dear me I do sound terribly English don't I!). Anyway I've decided to give it a go and to try to find the right tone for writing about this. And as I do that I can't help noticing how the act of writing makes me more reflective, Dr B would say more angelic ("fools rush in where angels fear to tread"). In speech I am rather (too - pace Dr B) raunchy and impulsive on occasions - I find it hard to leave a good line unsaid - in writing I am for the most part slightly better behaved.

First of all here again is what I wrote following Anne Ramoni's invitation to each of us to write something we felt strongly about concerning voice and words and then say it aloud, first seated and then standing:

Hors du silence la passion de la parole et de la voix est en moi;
elle monte en moi;
elle me motive;
elle me met en route;
elle me soutient ...

Out of silence, passion for the word and for avoice is in me
it rises within me
it motivates me
it sets me on my way
it supports me ...
(How wonderful that in French passion is she and not that boring English "it")

I said my phrase sitting down and said it powerfully. It was true and "me" as Ria commented at the time, strangely when I later stood to say the same phrase, it was very different and the energy was different too. I was too much the professional pastor, very "in role" - and this was completely the opposite for nearly all the others who grew in confidence and voice when they stood to speak. I admitted that I am better walking and speaking and loved the way Anne described the voice as something fluid and in movement.
Anne got me to try and talk about where the energy was when I was speaking the first time - sitting in my comfy chair and I said that that I felt the energy was going straight through me from top to bottom. "Where to where?" she asked, "where does the energy begin?" "At the top of my head", I answered "And where does it come out" she pursued. I did pause but then I said what I realised was the truth "du vagin - from the vagina". Anne was writing all of this on the flip chart and because she also trained as a nurse asked whether the word perineum would be a correct description but I decided to stick with what I first said and then, after some considerable laughter, told this story of my first multiple sclerosis attack.
My first MS attack gradually rose and rose over several days from the tips of toes up my legs and stopped just above my pubic bone. It was not a pleasant sensation - I was still able to move my legs but I remember saying to my neurologist that I felt I had lost sensuality of feeling. My pubis and legs felt as if they had been to the dentist and were not recovering from the injection. My voice broke slightly as I said with some feeling that to be able to name and feel the place where the energy of my voice had part of its plumbline within me was both a liberation and also a reason for thankfulness that I was able to "feel" and "sense" that part of my body, that it's sensuality had returned.
Nearly a week later as I mull over this I think about how voice and the voice is part of the body, about how we give birth to words as physical things almost. For someone like me who has no children my speaking and writing are part of what I sow - the "way" I have taken has been a childless way perhaps because of the "voice" I have found and because of the voices I have chosen not to listen to.
I also wonder whether it is easier for women to have this kind of earthy bodily conversation than for men. I hope not. Yet I also wonder how I would respond to a man saying something similar about the energy of the word within him. There is perceived to be a completely different power dynamic around male and female sexual organs and yet ... surely our sexual identity has to be part of the energy of the word that is within us and which we seek to give voice to: falteringly and coherently, stumblingly and beautifully, hesitatingly and flawlessly, in womanly and manly ways, sensually ... ahhh the sensual word.
May we all find plumb lines of energy we can rely on, allowing us to speak and stay silent in right measure, finding our voice and finding our way. Anne reminded us that each of voices is unique.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Radically open church - Holding in rage

A friend died. It was not an easy death, she still had young and needy children. Their father in some other country across an ocean appeared for occasional summer holidays. She struggled to survive but the cancer was strong in her beautiful and vital body. There were no beautiful moments of reconciliation, just preparation for the inevitable worst and requests to look after the children.
Her dying was part of those of us around her. I remember the beautiful fragile translucence of her skin as painkiller was injected. That terrible intimacy of the needle which brings pain and relief. The injecting she could not do alone, that at least could be shared.

She asked us to keep someone away from her funeral, a person who had behaved badly towards her in practical petty and real ways. We didn't manage of course to exclude this person or even to have a quiet word with them beforehand. Our grief was too acute. I remember it was early springtime and as I preached at the funeral I thought of Susan Hill's wonderful book "in the Springtime of the Year" - unknown of course to the francophone congregation. At the end of the service our friend's "enemy" made a point of coming and speaking with me - they really wanted to be seen to talk with "the minister". It probably wasn't conscious this trying to achieve absolution by talking to the cleric, but I recognized in that moment just how much rage I was containing as I remained civil and in role. I listened to this person's pointless platitudes (you may note that civil as I may have been I did not refrain from judgement!) and felt as though I was betraying the friend I had only just placed in her grave.

Only now many years later do I realise that I would not want to exclude anyone ever from church, let alone from a funeral. All of us will know grief in our lives - it is not life if it does not know grief - all of us need to be welcomed at those times, Being radically open means that you may find yourself singing and praying to God with your enemy sitting next to you. You trust in some way that God can hold all of these conflicting versions of truth and reality together, because you know that you cannot, even if we all try to hear the insistent call to reconciliation.

And of course in the end who am I to throw the first stone? It was not the "holy" people who worried about excluding an enemy from the funeral, but an ordinary non-church family who took in the children and provided a home for them. Simply and straightforwardly.
I think it's called love. It's what the gospel is about but theologians like me often worry about whether we've got our thinking about love sorted out and forget to just get on and practise it in humility, simplicity and joy.
May God forgive me.

Train journey with myself

I am writing this on a glorious train ride across Switzerland - it is raining but the views and skies are still splendidly dramatic. It is wonderful to be on the train, to listen in to one side of other people's phone conversations and try to build up some kind of plot around their lives and what on earth it is that might be happening.
I've had a wonderfully desultory time thinking up half baked ideas for novels that I shall never write, doing some proof reading and planning for the busy days ahead at the Ecumenical Kirchentag. I've been enjoying the lovely late Spring countryside, the cows in the fresh green fields which have an extra lovely covering of daisies dandelions and buttercups. Just a shame that from the train you can't actually hear the cow bells ringing.
I like longish train journeys like this, they give me time to be with myself to pootle with my thoughts, to not have to finish ideas and to catch up with being me.
As I type this we're going round lake Constance - Switzerland, Austria Germany - by sms I'm getting updates from Dr B on how the lib-con talks are going in the UK and how the FDP-CDU coalition has been defeated in Nord-Rhein Westphalen. And that Munich airport is closed due to volcanic ash - take the train folks!
But mainly I just look at the looming grey clouds, the wonderful lake and the true green of springtime and my thoughts potter forwards. We've just arrived in Lindau. One day I may even have time to spend a night here, it's a lovely spot for a weekend away.
So I'm not sure whether travel broadens or narrows the mind but late on a wet springtime Sunday it's certainly good for the soul
And of course when I've had a really brilliant idea for a blockbuster thriller I'll be sure to let you know - on the other hand I might just go and have a beer in the restaurant carriage!

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Tears and feeling

I have been thinking alot about passion, deep-felt feeling, conviction and emotion in recent months. There are lots of reasons for this, as with most people there's been quite a lot going on in my life, not all of which gets written about here (fortunately!).
When I was at my middle school from age 10-12 I was very proud that I never cried at school - neither from physical or emotional pain. I'm really not sure where the idea came from that I should control my emotions, that it would be better not to cry in the public setting of my school, try to be "strong". I'm sure it wasn't a very healthy approach to life, somehow I must have been fearful of my emotions taking me over, of them being a separate power over me rather than part of me.
There are times today when I also wish that the red heat of emotion did not drive through me so clearly, but for the most part I just surf the roller coaster of emotional living. For women who have historically been seen as being over emotional it is particularly complex to walk the path of integrating emotions. Though perhaps for men the path is equally hard, as anger and aggression are more valued in their expression than other "softer" emotions.
Integrating our feeling and thinking is a challenge most of us face.

I've been reading through parts of John Bell's The Last Journey again this afternoon, looking for inspiration for some writing I need to do and I came across this prayer

What did they think, Lord, those who watched you cry
in front of women, in front of other men,
for your dead firend, or your favourite city?

Did they admire your tenderness having seen your toughness?
Were they disgusted by your tears and loss of self control?
Or were they drawn into your sorrow for the plight of the world and the pain of its people?

Help me to share the solidarity of your deep sorrow so that I can share in the certainty of your deeper joy.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

A singer teaches us how to speak at feminist theology

Last night's feminist theology session was truly extraordinary. Anne Ramoni is a professional singer who also teaches voice for pastors and other speaking professionals.
She told us how she learnt to sing and to speak more or less at the same time - as the daughter of missionaries in Madagascar she told us how the family would have to sing really loud to drown out the overwhelming noise of the double engined 2CV they spent hours travelling around in.
We began to learn a great deal about ourselves and about each other as we took part in the seemingly simple exercise Anne proposed.
She asked us to takes some time write a phrase we really believed in about "voice", she then worked with each of us in the group on the physicality of saying our conviction either sitting down or standing up. Our exchanges were spiritual and earthy as we tried to find our voices and say our piece, to find where in our bodies our convictions are lodged in different situations.

I don't have time to write much more about this at the moment and will write something more tonight and in coming days. However, below is the phrase I said. As she heard me Ria just said oh that's Jane! I'll try to chart the physical emotion that ran through me as I said this in a later post. Our discussion following what I said got us into the whole area of whether women are more earthed and earthly, less spiritual and intellectual? Anyway off to work now but here's my phrase:
Hors du silence la passion de la parole et de la voix est en moi;
elle monte en moi;
elle me motive;
elle me met en route;
elle me soutient ...

Monday, 3 May 2010

"Womenomics" in a sermon on sharing food by Rogate Mshana

This morning at prayers our colleague Rogate Mshana offered a meditation on sharing food, taking Christ's compassion for the crowd in the feeding of the multitude as his starting point.
One of the sad things about the written as opposed to the oral tradition is that it doesn't include al of the asides and illustrations.
Referring to an economics of compassion, Rogate said that this is sometimes called "womenomics" he went on to remember how when he was a young child his own mother had knelt down to pray for the welfare of her children during a time of drought in his homeland - a spiritual prayerful compassionate economics.
Jesus refuses to send the crowd away to the market but chooses to embrace them with love and compassion.
To share food in our world will mean protecting small farmers, advocating for policies that promote food sovereignty because today’s hunger is mainly caused by injustice. As the book of Proverbs says:“The field of the poor may yield much food, but it is swept away through injustice.” (Proverbs 13:23)

You can read the full sermon here and view the service for morning prayers here.
Our service sheets had these words on the cover:
There is enough food for all to share.
Hunger in a world of plenty is not caused by lack of food.
There is enough food to make most people in the world fat!
It is caused by lack of compassion and justice.

Food for thought for all of us living in a greedy wasteful way. By that I mean me of course.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Listen again to Roberta Rominger's excellent sermon from this morning

Morning Service on Radio 4 came from Farnham United Reformed Church and included an excellent sermon by Roberta Rominger, one of the handful of excellent women worldwide who are leaders of national churches. You can listen to the service here.

Bible study and blogging

On three mornings of the past week we had Bible studies led by John Baxter Brown, currently working as the WCC's consultant on evangelism. The studies were simple but powerful times of listening to the Bible and sharing - about our lives, work and vocations. In the words of the old advert they reached parts that other meetings and discussions simply could not. We ended on Friday by meditating on the story of the miraculous fish catch from John 21 with brilliant repeated readings of the text by various colleagues at different points during our "study". We ended by listening to a version read by colleagues mainly in English but with the words said by Jesus and Peter read in Syriac - a language very close to the Aramaic spoken in biblical time. It was very powerful.
In our table discussions we first focused on words in the text that spoke to each of us. Then we shared something of our own contexts, what the text awoke in us. It's at moments like this that you realise what an extraordinary privilege it is to be part of such a culturually diverse staff community. In one thirty minute session you can hear a story from the shore of an African lake where people would fish at night time, a perspective from a human rights activist, a contribution on struggling with Peter's conversation with Jesus (given in a language the rest of us didn't understand, but interpreted for us) or a further appreciation of the Peter's words ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’
It was good to begin our final day of staff meetings with this wonderful eucharistic text which has all of the sensuality of a barbecue on the beach, water, fish, friendship, love - deep conversation, pain and joy. Reurrection is made of such things, miracles of togetherness and common work too ...
Meanwhile John BB has started a new blog csalled Evangelism is in your comfort zone. Join in the conversation through the comments section.

The Oball that bears my name ...

I think the less I comment about this the better probably, anything linking my name to balls and ... er ... tossing activities probably needs a new copy editor. But it did make me laugh. So does Oball stand for oddball.

The Oball Stranz is 4" in diameter and made with yards of soft "strands" and fun for any indoor or outdoor tossing activity. And just like the original Oball, you can crush it, stomp on it, or kick it and it bounces right back to a perfectly formed sphere. It's an all around ball that is soft, durable and super catchable!

Ah yes and you can buy them here - this is not a photoshop mock up.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

elections, depression and the changing nature of life

I have been studiously avoiding commenting on British politics and the election campaign. It's too depressing and only serves to underline a certain sort of disconnectedness I feel. For the whole of my youth and young adulthood I was very involved in local politics. Thatcher's election in 1979 was a key event in my life - it was the first election I stayed up to watch. My father, local leader of the labour party on the council, waited for the first result to come in and then went to bed, resigned to the polls and consigned to opposition. My involvement in politics in 1987 led to quite an existenital crisis of faith for me. Thatcher was reelected with a big majority and I felt totally disenfranchised, I was at the end of my first year of training for the ministry and ended up questioning everything I was committed to. I went off to stay in France for a month with my father's right-wing cousin. The 1992 election was if anything even worse. Stephen was working in Labour Party headquarters for the whole campaign and we were on the steps of Walworth Road in the early hours of the morning as Neil Kinnock resigned from the party leadership, then we also set off for France where we were already living.
That commitment, involvement and those experiences of defeat taught me a great deal about resistance and spirituality. One night from the public gallery, I watched my father in opposition on the town council fight every single ammendment with enormous integrity and verve. By doing that rather than falling into resigned depression he actually managed to convince the majority on some key small issues and won several votes. It's a lesson of tenacity that I forget too often.
So next Thursday I suspect I may do the same as my dad in 1979, though we are due to have friends of a similar political persuasion with us. No doubt drowning our sorrows together. I suppose going to bed is a bit like hiding behind the sofa at the scary bits of Dr Who.
Somewhere I still have a semi-vague hope that results may be more unpredictable even than I expect. In the end though I shall stay up because what I hope happens will be a real culture shift in the way elections and politics happens in my home country. Democracy needs to be vibrant and meaningful, politics needs to connect with people and effect real change for the good. Perhaps a hung parliament will help British society become more fair.Britian is still a country which has the highest gaps between rich and poor in Europe, can it re-imagine politics and the practice of democracy or will it still hold to privilege. Really though I'm just expecting a Tory win and I cannot bear David Cameron - and yes our 18 year old nephew is planning to vote for him.

What I am learning through all of this is that things change and that old tribal allegiances may not serve democracy best all of the time. People have to feel engaged by both a meta narrative and to feel that they can be involved and make a difference. If I were living in the UK now I would very likely consider voting for the Green Party, yet I am still a member of the Labour Party. Because I have been living outside the country for more than 15 years I no longer have a vote. I can quite see how Tony Blair's war in Iraq and lies about what led him to take us to war (supported by Tory MPs rather than Labour ones by the way!) and the hubris of parliamentary life over recent years have disgusted and disenchanted huge parts of the elecctorate.
Hard to know what I hope for in my home country but I would hope for a more vibrant civil society that doesn't treat politics as something dirty and laughable but as decent, fun and necessary.
Meanwhile to stop me from ranting on, I've just come across this on Kester Brewin's blog (hat tip tp Maggi Dawn). Kester's been commenting with more wisdom than I on the current British campaign.

Now the Electorate was out in Middle England, and Sky News and other members of the Media brought Gordon Brown to them. They made him stand before the group and said to the Electorate, ‘Voters, this man was caught in the act of speaking rashly in private. He left his microphone on, and it caught him accusing a woman of being bigoted.’ They were using this question as a trap, in order for having a basis for people not voting for him.

But the Electorate bent down and started to write something on their Twitter accounts. When the Media kept questioning them they straightened up, and said to the them. ‘If any of you - journalists and or other party leaders – if any of you has never spoken rashly in private, let us cast our votes for you.’

At this, those who had heard began to go back to their campaign buses and leave, one at a time, the older ones first, until only the Electorate was left, with Brown still standing there. The Electorate straightened up and asked him, ‘Prime Minister, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’

‘No one Sirs.’ he said.

‘Then neither do we condemn you.’ the Electorate declared. ‘Go now and DON’T BE SUCH A BLOODY IDIOT AGAIN OR WE’LL CERTAINLY NOT CAST OUR VOTE FOR YOU.’ (With thanks to John 8: 1 – 11)

And just in case you're interested, I am not a French national but, as a European, I do have a vote in French local elections for the centre of the universe in Ferney Voltaire, and in the European Elections, so I am not completely disenfranchised. Of course in order to get rid of Nicolas Sarkozy I may well consider becoming a French citizen, meanwhile Dr B and I are still trying to run a stealth campaign to get Daniel Cohn Bendit as the French left's next presidential candidate. He's speaking in Geneva on May 20 and we might just go along.
So I suppose what is changing is that I am still tribally of the left but as I see society and politics changing I am more interested in promoting democracy and debate than in being blindly a member of the party I support.

The Bible is our pastor

On Friday morning Catherine Christ-Taha and Jean-Nicolas Bazin led prayers as our staff planning days drew to a close. We sang and prayed offering silence and words as we remembered the peoples and churches in Eritrea and Ethiopia as well as friends, family and colleagues in particular need.
We also listened to the whole of chapter 12 of the letter to the Romans. For all sorts of reasons these extremely powerful words resonated deeply with me and seemed like a personal sermon. Perhaps the effect was similar for others. I like the idea that the Bible was ministering to each of us, was our pastor as we listened to and read the same words.
I first remember hearing this passage at my German grandfather's funeral and the final verse was part of the announcement of his death: "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Rm. 12:21)
Yesterday morning almost every verse that was read seemed to speak to a different part of my experience and current situation. I felt challenged, questioned, judged and encouraged. If I was writing this in German I would say "Es hat mich bewegt" which seems to say rather more than "I was moved by it". I felt a long way away from the demands of holy and faithful living. I'm a judgemental and feisty person - generous both with insights and criticism, hearing this call to humble and sacrificial living was uncomfortable.
The Bible is there to make us feel uncomfortable as well as to comfort us. Pastors are called to both comfort and challenge in their ministry. The uncomfortable comforting word of God moved me to tears and to joy.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)